Bricks in the Wall – Individual Social Impact Assessments The Key To Organizational SIA?

Photo via cc by Flickr user Marc Falardeau

I’ve been reading and writing a lot about organizations large and small needing to understand and practice Social Impact Assessment – but can this be drilled down as far as measuring and reporting Social Impact on an individual level?

An article this week from Fast Company, entitled Volunteering Will Save Your Career (Or Put You In A New One), discusses how volunteer experience is a powerful and increasingly legitimatized way to increase your chances of being hired or promoted. Why is this? Because volunteering shows strength of character, serves as an alternative type of work experience, facilitates networking, and demonstrates commitment to a cause (which can transform into commitment to a job). The part of the article that really stuck out to me came from Nicole Williams, the Connection Director at LinkedIn. She noted that “hiring managers are looking at volunteer experience as real work experience, if job candidates are able to talk about their achievements while volunteering in a quantifiable way. For example, talking about how you grew the Twitter following for an event you managed as an event coordinator would make a strong impression. The goal is to translate the description of your volunteer work into the vocabulary of employment.”

Talk about volunteering in a quantifiable way? Translate the description of volunteer work? That sounds a lot like what I’ve been writing that businesses and mission-driven organizations need to do – find a way to translate their work, activities, and practices into measurable indicators of Social Impact. Maybe if we all look at our individual impact and find ways to measure and report on it, or if we find a process by which individual employees can do this as related to the mission of their organization, we will have a basis for understanding higher-level Social Impact Assessment.

Here’s a shot at my personal impact assessment: I recently helped organize a softball tournament with a fundraising component for an organization I’ve been involved with for several years – a literacy and mentoring nonprofit called Everybody Wins! (yes, there really is an exclamation point in their name). Personally, I was able to raise over $500 that will go to programming that will send professionals into New York City public schools once a week to mentor and read aloud with elementary-aged students. I also helped my team members in their fundraising efforts. Of the over $2,000 raised by my team in total, I’ll simply estimate (based on my time involvement with helping my team members) that I can add 10% of my team members’ funds raised as part of my own efforts. Here is where I really need Everybody Wins! to be better at reporting on their activities. How much does it cost the organization to send one professional into a school once a week for the entire school year? Costs include background checks, employees based in the schools, books purchased for reading, and other general overhead costs. Without any true evidence for this estimation, I’ll say it costs approximate $250 per year to send a volunteer to a school. That means I’ve funded two volunteers for the year through my fundraising. Now I want to know what that really means for impact. How did the work of the volunteers over the year affect the lives of the children in the program, their families, the school, etc.? Did the experience of the volunteers lead them to donate money to the organization, or give even more time to volunteering with Everybody Wins!, or at another organization? And what was the social impact of those results?

Obviously I don’t have nearly enough information to make a truly informed Social Impact Assessment. But this is how the thinking can start on an individual level, and then build up to the program and organizational levels. I’m on a new mission to measure and track all of my efforts and their potential impacts. And maybe one day I’ll be able to write an article with a slightly different title: Social Impact Assessment Will Save Your Organization (Or Help You Make It Better).


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