How to measure social impact: Aligning and proving success with your business

In today's episode, we discuss measuring social impact, where to start and how to prove your program's success against your company's bottom line. We explore why granting is good for business, how to start measuring social impact programs, proving impact to key business goals and how to advocate for yourself as a corporate funder.

This is part one of our three-part series on measuring social impact. 
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What we discussed:

Karl Yeh:

So in today's episode, we got a special guest. Her name is Michelle DiSabato, who is the president and founder of Community Impact Consultants. Thank you very much Michelle, for joining us today.

So, let's go back to the basics.

Why is granting good for business?

Michelle DiSabato:

For me, it comes back to aligning your purpose, both [00:01:00] your business purpose and your social purpose together.

To really address social issues that are concerning to the company that are aligned with your industry, but to also promote who you are and what you stand for, for your potential clients, customers, and ultimately your investors. If you're a public company.

Karl Yeh:

When we're talking about granting, we're talking about granting overtime, or is it one offs here and there for the businesses?

Michelle DiSabato:

So [00:01:30] again, for me, we should no longer for a long time as corporate social responsibility professionals, or corporate citizenship, whatever we were being called at the time, we were the nice to have, we were the philanthropic arm of giving back because we're making money.

And that's no longer the case.

What we should be doing is being an integral part of the business.

And again, aligning our social good with our business values, [00:02:00] our business goals, because they do contribute to them.

Whether it's how we attract our employees coming in the door, whether it's we're addressing issues that our businesses may be contributing to, or maybe we're trying to attract investors.

I think in the past half a dozen or years or decade or so, we've seen more and more interest in this.

And it's the right thing, because we and our businesses need to stand for something [00:02:30] to contribute, to something and address issues that are within our business realm and purview.

Karl Yeh:

One of the things that I've always heard about any type of program is, how do you make sure that it's effective?

And granting is no different.

So you are known in the industry as a measurement impact specialist. So, how would companies who haven't started or not sure where to begin, how do they [00:03:00] start measuring the impact of their programs?

How to start measuring effectiveness of your social impact programs


Michelle DiSabato:

The first thing I always tell everybody is you have to get started.

Don't be paralyzed by fear because it's too hard.

Measurement is really an art and not a science.

So what we have to think about is, what it is we're looking to achieve, how it will contribute to society, how it will contribute to our business goals and our business impact.

So, if we think about what that [00:03:30] achievement is, the next thing that we need to think about, and this is the hardest part, is what those indicators are that will get us there.

And what everybody usually says to me is, "We can't tell our nonprofits what to measure."

And I always say, "Take a breath. We're not going to tell them how to run their program, because they know what they're doing."

They know the activities and so forth.

What we're going to ask them to do, is think about the resulting behavioral, if it's human behavior, or conditional, if it's environmental [00:04:00] or a bigger scale systemic change.

Measuring behavioural or conditional changes from social impact programs


So, we're looking for behavioral or conditional change that were resulting from those activities.

So, if somebody is coming through a program, say they're in a situation where they need to get out of a domestic violence situation, and they're picking up the phone, and they're calling a shelter and saying, "Hey, I need to get myself and my kids out of this situation."

Or, "I need to file a temporary order of [00:04:30] protection against my former partner." That's being done as an activity, but now I want to know what's different for that victim.

If we get that person into a shelter with the kids, or if we get that temporary order of protection put in place.

And the behavioral change could be something as simple as, we've gotten their immediate needs secure, their physical immediate needs secure [00:05:00].

So if we start thinking about it as not the activities, but the behavioral change, we as funders can  measure the same indicator across our program to get started.

All that said, I always say pilots are a good thing if you're just getting started.

So, pick the area that you know is your strongest area.

But you can't be everything to everybody.

So make sure you have a strategy that it's aligned with your business, that you're focused on the areas, that you know what you want to achieve, and then start with just a couple measures.

And hopefully you'll see what's working [00:05:30] and what's not.

Again, it's an art and not a science, you're not going to have the same measures for 10 years.

That's what data is meant to tell us.

And I guess the biggest thing to leave you with is, in the absence of data, how do we know if we're actually are making a difference?

No other industry measures their performance by narrative.

The narrative is great. It's going to tear at our heartstrings.

It's going to make us know that we're actually changing a person's life, [00:06:00] but data tells us if it's working across multiple people, how it performs and so forth. So, just think about it as the other areas of your business and run it like that.

So if we start thinking about it as not the activities, but the behavioral change, we as funders can  measure the same indicator across our program to get started.

Karl Yeh:

So, obviously you're not advocating for a completely comprehensive measurement program right off the bat.

It's like you were saying, measure one, two or three things and kind of build off that.

Michelle DiSabato:

And then I think the most important thing is to set that highest level strategy [00:06:30].

So determine who you are, what you stand for, your mission and your vision.

  • Your mission is who you are.
  • Your vision is what it'll look like if you achieve that mission.

And what happens in between there are the program areas that we all focus on.

So within those program areas, figure out which one is your strongest and what you want to achieve there.

And then think about the behavioral changes that have to happen.

For these people that are coming through a domestic violence program, if they're coming through food insecurity program.

I talk about it [00:07:00] as a continuum of change, because change happens over time.

Unfortunately, not everybody gets along the continuum at the same rate, or even gets to achieve, but it starts at that beginning of creating a connection.

