How Measuring Social Impact Can Revolutionise Organisations

To celebrate the launch of our Measuring Social Impact programme this March, we invited Researcher in Impact Measurement, Alexis Nadin Banks, to share her insights on the positive changes that measuring social impact can bring to your organisation.

What if I told you that there is an underused tool that can help your organisation stretch limited resources to better serve more individuals and increase your overall impact? You might be skeptical - but it's true! Through research conducted with South African social enterprises, I found that impact assessments can revolutionise the way that you do business and create change.

Measuring social impact, or impact assessment, is the process of understanding the changes achieved as a result of your organisation's work. It can be used to validate your impact, make better strategic decisions, gain credibility with stakeholders and secure future funding.

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(Image: The Clothing Bank - a social enterprise which operates across South Africa.)

1. Validate your impact

At the foundation of your organisation is a great idea; but every great idea needs to be tested. In the same way that cars are tested to ensure road safety, social interventions must be tested to validate that they achieve the intended impact.

The Clothing Bank (TCB) was started with a great idea: equip unemployed mothers with the skills and support needed to become financially and socially independent. However, while the Founder could see that participants were earning more, she needed a way to evaluate whether TCB was helping women achieve lasting financial and social independence. Using an impact assessment tool called Poverty Stoplight, TCB worked with its clients to evaluate their own financial and social independence. They are now far more confident in how they demonstrate the positive impact they make on the lives of their clients.

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(Image: International Housing Solutions - a social enterprise which operates across South Africa.)

2. Make better strategic decisions

TCB also continually learns from experiences to improve its programmes. And they're not alone. The majority of the social enterprises that I interviewed use measurement to make better strategic decisions. For example, International Housing Solutions used data gathered from satisfaction surveys conducted with tenants in their affordable housing units to better understand their clients' housing priorities. The data made it possible for the organisation to develop more attractive, affordable housing units. As the ESG Officer at IHS explained, "we could really see how it benefits our business."

In addition to programme improvements, social enterprises reported improved cost savings, budgeting and scale as a result of measuring social impact.

 the clothing bank 2
(Image: The Clothing Bank - a social enterprise which operates across South Africa.)

3. Gain credibility with stakeholders

Engaging your stakeholders in the process of measuring social impact is an important way to improve your programmes, but sharing your results will also help increase your organisation's credibility with stakeholders. For The Social Project, which provides supplemental education using tablet-based programmes, community trust is crucial to success in the Western Cape, where parents have fallen victim to tutoring scams. As the Regional Program Officer explained, parents want to see evidence of success before enrolling their children.

Other organisations used impact assessments to gain legitimacy with partner organisations and local governments.

(Image: Dimagi - an international social enterprise which operates in South Africa.)

4. Secure future funding

Lastly, measuring impact provides your organisation with an exciting opportunity to tell funders how you're making a difference. Impact investors and donors look for investments that achieve significant impact and demonstrate potential for scale. Providing verifiable and reliable data is a critical part of developing an ongoing, strategic relationship that will enable your organisation to have even greater impact.

How could you use impact assessments in your organisation? If you’d like to get started join the Social Enterprise Academy on March 28th for a full-day session designed to help you develop an impact assessment strategy for your organisation. Register here.