Social value sits at the heart of every charity. From the charity’s creation to its commitment to service delivery, social value is inscribed in its purpose statement, governing documents and impact reporting.
As communicators, we are focused on advocating for our beneficiaries and showcasing the value provided by our charity. Yet, unlike financial value, social value can have various definitions and be measured in different ways – making the task of communicating social value that resonates difficult, and even more so in the current climate. Audiences expect more transparency, accountability and information from organisations to make informed choices about where to place their support.
In this article, I will be referring to Social Value International’s social-return-on-investment (SROI) analysis, a principle-based framework used for accounting for social value, and their definition:
“Social value is about understanding the relative importance that people place on changes to their wellbeing and using the insights we gain from this understanding to make better decisions.”Social Value International
In other words, social value covers the economic, environmental, and social outcomes of your charitable work. In this article, I share why this concept matters – particularly for communicators – and how to speak to your audience about your social value.
Communicating social value internally
By their very nature, charities strive to optimise social value, even if it’s not articulated as such. Therefore, ensuring your charity employs a structured framework to assess the social value of your activities is crucial. The framework guides evaluation and decision-making processes.
For internal communicators, you play a pivotal role in bridging the gap between addressing any concerns about change and presenting data that supports decisions. Understanding the origins of claims or calls for change and assessing how they align with the charity’s mission lends an authentic quality to our response. This understanding not only boosts our confidence in communicating ‘the why’ effectively but also fosters a sense of trust internally and addresses any inherent biases or over-reliance on personal experiences towards decision-making. This is done by upholding the principle of involving people with lived experience, centring their view and demonstrating the connection between their input and our work.
Furthermore, internal communication which shows a clear picture facilitates organisational buy-in regarding necessary developments. When everyone understands the underlying rationale, it becomes easier to cultivate support for these essential transformations.
Top takeaway: Clearly present the data that underpins decisions.
Communicating social value to donors and funders
Donors and funders often ponder: does my contribution truly create a substantial impact within the charity? But each of them carries distinct definitions of social value and unique objectives to fulfil. Merely measuring objectives falls short of accounting for the comprehensive social value generated. To be truly accountable, we must recognise and assess the entirety of our impact, the intentional and unintentional positive, as well as the unintentional negative outcomes as a result of our activities.
This can be achieved when impact reports or funding bids utilise data generated by social value frameworks, such as a social-return-on-investment (SROI) analysis, to tell the whole story of their impact. A SROI analysis quantifies the social value generated by an activity in economic, environmental, and social terms. This provides donors and funders with a clear and tangible understanding of the broader societal benefits beyond just numerical figures, showing the real impact of their contribution.
The analysis also provides evidence-backed insights into the effectiveness and considerations of interventions for people who are affected by the activity, which donors and funders can use to assess the long-term impact of an activity and how they can make a difference.
We may also need to educate donors and funders that social value is not the same as corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR can initiate activities that deliver social value, but social value integrates economic, environmental, and social concerns into the core business strategy, operations, and decision-making process.
Top takeaway: Tell the whole story of your impact by measuring its social value.
Communicating social value to the public
There may be cases when the public or beneficiaries struggle to believe in the possibility of positive change given their circumstances and past experiences. And with different meanings and measurements for social value, it can open room for mistrust.
For example, think greenwashing – when an organisation invests more into communicating its environmentally friendly than into its activities or infrastructure to reduce its environmental impact. Individuals can be sceptical of the claims made and find themselves perplexed about the genuine social value being delivered. This confusion can arise when trying to discern how one organisation’s efforts compare to those of another, often caused by a lack of clarity in communicating about impact. In the case of environmental impact, resources such as the UK Green Claims Code can assist in communicating claims more clearly.
Through collaborative communication with those affected by the activity, we can illustrate more widely that the needs of the community are being addressed, positive outcomes are emerging, and a brighter future is possible. This approach not only fosters greater community engagement with the charity but also attracts future support.
By being accountable and demonstrating your commitment to listening to the concerns and experiences of people affected, you can optimise social value, ensuring a more inclusive and impactful charitable endeavour.
Top takeaway: Collaborative communication that illustrates needs met substantiates your social value.
In summary, effective communication of social value is the linchpin for charities. Internally, it aligns organisational decisions, confronts biases, and fosters understanding. Externally, it educates donors, distinguishes social value from mere objectives, and engages the public, showcasing your tangible and positive changes to help donors make informed decisions about their support. Transparent and collaborative communication, rooted in a social value framework, builds trust through accountability, and bridges the gap between intention and impact, paving the way for meaningful, lasting change.
If you have any questions or need support, I can help you articulate your charity’s impact, foster support, and engage your audience through clear and compelling communication strategies.
For more reading on social value, try the following resources:
Banner Image: Alexander Grey on Unsplash