To maximize positive impact, impact investors need to move from impact measurement to managing for impact, which requires a systemic integration of impact into decision-making on four levels: deal, portfolio, organization and system.
Impact measurement and management (IMM) is a practice that enables impact investors to identify positive and negative impacts that they and their portfolios have, thereby reducing the negative and increasing the positive impacts. However, while this practice is generally referred to as “IMM” as an encompassing term, impact investors are at different maturity levels. The conceptual frame of three maturity levels is proposed as follows: impact measurement, impact management, and managing for impact. Impact measurement and impact management are focused on the ‘what,’ and do not have a clear relationship with decision-making. Managing for impact, however, requires a systematic integration of impact into decision-making, which can be done on the levels of deal, portfolio, organization, and system.
Where are impact investors in terms of their IMM maturity? Even though impact reporting (which can be done through impact measurement and impact management alone) is the second most common use of impact data, impact investors also manage for impact on a deal level.
Managing for impact on a deal level
Seventy-nine percent of investors use impact data for pre-screening or investment selection (see graph below).
An example is the UK Infrastructure Bank, which uses IMM to shape and select investments most aligned to their impact goals of improving local economic opportunity and helping tackle climate change. They do so by “assessing estimated impact of prospective investments against core metrics collected for every deal and the extent to which these impacts would not have materialized without us (additionality).” Increasingly, impact investors are managing not only for the investee’s impact but also for their own impact by examining the investor’s own contribution. At the pre-investment stage, 38% of impact investors also use impact data to inform investment terms.
After an investment has been made, it is also important to manage that particular investment, and 60% of impact investors surveyed by GIIN have used impact data to improve investment management. An example is Big Society Capital (2023), an impact investor in the UK which focuses on investing into impact fund managers. “Based on impact information received [annually], we then compare each investment’s actual impact and systems change performance against its original impact and systems change thesis at the point of investment. Impact and systems change performance is also discussed with each fund manager or intermediary in the context of our Portfolio Review Days and our Annual Impact Conversations.”
The life cycle of investment inevitably ends with exits, and in this vein, only 35% of impact investors surveyed by GIIN have used it to inform exit decisions. Big Society Capital describes in their disclosure statement, aligned with the Operating Principles for Impact Management, that a final impact assessment is usually conducted at the point of exit to mitigate any impact risks associated with their exits. Grappling with impact risks, which include unintended and negative impact, is particularly important to manage for impact. An impact investor, who wishes to remain anonymous, cited an example of exiting an investment due to the investee’s lack of progress on impact practice and lack of impacts, despite the investee performing very well from a financial perspective.
Managing for impact on a portfolio level
Only 42% of impact investors use impact data to inform portfolio allocations, and managing for impact on a portfolio level is a common struggle among impact investors. Reasons for this include the challenge of comparing investments across different geographies and sectors, and of identifying common indicators across the portfolio.
UK Infrastructure Bank confronts this challenge through a set of core metrics for every deal and descriptive metrics which can be assigned to some deals, both of which can be aggregated across the portfolio. These, combined with external evaluations, help provide a fuller picture across the portfolio of whether and how the impacts the Bank set out to achieve came about and, if not, why not – including consideration of any unintended consequences.
Big Society Capital hosts annual Performance Committee Meetings, which review the impact and financial performance across the portfolio of investments, and discuss broader learnings across the whole portfolio.
Managing for impact on an organizational level
Forty-two percent of investors have used impact data to inform capital raising strategy, which affects the organization more broadly beyond specific investment deals and portfolios. According to Big Society Capital, “at the organizational level, strategy and business plan development is always underpinned by an assessment of key learnings to date.” They see IMM practice to encompass setting strategies, though there is scant literature on integrating IMM into strategy development for impact investing.
Managing for impact on a system level
Both the UK Infrastructure Bank and Big Society Capital are aware that they are part of a wider ecosystem that is driving progress towards their strategic objectives and striving for systems change. As such, it is important to manage for impact also on a systems level by sharing with peers lessons learned, as well as sharing openly their data and learnings. Using impact data as advocacy to drive systems change has yet to be cited as a use case in the Global Impact Investing Network survey, but may be increasingly adopted by impact investors as the impact investing sector gains momentum. “Contribute to the Growth of the Industry” is one of the four practices that define impact investing, alongside intentionality, use of evidence and impact data in investment design, and managing impact performance. The role of impact data in driving industry growth is yet to be fully realized.
Big Society Capital. (2023). Operating Principles for Impact Management, Disclosure Statement. IFC.
Lyons, Hayley. Former Head of Impact Management and Measurement, UK Infrastructure Bank. Email correspondence. 16 October 2023.
Essl, Philipp. Senior Social Impact Director, Big Society Capital. Personal interview. 13 October 2023. Sunderji, Sophia. Director, Research, The Global Impact Investing Network. Email correspondence. 17 October 2023.
Bonnie is the Managing Director of The Social Investment Consultancy (TSIC), a global consultancy specialized in impact measurement and management, impact investing and equity and inclusion strategies. TSIC has a global network of 25 consultants and worked with more than 300 clients, including Wellcome Trust, British Council and UNICEF. She is an award-winning social entrepreneur: having founded women’s empowerment social enterprise Lensational, Diversity Forum for Inclusive Social Investment and Pathway, a new impact investment wholesaler focused on racial equity. She is also a Senior Advisor at Social Value International and a Member of the Blended Finance Investment Committee at Access – Foundation for Social Investment.