Measuring CSR's Impact: You Can't Measure What You Don't Know
Nov 8, 2016
The tech world has introduced data and quantitative measurements to just about every part of our lives. This even includes the emotionally charged decisions we make, like that of corporate social responsibility programs. Of course, there is good reason behind the decision to measure outcome and effects of those efforts. On the side of donors and volunteers, knowing the effectiveness of their dollars and time can help inform future contributions. For nonprofits, data helps benchmark change and the impact their work has made while providing proof points to contributors.
Tracking outcomes is as business as business gets. It’s pivotal for maintaining any type of company, for profit or not. It becomes a little hairy in this line of work because a great deal of the impact isn’t so easily laid out in numbers. In fact, a great deal of impact relies heavily on the intangible. Corporate humanitarian work sounds like a contradiction because the very structure of business seems to challenge the warm and fuzzy of human interaction. It doesn’t have to be.
An Outlook on CSR Development
Often, companies are aware of the studies that show how CSR programs benefit business, internally and externally. In fact, a 2016 Global study found 64% of CEOs are increasing their corporate social responsibility for the year and even go as far to say that CSR is core to their business, not just a “stand-alone program.”
The reason? CSR programs are organized sustainability efforts that affect the community and/or market the company works within. When properly established, companies build trust with consumers, partners and employees while directly influencing the development of necessary skillsets in future talent and the stability of the environment or industry in which they do work.
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Numbers are Only the Beginning of Metrics
That, of course, doesn’t answer the question of how to measure impact. You can’t measure something you don’t know, so we often try to establish numerical facts that appeal to those who don’t understand those intangible benefits. We look to the number of increased sales, the satisfaction rating of employees, the productivity data of participants and even the amount of people who take part in the program. These numbers are great, and absolutely necessary to see the impact on the business and success of the efforts. The findings will help make changes employees appreciate while sustaining executive buy-in, but they are only telling one side of the story.
Measuring the social impact of a CSR program is considered a vague, choose your own adventure effort. The same can be said for measuring the overall impact of CSR. Gary Laermer (@glaermer), Chief Development Officer of the YMCA of Greater New York, expressed the challenge of balancing between impact metrics and truly connecting the dots in a program through the eyes of a non-profit organization.
“Nonprofit organizations need to show impact through consistent and accurate data, while at the same time bridging the gap between their donors and beneficiaries to demonstrate the power of their collective efforts to change the lives of others. One of the most profound mistakes I have witnessed nonprofits make is to simply seek to receive a gift without making the donor part of the change process.”
Storytelling is a CSR Essential
Laermer might be speaking as a non-profit leader, but the donor has a great deal to learn from this as well. In order to see the most impact from a CSR program, it’s important that the organization makes actual connections to the work. That means going beyond collecting data, and actually integrating heart into the process.
A business who becomes “part of the change process” will have the ability to see first-hand how their contributions are affecting the community or nonprofit. Sometimes this means visiting the nonprofit’s site, sometimes it means volunteering time alongside nonprofit works and sometimes it means receiving information on the people or projects their dollars went to. Whatever the situation, stories arise from the relationship, and these stories can be shared with employees, clients and consumers to truly explain the impact of the CSR program. Numbers are important to planning financial decisions and ensuring there’s real beneficial change, but measuring the impact of CSR extends past dollar signs and decimals. For continual and positive effects on the community and your business, CSR plans need to communicate the solutions in a relatable way. Collect the numbers and adapt your plan to match results, but don’t forget to color in the lines by telling the stories associated with that impact.
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