Must Be This Tall To Ride: Small Non-Profits and Social Impact Assessment

Stoned Fire concert at Crash Mansion, via Ben Goodman Presents and Monster Market Place

My neck and shoulders are still killing me two days after I head-banged the night away at the most righteous and awesome Rock Asylum show at the Hiro Ballroom at the Maritime Hotel in New York City. I’ll admit that I went to the show purely to see the band Stoned Fire play (they killed it, just like at all their concerts, go get their tunes), but I was pleasantly surprised to also hear the other bands play and to knock my head around to them, too. The Z Brothers are the front men of the band Z02 (who also rocked the house with their great songs and energy), as well as the leaders behind Rock Asylum, which is a status-pending 501(c)(3) non-profit organization “that provides free rock concerts to schools around the country,” and also aims to develop music-related curriculum that can be taught in schools. Brother Paulie Z is clearly passionate about the crisis in American schools cutting music and arts education, and treating these areas of learning as “expendable.” But the message behind Rock Asylum is that the opposite is true: music and arts education are integral to the holistic learning experience we should be offering students so that they grow up to be much more well-rounded human beings – not to mention that some students actually perform better socially and academically when taught through arts and music.

But the benefits can be so intangible as to challenge conventional methods of social impact assessment (if such a thing as a “conventional” method of SIA exists). If Rock Asylum puts on a show in an elementary school, how are they to measure and document the affect of that show on the students, or on the school at large? How can they effectively examine their shows to know what is working and what isn’t? Is this level of detail even necessary for a non-profit such as this one? I think the answer is yes, but it is probably a hard yes to hear, especially for a musician who doesn’t need any measurements or analysis to know in their hearts that having music in schools has a positive social impact. But it is also something incredibly hard for a small, potentially struggling-to-grow non-profit organization to hear. Organizations of this size and situation usually need to use all of their capacity to simply go about their business – in this case, putting on concerts for kids, and raising money to do so through benefit concerts that are definitely more for adults. But there is no size minimum for an organization to benefit from the implementation of a well-designed impact assessment plan. Such a plan and SIA model would help Rock Asylum develop their curriculum and scale their work, but more importantly, it would help them to actually improve their content and delivery so as to have the strongest positive social impact possible for the kids they reach. And isn’t that the core of this work? That is why at the core of any organization, large or small, there needs to be a commitment to social impact assessment, and it should be there from the beginning. Mark Hecker talked about this very intelligently in my interview with him about the commitment to social impact assessment that Reach, Incorporated has built into its foundations as a small (but quickly growing) non-profit organization, and why it is critical.

I’ve got a few ideas of my own for how Rock Asylum could measure and assess their social impact, but I think this organization is a great example of the kind of people that are desperately needed to apply their creative thinking to the issue of how to measure mission-driven actions. The positive social impact of a rock concert is something that requires tons of creative thinking about how to best model a social impact assessment plan, and I would love to see how these musicians might approach this challenge. By the way, if anyone from the organization finds their way to reading this, feel free to email me at to talk more about social impact assessment, or if you have some extra tickets to the next Stoned Fire or Z02 concert. Just kidding about that second part 🙂

So all you leaders of small non-profits and mission-driven organizations out there – don’t think you’re organization is too small for a social impact assessment plan, it is critical to your positive social impact and your mission!





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