So, somebody is becoming aware, maybe of services that are being provided, or that they have a health issue, if it's in a health space.

From there, it goes into improvement because there's some kind of active participation either by the participants of the program, or the [00:07:30] nonprofit doing something in the environment, and ultimately getting to change, where we're starting to see behavioral change, or conditional change to get to a lasting impact.

So again, monitoring it along a continuum, knowing that not everybody's going to get there, but pick a couple of measures that show that connection, that have improvement and that change level of behavioral change.

Karl Yeh:

So, once funders have figured out to measure that social [00:08:00] and environmental impact, how do they go about turning around and showing the impact directly to the business?

Because as you know, part of the whole point of having social impact programs is to make sure that it's sustainable.

And sometimes I'm sure it's very tough for CSR, corporate citizens professionals to show that impact to the business.

How do they go about doing that?

Proving the impact of your programs to business goals and objectives


Michelle DiSabato:

I think that's the most exciting place of where we are right now as a sector, as a [00:08:30] space.

But the first time we're being invited to the table.

And it's taken a long time for us to get there.

But because we now have a culture where investors are looking at our social good, and wanting to align their investments with companies that have the same goals and sense of purpose.

So in order to do that, you have to think about what I talked earlier about your mission and vision in those program areas.

Those program areas need [00:09:00] to be aligned with your business goals.

So for example, I had a client who was in the hotel industry.

And what they've developed was a whole workplace hiring campaign as their social strategy, because they wanted to make sure they were hiring local, to get into new places that may not want a big global chain to come in to a small community.

But if they were training people on soft and hard skills, they [00:09:30] aligned their social giving by creating job skills training, and job training, and workplace readiness, with their business goals of expanding into maybe some remote areas.

So, thinking about those types of situations as to what the business drivers are within your company, and how your social good contribute to that.

If you're in a bank or financial industry, you probably should start to focus on maybe micro [00:10:00] entrepreneurship, getting the unbanked banked.

How do you do that?

And how do you promote social good that align with your business goals?

Karl Yeh:

And it's obviously something that you want to do before you start running your programs, right?

Or is it more about you have your set goals, and you've convinced your leadership or your executive team to hold these programs and to run them?

But let's say some of your goals have changed, or you're seeing something in your programs that [00:10:30] wasn't necessarily part of your initial strategy.

So, is that something that you want to bring back to the table and relay that back to the team?

Michelle DiSabato:

Again, that's the value of data.

What's happening in the space?

What's happening in your business?

Maybe there's something that's changing in your business, so you have to adjust there. One of the biggest questions I always get is, "Does everything have to be in this [00:11:00] measurement framework? Does it all have to squarely fit in there?"

And my answer is always, no.

80% of what you do should be strategically aligned with your framework, and therefore your business and your business goals.

The other 20% maybe it's because there's another business driver, an executive has a passion project, or is supporting another executive.

Or as you just said, maybe there's something new coming up.

When I think about [00:11:30] the past two years between the pandemic and the social injustice throughout world, a lot of us had to take a step back and think about how we adjust to address those two issues.

So there's always going to be a portion that's outside, but for us to learn and grow, and maybe it does get embedded long term, that's the decision that has to be made as you continue to monitor your framework and your strategy [00:12:00].

Strategies weren't meant to be something that sit up on a shelf. They need to be active planning documents for you to work on.

So, your framework, you should be looking at, at least every three to five years to say, "Are we still on track? Are we hitting the right measures? How can we take this data and apply it to other data sources that are out there to know if we're making a difference?"

And to answer your question, it's about making sure that the vast majority [00:12:30] of what you're doing is making sure it's along with that framework, but leaving space to learn and grow.

Karl Yeh:

So Michelle, if you were a corporate funder, what recommendation would you have in terms of how would you advocate [00:13:00] for yourself within a business?

As a corporate funder, how would you advocate for yourself in a business?


Michelle DiSabato:

I think the big thing to know is to be seen as part of the business.

So, making sure that you're understanding what your colleagues and the strategic development area are doing in the sales department, because we want to make sure that our social strategies are aligned with their business strategies.

It's no longer okay to sit and say, "Oh, we're in the corporate [00:13:30] giving area, or the corporate foundation, and we're not directly tight."

That's not the case. You need to understand their goals so that all of the goals align together.

Karl Yeh:

So, Michelle, do you have anything else to add in terms of measuring social impact within a business?

Michelle DiSabato:

 I think the most important thing to remember is that you're no longer a nice to have, or as I was called back in the day when I was doing this, the people that go to all the parties and events [00:14:00] at night.

No, you're an integral part of the business.

You're helping to address the business goals by, as I said earlier, either addressing a social issue that the company is facing, or addressing a social issue that your customers and clients, that's important to them and that sense of purpose.

So for me, it's you need a seat at the table alongside each of the other core business units, so that you can contribute to the business' bottom line [00:14:30] and social license to grow.

Karl Yeh:

Perfect. So Michelle, if anybody wants to connect with you or reach out, where's the best place to find you?

Michelle DiSabato:

I think the best place to start is on my website, which is

It's one word. I know it's long.

But there you can read some blogs that we've done.

You can find out about me and my team, our approach to measurement, and how to contact us.

Question of the day:

How do you measure your social impact programs? What are some of the key indicators that you have? And if you have any tips and strategies, we'd love to know. 

Connect with Michelle DiSabato