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Impact Measurement Glossary

Check out our glossary of impact measurement terms to get inspired.

Your Impact Journey Continues

A comprehensive grasp of impact measurement terminology empowers mission-driven organizations to accurately assess, communicate, and enhance their impact, ultimately driving positive outcomes.

Elevate your understanding of the impact measurement field with our comprehensive Glossary of Impact Measurement terms. Whether you're brand new to the world of impact measurement or just need a quick knowledge brush-up, this resource is your key to deciphering the language of social and environmental change!

Click on any of the topics below to go directly to a specific section. 

Data Terms


Data Governance


Data Types


Data Visualization


Impact Essentials



Data Essentials

Data Validation The process to ensure data collected or being inputted is correct and useful. Most commonly done by adding a drop-down list to restrict the types of data or values that can enter into a cell.
Qualitative Data The type of data that cannot be represented by numberic variables. Helps to provide context around numerical data.
Quantitative Data The value of data in the form of counts or numbers where each data-set has a unique numerical value associated with it. Also known as numerical data, quantitative data further describes numeric variables.
Comma-Separated Values (CSV) A type of data file (.csv) that uses commas to separate values. Each line of the file is a data record. No formulas or special formatting will convey in a CSV file. Excel spreadsheets and GSheets can be converted from .xsls file to a .csv file when saving.
Unique Identifier A unique numeric or alphanumeric string associated with a single entity within a given system. (Ex.: Driver’s License number)
Data Analytics The science of analyzing raw data in order to make conclusions about that information, uncovering patterns, trends, consistencies, and outliers by way of mathematics, statistics, and/or computer programming.
Data Cleansing The process of preparing data for analysis by amending or removing incorrect, corrupted, improperly formatted, duplicated, irrelevant, or incomplete data within a dataset.
Data Import The process of moving data from external sources into another application or database.
Data Integrity The overall accuracy, consistency, and trustworthiness of data throughout its lifecycle.
Data Manipulation The process of organizing data to make it easier to read or more structured.
Correlation A statistical measure that describes the size and direction of a relationship between two or more variables. A correlation between variables, however, does not automatically mean that the change in one variable is the cause of the change in the values of the other variable. A correlation doesn’t imply causation, but causation always implies correlation.
Causation Indicates that one event is the result of the occurrence of the other event; i.e. there is a causal relationship between the two events. This is also referred to as cause and effect. A correlation doesn’t imply causation, but causation always implies correlation.
Descriptive Analytics The type of data analytics which tells you what happened in the past.
Diagnostic Analytics The type of data analytics which helps you understand why something happened in the past.
Predictive Analytics The type of data analytics which predicts what is most likely to happen in the future.
Prescriptive Analytics The type of data analytics which recommends actions you can take to affect those outcomes.
Data Type Attribute that tells what kind of data a value can have and what type of calculation, operations, or visualization can be performed.
Data Governance, Privacy & Security
Data Governance The framework of policies, processes, and responsibilities for managing and protecting data assets within an organization.
Data Management The practice of planning, controlling, and administering data assets throughout their lifecycle, including data collection, storage, and use.
Data Protection The overall strategy, policies, and measures put in place to safeguard data from unauthorized access, breaches, or other security threats.
Data Privacy The proper handling of sensitive data including personal data and other confidential data, such as certain financial data and intellectual property data, to meet regulatory requirements as well as protecting the confidentiality and immutability of the data.
Cybersecurity The practice of protecting computer systems, networks, and digital information from various threats, including unauthorized access, data breaches, malware, and other cyberattacks.
Access Control The practice of restricting access to data or systems to authorized users or processes, often through the use of authentication and authorization mechanisms.
Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) A security process in which a user is required to provide multiple different authentication factors (Ex.: password and a one-time code) to access a system or application.
Data Retention Policy A set of guidelines and procedures that define how long data should be stored, when it should be deleted, and how it should be disposed of.
Protected Health Information (PHI) Healthcare-related information that is protected under privacy regulations such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) to ensure the confidentiality and security of patient data.
Personally Identifiable Information (PII) Any information that can be used to identify an individual, such as names, addresses, phone numbers, and social security numbers.
Data Breach An incident in which sensitive, confidential, or protected data is accessed, disclosed, or stolen by an unauthorized individual or group.
Data Types
String Represents text, a sentence, an alphanumeric value, or sometimes a number that is not to be used in calculations.
Number Represents a number or integer, ideally used in calculations.
True/False A binary choice that can represent both a category (yes vs no) and a number (1 vs 0), which can be used in category visualizations like a pie chart or calculations like an average.
Date Calendar Date
Datetime Calendar Date and Time
List Multiple values, separated by comma stored within the same field. (Ex.: Checkbox questions)
Data Visualization
Bar Chart A graph that presents columns at varying lengths or heights in proportion to the value they represent.
Simple Metric The sum, count, average, minimum or maximum of a selected data field.
Pie Chart A circular graph that is used to show proportions of a whole (or breakdowns).
