Social impact is a term that’s nervously thrown around these days. We all want to believe that when we’re volunteering or giving, we’re creating impact. But are we?
Companies in particular must understand the bottom-line numbers connected to their employee volunteer and giving programs. Impact insights help corporate leaders make better decisions about where and how to invest their philanthropy budget and build effective compelling case for continued or increased investment in grants and donations.
So what is your impact? How has your community been changed, causes been strengthened? How is your organization’s program making a difference in support of its philanthropic mission?
Nobody gets an A for effort anymore. You get an A for impact. But who’s keeping score, and how?
Reliable impact measurement has been the holy grail of CSR, and when it comes to employee volunteer and giving programs, quantifying impact can be especially difficult and expensive. Everyone talks about social impact but very few actually do the work to measure it, and thus most program leaders can only speculate about the impact of their efforts.
It’s critical for employees, nonprofits and company leaders to engage equally in providing the data needed to calculate outcomes, and sometimes this data is highly subjective. Here are just a few considerations for approaching impact measurement:
1. Talk to your partners. Before you can even think about the impact you’d like to result from your employee volunteer and giving efforts, you need to understand the true needs of the nonprofits you’re helping. This means engaging in a meaningful dialogue about how your company can uniquely address your nonprofit partners big challenges. So many nonprofits are afraid of alienating corporate donors that they don’t speak up about the real volunteering assistance they need. It’s up to program leaders to dig in to so identify the opportunities for true impact.
2. Define the impact you’re hope to achieve. Now that you’ve created a clear picture of the needs of your nonprofit partner, carefully articulate the intended outcomes of your volunteer and giving programs. It’s important to be clear on how what you expect an activity to produce so that you can assess whether it is indeed working. Defining short-term and long-term impact goals upfront also forces program leaders out of the mindset of well-intentioned activity for activity’s sake and instead focus on the real-world results they hope to accomplish.
3. Collect stories along the way. Impact isn’t just measured with numbers; it’s also measured by changes in the feelings of the people being helped, and hearing them express the difference your programs make in their lives because. Capturing real-world stories from the beginning is an important way to chart progress, and these stories are invaluable to engage participants in your programs
4. Don’t do it all yourself. Third-party partners that specialize in impact measurement help you gather impartial data. When organizations rely on internal surveys and feedback from the nonprofits they’re helping, the tendency for biased analysis is too great to be credible.
The keyword in “Don’t do it all yourself” is “all.” Impact measurement is something that companies can tackle themselves as long as they have the right tools.
Many leading brands use Versaic’s Impact Reporting tools to gain insights into how their grants make a difference in their communities. A provider of corporate contribution, grants, and sponsorship program management solutions, Versaic pioneered the concept of automated Impact Reporting. Versaic’s solution makes it easy for program leaders to understand the true value of their philanthropy for their community, employees and brand.
(Disclaimer: My company, Causecast, which provides an online platform for volunteer and giving, recently partnered with Versaic to launch an integrated software solution combining best of breed tools for volunteering and giving.)
“Versaic’s Impact Reporting automatically requests post-grant follow-up from nonprofits to provide data for impact reports ,” said Burt Cummings, CEO of Versaic. “We help companies find out how their grants were used, and assess the impact their grants had on the community so they can communicate those results to their organization and constituents.”
No out of the box tool or system alone can provide a high-level understanding of social impact or aid in making informed decisions. Instead, organizations must leverage the collective input of all stakeholders, including ongoing feedback from partner nonprofits, information from the people being served, insights from company leaders, and input from experts who deliver the software. Together, this team must work in tandem to create an accurate portrait of impact to enable grantmakers to make decisions and achieve intended outcomes.
Using this approach, Versaic’s clients have successfully measured the impact of their efforts. For example:
● SAP funds STEM and Entrepreneurship initiatives, collecting both quantitative and qualitative impact information on student performance, graduation rates, job placement and more.
● Starwood Hotels enhances partnerships with grantees based on clear communication, goal setting and progress tracking to drive success. Final reports on all grants enable Starwood to communicate impact.
● The Safeway Foundation manages all grants in its Healthy Futures program, tracking the impact of millions of dollars in donations to promote children’s health.
Tracking impact takes work, but it’s an essential success factor for employee giving and volunteer programs to make them resonant, engaging and long-lasting. With the proper mindset and tools, companies can eliminate much of the painstaking work themselves, save money and time working with pricey consultants, and avoid relying on inaccurate data. Accurate and timely knowledge is power. When you understand the impact of your work, the sky’s the limit for developing an exciting culture of irresistible giving and volunteering.