What is Impact Measurement for?

October 6, 2017 Guest Author

Charities have been engaged in measurement since the late 19th century, but the focus of what is measured has changed.

What’s Impact Measurement for? Ask a social purpose organisation (SPO), and they’ll tell you it helps them prove that what they do makes an impact. It gives funders reassurance that their money is well-spent, and provides the stories and case studies they need for further fundraising. They might add at the end that the data helps them refine and improve their programmes, and inform their decision-making.

You can’t improve what you don’t measure. And to evolve and improve the organisation, measuring your impact is essential. But it’s not only about the final number it’s about setting goals, deciding on indicators, setting expectations and holding all key stakeholders accountable. That is when you can truly make an impact and improve upon it.

I had the pleasure of attending and delivering a session at Blackbaud’s recent Executive Summit – the energy throughout the day was fantastic and there seemed a real desire to share, learn and innovate.

Blackbaud has a great reputation for understanding trends in the sector and delivering events that act as a catalyst to collaborate and drive transformation, this event was no different. I had the opportunity to attend some of the sessions; Alan Clayton talked about powering the future of social good, Dan Corry discussed the innovation’s he has been seeing around Measurement & Evaluation, Outcomes & Impact. I sat in and listened to Mary Beth Westmoreland give insight on global non-profit technology trends and Stephen MacLaughlin paint a picture on how big data is completely transforming how organisations drive their decision making.

Me… I talked about Outcomes: Speaking a common language

I truly believe the more we can align on the language of results, the simpler it will be to take the journey to outcomes and impact together.

I’ve been working in the philanthropic community for some years now, and what’s exciting to me is to see a shift in the sector over the past 3 or 4 years on how organisations are now looking to report their impact & the desire to really get it right. Organisations are now getting to this point of impact where they want to know their results and no longer want to just grant money away, they want to know what’s different and see how it is different. However, because language plays a big part in these discussions, it’s causing some challenges.

“Managing impact” might not be a phrase to set the world on fire, but we believe the benefits of embedding the concept across the social sector would be transformational – and immediately tangible. SPOs are often experts in the needs of their beneficiaries, but lack the data on their own activities to make informed resource allocation decisions, or build an organisation that really plays to its own strengths. Data doesn’t just reveal impact – it is a prerequisite for making impact.

Good impact reporting helps beneficiaries, volunteers, donors, funders and other supporters understand and engage with an organisation. It also helps staff and trustees focus on results and work to achieve their vision. An organisation that is able to establish and explain its impact will have a strong foundation both for communicating its work and also managing it to achieve the greatest possible impact.

Funders need to show leadership—they should reinforce the influential role they play with clear messages about why measuring impact is important, by funding impact measurement itself, and by helping charities to use data and be transparent. Funders can improve practice—ensuring their requirements help charities learn and improve, are proportionate, and align with other funders. They can also ensure they use the data charities generate to inform their decision-making.

For further information on what Blackbaud are doing in this space:

Jamie Serino speaks with Michelle DiSabato, Impact Advisor for the Corporate and Foundation Solutions division of Blackbaud. Michelle discusses the evolution of impact measurement in the social good sector and explains that the vast majority of corporations and foundations, almost 75% of them, still struggle to get a handle on outcomes, measurement, and impact.

Impact Crash Course:  Read this whitepaper to learn how to advance your organisation’s outcomes measurement maturity


As we speak with the sector, we find organisations are at different points along what we could call a journey toward outcomes and impact measurement. Some are at the very beginning of the journey, asking the question, How do I even get started? And some are at a midway point where they need to perhaps convince others in their organisation to make this important shift or are at the point where they need technology to help them track and measure outcomes and impact. Yet others may be quite far along in the journey and may just need to fine-tune their programs. Learn where you are in that journey


About the Author, Gregor McCallAt the forefront of the fast-moving technology trends within the funding and impact management sector, Gregor works with organisations to get clear about their measurements, their programmes and articulate the impact they are delivering.

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