Measuring Impact

Key Insights

  • Measurement of impact is primarily driven by investors in the screening/due diligence investment phase.
  • There is no one right way to measure impact.
  • A logic model or theory of change can provide stakeholders with a depiction of the logical relationships between resources, activities, outputs, outcomes and impact.
  • The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals can be a useful entry-point as a way to break down different measurements of social impact.


“You measure what matters… it’s about identifying the impact metrics that are effective indicators for management of the business.”

– Kylie Charlton, Australian Impact Investments

Intentionality and measurable impact are the fundamental concepts that differentiate impact investing from traditional forms of investment. As the impact investing marketplace grows and becomes more dynamic, attention has turned to the importance of impact measurement – in understanding both the financial and social return on impact investments.

The increasing interest in impact measurement marks new and exciting opportunities for growth in the space. It is a chance to address the challenges that exist, in order to provide a more comprehensive understanding on how different tools and methodologies to measure impact can be adopted. The progress that has been made thus far, as explored in this document, is indicative of the extraordinary developments that have been made in the field. However, a strong potential still exists for development in the area – in order to further improve the consistency, effectiveness and applicability of impact measurement.

This section aims to provide an overview of the impact measurement tools and frameworks currently available. It does not, however, aim to provide a definitive answer on best practices. Rather, it  aims to drive forward the impact measurement conversation and to fill in knowledge gaps experienced by investors.

It is important to recognise that the use of these tools and frameworks should be commensurate with such factors as the scale, complexity, and available resources of the investor and investee. Ultimately, an investor’s approach to impact measurement will be dependant upon, and reflect, their goals, objectives and capacities.


Impact measurement can be defined as the activities taken to evaluate and report on the financial and social change generated by an investment. Some studies have identified impact management as a separate process for data generation and analysis. For the purposes of this Document, impact measurement encompasses both concepts of measurement and management.


“There is a clear sense that more work is needed to strengthen measurement systems….Some people noted that they have been seeing investments they regard as “impact light” entering the market, that is, investments delivering relatively low social or environmental returns or where accountability for outcomes is limited and little effort is being put into measuring those impacts. There was concern that if not managed appropriately, this could undermine the credibility of the developing market.”

-Australian Advisory Board on Impact Investing


Impact measurement is not only integral to making effective impact investments but is a unique opportunity for all impact investing stakeholders. These stakeholders include: investors, investees, intermediaries, and the government.

For investors, impact measurement serves to facilitate understanding, accountability, and value creation. Impact measurement is a powerful way for investors to assess the intended impact of prospective opportunities as well as the ongoing impact of their investment portfolios. By understanding the extent to which their investments can achieve or have achieved social and environmental goals, investors can hold themselves accountable and allocate their resources accordingly.

Similarly, investees can use metrics to determine their progress towards organisational goals and to improve their impact by continually monitoring and evaluating functions. Investees also have an intrinsic motivation to measure impact particularly for forecasting and impact optimisation. For example, analytics around impact can inform investees of optimal distribution, geography, and pricing decisions to help increase real-time impact on the ground. Notably, this area is in its nascent stages and likely requires greater research and testing.  

Measuring impact also benefits the broader impact investing sector, including intermediaries and government, as it can assist with institutionalising credibility and transparency. More than 90% of respondents in GIIN’s annual impact investor survey noted that a lack of sophistication in the practice of impact measurement was a challenge to the growth of the impact investing industry. Therefore, greater focus in the measurement space is important to increasing deal flow and participation in the industry.


“Once the due diligence is employed, we leave it to the theory of change. Because the reality check is that we have to be very careful whether investors or charitable funders get involved in very prescriptive measurement frameworks.”

-Gemma Salteri, CAGES Foundation

Impact measurement has been driven primarily by investors in the screening and due diligence phase of investments. As impact investors must balance the dual purposes of pursuing both social change and financial return, impact measurement tools can assist investors in making informed investment decisions by balancing risk with potential return across various opportunities.

