Guest Post by Aimee Woodall: Measuring the New ROI

This is a guest post from Aimee Woodall, President and Founder of The Black Sheep Agency, this is an interestng insight, and a great post for this #givingtuesday

Measuring the New ROI

Return on Investment. ROI. The amount of return you get for what you put out there. Of all the things businesses measure, this is one of the trickiest. When I started my career in PR, we struggled with column inches and ad costs. In digital, it’s about impressions, clicks and conversions. There is always a metric to chase, a return to value and a reason to try harder. So let me give you another one: Return on Impact. (You don’t even have to change the acronym.)

We’ve tried to measure the impact of our work at Black Sheep since the beginning, finally launching an Impact Report this year to start trying to corral findings into one place. It’s a start. It’s not quite right yet, but we’re putting it out into the world to make sure we—and other agencies like us that work in social good—are accountable for the work we do. At the heart of cause-driven work, we should be activating people around things that matter. And therein lies the difficulty: How do you show action when it’s always in a different form? 

This is far beyond inches, ads and ink—this is looking at industries, areas of community service, and the nonprofit landscape and determining what the most critical moves for the audience are. For example, how do we know if young people are choosing to go to college? College application rates? FAFSA completion? Yes, yes and yes. Maybe that’s too easy of an example, so I’ll give you another one: Disaster relief. Is it about the items moved? The volunteers that showed up? The donations received? Cause-driven work is a complex universe, and the more you do, the easier it is to get into the weeds with how you measure, what you measure and what it means. 

#WeAccept, Airbnb’s Super Bowl campaign, focused on housing for refugees, disaster victims and relief workers

The good news about impact is that you don’t need to be nonprofit to affect change. This year, companies like Airbnb and REI pushed for social good in campaigns. #WeAccept, Airbnb’s Super Bowl campaign, focused on housing for refugees, disaster victims and relief workers, but it’s message was bigger than that. It was about acceptance in a time when humanity is divided and fractured, a direct response to a recent travel ban targeting Muslim-majority countries. How do you measure the impact of a shift in thinking? For Airbnb, they set a goal of housing 100,000 people in need over the next five years. More meaningful than simply monitoring hashtag usage, measuring concrete action shows that your message is getting people moving.

For REI, the Opt Outside campaign isn’t something new but it is something that grows in impact each year. The campaign challenges people to make a new Black Friday tradition: To step away from the store and get out into nature. REI closed all of its stores and gave employees a paid day off, and asked that other retailers follow suit. While Opt Outside exclusively uses hashtag usage to monitor results, the proof of action is worth 1,000 words—that is, people must post a photo of themselves enjoying the outdoors. More than 1.4 million people and 170 organizations joined in last year. While that’s impressive, it’s not as incredible as the real-life commitment to forgo profits on one of the biggest shopping days of the year AND pay your staff not to come to work. 

REI’s Opt Outside Campaign

Impact will never be easy to measure, but it is something you can keep trying until you figure out what works for your company, your industry and your specific kind of work. Here are some tips to better measure your impact in 2018 and, hopefully, stay out of the weeds:

  • Don’t forget to keep score: It is a heck of a lot easier to start with the items you want to measure along the way than it is to go back and mine for data later on. Trust me—start with a plan to measure what you think may be meaningful later. Think like Airbnb: Set an action you want to reach and a time frame to get there. 
  • Don’t stop with digital: The internet has made it a lot easier to pull data of all sorts from your campaigns and programs, but chances are your impact isn’t only online. Like REI, your real-life actions can send a powerful message. 
  • Don’t get discouraged: No one has this quite figured out yet. You have to just start measuring, test, learn and apply your findings to the next round.
  • Don’t get stuck in a formula: Each project, each segment of your industry and each programmatic element may need its own metrics to get to the most meaningful information. 

There is one thing that’s certain, and that is we need to crack the code on impact measurement. Nonprofits, think tanks, agencies and service organizations alike are all aching for ways to show the proof that their work is moving the needle. Measuring impact is the way you demonstrate that—and that the needle exists in the first place. 


Author Bio

Aimee Woodall describes herself on the Black Sheep Website as People builder, dot connector and big yesser of life, Aimee is the person that asks “what if” and “why not” and is ever-tuned in to the undercurrent that boldly gets clients to the next level.

This article was written by, and is (c) Aimee Woodall. All opinions, recommendations and views expressed in this article are solely those of Aimee Woodall.

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