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Impact Metrics - Complete Guide 📚 Maximize Social Impact
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Impact Metrics is a defined system or standard of measurement to track the progress of change by your organization. In the impact space, there are standard metrics and custom metrics. Standards are written by research and evaluation organizations and generally exist around focus areas or organization type. Custom metrics are created by an organization and are designed around their use case. A well-designed impact metrics focus on continuous learning and improvement of key outcomes.  A good practitioner will design a holistic approach to understand multiple impact dimensions.



By definition, a  metric is a quantifiable measure used to assess the result of a specific process. Selecting the right metrics can be hard, so many organizations measure the wrong things, which results in a misrepresentation of their impact. 
By measuring what matters, your organization will gain credibility with funders, donors, and the public. Not to mention all the insights you will gather to plan for potential risks and make well-informed decisions.
There are two ways to define your metrics.
  • Selecting them from well-known standards or
  • Creating bespoke metrics. 
First, let’s dive into the standard metrics. Do you know how to select the right standard for you? Try the following guidelines:
What changes are my programs or projects generating? 
For example, if your impact strategy claims to be creating quality jobs, ask yourself if the jobs generated are really “quality.” It’s not enough to measure how many new jobs you are creating. Are the jobs paying enough to have a quality life? Do employers offer relevant benefits like healthcare? In this example, you have to define what you consider a quality job in your beneficiaries' context. 
Who wants to know the result of my programs or projects? 
Are you collecting data insights for external audiences such as your beneficiaries, funders, and the public? Or, is it for your internal audiences, such as staff and volunteers? Every one of them may like to know the result of different metrics. 
Quantitative or qualitative? 
I’ll give you the answer to this one: both. Numbers are helpful to show improvement over time and see trends, but they are not enough to tell a comprehensive story. Supplementing quality data with stories, images, and testimonials helps build credibility. 
Outputs or outcomes?
Remember that impact refers to a systemic change, which is hard to measure. However, outcome metrics can serve as an indicator of the change happening when analyzed over time. You will find it easy to select activity and output metrics, but always make sure to include a few relevant outcome metrics. 
Do you have the financial and human resources to collect the metrics results?
While selecting your metrics, don’t forget to ask if your organization has the necessary budget and capacity to collect the results for those metrics. Remember, we are not selecting metrics for the sake of it; we want to measure what matters and be able to back up the results with reliable data.
Now, as I mentioned before, there are different standard metrics that have been defined by organizations like the Global Impact Investment Network and the United Nations. These organizations dedicate resources to research and refinement of these metrics, so you have a reliable source of information.


While standard metrics are carefully worded by impact thought leaders, there is no one-size-fits-all to impact measurement. It might be the case that you identify a metric that is pertinent (aligned to one of your draft metrics), but with a few alterations, could better meet your needs. By tweaking that metric (documenting exactly how you’ve altered the base metric in your records), you can benefit from the research done to craft that careful wording, and help it better reflect the outcome of your intervention


Unfortunately, you will find that there is very few outcome (results) metrics amongst the standards. It might be the case that you are unable to find any standards that reflect your draft outcome metrics. In that case, you can still benefit from the standards by replicating the
language when crafting your own metric.

So, what the different standards out there, and who uses them?

Different sectors tend to use different standards. First, you must know about the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals, commonly known as S-D-G. The SDG has defined indicators for poverty alleviation, education, health, environmental care, etc., and results from years of international negotiation.

IRIS metrics by the Global Impact Investors Network (GIIN) are designed to measure the social, environmental, and financial performance of impact investments. 

Guidestar is a gold standard for nonprofits in the US. 

Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), UNEP Sustainability Metrics, and SASB are focused on sustainable production and governance.

Now you may ask, what if these standard metrics fail to measure some of my specific outcomes?

You can always design your bespoke outcome or output metrics, but to do it effectively, we recommend you involve an impact measurement expert to make sure you indeed measure what matters.

You can always start by selecting a group of standard metrics that are outcome and output-oriented and then make modifications to fit your context. If these metrics don’t fulfill your needs, you can complement them with relevant custom metrics.  

Here at Sopact, we understand that organizations just like yours face challenges while defining their metrics. So, we have included all the most important standard metrics in our platform Impact Cloud®. We help you select the right metrics based on best practices, and we can even advise you in creating custom metrics. All as part of the definition of your Impact Strategy on Impact Cloud®.