Whilst the focus has typically been on the due diligence phase, impact measurement has a role to play throughout the investment cycle and to various stakeholders. The cycle can be segmented across four key activities relating to impact:


  1. Estimating impact: pre-investment or due diligence processes to estimate the amount of impact that can be created with an investment;
  2. Planning impact: post-investment or during negotiation, deciding on approaches and tools to measure impact;
  3. Monitoring impact: ongoing monitoring of progress to inform whether investee performance is on track;
  4. Evaluating impact: evaluating the impact created by an investment at the end of the investment cycle.


At each stage, impact measurement can provide useful insights to the stakeholders involved. This is summarised in the table below.

Relevance of Impact Measurement for Different Stakeholders


Estimating impact for due diligence

  • Ability to balance dual purposes of financial return and social impact when deciding between investment opportunities
  • Enables prioritisation of resources to create intended impact as impact is quantified.

Planning impact through strategy

  • Provides clarity and transparency by setting numerical targets to benchmark performance.

Monitoring impact to improve program

  • Ability to measure measure performance against agreed benchmarks.

Evaluating impact to prove social value

  • Use of impact assessment results to inform future allocations and market engagement strategies.

Estimating impact for due diligence

  • Enables prioritisation of resources to create intended impact as impact is quantified.

Planning impact through strategy

  • Allows for alignment of metrics and data collection to the organisation’s key outputs or outcomes.

Monitoring impact to improve program

  • Iterative selection of metrics to provide tangible insights to management and investors
  • Forecasting and impact optimisation
  • Impact-related data can be used as a basis for real-time operational decisions similar to big data-type approaches.

Monitoring impact to improve program

  • Empowered to share learnings with investors and other relevant stakeholders
  • Ability to identify where impact performance is poor, explore causes of good and poor performance, and initiate necessary conversations.
Others (such as Government, Intermediaries)

Estimating impact for due diligence

  • Greater transparency in the impact investing space through use of quantifiable and measurable results.

Estimating impact for due diligence

  • Greater transparency in the impact investing space through use of quantifiable and measurable results.

Evaluating impact to prove social value

  • Positive performance may encourage greater deal flow and further participation from stakeholders, particularly support from government and mainstream funds and banks.



It is clear that there is uncertainty surrounding measuring impact, particularly as there is no right way to do so, and the best method of impact measurement is generally investment specific. Here are some of the challenges that investors may face when measuring social outcomes:

1. Social problems are complex: Social problems are inherently complex, and so are their solutions. When tackling the root-cause of a social problem, impact outcomes may only be realised many years after implementation. Due to this, attribution issues also arise – this being whether the line of causality can be made between a particular intervention and impact. Furthermore, it is often difficult to place an exact time-frame on the measurement of impact, particularly when accounting for the complex cultural and political factors involved in social change. It is difficult to know whether the full result is ever fully captured.

2. Resources are hard to come by: Foundations may face constraints on investing the time and resources into adopting a formal impact measurement strategy. Measuring impact requires a level of research expertise, allocation of resources and commitment to longitudinal study, which can stretch beyond the capabilities of the charitable trust or foundation.

3. Tools and frameworks are difficult to navigate: The complexity of tools and frameworks may make it difficult to even begin to approach measuring impact. Trusts and foundations may be faced with questions such as “what tool or framework best fits our current investment?” or “what outcomes should we measuring?”.

Despite these challenges, recent developments are creating a greater sense of clarity and feasibility in measuring the impact of investments. The remainder of this chapter focuses on these developments as well as the tools and frameworks currently available to assist with addressing and overcoming the challenges discussed.


The increasing interest and participation in impact measurement has given rise to notable trends and developments in the space internationally. Firstly, in response to the greater desire for consistency and benchmarking, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals are increasingly emerging as a universal anchor point for investors. Secondly, the Impact Management Project, a global collaborative initiative, has marked a significant step forward in achieving a common language and shared fundamentals for impact measurement in the context of impact investing. Indeed, the next few years will be particularly exciting as the broader impact investing field grows, and hopefully with it, the focus on impact measurement.


