Goodwill Industries' recently launched Donate Movement -- a marketing campaign to increase public awareness about the importance of donations -- has a new "Donation Impact Calculator" as a centerpiece. Select the items you plan on donating, and it converts them to social services provided. For example:
1 pair of shoes = 6 minutes of resume preparation
1 working computer = 8.1 hours of on-the-job training
This approach makes sense, since traditional goods donations are often dry and transactional (dropping off used items in a bin), and disconnected from the social value they create. But this tool would more accurately be termed an output calculator, for the social services that Goodwill provides as a result of the donation.
Truly measuring the social impact would go to the outcome stage: identifying the effect of that resume preparation or on-the-job training.
To be fair, the input units here (e.g., donated clothing, household items, etc.) are small, and the full investment required to achieve the targeted outcome (e.g., successfully preparing and placing the jobless into jobs) is large, so the typical donation will be just a tiny percentage of the targeted outcome. For example:
Enabling one person to complete .7% of a training regime towards job placement
The result, in either format, is not particularly satisfying.
So, perhaps some creative license on what constitutes 'impact' makese sense from a marketing perspective. But for conveying real value, or evaluating the relative effectiveness of different programs, it's worth remembering that actual social impact requires just one more step of simple arithmetic.