Businesses readily measure long-term performance using any number of indicators, including, commonly, return on investment. For nonprofits, in contrast, there are no standard yardsticks, and long-term results are far more difficult to assess. Yet an accurate understanding of delivered long-term impact is becoming increasingly vital in this arena. Donors, seeking greater transparency, want to know precisely how their contributions are making a difference. Organizations operating on the ground want a better understanding of what works best and most efficiently so that they can optimize their efforts and program portfolios. Governments, communities, and other stakeholders—including targeted program participants—are also showing ever-increasing interest in long-term results.
Despite the growing premium on demonstrating long-term impact, though, few large international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) today have an effective means of measuring it. Most organizations measure short-term indicators—such as the number of program participants or the number of interventions undertaken—which are relatively easy to track. Some organizations also measure their efforts’ direct short-term effects, such as improved grades in school. Most organizations, however, lack a rigorous, systematic approach to gauging long-term impact, whose measurement poses far greater challenges.
Such was the case until recently for SOS Children’s Villages, a leading INGO focused on improving the situation of children who are at risk of losing, or who have already lost, parental care. The organization reached more than 1 million children, young people, and adults across 134 countries in 2014 through the provision of care, education, health, and emergency relief services. At the core of this work is the empowerment of children and young people, as well as their families and communities, through family-strengthening programs and the provision of family-like care.
Although SOS Children’s Villages attaches considerable significance to the long-term impact of its efforts, it has been challenged historically to quantify precisely that impact. Working in partnership with The Boston Consulting Group (SOS Children’s Villages and BCG have worked together for several years, exchanging knowledge across the social sector), however, the organization recently developed a highly effective approach to impact assessment, one that comprehensively measures the long-term effects of its efforts and provides valuable insight into how SOS Children’s Villages might further improve the impact of its programs. Critically, much of this approach is transferable to other organizations operating in the social sector, including the ones focused on other target groups and issues.