Doing a social impact assessment can seem daunting, ALAN KAY suggests ways to ease the process.
“Social auditing is not simply a means of documenting objectives and shared values, but of understanding them, strengthening them, communicating them to others, and where necessary changing them.” SBN Bank
I WAS asked recently why I still hammer on about social accounting and audits, which gave me pause to reflect and think about the reasons why I feel it’s so important. For me, it can provide a framework to explain how your organisation achieves its social purpose. In short, it provides you with reasons to explain why you do what you do.
Here are some pointers which may be some help…
Before you start, be clear about the reasons why you keep social accounts. It is a good idea to start by finding out more about social accounting and how it could be applied within your organisation. Then, write down the benefits and snags. Often third sector organisations finish up reporting to a myriad of funders showing how they satisfy the objectives of the funder or investor. This is all very well, and often necessary, but do not lose sight of the fact that you are an independent organisation tackling social and environmental issues in a particular context. The funding is a means to an end and, proverbially, the dog should wag the tail.
Clarify the over‐riding framework of your organisation. In social accounting this means being clear about what you are trying to achieve, how you do it and who you work with. All organisations have some kind of framework but as the quote above suggests it has to be reclarified periodically.
In the same way that private companies are constantly examining and monitoring their profit and loss and balance sheets, third sector organisations should be checking on their social purpose.
Spend time on analysing your stakeholders. Social accounting encourages organisations to draw stakeholder maps. It is not really enough to list the stakeholders – funders, clients, customers, and so on. It is much more useful to analyse the relationship you have with your stakeholders. Looking closely at this relationship can help with strategy and often reveals new objectives and priorities.
Build on what you already do and the information you already collect. Every organisation keeps records. Sometimes organisations keep data and do not know why; others only keep records for funders’ reports; others keep a variety of records in different ways and in different places. Check through what records you do keep and make sure they are directly useful in giving you the information you require to explain your performance as an organisation and the impact on stakeholders. If not, change them.
Focus on the outcomes. Once you have a clear framework and are collecting information, then annually you will report on what you have done well and the degree to which you have achieved your social purpose. You can list outputs in a tidy table but focus on the outcomes. What has changed as a result of your actions?
Start writing your social accounts as soon as you can. Many organisations collect data and consult stakeholders during the year and only then tackle the reporting stage. The report writing can be daunting, so start writing soon into the process.
Ignore the sceptics and own the process! Lots of people will say social accounting is too complex, too much extra work, too hard. And in some ways if you tack on social accounting as an adjunct to your organisation – then they may be right.
However, if you embed the process and make it a reflective technique that is central to what you are, then it is not just another activity but a report on all your activities. Remember it is your process, your monitoring and evaluation, your social report. It may not be perfect the first time round but as skills develop, your social reporting will be more focussed and your organisation will improve effectiveness.
Basically, social accounting and audit is simple. It tells a structured story of how you achieve your purpose. It runs alongside your financial accounts and it reminds you why you get up in the morning.
Alan Kay is a co-founder of the Social Audit Network, an associate tutor with the Social Enterprise Academy, and part of www.justthebusiness.org.uk. He will be delivering the Social Enterprise Academy’s Measuring Social Impact programme on 21 September in Glasgow.