UpMetrics Blog

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

Whether your organization is a mid-sized nonprofit focused on animal welfare, a small family foundation that serves at-risk youth, or a large corporation that has recently launched several corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, you know that the work you do has real effects. 

For instance, you might see firsthand how a beneficiary's life is improved because of your services, or hear from a dedicated volunteer that working with your organization has been a fulfilling part of their life. 

But many of the stakeholders who support your work don't have the luxury of seeing your mission in action every day.

This is why it's essential to carefully measure and analyze the impact you're having on your community and report it to stakeholders through a process called impact measurement. In this guide, we'll explore everything you need to know about impact measurement and how you can get started: 

Once you master impact measurement, you'll have concrete data on your side that empowers you to stay accountable to stakeholders and make data-driven decisions that shape the future of your organization. Let's begin! 

Click through to learn more about creating your free Impact Framework!

Impact Measurement: Frequently Asked Questions

Impact measurement and management is a fairly new focus area in the mission-driven space, so if you're unfamiliar with it, you're not alone. In this section, we'll bring you up to speed on all the basics you need to know by answering some common questions. 

What is impact? 

First things first, you need to understand the concept of impact. 

Impact refers to the tangible changes or results that your organization generates for its community as outlined by its mission, vision, and goals. 

Depending on the nature of your organization's work, you may have an impact on one or more of the following:  

  • Individuals' lives 
  • Societal systems and structures 
  • The environment
  • Economic development
  • Public health and well-being
  • Education
  • Cultural and artistic expression
  • Human rights and social justice 
  • Technology and innovation

To communicate the impact your organization is making, you need to understand how to evaluate and report it effectively. That's where impact measurement comes in. 

What is impact measurement? 

This image and the text below define impact measurement.

Impact measurement, also known as impact measurement and management (IMM), is a process that involves evaluating the effectiveness of your programs, initiatives, and interventions to determine if you're delivering your intended results or benefits to your target beneficiaries. 

This means going beyond just tracking what your organization does daily, like hosting events, putting volunteers to work, or delivering services, and looking closely at the short- and long-term positive outcomes of the work you're doing. 

Why is impact measurement important?

Let's examine the importance of impact measurement from the perspective of mission-driven organizations and their stakeholders. 

This image and the text below explains why impact measurement matters for organizations and their stakeholders.

Measuring organizational impact is important for: 

  • Accountability and transparency: Mission-driven work depends on stakeholder support. By demonstrating how resources are being used and the effectiveness of services rendered, organizations can stay accountable to stakeholders and maintain trust as they strive to be transparent about their operations. 

  • Learning and making improvements: Understanding the impact of your programs, initiatives, and interventions allows you to learn what strategies are working best and make data-driven decisions to improve your approach.

  • Resource allocation: In the mission-driven space, sticking to a budget and prioritizing the most important needs is the name of the game. Impact measurement allows you to see which areas of your operations need the most time, attention, and funding.

  • Enhanced employee morale. Impact measurement has the power to open your team members' eyes to the importance of the work they do every day, which can be motivating and positively affect productivity.  

  • Better marketing: Measuring impact can help your organization share its story in more emotionally evocative ways, which can be helpful for raising awareness of your cause and calling for support. 

  • Scaling up operations: Whether you're creating a strategic plan for the next five years or simply planning an upcoming fundraising campaign, you're always looking to grow your impact. To achieve more down the line, you first have to understand how well your organization is currently performing. 

For the stakeholders who support mission-driven work, impact measurement is important for: 

  • Organizational governance: The leaders of mission-driven organizations, like the board of directors, need a full understanding of how effectively the organization is delivering its mission. This way, they can make informed strategic governance decisions and guide the organization toward a healthy future. 

  • Compliance and regulatory purposes: In some cases, policymakers or grantmaking organizations may require organizations to report on the progress they're making toward their mission. When an organization has an impact measurement strategy, this process is much smoother. 

  • Strengthened relationships: Mission-driven organizations often collaborate with community partners or businesses to move their work forward. Demonstrating impact is a good way to strengthen and maintain relationships and show partners why they should continue to lend support. 

