The Hard Work of Measuring Social Impact – 14 June 2010

Posted on June 16, 2010. Filed under: NGOs / Third Sector | Tags: , , |

The Hard Work of Measuring Social Impact
Author: Julia Hanna
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“Quantifying performance and measuring results are no longer the sole domain of for-profit enterprises.

Today, many nonprofit organizations also find themselves on the hot seat—not with stockholders but with donors who expect similar levels of accountability to show how their money was spent and what that spending achieved. Yet there has been little agreement on a set of hard-and-fast metrics to measure social performance. How should a nonprofit manager respond when a significant donor asks for proof of his or her contribution’s impact on a particular social issue?

“The basic idea is that not everyone needs to measure impact.””There are two big conversations among nonprofit leaders,” says HBS associate professor Alnoor Ebrahim. “One is around accountability. The second focuses on performance, particularly impact.”

In two working papers that break down what makes social impact easier or more difficult to measure (one coauthored with HBS professor V. Kasturi Rangan), Ebrahim offers nonprofit managers a clearer sense of how to respond to accountability demands from a variety of constituents.
(These papers are: “The Many Faces of Nonprofit Accountability” [PDF]
and “The Limits of Nonprofit Impact: A Contingency Framework for Measuring Social Performance” [PDF]).”


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