Over the last two years, more than 50% of social impact professionals said that there is increased demand to measure efforts (Association of Corporate Citizen Professionals, 2023). But in a world of vaguely defined terms, small staffs, and tough-to-measure outcomes, how exactly should CSR professionals measure social impact?
If you’re struggling with these questions, you’re not alone. During a recent Pledge 1% webinar, our panel of experts recently weighed in on how they address these issues in current times.
Many social impact professionals struggle with a lack of universal definitions in the field. Panel moderator and Social Impact and Benchmarking Consultant, Morgan Buras-Finlay, shares that, if she had a magic wand, she would align CSR professionals on language so that we can all move the needle together.
With that in mind, here are the key terms and how we define them in this article based on Buras Finlay’s insights:
Social Impact Measurement and Management
A framework-agnostic set of practices for evaluating any impact initiative
INTERNAL: How do you measure your program’s impact in terms of input and output?
Activities through which companies can compare themselves to others and the wider field.
INDUSTRY: How do you compare yourself to industry peers?
Environmental Social and Governance (ESG)
A semi-standardized way to report performance and risk on specific topics.
INVESTORS: How do you report to investors in regards to established standards?
In other words, social impact reporting metrics focus on three audiences: internal, industry, and investors. Vocabulary depends on which audience you address.
Mariana Palacios, Social Impact & Sustainability Program Manager at Justworks, found that aligning her initiatives with existing business values helped her communicate with leadership and enlist the necessary collaborators for reporting data.
But success isn’t just about big picture business values. Lacey Gaitan, Vice President of Content and Learning at the Association of Corporate Citizen Professionals, emphasizes the importance of speaking the same language as peers across departments.
Learning the metrics and terms that matter to other departments helps you make a direct business case for social impact initiatives. This can be invaluable for inspiring the much-needed collaboration to facilitate data gathering and reporting.
Many social impact professionals feel stretched thin. Palacios encourages others to keep a list of “social impact allies” across company departments. “You don’t have to do everything from zero,” she explains. Others can help. For example, a conversation with a data scientist can help you define key metrics from the beginning. A person in the finance department can assist in setting up a spreadsheet that will make impact reports easier.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for, or accept, help,” Palacios encourages. Build your network proactively, even before you see an immediate business need. Even if a teammate can’t help immediately, you can always enlist them for later efforts.
The social impact space has more resources than ever to help quantify impact. While Pledge 1% does not recommend one tool over another, our experts cited a few resources to explore:
If you have additional resources that you think social impact professionals should know about, share them in the comments below!
Social impact professionals can’t forget the humanity behind the numbers. Gaitan explains, “Reporting is a mix of impact plus data, of the quantitative and qualitative. We can’t lose focus of the lives of people that we’re impacting.” Exploring arts-based approaches may lend a more human aspect to reporting efforts.
Buras-Finlay has seen nonprofits find success with getting cameras directly in the hands of people that you are helping with organizations such as PhotoVoice. A story directly from those you help can make a powerful statement. Gaitan also cited T. Rowe Price as an example of a company using some newer unique approaches to measurement.
How do you measure impact in your organization? Do you have any tips or tricks that have helped your efforts? Share more in the comments below!