Does your social impact measure up?

Published by Lisa Basford on

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

“What you measure you manage” is an often-used phrase in business. Measuring your social impact is now commonplace, but what if you measure the wrong thing? Or your methodology is off?

Or worse. What happens if no-one cares?

Well, more and more people do care. Whether it’s through imaginative story-telling to customers; annual reports for investors, updates in an employee newsletter or in a pitch to win new business, stakeholders want to hear about your social impact. The key is to present your impact story in a meaningful and engaging way that makes sense for the audience.

What is an impact?

Firstly, consider your purpose. What is it you are trying to do, not just for your customers and colleagues, but for wider society? Why does your brand exist? Purpose is about more than profit. It’s not what you do, or even how you do it. It’s why.

Let’s assume you have identified and can clearly articulate your brand purpose, can you measure your impact? Not necessarily. You need to break it down into something more tangible such as an annual plan. Take, for example, a brand that defines its purpose as “improving life chances for young people”. A strategy to support this can take different approaches. Online training programmes and digital work experiences could reach hundreds or even thousands of young people. However, an alternative approach might be helping a much smaller number, perhaps funding a group of students through college or university. Fewer individuals would benefit, but the impact would be much deeper.

The many or the few?

The decision of breadth vs depth is an important one and needs to be asked early in the development of any programme or campaign.

I once presented some case studies to a board of trustees. One wanted to know numbers: “how many people have we helped?” A question like this came as no surprise in a large, multi-national company where results are measured in numbers – volume of customers, % revenue growth etc. The higher the number, the greater the success. Another trustee didn’t care for the numbers, she asked about transformational change. She was happy to have fewer beneficiaries, but she wanted to know if we had made a long-lasting change to people’s lives.

What do you measure?

There’s no standard measure of an impact. It’s not like a kilowatt of power consumed or a calorie of energy burned. What you measure will depend on your programme or campaign targets.

Businesses can choose to align their initiatives with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Examples of impacts might be

  • The number of people who have downloaded tips on exercising (UN SDG#3)
  • The number of shoppers who switched to bags for life rather than single use plastic bags (UN SDG #12)
  • A reduction in the number of young girls forced into child marriage (UN SDG#5)

Working on a charity campaign recently, we tracked visitors to a dedicated website and the numbers of individuals and schools who downloaded our campaign resources. The resources provided guidance and, importantly, signposted them to further help if needed.

What about behaviour change?

Behaviour change is key. It’s all very well downloading guides and joining webinars but does anything actually happen as a result? Good social impact analysis will seek to understand if behaviour has changed. Did that person who downloaded an exercise guide bother to read it? Did they start jogging, have they completed their first 10km run?

Social impact analysis should look to understand:

  • Did the audience understand the message, did it resonate?
  • Did they have the means (eg money, time) to do something different?
  • Were they motivated to change their behaviour as a result?

Reviewing a corporate-charity partnership, we asked parents if they had seen the online safety resources freely available AND if they had changed their behaviour as a consequence – ie had they had a conversation with their children about online habits; had they taken steps to improve safety such as changing privacy settings.

Long-lasting impact?

Over time it is possible to understand the legacy of your work and how society has benefited. Those of us who are old enough will remember the road safety campaigns encouraging us to “clunk, click with every trip”. More recent examples might be the initiatives in place to drive healthy eating habits such as the move towards plant-based diets. According to Mintel the number of Brits switching to plant-based diets is on the increase. Time will tell if this improves the health of the nation and tackles the rising trend in obesity.

Last summer I worked on the onelaptop.org campaign to get laptops and wifi to pupils who needed then in North London secondary schools. Our analysis identified how many devices were distributed. The schools were supporting a critical and immediate need. Longer term analysis will show the impact on attainment and attitudes to learning amongst those pupils helped.

Understanding the impact you have – how you create positive change – helps you refine and better target your ESG strategy.  You’re informed to make better decisions and target investment more efficiently in the future.

Good Endeavours can support your business to define your purpose, set clear targets and measure your impacts. Get in touch for a consultation.


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