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Social Impact Indicators

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Social Impact Metrics

Best Practices In Selecting Impact Metrics & Indicators

Social Impact Metrics

What are 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.  

Watch and Learn

Learn from SoPact Lead Trainer,  Chris Gaines about standard metrics and best practices of impact metrics.


Watch and Learn

Chris Gaines, Lead Trainer explains
• Best Practices of developing impact metrics
• Lessons from COVID-19


What are Outcome Metrics?

Outcome metrics capture any impacts actually created by an organization. They differ from activities and outputs because they are meant to track the results (usually on the lives of beneficiaries) generated from those indicators.

Some organizations use outputs to imply impact created (e.g. 300 beneficiaries trained) rather than diving deeper and using outcome metrics to demonstrate that those outputs have had a positive effect (e.g. after training income increased from x% to y%).

Here are a few characteristics with further distinguish the importance of using outcome metrics:

  • They track a change that has occurred because of an organization's efforts
  • They communicate to your organization the extent to which you are (or are not) achieving your impact goals (and/or your very mission).
  • They enable you to communicate to beneficiaries just how much your intervention/programs can help their communities
  • They encourage transparency with funders, and can help mobilize capital towards the most effective programs

Read More: What you should know about Standardized Social Impact Metrics?

Watch and Learn

7 survey design tips and techniques for Outcome Evaluation 📈 Outcome Tracking
• Outcome alignment
• Progress Out of Poverty
• Household Survey
• Outcome Stars


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. 

For example -

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.


Watch and Learn

How do you know that your outcomes align with Sustainable Development Goals?

- Align with SDG Goals, SDG Targets, SDG Indicators
- How to avoid SDG Washing or Impact Washing
- How to build SDG with Impact Management
- How to certify for SDG Impact


Why is measuring impact important?

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.

Theory of Change and Impact Metrics

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

program structure


second layer.  If 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 the 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 Indicators Catalog

Business & Sustainability Indicators

Business Sustainability Indicators

Start at SDG Compass 

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


Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)


Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB)



Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) 





Watch and Learn

Learn from Unmesh Sheth, Founder of SoPact explaining how to choose most effective impact metrics, enrich them for a higher quality data collection and reporting


Nonprofit Metrics

Nonprofit Metrics Usage Is Very Different

Nonprofit being a largest category of social sector do not have a strong precedent in using standards based metrics.  While there are many services emerging such as Charity Navigator etc, their use of social indicators is limited.   

Guidestar US based leading organization in recent years is focusing on usage of standardized indicators.  While, their social impact indicators are applicable globally, there is a long way to go.

Guidestar Social Impact Metrics Repository - GuideStar Metrics Catalog.


Donors Indicators

Impact Metrics in Foundation

Push vs Pull Syndrome

Current state

While many foundations are interested in learning outcome of their grants, there is still a push vs pull syndrome.  Large foundations such as Robinhood Foundations have not only developed impact metrics but also detailed outcome and research behind social benefit based on social research.  Many other large foundations design their own internal custom metrics.  However, community foundations on the other hands are still in push vs pull syndrome.  They would like to learn outcome from grantees but they are often worried about a push back from the grantees who may not want to provide results.  We believe the best way to improve results is build data capacity of foundations by helping them define theory of change, impact indicators, and data strategy. This also gives them additional avenues to raise grants from other funders. 

Grant Management's Impact Measurement Are Rudimentary

Use of indicators or metrics in philanthropic foundation very limited and not well aligned. Most foundations tend to use their grant management based systems which have extensions for impact reporting system.  In most case use of metrics are purely for managing end of year reporting from the grantees.  Hence, use of custom metrics is quite common.  Often outcome and indicators are not aligned between grantee and foundation.   In many situation, foundations simply ask grantee to define indicators which has a limited value.  Often organization that use grant management system based impact measurement are typically designed for satisfying board requirements (survey management like) and do not focus on truly improve data capacity and outcome of the initiative they fund.

