UpMetrics Blog

Read the latest expert insights, trends, and best practices around impact measurement and leveraging actionable data to drive meaningful change.

Let's start with a story. 

ICU baby is a nonprofit that works to provide the emotional, financial, and informational support families and babies need to thrive during their NICU experience. 

In September 2021, the organization realized it needed to refine its strategy for sharing its story and raising support, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when so many organizations and communities were competing for contributions. The organization decided that to succeed, the ICU baby team should start measuring and leveraging its social impact. 

Don't worry—we'll jump back to the end of this story later. Much like ICU baby, your organization may be looking for ways to measure your social impact, whether you're a nonprofit trying to provide stakeholders with evidence that your programs and initiatives are making a difference or you're a grantmaking organization wanting grantees to track trends in their work over time. 

To help, we've created this guide to bring you up to speed on the basics of social impact measurement. We'll cover: 

It's time for your team to take the guesswork out of understanding its impact. Let's dive deeper into the process of collecting, analyzing, and leveraging key data points so you can paint a full, rich picture of your organization's success. 

Click through to learn more about working with UpMetrics to measure your social impact!

An Overview of Social Impact 

As explained in our full guide to impact measurement and management, the term impact refers to "the tangible changes or results that your organization generates for its community as outlined by its mission, vision, and goals." 

This image and the text below define the term social impact.

Social impact is more specific, referring to the effects your organization has on individual people, communities, and societal conditions or issues.

There are several different types of impact in addition to social impact, like environmental impact or economic impact, and often these different types will overlap depending on your organization's focus and work.

To truly get a clear picture of your organization's social impact, you need to gather and analyze data that shows you the progress you're making toward the smaller goals that will get you closer to accomplishing your mission. More on this process below! 

But why should your organization learn how to measure social impact? Think of it this way: Impact measurement allows you to go beyond saying, "Our organization is making a true difference in society" by helping you to back up this claim with data

Having impact data on your side then allows your organization to: 

  • Provide organizational leaders (like a nonprofit's board of directors) with the information needed to govern successfully 
  • Stay accountable to your community and stakeholders 
  • Make informed decisions to improve and optimize your programs and initiatives  
  • Strengthen employee morale as you remind your team of the real-world effects of its day-to-day work
  • Prepare your organization for future growth 
  • Effectively recognize supporters for their contributions
  • Inspire more support by enriching your marketing and outreach efforts 
  • Demonstrate impact to grantmakers, which can help you continue to receive funding, make a case for increasing funding, and support you as you create new grant applications 

To experience all of the benefits of measuring your social impact, you'll need robust impact measurement and management (IMM) tools, like UpMetrics, that can help you make sense of your impact data. Jump ahead to learn about the UpMetrics platform!

The Social Impact Measurement Process, Explained 

If you've never before measured your organization's impact strategically, it can be tricky to know where to start. Let's walk through the process you can follow to get clear impact insights you can share with your community. 

Before You Begin: The DeCAL Methodology 

At UpMetrics, we have a tried-and-true methodology for measuring social impact that can serve as the foundation of your own process: the DeCAL Methodology. 

The image and the text below describe the DeCAL methodology for measuring social impact.

  • Define: Create an Impact Framework by defining your objectives and selecting key impact indicators (KIIs) relevant to your social impact. 

  • Collect: Gather data related to your KIIs, clean it, and format it for analysis. 

  • Analyze: Look at your data to identify patterns and trends that reflect your organization's social impact. 

  • Leverage: Put your impact insights into action by creating an impact report and planning out improvements your organization can make to optimize its positive impact.  

This is a nuanced process, so in the sections below, we'll break it into bite-sized steps you can follow to kick off your impact measurement journey. 

1. Define objectives and determine KIIs. 

DeCAL Methodology Phase: Define

Whatever your organization’s overarching mission is, it’s complex and can't be accomplished overnight. Instead, you get closer to accomplishing your mission every time you achieve a smaller goal or objective. 

The same goes for measuring social impact—it's difficult to evaluate your organization's impact as a whole if you're not first looking at your progress toward more granular objectives. 

So, start your impact measurement efforts by revisiting your mission, vision, and values. Then, define the objectives you want to work toward that will help you reach your mission, realize your vision, and live out your values. Create your objectives with these dimensions of impact in mind: 

  • Who you are serving
  • What you are delivering and how much 
  • The quality of your delivery
  • How those you serve are better off because of what you are delivering and how you're delivering it 
  • Community contributions, a lens that lets you think about broader community-level progress toward accomplishing your mission

Outlining specific objectives that take these dimensions into account allows you to develop a theory of change, a conceptual framework that empowers your organization to think about how your programs, initiatives, and projects lead to positive outcomes for those you serve. 

