The Impact Driver

Role Summary

There is huge demand for more institutions thinking critically about how community collaboration and private investment can improve communities, and how to measure that progress. If your institution has a relationship with your surrounding community,  a commitment to more intentional community development, and academic or research focus on social impact and equitable systems, you may be the perfect Impact Driver for your community and the region. 

Summary of Benefits

The benefits of a clearly articulated theory of change, how the institution can use its resources to create a lasting impact on the communities it serves, can not only improve organizational outcomes but can also contribute to neighborhood and regional community growth in a material way. At a micro level, your institution can increase the impact it creates through its daily operations, projects, programs, and investments. At a macro level, you can publish research and advocate for policy to influence greater system change at a local, regional, and even national level.

Financial & Resource Commitment



A social impact strategy can be integrated into existing operations in such a way that little overhead is created and outsized benefits are achieved. To do that, you’ll need to leverage existing community service, research, and data teams and students to support this work. You can align this work to existing academic departments and students, and most likely leverage undergrad, graduate, and doctorate-level resources that are interested in pursuing this work as part of their field of study.

Functional Scope / Workflow


Understand the Problem

In the role of Impact Driver, an important first step is to look at the specific challenges that the organization and the community are facing, and identify the organizations and individuals most affected by those challenges. A simple way to think about this is to ask yourself, “Do we have a solution looking for a problem? Or do we have a problem that we need to find a solution for?” The former is a pitfall that can be seen when there is a lot of excitement, energy, and momentum behind a project or program that does not have a clear value proposition for, or buy-in from, the community in which it intends to serve.

Organizational Need

Before embarking on this work, it is important to look at the organization’s existing strategic plan and determine what its needs are and how there might be an opportunity to meet both the organization’s needs and the community’s needs when developing a slate of projects, programs, investments, or partnerships. 

In addition to evaluating the current strategic plan for alignment, it is worthwhile to also review the current challenges the organization is facing in achieving its goals. There very well may be opportunities for the community’s members and assets to support the institution and vice-versa.

In each of these exercises, it is important to identify the stakeholder group(s) affected by the problem. Is the organization facing staff challenges? Student challenges? Vendor or partner challenges? Resident or neighbor challenges?

Community Need

To know whether any given investment opportunity is doing good for the surrounding community, you need to know what “good” means for that community. To measure that, you’ll need baseline data about what is happening in your chosen geography and what local development priorities look like. This data can be collected from a number of existing community data portals and directly from the community members themselves. A series of tools have been highlighted below.

● Community Data Portals

General community data portals like PolicyMap, Citi’s CityBuilder tool, MasterCard’s Inclusive Growth Score, EIG’s Distressed Communities Index, and Enterprise’s Opportunity Zone Navigator can be extremely helpful in providing that baseline information about a particular community. For rural communities, the Center on Rural Innovation hosts a tool called the Rural Opportunity Map that provides even more initial community insight. 

● Community Data Collection

Even with all this nationally aggregated data, the complete picture of community need will not become clear without localized, targeted needs assessment. Groups like Public Democracy and co:census are pushing targeted local needs assessments with community specific questions out to grasstops leaders and grassroots citizens within communities, and getting some fascinating results. 

Colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to (a) message the local data gap to their surrounding communities and (b) fill the gap using institutional expertise and student support. Between statistics departments (which often have internal polling capacity), community outreach divisions, and guidance from this Roadmap, institutions can discover what data already exists and where the most prominent gaps lie. If done effectively, collecting community data can even benefit that predevelopment work. For example, if we know that X% of community members would pay $Y/month for workforce housing or access to broadband, we could build a business case around it.
Other tools that can help integrate needs and solutions interventions include, coUrbanize | Community Engagement for Development and Planning, State of Place | Big Data | Smart and Equitable City Planning Software, CitizenLab, and

● Community Engagement Frameworks

Quantitative data alone may not be enough. Qualitative data, collected through charrettes and in-person gatherings, might help fill the gaps left by survey data and national data. There are dozens of frameworks for collecting this kind of qualitative data – the big question is always who has the time and capacity to leverage them. In many cases, partnership with local non-profits and community organizations, supplemented with staff and student support, can facilitate this data collection. It is helpful to have a trusted community partner who can support this work to ensure an authentic connection with the community. Here are several examples of community engagement frameworks to support this work:


Define a Theory of Change

The foundation for all of this work is a clearly articulated theory of change and logic model, which most institutions may already have clearly defined as it relates to their academic vision. For specific projects, programs, or interventions relating to your role as Impact Driver, your institution can implement a standard process to develop a theory of change and logic model to better align your work to the impact you want to make on your students, the community, and the world.

