Workplace Innovations · · 7 min read

Measuring Social Impact: 3 Things Nonprofits Should Remember

Nonprofit work never ends. There are always other causes that need your attention, more people that could benefit from your support.   Instead of looking at charitable work as an uphill effort, make time along the way to measure the social impact of your efforts.   Pausing to evaluate your social im


Nonprofit work never ends. There are always other causes that need your attention, more people that could benefit from your support.

Instead of looking at charitable work as an uphill effort, make time along the way to measure the social impact of your efforts.

Pausing to evaluate your social impact isn’t just valuable because it gives you and your team a chance to breathe and congratulate yourselves on successful projects — you should also use these moments to adjust your long-term fundraising efforts.

If you can tie a specific action you took to a direct positive outcome, you can repeat that outcome in the future! But you won’t know how unless you have the right metrics on your side.

Any data and metrics you develop to measuring social impact are also useful to share with your supporters. They want to understand that their donations, volunteer hours, and petition signatures are helping make the world a better place through your organization. If they see how much their support means, they’ll continue to provide it!

It’s clear that measuring your social impact is important, so you want to do it right. Implement these three expert tips into your process:

  1. Develop a sustainable framework.
  2. Maintain the human element.
  3. Take advantage of partnerships.

Ready to quantify the impact your nonprofit work has on the community? Read on!

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1. Develop a sustainable framework.

To generate useful reports about your social impact, you have to first gather the data that your reports will be based on.

For that, you need a sustainable data collection and analysis method. Writing your process down and ensuring that everyone on your team knows which elements they’re responsible for will set you up for success in the short and long terms.

Every nonprofit’s mission and operations are different, so each nonprofit’s system will look a little bit different. But regardless of your exact situation, you’ll need to determine what you’re looking for, how you’re going to gather the data, and how you’re going to turn that raw data into useful reports.

Let’s dive into each of these elements individually.

What data will you gather?

At the heart of this process, you want to measure something immeasurable: the impact of your programs on the wellbeing of the community.

How can you put a number on that? You have to get specific with your individual campaign goals, breaking it down into measurable cause and effect.

Let’s take the basic goal of encouraging donations for a specific campaign, a situation most nonprofits find themselves in. The campaign will positively impact the community, so by examining trends in donations benefiting that campaign, we can estimate the impact on the community.

Start small. Think about the actions that you take every day to encourage donations, then the smallest unit of measure and any relevant percentages:

Then, think about metrics you can use to measure the impact of these specific actions:

  • Engagement with email, direct mail, and social media campaigns
  • Volume and amount of donations
  • Attendance at your fundraising events
  • Changes in all of the above over the course of the campaign

Not all valuable metrics will be as easy to quantify, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less important.

You also need to know how your stakeholders and beneficiaries feel about your organization and your programs. For these metrics, you should gather testimonials instead of numbers. Though it is difficult to quantify this type of qualitative data, it is still imperative. You just need the right data collection method!

How will you gather this data?

Collecting the proper data set is impossible without the proper tools. Some valuable data collection tools for nonprofits are:

  • The right donation pages. Make sure you can customize your donation form to include fields you need for your analysis. Your donation software should also collect general data useful for tracking trends, such as overall amount and timing of donations.
  • Email management systems. Schedule emails to specific segments of your donors, then track who opens your email, who clicks on links, and when they take those actions.

Most important in this list is your donation software. One of the most basic and effective ways to track your activities is through your donations.

You need to invest in donation software that offers robust reporting features. All within your software, you should be able to create multiple campaigns, track individual and group trends, filter your data, and export all or parts of your donation information when needed.

When it comes to qualitative data, you need slightly different methods of data collection. The data you’re looking for might not flow through these systems. After a team volunteering event, for instance, you might need to learn how your community felt the event went.

For the more indirect measures of social impact, you need qualitative data collection such as surveys and interviews. You might send out surveys over email, direct mail, or social media, and you might consider calling some donors directly.

No matter what kind of data collection method you decide on, make sure it’s sustainable. Software solutions should be programmed to automate as much as possible so your team just has to set the parameters once. If you decide to dedicate time to calling donors, make sure you schedule that time on your team calendar on a recurring basis.

How can you make your data useful?

Keep in mind your ultimate goal isn’t simply measuring but fully understanding the your social impact. With that, it’s time to put together reports.

You will need some baseline with which you can compare the community before your campaign and after it. Ensure that you’re collecting data before you actually begin your campaign so you have something to measure your success against.

While your data collection should focus on the data points themselves, your reporting can focus on the changes over certain periods of time.

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2. Maintain the human element.

For all the talk of data and analysis, it can be easy to lose sight of the people behind the numbers. Always remember that at the core of your fundraising practices are the beneficiaries who appreciate your support.

Whether you’re developing reports for your internal team, your stakeholders, or your beneficiaries, ensure that you’re keeping your work with your community at the center.

You can do this by incorporating:

  • Photos. Aim for images that directly show the impact of your specific campaign. If your nonprofit helped collect school supplies for a local school, organize a photoshoot with the teachers and students in their classroom using their new supplies.
  • Videos. There’s nothing as impactful as a video testimonial from a beneficiary whose life was improved thanks to one of your programs. Film an interview with someone who has an impactful story to tell.
  • Quotes. If you need a quicker and simpler way to incorporate the human element, you can always ask your beneficiaries for a quote that you can use in your reporting. Try to keep these written testimonials short and focused on one specific campaign.

It’s helpful to keep in mind that measuring your social impact isn’t just about giving yourself a pat on the back, though you deserve it! Nonprofit work is about your community of beneficiaries, whether you’re launching a peer-to-peer fundraising page for medical research or actually helping to build the town’s new hospital.

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3. Take advantage of partnerships.

Remember that you’re not alone in your community. There are partners out there waiting for you to approach them for help tackling the difficult problems you aim to solve.

So if you’re unsure whether you can meet the ambitious goals you set for yourself, consider reaching out to some community partners!

The most obvious place to look is other nonprofits organizations. If you benefit a similar mission or share many of the same donors, why not work together toward a common cause? Consider hosting a fundraising event together or coordinating digital efforts on a national day of giving.

You can also reach out to businesses of all sizes! Think of the benefits of partnering with companies of all sizes:

  • Large corporations might have corporate philanthropy programs, such as matching gifts and volunteer grant programs, that you can encourage your donors to take advantage of.
  • Smaller companies have the flexibility to get creative with social enterprise to benefit a good cause. Partnering with these kinds of small companies can pay off because your nonprofit gets exposed to a wider donor base — their customers!
  • Local businesses can offer you in-kind donations for your fundraising events, like a venue, food, or staff. Sometimes, all it takes to set up these partnerships is for you to walk into a local business and ask to speak with the owner about your nonprofit.

Though you might not think of your donors as partners in the same way you think of companies, don’t overlook the value of your supporters’ suggestions. Make it a habit to check in with your donors on a regular basis to ask them for their feedback and ideas.

With these strategies on your side, measuring the social impact of your nonprofit’s programs will work out to your advantage!

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