How to decide what impact to measure in your social enterprise

This week I asked my FB group: what’s the real reason you’re not reporting your social impact? The most common response was “I’m not sure what I should be measuring”.

So with this in mind I shared these 7 sets of questions to help you get started on thinking about what to measure in your social enterprise.

This is exactly the questions we answered at Solutions for the Planet when deciding what to measure and what not to, and what I’m doing now here at Share Impact to get more strategic about my own impact measurement and demonstrating the difference I make.

If you’re struggling to know where to start with your impact measurement and in particular what to measure, write down your answers to the following sets of questions to get started.

1. What’s your vision?

What indicators (or things) would tell you you’re getting closer to or achieving your vision? What would it look like when your vision was realised? These indicators are the things you should be looking out for and measuring.

Your vision is how you see the world when you’ve changed the status quo or had an impact on the issue you’re tackling. If you' don’t have a clear vision deciding on what to measure will be tricky.

2. Who wants to know what social impact you create?

Customers, funders or investors? Different people want to know different things. Funders are likely to tell you this front in their grant guidelines. Investors may or may not be clear on what evidence they want to see but they will likely know what social impact they want to see for the money they invest. Customers are more likely to want simpler, easier to understand headline data that reflects your brand identity and commitments to impact.

What impact/data/evidence do they want to see? (If you don’t know, ask them.)

What detail and in what format do they want to see it in? This might help with what, how and how much you need to measure.

3. What don’t you know yet about what you have impact on in your social enterprise?

What would be helpful to know, understand or demonstrate? How & why would this help?

How could you measure that?

Obviously we don’t necessarily know what impact we have until we measure it (or undertake some kind of research) that’s why we do it - to back up what we presume is happening with evidence. But sometimes there are unexpected impacts (positive & negative) and things that we don’t even know if we’re delivering but would be nice to have’s if the evidence showed we were.

Knowing what might be nice to report on or to understand more means you can plan to look in to it, even if you can’t do it straight away.

4. What social impact story do you want to tell?

What’s important about what you do? What evidence do you need to bring this story to life and back it up or demonstrate it?

Write out exactly what you’d like to be able to write in an impact report (e.g. We transform the way teenagers think about how to take action on sustainability) and then think through how you would be able to demonstrate this kind of transformation / change.

5. What are your competitors (or others in your field) measuring?

Looking at what other social entrepreneurs are doing when it comes to impact measurement and reporting can be a really helpful way to decide whether yo’d like to measure the same kind of things or something slightly (or completely!) different.

How are they capturing this data or reporting on it? Which of these things would you like to measure / compare yourself against? Why is this important?

6. How could what you do feed into mega-data or wider studies on the issue that you tackle?

What would you need to measure to feed in to this?

Don’t know? Explore what others are researching in your area of expertise. (You could connect with your local university here to get a postgraduate student to do a literature review for you, if your completely in the dark).

7. What is nobody else talking about?

What data if you had it would help you stand out from the crowd or tell a different story on the issue you’re tackling? Measure this!!

Imagine the coverage you could get by talking about what nobody is even thinking about yet. Be a leader in your field by looking at an issue from a different angle. What evidence would you need to start this new conversation?

That’s it, the 7 sets of questions. Feeling overwhelmed with everything you’ve noted down from the above? Yes it is rather a lot but it doesn't get the juices flowing about what to measure in your social enterprise.  

Now you need to prioritise. You don’t need to measure everything.

What things kept coming up? 

What 3 things are most important to be able to communicate right now? Start here.

Everything else can be saved for a later date, it’s better to get started than to never report on anything.

Got questions? Post in the comments below.

Share Impact helps organisations measure and communicate their social or environmental impact so they can confidently communicate: why they exist, the difference they make and why others should care.

We provide research & evaluation services; training; consultancy, business mentoring and communication management with a focus on social impact measurement and reporting.

Want to find out more about how we could help your organisation? Get in touch here