Why you need to measure your social impact

Not sure how to measure your social impact? You should talk to an impact manager. So we did.

With more and more pressure on social ventures to prove their social impact, it is a challenge to find the right approach. That’s the problem that Jo Ransom, an impact manager at the social enterprise support service Inspire2Enterprise, has to figure out for all kinds of organisations seeking her help.

Ransom has been working with social enterprises for around 15 years and was the programme director for what was to become Social Enterprise East of England (SEEE). She specialises in business development, helps with growth strategies and is particularly skilled at helping with funding and advising on policy.

Although she works with social enterprises at various stages of development, she finds that inexperience about social impact measurement is something many social enterprises have in common. "Those people just starting out have no knowledge of social impact measurement and even the more established ones are struggling with this."

So why is it important for social ventures to measure their social impact? Jo says there are three main reasons: stakeholders, contracts and investment:

"Enterprises are measuring because they want to demonstrate their influence to stakeholders, to prove that what they are doing is more than just delivering goods or services," she explains.

"Secondly, it’s important when they are tendering for work. There’s more and more emphasis on these organisations to demonstrate their social impact in order to differentiate social ventures from conventional businesses, particularly when it comes to public sector services, for example.

"Perhaps most importantly, when social enterprises are putting themselves forward for social investment they need to be able to prove their social impact."

Many organisations have difficulty deciding which tools will help them and Jo admits that the variety of different tools is challenging to get one's head around. As she namechecks most of the key players when we speak, it seems hard to keep up, "I think two more were launched this week," she says.

‘Those people just starting out have no knowledge of social impact measurement and even the more established ones are struggling with this.’

She points to Big Society Capital’s Outcomes Matrix and the New Economics Foundation’s Prove It! as helpful guides, but she really starts to enthuse when speaking about a social impact measurement workshop that Inspire2Enterprise offers in conjunction with the University of Northampton. The workshop advises organisations to consider impact measurement at an early stage.

"From our workshop, organisations have realised that when they integrate impact measurement into their business practices and combine it with good practice such as managing accounts and producing reports, it becomes a real strength because it stops mission drift. It keeps them focused on what the social problem they set out to address was."

Social Return on Investment (SROI), which has been endorsed by the government, can often be the starting point for businesses attempting to gauge their impact. SROI is essentially a set of principles to guide businesses and social ventures on how they can best account for the value they create. Various guides to SROI are available on the Social Value UK website. 

Ransom says she has "an open mind" on the approach to use because Inspire2Enterprise works with a range of different social enterprises. "It’s not until you start working with them that you can figure out which tool might be most suitable."

She also feels that commissioners looking for service providers have a role to play in clarifying what social impact measurement should consist of. "If they could be more consistent about what they are looking for, it would really help social enterprises."

Find more help at Inspire2Enterprise

Inspire2Enterprise provides a unique, free-to-access social enterprise support, information and advice service – from start-up through to initial growth and beyond. Call them on 0844 9800 760 or visit www.inspire2enterprise.org to find out more. 

Take the impact measurement test at SE100.net

Social enterprises can also take a simple impact measurement test and compare their approach to their peers through the NatWest SE100 Index – a free-to-use database of more than 1,300 social ventures, which looks at both financial and impact information.

Discover our Measuring Value Collection

Check out our other articles on impact measurement and social value in the Pioneers Post Measuring Value Collection

Photo Credit: HeavyWeightGeek