As stated in Step 1, a common pitfall is defining a solution that is looking for a problem. To set off on this work, it is important to clearly define the problem and exactly who it is affecting to ensure any solution ultimately helps address that problem and the target audience(s) experiences the benefit.

Once the problem and affected stakeholders have been identified, you can start to build out a theory of change and logic model outlining the impact you would like to have and how you can achieve that impact. The key components of a Theory of Change and Logic Model are:

● Inputs

Define the financial, organizational, community, and other resources required to complete the planned activities. This will typically include capital, internal and external people and teams, facilities, equipment, and other resources.

● Activities

Define the specific actions, processes, and programs that the organization is going to complete with the inputs defined. This may include programmatic, financial, and real estate interventions.

● Outputs

Define the measurable effects of the activities that are being performed. This includes direct investments of time and money, the individuals and organizations engaged, assets built, demographics, and any other quantifiable metrics that can be measured consistently by the organization and project teams.

● Outcomes

Specific changes in attitudes, behaviors, knowledge, skills, status, or level of functioning that occur over time following an intervention, such as number of construction or maintenance people employed within six months of training.

● Impact

Long term sustainable change attributable to a specific intervention. The difference between the outcome for a sample of constituents exposed to a nonprofit’s activities and the outcome that would have occurred without the intervention.  

Although your instinct may be to start with Inputs and Activities that you know exist, the preferred approach is starting with the Impact (aka, the ultimate goal), then working backwards to identify Outcomes, Outputs, Activities, and Inputs. This approach ensures that you are not only clearly defining your impact vision but also indicating specifically how you are going to measure it’s achievement. Once you have defined that end state and the measurable outputs and outcomes, you can then evaluate the Inputs and Activities that are proven to help you achieve them. It is incredibly valuable at this stage to explore evidence-based approaches and interventions that have been used to create this impact in other organizations and communities. 

There are myriad publications on this topic. Here are a few resources that can help with this exercise and a broader evaluation approach.

View Additional Resources
  • This Theory of Change template from DIY Toolkit is a good jumping off point for any organizations looking to engage in this work. In this model, “Long Term Change” is synonymous with “Impact”, wider benefits are synonymous with “Outcomes”, “Measurable Effect” is synonymous with “Outputs”, and “Steps” are synonymous with “Inputs and Activities”. 
  • The W.K. Kellogg Foundation Step-by-Step Guide to Evaluation (Page 106, Overview of Logic Model): This detailed guide to evaluation has a robust section on development of a theory of change and logic model.
  • SOPACT Theory of Change Resources & Platform: SOPACT shares several good resources on developing a theory of change, and has a platform that allows you to develop a theory of change and build out an impact measurement framework from it.
  • B.World Platform: Another platform that starts with a theory of change definition and then allows you to build impact measurement directly from it.

Here is a sample Theory of Change for an equitable real estate development company, Shift Capital. (pp. 14-15)


Select an Impact Measurement Framework(s)

Once you have defined your theory of change, your institution will be positioned to advocate for impact and provide the tools necessary to help measure it alongside local ecosystem members. Knowing where to engage requires an understanding of what kinds of impact metrics currently exist, what they measure, and how they align to the outputs and outcomes you have identified. In this section, we will explore the levels at which you can measure impact and  the existing frameworks and resources available.

There are myriad impact measurement frameworks that cover a very broad range of industries, service areas, and stakeholder groups. Here we lay out a few levels to be considered for impact measurement and some frameworks that are relevant/applicable to each. In subsequent steps, we will talk about how to build processes and systems to facilitate the collection, aggregation, and publication of these metrics.

