Understanding Social Impact

Do you know what difference your organisation makes to the lives of the people you work with?

Can you explain the consequences of what you do clearly and efficiently?

Would you know where to start to be able to convince someone that what your organisation wants to do, is what your community needs you to do?

Do you have robust systems in place to measure, analyse and evaluate your impact?


If yes, that is fantastic, and please come and join the Straight Forward Funding Sources Facebook Group, and share some of your knowledge!


However, if, like most of us; ‘you know what you do, you know it works but sometimes you struggle to describe it effectively’ – this is the blog post for you!


What is Social Impact?

If you have ever had to answer the following or similar questions, you are being asked to describe your Social Impact. Or putting it a bit more simply – the difference your actions make to the community around you.

Q: Please describe how the beneficiaries will benefit from the project and the difference it will make to their lives.

Q: How will your local area be different in three years’ time if your project achieves what you want it to?

Q: What positive difference do you hope to achieve for the young people and the wider community who will benefit from this project?

Q: How many people do you expect will benefit from this activity/project?

Q: If we give you a grant what difference will this funding make to your work?

Interlinked with the term ‘Social Impact’ you will often find funders talking about your ‘Theory of Change’, your inputs, outcomes, outputs, reach, beneficiaries and ‘the difference’.

One of the best metaphors I have ever found that explains ‘Social Impact’ is Splash and Ripple: Using Outcomes to Design and Guide Community Work [Health Canada, 2002]

“The rock is like a material Input, the person holding the rock is like a human resource Input. The act of dropping the rock is like an Activity. When the rock reaches the water, it creates a SPLASH. These are your Outputs.”

The ripples, spreading out from the splash are like your Outcomes, and then later your Impact. The edge of the pond represents the geographic and population boundaries of your project.

(The link to the article is listed below for further reading)

 But for a simple description, for now, let’s just use the idea:

Activity + Outcomes + Reach = Impact

Impact Measurement is also a term that crops up regularly and will be a crucial element to your organisation’s future – whether looking for grant funding or any other type of social investment.

A grant isn’t a gift – successful grants are usually accompanied by quite strict terms and conditions. To get the funding in the first place you will need to prove to the funding organisation that you will make a positive impact with the funds they provide and that they get a ‘social return on investment’.

To show how you will deliver Impact – you will need to understand your Theory of Change – again, there are some great articles on the web, so I’m not going to try and replicate them here.


But essentially, you need to establish a clear pathway:

Current Reality + Activity or Project = The difference you think that will make = Future Reality.


So there is a very brief, whistle-stop tour of ‘Social Impact’, it’s not designed to give you everything there is to know, but hopefully provides a basic understanding, and more importantly, some great resources that you haven’t had to scour the entire internet for!


The Straight Forward Funding Membership Programme also provides a Masterclass about ‘Understanding Impact’. For more information, and to join the mailing list click here

Looking for funding? Join the Straight Forward Funding Sources group here

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A few references to give you some options for further and more in-depth reading – and I would highly recommend ‘Splash and Ripple’.

Further Reading:

Splash and Ripple

A great way to visualise and understand ‘Impact Terminology’



Interested and want to know more – Inspiring Impact is packed full of resources to help you and your organisation understand and apply good practice


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