How Social Good is Becoming a Real, Measurable Thing (and why that’s wonderful)


Once upon a time, the “goodness” of an individual person or entity could only be measured in vague perceptions of public opinion, and “well-being” could only really be measured in terms of financial comfort. Interestingly enough, despite the fact that philanthropy and social welfare have existed as concepts for hundreds (if not thousands) of years, the concept of thinking strategically about social problems is very new, just gaining in popularity over the past few decades. We are still new to this age of organized efforts to improve the world we live in, and though we have not yet come out with one standardized measure of social impact or well-being, we have come out with many different tools for measuring benefit to society and well-being. Do-gooder culture is indeed shifting in favor of us data nerds (or perhaps us data nerds have just been more effective at doing good?). Let’s explore:

Measuring Nonprofit Impact

Ever since Guidestar, the Better Business Bureau, and Charity Navigator came out with the Overhead Myth letter in 2013 (and even before that, really), there’s been a major shift in the way experts look at nonprofits, and measure their worthiness.  While in the past, nonprofits had been evaluated solely by what percentage of their income is spent on direct service to clients (as opposed to administration), the philanthropic community has shifted toward instead judging charities based on how much good they actually do and how effectively they do it – ie. their impact on the community. While one standardized measure has yet to be developed, there are many different measures and resources emerging. This is much to the delight of people like me and Dan Pallotta, who believe that the key to determining a charity’s value is not just how they spend their money, but whether or not their work is actually improving the lives of people in their community.

Measuring Corporate Impact

Did you think corporations existed solely to make a profit? Because if so, you are living in the past. Over the past five years, Benefit Corporation has become a corporate status legally recognized in 26 states and the District of Columbia. These corporations are held to a higher standard, and are legally required to assess their social and environmental impact against a third party standard. Similarly, Certified B Corporations take this a step further, conducting a full B Impact audit. There are a large and growing number of standards in place for evaluating corporate impact. Together, this growing community of businesses with a social purpose is changing the way we look at the corporate sector.

Measuring a Country’s Social Progress

The Social Progress Index was created within the last three years, but it offers a comprehensive analysis of a country’s social progress and assigns scores based on a number of factors – including whether basic human needs are met (nutrition, shelter, etc.), foundations of well-being (healthcare, internet connection, etc.), and whether people have basic rights and opportunities (education & economic mobility). The SPI is offering a new way of ranking countries – not just by their wealth and GDP, but by the happiness and freedom of their citizens. This is giving government and social sector leaders a new way of looking at improving our world.

Measuring Global Progress

In 2002, the United Nations launched its Millenium Campaign to eradicate extreme hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, and create global partnership for development. While we can’t say that we have achieved all of these targets on time for 2015 (as was the goal), we have made tremendous progress – (including halving world poverty, hunger and child mortality).

This should illustrate the fact that setting goals for improving well-being, working toward those goals, and measuring our progress is incredibly new. The progress we have made since we actually started measuring how much progress we’ve made is incredible. Now that we as a people have actually begun effectively quantifying the amount of good we are doing, the possibilities for growth are vast. Let’s make it happen.

Do you want to get started making a positive impact in the world? Check out my Advice & Tips for do-gooders. Want to keep up on new posts? Follow me on Facebook or Twitter. Want to tell me how you feel about this post? Leave a comment below. Also, thanks for reading!

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