In 2020, CSR leaders quickly adapted their programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing calls for social justice. Many deployed emergency COVID-related grants and in-kind donations, and either added or expanded support for equity initiatives.
What started as urgent, just-get-it-done support has led to sustained and thoughtful investment to address these persistent challenges. Many of the dozens of corporate philanthropies we support took this opportunity to move beyond flashy, output-based numbers to deeply understand what true change means to the people, communities, and causes they care about most.
As you reflect on your company’s giving in 2021 and look ahead to 2022, here are six lessons we’ve learned that may help you better quantify your philanthropic impact and improve your results.
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1. Account for changes your nonprofit partners made.
Virtually all nonprofits have had to adapt. Some converted in-person services to virtual models. Lack of resources forced many to cut staff and narrow or shift focus. Others, especially those working on social justice and equity issues, received more donations than they could handle, requiring them to step back and develop strategic plans for using the funds. All of these changes can affect a nonprofit’s delivery on pre-pandemic goals. Start by listening to them and how you can best support their organizations moving into 2022.
We know it’s becoming cliché to start a how-to-do-philanthropy list with a recommendation to listen to your nonprofits, but there’s a great reason for that: the more we listen to those on the front line of social good, the more we can learn and improve.
2. Update your demographic categories.
Recent racial justice movements have brought equity to the center of corporate and foundation grant making and reporting. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals have moved from isolated human resource efforts and employee resource groups (ESGs) to broader employee engagement and community giving initiatives. In order to track progress toward newly created racial equity goals, donors must establish new reporting protocols—such as tracking results among newly targeted populations—to better quantify their impact in an ever-evolving space.
3. Start benchmarking the impact of equity and COVID programs.
Although the causes may be new, the approach to measurement of equity and COVID funding can be based on tried and true techniques. We’ve worked with many of our clients in the last 18 months to apply more measurement rigor to what started for many as impromptu funding strategies.
As you look to assess the results of your COVID or equity funding from 2021, look not only at the easy-to-measure numbers, such as the reach or even cost per outcome of different activities, but also at the context for them. Which programs contribute most to your definition of success? You may find that a program with a higher cost per outcome is a better investment because it delivers greater impact toward your ultimate goal. Our clients have found moving beyond output tracking to calculating social return on investment (SROI)—with properly defined outcomes—can yield powerful insights.
4. Reassess your focus and alignment.
This is a good time to assess whether the past two years have affected your goals. Have you changed the geographic focus of your giving? The recipients of your philanthropy? The causes you support? If you have, your current investments may not align with your revised goals. You may want to adjust your giving to reflect your revised priorities.
5. Evaluate the quality of the data you’re collecting—and whether you’re asking for the right information.
Data should be evidence based, not speculative. But that doesn’t mean your nonprofit partners need to break the bank getting perfect data. Often, representative sampling or other practically accessible proxy metrics will do. Also, make sure the data represents the result of your efforts, not the process to get there—and that it tells you something new. If it’s not an outcome or if it’s duplicative, don’t collect it. These are good practices even when we’re not in the middle of a pandemic.
6. Focus on improving, not just proving.
Building social good is an ongoing process. The right data, however, can help you not just quantify the difference you and your nonprofit partners are making but also figure out new directions for doing more good. It can help you align your investments with your goals, adapt your giving as circumstances change, and even advise your nonprofit partners on programmatic shifts that may lead to a higher SROI.
Measuring CSR Impact in Action: Dow Company Foundation
Dow Company Foundation’s “Developing Tomorrow’s Innovators” pillar has begun to implement many of these changes and are starting to see positive results. The initiative strives to inspire and prepare the next generation of diverse manufacturing, engineers, and chemists. To do this, Dow is strengthening its pipeline of diverse and inclusive projects and programs by focusing on underrepresented populations. They are expanding their network of targeted partnerships by leveraging communication with on-the-ground leaders and prioritizing key beneficiary demographics. By focusing on the who, where, and what of their partnerships, Dow is making key steps in building social good in the areas that matter most.
Want to talk through your CSR measurement efforts with our impact measurement experts? Schedule a chat with our team and we can offer guidance based on our experience and your particular philanthropic goals and strategies.