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Social Impact Metrics

What is the social impact metrics?

A defined system or standard of measurement to track progress of change by your organization. Impact-oriented organizations use either standard metrics or custom metrics to track change.


  • Standard metrics
    Generally established by research institutes, they tend to be categorized around thematic areas or organization type. Examples of standard metrics include: IRIS, BOND, GuideStar, Robin Hood, GIIRS, etc.
  • Custom metrics: 
    Sometimes based on standard metrics, these are created by an organization to be more relevant to their particular context and intervention.
  • 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)

Using the structure of the Sustainable Development Goals as an example (set by the UN in 2015 in an effort to tackle poverty and protect the earth), we can see that each "impact" goal defines specific targets to reach within the next 15 years. Sustainable development goals, social impact metrics

The breakdown:

Goal 1: Poverty End poverty in all its forms everywhere

Target: To be achieved by the year 2030, a reduction of at least half the percentage of people of all ages living in poverty according to their own 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. The insights you get as funder from data-driven impact learning into your portfolio and outcomes helps in making future investment decisions.

    Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)  maps existing business goals/targets against other popular indicators such as GRI. You can review commonly used indicators and other relevant indicators that may be useful when measuring and reporting your organization’s alignment to the SDGs.  Consult this list for a complete database.


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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.Organization structure, Program outcomesIf 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)
    This survey has been used for more than 40 years and is used (usually by politicians or policymakers) to acquire a picture of the opinions of the U.S. populace on various national issues.
    The Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS) has a general objective the improvement of evidence-based policymaking. The Study facilitates acquisition of quality data through best practices in survey implementation.
    The Family Life Surveys (FLS) are generally implemented by the RAND Corporation (and its partners in regions of the survey) to gather insights on household and community life. Among the survey regions currently available are countries such as: Bangladesh, Guatemala, Indonesia, and more.
    The OECD Regional Database offers a comprehensive database (35 countries) of statistics and indicators related to demographic factors, economy, and social trends in the OECD regions of the world.
    The OECD Metropolitan Database defines metropolitan areas as urban regions with more than half a million inhabitants. Of those areas (281 of them), the database consists of indicators tracking data across economic, environmental, demographic, and social themes.
    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

Standard metrics are an essential language to learn and use because they help us communicate with different stakeholders who may be accustomed to using that language because of its relevance for their context. It must be noted that, standard metrics have both pros and cons 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 the stakeholder you are communicating with is an impact investor, 8 out of 10 times they will prefer 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.

Metrics Selection Process

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

Standard metrics are usually used by specific sectors or types of stakeholders:  sustainability focused, impact investing focused, community development focused, etc. To give an exampleIRIS metrics are designed to measure the social, environmental and financial performance of an investment. 

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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




 Start the process of aligning metrics for your program.


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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

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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

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