  • Having evidence of an organization's effectiveness: Stakeholders like donors want to know that their contributions are making a difference. When they can see an organization's impact for themselves, they feel more motivated to give again. 

  • Recognition of contributions: Sharing your organization's impact is also a great way to recognize those who contribute to your mission, whether through donating, volunteering, or some other form of support. Being able to point to what their contributions helped produce can be rewarding for supporters. 

How to Get Started With Impact Measurement and Management 

Now that you understand what impact measurement is and the value it can bring to your organization and your stakeholders, you're likely ready to dive into evaluating your own organization's impact. 

Follow these steps to get started: 

This image describes the impact measurement process, which is detailed in the text below.

1. Define your objectives. 

In order for your impact measurement efforts to lead to positive outcomes for your organization, its beneficiaries, and its stakeholders, you need to know what you want to achieve through the process. 

Of course, you want to make headway on your organization's overarching mission, but it will make the process more manageable to break this larger objective into more granular goals. 

Here are a few examples of manageable objectives to inspire you: 

  • Raise at-risk youth graduation rates. 
  • Improve our job interview coaching program.
  • Increase enrollment in our volunteer program. 
  • Strengthen our relationships with community partners. 
  • Provide more hygiene kits to the unhoused in our county. 

Think of the objectives you identify as your North Star, the thing that will guide you through the rest of the impact measurement process and keep you anchored to your organization's larger purpose and vision. 

As you select the specific objectives you want to use as your North Star, don't worry about identifying specific success indicators. That will come a little later in the process. 

2. Consider the data you'll need to monitor your progress toward your objectives.    

Data refers to the raw facts and figures you need to collect and analyze in order to evaluate your organization's impact. 

You can use both quantitative and qualitative data to measure your impact: 

This image and the text below explain the difference between quantitative data and qualitative data.

  • Quantitative data refers to data that can be given a numeric value. Here are a few examples: 
    • Number of beneficiaries served through a particular program
    • Percentage of increase in organizational revenue over a certain period of time
    • Average amount of time to deliver a specific service  
    • Number of partnerships formed with local businesses 
  • Qualitative data complements qualitative data, focusing on what cannot be represented with a number. It captures qualities, characteristics, experiences, and behaviors in a more descriptive or narrative form. Here are some examples: 
    • Testimonials from beneficiaries sharing their experiences receiving your services
    • Survey answers from donors about a fundraising event 
    • Photographs or videos capturing a volunteer activity
    • Interviews with staff members to better understand your organization's funding needs 

From the get-go, commit to working with both quantitative and qualitative data. This will give you a fuller picture of your organization's impact once you begin analyzing your data for insights.  

3. Determine key impact indicators (KIIs). 

Similar to key performance indicators (KPIs), KIIs are measurable values that help you see the progress you've made toward your objectives. The KIIs you choose will inform the data collection and analysis steps coming up. 

Here are some examples of KIIs: 

  • Number of beneficiaries served 
  • Percent of donors who gave again 
  • Satisfaction from program participants 
  • Pre- and post-test scores 
  • Staff retention rate 
  • Total number of corporate partners 

As you come up with KIIs that align with your own objectives, try to go a little deeper than surface-level indicators. For instance, it may be helpful to track the number of people who enroll in a program, but it may be more informative in the end to track the number of people who complete the program or are retained in the program year after year. 

The Role of an Impact Framework

At UpMetrics, we recommend that after defining your objectives and choosing your KIIs, you create an Impact Framework. Our platform allows you to build a Framework that connects your objectives and KIIs to your larger mission and vision and specific dimensions of impact: 

  • Who you are serving 
  • What you are delivering to those you serve
  • The quality of your delivery
  • How those you serve are better off because of what you deliver
  • Community contributions to your organization's work 

Here's an snapshot of the Impact Framework building process: 

impact reporting_dashboard screenshot

As you can see, on the UpMetrics platform, you're guided through the process of adding objectives, KPIs, and attaching them to specific dimensions of impact. Going through these steps allows you to create a visual (and mental!) map that will help your team think about impact as something you can measure and leverage. 