Line Chart A graph which displays information as a series of data points called 'markers' connected by straight line segments.
Cluster Chart A graph that presents columns at varying lengths or heights in proportion to the value they represent. Cluster charts are capable of displaying more than one Bar for each aggregation field
Data Visualization A visual representation of data - spanning graphs, charts, and maps. It makes it easier for an audience to see large shifts over time, or compare two sets of data. With data visualizations it is also easier to spot patterns or trends that could inform future opportunities for optimizations.
Chart Type Charts are an essential part of working with data, as they are a way to condense large amounts of data into an easy to understand format. Some chart type examples include: Bar chart, pie chart, line graph, cluster chart and simple metric.
Outlier An extremely high or extremely low data point that significantly deviates from the rest of the data. Outliers can impact the accuracy of visualizations and analysis and may need special treatment.
Impact Essentials
Impact Contribution The process of understanding the collective effort of various actors and interventions in achieving an outcome. It recognizes that multiple organizations, initiatives, or circumstances can contribute to the same impact, making it challenging to attribute success to a single source. Impact contribution emphasizes collaboration, synergy, and the interconnectedness of efforts within a broader context.
Impact Attribution The process of assigning specific outcomes or changes to a particular intervention or cause. It aims to identify a direct cause-and-effect relationship between a specific action, project, or program and the observed impact. In essence, it seeks to answer the question, "To what extent can we attribute this outcome to our efforts?" Impact attribution often relies on methods like randomized control trials (RCTs) and other rigorous evaluation techniques to isolate the effects of a single intervention from external factors.
Impact Measurement and Management (IMM) A systematic and structured approach used by organizations to assess, track, and optimize the social, environmental, and economic outcomes or impacts of their activities, projects, programs, or investments. IMM encompasses a set of processes, methodologies, and tools aimed at understanding and improving an organization's ability to create positive impacts and minimize negative ones.
Impact Framework A structured approach that helps mission-driven organizations define and operationalize their impact - allowing teams to identify, measure, and communicate their social or environmental impact. It is a framework that contains your vision, mission, and values along with a collection of themes that each have objectives and KIIs that reference both your direct and in-direct impact.
Mission A statement that supports your vision and serves to communicate purpose and direction. A mission statement should showcase how you plan to tackle and accomplish your current goals and can evolve over time.
Vision A statement that communicates the core purpose of your oragnization and the change you want to make in your community. It shoud be long-term, un-varying, and powerful.
Values Organization's values communicate who you are as an organization and how you operate and communicate on a day to day basis. Your values should be grounding, easy to follow, and something that every member of your organization want to embrace and live by.
Impact - Theme(s) Impact Themes help describe a purpose-driven approach to contributing to social or environmental issues.
Who Who (are we serving)?': An impact dimension which describes the people who you serve and are helping Ex.: Demographics / characteristics, # of recipients
What What (are we delivering and how much)?': An impact dimension which describes the programs or services you are delivering for the people you serve. Ex.: product, services, capital
Quality What is the quality (of our delivery)?': An impact dimension which maps very closely to the 'what' dimension and describes how you ensure what you are delivering is quality and that your team is executing at a high level. Ex.: NPS, utilization, retention
Better off Are those that we serve better off?': An impact dimension which describes how the people you serve are better due to the quality services you provided.
Key Impact Indicator (KII) Metrics used to assess the impact of an organization's activities on its stakeholders. These indicators, which can be quantitative or qualitative, provide information about the value of an organization's activities in terms of their contribution to specific social or environmental objectives.
Operational data The data that is related to your organization's program, fundraising or grant making, surveys, or other direct work you are taking on in your community.
Portfolio data The data that is related to what you will collect from your grantees or portfolio companies directly.
Community data The data that is related to data you are sourcing from 3rd party data and is associated with zip codes, counties, or other region types.
Community Indexing How conditions in specific geographic areas have evolved over certain periods of time.
Social Needs index Created by the urban research firm New Localism Advisors, the Index was originally developed to help guide investments to Opportunity Zones and has a wide range of potential uses.
Inputs Resources committed to your work.
Outputs Direct results of resources committed to work.
Outcomes The desired, observable change that results from your organization’s programs or activities.
Impact Long-term, positive change in your participants, communities served, or the sector (as a result of your organization’s activities).
Indicator A data point used to indicate progress towards a goal. It is the measure(s) that help you understand whether you are achieving your results.
Metric A measurement of quantitative data. For example, your data point might be a number, but your metric is total hours.
Business Storytelling The act of humanizing the operations, activities, and benefits of an organization using well-crafted, engaging, and relevant stories. The goal is to avoid communicating with its target audience in a way that’s overly sales-y, technical, or uninspired.
Results Based Accountability (RBA) A commonly-used impact measurement framework which aids nonprofits in achieving outcomes for communities and initiatives. Additionally, a results based strategy assists nonprofits in determining how well a program or service is functioning and where organizations can make improvements to attain the intended outcomes.

