How often do you feel like you are missing the human interest and societal outcomes as a part of your story of impact? Do you use an impact model as a strategic guide to run your signature program?
At B:CIVIC’s 2021 ‘Act to Achieve’ CSR Accelerated Summit, Olyvia Zarchin and I shared some of our insights and tips around how to create an impact model that can be leveraged to inform social impact program strategy and communications. Because, as we all know, “you can’t have the sizzle without the steak.”
As we each seek to implement the strongest possible community programs dedicated to societal needs, storytelling has become even more crucial to our stakeholders’ ability to understand our efforts, results, and ongoing commitments. Our employees, consumers, customers, and investors are looking to understand more about the “S” in ESG. They are interested in how companies invest and engage in local communities and want to know how companies are improving lives, addressing equity and inclusion and, ultimately, delivering a social ROI.
We use a logic model to map strategy, define intended impact, and inform communications. And, yes, this includes the crucial “theory of change” statement summarizing your program’s intended change based on a set of activities and approaches.
Impact models also help point to where it’s important to engage with internal teams and nonprofit partners, ensuring they are aligned around a shared approach and goals. Additionally, engaging partners is extremely useful in deciding which measurement tools to use. Whether the tools include pre- and post-program surveys, interviews, nonprofit partner reports and/or third-party evaluation, the fun part arrives in determining what you are measuring. For most companies, the common answer revolves around outputs—these are typically numbers such as people reached, hours volunteered, and items delivered in a specific number of communities. Output metrics are informative, but don’t allow you to tell your broader story around human outcomes and what your company has learned from its efforts. The latter is much more powerful.
Keep in mind, stakeholders are interested in “how” companies approach their social impact work. They want to know about the types of strategic investments, activities, and leadership companies are activating to address specific social issues.
Once your model and program are codified, you’re ready to weave your story together. To get started on crafting your messaging, focus on articulating the following:
- Your company’s purpose and mission
- A point of view around your social issue focus
- Your program mission—and how this ultimately aligns to your company’s purpose
- The unique approach you take to the work—this could be how you “invest, engage or lead”
- Program results—focus on outcomes
- Human, personal stories from program participants, volunteers, and other stakeholders
As you craft the elements of your story, authentic visuals, including photos and graphics will help attract a range of audiences. At the end of the day, communications are only as strong as the substantive content.
Remember, impact modeling takes time. Create opportunities to continuously test and learn as you execute and refine your program. Designing and coming back to this tool a few times a year is an important part of the process. Embracing impact modeling will set you up for success and enable you to share stories that are meaningful, personal, and rooted in real impact.
Read about other Cause Consulting workshops.