Here are a few examples of objectives: 

  • Expand access to healthcare services for low-income families.
  • Raise student reading test scores. 
  • Make improvements to our job placement program.
  • Increase the number of sports programs available for adults with disabilities. 
  • Strengthen our connection to our corporate partners. 

Once you have a few objectives to work with, it's time to select your key impact indicators (KIIs). Similar to key performance indicators (KPIs), KIIs are measurable values that show you how much progress you've made toward accomplishing an objective. 

Here are some examples of KIIs that relate to the objectives listed above: 

  • Expand access to healthcare services for low-income families.
    • KII: Percentage of healthcare service utilization 
  • Raise student reading test scores. 
    • KII: Percentage of students meeting reading proficiency benchmarks
  • Make improvements to our job placement program.
    • KII: Job placement rate 
  • Increase the number of sports programs available for adults with disabilities. 
    • KII: Number of coaches hired 
  • Strengthen our connection to our corporate partners. 
    • KII: Number of monthly touchpoints with corporate partner points of contact

Note that for each objective, you may want to track more than one KII. Having multiple indicators of progress can be valuable as you can more holistically evaluate your progress toward achieving your objectives. 

2. Build your Impact Framework.

DeCAL Methodology Phase: Define

At UpMetrics, our IMM platform allows you to use your chosen objectives and KIIs to build an Impact Framework. This is a tool that can serve as a visual (and mental) map for measuring and leveraging your impact. 

Here's how the process works on our platform: 

  • Navigate to the "Define" tab in the Impact Framework builder. 
  • Set your dimensions of impact by using UpMetrics' recommended dimensions or editing or adding to the recommended dimensions.
  • Add objectives to each dimension.
  • Add a KII or multiple KIIs to each objective. 

Our Impact Framework Builder is FREE for organizations to use because we believe every organization should have access to the tools and data they need to maximize their potential and achieve long-term sustainability. 

Want to try it for yourself? 

Click through to get our free Impact Framework Builder to measure your social impact.

3. Gather data. 

DeCAL Methodology Phase: Collect

Next it's time to gather the KII data that will help you track your progress toward your objectives. Here are some tips for doing so: 

  • Start with the data you have. Identify where your current collection of data is stored, whether that's a few spreadsheets or robust constituent relationship management (CRM) software. Take stock of the information you currently have access to and the gaps you need to fill. 

  • Collect additional data. The specific data you'll gather depends entirely on your specific KIIs. You may need to have your treasurer provide you with your most recent financial reports, conduct surveys, or gather information from your social media platforms. 

  • Don't forget about publicly available data. In addition to your in-house data, consider the value of publicly available data from reputable sources, such as a report about the demographics of your state. Understanding the broader trends and patterns in data related to your mission can enrich your understanding of your organization's own data.  

A Mistake to Avoid: Overlooking Qualitative Data

There are two types of data, quantitative and qualitative: 

This image and the text below describe the differences between quantitative and qualitative data.

  • Quantitative data is data that can be given a numeric value.
    • Examples: Number of program participants, percentage of students who improved their test scores, average volunteering experience satisfaction score

  • Qualitative data captures qualities, characteristics, experiences, and behaviors in a descriptive way. 
    • Examples: Questionnaire answers from program graduates, videos taken at your most recent fundraising 5K, testimonials from corporate sponsors  

Organizations tend to put a lot of stock in their quantitative data. After all, numbers are typically easier to collect and analyze, and quantifiable impact may seem to be more compelling to your stakeholders. 

However, qualitative data is just as important as quantitative data. It breathes life into the cold hard numbers and adds valuable context and depth to your impact insights. As you gather your data, ensure you're looking for qualitative information that enriches your understanding of the progress toward your goals. 

4. Analyze your data. 

DeCAL Methodology Phase: Analyze

Once you've organized and consolidated your data in one place, it's time for you to analyze it for patterns, trends, and changes that indicate progress toward achieving your objectives and moving your overarching mission forward. 

This is where it can be valuable for your organization to partner with a data scientist or to use an IMM platform like UpMetrics.

An IMM platform helps with the often complicated and time-consuming statistical analysis needed for quantitative data and the thematic analysis necessary for qualitative data. Having the right tools and expert guidance on your side can make the process much more manageable and help you produce high-quality, accurate, and actionable insights faster. 

Note that data analysis won't always show positive progress toward accomplishing your objectives. Your impact data may show weak spots in your operations, and that's normal. What matters is how you plan to respond to that information. 

5. Communicate your impact. 

DeCAL Methodology Phase: Leverage

Now that you have insights into different areas of your organization's impact, it's time to share that information with the world! 

You can do this in many ways, from creating an impact report to presenting your findings at your next board meeting to including impact data in your fundraising marketing materials. How you communicate your impact will depend on the audience you have in mind and what their expectations and preferences are. 

6. Take action.

DeCAL Methodology Phase: Leverage

It's one thing to report on your organization's impact and another thing entirely to use that information to improve your work and optimize your impact. 

