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Impact Measurement and Management Across Stakeholders

Tenets to enhance and align practices

There are many good resources and frameworks to identify target areas of impact (United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals), classification of the impact strategy (Impact classes per the IMP framework), and measurement of the impact (GIIN’s IRIS metrics). However, resources for best practices on how to successfully set up your Impact Management and Measurement (IMM) strategy are harder to find.

Whether you are an impact-focused investor, fund manager, or entrepreneur, the “how” question can be a critical one to answer as it relates not only to how you function but also to how you communicate your strategy to external stakeholders. To bridge this gap in knowledge, we looked at IMM practices across our database of 3,000+ funds and mission-driven organizations to identify key tenets that can inform best practices for setting up and executing your Impact Management and Measurement plan.

#1: Champion Change Early

On An upfront investment into IMM structures and systems can maximize impact return and minimize impact risks. These investments can include hiring the right people at the planning stage, spending time and resources on training, and buying or building impact data systems.

Aiming for impact success is not unlike targeting to meet your financial goals. To do the latter, firms need to determine their revenue streams, costs to be incurred, ways to collect and organize key financial data, and ways to drive decisions based on profitability outcomes. These concepts also apply to impact: firms need to determine which costs today will help them generate impact in the future.

Other recommendations in this area include engaging subject matter experts early on, training the entire team and dispersing impact responsibilities, and integrating impact into all systems and processes.

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#2: Management before Measurement

“Impact management” is the creation of a theory of change and a series of plans to embed impact into structures, decisions, and processes, and it results in a tight integration between a fund’s or enterprise’s work and its impact. Thorough and thoughtful impact management infrastructure can help achieve a meaningful impact return, and impact measurement can provide a feedback loop to improve impact management practices in the future.

Order matters, and when impact measurement planning precedes impact management, measurement can become a cumbersome, fruitless, and sometimes harmful endeavor because of the higher risk of executing a suboptimal impact strategy. Regarding impact management, we believe that problem statements, theory of change, and impact evaluation frameworks are the three most important practices to consider.

With the finite number of resources that fund managers and enterprises must measure and report on impact, many choose to focus on aesthetics in place of articulating impact progress.

#3: Avoid Metrics Myopia

Our team conducted a deeper-dive data collection exercise of reviewing impact reporting across 150+ investments, with a focus on what metrics are used, and how they are communicated. Over half of the investments supplied low-quality impact metrics, which we defined as metrics with an insufficient supporting explanation or a lack of connection with the theory of change. Less than a dozen investments offered all the necessary context: how the chosen metric is tied to the theory of change, whether the numerical value is an indicator of progress towards the goal, and how and when the data is collected.

Quantitative impact metrics also have the potential to distort the bigger picture if they are presented in isolation and/or are not selected carefully. As an industry, we overlook the importance of understanding when to use quantitative metrics, how to use them, and communicating the context and nuance behind the metric selection and the impact metrics’ numerical values.

#4: Innovate through Incentive Structures

Half folded dollar billFund managers can lock impact goals into investment strategies by using incentive structures. Traditional incentives such as profit sharing at the achievement of a milestone, oversight through empowered governance bodies, and default protection have inspired impact-equivalent ones.

The most promising and scalable impact incentive structures include Impact Committees, impact covenants, and impact-linked carried interest. Impact Committees with decision-making rights can provide effective oversight and support for staying on target regarding impact goals. Impact covenants can help provide boundaries as well as incentives to keep stakeholders aligned on key impact objectives. Lastly, impact-linked carried interest can incentivize fund managers to balance impact objectives with financial ones.

These incentive structures can have a domino effect that helps drive goal-oriented decisions to ultimately generate the intended outcomes.

#5: Burst the LP Bubble

Limited Partners (LPs) and investors are increasingly influencing fund and enterprise IMM practices, especially impact reporting. We believe that LPs should use this influence to encourage funds to rely on expert opinion and industry practices to define their IMM strategy.

Impact measurement and reporting are an important part of the impact continuum of doing, learning, and iterating. This authentic spirit should be kept centerstage. In certain cases, investors’ desire for and positive reactions to simplified messaging can come at the expense of quality content in the impact reports – content that can demonstrate how beneficiaries are served, what the fund or enterprise learned, and how decisions will be made in the future. With the finite number of resources that fund managers and enterprises must measure and report on impact, many choose to focus on aesthetics in place of articulating impact progress.


To summarize our findings, please see some key recommendations across the tenets below for industry participants.

To Enterprises and Funds

  1. Spend time and resources on educating leadership and training staff. Impact management and measurement should eventually be decentralized but should begin at a central source of information and action.
  2. Do your homework on the problem and adversely affected stakeholders before determining the impact you want to create. You may solve the wrong problem or implement a suboptimal strategy if this is done in reverse.
  3. Make plans and build processes to integrate impact into investment selection and management.
  4. Evaluate your practices to see if incentive structures can be implemented in your fund.
  5. Choose only a few impact metrics that are core to your theory of change and meaningful to data-driven decision-making.
  6. Offer context on what is measured, who measured it, how it was measured, and the period it covers.
  7. Educate investors on impact measurement and reporting that is beneficial to your work.
  8. Absorb best practices that LPs share about what they see across funds while keeping the spirit of learning and improvement at the center of impact measurement and reporting.

To Investors

  1. When within reason, have an open mind to a higher investment cost, if the expenses are to hire people with impact experiences and/or build out impact infrastructure.
  2. Prioritize evaluation of impact management practices throughout the diligence process.
  3. Share your learnings with funds and make peer connections for funds to learn from one another.
  4. Allow investees to choose if quantitative impact metrics are the best way to communicate their impact.
  5. Ask less about what the impact metrics are and understand more about how and why something was measured to ultimately strengthen impact creation.
  6. Understand the power dynamics between you and the fund manager or enterprise.
  7. Use the feedback you offer on impact reporting to nudge towards relying on subject matter experts and meaningful impact-related communication.
Hummayun Javed leads Align Impact’s investment research efforts and has played this role since 2015. He leads due diligence efforts across asset classes, sectors, and geographies. He also designs and delivers educational content for institutional investors and investment advisors looking to strengthen their offerings in impact investing.
Ishita Shah leads Align Impact’s Catalytic Capital practice. In this role, she shapes the impact-first investing and philanthropy strategy and conducts investment analysis and reporting across asset classes, impact areas, and geographies. She also oversees the impact measurement and management strategy and infrastructure at Align.
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