Laurie Mook

Research Friday: How to Measure Your Organization's True Impact

posted by
Laurie Mook, Ph.D.,
Assistant Professor
School of Community
Resources and Development


Welcome to Research Friday! As part of a continuing weekly series, each Friday we invite a nonprofit expert to highlight a research report or study and discuss how it can inform and improve day-to-day nonprofit practice. This week, we're excited to have Dr. Laurie Mook join us to discuss social accounting.

I love the idea of "collective impact." We spend a lot of time and energy focusing on the impact of individual organizations, but how does that translate to the bigger picture? How might things be different if we start thinking about our collective impact?

An area I have been researching for the past number of years is a fairly new field called social accounting. Social accounting considers a much broader range of criteria than conventional accounting and combines economic, social, and environmental criteria when looking at an organization in relation to its role in the larger community. To do this, it looks at the organization's impact on a number of stakeholder groups, such as employees, volunteers, customers/clients, society-at-large, and the environment.

As a former "conventional" accountant, I found a new, yet related calling after traveling the world. Looking back, I was struck at how ahistorical and acritical my accounting studies had been. It was only when I started reading works by critical accountants (another relatively new sub-field of accounting studies) that I began to really think about how conventional accounting models have been constructed.

It was very interesting to reflect about what was included, and (perhaps even more interesting) what was excluded from accounting statements. For example, although many nonprofits rely significantly on the labor of volunteers, volunteer contributions are not included in the accounting statement, except in a very small number of cases. As a result, when looking at nonprofit accounting statements, a large portion of the picture is missing.