● Organizational Level

There is an excellent chance your organization already has a framework for defining, tracking, and reporting metrics. Ideally, when you develop your impact strategy, these new goals and initiatives get integrated into your existing structure. 

A strong organizational level impact measurement framework can be leveraged across all of the institution’s projects, and programs, and can be aligned to existing stakeholder group metrics as well. This also allows for consistent, recurring impact reporting to internal and external stakeholder groups.

Here are a few universal impact measurement tools and inventories that can assist with an organizational-wide impact measurement program:

Assessment Frameworks

B-Corp Assessment

Best For: Operating Businesses
Metrics Framework(s): IRIS+, UN SDGs
Source: The B Impact Score

The Assessment comprehensively covers the impact of a business on all of its stakeholders, including its workers, suppliers, community, and the environment. The Assessment also captures best practices regarding mission, measurement, and governance. The last, heavily weighted, portion of the Assessment identifies the company’s specific “Impact Business Models,” which include the targeted, formal focus on benefiting a particular stakeholder through products and services or internal practices.

Impact Management Project Impact Management Norms

Best For: Real Estate, Operating Businesses
Metrics Framework(s): UN SDGs
Source: Impact Management Norms

To make impact management a reality, the IMP has developed a set of categories that provide information across the five dimensions. Produced by four working groups of 40+ organisations, these impact categories enable enterprises and investors to set goals and assess performance.

Metric Sets

Global Impact Investing Network IRIS+

IRIS allows investors to set impact goals either by Impact Categories and Impact Themes (per the IRIS+ thematic taxonomy), or through the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs)

This global standard is getting adopted by a broad range of stakeholders including investors, foundations, non-profits, governmental agencies, and even corporations. Many users select a subset of the 17 SDGs to focus on rather than try to move the needle on all 17.

● Investment Level

If you have decided to start your own fund or are working with an investor group, you’ll have a different set of outcomes to measure. While you’ll still have to rely on one of the metrics above to think about how the projects into which you invest create impact, you’ll have more considerations at the fund level. These include questions like – how your fund builds wealth for community or underrepresented groups, whether your management team and limited partners look like the community, and how you plan to ensure community benefit after you exit the investment. Fortunately, there are a few frameworks already in place to help you think through how your project-level impact needs to blend with your fund-level impact to create an overall impact profile.

Assessment Frameworks

● Project / Program Level

Collecting data on particular investment opportunities requires two things: a good framework, and a willing project. In a perfect scenario, the Organization Level impact assessment tool and metrics are used to evaluate projects and programs as well. This allows organizations to roll-up metrics across projects and programs. In addition to the existing frameworks provided above, these can be considered for project-specific inspiration.

Assessment Frameworks

Urban Institute’s Opportunity Zone Community Impact Assessment Tool Scorecard

Best For: Real Estate, with functionality for Operating Businesses
Source: Urban Institute

Currently in beta-mode, this scorecard is useful for measuring the expected community impact for proposed projects. It uses a survey that asks questions on Community priorities, Housing, Services, Connectivity, Environment, Jobs, and Wealth. Because it allows for a weighted score based on community priorities, it is unique in that it incorporates the data from your community needs assessment into testing whether the impact a project has is particularly strong in a particular place.

Shift Impact Appraisal

Best For: Real Estate, with functionality for Operating Businesses
Source: Shift Impact Appraisal

Finding a willing project is a different conversation. Your institution controls the impact reporting if you directly sponsor the investment opportunity, but if it’s a third party project, the sponsor may need an extra incentive to facilitate reporting.

For example, If your strategy includes providing predevelopment assistance to local projects, remember that you can leverage that support to extract data – if you have the right metrics to request. Consider making any project that receives support from your institution first take the Urban Scorecard or another tool before getting access to your services. Similar examples can be found in local Economic Opportunity Plans like this requirement from the City of Philadelphia for a project in the Germantown neighborhood.

● Vendor, Supply Chain, Tenant, & Partner Level

Each institution has myriad opportunities to evaluate impact through dollars, effort, and resources spent with vendors, supply chains, tenants, and partners. These represent excellent opportunities for organizations to see how and with whom they are spending their time, money, and resources and identify opportunities to align these expenditures with their impact goals. Similar to the approach with project sponsors, data requirements can be included in contract documentation to ensure counterparties are delivering stated or forecasted impact.

