We all make an impact - it is time to embrace that
‘Impact’ is a short word that does a lot of multitasking.
Amongst the third sector, impact is a positive word but one that denotes a fair amount of work. Donors are increasingly keen to see evidence of what their money achieves and this has led to whole new departments, reporting structures and job roles appearing. Often confused with return on investment (on which I could write many many additional articles), impact measurement at its best takes a broad view of the good that an organisation can create in the world and communicates that in a compelling manner.
In the sustainability community, impact is intertwined with the concept of impact investing – choosing investments for more than their returns, more even than a clean conscience. Using your portfolio as an active extension of your values and attempting to create or help to make changes in the world. Depending on the company you keep ‘impact investing’ is sometimes mentioned with a sneer as if it is somehow less pure, less full-blooded than ‘real’ investing.
In its darkest guise, impact is a catch-all term used by companies, governments and professional services firms to describe terrible things that happen as a result of business decisions. "Our restructure has made a significant impact on employment levels". Often used in conjunction with the word ‘mitigation’ to imply that we are trying to do something about the terrible things.
What about you? What is your impact on the world? What I find noteworthy about the many faces of impact is the oft-forgotten point that we are all impact investors, one way or another (even when we decide not to think about it). We choose to spend our time, or money in a certain way and these choices have consequences: we help to build a company, or prove the business case for a product that we bought, or reward the behaviours that brought that item to market.
This is also true of organisations. Not all companies have set out a clear purpose, many still hold to the primacy of shareholder value as a north star. But there is always more than one way to go about creating value and each path creates a different set of impacts on the world. It is easy to ignore these and to think that impact is something for NGOs and auditors, a word to use in explanation, rather than planning.
A more powerful approach is to embrace our impact on the world. Accept the slightly intimidating thought that every purchase or step creates a ripple and choose a path accordingly. Mapping the impact of your organisation is the first step on that journey. This sounds like a hard, time-consuming task. Pinning down the details might well take some time but the initial steps can be relatively quick if you involve your broader team. And the results will be helpful in lots of ways, helping you to identify reputation risk before it becomes a communications problem and allowing team members to air their niggles and concerns in a positive and constructive way.