Activities are the things the social-purpose organisation does in the day to day running of its operations in order to further or fulfil its mission (typically the preparation and delivery of its products and services).

See activities in the impact plan section.


Implicit within any social purpose organisation’s approach to generating impact will be a number of assumptions — about the surrounding context, about relationships and processes ongoing within it, and about the beneficiaries themselves, and how they will respond to the intervention. In particular, assumptions apply to the circumstances and contributing factors required for an organisation’s outputs to lead successfully to the desired outcomes.

See conditions for change in the impact plan section.


Attribution takes account of how much of the change that has been observed is the result of the organisation’s activities, and how much is the result of actions taken simultaneously by others (e.g. other organisations, government).

see context of change in the impact plan section


Backwards-mapping is a thought exercise applied to the impact plan to test for validity. It involves starting with the impact, and working backwards through the plan, asking at each step, “What is needed before this?” Always working forwards through an impact can lend itself to tunnel-thinking. Backwards-mapping can help open up awareness of elements that might be missing, or gaps in the logic.

see backwards-mapping in the impact plan section


The people, communities, areas and aspects of the environment and natural world that a social-purpose organisation seeks to reach through its activities, and who stand to benefit as a result.

conditions for change

Social and environmental interventions take place within complex networks of relationships and interdependencies. For an organisation’s outputs to lead to the desired outcomes, and the change to be achieved, there will be circumstances that need to be in place, and other active contributing factors. These make up the conditions for change. Many lie beyond the direct control of the organisation, and so the approach “assumes” their presence.

see conditions for change in the impact plan section


The context refers to the environment surrounding the organisation, its operations and its beneficiaries, covering the problem under address, its causes, the current response and trends, other stakeholders, and a rich understanding of the lives and needs of beneficiaries themselves.

see context in the impact plan section

context of change

Any change observed by the organisation will take place within a dynamic context that is itself likely to be changing, and playing a part in the change. The term “context of change” covers the bag of issues outside the organisation’s direct involvement that need to be addressed to arrive at a true account of the organisation’s impact (including deadweight, displacement, attribution, drop off, unintended consequences).

see context of change in the impact plan section


Deadweight is the change that would have would have happened anyway — i.e. the outcomes beneficiaries would be expected to experience if the organisation were not active. (This relates to idea of “the counterfactual” or “the baseline”.) Deadweight includes the progress or regress beneficiaries typically make without the organisation’s intervention, and the effects of any services they would typically have accessed.

see context of change in the impact plan section


Displacement occurs when the positive outcomes experienced by beneficiaries accessing the organisation’s services are offset by negative outcomes experienced by another group elsewhere (also as a result of the organisation’s activities).

see context of change in the impact plan section

drop off

Drop off occurs when, over time, the effects of the output and the observed outcome decreases (e.g. beneficiaries relapse, lose the job or accommodation they attained, revert to previous behaviours). The organisation’s definition of its outcomes sets the scope for how long they may be expected to last. Drop off occurring within this period is accounted for in assessing the organisation’s true impact.

see context of change in the impact plan section


Those aspects of an organisation’s approach and impact plan that are not currently evidenced, but that are measurable, and that the organisation plans to collect data upon, and thereby evidence, in the future, are evidenceable.

see 2.2.6 Evidenceable


A social purpose organisation’s impact, properly understood, is the outcomes it has generated adjusted for the context of change (i.e. taking account of what would have happened anyway, what is happening elsewhere, and the role of other factors). As such it represents the real change that has been brought about. This calculation however is difficult to make, and accounts of impact do not always cover all the points. The term impact is also used in a less technical sense throughout the sector to mean, more generally, the positive social or environmental change achieved by a social-purpose organisation.

see impact in the impact plan section

impact chain

The impact chain represents how a social purpose organisation achieves its impact by linking the organisation to its activities, and the activities to outputs, outcomes and impact. The impact chain forms the central line running through the impact plan.

impact generation

The impact that will be generated if the investment is made and the impact plan proves successful. This includes the direct impact, wider impact, and investor impact, and represents the potential for real change that an investment opportunity offers. Impact generation is the impact equivalent of a financial return.

see 2.3 Impact Generation

impact investment

An investment made into a company, organisation or fund with the intention to generate measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return (or preservation of the principal).

impact investor

An investor (“the investor” throughout this guide) who makes investments into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return (or preservation of the principal). The term is used to include social investment finance intermediaries (SIFIs) and social purpose funds.

impact plan

The impact plan sets out what the social purpose organisation is about, what it is doing, and what it is hoping to achieve. The central line running through it is the impact chain, connecting the organisation, via its activities, to its outputs, outcomes and impact. Running in parallel on either side are the organisation’s internal processes, and the external context in which these operations are carried out.

