Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2010

The Limits of Nonprofit Impact: A Contingency Framework for Measuring Social Performance

by Alnoor Ebrahim and V. Kasturi Rangan

Abstract

Leaders of organizations in the social sector are under growing pressure to demonstrate their impacts on pressing societal problems such as global poverty. We review the debates around performance and impact, drawing on three literatures: strategic philanthropy, nonprofit management, and international development. We then develop a contingency framework for measuring results, suggesting that some organizations should measure long-term impacts, while others should focus on shorter-term outputs and outcomes. In closing, we discuss the implications of our analysis for future research on performance management.

Keywords: Development Economics; Giving and Philanthropy; Leadership; Corporate Social Responsibility and Impact; Performance Expectations; Nonprofit Organizations; Social Issues;

Citation:

Ebrahim, Alnoor, and V. Kasturi Rangan. "The Limits of Nonprofit Impact: A Contingency Framework for Measuring Social Performance." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 10-099, May 2010. (Recipient of 2010 Academy of Management, Public and Nonprofit Division, Carlo Masini Award for Innovative Scholarship runner-up prize; and, selection for the Best Papers proceedings.)