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Rachel Dodd 7/10/17 10:00 AM 3 min read

Best Practices for Social Impact Metrics Selection

The most important element to an enduring selection of Social Impact Metrics is the foundational impact framework that supports it. A strong impact measurement framework enables practitioners to define the metrics that will best serve their needs (and those of their beneficiaries).

We'll take a look at how to create an impact framework and also the steps needed to land on the right impact metrics for your organization.

If you want to dive deeper into these topics after reading this article, we suggest downloading the free guide to establishing an impact framework: Actionable Impact Management (AIM) Volume One: Groundwork.  

For now, we'll give you enough tools and guidance -- from understanding program structure to understanding the characteristics of good metrics selection -- so that you can get started defining what your impact metrics might need to look like to best measure your impact.

Social Impact Measurement Framework

As part of the overall construction of an impact framework that is relevant and effective for an organization, we suggest the following outline of steps:

Vision, Mission, and Goals

Think of your Vision as the cornerstone of your social impact framework. Whenever you get stuck (which you probably will) as you document your organization's program structure and theory of change, you can refer back to these three statements for guidance. 

  • VISION: A short statement that paints a picture of the ideal world your organization strives to bring about. 
  • MISSION: A short description of how your organization is working toward that ideal world.
  • GOALS: A set of chronological milestones that your organization will reach as you continue your path toward that Vision.

Read More: 5 Impact Learnings  From Family Foundation Impact Investing

Program Structure

Volume One: Groundwork describes it in more detail, but essentially it's a documented layout of how your programs are organized.

program structure for metric selection

Theory of Change

The Guidebook will have you go Outcome-by-Outcome (or Program-by-Program) to create a Theory of Change (ToC). Now, your ToC holds multiple purposes - one of which is to identify your outcomes and outputs...


Measuring social impact indicators

It is very important to have Theory of change defined first and now that you have your outcomes decided by all of your stakeholders you are ready for the next step. Each of these outcomes and outputs can become a potential metric. We will write these draft metrics down (keeping them sorted by Program/Outcome) and answer a few questions to see if it's a viable metric for us: These questions are like,

Is my metric mission critical?
Your organization can be collecting lots of data but all the data is not critical to validate your mission. If your organization's mission is improving early childhood education then collecting metrics like number of diapers donated to your organization is not the mission critical metric. 

Is it realistic to measure?
Some metrics are very difficult to collect and so measure. Also look at the resources you have since large scale studies like RCT are not realistic for many small organizations. 

Already being measured?
Most of the organizations use 3-5 different tools to collect data and sometimes integrating them can bring necessary information without adding more resources to collect them.

Reason for measuring? Are you measuring this metric because you need that for funder reporting? Answering this question can align to you mission or requirements for fundings.

Outcome metric?
If you are keep collecting outcome data like number of children enrolled in the program, number of backpacks donated then they do not give you outcome ir indicator results. You have to think and collect multiple metrics to learn outcome results. 

Worth measuring?
Align with the mission and resources. If it is critical then resource allocation is worth it.

impact metrics selection table


Read More: Impact Metrics for Gender Lens Investing



Next Steps for Defining your Social Impact Metrics

Now, you're set up with a solid (and organized) group of draft metrics sets. Your next steps will be to decide which drafts are worth measuring. For those, you will decide if they should align to a standard or if you will craft a custom final metric.

Next, make sure that that metric is clear for those reporting on it - pair it with a sample answer and usage guidelines. All of this and more is detailed in the most recent volume of the Actionable Impact Management (AIM) series. For more details on metrics selection, go ahead and download the second volume here: Actionable Impact Management: Metrics.

 Download 'Metrics' Now



Rachel Dodd

Rachel leads the Actionable Impact Management (AIM) framework development from SoPact's side and oversees partnerships.