If you are working towards improving social and environmental issues then you must already be aware that the rules of the game are changing. It’s becoming harder to attract the attention of funders and supporters. Governments, foundations, impact investors, and even individual donors are requiring more evidence of your social impact. Meaningfully measuring and communicating the scope of your work to these stakeholders is often a daunting and difficult endeavor, to say the least.
More than storytelling
For a long time organizations working in the social sector used a narrative approach to demonstrate how their services transformed the communities they operated in. Paired with sound financial statements and an annual report, this “proof” of impact would normally be sufficient to guarantee continued support from donors and funders. Telling stories about lives changed is still an important way to engage people, but backing up those stories with data is an even more powerful element to sway major funders.
“By defining our goal more clearly, by making it seem more manageable and less remote, we can help all people to see it, to draw hope from it and to move irresistibly towards it.” John F. Kennedy, 1963
JFK was bang on when he said that having clear goals allow “all people to see and move irresistibly towards” them. The unique goal of your organization is normally found in your mission statement, but the larger goal you strive for is the essence of your vision. It is important to recognize that the common vision of 193 countries are the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
What are the SDGs?
They target the most urgent priorities that need to be addressed the world over, from eliminating poverty and hunger to attaining gender equity and clean water and sanitation. We are all collectively working together on the same agenda, maybe without even realizing it.
Because we share these goals we also share a universal framework offered by the SDGs to measure and manage our impact, one that has already been adopted by funders, governments, academic institutions, private sector actors, and nonprofits around the world.
Shifting from a qualitative approach to a quantitative approach in measuring your impact makes sense for any not-for-profit or mission-minded business. Using the SDG’s language, indicators, and metrics is a much better way to align your unique organization with allies working towards real solutions to a sustainable future for all.
Getting Started with Impact Measurement & Management
The beginning of SDG Impact Planning with Phil starts with a guided process of identifying, planning, and managing the impact of your organization through the filters offered by the sustainable development targets set out by the United Nations.
Phil’s SDG Impact Planning in a nutshell
- Three interactive learning workshops for your team and board members
- Collaborative exploration of the SDG targets that you have the most impact on
- Development of an authentic impact statement for your organization
- Customized strategic impact plan that aligns your current activities within the SDG framework
- Comprehensive training on the different monitoring and evaluation tools for impact management
The end-product of this important process comes from reporting your outcomes. Phil’s creative team produces a compelling and engaging impact report that includes original graphics, a mix of data, and storytelling.
Top 4 things an impact report offers
- A stand alone communications tool that will help you celebrate your successes, reflect on your struggles, and attract wider support for your cause
- Written content to be used in social media posts, blog posts, newsletters, web pages
- Real world stories to easily build case studies, audio recordings, video content
- Effective visuals that include unique images, infographics, illustrations, dashboards
“Community leaders, politicians, government ministries, the scientific community, leading nongovernmental organizations, religious groups, international organizations, donor organizations, and foundations are all motivated to come together for a common purpose. That kind of multi-stakeholder process is essential for tackling the complex challenges of sustainable development and the fight against poverty, hunger, and disease.”
– Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor of Sustainable Development and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and also Special Adviser to the United Nations.
Why do you need SDG Impact Planning for your organization?
Organizations need to overcome the perception that an effective impact measurement and management strategy is complicated and costly. The benefits need to be clear to all stakeholders. SDG Impact Planning means having:
- An ongoing process to track the milestones established through SDG targets
- Evidence that can be shared with your team and stakeholders to build awareness, extend learning, and celebrate achievements
- Concrete ways to improve the work you do and your impact on your community
- Influence on wider public policy and practices through the data you collect and use as indicators
- Create an evidence-based culture in your organization and embed the values that uphold the SDGs.
SDG Impact measurement and management should not be viewed as a cost, rather as a practice that can inform or improve many aspects of your organization’s performance. The benefit of the SDG framework is that it emphasizes the interconnectedness of people, planet, prosperity, and peace. Looking at your work through an SDG lens can help you create the most positive impact possible by identifying how your work toward one goal could be having a negative effect on another goal, or how your work toward one presents an opportunity for your organization to positively impact another goal with minimal effort.
“We really enjoyed the first session with Phil on “Understanding the SDGs and Impact Management” and look forward to identifying the goals we align with and setting realistic objectives. I also feel that these sessions are good for teambuilding –the timing is perfect now with our team working from home”
– Pina Arcamone,
Missing Children’s Network
Phil’s journey to measuring social impact?
Phil’s journey on measuring social impact began with becoming a B Corp certified business in 2017. At the time, the rigorous qualification process turned out to be the best strategic plan we didn’t know we were doing. Part of what makes us unique among other agencies is the fact that we understand that fundamental structural change is needed in order to transform the social sector. Our mission is to give social sector actors the tools and guidance needed to amplify their impact and make the change that needs to happen.
In order to measure our own impact we chose to align ourselves as a business with the SDGs. After months of research on best practices, we quickly concluded that there is no single, uniform methodology for measuring and reporting progress through the lens of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). So we created one and committed to making the SDGs a core part of our business. It has actually helped us make some strategic decisions that were not previously on our radar. The world’s to-do list has been boiled down into concrete actions that we have adopted and committed to in our Impact Strategy in order to truly move the dial towards a more equitable world for all.
We are working to help organizations build approaches that move beyond impact measurement solely for counting outputs. A deep dive is needed to properly measure and report your impact, it’s more than just skimming the surface. Too often this process is rushed and results in an unfortunate form of “SDG washing” – a superficial commitment to global change. An impact measurement strategy is only useful if the data is analyzed and applied to organizational practices to shift practices toward greater impact.
Why are the SDGs the best way forward?
The SDGs are the most effective way to mobilize our stakeholder networks, be it for funding, support, awareness, and most importantly to create the change we need for the world to be sustainable for the generations to come.
Don’t wait – align your organization with the world’s Sustainable Development Goals and stop struggling to prove your impact. Measuring impact through the lens of the SDGs is essential to properly interpret your role and the role of the social sector in the transition to a sustainable future. We are here to help.