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


  • Alnoor Ebrahim

    () (Harvard Business School, General Management Unit)

  • V. Kasturi Rangan

    () (Harvard Business School, Marketing Unit)


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Alnoor Ebrahim & V. Kasturi Rangan, 2010. "The Limits of Nonprofit Impact: A Contingency Framework For Measuring Social Performance," Harvard Business School Working Papers 10-099, Harvard Business School.
  • Handle: RePEc:hbs:wpaper:10-099

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    Cited by:

    1. Bucaciuc Anamaria, 2015. "Social Enterprises - From Potential To Impact," Annals of Faculty of Economics, University of Oradea, Faculty of Economics, vol. 1(1), pages 408-412, July.
    2. Marzena Starnawska, 2016. "Social Entrepreneurship Research – Challenges, Explanations and Suggestions for the Field Development (Przedsiebiorczosc spoleczna – wyzwania, przyczyny i sugestie dla obszaru badawczego)," Problemy Zarzadzania, University of Warsaw, Faculty of Management, vol. 14(61), pages 13-31.
    3. repec:gam:jsusta:v:9:y:2017:i:12:p:2264-:d:123600 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Nino Antadze & Frances R. Westley, 2012. "Impact Metrics for Social Innovation: Barriers or Bridges to Radical Change?," Journal of Social Entrepreneurship, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 3(2), pages 133-150, October.
    5. Ramanath, Ramya, 2014. "Ethical implications of resource-limited evaluations: Lessons from an INGO in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo," Evaluation and Program Planning, Elsevier, vol. 46(C), pages 25-37.
    6. Sean Geobey & Frances R. Westley & Olaf Weber, 2012. "Enabling Social Innovation through Developmental Social Finance," Journal of Social Entrepreneurship, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 3(2), pages 151-165, October.
    7. Anica Zeyen & Markus Beckmann & Stella Wolters, 2016. "Actor and Institutional Dynamics in the Development of Multi-stakeholder Initiatives," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 135(2), pages 341-360, May.
    8. Sakarya, Sema & Bodur, Muzaffer & Yildirim-Öktem, Özlem & Selekler-Göksen, Nisan, 2012. "Social alliances: Business and social enterprise collaboration for social transformation," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 65(12), pages 1710-1720.
    9. Roger C. Riddell, 2013. "Assessing the Overall Impact of Civil Society on Development at the Country Level: An Exploratory Approach," Development Policy Review, Overseas Development Institute, vol. 31(4), pages 371-396, July.
    10. Barbara Sveva Magnanelli & Elisa Raoli & Agnese Sacchi, 2016. "Key Factors for Success of Social Enterprises in Italy: Analysis of Financial and Operating Performance," Review of Economics & Finance, Better Advances Press, Canada, vol. 6, pages 43-60, February.

    More about this item


    performance measurement; impact; nonprofit management; social enterprise; philanthropy; accountability; management control systems.;

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