● Community Level

Once a baseline community need level has been established, it is important to measure neighborhood sentiment and progress over time, even at a macro level. This is where a specific project or program may not be 100% attributable to neighborhood or community level change but at least the stakeholder groups can keep progress in view if there are significant outcomes being realized in the community. In addition, this is where qualitative data, especially community and stakeholder stories and profiles, go a long way in helping to determine if the outcomes intended for the community were actually the outcomes realized by the community. 

For specific interventions and studies, the teams responsible for the data collected during the “Understand the Problems” step can track, analyze, and report on progress, and variances, to determine if the community value anticipated was actually delivered.

● Regional & Beyond

If the two layers above measure the direct impact of investment activity on a place, this layer of impact tracking measures the changes to community – and to surrounding communities – that happen as an indirect result of that same activity. This layer of analysis requires an intricate set of control variables and is typically the province of economists and social scientists. It includes the typical “economic impact analysis” many projects request, which takes certain inputs (like direct construction jobs created, capital expenditures, and location) and estimates how much overall economic benefit resulted to an area in the form of tax dollars collected or new “indirect” or “induced” jobs created.

Invariably, colleges and universities get called on to perform the analysis that goes into this last step. There is almost certainly someone on your campus that knows tools like IMPLAN or how to run a multi-variable regression analysis. Look for them in the economics, statistics, and social science departments.

At the end of the day, what framework you use and whether you even use a framework at all does not matter. What matters is that your institution—whether individually or part of a working group—is conscientious about the impact of projects on the community and tracks metrics that can gauge the success and the shortcomings of the projects. 


Define Goals & Ownership

Once you’ve established a theory of change, logic model, and impact measurement framework, now comes the hard part. Identifying goals, and clear ownership and reporting structures to ensure that over time you are achieving the impact you have envisioned.

If these responsibilities are placed on a select few, it will result in a culture of chasing people for data and updates, whereas if the impact strategy is embedded into the organization’s culture and standard operating procedures, less overhead will be required to deliver the same continuity and consistency of reporting. In addition, allowing functional, program, project, and community leadership to participate in the goal-setting process will ensure that there is buy-in by the staff and stakeholders that are expected to deliver on the results.

Although this step may seem operational in nature, it actually helps build a culture where all stakeholders are looking for ways to increase impact for the surrounding community laying the foundation for shared success, ongoing collaboration, and strong long-term relationships.

Many project teams look to set big, ambitious impact goals that may not always align to a discrete community need or benefit. In these cases, it is always beneficial to focus on the metrics that matter to the community and how they will measure or realize their success. In these cases, an agreed upon goal with the community will do far more to create goodwill and long-term partnership than an aspirational goal where the community does not see or experience the value.

Although goals will be unique to each intervention, there are some universal goals/frameworks that can be referenced to assist your organization in aligning goals to existing standards.

Sample Goal Frameworks

  • UN Sustainable Development Goals: The UN SDGs have several ambitious goals defined that can serve as guiding principles depending on the areas of focus your organization chooses.
  • B-Corp Assessment: The BCorp Assessment actually gives you the ability to set and track to targets that you have for each of their assessment criteria. Benchmark Documents – Future-Fit Business: Future-Fit Business breaks their goals down into two categories, Break-Even and Positive Pursuit. In some cases, a first step needs to be a change in current behaviors to set the organization up for future success.


Implement & Publish Reporting

Data Collection

Once goals and clear ownership of those goals has been identified, organizations can focus on incorporating impact metrics and reporting into their existing systems, such as finance and accounting, human resources, vendor management, facilities, etc., to reduce the overhead required to consistently track and report on impact metrics. A small investment of time and energy to incorporate metrics into existing systems upfront will facilitate consistent, accurate, and streamlined reporting in the long term.

In addition, the organization can assist its other stakeholder groups in doing the same. For example, it can work with project teams to implement reporting at the front end of projects to make recurring reporting easier throughout the project lifecycle. They can work with vendors to request employment and diversity data, and they can work with partners to capture specific program level data.

