What is social impact and how can you measure it?

by | Apr 3, 2022

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There are many organisations across the globe working to foster positive change through grantmaking. The positive change no doubt follows the mission and goals of each organisation, and there is even likely a ripple effect that goes beyond the expected benefits of the positive change.

But, actually measuring the impact of social change can be challenging. What can your organisation take credit for? How can you collect both quantitative and qualitative data to track the impact of your funding? 

Let’s take a deep dive into social impact and explore just how to measure the social impact of grant programs.  

What is social impact?

Social impact refers to the effect that an action or event has on society, people and communities.

So, the intended and unintended consequences, whether positive or negative, of a particular venture count as the social impact of that venture.  

An endeavour is said to have a social impact if it:  

  • Creates sustainable innovative public value
  • Prompts changes in feelings, motives, emotions, cognitions, beliefs, values, behaviour and even physiology
  • Affects how people live, work, play and relate to one another 
  • Addresses a local or international community need
  • Worsens the plight of any human population

Why is social impact important? 

Following the pandemic and the countless other issues that followed in quick succession, there’s more awareness of social impact than ever before. Organisations have a responsibility to leave a positive mark on society in any way possible; many seem to think that doing so is their most important task

The importance of social impact lies in the fact that it:

  • Creates opportunities for underprivileged groups and minorities
  • Encourages the protection of the environment
  • Fosters education and economic growth
  • Nurtures equality and equity at work and in other circles    

In all honesty, positive social impacts are good for all and sundry because when one element of our society blooms all others will follow suit. That’s the domino effect for you!

Now that we’ve talked about what social impact means and why it’s so important, let’s explore why and how it’s measurable. 

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The essence of measuring social impact

Measuring social impact matters for a number of reasons.

Firstly, calculating the social impact of an organisation’s efforts displays the relevance of the organisation’s work to staff, clients, investors, government agencies and the entire community. It demonstrates the value of the investments. 

Secondly, it aids the assessment of the organisation’s programs to ascertain whether or not the desired objectives are being achieved. Thus, poorly performing schemes will be identified and reworked to perfection. Also, the insight gained from the assessment of existing strategies will be used for better organisation and management of subsequent programs.

Additionally, tracking social impact helps your team understand an ever-evolving audience and encourages the organisation to focus on what truly matters. Thus, they can allocate resources effectively. 

Gauging social impact is good marketing as it makes organisations attractive to other entities and improves the likelihood of external support.   

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The positive impact of social grants

Social grants have impressive results, on both the microeconomic and macro-economic levels, in societies and communities where they’re executed. The impact is felt the most in the areas of education, health, domestic welfare and business.   

Some instances of the positive impacts of social grants include: 

  • Reduction in poverty, indebtedness and destitution
  • Enhancement of social development
  • Provision of resources necessary for investment
  • Improved employment rates and labour force participation
  • Boost in productivity and wage increases
  • Equal distribution of income
  • Better quality of education via the provision of funds for tuition fees and other necessary requirements as well as upping the resources made available to schools
  • Increased access to good food, clean water and healthcare   

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How to measure the social impact of grant programs

Here are the must-dos for proper estimation.

1. Build a strategy

Attempting to measure the social impact of your grant program without a strategy is akin to looking for something in the dark. You’d waste a lot of time and end up knocking things over in the process. 

A strategy provides a structure for the assessment of the performance of your grant program. It highlights the key performance indicators and alternative indicators of progress.  Also, it defines the vision and identifies who and what to involve in the estimation process.

What’s more, it helps you align with a framework. Some popular frameworks are Sustainable Development Goals, The Global Reporting Initiative Standards and Social Return on Investment to name a few. However, you’re free to create your own framework. 

Once you have a strong strategy, you’re ready to get started.  

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2. Define what will be measured and the timeframe 

Identifying the metrics and deciding on the time frame for the measurement is the next port of call. 

If your grant program is laser-focused, then the metrics can be easily determined. The said metrics typically include the efforts and outcomes. 

For a grant program focused on education, its metrics could include the funds and other resources provided, graduation rates, teacher retention rates, rate of students’ access to technology, college readiness, bachelor’s degree attainment rates and reading test scores to name a few.

