Impact measurement has become a hot topic among mission-driven organization leaders. The idea is to create systems that quantify and qualify their impact on their target community. As it becomes more challenging to attract and retain funders and competition for resources intensifies, organizations must find ways to help stakeholders understand the tangible results their support produces.
Still, learning how to collect and leverage data to measure the impact of a project is not easy, and many organizations opt out of the process simply because they don’t know its value or are unsure how to measure project performance effectively.
If that sounds like you, this guide will break down how to get started with measuring your project impacts, so that you can demonstrate outcomes and discover improvements that will allow you to help even more people in the coming years.
Why Should You Measure Impact?
You and your team understand your mission well and are committed to changing lives. Your volunteers leave each event or serving opportunity feeling valued and fulfilled. Maybe they have even received accolades from a person or group they’ve helped through your organization. Shouldn’t this be enough to help your team and others gauge how much impact you’re having on the population you serve?
While your team’s experience and the anecdotal stories of volunteers can help you understand your impact, there’s value in having concrete numbers to know whether (and how well) your project or mission is achieving the goals and outcomes you’ve set for it.
First, measuring your impact can help you improve program design and implementation. For your project's maximum impact, your team must spend most of their time and energy on activities that produce tangible results.
Having concrete measurements helps you clearly understand which specific activities can be associated with certain outcomes. You can then use this information to decide whether to add, remove, scale back, or invest more heavily into particular activities to create an even more significant impact.
In addition to helping you know where to best spend your time, getting a handle on measurement will also aid those charged with impact project management to understand where to allocate monetary resources. If a particular project isn’t showing tangible impact, you might consider allocating fewer resources to it or ending it altogether — even if it is something your team feels good about.
Alternatively, your project might be doing very well. In that case, it might qualify as something deserving additional funds or resources to deepen or stretch that impact.
It’s also important to know that people love supporting initiatives with data to back up their impact claims. For that reason, having concrete impact data can help you build support for your project from the outside via entities such as:
- Donors and investment partners
- Politicians and government agencies
When your project impacts people’s lives, those connected to your organization often feel like they are also making a difference.
For those in the public eye, association with a successful project can elevate their status and attract more supporters. For others, it makes them feel valued to know exactly how their time and money are helping others. Measuring impact transforms your results into their results.
Finally, learning how to measure the impact of a project helps you improve your team’s level of transparency so you can demonstrate accountability to funders and other stakeholders. Concrete measurement gives you proof in hand that your project is achieving its desired outcomes. While this information benefits all stakeholders, it is especially important when your project or organization receives support from sources requiring you to report it.
How to Measure the Impact of a Project
Now that you know the importance of measuring your project’s impact on the community you serve, you probably want to know precisely how to measure project impact. The good news is that the process need not be overly complicated. While it may take some time and strategic communication to nail down your objectives and align your mission with your metrics, the effort you put in now will ultimately be worth it.
The following is a step-by-step process you can use to start you on the journey toward measuring and clarifying impact in your organization.
Identify Project Objectives
How do you measure impact? Before you can measure anything, you need to know exactly what you’re measuring. All great impact reports start with a clear objective. If your organization or project doesn’t already have one or more objectives to work toward, you need to ask yourself these three questions:
- What change is your team working toward?
- How will you work toward it?
- How will you know when you have achieved it?
This is also known in the nonprofit sector as your theory of change, and it is the cornerstone of impact measurement. If these aspects of your mission or project are not abundantly clear, the next steps in this process and the outcome of your efforts will be of no use to you.
Identify Data Needs
The data you need for your impact measurement project will come in two forms. The first is qualitative data. This data type is more descriptive and is sometimes open to a greater degree of interpretation. While quantitative data is numbers-based, qualitative data can show what, how, and why something happened.
The second type is quantitative data. Quantitative data is measurable and countable. It includes metrics like the number of people who received a box of food during a holiday drive. It tells you how many, how much, or the frequency of an event.
Both forms of data are essential and have a place in measuring your project’s impact. The “numerical,” or quantitative, data will give you a tangible, objective picture of how your organization is performing to meet its original objectives. The qualitative data will help you articulate your work's specific impact on the lives of the people you serve — something that is notoriously challenging to do successfully.
Always use both qualitative and quantitative data when you can. In combination, they give you a more complete picture of your organization’s impact.