Learn more about using UpMetrics to build your Impact Framework!

4. Collect data. 

Begin by digging into the data you already have, both quantitative and qualitative. The data that will get most of your focus will largely depend on the KIIs you've picked. 

This will require you to identify where your current data lives. If your organization is a small shop, you may only have a few spreadsheets to reference. However, larger organizations may have heaps of data sitting in several different solutions, from donor databases to marketing tools. You'll eventually need to consolidate your data in one place to analyze it. Jump ahead to learn about recommended tools for doing this!

You'll likely want to collect additional data to reference as well. Depending on your KIIs and data needs, you may need to conduct surveys, interviews, or focus groups. You'll also want to look for trends in your donor database and other tools.  

Also, consider any publicly available data that can enrich your organization's own collection of data. For instance, perhaps your organization is focused on lowering the unemployment rate in your local area. Publicly available data about unemployment on the state, county, or city level can enrich your understanding of the data your organization has. 

5. Analyze the data. 

When it's time to analyze your data, you'll be looking for changes, trends, and patterns that occur over time. For example, you might see that your adult English as a second language (ESL) classes have increased enrollment every year for the past three years. Or you may see that many focus group participants mentioned something about your email newsletter when asked what your organization could do to improve its marketing efforts. 

So, how do you get your data to the point where you can see trends and patterns clearly? It depends on the data type: 

  • Quantitative data calls for statistical analysis. The specific method you'll need to use will depend on your KIIs.  

  • Qualitative data requires thematic analysis. To do this, you'll codify your data and then extract themes that you can turn into understandable insights.

If you're intimidated by the prospect of data analysis or know that this skillset is out of your team's wheelhouse, you're not alone. Consider partnering with a data scientist or investing in an impact analysis platform to explore what your data has to say about your work. 

6. Act on your insights. 

Effective data analysis will answer the question, "How close are we to achieving our objectives?" And once you have those answers, it's time to act. 

This may involve: 

  • Making data-driven decisions and improvements to your organization's programs, initiatives, and interventions 
  • Generating comprehensive and engaging reports to share with stakeholders
  • Sharing the story of your organization's progress toward its larger goals  with your community through marketing materials 

Even if your data is telling you that you haven't made much progress on your goals or that new problems have emerged that need addressing, remember not to be discouraged by your findings. Let your insights spur positive change and optimism for better results in the future.  

Top Impact Measurement Tool Providers to Consider 

Having the right tools at your disposal will make your impact measurement efforts easier and more successful. As you consider the top providers below, take into account your organization's needs, budget, goals, and plans for scaling up in the future so that you pick the right fit. 

Our Top Choice: UpMetrics 

Screenshot of UpMetrics

UpMetrics is the leading provider of impact measurement and management software for nonprofits, foundations, impact investors, and CSR-focused corporations. 

With our user-friendly tools, your organization can tap into our DeCAL methodology for impact measurement. DeCAL stands for:

  • Define: Create an Impact Framework that includes the key objectives and KIIs you want to track in order to further your progress toward accomplishing your larger mission and vision.
  • Collect: Gather your existing data, use our data capture tools to collect more information, and then format and prepare your data for thorough analysis. 

  • Analyze: Visualize your data with our custom dashboards and compare your outcomes against your organization's or industry's baselines to see evaluate progress made toward your goals. 

  • Leverage: Take your insights from our platform and use them to make positive changes, stay accountable to stakeholders, and share your organization's story. 

What Sets UpMetrics Apart

UpMetrics stands out because of our team of social sector experts. Through our managed services offering, you can tap into their expertise on: 

  • Impact measurement strategy, Impact Framework, and KII development
  • Data science
  • Data collection and maintenance 

Better yet, we'll help you become an expert in impact measurement too, transitioning you to becoming self-powered on our platform over time. 

We also offer freemium access to our platform via our IMM Suite Starter Plan. This grants your organization free access to our Define functionality, where you can build out your own Impact Framework (and get inspired by Framework examples from other organizations). 