Mapping Impact Investing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

With the launch of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a global agenda to end poverty and protect the planet by 2030, investors have been encouraged to consider how their investments might contribute towards achieving these goals. Each goal has targets that require financial investment and the UN estimates that developing countries alone face a USD2.5 trillion gap in financing initiatives to address them. Impact investing will hopefully play a pivotal role in unlocking more private capital to achieve these goals. Some of the largest pension funds, asset managers, and increasingly investors have already taken up this challenge.

The 17 goals, shown in the chart above, are proving to be a convenient framework for investors to to communicate and articulate the relationship between their investments and impact goals. Although the goals are not equally investable, and not all goals are relevant to all organisations, some investors are viewing the SDG framework as a simple and effective entry-point and finding it helpful to focus on initiatives that address a few of them. Others have grouped together multiple goals, such as reducing poverty, increasingly gender equality, providing access to clean and affordable energy, and creating more sustainable cities and communities.

The GIIN annual impact survey has recognised the unique role that impact investing will play in achieving the SDGs, and this is reinforced by the finding that more than 60% of organisations surveyed actively track their investments against the SDGs or plan to do so soon.

sustainable development goals sdg
  • Why do you track using SDGs and not other impact measurement framework?
  • How do you implement your impact measurement strategy?
  • What do you think are the implications of the SDGs for impact investors globally?
Impact Management Project


The Impact Management Project saw the collaboration of over 700 organisations, hailing from different geographies and disciplines, to agree upon the shared fundamentals that should underpin how we talk about, measure and manage impact, including in the context of impact investing. The work emerging from this Project was driven by the recognition that in finance, shared fundamentals about performance allow financial goals and investor expectations to be managed. This common understanding is crucial in ensuring that investors are given the opportunity to achieve their intentions and goals. As such, a need for shared fundamentals also finds its place in the impact investing space, to ensure that investor intention and goals can also be met when managing impact.

The result was the following five dimension approach to managing impact:

The Impact Management project was an exciting opportunity to spark conversation about the norms that would enable investors from all over the world to share reliable information about impact. The Project’s underlying philosophy, of having a shared understanding into how best address the effects experienced by the people and planet, is an exciting next step in exploring new and innovative ways to create and measure impact.


“We need to connect people to impact investing through story and experience….We see [impact investing] as a rational movement that is driven by measurement. Measurement is important but does NOT move people. In almost all cases it supports our belief system. Very occasionally people change their beliefs due to data, but mostly they change their beliefs due to emotional experiences.”

-Australian Advisory Board on Impact Investing

There is no single approach to measuring impact. The wide range of tools and frameworks available means that approaches to impact measurement can be tailored to the specific objectives and capabilities of the particular social enterprise and investor. Approaches can span different combinations of quantitative and qualitative measurement (and ideally both in impact investing context as it is often difficult to define impact with numerical figures alone. In determining your approach, you should take into account the nature and complexity of the social enterprise, and time, resources and capabilities available to you.

From the perspective of a charitable trust or foundation, there are three main approaches to impact measurement:

Do It Yourself

Do It Yourself - Measurement by an investor and/or investee

On one end of the spectrum, measurement may be a collaborative effort between the social enterprise and the charitable trust or foundation, who may be heavily involved in decisions around metrics and benchmarks. At the other end, the social enterprise may work independently to provide impact assessments to the trust or foundation, who in turn can audit the impact reporting when necessary. This is based on the belief that the social enterprise itself is generally best positioned to report on its own social impact, just as it provides financial reports to investors.

Measurement Through Fund Manager

Measurement through a fund manager

Individual investors may elect to have a fund manager invest on their behalf. The fund managers will often conduct impact assessments as they see appropriate to the investment, and report to the investors. An example of this approach would be that taken by Australian Impact Investments, described later in the chapter.

Measurement Through 3rd Party

Measurement through a third-party or intermediary

Another alternative is to leverage services offered by third party intermediaries that can help social enterprises and  investors conduct impact measurement. Typically, these intermediaries will have their own proprietary approach to measuring impact. A one-off fee or subscription may be required to access these services.


There are many impact measurement methodologies that have arisen alongside the growth of the impact investing industry.

The purpose of this section is to provide an overview of the types of impact measurement tools that are relevant to and currently being used in the impact investing industry.

