Skip to Content

Measuring Social Impact Responsibly

By May 22, 2019

Measuring Social Impact Responsibly
By: Brian Komar, VP, Global Impact Engagement, Eric Barela; Director, Measurement & Evaluation, and Andrew Means; Founder, Big Elephant Studios

There is something about the world we’re living in today that we want to see different tomorrow. This is the primary motivation for those of us who channel our energies into nonprofits, causes, and philanthropies.

In over-simplified terms, nonprofits sell change, and donors buy change. Whether it’s a one-time $20 donation from an individual or a multi-million dollar commitment from a foundation, we give to organizations that we believe are creating the change we are seeking.

Yet, how do we know if organizations are truly creating change?

Impacting ResponsiblyImpacting Responsibly is a report designed to help the social sector measure its social impact in a responsible manner. It is the result of a partnership between, the Urban Institute’s Center for Nonprofits and Philanthropy, Candid (formerly Guidestar), and New Philanthropy Capital who together seek to ensure that social sector organizations have the information and tools they need to measure their social impact in a responsible manner, regardless of size or measurement sophistication.

From Telling Stories to Sharing Evidence: The Impacting Responsibly Movement

For much of the modern social sector’s existence, we have relied on stories as the primary piece of evidence to answer that question. We read heartwarming stories in annual reports that compel us to give more. However, these stories often highlight the outliers, those who have benefited the most from a nonprofit’s program. On their own, these stories aren’t a good representation of the organization’s overall ability to create meaningful, measurable, and sustainable change.

Leaders in the social sector have begun to recognize the need for better evidence to improve their understanding of what their impact – their ability to create change – really is. While formal evaluation methods can provide a wealth of impact data, many organizations may never have the resources to conduct a methodologically rigorous study like a randomized controlled trial. Additionally, program evaluation doesn’t always yield actionable, timely data that programs and communities need to understand and improve their impact.

Brian Komar Speaking

We recognize that the social sector needs…something. Some evidence. Some data. Some-thing that will help us have greater insight into the impact that organizations are making. What organizations need is impact data, which is meant to cover the breadth of data collected about an organization or program that serve as an insight into performance. Organizations are increasingly providing impact data to donors and funders, which is beginning to drive change in the social sector.

However, the rise of the use of impact data has raised some important questions, such as:

  • Do all organizations need to collect and report on impact data?
  • How can organizations of all sizes and budgets utilize impact data?
  • How can we better engage those we serve in collecting impact data?
  • How should we handle data privacy and protection?
  • Should we be aligning to standard outcomes?
  • How can we work in collaboration to maximize what we can learn from impact data?

To start, we asked 25 thought leaders in nonprofits and philanthropy, measurement and evaluation, social impact measurement, and technology to respond to the above questions as a way of providing some food for thought to social sector leaders. The outcome of this is the Impacting Responsibly report. We see this as a way to guide thinking about the effective and appropriate use of impact data.

Impacting Responsibly has brought together voices from across many sectors to discuss these questions. You will read multiple perspectives and hear how organizations are wrestling with the practicalities of answering these questions. The purpose of this report is to start a conversation about the answers to these questions. We hope you will join in!


Impacting Responsibly Report