Ever one to jump on the bandwagon, my thoughts and blog this week turns to the Olympics. Amidst the recriminations and soul searching about the Australian medal tally, a question keeps cropping up – just what return are we getting on our money invested in these games? We have gone so far as to put a price on each medal – $15.5 million for athletics and $6.2million for cycling apparently. I’m not sure why we feel this need to price each medal but it suggests, that with limited government resources, the public want to ensure we get our money’s worth. Or perhaps, less cynically, we want to ensure we are distributing our limited resources effectively.

Similarly, corporate organisations increasingly want to ensure they are measuring their social impact, and that they are distributing their resources effectively. Whilst it might be relatively simple to put a dollar amount on a medal, how do you put a price on local apprenticeships, or increasing computer skills for the long term unemployed, or any other social impact your organisation might have. Conversely, as a not for profit, how can you demonstrate the impact you have to organisations you might approach for funding?

There are ways, and I recently attended a social return on investment network meeting which discussed the challenges and advantages of this approach. And whilst I see many advantages to it, and it can often resonate with boards that are used to dealing with dollars and cents, I am also cautious. It is too easy to reduce your social impact to a number, and forget about the complexities, challenges and importance of understanding all of your social impact. And just as, in my personal opinion, reducing medals to $6.2 million diminishes the impact of the Olympics in encouraging participation in sports, inspiring the next Anna Meares, and perhaps even encouraging a bit of team spirit, so too could putting a figure on your social impact shift focus from ensuring a positive social impact to talking about your investments.

My hope is that we can use social return on investment methods to understand not just return on investments, but use it as a sophisticated evaluation tool to make sure that resources are effective and allocated appropriately.

What we don’t need to talk about is dollars and cents, we need dollars and sense (get it?).

Colette is a Senior Consultant with ACCSR. She is a complete research nerd, is constantly thinking about the ‘whys’ and ‘whats’ of CSR and sustainability, and currently has guilt about not using her keep cup for take away coffee this morning.