Prepare to take action on your impact insights, whether they're positive or negative. Use your data to strategize your next moves and get your team invested in making improvements or doing more of what's working. 

Expert Tips for Measuring Social Impact

Once you get into a good grove with the social impact measurement process, try these tips to take your IMM efforts to the next level: 

This image and the text below give some expert tips for measuring social impact.

  • Prioritize data hygiene. Keeping a pulse on your organization's impact will require you to become adept at collecting, storing, and managing immense amounts of data. To ensure that data is accurate, up to date, and useful for your impact measurement purposes, practice good data hygiene by regularly auditing your data to delete duplicate entries and remove inaccurate information. Also, standardize how data is input into your data management platforms (i.e., standardizing how addresses are formatted in your donor database). 

  • Measure long-term change. While short-term outcomes are exciting and indicate progress toward your organization's longer goals, play the long game with your impact data. Watch for trends and patterns in your data that indicate sustained behavior changes, systemic improvements, or shifts in norms over long periods of time. 

  • Adhere to high ethical standards. Prioritize keeping beneficiary and supporter information secure, especially when using external platforms to analyze your data. Ask individuals for their consent before sharing survey responses, interview insights, or pictures or videos that they're part of. Strive to represent diverse perspectives in your impact insights so everyone’s voice can be heard. 

  • Know the difference between causality and correlation. Say that one of your objectives is to raise math grades among the at-risk youth you serve. After analyzing your impact data, your team is excited to see a connection between the youth participating in your tutoring program and getting higher test scores. You begin to tell stakeholders and prospective program participants that the tutoring program directly causes better academic performance. Meanwhile, there are other factors at play! Some students have especially supportive home environments or great teachers at school. Be careful about claiming causation, as it can lead to inaccurate conclusions about the effectiveness of your programs and even missed opportunities for improving or expanding your services. 

How UpMetrics Can Help

Screenshot of the UpMetrics website homepage

UpMetrics is a leading provider of IMM tools for nonprofits, foundations, impact investors, and corporations focused on corporate social responsibility (CSR). 

We know that it's important for your organization to have the data that quantifies and communicates the impact your work has on the people you serve. 

Our CEO, Drew Payne, said it best: "In today’s data-driven funding environment, access to data is critical. UpMetrics’ platform empowers the impact investment and philanthropic communities with data and actionable insights to inform decisions, allocate resources, and design quality programs that effect lasting change."

When you invest in our platform, you not only have access to the tools you need to build your Impact Framework, collect data, and analyze it. With our paid Managed Services program, you can also gain access to our team of social sector experts, who can assist you with: 

  • Designing and implementing your impact measurement strategy (including building your Impact Framework and defining objectives and KIIs)
  • Data collection, structuring, and maintenance (both quantitative and qualitative) 
  • Data science to gather useful impact insights

Our talented team is our special sauce, ready to support you in all your impact management needs and eventually hand the reins over to your own team so you can continue to manage and measure your impact in-house!

With UpMetrics, you don't have to go it alone when it comes to measuring your organization's social impact. We have the tools and know-how to take your impact measurement efforts to new heights. 

Click through to give UpMetrics a try by taking our Impact Framework Builder for a spin for free.

Data Making a Difference: The Rest of the ICU baby Story

Still wondering what UpMetrics can do for you? Let's return to ICU baby and its impact measurement journey! 

An image of an ICU baby team member and a healthcare worker

Once ICU baby saw the need to measure its social impact, it decided to focus first on its Transportation Assistance Program (TAP), which helps to offset transportation costs for low-income families visiting their baby in the NICU. 

To analyze the program's impact, ICU baby gathered data like: 

  • Survey responses from beneficiaries receiving the stipend 
  • Stipend renewal rates 
  • Dosage of services (gas used, parking passes and bus passes purchased, etc.) 

The organization also worked with UpMetrics to fill in the gaps in their data, allowing them to get a fuller picture of TAP's effectiveness and the story of why the program is so important. 

Specifically, the organization was able to discover that a high percentage of single moms were traveling dozens of miles per day to be with their babies in the hospital. This eye-opening insight stresses the positive impact of TAP, and even helped ICU baby to land a competitive grant! 

Hear from ICU baby about how UpMetrics has made a difference for its mission:

Wrapping Up

The work you do improves the lives of individuals, strengthens communities, and impacts social issues. This is why it's essential for your organization to start measuring its social impact—so you can fully understand the positive difference you're making and do more for the beneficiaries who rely on you. 

Use the guidance above to get started today, and don't hesitate to reach out to the UpMetrics team if you have any questions!

Want to keep learning about the world of impact measurement and management? Check out these resources: 

Click through to learn more about how UpMetrics can help you measure social impact.


Post by UpMetrics Staff
June 27, 2024