Design Considerations

  • What changes are my programs or projects generating? 
  • Who wants to know the result of my programs or projects? 
  • Should my metrics be quantitative or qualitative? 
  • Should I measure outputs or outcomes?
  • Do you have the financial and human resources to collect the metrics results?
  • Select standards metrics while communicating to funders and custom metrics for internal
  • You may not always find the most relevant metrics from the standards-based catalog. In fact, if you find, sometime you will have to modify to meet the context




  • Mission Critical?  Aligned to your Mission Statement?
  • Realistic to Measure?
    Will this metric be logistically manageable?
  • Is it cost-effective? Already being Measured?
    Or is this data already collected and accessible?
  • Reason for Measuring Is this for your own measurement needs or to
    report to an external entity?
  • Outcome Metric?
    Is this metric measuring the results of your intervention (rather than activities)?
  • Worth Measuring? Based on the information above, is there a strong case for this metric? YES NO
  • Keep Going Hold onto the metric
    for the future or find a
    proxy metric


Step by step Metrics Design Guide

Step One | Pick a Metric

Go metric-by-metric and fill out the associated information. You will end up with one page per metric.

Step Two | Repeat

Repeat until they're all filled out.

The idea is that you could send the completed worksheet to the person that will be reporting that metric and they will have a clear idea of the data you are expecting

For Each Metrics Associate

  • Program(s): that this metric is associated with
  • Label: A shortened title for the metric (i.e. for excel spreadsheets or for internal referencing.)
  • What standard metric is it (based on)? Reference the original standard that this metric is based on - include a link when possible
  • Data Type and Parameters: What data format would you like the metric reported in (number, text, percentage, etc.)? Are there any parameters (i.e. 0-100)?
  • Usage Guidelines: Directions for getting to the data - what is needed to collect the data you are asking for in this metric. This might be a formula or a short instruction.
  • Sample Answer: A shortened title for the metric (i.e. for excel spreadsheets or for internal referencing.)
  • Reporting Frequency: How often will you ask for the data on this metric?
Key Design Consideration


Baseline Metrics are the ‘before’ intervention measurement, in year zero of your program. This is what you will compare your metrics to as time goes on to identify the change that has occurred. You may want to be able to compare with areas outside of your intervention, such as national or regional averages. This is called ‘benchmark data.’ You might only

have one metric that you want benchmark data for, or you may decide that it’s needed for every metric.

Here are some places you can go to find benchmark data:

  • Socital Data
  • Household Community Data
  • OECD Regional Statistics and Indicators

The General Social Survey (GSS)

Since 1972, the General Social Survey (GSS) has provided politicians, policymakers, and scholars with a clear and unbiased perspective on what Americans think and feel about such issues as national spending priorities, crime and punishment, intergroup relations, and confidence in institutions.

The Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS)

The Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS) is a household survey program focused on generating high-quality data, improving survey methods, and building capacity. The goal of the LSMS is to facilitate the use of household survey data for evidence-based policymaking.

The Family Life Surveys (FLS) are a set of detailed household and community surveys of developing countries conducted by the RAND Corporation, in collaboration with research institutions in the given countries. The currently available country surveys cover Malaysia (1976-77, 1988-89), Indonesia (1993, 1997, 2000), Guatemala (1995), and Bangladesh (1996).

The OECD has developed two statistical databases to answer the increasing demand for statistical information at the regional level:

  • The OECD Regional Database provides a unique set of comparable statistics and indicators on about 2 000 regions in 35 countries. It currently encompasses yearly time series for around 40 indicators of demography, economic accounts, labor market, social and innovation themes in the OECD member countries and other economies.
  • The OECD Metropolitan Database provides a set of economic, environmental, social, labor market and demographic estimated indicators on the 281 OECD metropolitan areas (functional urban areas with 500 000 or more inhabitants).
National and International Statistical Agencies

OECD data are supplied by national statistical offices from member countries and presented in a comparative format. If you are seeking more detailed information or information on non-OECD countries, consult this list for an appropriate agency.

Staff Materials Time Outcome

  • Programs and Grants Departments: One Securing Enduring Metrics worksheet per metric 10 minutes per metric
  • Documentation of supporting information for each metric - so that no one is left with answers when reporting the data to you.


Context makes a big difference while designing impact metrics, learn how!


Integrate Impact Dimensions When Designing Impact Metrics

Metrics should be designed with a clear goal in mind. For example, if your goal is to understand the severity of COVID-19 by state, high-level metrics like “Number of cases” and “Number of deaths” don’t tell us much. 

To make more valuable comparisons about which state is doing better or worse, we can determine that it is important to see Total Deaths per Million People.

Looking at this chart it becomes clear that California, which enacted a “Shelter in Place” order earlier than other states, had a significantly lower number of deaths per million people at “48” versus New York, which has “1180” deaths/million on a given date per Worldometers. Also, even though Rhode Island has a lower number of deaths that day, the Total Deaths per Million is 226.

Diving deeper, A more relevant metric may be “Number of cases by ethnicity, economic status, and gender.” Or “Percentage of cases with a pre-existing condition or chronic disease.” Zooming in these metrics into a specific community or county could provide relevant insights on the needs of that population, rather than trying to have a “one size fits all” solution. 

Standards and frameworks play a critical role in choosing the right metrics.   Standards like IRIS have been in development for over 10+ years with the help of hundreds of impact practitioners.  