However, if the grant is focused on health and social services, the metrics could include funds and other resources provided, patient engagement, health resiliency, immunisation rates and more. The metrics of a focused program can be easily measured by the grantmaker since they are within its control.

Deciding on the time frame for the measurement of the social impact of the grant program is vital. Are you concerned about short-term goals or long-term goals? Whichever you choose, it’s best to decide ahead of time, then stick to the schedule for measurement.

If you’re measuring long-term goals, you should allow more time for measurement. A bit of patience and flexibility will be needed too.   

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3. Know your role and your impact

To properly measure the social impact of your grant program, assess the actual results against your original targets with sheer caution. Meticulously identify how far your aspirations contributed to the larger outcomes and put your work in the appropriate context. This will ensure that you get a clear picture of your contribution to the desired goals. 

The essence of this practice lies in the fact that it’s easy to claim credit for positive outcomes that occurred at the point of your grant program, when in fact your grant program might not have contributed to all of the development. Maybe it didn’t even contribute at all. 

To actually figure out the extent of your contribution to the outcome, observe: 

  • Your organisation’s efforts
  • Endeavours of other entities working directly with you
  • The efforts of organisations and persons totally unallied with your program but with identical or overlapping outcomes
  • Changes in the economy, political clime, public health and other situations that may influence the larger outcomes

The disadvantages of claiming credit for outcomes independent of your efforts could include creating a false sense of accomplishment, misleading stakeholders or even complacency and failure to improve a faulty grant program.

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4. Share the stories

To properly gauge the social impact of their grant programs, grantmakers should also fetch stories from the members of the society who have benefited from their activities.

It’s easy to be concerned only with numbers when tracking the pay-off of grant programs, but stories and anecdotes add soul to these abstract digits. 

Stories have connected us, as humans, from time immemorial. So, they naturally demonstrate the tie between the funders’ efforts, immediate outputs and ultimate results. Additionally, in a way that inanimate numbers can’t, stories paint a clearer picture of how every element of the grant program works together to yield the desired goal.

For instance, a record of the number of health centres in a specific region might sound bland. However, a story can captivate with details on how:

  • Health centres gave a community better access to healthcare
  • Access to healthcare led to improved health conditions for the people 
  • With improved health conditions came enhanced productivity at work 
  • A boost in productivity brought about wage increases 

If action speaks louder than voice, then stories of impact speak louder than numbers.

Secure these stories in accessible forms, whether audio or visual.      

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5. Keep it human-centred 

Proper estimation of the effect of your grant programs demands the preservation of the human touch. So, as a grantmaker, you can stay human by being vulnerable, responsive and accountable.

Vulnerability, in the context of measuring the social impact of your grant program, implies being open to learning. The truth about grant programs is that they don’t always create the desired outcome. But instead of crying over spilt milk when a program underperforms, here’s what you should do:

  • Admit any shortcomings
  • Recognise failure as an opportunity for growth
  • Find out the cause of any underperformance and make the necessary corrections
  • Listen to your stakeholders

Listening to the individuals or communities served and being responsive to their concerns and suggestions is imperative.

Social impact measurement is not just about measurement. It’s also about the stakeholders’ voice. 

Crucial, as well, is preserving the atmosphere of partnership with stakeholders via accountability. Funding organisations indeed have to prove the results of their endeavours. So, ensure that the measurement process is transparent and be prepared to discard any unfruitful element of the program.      

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6. Leverage the right grants management software 

Finally, the task of measuring impact might never be executed if you don’t have the necessary tools in your gadget box. The right software can streamline your entire grant lifecycle and help you collect the metrics you need. It should boast robust grants management features and help you:

  • Collect data for metrics and performance indicators 
  • Analyse and manage the collected data
  • Visualise impact data
  • Collaborate with your team
  • Communicate in different languages

The essence of the right software can’t be overemphasised.

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Rounding up

Measuring the social impact of your grant program is just as important as executing a grant program in the first place. Of what use is it to embark on such a significant venture and not gauge its effects on the concerned communities? It’s important to ensure that the work you are doing produces the results you are seeking

Though estimating the effect of grant programs on society might seem complex, these surefire steps will make it easy for you to fetch the insight you need. 

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