CSR Metrics vs Sustainability Metrics

Social Outcome

Differentiating between Indicators and Social Outcomes

Many standards go well beyond simply defining impact metrics

These standard such as Indikit - Relief and Development Indicators or Big Capital's Outcome Metrics provide an in-depth process for measuring detailed metrics.


  • They often define survey question that can be used as a starting point
  • Alignment with various reporting frameworks

Read MoreHow to get Social Impact Outcome Metrics?

International Development & Philanthrophy Related

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. 

Social Impact Metrics

Download "Metrics" Now

Indikit Resources

Emergency and Recovery Standards

Survey Methodology




Access to Medicines Index  Access to Nutrition Index





Progress Out Of Poverty Index




Access to Nutrition Index


Indikit - Relief and Development Indicators





Read More: 

How to go beyond IRIS metrics while choosing your social impact metrics?

How to effectively use IRIS indicators in the impact measurement setup

Is Measuring Impact Worth the Financial Strain?

9 Reasons to Use Impact Cloud® for Selecting Social Impact Indicators

Are you spending too much time selecting impact metrics?

Learn how to choose impact metrics for your organization, programs or projects beyond just IRIS or other standardized metrics.

And discover how a comprehensive cloud-based solution can help make that process accessible, efficient and effective, regardless of size or level of expertise.

Benefits of Impact Cloud®

Are you foundation, nonprofit, social enterprise, or corporations?  Is your program taking a lot of time research select most relevant social impact metrics?

If it takes months, even years to define and refine relevant social impact metrics, perhaps you are not using a right research approach. While standardized metrics can help organizations do so, how do you find the most relevant standardized metrics without pulling hair?   In the age of Google, researching and finding ideal metrics for any impact objectives shouldn't be this difficult. It no longer is.

The SoPact ImpactCloud®, which includes the world's most comprehensive impact search engine, enables practitioners across sectors to efficiently search thousands of metrics suitable for philanthropy, CSR, impact investing and more. The end result? Users can find and establish the most relevant metrics, for themselves and their stakeholders in a much more reasonable amount of time.

What is it that makes this search engine so powerful? Its searchability is nuanced, intelligent and customizable. Something you expect from something like Google but until now has been severely lacking in the impact space. Let’s take a deeper dive into the improved search world that awaits you.

Read More: 

What you should know about Standardized Social Impact Metrics?

Which Impact Metrics to Choose for Gender Lens Investing


What are IRIS Metrics and their Associated Challenges?

IRIS Metrics are standard metrics managed by GIIN and designed for impact impact investors and small & growing business (SGB)  for impact reporting.  These 520+ quantitative and qualitative metrics are commonly used by SGB for Impact Investment reporting . 

While impact investors love using IRIS Metrics, one of the challenges with implementation is their limited context-specific relevancy.

To find the right metrics for your organization, the tools you use need to speak your language and understand your context.

With the Sopact Impact Cloud, we've designed it so that it understands your language, it makes suggestions, and understands what you’re trying to say even before you say it. It guides you from ambiguity towards clarity for any of your metrics needs.

To give you more clarity on what we mean, we’ll walk you through 9 of the features behind the search engine. And we’ll use social enterprise startup Thrive Natural Care as a case example to take you through each feature in a more hands-on manner.

Create Impact Search Engine - choosing impact metrics beyond IRIS metrics

What you need to know about Thrive:

  1. For-profit entity
  2. Makes all natural skincare and grooming products for men
  3. Delivers a “regenerative” business model designed to improve everything the business touches, from its farms in Costa Rica, to the skin on your face.
  4. General indicator areas they measure: soil health, ecosystem biodiversity, farmer livelihood, community vitality.

Read More: How to choose Right Impact Indicators to Demonstrate Impact?


Now, let’s dig in.

part of impact search index - poverty | choosing impact metrics beyond IRIS metrics

Reason 1: Find Most Researched & Used Metrics

As with any research process it helps to know what’s out there and what’s trending before diving too deep. You could call this “taking the pulse,” a good way to build contextual arguments for the relevance of certain metrics over others.

