Funders & Investors

The Common Approach helps you get the impact data you need without imposing additional burdens on the organizations you fund or invest in.

The Common Approach is a set of Standards designed around the needs of the businesses, nonprofits and charities that you support. Our Standards are not funder- or investor-focused—but they will complement what you are already using in ways the organizations you support will appreciate.

As a funder or investor, we encourage you to align with our Standards.

How to align with the Common Approach

Review your current practices against the alignment criteria below. You might already be aligned!
Create an alignment structure that suits your organization and the organizations you support. Your alignment structure should include all four Standards, beginning with the first stage of each and a plan for how larger or longer funding or investments will be moved through the alignment stages.
(Optional) Contact us to sign a statement of intention to align. During this process, Common Approach will help you clarify the necessary steps you need to take and assist in developing your alignment structure.
Do the work to ensure your funding and investment practices align with the criteria of the first stage for each Standard. If you have signed a statement of intention, Common Approach will support you with check-ins and resources.
You’re now aligned! You have the option to let us know by signing an attestation of alignment. Doing so makes you part of the Common Approach community of users!
(Optional) Promote your alignment with the Common Approach in reporting and communications! Common Approach will provide an alignment logo and text templates you can use.

As a funder or investor, you are considered fully aligned with the Common Approach when your funding practices are aligned with the appropriate stages. It is not required that you offer funding or financing at every stage.

Ready to align?

Alignment versus adoption

  • Organizations that adopt a Standard have confirmed that their own impact measurement practice aligns with that standard.
  • Organizations that have aligned with a Standard have integrated the requirements of the standard into how they work with other organizations.
If you are working on your organization’s impact measurement (such as your own theory of change and your own reporting to stakeholders), we invite you to also adopt our standards to support that work. Visit our Quick Guide to learn more about the Common Approach Standards and how they can be adopted.

Structuring your alignment

Each Standard has stages of alignment, ranging from a simple, low-barrier starting point to a more robust commitment that will likely take some effort. How you structure your alignment will depend on the types of organizations you are working with or the funding you are offering. Not all of the investments or funding you offer have to align at the same stage—we encourage you to consider recipients’ specific needs and capacities so as not to overburden them. 

Stage 1

Stage 2

Stage 3

Enables fund recipients to adopt (starting point for all funding; stage for small/short funding)

Encourages fund recipients to adopt (suitable for medium size/length funding)

Requires fund recipients to adopt (suitable for large/long-term funding)

Common Approach believes this staged structure gives an appropriate level of flexibility. Funders and investors can align in a way that fits the varied needs of the organizations you support. The flexibility of this structure also leaves room for it to evolve.

Common Foundations

Stage 1

Stage 2

Stage 3

You ask all recipients to complete the Common Foundations self-assessment and to submit the results to you by the conclusion of your financial agreement or another mutually agreed-upon timeframe. You ask all recipients to adopt the Common Foundations, by answering “Yes” to all questions on the self-assessment, by the conclusion of your financial agreement or another mutually agreed-upon timeframe.* You require all recipients adopt the Common Foundations (answering “Yes” to all self-assessment questions) by the start of the grant, loan, or investment.*

*For Stage 2 and 3, consider providing capacity-building support to adopt the Common Foundations.

Common Impact Data Standard

Stage 1

Stage 2

Stage 3

You are able to receive the following data from recipients using the Common Impact Data Standard:

  • Organization: Legal name, Org ID (e.g. charity number)
  • Outcome: Name, description, domain (e.g. SDG)
  • Indicator: Name, description
  • IndicatorReport (a value for the indicator)

Note: Any aligned software can support this reporting.

You request recipients be able to report on Stage 1 requirements using the Common Impact Data Standard, plus the following:

  • Stakeholder: Description, location, characteristics)
  • Outcome: Importance of the outcome to stakeholders, and if the stakeholder is underserved. A reflection on impact risk.
  • IndicatorReport date, (baseline, contribution)
  • Impact Report (measured or qualitative commentary on Scale, Depth, and Duration)

Note: Any software aligned at least at the Essential tier can support this reporting.

You require recipients be able to report on Stage 1 and 2 requirements using the Common Impact Data Standard, plus the following:

  • Impact Model such as a theory of change, logic model or outcome chain.
  • IndicatorReport: Including a brief description of methods.
  • ImpactReport: Including a brief description of methods and data quality.

Note: Any fully aligned software can support this reporting.