“I would recommend to charitable trusts and foundations to consider whether the metrics they are requesting will help management of the invested drive better impact and financial performance. You want to set metrics that enable management to drive better outcomes, not ones that are just nice to have and end up sitting in your bottom drawer?”

-Kylie Charlton, Australian Impact Investments

Importantly, the impact measurement framework chosen should be appropriate and scaled to the investment. The alignment of the goals of the charitable trust or foundation against those of the investees should also be considered, as output information linked to business success becomes more useful to the running of the business.


‘Theories, models and frameworks’ refer to higher level types of tools that can be leveraged to frame and assess overall project or business success. These are often umbrella tools that set up an overarching impact measurement framework, and to which other metric-based tools can then be integrated. For example, a social enterprise might use a particular framework to help link their resources and activities with their intended outcomes or overarching strategy.


Developed by IGD, igdIMPACT integrates social and business performance into flexible and adaptable frameworks, with indicators matched to GRI, UN Compact and IRIS (discussed in sections below).Sector-specific frameworks are available for agribusiness, financial services, ICT, power and FMCG. More sector-specific frameworks are being developed.

Integrated Reporting

A reporting structure that allows companies to explain to investors how the organisation is creating value over time to all stakeholders, including employees, customers, suppliers, business partners, local communities, legislators, regulators and and policy-makers. This is a conceptual framework demonstrating linkages between an organisation’s strategy, governance and financial performance and the social, environmental and economic context within which organisations operate.

Logic Model (or Theory of Change)

The purpose of a logic model is to provide stakeholders with a depiction of the logical relationships between resources/inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes and impact. Different types of logic models can be utilised by organisations. For example, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation identifies three types of logic model approaches: the theory approach based on underlying program assumptions, the outcomes approach based on desired outcomes and impact, and the activities approach focused on program implementation.

GIIN 'Navigating Impact'

The Navigating Impact project provides investment themes through which to explore possible impact approaches. Stakeholders consulted agreed that this approach is consistent with the way an investor thinks about their portfolio, allowing the investor to either take a deep dive into one investment theme (E.g. Affordable Housing), or to look at the probable outcomes within multiple investment themes and assemble a combination of strategies that complement their portfolio goals.Investment themes include a series of strategies that show different ways investors might frame their impact goals. For example, under the investment theme on Smallholder Agriculture, interested investors can select from strategies like “Improved Access to Training and Information,” “Improved Farm Profitability,” and “Improved Food Security,” among others.Each strategy includes an overview of the strategy, an evidence map, a core set of metrics that are shown to indicate progress toward that strategy’s objectives, and curated resources that can help measure and manage toward the strategy.

Big Society Capital Social Outcomes Matrix

Based on needs and trends from the UK, the Social Outcomes Matrix represents nine outcome areas which reflect what a person needs to have a full and happy life. Each outcome area has a set of related measures to assist with assessing social impact at an individual level and for the community. These measures are intended as a helpful starting point for organisations and intermediaries.

Results Based Accountability (‘RBA’)

Results Based Accountability (RBA) is a planning, monitoring, evaluation and continuous improvement framework that focuses on outcomes. It utilises a data-driven, decision making process to help both communities and organisations take actions and solve problems. In terms of community, the RBA is able to help identify the progress a community is making towards achieving community well-being. However, in organisations, RBA can help identify the role and impact of the organisation in the wider community by evaluating the beneficiaries of the goods or services that the organisation provides.

Social Accounting and Audit (‘SAA’)

A logical and flexible framework which enables organisations to build on existing documentation and reporting processes to prove, improve and account for the social value generated by the organisation.SAA uses eight key principles to underpin its process. Can be used by any organisation, including public and private sector organisations of any size and scale.


‘Metrics and ratings’ refer to tools and techniques that can be used to measure and track impact performance. Typically, these metrics and ratings are measurable and quantifiable, and can be tailored to fit specific sector needs. Metrics and ratings are often the underlying building blocks for more advanced theories, models and frameworks.

