There’s no doubt that the social enterprise landscape changed over the pandemic and is continuing to evolve in response to the Cost of Living Crisis. Positively, social enterprise is enjoying a higher profile as a result but the true impact of that contribution is often unreported, overlooked or misunderstood. Whilst many social enterprises play an important role in addressing inequality and disadvantage in society, too few are able to evidence this and even fewer still, share their achievements effectively. Often when working with clients, we’ll ask the question ‘what difference are you trying to make?’ followed by ‘and how do you know you’re making that difference?’ In our experience, social enterprises are often brilliant at ‘on the ground’ delivery but less able to quantify and articulate the change they are driving. This is crucial, not only to incentivise staff and volunteers, but also to attract additional support including funding. In this article we will look at some simple steps that can be implemented to make this often daunting task more manageable at a time when resources are stretched.
What is social impact?
Simply put, it defines the effect your actions are having on your beneficiaries and the issue(s) you are trying to address. Take for example an organisation that states that their desired impact is to improve the mental health and well-being of the young people of a particular community. They note that they will do this through weekly activities as guided by the young people and their interests.
How do we measure social impact?
How do they know if they are achieving this goal though? This group might answer by saying ‘we have 130 members who attend and therefore, our impact is that we have improved the health and wellbeing of 130 young people aged between 12 and 16 years old.’ but this isn’t a measurement of impact because we are still not clear what difference that attendance made.
What is important is to establish a baseline – how are your beneficiaries when you are first in touch with them? Then design a clear and appropriate way to gather data to see if changes are happening. There are a range of methods to gather data, but fundamentally this should be bespoke to the kind of work and the kind of people you are supporting. You can issue surveys, record life stories over time, hold a group meeting to share experiences or ask referrers and partners if they are seeing change happen.
Our Creative Natives project works with young people and very effectively uses the Outcomes Star as an easy method to record the difference they are making. The young people then use the creative sessions they are in to record the impact themselves.
Not only are they gathering the data, but they are also using it to set goals and using it to guide their future activities, therefore creating better outcomes for the beneficiaries and increasing their social impact year on year.
Organisations that record the holistic difference their organisation is making over time can augment their annual accounts with a Social Audit. Community Enterprise represents social auditing for Scotland as part of the Social Audit Network and can help you source social auditors who can help. Finally, we believe in the power of connections and relationships and work with Unlocking Potential to deliver a powerful picture of how improved connectivity can change lives and communities.
If you would like support to gather and articulate your social impact, then reach out to us today, and one of our highly skilled Development Consultants can help support you through this process.
We practice what we preach. Our own impact measurement report is due out very soon. Keep an eye on these bulletins.