 

Common Form

Stage 1

Stage 2

Stage 3

At all stages, you allow for the Common Form to be uploaded/submitted as part of the initial screening process instead of identical questions elsewhere in your intake process. You may ask for more information, even in the early stage, but you have done the work to ensure the information covered by the Common Form does not need to be submitted in an alternate format. Any aligned software can support this—or we are happy to work with your existing software provider to get this set up.

 Common Framework

Stage 1

Stage 2

Stage 3

At all stages, you follow these steps:

Step 1: You do not require specific metrics of the organizations you support.  Instead, you encourage them to measure what is useful to them.

Step 2: Flexible framework. Working with the Common Approach, you build a flexible framework specific to your funding.  This allows you to roll up dissimilar indicators into a portfolio-level analysis.

Step 3 (not yet available): Common Approach is still working on our Common Framework. We invite you to share your experiences with the Common Approach as we create a common, flexible framework.

Common Approach believes that investors & funders are in the best position to determine the appropriate thresholds for each stage. Criteria for determining appropriate stages might include things such as duration or size of funding.

Example of how a funder or investor might structure their alignment:
  • Stage one:  Funding under $50,000 with a duration of 12 months or less
  • Stage two: Funding over $50,000 with a duration between 1 and 2 years.
  • Stage three: Funding greater than $200,000 and with a duration exceeding 2 years.

Still not sure how to decide? Here are some other elements to consider.

The 10% principle

Consider the cost of alignment of each stage. Ensure the funding or investment is enough that 10% of the amount received could reasonably be allocated to monitoring and evaluation. Another way to look at it: Is this funding sufficient to cover the expenses of meeting the impact measurement expectations associated with this alignment stage?

Reasonable runways

Ensure that the funding or investment agreements are for a length of time in which it would be reasonable for the recipient to undertake and benefit from any capacity building (staffing, training, learning software) required to meet the expectations associated with that stage. 

More on the alignment structure

The staged approach ensures that investors and funders do not need to impose excessive burdens on those they fund in order to align with the Common Foundations standards. Instead, this approach allows you to set your own thresholds based on your knowledge of who you are funding or investing in.

In addition, we encourage you to support your recipient organizations’ capacity to measure what is relevant to them. This may mean additional funding, additional time, or both.

For Common Foundations and the Common Impact Data Standard, stage 1 is “entry-level” alignment. It is the starting point and may also be the endpoint for smaller funding amounts or shorter-term investments.

Stages 2 and 3 are more rigorous. Funding of larger amounts or longer duration should be aligned at the appropriate level. Mid-sized or mid-length funding may stop at Stage 2. Larger, longer-term funding should align at Stage 3.

Funders and investors with a diverse portfolio would benefit from assigning a stage to each size, level or other categorization of funding for Common Foundations and the Common Impact Data Standard.

The Common Form has only one step: be willing and able to accept submissions in the Common Form format. We can help you understand what that means. We can also talk to your Grant Management software to take the task entirely off your plate.

The Common Framework has three steps, but only the first two are ready today. The first step is to simply not impose common metrics on recipient organizations. The second steps ask you to create a flexible framework to map how recipient organizations’ impact measures can be rolled up to create a portfolio-level analysis. We can guide you through that process. The third step, still in development, involves creating a common, flexible framework. That will take some time, but we are working on it!

It is possible that all of a funder or investor’s portfolio will fall within a single stage. Some may only offer funding they feel is best suited to stage 1. Some may only offer funding or investments that are stage 1 and 2. Others may have funding in their portfolio that varies from stage 1 through stage 3.

You may wish to revisit your alignment structure every couple of years. As more and more Social Purpose Organizations adopt the Common Foundations and the Common Impact Data Standard, you will be able to move more of your fundees into Stages 2 and 3.

We want to acknowledge the contributions of the Social Funders Advisory Board. From July 2018 to January 2021, members came together to establish the inaugural Social Funders Advisory Board. Members included Canada’s leading grantmaking foundations and impact investors. They reviewed the Common Approach’s standards and progress with the needs of investors and grantmakers in mind. They were convened by Tessa Hebb, Distinguished Research Fellow, Carleton Centre for Community Innovation.

Moving forward, funders and investors who align with any of the Common Approach’s standards will be welcome to participate in our community-driven governance. If you’re interested, get in touch or join our mailing list to stay up to date on opportunities to participate.

Have questions? Ready to discuss your alignment structure? Get in touch or

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