Around the world, people are giving less – and this includes Australia. According to the Australian Tax Office, there are fewer of us making donations, however this has been balanced with the most generous donators giving more.

This has been backed up by the Charities Aid Foundation’s ‘World Giving Index’, which has seen Australia slip out of the Top 5 most generous countries to sixth place in 2017.

So if there are less of us giving, then it is more important than ever that our charities and not for profits can articulate not only what they do, but the impact that they have on the lives of those they serve.

In a recent global report by Grant Thornton, we found that charities recognise that being able to measure and demonstrate impact effectively is integral to a clearly defined mission. The challenge to overcome is how to do this effectively.

Impact will not – and should not – look the same for every charity

No two charities are the same. The communities they operate in, the people they serve and their access to funding will always be unique. So there is no band-aid or one-size-fits-all approach to measuring impact that can be applied to the not for the profit sector. However, there are some simple steps we have identified through consultation that all charities can follow in designing their own measurement framework.

Six steps to better impact measurement:

  1. Don’t tackle too much at once
  2. Conduct a skills/resource gap audit
  3. Agree parameters and stick to them
  4. Verify your results before you share them
  5. Empower your team to act as advocates
  6. Don’t be afraid to tell your story your way

In our report, we also uncover specific examples of charities’ making bold changes to better measure outcomes. From United Way in Toronto, Canada, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in the US, through to our own St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland – the importance of nurturing the right culture, accessing the right resources and playing to your strengths were all highlighted as essential.

Case study

Moving from emergency relief to changing lives

St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland is an international charity working to assist people in need and to combat social injustice. Jackie Youngblutt, General Manager – Programmes and Deborah Nisbet, General Manager – Finance and Business Services explain how they are trying to change the way they think about impact.

“In our Mission Statement, we say we want to change the condition of the communities we help. Not just give emergency relief. We do not truly know if we are changing their condition because we are not measuring it.

We also know that just focusing on handing out of food will mean we lose young members and volunteers. The next generation want more than just that; they want to know that their actions have a genuine impact.

We are good at recording the number of people we help, and how much is spent in the process. But we have not been clear about what that means for families, have we made a difference? When we started capturing more on this from our volunteers, it was challenging to capture the information that could measure and analyse the impact of our assistance.

We even walked away from a partner helping us deliver one program because we wanted to report outcomes, such as changes in health. The partner did not understand. There is a disparity in the way we think about this. (Social) impact is not a common language.

Some members of our Board are more progressive than others. We are trying to build their influence and have included an outcomes section in our last annual report.


We are not at the stage to use impact to determine where funds go. But this is our intention for the near future and our new database should allow us to do it.”

Grant Thornton International had conversations with over thirty charities worldwide between May and August 2018 to gain insight into the challenges they face in measuring impact and the innovations developed to overcome these challenges. Read more case studies on how Not for Profits are meeting the challenges of measuring impact and our six recommendations to better impact measurement. 

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