Let’s say Thrive’s founder logs into the SoPact ImpactCloud. He’s just returned from Costa Rica with all kinds of insight on what’s important to the farmers and their communities, and just how their agricultural practices can improve soil health harvest after harvest. How might he translate those insights into metrics that his impact investors are also aligned with?

He can start by perusing the metrics catalog rankings. As more and more users interact with the catalog the rankings adjust accordingly. The most researched/used metrics will rise higher in the rankings and facilitate a more efficient “taking the pulse” process on current trends across sectors.


Reason 2: Typo-tolerance

Not sure how to spell something? Or maybe you just tpyed too fsat! No worries. Like the human brain, the SoPact ImpactCloud takes your tpyed too fsat and knows you simply typed too fast.

Or perhaps Thrive’s team searched for "sustanble mangment." Typo-tolerance engages, and what returns in the search results (among others) is likely IRIS metric OI6912: Land Directly Controlled: Sustainably Managed. To give you a little taste, this IRIS metric also comes complete with the following description (and other usage guidelines):

Area of land directly controlled by the organization and under sustainable cultivation or sustainable stewardship. Report directly controlled land area sustainably managed during the reporting period.

So whether you’re a fast typer or you simply don’t know how to spell something, typo-tolerance will save you and your team time, search after search.

Reason 3: Synonyms

Part of the issue with many metrics catalogs is that you have to know exactly how to define what you’re looking for in order to find it. Not very helpful when in the definition process of your metrics.

For example, let’s say Thrive works with farmers to ensure their income rises and that this has a positive effect on the family. Family size would be an important metric to track within this impact scheme. The Thrive team types “farmer family size” into the IRIS catalog on the IRIS website and is frustrated by no results. They do the same within the SoPact ImpactCloud and get a bevy of results. Why?

Our Synonym feature works to automatically relate similar terms to your search terms, so that what the Thrive team might find is IRIS metric PI4548: Client Household Size. This captures the farmer and the family, but in different terms.


This is important because across cultures we use different terms to 

describe similar concepts and if we don’t find what we’re looking for in a metrics catalog we may assume it does not exist.

Then we may resort to more generic metrics that do not capture the true measurement we would like to understand. This ultimately dilutes the quality of our data, our reporting, and perhaps ultimately, our service. See the table below for more examples.

sopact impact cloud - training an impact database - social impact mterics beyond the IRIS

Reason 4: Language-Agnostic

Business is getting ever more global. Even small startup teams are often spread around the world. So what happens if a Thrive team member from Costa Rica signs on to figure out how they might better measure their farmer capacity building programs? Let’s say they search, "Número de participantes" to start with because they find it easier to think and write in Spanish.

No problem. Because our search feature is a true polyglot. With 100+ languages, you and your non-English speaking teams have access to the same comprehensive database as any English speaker in Silicon Valley.


Reason 5: Filters and Facets

Most of us, and those on our teams, at least know which sector we’re operating in (area of focus). More savvy teams might also know the difference between outputs and outcomes, or the various metrics standards that exist (like IRIS metrics, Sustainability metrics such as GRI and SASB, Sustainable Development Goals - SDG etc). Those users who already have a head start on this knowledge, can take advantage of the filters and facets feature of the search engine.

These drill down features (you’ll experience them as various checkboxes) allow users to filter results down into specific categories, from area of focus, to metrics standards, to Theory of Change step, and more.

At Thrive, instead of searching for “land” in the entire catalog without filters, they may want to narrow it down to an area of focus like “Environment” so that they don’t see irrelevant results from other categories like “Housing” or “Community Development.”

So what may be at the top of the list with the term “land” and focus category “Environment”? IRIS metric OI5929: Biodiversity Assessment, something that Thrive needs in order to track the performance of their restorative agricultural practices on and around their farmland.


