The Five Myths of Making an Impact

A different approach, with iF’s social impact team

Understanding your impact is critical to assessing your organization. This informs vital choices for yourself, your work, and those with whom you partner. At Intentional Futures, we believe that all organizations – businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, and international organizations – have the power to make a positive impact. It’s not just about being “good” or “right,” it’s about creating a shared vision for a prosperous future that leaves no one behind.

It's crucial for organizations to recognize the impact they have on the world and take ownership of it. However, there are many myths surrounding impact work that can hold organizations back from creating meaningful change. By recognizing and dispelling these myths, organizations can step up and create a positive impact. Here are Five Myths of Impact that organizations should be aware of:

Myth: Impact work is only for nonprofits.

Truth: Every organization has a social impact, the question is whether or not it is prioritized. 

Every organization, regardless of its sector or size, has an impact on society and plays a role in the community. We believe that organizations that intentionally design for positive social impact are creating a more sustainable and resilient future for themselves and their stakeholders.

Many organizations have struggled to "catch up" on DEI work after realizing that it may have been unaddressed. Though a worthy cause, moving at an irresponsible pace can have a negative effect on the organization, its people and culture. DEI work should happen at a thoughtful, deliberate pace such that there can be buy-in among organizational members, time for reflection and room to experience the discomfort that might be a part of this process.

In our work: In assessing the hiring practices and metrics across their membership of universities, the APLU concluded that despite the depth and breadth of data when it came to diversity in higher education faculty, adequate actionable steps were not being taken. They wanted to work with the STEM higher education community to think about new ways to promote diversity for faculty across universities, and called on iF to help facilitate the process.

Myth: Impact work operates in a vacuum.

Truth: An impact mindset must be integrated across organizational strategy, culture, and design.

Impact is a key consideration at every level, from leadership to the front lines of the organization. It must be made everyone’s responsibility to cultivate, which means that all employees and stakeholders have a foundation of trust and buy-in into the work.  Only then can an organization create meaningful, sustainable change that benefits everyone involved. 

In our work: KEXP, a beloved local radio station, was developing a new 4-year strategy, and hoped to embed impact and purpose across the organization. Equipped with the plan, the station is able to integrate an impact mindset in the everyday, and more effectively make change.

Myth: Companies who prioritize impact aren’t profitable.

Truth: Designing for social, environmental and economic outcomes unlock shared stakeholder value.

One of the biggest myths we hear is that companies who prioritize impact are not profitable. This simply isn’t true. According to a 2022 NYU report, a strong ESG strategy results in an uptick of 10% to 20% in business valuation, and also attracts more interest from investors. We’ve seen that designing for social, environmental, and economic outcomes unlocks shared stakeholder value. Impact is not a zero-sum game – it can and should be a driver of business success. As sentiments turn beyond zero-waste and circularity to regenerative concepts, we can start to leverage the possibilities at the intersection of organizational goals and positive impact. This approach could even surface new areas for intentional growth, collaboration, and scale.

In our work: Brooks Running prioritizes sustainability goals and fostering positive impact in the communities that they touch. They also recently exceeded $1 billion in revenue. 

Myth: Impact is hard to see and hard to measure.

Truth: Measurement should capture what change is visible tomorrow, for who, and why it matters.

Measuring the impact of your organization over time requires a dedicated effort to track metrics related to who your actions are affecting and how. In advance of launching a new initiative, it’s essential to conduct a stakeholder mapping exercise to identify all possible groups who may be affected by it and then define metrics to track that impact for each group. By focusing on these metrics, organizations can gain a better understanding of the impact they are having and make informed decisions about how to maximize their impact over time.

In our work: recently, we reflected on our own impact as an organization– on the people, communities, and planet we touch. Upon first iteration, assigning quantifiable metrics to many of the indices we sought to measure impact on was difficult, but we found that in order to truly understand how our collective impact is affecting our stakeholders, we had to assign them value. 

Myth: Impact is either good or bad.

Truth: Impact is complex: a positive outcome for one group may be a negative outcome for another.

Impact is complex and multifaceted, but we see this as an opportunity for collaboration rather than a reason to stay away. By working with a set of diverse stakeholders, we believe organizations can foster meaningful relationships and identify paths toward shared prosperity. These connections can help anticipate and navigate risks, while bringing people along in the decision-making process. This approach fosters inclusiveness, rather than perpetuating an exclusive, and perhaps elitist, environment.  

In our work: climate action is often thought of as a blanket net positive, when in reality investments in climate finance can often harm the communities they are meant to serve. Our work with the World Bank Global Partnership for Social Accountability sought to elevate the voices of marginalized communities to better understand how to drive impact in a way more beneficial to all. 

You make an impact. At Intentional Futures, we work with organizations that are challenging preconceived notions about social impact to create shared prosperity. Myths about social impact hold organizations back. The truth is, every organization -- whether public, private, or nonprofit -- has an impact on the world. What that impact is, and what it could be, is up to you. By embracing a new perspective, we can help you intentionally create a more positive impact that delivers shared value.

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