High Impact: Nonprofits’ Effects on the Social Sector

By Peter Gamache, Ph.D. & Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, MS, Turnaround Life, Inc.

America’s 1.3 million nonprofits heal, feed, educate, shelter and inspire people of every race, gender and socioeconomic status. We drive economic growth, foster leadership and civic engagement and strengthen our communities.

Every individual in the benefits from a nonprofit organization in one way or another. It’s easy to see the advantages of a nonprofit when our neighbors or families are direct beneficiaries—in situations when nonprofits provide food, rescue relief to hurricane survivors or life-saving counseling and support to someone in recovery.

However, it’s more challenging to recognize the indirect benefits of nonprofits. For example, the “friends of the local public library” might promote reading, but taxpayers can also benefit when the nonprofit raises money to buy equipment and books. Nonprofits play a critical role in creating more thriving and equitable communities.

Many approaches have been developed to help nonprofits measure and define their social impact, but there is no one universally accepted framework.

Here are a couple of reasons why your nonprofit would benefit from measuring social impact:

  • You can gather feedback for your activities in order to improve them.
  • You can gather stories and data for use in your marketing and fundraising.
  • You can report back to your funders, being both transparent and accountable.
  • You can increase the strength of impact assessment to attract new donors.

Where to Start?

The usual approach to measuring social impact is the Theory of Change, which demonstrates how and why a desired change can happen in a specific context. It connects activities with their impact.

Step 1: Inputs

Inputs are the resources available for your project. They may be financial, human, intellectual or other.

Step 2: Activities

Activities include concrete actions. They are primarily aimed at creating improvements in the lives of beneficiaries and include the work performed using inputs, with the aim of delivering results.

Step 3: Outputs

Outputs are when your activities come into contact with your beneficiaries. Essentially, they are the results of your nonprofit’s activities.

Step 4: Outcomes

Outcomes are changes or effects that result from your organizational activities. They are the difference between what could have happened without your intervention and what was achieved with it. Be sure to plan outcomes that make sense for your project or nonprofit, such as changes in attitude or other benefits to the group or individual.

Step 5: Social Impact

Social impact is the short or long-term social change that comes as a result of your activities. When defining these, take into account both positive and negative changes, intended and unintended consequences and effects on your direct beneficiaries as well as on others.

Outcomes are the short-term changes that happen in visitors, program participants, etc. as a direct result of your organizational activity. Impacts are the broader changes that occur within your community or environment as a result of these outcomes.

There are many different ways you can use this data. For example, it can be used in:

  • Your grant application
  • Your annual report
  • A social media campaign
  • A learning event
  • A newsletter
  • Strategy meetings
  • Staff meetings
  • A meeting with another nonprofit

Here at Turnaround Life, Inc., we aim to help organizations and programs that make it possible for people to turn their lives around. For more information about us, visit our website.

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