see the impact plan section

impact risk

Impact risk is a measure of the certainty that an organisation will deliver on its proposed impact (as detailed in the impact plan). The question implied is: How sure is the impact plan to work, and what is the risk that the impact won’t be generated? Impact risk focuses in particular on the risk that the organisation’s outputs will not lead to the desired outcomes (see conditions for change), and the risk that the outcomes will be negated once adjustments have been made for the context of change (see context of change).

see 2.2 Impact Risk


Indicators are the specific variables that are tracked to demonstrate the delivery of outputs and outcomes. Indicators may relate to direct quantities (e.g. number of hours of training provided) or to qualitative aspects of the change (e.g. levels of beneficiary confidence). An effective impact measurement system will incorporate a number of indicators, or an “indicator set”.

see measurement system in the impact plan section


Inputs are the resources the organisation draws on in carrying out its activities, including financial resources (investment, funding, revenues), human resources (the organisation’s staff and their mix of skills), time, material assets, equipment, technology, space, pro bono services, and inputs from beneficiaries.

see inputs in the impact plan section

investor impact

Investor impact is the impact an investor has upon the investee social purpose organisation. This includes the impact of the investment capital itself, as well as other forms of support and benefit the relationship provides (e.g. advice, help accessing further capital). Investor impact is typically observed through the growth and increased resilience of the organisation.

see 2.3.3 Investor Impact


Mapping is a process used to create a profile of the investment, and the underlying organisation and its outcomes and impact. The resultant “map” can be used to check for suitability against the investor’s interests and needs, and for classification and comparison purposes.

see 1.2 Mapping


Materiality refers to an assessment made to determine the factors that are relevant and material to include in a true account of the organisation’s impact. Calculating in full the outcomes and adjustments for the context of change can be a complex and lengthy process. Setting the bounds of materiality establishes those effects that are deemed to be significant (and therefore need to be factored in), and those that are to be left out.

see commitment to evidence in the measurement system section

measurement system

The system used by the social purpose organisation to measure its outputs and outcomes, and to calculate its impact. The measurement system will comprise: a set of indicators, the processes necessary for data collection, and a set of targets and objectives. These may be refined in collaboration with the investor.

see measurement system in the impact plan section


The mission statement defines the organisation’s core aims, and what it hopes to change and achieve. A good mission statement demonstrates vision, clarity and relevance, as well as being tangibly in use and subject to review. There may be also measures in place to protect the organisation from mission drift.

see mission in the impact plan section


Term used throughout this guide to refer to a social purpose organisation (“the organisation”)


Outcomes are the changes experienced in the lives of beneficiaries or to the environment following on from the organisation’s activities and outputs.

see outcomes in the impact plan section

outcomes matrix

The outcomes matrix is a classification tool for use by investors and social purpose organisations to map the areas in which, and beneficiaries for whom, their impacts are being achieved.

see the outcomes matrix section


Outputs are the products or services the social-purpose organisation is immediately involved in the delivery of, and which issue directly from its activities

see outputs in the impact plan section


The principle of proportionality suggests that an organisation’s impact measurement and reporting should be proportional to its size, history, and the complexity of the sector and the outcomes it is working with. Impact measurement is not a laboratory science, and no report will include everything. The purpose of measurement is to be useful to organisations, not to cripple them. A sense of scale is required in relation to the fullness and level of evidence expected from the organisation’s impact reporting, as well as the budget devoted to it.

see measurement system in the impact plan section

real change

The real change achieved by a social purpose organisation is the observed change adjusted for what would have happened anyway, what is happening elsewhere, and the role of other factors. This adjusted value expresses change over and above the context of change, and represents the true impact.

social purpose organisation

An organisation (“the organisation” throughout this guide) that operates with the primary aim of achieving measurable social and environmental impact. Social purpose organisations include charities, non-profit organisations, and social enterprises (registered as e.g. Community Interest Companies, cooperatives or Industrial and Provident Societies, limited companies). Throughout this guide, “social purpose organisation” (“the organisation”) is used to refer to organisations that are themselves generating impact directly, while social purpose funds or social investment finance intermediaries (SIFIs) are included in the term impact investor (“the investor”).


A stakeholder is defined as any party that is materially affected by the organisation’s activities. Most prominent among stakeholders are the direct or target beneficiaries, though stakeholders as a group also includes the organisation’s staff and volunteers, its shareholders and investees, it suppliers and purchasers, and most likely the families of beneficiaries and those close to them, and the communities in which they live.

unintended consequences

Unintended consequences are those that come about as a result of the organisation’s activities, but are not part of the desired effect. They may be foreseen (e.g. a degree of displacement that is anticipated but not “intended”), or unexpected (and may be positive or negative). Unintended consequences often relate to effects upon stakeholders other than the organisation’s target beneficiaries.

see context of change in the impact plan section

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