Measuring Social Impact Q&A
With charities and organisations under increasing pressure due to Covid and another lockdown, measuring social impact for charities is more important than ever.
Craigmyle consultant Bernie Morgan has particular expertise in grant making, social investment and social enterprise. We asked her to tell us all about measuring social impact for charities.
1. What is social impact and why should we measure it?
Social Impact can be difficult to define and is often described in a myriad of ways. However, if you keep the focus on the difference you are making to your community (be it local, national or a community of interests) then you can’t go far wrong. Because, in the end, your charity exists to make a positive impact on whoever you are working with.
We should measure social impact because, more and more, donors of all kinds want to know about the difference you are making. Competition for funds is increasingly rapidly. So, having a way to describe your impact will put you ahead of the game.
2. What’s the different between outcomes and outputs?
Ah, yes, that old chestnut! Outputs are generally numbers (of people attending an event, people using a particular service, training sessions etc). Outcomes are the result of people engaging with your services (greater feeling of wellbeing, stronger families etc). Outcomes are less easy to pin down and measure, but they are the most important metrics – the ones funders are looking for.
3. How can charities engage with stakeholders when measuring social impact?
I think charities should be up front with stakeholders about this. How far along on the social impact process are you? If you are collecting, analysing and publishing your data, you are doing really well. You may on the journey towards that at any point – so let your funders know this. They are likely to be understanding if they know you are actively working towards a social impact framework. They are less likely to be understanding if they think you are doing nothing.
4. How can charities start measuring well-being?
The best place to start is with your vision and mission. Your vision is what you, as an organisation, wants the perfect world to look like (ie; no more homelessness in your community) and your mission is what your organisation doing to make it bring that about (ie: providing quality accommodation and support services).
Once you have your vision and mission, you measure your progress against it. That is your impact. So, in the case of a homelessness charity, your impact measures could be:
– The number of people no longer homeless in your community, compared to the number there were before you started
– The number of people who have used your accommodation and support services
– The number of people in long term accommodation
The important thing to remember here is to measure it against your organisation’s goals, not anyone else’s.
The best funding opportunities come when your impacts are aligned with the difference a funder wants to make.
5) Should charities develop a ‘Theory of Change’?
Yes, it is a good idea, as a theory of change describes your specific activities designed to achieve your vision and mission.
However, a word of caution, some people have developed hugely complex theories of change which are just not practical for a small resource-challenged charity to use. My advice would be to create your own and make sure you keep the information up to date.
6) What is Social Return on Investment (SROI)?
SROI is a financial term used by social investors to describe the change they want to see alongside the financial return on their investment. As with traditional investors, social investors want to make sure their funds are having a positive impact – so they will be looking for you to be able to describe your impact too.
7) What are the options for social impact measurement tools?
There are a lot of options online, but some of them are very complicated indeed. I favour charities devising their own, making it relevant to their particular circumstances. Creating a simple framework and collecting the right data – along with case studies should be enough for most funders.
8) Tell us about your favourite case study of social impact
I recently retired after nine years on the board of Nat West Social and Community Capital. We worked hard to describe our impact, which was a challenge. Because, as a funder, we are one removed from people who use the services of a charity. Eventually, we worked on our own model and published a report regularly. Some people rightly say that we had the resources to do so. But I take the view that our impact reports demonstrate a good way to describe social impact and can be used as a general guide for charities and other non-profits. The reports are not currently online – but should be available soon.
9) Where other resources are out there to help you measure social impact?
There are a myriad of resources available online, but I think you are best able to measure it yourselves. So many frameworks are not flexible enough to use, so a home grown one is best. You may need some outside support to help you develop the process. If you do, make sure they help take you to a place where you can do it yourselves and that you and the team own the project.
If your organisation needs help setting up or enhancing how you measure social impact, you can get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org or 01582 762441, or contact Bernie directly at Bernie@craigmyle.org.uk.