Communicating and measuring impact
Now, more than ever, companies and NFP organizations must consider how they serve all their stakeholders and the communities in which they operate. Establishing priorities and knowing where to focus limited resources can be a daunting task, but a theory of change model can help to break down how a particular intervention can ultimately lead to a desired result or impact. By establishing your theory of change, you’ll ensure your organization’s social impact strategy is clearly defined, set your team up to maximize impact, and more easily communicate your strategy and results. Communicating your impact will raise the profile of your organization, mobilize support, build trust among your stakeholders and demonstrate the value of your work.
The theory of change framework
Simply put, a theory of change explains how a project, program, policy or strategy contributes to a chain of results that will produce a desired impact and uses the following framework:
Inputs – These are the resources or investment needed to support your planned activities. For example, money, technology, intellectual property or staff time.
Activities – These are the actions that drive outputs. For example, a program or service being offered in a community or design and development of something new.
Outputs – Outputs are the immediate result of the activities you undertake. For example, people participate in programs, or a new tool/resource is created.
Outcomes – These are the short, medium or long-term changes that your stakeholders experience as a result of the initiative. For example, people may change specific behaviours as a result of their involvement in a particular program, or their knowledge may increase because they used a new tool or resource.
Impact – Define your impact as the systemic, long-term change you are striving for. This should be aligned to your overall mission and is ultimately the reason why you are initiating the project, program, policy or strategy. For example, this might be changing population level health outcomes, reducing poverty, etc.
Once you understand your theory of change, consider how to measure your performance:
- Identify what data or information can be used to communicate results at each stage.
- Establish baseline data and track results over time.
- Identify methods and tools needed for data collection and capture.
- Report and assess regularly; leverage data to adapt and optimize inputs and activities.
Case study: Outward Bound Canada
As a registered charity focused on getting youth out into nature to build resilience, social and emotional intelligence, and environmental leadership, Outward Bound Canada (OBC) identified the need to improve how they communicated the overall impact of their programs to key constituents, including donors, corporate partners, schools and community organizations, and the families of target participants. Working with Bain & Company, OBC refined the questions used in their pre- and post-program surveys to highlight key outcomes and also conducted additional surveys and interviews with alumni to determine the long-term impact of their programs.
Through this research, OBC gathered significant data on their program outcomes that they then connected to relevant social issues and the priorities of key constituents. The data outlined how OBC programs contribute to participants’ improved physical and mental health, greater environmental consideration, and development of interpersonal skills required for future success at school, work and in life. Examples of outcomes included:
- 80 per cent of participants were more likely to step outside of their comfort zones.
- 75 per cent of participants increased their ability to collaborate.
- 85 per cent of participants showed a strong increase in their connection to nature.
These impact statements were then incorporated into OBC’s key communications and marketing assets, such as emails, reports to partners, brochures for schools and social media infographics.
In addition to creating a compelling case for support that led to increased donations, community partnerships and participant registrations, OBC also received a social return on investment (SROI) evaluation from Bain & Company demonstrating that every $1 donated to Outward Bound Canada returns at least $13 in value to society.
This example demonstrates that a well thought out theory of change can ensure your social impact investment and associated activities are working together in tandem to create a specific result that is aligned to your organization’s mission and strategy, inspiring for your stakeholders and beneficial to communities.
Shelley Mayer, CM, Founder and President, Ramp Communications Inc.
John McAlister, CM, Head of Marketing and Philanthropy, Outward Bound Canada