Reason 6: Advanced Language Processing

Have you ever tried to speak to someone about a topic you knew a lot about, but they didn’t? It can be hard to communicate when you’re using a technical language that they are not familiar with. But they can probably follow along given the context clues in your conversation. Like you and your friend, the SoPact ImpactCloud uses context to decipher what other impact metrics catalogs likely cannot.

For example, let’s say Thrive implemented a feedback protocol with its farmers complete with incentives to encourage high response rates. They’d like to demonstrate the execution of this protocol in their impact reporting so they search the IRIS website catalog for “feedback client” and get nothing. Discouraging. They search the Sopact ImpactCloud for the same, and because the SoPact version uses advanced language processes (and has indexed not only IRIS catalog but many other standards like GRI, Guidestar, GIIN, Robin Hood, BOND, UN-SDG etc), IRIS metric OI5049: Client Feedback System appears.

What you want in a search engine is to be able to throw keywords at it without having to guess at the exact phrasing used in the actual metrics. With the Sopact ImpactCloud you’ll never have to deal with this guess work.


Reason 7: Custom Ranking

No one knows our users like we do. We live and breathe impact every day. Just as you do. That’s why we’ve also customized the search engine to return results within a rankings system based on our own impact expertise. In other words, what shows up at the top of your results is ordered in an intelligent way, based on more than just textual relevance! Let’s look at this in simpler terms.

impact metrics search engine for selecting impact metrics beyond IRIS metrics

Let’s say Thrive searches for “microfinance” to find metrics relevant to a financial support program they may have for their farmers. The SoPact ImpactCloud contains numerous metrics that could be useful for this keyword. With our customized rankings, the metrics that are most likely to be relevant to you will appear at the top of this list.

For example IRIS metric PI3687: Jobs Created at Directly Supported/Financed Enterprises would take precedence over something like IRIS metric PI5965: Number of Housing Units Financed because we’ve customized the first metric to have greater relevance for most of our users who search “microfinance.” We base these custom rankings on our own business data, having worked in the impact space for years, and continually improve this customization as we get more data.


Reason 8: Personalization

We make an effort to get to know you. Partly because you inspire us to do what we do, but also because knowing you better makes us better at serving you. For example, something as simple as knowing whether you run a nonprofit or a for-profit social enterprise feeds into how we optimize your search results.

In the case of Thrive, we know they are a for-profit business and likely have impact investors backing them. When Thrive as a user of the SoPact ImpactCloud conducts a search the results are optimized towards IRIS standards because this is usually what impact investors seek. If a nonprofit that also works with farmers conducts a similar search we may optimize results towards Guidestar metrics (a system oriented towards nonprofits).

Put simply, by knowing more of who you are and what you’re about, the ImpactCloud structures results so that you get what is most relevant to you at the top of the list.


Reason 9: Autocomplete

This feature is great for either generating new ideas or completing that idea that’s on the tip of your tongue. It can bring you right to the exact metric you’re looking for before even hitting the return key.

Using our friends at Thrive again, let’s say they implement a variety of conservation programs with their partners in Costa Rica, from water, to energy, to environmental. To see all the metrics relevant to conservation they need to simply start typing C-O-N-S-E-R...and a list of keywords relevant to conserve or conservation metrics is likely to appear.

This gives an instant view of the results landscape, empowering users to even discover metrics they may not have searched for in the first place, but which may be even more appropriate for their needs.

Read More: Why Measure Social Impact? 4 Reasons For All Changemakers



The SoPact ImpactCloud is designed to give you Google-like searchability in a metrics landscape that is often frustratingly opaque.

You and your teams, no matter the language or level of expertise, gain access to a more efficient workflow within the world of metrics building. That way, you can focus more on what matters – on implementing your programs or selling your impactful products.

Read More: Is Measuring Impact Worth the Financial Strain?


We’re happy to jump on a call so you can leap into the ImpactCloud today. The world of impact metrics is just a free demo away. 

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