Foundations receive a lot of requests for their funding. But how can they decide which project will be the most effective? How can they learn from current projects in order to make better-informed investing decisions, and improve the impact of the foundation as a whole? Measuring outputs alone, like the number of participants or workshops, or the total amount of volunteer work, only scratches the surface of the total impact of a program or project. This does not provide enough information to determine whether a project is effective or not. Has the target group been reached by the project? Have their circumstances really been changed? Only by giving a voice to those people whose lives the project aims to change, we can determine whether the right investment choices have been made.
In spite of the relevance of these questions, for many foundations measuring social impact presents a challenge: the sheer number and variety of projects can cause a disheartening administrative burden, for both the foundation as the initiator of the projects. Consequently, most foundations opt for measuring their results based on so-called ‘outputs’, such as the number of participants, workshops, and hours worked by volunteers. We are convinced, however, that it is possible to measure outcome and impact in the same amount of time or even less.
One of the largest foundations in the Netherlands, the VSB foundation, struggled with exactly these issues: How can we structurally measure the social impact of 1300 projects without adding administrative burden to our organisation or the projects? And how can we draw a conclusion about the total impact of the foundation as a whole?
Standardizing in domains
The first step in answering these questions was to divide VSB foundation’s projects into three domains: Work & Education, Social Isolation and Accesible Accommodations. The next step was to develop a template for each domain, meaning a framework that contains predefined information for and about several stakeholders, focussed on the end-beneficiaries.
Constructing a domain-template is a one-off effort, as the template can subsequently be used for every project in the domain. With this approach, 70% of the project data of projects in the template-domain can be filled automatically. Needless to say, this saves all stakeholders a lot of time! Moreover, projects made with the same template allow for benchmarking projects within a domain and aggregating the total impact of that domain.
Voice of the beneficiary
Using the Sinzer platform, the VSB Foundation can send surveys to stakeholders of the different projects, in order to understand what has changes from their perspectieve, which is crucial for measuring the social value of the project. Collected survey results are integrated in the analyses, and can be viewed in a dynamic dashboard. This will enable both VSB foundation and the project coordinator to gain a maximum insight into both the project's impact as well as the total impact of the foundation.
15 of VSB foundation’s projects are currently being piloted in the Sinzer platform with the first results due in November 2015. This pilot is expected to provide VSB foundation with the tools necessary to measure the impact of all of their projects in the future. This will provide VSB foundation with valuable insights that can be used to further amplify the impact of both the individual projects as the foundation as a whole.
Interested in reading the full account of how VSB foundation measures and maximizes their social impact? Download the Case Study!