Measuring social impact in the nonprofit sector

Organizations that are active in the field of Civil Society aim to create a positive social impact through their work and especially through their projects’ implementation. Being able to use their sources efficiently and effectively in order to maximize their results and thus to help alleviate social problems is a key requirement for all organizations.

The work done by the organizations in Greece has enormous momentum and the time has come for organizations to start recording their social impact in a more systematic way.

In the civil society ecosystem, there has been an ongoing debate for years on topics concerning accountability and governance, while the new topic for discussion has been the social impact and the documentation of results in addressing complex social problems.

All this attention to social impact is justified due to the relative dedication of many donors who want to know on one hand whether their grants bring any changes and on the other hand if they should channel them to other organizations because they will use them more efficient. Apart from the donors, it is also important for organizations to improve the level of their professionalism and know-how as well as the growing involvement of experts and evaluators in the ecosystem, at least internationally. Undoubtedly, measuring the social impact is an excellent tool for empowering an organization, while at the same time it supports its efforts for fundraising and visibility.

How should an organization proceed? The organization should adopt a specific framework with indicators which will be directly related to its objectives. The challenge is to design a monitoring system of indicators and measurements that can support the achievement of well-defined goals. This system should, initially, simply measure the outcomes of the organization’s actions, which are easy to record, review and include in a report. Actions and results that lead to changes, positive or negative, in people’s lives are often much more difficult to monitor and record.

Measuring social impact is significant not only for the internal operation of the organization itself but also for its relation with the stakeholders.

This process of measuring social impact involves five stages:

  • identify objectives and of the activities being measured
  • identify stakeholders involved in the process
  • set relevant methodology to be followed: the organization will plan its intervention, and how the activity
  • achieves the outcomes and impacts most needed by its beneficiaries and stakeholders. This link from activity to impact is the organization’s theory of change. It will decide this, and establish measurement most appropriate to explaining the theory of change and the achieved impacts and will then agree it with key stakeholders.
  • measure, validate and value: an assessment is made in order to check whether the planned results have been achieved, if they are clear to the stakeholder and if they are of any value to them.
  • report, learn and improve: the report(usually one addressed to the audience and another one to the internal environment of the organization) and the system review are produced in a regular and meaningful way.

It is not necessary for all organizations to measure their outcomes as changes in people’s lives. However, it is very important to incorporate the measurement of the impact in their operations even if this is initially determined only as a measure of their outputs. This is a significant first step towards the gradual establishment of a procedure of measuring the benefits ultimately offered to society by each organization.

Alexandra Emirza
Evaluation/Social Impact Assessment Service Line Director
Trainer Social Value and SROI Practitioner

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