Impact Reporting and Investing Standards (IRIS)

IRIS is an industry-recognised catalog of generally accepted performance metrics that enables investors, intermediaries and social enterprises to measure their social, environmental and financial success. As a catalog, IRIS is designed to allow users to select and choose metris that fit their needs. IRIS includes both general and sector-specific metrics.

Social Return on Investment (SROI)

Social Return on Investment is a methodology that aims to quantify social impact by attributing a monetary value to particular outcomes. The SROI Network and the SROI Toolkit are two customisable assessment and management systems utilising SROI principles.

Balanced Scorecard

Strategic planning and management system used by organisations (including for-profit organisations) to communicate what is trying to be accomplished, align day-to-day work, prioritise projects/products/services and measure and monitor progress towards strategic targets. In a social impact context, the balanced scorecard can be modified to account for impact. For example, New Profit uses a modified balanced scorecard to measure performance in terms of five outcome perspectives: social impact, financial, customer, business process, and learning/growth.

HIP Check Scorecard

Tool for measuring sustainability, business performance and financial potential that can be applied by both investors and companies. The tool is divided into 3 sections. Section 1 measures the measurable human, social and environmental impact of the organisation. Section 2 measures the soundness of the organisation’s business fundamentals. Section 3 is only relevant for investors, and measures the fit of the company in the investor’s portfolio.


‘Third party assessment’ refers to services offered by third parties that can help social enterprises, intermediaries and investors conduct impact measurement. Unlike other impact measurement tools that are freely available, these services can only be accessed through the third parties and cannot be self-conducted by stakeholders.

B Impact Assessment (‘BIA’)

A rating system that assesses the overall social and environmental impact of companies through an easy-to-use online platform. Uses a ratings methodology analogous to Morningstar investment ratings or S&P credit risk ratings.

Global Impact Investing Rating System (‘GIIRS’)

A rating system based on the BIA that assesses the impact of funds that manage their portfolio’s social and environmental impact with the same rigor as their financial performance.

B Corps

B Corp is a certification standard which takes into account an organisation’s social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. It is managed by the nonprofit B Lab, which launched its Australian arm in 2014. The certification by B Lab ensures that the enterprise meets a minimum set of standards with regard to the impact that it generates, and 10% of B Corps are audited by B Lab each year to maintain the integrity of the certification. Some impact investors like Small Giants use the B Corp certification as an impact assessment tool and insist that all their investee companies become B Corporations.


Aeris is a portfolio management and benchmarking tool that provides standardised data on financial and impact performance of community development financial institutions (CDFIs). It assists in allowing the evaluation of opportunities to meet the impact goals and risk parameters. The tool is currently limited at the moment to CDFIs within the US, however it serves a wide range of causes in terms of promoting financing for economic equality, environmental sustainability, food access, health care, education, affordable housing, amongst a range of other causes.


Sinzer is a online tool for social impact measurement. It allows all types of parties including social enterprises, investors, intermediaries and public authorities to measure, monitor and manage their social impact. The Sinzer platform can be used to manage and collect data, visualise data and analyse results. It uses popular impact metrics (e.g. IRIS, SDGs), and can plug into various frameworks (e.g. SROI).

The GIIN has also developed The Impact Toolkit. This is a digital database that consolidates many of the impact measurement resources available to investors, intermediaries and social enterprises that are discussed above.


A great example of an impact measurement approach that has been adopted in Australia is the impact framework developed by the Australian Impact Investments team. It demonstrates a way in which many concepts and methodologies related to impact measurement can be utilised to create something unique to a specific organisation’s goals and impact outcomes.
Australian Impact Investments is a financial advisory group specialising in designing, implementing and managing impact investment portfolios for wholesale investors.
The Australian Impact Investments team has developed a three-dimensional impact framework to assess impact investments. Their framework draws upon the team’s three prior years of impact investing experience, as well as insights from the Impact Management Projectand J.P. Morgan.

For an example of this framework applied, see the Sycamore school case study

Bush Heritage is a national non-profit organisation conserving biodiversity in Australia. The organisation achieves this by buying and managing land of outstanding conservation value, and working in partnership with other landowners, particularly aboriginal communities. Bush Heritage helps protect native habitats on millions of hectares of the most ecologically important landscapes.