All of this is to say, once you’ve identified what you want to measure and who owns each metrics, you can work within existing teams and systems to report on those metrics in a repeatable, scalable way.

Impact Reporting

Each stakeholder group will have its own interest and audience when it comes to impact reporting. For the institution, the most effective tact is to determine a recurring reporting scheduled, e.g., quarterly briefs, annual reports, and define a report that satisfies the majority of audiences. In most cases, highly specialized reporting is only required in a select few instances where specific financing requires it.

The most effective impact reports combine quantitative and qualitative results. The quantitative versions typically include a dashboard style report highlighting progress towards goals stated in the theory of change and logic model, which is then supplemented by specific project/program data highlights. The quantitative portion should be focused on telling the stories of each stakeholder group and how the impact delivered through the metrics was realized in the benefits they experienced.

In multi-party engagements, the partners should agree on the recurring reporting schedule and clearly define what will be published collaboratively and what will be published by each participating organization.

National Data Registry

At present, there is no national data repository around completed Opportunity Zone projects. Local market makers (like Opportunity Alabama) are working with the Economic Innovation Group and the Sorenson Impact Center to aggregate as many known data points as possible into some kind of central hub – but those efforts are preliminary and need a strong, national coalition in support. If you want to be a part of the team that helps to build a voluntary dataset reporting on common metrics (particularly for real estate projects or Opportunity Zone deals), please have your list of projects ready and reach out to us.


Improve Impact

Once you’ve extracted enough impact data about a project to determine its potential benefit to a community, get faculty, staff, and even students engaged in thinking about how to make that same project even more impactful. On real estate deals, this could mean anything from hiring more minority and women contractors and integrating green design elements to adding a space for childcare or requiring tenants to pay retail employees a living wage. On operating business deals, it could mean creating upskilling programs for low-wage employees or switching to more eco-friendly vendors up the supply chain. Tools like Shift’s Impact Appraisal or university-led impact charrettes can help bring community, higher ed, and project teams together to think through how a project can better meet local needs. 

This process can and should be integrated with recurring performance and project reviews and stakeholders should be encouraged to identify opportunities for improvement and those improvements should be tracked and celebrated. With each success in creating more impact, stakeholders relationships will strengthen, and the commitment to the community will only increase over time.


Influence Policy

There is an incredible opportunity for institutions to advocate for and influence policy as it relates to their adjacent communities and neighborhoods that could have far reaching implications for underserved communities nationally if implemented successfully. Institutions like The Beeck Center at Georgetown University have demonstrated national leadership in helping to inform policy reform through initiatives like User-Centered Policy Making.

Within your community, you can start by understanding local policy barriers or challenges, and advocating for their change, to support projects and programs not only within the institution but across your stakeholder groups. Using your presence and staff to help local non-profits, partners, and advocacy groups advance community-supporting policy could provide long-term benefits to your community and improve the strength of stakeholder relationships.

Within Opportunity Zones

Your institution is likely in a better position than anyone to measure the long-term effects of policy interventions like Opportunity Zones. At minimum, find the person on your campus that does economic impact assessments and get them connected to your OZ infrastructure (whether that’s an internal task force or a local organizing movement). In the absence of national data, their services should be in high demand, particularly in communities that have followed LISC’s recommendation and require every project to report on its economic impact before completing receiving public entitlements (like zoning clearance or permits).

At a broader level, academics are best positioned to do the kind of in-depth statistical analysis needed to demonstrate the long-term impact of Opportunity Zones. With a well-constructed study and a strong set of data points, you can help us determine the degree to which OZ investing is changing outcomes over the long term in low-income places. We’re working to assemble that national data set now, but if you can work with your local ecosystem – particularly with lawyers, accountants, and others who have the best optics into local deal flow – to identify more data points, you can help us build better measurements of how this tool is (or is not) changing low-income places. Contact us if you’re interested.

