Measuring Impact in Practice: A Case Study of The Humane Society of the United States

Published: August 2010

Type: Publication

This brief describes how the nation’s largest animal protection organization developed an impact framework to capture its advocacy and direct service outcomes.


The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is the nation’s largest animal protection organization. Just like all nonprofits, it is accountable—to the thousands of animals it helps or protects each year, and to the thousands of individual, corporate, and foundation donors who enable the organization to fulfill its mission of celebrating animals and confronting cruelty.

Accountability requires that HSUS communicate the impact of both its direct service work and its policy and advocacy efforts. In 2006, HSUS increased its focus on evaluation and began working toward the development of an impact framework for measuring and reporting its results.

HSUS had for years relied mainly on anecdotal storytelling as a communications and evaluation tool. It told compelling and often emotional stories of how the organization achieved change. This approach was useful in spreading its message to key stakeholders (e,g., its members, board of directors, and the media). However, the organization lacked a comprehensive, cohesive, and consistent way of defining and measuring its impact.

This is the story of how this large and complex organization moved in a more outcomes-focused direction and created processes to support its data collection and reporting needs. It explores the context, challenges, and ensuing steps to develop an organizational impact framework. It also outlines five lessons that were learned along the way.