Monday, October 01, 2007

Impact - commercial and public benefit

I have been watching, commenting on, and participating in the following two trends for years.
  1. Corporate social responsibility, its growth, spread across sectors, influence on double/triple bottom lines, and efforts to quantify and value socially beneficial corporate behaviors.
  2. Nonprofit, public benefit, nongovernmental uses of market-based strategies (earned income) to address sustainability, the growth of quantifiable measures for and about various sectors of NGOs, and the increase in frameworks/metrics/indicators for assessing nonprofit capacity and impact.
A few months ago, we reached an important point of congruence for these two separate, but similar, trends. This point was marked in part by the launch of B Corporations and is being marked again by a survey that simply focuses on impact, and not on the corporate or legal structure of the organization.

Alliance magazine is preparing a special issue on impact, due out in December, that takes these trends on straightaway. In a first of its kind, the magazine, working with Keystone, is surveying organizations and donors about impact - and deliberately reaching out to both commercial and non profit agencies. This is a step beyond using private sector measures on nonprofits or vice- versa, it simply assumes that both kinds of organizations are trying to make a positive contribution to public benefit and asks them to answer some questions about how they measure their impact, to whom they report it, and if and how the process is useful to them.

Why does it matter? These two trend clusters are big contributors to my belief that Americans are now living in a society which has structurally different assumptions and expectations for our public, private and independent sectors than those of even thirty or forty years ago. Forty percent of Americans have never known a White House without a Clinton or Bush occupant. - That 40% - some 100 million + Americans 20 years old and younger - do not draw lines between sectors the way that their parents and grandparents did. They have structurally different experiences about who runs schools, prisons and owns the media. They have different opinions and expectations about how to get health insurance or what to count on for retirement or where and how long they might work.

These experiential differences matter to how they choose careers, where they live, what schools they attend, what they expect for their retirement, where they turn for help, who pays for their health care, where they get their news and information, and - critically - how they vote and shop on all of these issues. It also matters for how they will direct their investments and their philanthropy, and how they think about where change comes from.

I've taken the survey for Blueprint Research & Design, Inc. (a commercial entity, a
founding B Corporation and member of Social Venture Network).

The very nature of the inquiry is intriguing - how do donors/investors and public benefit organizations (commercial or nonprofit) think about, measure and report impact? The nature of this question - a focus on impact rather than an exclusionary focus on organization structure - is a key indicator of how the two trends with which I opened this post are coming together.

For more information or to participate in the survey contact Alliance or Keystone. Results published in December issue of Alliance.

No comments: