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Measurement matters: assessing your philanthropic impact

Wealth planning
Social Impact

Measurement matters: assessing your philanthropic impact

Apr 7, 2021

Developing a clear sense of what you want to achieve with your philanthropy – and why – will help to guide your strategy and determine what progress looks like.

No matter where you are in your philanthropic journey, or what form your philanthropy takes, measurement and impact assessment will always have a part to play.

“We encourage people to think about their philanthropic dollars in the same way that they’d think about a traditional investment,” says Carly Doshi, Head of Wealth Planning & Advisory, Americas at HSBC Global Private Banking. “Philanthropists can choose to be more strategic than writing a cheque and hoping for the best. To do so, it’s important for philanthropists to ask themselves what they want to achieve and what kind of return on their investment they’re looking for – and the key to this is considering how they intend to measure those outcomes.”

Regular assessments will allow you to: evaluate whether your resources are being used in the most effective way; better understand the impact of your charitable dollars and whether that impact is in furtherance of your goals; and determine if you are effectuating the positive change you want to see.

Measurement also can identify areas for improvement, so you’re able to change direction if necessary. “In this way, strategic philanthropy has something in common with scientific research,” Doshi explains. “You set a hypothesis. If it turns out to be untrue, you change course.”

From strategy to success

To determine what you hope to achieve, and be able to quantify what success will look like, it’s useful to take a step back and think about what drives your philanthropic endeavours. “Philanthropy is personal and should be informed by your values,” Doshi notes.

If you align your giving with your closely held beliefs, you’re more likely to stay the course, and your philanthropy is more likely to have a lasting impact.

Understanding your intentions and priorities, and what outcomes you want to see, will inform your philanthropic strategy and approach, and get you thinking about how you might measure success.

For example, if you’re aiming to raise money for a new cancer screening machine at a local hospital, the results of your philanthropy will be relatively straightforward to evaluate: your goal will be reached once the machine is funded, purchased and put into use.

In contrast, if you want to improve cancer survival rates across your local area, measurement will be considerably more complex and necessitate a well-defined methodology and analytical rigour. Among the considerations: What tools will be needed to acquire the data you need, and who might you need to partner with to make this happen? How many people will be involved in the study? How long will you need to measure to acquire statistics that demonstrate change?

“We believe there is always a role for measurement and impact assessment, regardless of whether philanthropists are giving over the short, medium or long term, or whether they’re investing in a business or a social enterprise to create change,” says Dorothy Chan, Head of Philanthropy Advisory, Asia Pacific at HSBC Global Private Banking.

Many reasons for measurement

In addition to helping philanthropists assess their own progress, measurement and evaluation assists with the monitoring of grantee performance. It also can provide an opportunity to highlight successes with a view to expanding a project’s reach, or serving as a model for others.

As for how to measure philanthropic impact, it is likely to involve a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods, depending on the form your philanthropy takes.

Data has its role, but sometimes it’s the story that touches the heart and really helps a donor to understand how they are delivering a change.

“One philanthropist had received a stack of reports on the impact of a performing arts programme she was funding. But it was only when I told her about the life-changing effects on a participant of the programme that her eyes lit up,” Chan says.

From activity to impact

However you decide to measure success, these questions can serve as a starting point.

  • What is your overall aim? For example, you might be interested in improving the lives of children living in poverty in a particular area of your city.
  • What activities will help you achieve your goal? Using the above example, this might be the development of a mentoring programme for this group of children.
  • What is the output? Decide on the number of mentors you’ll hire, the curriculum and other resources they’ll be equipped with, the number of children who will participate, and over what length of time the mentoring will occur.
  • What is the outcome? The outcome for this example includes results of the mentoring programme and its effect on the children who participated, possibly reflected in improvement in school attendance, grades in school or test scores.
  • What is the measurable impact? Impact means examining how the lives of the children in your programme have been improved over the longer term – for example by continuing into higher education or acquiring jobs.

There is truth in the saying: “What gets measured gets done.” Throughout your philanthropic journey, regular assessment will help to inform your decision-making and aid the development of your philanthropic efforts, so you can be sure you’re making a real difference.

HSBC Global Private Banking can support clients who are driven by a desire to make lasting and impactful change in the world, offering insight and ideas to advance their philanthropic ambitions. Our dedicated philanthropy team across the world supports our clients through the philanthropic process, from initial vision, planning and design through to implementation and the ongoing management of charitable structures. For more information, contact us or your Relationship Manager.

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