How do you build an effective impact measurement system? What is the current state of impact measurement and management?

Join us to learn from Jane Reisman and Veronica Olazabal, sharing how to integrate standards, use different frameworks for different sectors, and incorporate learnings from the data to make strategic decisions. Learn how Impact Measurement, Impact Management Project, and IRIS+ is advancing end to end impact management.



Global and National Indicators

  • UN Sustainable Development Goals Sustainable Development Goals are a collection of 17 global goals set by the UN starting  2015. Sustainable Development that includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This international collaboration between 193 UN Member States and global organizations and agencies is outlined in the UN Resolution A/RES/70/1 established in September 2015.

    The SDGs are seen as a step towards international collective impact efforts, focusing and guiding the interventions of humanitarian efforts around the globe.

    We don’t have plan B because there is no planet B.”
  •  United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon



Impact Investment Indicators

Impact investments are investments made in companies, organizations, and funds to generate social and environmental impact alongside a financial return.

GIIN IRIS  IRIS and IRIS + by Global Impact Investor's network. SoPact is well aligned with GIIN IRIS+ and impact partner.
Making Iris Actionable-02



Impact Investing Metrics

Impact Cloud is the most comprehensive platform that provides an out-of-box theory of change, indicators & reporting. Just select a "theory of change" or "impact management project" based IRIS+ profile unique to your need, remove indicators not relevant to your need, and add key standard and custom indicators.  You are ready to build out-of-box impact reporting for your context

  • Opportunity Zone 
  • Community Investing: Aeris
  • Healthy Communities: Build Healthy Places Network
  • Community Banking: National Community Investment Fund (NCIF)
  • Corporate Sustainability Reporting: The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)
  • Water Stewardship: Alliance for Water Stewardship
  • Early-Stage Enterprises: Toniic
  • Gender Lens (Financial Inclusion): Women's World Banking
  • Financial Inclusion: CERISE and the Social Performance Task Force (SPTF)
  • Healthcare Delivery: Center for Health Market Innovations (CHMI)
  • Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): The UN Sustainable Development Goals
  • Impact Employment: The Impact Sourcing Metrics Working Group
  • International Financial Institution (IFI) Private Sector Operations: IFI Working Group on Development Results Indicators Harmonization
  • Land Conservation: The David and Lucile Packard Foundation
  • Microenterprise: FIELD
  • Microinsurance: Microinsurance Network
  • Off-Grid Energy: The Global Off-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA)
  • Smallholder Agricultural Finance: Council on Smallholder Agricultural Finance
  • Small and Growing Business (SGB): Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs
  • Social Performance for Microfinance: Microfinance Information Exchange (MIX) and Social Performance Task Force (SPTF)
  • Sustainable Agriculture: Finance Alliance for Sustainable Trade (FAST) - Sustainable Agriculture
International Development


Included in Impact Cloud™ 

Nonprofit or Charity Indicators

  • Guidestar US-based leading organization in recent years, is focusing on the usage of standardized indicators. Their social impact indicators are applicable globally; there is a long way to go. Guidestar Social Impact Metrics Repository - GuideStar Metrics Catalog.
  • Outcome Indicators Project
    A joint project of the Urban Institute and The Center for What Works
    The Outcome Indicators Project provides a framework for tracking nonprofit performance. It suggests candidate outcomes and outcome indicators to assist nonprofit organizations that seek to develop new outcome monitoring processes or improve their existing systems.

Read More: Case Study: Scaling Up to End Poverty

International Development Indicators

Nor Include in Impact Cloud
  • Indikit - Relief and Development Indicators, DEVELOPMENT AND RELIEF
Business Reporting


Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is dedicated to sustainability reporting, transforming it from a niche practice to one now adopted by a growing majority of organizations.
"GRI’s Sustainability Reporting Standards are foundational to this success. With thousands of reporters in over 90 countries, GRI provides the world’s most widely used standards on sustainability reporting and disclosure, enabling businesses, governments, civil society, and citizens to make better decisions based on information that matters. In fact, 92% of the world’s largest 250 corporations report on their sustainability performance."

GRI recently linked its sustainability indicators to the SDG indicators in this SDG Compass. This guide allows those reporting on sustainability to participate in the global dialogue around the Sustainable Development Goals.

Sustainability Indicators (Business Impact Metrics) Start with SDG Compass, a comprehensive indicator library that aligns with many leading standards. Thought list is long, here are a few leading Sustainability Standards & Indicators:

Catalog Name ( Description )

Nor Include in Impact Cloud™ (Requires a separate license or use as custom metrics)




  • You created a draft list of metrics that are outcome/output-oriented
  • You finalized your list of metrics by adopting (or tweaking) standards when needed or by creating your
    own custom metrics.
  • Next, you will build out the supporting material for your final list of metrics.
  • And finally, you will map out each metric's data journey - from collection through analysis.