Bush Heritage uses IRIS metrics to report the results of the organisation’s conservation actions through its Annual Report. These organisation-wide metrics are aggregated from data collected and analysed at project and regional levels through Bush Heritage’s conservation management process.

This process requires a clear theory of change for each project, including definition of a range of output, outcome and impact metrics. Bush Heritage has aligned these “bottom-up” project metrics with the standard metrics in the IRIS catalog to allow organisation-wide monitoring and reporting of the organisation’s impact.

Examples of IRIS metrics used by Bush Heritage include Protected Land Area: Permanent (PI3924), Area of Adjacent Protected Land (PI5750), Threatened Species Policy (OI1618) and Ecosystem Services Provided (PD8494).

A theory of change is able to show an organisation’s path from needs to activities to outcome and finally reaching their desired impact.


When creating a theory of change, focus should be had on the following factors:

  1. Identifying a realistic and definite goal (what the ultimate aim of this pursuit is)
  2. Working backwards from the goal to identify the intermediate outcomes (what needs to happen in order to achieve this goal)
  3. Establishing links between outcomes by identifying causes and effects, thinking about why you believe the links apply in such a way
  4. Identifying which activities will lead to which outcomes
  5. Identifying other elements are needed for the intervention to work (and also taking into account any risks or challenges that may lead to an inability to achieve the desired goal)

Metrics can then be assigned to the different outcomes articulated in the theory of change.

Similar to the theory of change, the purpose of a logic model is to provide stakeholders with a depiction of the logical relationships between resources/inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes and impact.

Logic model flow diagram

Different types of logic models can be utilised by organisations. For example, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation identifies three types of logic model approaches: the theory approach based on underlying program assumptions, the outcomes approach based on desired outcomes and impact, and the activities approach focused on program implementation


The key difference between theory of change and logic models is that theory of change typically starts with the goal or endpoint and works backwards to identify what needs to be done, whilst logic models have a greater focus on the inputs and activities that are utilised to achieve the impact.


Another difference is that theories of change can be more complex than logic models. Theories of change can be better suited for use at an organisational level whilst logic models may be more suited to at a program level.

Case study: Social Ventures Australia Social Impact Fund (IRIS)

Social Ventures Australia used the IRIS metrics to help assess the impact of the Social Impact Fund. The metrics include:

To view the IRIS metrics for each individual investment, have a look at SVA SIF Annual Report.

Case Study - Sycamore School

Sycamore School is an educational institution providing full-time primary school education for up to 70 autistic children a year in Alexandria Hills in south east Queensland. The impact goal of Sycamore School is to lay the foundations for good social interaction skills and enable their students to become positive, independent contributors to society. This fits the goal under SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities to promote the social and economic inclusion of people with disability. The Sycamore School scores highly for ‘Impact’ on the Australian Impact Investments framework.

The Sycamore School scores highly for ‘Impact’ on the Australian Impact Investments framework. It produces deep and sustainable impact for participating children, can manifest itself relatively quickly and has a high likelihood of achieving the impact.However, there are some risks associated with the Sycamore School project. In particular, the investment risk of the Sycamore School is regarded as high.In terms of financial return, the target return of the Sycamore School project to investors is around 7-10% per annum. This represents below market return relative to other investments with a similar risk profile.


Impact investments are unique in that they deliver both a financial and social return. As such, measurement plays an important role in allowing a range of stakeholders across the investment lifecycle to understand its  true impact as delivered. Although still in its nascent stages, much progress has been made in developing and demystifying the application of measurement in impact investing.

Importantly, challenges in measuring impact such as attribution and a lack of resources, are being addressed by innovative developments in the field. Notably, the use of the UN SDGs ha s helped investors align their investments to broader social goals and enabled greater ease of access to the impact investment space. Industry standards and best practices are also emerging as measurement tools and frameworks continue to develop and gain traction amongst leading investors and social enterprises.

With these developments, the next 5 years will prove an exciting time for impact measurement as it reaches a new level of maturity.

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