A Guide to Creating Lasting Community Impact for Nonprofits

Community Impact Blog Post

Nonprofit organizations serve a vital role in our communities – raising the voices of the marginalized, protecting the endangered, and offering solutions to today’s toughest social and environmental challenges. As nonprofits seek to fulfill their missions, they implement a variety of programs and initiatives to serve their constituents. To track progress toward mission fulfillment, nonprofit organizations measure impact.

Community impact showcases the amount of change a nonprofit organization makes in the lives of their constituents or those they serve. By tracking impact, the organization recognizes whether or not it is on track to advance its mission.

Introduction: What is community impact?

Community impact showcases the amount of change a nonprofit organization makes in the lives of their constituents or those they serve. By tracking impact, the organization recognizes whether or not it is on track to advance its mission.

Why is it important to track community impact? 

Community impact demonstrates an organization’s success. This measurement provides valuable feedback to the organization. It demonstrates how well the organization understands the needs of its constituents and the effectiveness of its programs to meet these needs. 

Without measuring impact, nonprofit organizations may function aimlessly without a real understanding of whether they are moving the needle toward change. Furthermore, they may continue to invest hard-earned funding in programs that don’t deliver results. This funding could be attributed to other programs or initiatives that are successful.  

Beyond providing important feedback to internal staff, impact showcases to donors and other stakeholders the positive effect of an organization’s work. Today’s donors expect transparency and authenticity from the organizations they support. By sharing impact both in quantitative and qualitative forms, an organization builds trust. This trust encourages donors to continue to support that organization. 

Impact statistics also benefit other organizations that may work within the same or related causes. This data may encourage these organizations to pilot similar programs or collaborate to serve a larger constituent demographic. This level of collaboration creates systemic change. 

How can nonprofits identify their impact? 

Before a nonprofit can identify their impact, they must revisit their mission. What does your organization do? What is your reason for being? Many times, a nonprofit’s mission is to solve a social or environmental challenge. This may be to eliminate hunger, reduce maternal mortality rates, or prevent and end homelessness. By tracking impact, an organization identifies how they solve this challenge.

 A logic model (also known as a theory of change) is a widely recognized framework to track impact. This model paints a picture of how an organization’s programs or missions should work to solve the problem their mission tries to address.

Through outlining inputs (program staff and materials required to implement a program) and activities (the programs themselves), an organization showcases what’s required to do the organization’s work. The inputs and activities drive toward outputs (proof of the program) and outcomes (change generated). This creates a blueprint of steps an organization takes to collectively drive forward toward their mission.

Ultimately, the purpose of a logic model is to offer clarity into the inner workings of an organization. This should motivate internal staff and serve as a north star to guide the organization’s work.

To better understand a logic model, let’s consider an example of logical model for an international development organization. Their mission is to lift children out of poverty through education. Their logic model may involve the following:

Inputs: schools, teachers, tutors, books, writing utensils, blackboards

Activities: daily teacher-led instruction, homework, after-school tutoring

Outputs: completed homework or lessons, hours spent in the classroom, number of classes completed

Outcomes: percentage increase in literacy rates, graduation rates, employment rates; decrease in poverty rates

Bear in mind there may be constraints from outside factors that prevent organizations from meeting these outcomes. For example, students may not have stable home lives. This may contribute to missing school and therefore negatively impacting their learning.

To learn more about how to track your nonprofit’s outcomes with your fundraising goals, download our whitepaper.

What are the obstacles for nonprofits to track impact? 

Despite the benefits of tracking impact, there are barriers for nonprofits to get started. First, the industry lacks one clear term to describe impact. It may be listed as community impact, social impact, or just plain ‘impact.’ It’s important for nonprofits to be clear on the terminology they use within their communications regarding impact.

Beyond terminology, determining community impact is a time and resource-intensive process. An organization may need to refer to research from academic, governmental, or other institutions to understand the demographics of the constituents or communities they serve. This research informs their programming so that it is more effective.

Program staff must also dedicate the time to collect relevant data and interview constituents regarding program results. It’s best for this information to be tracked in a data management system which requires an investment of money and time to select the system and update it regularly. Furthermore, the staff must have experience in data analysis to determine outcomes. This may be made easier through data visualization tools which the organization may not have access.

How can nonprofits leverage technology to increase their reach and impact? 

Nonprofit technology is a critical component to effectively track and measure impact. With a nonprofit CRM, such as StratusLIVE 365, program officers can set program objectives and budgets, manage program activities and projects, track and allocate designated funding and gifts to appropriate funds and programs, and report on program outcomes. Staff can also leverage historical data modeling and manage their portfolios to make proactive adjustments, so they can reach program goals. 

Federated organizations or foundations that fundraise on behalf of other organizations or distribute grants can utilize online portals to collect information from their agency partners or grantees. The information collected may represent the outputs that the organization delivers. Together the grantee along with the grantor can determine program outcomes and overall impact.


Defining and measuring a nonprofit’s community impact is challenging work. From the lack of clear understanding of the word’s meaning to the legwork required to define and determine the metric(s), it’s enough to discourage an organization from tracking it.

However, once an organization creates a model that is clear and aligns with their organization’s mission, it can serve as a guiding light for the organization to work toward lasting change.

Is your organization in need of a nonprofit CRM that can track program data?

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Posted by Kelly Perry

Kelly Perry is a Senior Digital Marketing Manager, Nonprofit Solutions at StratusLIVE. She has over ten years marketing and communications experience within nonprofit technology and the publishing industries.