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Social Impact Metrics

What are social impact metrics?

A defined system or standard of measurement to track progress of change by your organization. In the impact space there are standard metrics and custom metrics.


  • Standard metrics
    Written by research and evaluation organizations, and generally exist around focus areas or organization type. Examples are IRIS, BOND, GuideStar, Robin Hood, GIIRS, etc.
  • Custom metrics: 
    Created by an organization and are designed around their use case. They can be loosely based on standards but with a custom change. 
  • Metrics set:
    A grouping of metrics organized around a specific program or activity. This can be a good practice when an organization is managing diverse portfolio.  

Difference between Goals, Targets and Metrics (or Indicators)

On September 25th 2015, countries adopted a set of goals to end povertyprotect the planet and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years. 

As for example,

Goal 1: Poverty End poverty in all its forms everywhere

Target is By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions.

Indicator: Example, indicator 1.1.1 on the proportion of the population below the international poverty line.

Why is it Important to measure what matters?

By measuring what matters, your organization is able to gain credibility with funders, donors, and public. Not to mention, the insights you will gather.


Laying the Groundwork

The most important element to a relevant selection of social impact metrics is the foundational impact framework that supports it. A strong impact measurement framework enables us to better define which metrics will serve our needs. That framework emerges from THREE  cornerstone elements of any organization.

    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 elements of your organization for guidance. 
    Your program's structure is simply a documented layout of how your programs are organized. It refers to your organization's internal hierarchy of activities and impact efforts. The two-layer structure includes your programs (or initiatives) in layer one and the associated goals of those programs in the second layer.AIM imageIf your organization is broad in scope, your 'Programs' might be "Higher Education," "Health and Wellness," "Financial Inclusion," "Organizational Capacity Building," etc. If your organization has a narrow scope, maybe you work with at-risk youth for college and career readiness, then break it down a step further.
    The Theory of Change (ToC) documents the change (impact) that you are seeking for both accountability and internal awareness of potential organizational challenges. In the ToC, the primary challenges indicated are your underlying assumptions. The outcomes and outputs outlined in the ToC will be essential in defining your metrics.

Baseline Metrics


What are baseline metrics?

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.

The distinction between baseline metrics and benchmark data

  • BENCHMARK DATA is used to compare your program to other settings. This could be similar interventions in different places, or to the population at large (e.g. wanting to bring educational attainment of a minority population up to the national average)
  • BASELINE DATA is collected at the beginning of a project to establish the current status of a population before an intervention is rolled out. Without a baseline, it’s not possible to know what the impact of the intervention is!

Resources for Benchmark Data

    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) 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 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, labour market, social and innovation themes in the OECD member countries and other economies.
    The OECD Metropolitan Database provides a set of economic, environmental, social, labour market and demographic estimated indicators on the 281 OECD metropolitan areas (functional urban areas with 500 000 or more inhabitants).
    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.

Social Impact Metrics Resources

Social Impact Metrics Standards

Social Impact Metrics Standards

Each metrics standard can be thought of as its own 'language' because they help us communicate with different stakeholders. Keep in mind, the presence of standard metrics has both positive and negative consequences for social impact measurement.


Why Align to an Impact Metrics Standard?

  • You’re communicating your impact to a particular audience (within a particular field). Think of standards as languages for communicating with particular audiences (including your funding source(s)). For example, if you need to communicate your impact to impact investors, 80 percent are likely to use IRIS metrics. There are lots of other languages as well: nonprofit languages, sustainability languages, environment languages, women’s empowerment languages, etc.
  • You want to learn the best practices for writing metrics. Extensive research and development have already been completed. Even if you end up tweaking the standard to fit your needs, there are lessons you can learn from the standards catalogs.

How do I know which standards to align while selecting metrics?

Standards are specific to sustainability, impact investors, community developments, etc. As for exampleIRIS metrics are designed to measure the social, environmental and financial performance of an investment. 


List of Impact Metrics Standards



United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)


The World Bank Linking IRIS with GRI
Impact Builder by Bond SUSTAINABILITY

Cross-linking with IRIS

Global Reporting Initiative
NONPROFITS UNEP Sustainability Metrics
GuideStar Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB)
Robinhood Foundation Progress Out Of Poverty Index
HP2020  OECD
Access to Medicines Index  Access to Nutrition Index


USAID  Indikit - Relief and Development Indicators

Indicators  List from Indikit 

Donors' Indicators

Indikit Resources

Indicator Databases

Emergency and Recovery Standards

Survey Methodology






Actionable Impact Management

Open Source & Practical Framework for Measuring Social Impact

- Asia Pacific Center for Social Innovation


Dr. Jodi York and Dr. krzysztof.dembek Asia Pacific Social Impact Centre, Melbourne Business School

DIN intro


The Deep Impact Network

Join an impact network for social entrepreneurs & impact investors.

  • Meet other investors near you and catalyze capital deployment into your businesses

Join The Deep Impact Network

Actionable Impact Management

Open Source & Practical Framework for Measuring Social Impact

  • GroundworkTheory of Change & Data Capacity
  • Metrics: How to select outcome metrics
  • DataHow to improve data capacity
  • CommunicationHow to communicate your impact effectively

Enjoy your guidebook!