The RBA guide begins with the objective in mind. It then works backward to assist in reaching the intended goal. Finally, it summarizes the outcomes of a program or service for a specific group or community.
Theory of Change (TOC) A commonly-used impact measurement framework which defines a process of planned societal change, from the assumptions that drive its design to the long-term goals it attempts to attain. Impact organizations that have developed a change theory do so to make it easier for them to find logical linkages between actions and outcomes. A Theory of Change framework aids them in articulating what premises and assumptions their work tests precisely — and what they should evaluate in their assessment strategy.
Impact Investing Investments made with the intention to generate positive, measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return (as defined by the Global Impact Investing Network)
ESG Environment, Social, Governance
SDG Sustainable Development Goals
Additionality The ability to prove that the positive outcome would not have occurred without the investor's specific investment.
Dimension Each objective will have a dimension: Who, What, Quality, Better Off, and Community Contribution that help you structure your impact framework and group similar KIIs. By focusing on who you serve, what you deliver, what the quality of your delivery is, and if those you serve are better off, you will be able to effectively measure, manage, and communicate your impact.
Objective An objective is a grouping of KIIs that helps provide structure and organization for your impact framework. Objectives will be tied to a dimension and will generally match the language of your mission statement and be easy for someone learning about your organization to understand. Objectives in the community contribution section will generally match the language of your vision and should be overarching and ambitious.
Community Contribution Impact is a collective effort. With a lens of contribution (vs. attribution), select objectives and indicators that align to your community impact. There are two types of community contribution, direct and indirect. Direct contribution is an extension of your better off KIIs, with a community lens. Indirect contribution is often tied to your vision statement. Your defined target community should take geography and demographics into consideration (especially if the community is “people-focused” rather than “planet-focused”).
Define Determine learning questions and key metrics
Collect Review, clean, and centralize data from existing systems and gather new data.
Analyze Visualize and explore your data in custom dashboards
Leverage Share dashboards and insights to make decisions and tell stories