Additionally, by working with UpMetrics, you can tap into the power of community by joining our Impact Learning Collectives (free for UpMetrics customers!). Or, if you're a grantmaking organization, you can sponsor the cost of the platform for a group of your grantees through our Cohort program.

Click through to get a demo of UpMetrics and start your impact measurement journey!

2. Sopact 

Screenshot of Sopact

Sopact is a software provider committed to helping organizations make sense of their data through careful listening and artificial intelligence (AI)-powered data collection and analysis.

They offer two solutions: 

  • Sopact Sense: A platform that allows users to easily collect data and then thoroughly analyze it with the power of automation 
  • Sopact Suite: A more robust tool that allows organizations to bring together organizational data and AI for rapid data analysis, integrate with other solutions, and tap into expert support 

3. ImpactMapper

Screenshot of ImpactMapper

ImpactMapper is a provider that puts a special emphasis on helping organizations get the most out of their qualitative data. 

Their software empowers organizations to: 

  • Turn text into quantitative trends 
  • Create custom surveys
  • Create and customize data visualizations
  • Review all data with high-level analytics
  • Manage grants, grantees, and fund disbursements

4. Civis Analytics

Screenshot of Civis Analytics

Civis Analytics helps its users overcome data silos and unify its information to better understand what motivates their audiences to take action. It's an especially useful tool for mission-driven marketers. 

Some of its capabilities include: 

  • Easy importing and exporting
  • AI-supported workflows
  • Data standardization
  • Data augmentation 
  • Data processing in coding language of user's choice 
  • Simple report creation 

3 Examples of Organizations Benefiting from Impact Measurement

Wondering how other organizations have measured and managed their impact, and what it has helped them to accomplish? 

Here are a few success stories to inspire you: 

1. America SCORES Chicago

Screenshot of America SCORES Chicago

Since 2000, America SCORES Chicago has provided free after-school and summer programming to youth that combines soccer, poetry, and service-learning. 

The nonprofit partnered with UpMetrics to enhance its reporting efforts and more effectively track student engagement and program effectiveness data.

Now they have easy access to insights on their work that allow them to stay accountable to government funders and school principals. They've also found it easier and faster for their internal team to collect and manage organizational data. 

Want more details? Check out the America SCORES Chicago case study

2. Lime Rock New Energy

Screenshot of LRNE

Lime Rock New Energy (LRNE) is a private equity firm that provides capital to businesses and entrepreneurs working to solve the climate crisis. 

LRNE decided to work with UpMetrics because they know that understanding the impact their portfolio companies are having on the environment is crucial for making real, lasting, and positive changes for the environment.

Using UpMetrics' tools, they can better measure KIIs like avoided COemissions and help each company identify areas for improvement. Now that they've streamlined data collection, analysis, and reporting, LRNE can more easily manage its investments and report to its limited partners. 

Dig deeper into this success story by reading the LRNE case study

3. National Bankers Association Foundation

Screenshot of NBAF

The National Bankers Association Foundation (NBAF) is the nonprofit arm of the National Bankers Association. Through its programming, the foundation supports minority depository institutions (MDI) to ensure underserved communities have access to financial education, services, and tools. 

They began working with UpMetrics to improve their data reporting process, which, in the banking world, is critical not only for funding and investing purposes but also for legal compliance.

Now the individual banks associated with the foundation can share their impact stories with their stakeholders, institutional investors can see how their investments are making a difference, and the foundation itself can tell its story to raise awareness of its cause.  

Learn more about this impact measurement journey—get the full NBAF case study

Wrapping Up 

Measuring your organization's impact allows you to quantify and communicate the difference you're making in the world. As you work to measure and manage your own organization's impact, draw on the process outlined above to guide your work.

And remember, the impact measurement journey is one that oftentimes requires support. Consider partnering with a provider like UpMetrics to gain access to the tools and expertise you need to truly understand how much progress you're making on your mission! 

Want to keep learning about the world of impact measurement? Here are a few recommended resources from our blog: 

Click through to use UpMetrics' free Impact Framework builder!


Post by UpMetrics Staff
June 6, 2024