Once you have determined your objectives and the type of data you need, it’s time to decide which key impact indicators will define success for your team during this project. Key impact indicators are simply measurable impact values that show your organization how much progress you’ve made (or have not made) toward a particular goal.
It doesn’t matter whether you are wondering how to measure the economic impact of a project or are measuring a different social phenomenon. In both instances, your chosen KIIs should directly align with your objectives.
For example, if a food bank aims to increase accessibility, that establishment should track its repeat visitor rate instead of the total number of visitors. This is because the first metric will show how many visitors are coming back to the food bank after their first visit, a sign of accessibility and trust in the service provided.
Some of the most popular key impact indicators organizations use for mission-driven projects include the following:
- Program / Event Attendance
- Number of Beneficiaries Served
- Beneficiary Satisfaction Rate
- Pre and Post Scores
- Stakeholder Satisfaction
The following few sections discuss how to gather and use the data you collect based on your chosen impact indicators.
The kind of data you collect will be based on the KIIs you set in the previous step. If you opt to use a quantitative KII (such as the number of beneficiaries served), your data collection method will be more straightforward; you will simply count how many people your project served during your specified time. Additionally, you can administer a survey and complete your calculations that way.
However, if you select a more qualitative KII, such as pre- and post-scores or stakeholder satisfaction, you’ll need to conduct and analyze interviews, focus groups, or another form of verbal or written communication. If that’s the case, the following sections will give you tips to gather data using these methods.
Surveys are the preferred method for collecting quantitative data. They are especially useful for KIIs that measure rates, such as beneficiary or stakeholder satisfaction levels. You can administer a survey using any available means, including in-person (on paper), online, by mail, or even via text message.
Reach out for expert advice from those with survey creation experience so that you can ensure your survey is structured well and able to give you the data you need to measure impact. Keeping the survey short and the questions concise and free of complicated jargon is also a good idea. This ensures that more people will complete it and that the answers you receive will be accurate and relevant.
Interviews are among the best methods for learning how to measure the impact of a community project. They provide a direct line to personal experiences, insights, and feedback. That’s because they allow you to go in-depth with your questioning, understanding the “why” behind a person’s answer and capturing nuanced perspectives.
Because of modern technology, interviews can now be conducted just about anywhere, including in person or via phone or video chat. Furthermore, digital recording tools ensure accuracy in capturing responses. Make sure to go into each interview with a plan, a set of objectives, and at least a few open-ended questions that allow interviewees to explore their thoughts and feelings, providing a richer context.
Focus groups are another way to collect qualitative data and are conducted like a roundtable discussion. Your focus group must contain people in your target population who can speak to your project’s impact on their lives. Also, try to ensure that a moderator is present to keep the conversation moving in the right direction.
Quantitative analysis shows changes over time, while qualitative analysis involves looking for trends and patterns that show your impact on individual lives. Therefore, you should analyze the two types of data in different ways.
If you have opted for quantitative data, you will need to be well-versed in statistical methods to choose one that’s right for interpreting your information. If this isn’t your area of expertise, it’s best to outsource this task to a data scientist.
If you have collected any qualitative data, you can use thematic analysis to extract the answers you need from an interview or focus group data. This involves codifying your data and then highlighting and extracting themes that you can then communicate to stakeholders.
Data-Driven Impact Measurement With UpMetrics
Measuring impact isn’t just about taking advantage of a trending topic. It also involves maximizing your impact on the communities you serve and communicating that impact to the stakeholders who want to join you in your mission.
While social impact measurement can seem like a daunting task, it’s important to know there are tools available to:
- Streamline your data collection,
- Effectively analyze that data
- Create reports that paint a complete picture of your impact on every project
The UpMetrics platform has a plethora of features to help mission-driven organizations tell their stories. It starts from the foundational level with the Impact Framework Builder, which helps you align your mission with key indicators that give you a concrete idea of your impact.
The platform then allows you to collect and manage data from various sources. After that, you can visualize that data to properly understand what it says and how to use it to make critical decisions about your projects. Finally, you can combine your data with articles, anecdotes, photos, testimonials, and more to tell a story that your team and stakeholders can be proud of.
Reach out to us today and discover how assessing your social impact can transform your organization and resonate with the stakeholders who stand behind it.