How to Right-Size Impact Management for Your Organization

By Mélodie Kinet | July 22, 2021 | , | Nonprofit

Nonprofit teams have a lot on their plates: not only do they have to run their programs as best they can to help their beneficiaries, but they have to run their internal organization also. They have to do all this while regularly drafting and submitting grant requests from funders who have different and changing priorities.

Nonprofits, corporate foundations, social enterprises, and organizations working in the social sector can struggle with how to approach understanding their impact:

  • How do they know that changes in their beneficiary group are due to their interventions? How closely should they track those changes? How rigorous or complex should the analysis of impact data be?
  • Often, nonprofits react to funders’ requirements regarding what to measure, though it can be difficult to obtain funding for impact measurement.
  • Moreover, funders, evaluators, and program managers can have different goals related to programs’ implementations.

Impact Management Services worked with Mobile Pathways, an early-stage nonprofit focused on providing legal information to migrants via mobile technology. Because they had recently kicked off their initiatives, we worked with them to develop a theory of change detailing their direct impact on the nonprofit partners they worked with, and their indirect impact on their ultimate beneficiaries — migrants on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. This framing captured the impact not only of the technology tools of their partners, required by certain funders, but also of the access to information for migrants, which would be measurable on an ongoing basis through surveys.

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Impact management is an ongoing, disciplined approach to using data and evidence across an organization’s programming and operations.

Because it is core to their mission, social sector leaders are highly motivated to understand the impact of their work on their communities. They’re also hungry for data and evidence-based solutions that generate practical insights for program implementation, continuous improvement, and core operational decision-making. This is where impact management comes in. Impact management helps nonprofit teams collect and use impact data to make informed decisions about their programs.

But first… What is impact management?

You’ve heard of impact, and the many ways organizations try to capture what they’re doing. Measuring impact and managing outcomes is at the core of the work performed by nonprofits, academia, foundations, corporate social responsibility (CSR) teams, and more. Much has been written on the methods for evaluating programs, for analyzing impact data, and for communicating impact to funders; more and more, thought leaders underscore the need to manage all the processes around understanding impact. Here’s how we think about impact management at Salesforce:

Impact management combines elements of:

  • Impact measurement
  • Continuous improvement
  • Program management

Impact management is an ongoing, disciplined approach to using data and evidence across an organization’s programming and operations.

The key point is that impact is integrated with how an organization manages all of its parts, and involves:

  • Decision-making based on the program outcome evidence
  • Decision-making based on performance and financial management
  • Staff and participant feedback, which can reduce biases
  • Market forces
  • Field (i.e., location of initiative) context

Mobile Pathways designed a survey to assess their beneficiaries’ feedback about the mode of information dissemination that was most helpful to them. The results allowed the executive team to launch a video channel, rather than sending text updates, in order to reach the numerous indigenous language speakers whose languages did not have a written form. Without gathering this information, and without the biweekly strategy meeting to evaluate program management, including impact data, the organization would have missed a valuable opportunity to pivot and reach their target audience.

Every organization — no matter its content focus, maturity, audience, or resources — can improve how it builds and uses evidence through an impact management focus. As illustrated below, the process is never finished.

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So what makes organizations successful at building evidence?

The goal of impact management is to help social sector leaders and practitioners build and use evidence to make timely, informed decisions about how to execute, adapt, and grow their programs and their organizations. The challenge is developing the right evidence at the right time to evaluate the right areas.

  • The planning, building, and use of data and evidence must be a part of the culture of an organization. In order for data and evidence to be instrumental in organizational decision-making, it must be a continuous, standard practice across the organization. Every team should build evidence of what they’re doing, and evidence should be integral to making decisions. Mobile Pathways implemented a weekly all-staff meeting to review impact data, and ensured all their strategic program decisions were based on this evidence collected daily. This process was made possible by leveraging Salesforce technology to automatically collect impact metrics and visualize them in dashboards to highlight trends and results.
  • Building evidence requires different types of tests of your program’s effectiveness, which vary depending on what kind of decision you need to make about your program. Lots of types of evaluation of effectiveness exist, from randomized control trials to smaller observations of impact.
    • If you are trying to figure out how to make your program better, small tests of variations on your model are likely to be helpful because they are designed to tell you whether one approach is more promising than another.
    • If you are trying to decide whether to seek public funding to scale a well-developed program, a randomized control impact study would be helpful.
    • If you need to make decisions everyday — for example, if you’re reviewing this data with your management team tomorrow — you need data that is easily available and quick to interpret.
    • In other situations, your timeframe may be longer. For example, if you need to decide whether to use the same program curriculum next year, you might have several months to gather evidence about whether the curriculum is easy for instructors to use, aligns with the overall goals of your program, and results in student learning.

Like Mobile Pathways, no matter the stage your organization is in, it is possible to find a right-fit analysis to understand your impact continuously and from the get-go.

Read more about impact management, and learn more about Mobile Pathways’ story.


About the Author

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Mélodie Kinet
Sr. Manager, Impact Innovation Strategy
With a background in global public health and development, Mélodie has worked at the intersection of tech and social good for 15 years, focused on helping organizations around the world leverage data to optimize and manage their impact.