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Measuring impact: to do more, or to feel better?

Businesses working exclusively for profit have a straightforward way of measuring their impact. As impact is related to how well they’re performing, how much they’re selling or how well they’re positioned in the market, the measurement is focused on straightforward data that can be collected once the key performance indicators (KPI) are well-established.

However, when impact is not strictly based on results and profit, for example in purpose-driven businesses and social enterprises, it’s a little more complicated.

Charities have different ways of measuring impact: they can measure, for instance, the number of users of their services, the households that they support, the children attending school, or the number of people finding jobs.

However, these numbers don’t give us the whole story. How many of the households that we support have been using our service because they’re unable to move beyond assistance?  How many of the children starting school complete it? How many of the people finding a job keep it for more than a year?

When measuring our impact, we’re really curious about what comes next in the lives of the people for whom we care. Is it enough that a child has shoes if he doesn’t have food? Is finding a job for dad enough if he continues to drink?

The real picture doesn’t fit a spreadsheet, but we still need to figure out how to measure how much change we are bringing.

Businesses that care, that want to do something for the world in which we live, are finding answers to these questions.

Patagonia, which produces outdoor wear, defines its purpose very clearly and places it at the core of its strategy:

Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis’.

That’s why they’ve launched the Worn Wear Programme to get people to keep their garments longer. With this programme, Patagonia embraces the principle of recycling by repairing and restoring their products that people have finished with and then selling them online or at pop-up events.  This initiative has been hugely successful and is now a permanent programme with its own website.

Patagonia measures its impact in relation to how well it achieves its purpose in the world and with their people. For example by giving employees free time to work pro bono for environmental causes, donating 1% of sales to support the environment, or creating products that last.

It measures its impact by its commitment to do more without compromising on its values. This is the take: if you’re measuring your impact in order to feel good about how much you’re contributing and to justify your purpose and mission, you’re measuring not your impact, but your business ego.

If you measure your impact in order to bring more, to reach further, to go deeper, you’re measuring how much love and change you’re capable of spreading.

Measuring impact is important. It’s key to understanding what we’re doing, but it’s not just about receiving an ovation.

Do you aim to replicate your impact every year and get stuck in feeling good about it, or do you refuse to settle, and instead look ahead to what’s next for you?

Do you measure your impact just to feel good – or to do more better?

Image by  Alexander Ivanov



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