Many of us are concerned about our social impact, as it is now a key component of the non-profit organization (NPO) management process. However, not everyone understands it in the same way. Many confuse activities and impact, others see it as a mere deliverable to donors as part of their accountability relationship, a “necessary evil” at the end of the project. It is also true that donors often view the impact by its quantitatively measurable outcomes. Finally, few use impact measurement to improve the efficiency of their management and increase their contribution to the well-being of their community.
We must recognize that impact is a significant change : a result that is achieved in the medium to long term. It is often intangible, therefore difficult to measure. Since it is easier for NPOs to measure their tangible products and services – counting their beans in some way – there is therefore some inertia against, or even a fear of, actually addressing the intangible aspect of their impact on society.
Here are some good practices that demonstrate that your NPO can, without too much difficulty, take up the challenge of determining what its social impact will be and how to measure it.
1. Identify the impact of your activities
The impact of your NPO is not measured by the number of hours worked, the number of participants affected, nor the percentage of self-financing. Rather, it is measured by changes you may have made. Since these changes are often, at first glance, intangible, they must be identified as clearly as possible. The development of a theory of change – some say a pattern of social transformation – makes it possible to distinguish your impact from your activities.
2. Measure less, but measure better
It is true that NPOs are highly engaged in their activities and have limited resources to meet the ever-increasing social needs. We must avoid imposing the measure to the utmost. I like the adage: it is better to have a rough idea of the wrong thing than a precise idea of the wrong thing. For your NPO, this means managing ambiguity by selecting a limited number of meaningful indicators that reflect the impact you want. I suggest you have a dashboard that will transpose your theory of change into a few key indicators that will measure your progress to your success.
3. Simplify collection of data as much as possible
There is no need to create an array of new impact measurement tools. Instead, start with the data collection tools you already have: surveys of your members or customer satisfaction, inspection report, etc. See how these tools can be adjusted to power your dashboard’s indicators. If necessary, do not hesitate to develop new tools. But beware: it is not necessary to track everything purely because the data are available. If a particular set of data are not included in the dashboard, avoid collecting, counting and reporting on it. Excessive data production will cause your staff’s work time to be poorly spent and will reduce your administrators’ time to absorb the important information.
4. Integrate data into your governance cycle
Obviously, data is never produced for the sake of having data. Once your dashboard is provided with relevant and useful information about your organization’s impact, it should be submitted to your governing bodies, along with recommendations, so that decisions can be made accordingly. It is here that your NPO’s ends/direction and policies will be adjusted according to its governance cycle.
5. Adjust your operations accordingly
Decisions made by your governance bodies based on the dashboard analysis need to be transposed to the operational level, that is, your activities, your programs and the calibration of your resources. Your general management and your team will stop everything, correct the aim or continue the momentum. This is where the data and the lessons you learn will maximize your impact.
6. Communicate your impact to go further
Identifying the social impact of your NPO will help you in your operations, but also in your outreach to your partners and your community. This exercise will help you communicate more clearly the changes you are contributing to and reinforce the commitment of your stakeholders to your mission.
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In short, determining and measuring the impact of your NPO is an exercise at your fingertips. If necessary, the Socius research and advice consultants will be delighted to accompany you or to offer you training tailored to your needs. Best of luck!