Related Case Studies

Ball State University

Muncie, IN

Similarities: Impact Driver

Established in 2014 by a three-year grant from the Ball Brothers Foundation, the Building Better Neighborhoods Initiative connects Ball State’s resources with neighborhood development efforts across Muncie and Delaware County through “collaborative immersive learning experiences with Ball State faculty, students, and neighborhood associations; leadership development workshops and annual conference for neighborhood association members; best practices and support for neighborhood associations; and networking and learning opportunities for neighborhood leaders.”


LaSalle University

Philadelphia, PA

Similarities: Impact Driver

In 2004, La Salle University’s Office of Community and Economic Development worked with leadership and community members to craft a realistic plan to improve the quality of life for residents around the campus. The University’s findings led them to The Reinvestment Fund (TRF), a Philadelphia-based CDFI and leader in the financing of neighborhood revitalization, affordable housing, community facilities, supermarkets, and commercial real estate.


Morehouse College

Atlanta, GA

Similarities: Impact Driver

NPU-T (Neighborhood Planning Unit-T), Ashview Community Development Association, West End Neighborhood Development Association, Westview Community Organization, West End Merchant Coalition, Booker T. Washington Homeowners Association are working together under the Morehouse College Community Revitalization Initiative (MCCRI) . The initiative was started as programming to develop a relationship with the college’s surrounding community, greater West End Atlanta.


Northeastern University

Boston, MA

Similarities: Impact Driver

Northeastern launched the region’s first university-supported loan program for women- and minority-owned businesses. The initiative, called the Impact Lending program, enables local small-business owners to secure loans, at below-market interest rates, to acquire crucial resources to expand their businesses.


Ohio University

Athens, OH

Similarities: Impact Driver

Ohio University is very active in community development throughout Appalachian Ohio. They work with a network of regional entrepreneurship partners including a business incubator they run, an Angel Fund, a public VC Fund, several non-profit development orgs, and are very engaged in OZ work in Southern Ohio.


Rowan University

Glassboro, NJ

Similarities: Impact Driver

As Rowan began to increase its capital spending locally, the city of Glassboro saw a unique opportunity to leverage the Rowan investments by developing a plan for the transformation of the downtown area leading to the university. This plan ultimately became the $476 million, mixed-use development of Rowan Boulevard. In the city of Glassboro more than 30 percent of school-aged children qualified for the free lunch program and 20 percent of families earn under the poverty line.


Rutgers University – Newark

Newark, NJ

Similarities: Impact Driver

The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development (CUEED) at RU-N is one of the first centers of its kind to integrate scholarly works with private capital, government, and non-profit sectors to develop citywide resources and bring renewed economic growth and vitality through urban entrepreneurship.



Birmingham, AL

Similarities: Impact Driver

The University of Alabama at Birmingham offers assistance to full-time, benefits-eligible faculty and staff who buy or renovate a home in designated areas in the nearby neighborhoods of Five Points, Glen Iris and North and South Titusville. These five year conditional grants may be used for the purchase, down payment and/or closing costs for a new home or for renovations on an existing home in the incentive zone.


University of Chicago (Housing)

Chicago, IL

Similarities: Impact Driver

“Since the University of Chicago launched its employer-assisted housing program in 2003, it has had 230 employees receive assistance to purchase homes in Woodlawn, North Kenwood, South Shore, Washington Park, and a few other nearby neighborhoods.”


University of Memphis

Memphis, TN

Similarities: Impact Driver

University Neighborhoods Development Corporation works to build and enrich campus and community environment by investing in surrounding neighborhoods. UNDC is a partnership between University of Memphis, University District Business Alliance, University District, Inc., Shelby County Division of Planning and Development, and Economic Development Growth Engine. Opportunity zones are one of their main initiatives. Their Work Local program is designed to improve the community through job access and blight reduction by providing job-seeking panhandlers with a day’s wages and a meal to clean-up sites, where they work to reduce urban blight.


University of Washington

Seattle, WA

Similarities: Impact Driver

Livable City Year program is a partnership between cities in Washington state and UW’s faculty and students from various disciplines to strategize solutions to the specific community’s needs. Since 2016, this university program has produced numerous projects for the cities of Auburn, Tacoma, and Bellevue including enhancing Startup 425, a program that provides value-adding services to local startups and neighborhood planning projects.


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