Bridging the Gaps of Measuring Social Impact

The Bridgespan Group is a well-known nonprofit helping other nonprofits. Their reputation precedes them. I’m happy to report that the Bridgespan Group states that their “values are grounded in [their] mission,” and that one of these values is as follows:

Impact : We value performance and results. We set and hold ourselves accountable for high standards.

I found a few different links on their website devoted to measurement, including discussion of measuring social impact and performance measurement . Below I have summarized a series of blog posts from Matthew Forti, a manager at Bridgespan, as well as a Founding Board Chair at the One Acre Fund – watch out for a blog post from me about their social impact measurements soon!!

I usually pose a question at the end of my blog posts, but this time I want to put it out there before you read on. The series of blog posts from Bridgespan is directed towards nonprofit leaders, but I believe that corporate executives could definitely benefit from these posts. In fact, part of the series points out that funders and corporate sponsors need to change their mentality about how they fund social ventures. I believe this can be done by changing the corporate mentality of measuring social impact. And once place to start is with how social ventures measure and report their social impact. My question is: Can social ventures/nonprofits measure and report their social impact to get the kind of funding they need from corporate donors/sponsors? Also, can corporations adopt a social impact measurement process that will change their mentality about how the currently fund nonprofits?

Before you answer, read on! (But then do please answer!!)

Part 1 – The Best of Both Worlds: Bridging the Gap Between Monitoring and Evaluation

Forti explains that “the most common type of evaluation is impact evaluation, which seeks to prove the effectiveness of a program.” He also makes a call for a new type of measurement – something that is rigorous, affordable, fast, and understandable. In my opinion it’s not too tall of an order. In fact, I would love to see a standard, adoptable process for impact evaluation that all companies and organizations could use to measure and report that would also fulfill on the requirements above.

Part 2 – Creating a Culture of Learning and Accountability

I agree with Forti’s position in his next post, that there needs to be “accountability if you want to use data to improve.” Although Forti is directly addressing nonprofit organizations, his point is valid in the private sector as well. Executives need to be part of and support a corporate culture that considers the social impacts of their businesses, not just their CSR practices, and to measure and report on these with high regard for accountability. Forti cites his colleagues Katie Smith Milway and Amy Saxton and the results of their research on the learning practices of more than 100 nonprofit organizations. They identified three ‘gaps’ in nonprofit leadership that limit the success of achieving their missions: 1) setting and communicating goals, 2) creating incentives, and 3) developing effective processes. Now, tell me those aren’t the same challenges that for-profit organizations face? More interesting, in my mind, is how these challenges relate back to measuring social impact, for both private and public sector organizations.

Part 3 – Now, What Exactly Should We Measure?

Forti has one straightforward suggestion about what to measure, which is to “measure at least the inputs, outputs, and intermediate outcomes of your programs.” He goes on to make an integral part of measuring social impact: “Unless the organization offers programs, or partners with others, to tackle” the multitude of factors that contribute to a social problem (in the case of education, for instance, there is absenteeism, deviance, educational expectations, etc.), than measuring true social impact is incredibly difficult. Such difficulty has led to holistic programs that do try to address multiple factors have begun to increase in number.

Here is the most interesting part of the blog series, in my mind. Is there a measurement system out there addressing this difficulty? Can an effective and efficient one be created that includes the work of many social programs working together, yet still benefits each one individually?

Part 4 – How Funders Can Support the Leap of Reason

Guest blogger Mario Morino, chairman of Venture Philanthropy Partners and author, writes that “[t]o make the leap to managing to outcomes,” – what Morino defines as building an organizational culture that focuses on doing meaningful, measurable good – “nonprofits need creative funders, like the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, that are willing to help them manage smarter through greater use of information on performance and impact—rather than forcing them to meet myriad evaluation and reporting requirements that too often do little to help the organization learn and improve.”

Mario, please expand on this! Oh, you did? You wrote a book called Leap of Reason: Managing to Outcomes in an Era of Scarcity?  OK, ok, I’ll get it!! Geoffrey Canada (founder of Harlem Children’s Zone) says this is a must-read for nonprofit leaders. I’m willing to bet that it is also good for corporate executives. I’ll read it and let you all know.

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