Struggling to find out how other social enterprises measure their impact?

…you’re not the only one.

So, you decided maybe it’s time to start thinking about how to evidence the impact your organisation makes. And like any normal person starting something new, you decide a good place to start is to simply explore what other social enterprises are doing and saying about their own social impact – maybe it’ll spark an idea or help you think about the different things you could demonstrate impact on?

You go on their websites and search for their impact reports… or a page that shares their impact story… or something that indicates they’ve collected some data to demonstrate their impact.

But you just find nothing.

You can’t seem to find anything of any use or relevance.

This doesn’t surprise me (it’s why I set up my business) but it does seem to surprise many social entrepreneurs – “We’re being encouraged to measure our social impact but it  doesn’t appear anyone else is doing it?”

It’s a common conversation I have with social entrepreneurs: “I’ve been trying to research how others do it but can’t find (m)any social enterprises that share their social impact story or evidence. I thought everyone was doing it, but I can’t find any evidence of it, so I don’t know where to start. Can you help?”

The reality is the vast majority of social enterprises are still not measuring their social impact, and very few of those that actually do, don’t share this data on their website. Impact measurement and reporting is often done solely for a funder, investor or grant application and is often not made publicly available.

There’s still a long way to go to convince social enterprises that communicating your impact to key stakeholders, including customers and the media, makes a significant difference to how your organisation is understood and why people connect with you and your mission.  

As more and more businesses claim their doing better on social, environmental and ethical grounds the demand for evidence will grow. The social enterprise sector has never been easily defined but as more and more traditional businesses recognise the need to adapt their practices the business sector as a whole (including social enterprises) will differentiate themselves from their competitors and develop customer bases by evidencing the difference they claim to make.

The British Council explains “…the debate will no longer be about how to define social enterprise, but how to agree, measure and compare social impact…Social impact measurement and reporting will become increasingly sophisticated with the result that all organisations will be judged on a ‘Social Impact Spectrum’, affecting the way buying, giving and investing decisions are made” (British Council, 2014). But this will take some time.

Social Enterprises Measuring Social Impact

The biggest challenge is many organisations struggle to define their impact story and measure their social or environmental impact in a way that is meaningful to them, their customers, stakeholders and investors.

A School for Social Entrepreneurs Report (2013) found impact measurement was the single most important topic organisations wanted training on. Other research has shown similar results, highlighting a lack of skills in impact measurement and communications as a key factor in limiting growth of social enterprises. This is not surprising when there is very little information and advice online about how to get started and the fact it’s actually very specific to each organisation.

Likewise, the report states people want to hear from expert practitioners in their own field, “…who [have] already walked the road they are following…” Worryingly this is an even smaller pool of people but makes absolute sense. Generally, social entrepreneurs want to learn how to do something and bring it in-house over time. They don’t want to spend expensive consultancy fees on something they’re not yet convinced will help their bottom line.

Social impact and its role in a social enterprise is also unique and often mis-understood by general evaluators and researchers. It’s more than just collecting data and evidencing facts. The art of social impact measurement is thinking about its purpose, it’s role in an organisation, how the data will be used and who it will be communicated too. It has to align to business objectives and the marketing and brand strategy. This requires a specific skill-set alongside a deep understanding of social entrepreneurship, which is often not gained unless you’ve set up or worked within one yourself.

(Needless to say, we’re proud at Share Impact to have both this experience and skill to guide organisations along the journey of social impact measurement).

Don’t be disheartened by the fact that you can’t find examples of other social enterprises measuring their impact. The key thing remember is if you do measure your impact and share it publicly you’re ahead of the curve and sector-leading! Maybe you’ll even inspire others to do the same and help them explore what and how to measure.  Overall, you’ll be differentiating yourself from your competitors, have a stronger brand message for your customers and be encouraging others to follow suit.

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.

Get in touch to find out more about how we can help you measure your impact.