The Social Impact Collaborative is Here!

This month marks the launch of the first Social Impact Collaborative cohort!

We are excited to be working with an enthusiastic and diverse group of ten organizations, all funded by the William Penn Foundation.* In total, 53 organizations applied to be part of the first cohort – evidence of the deep need in the non-profit community for support surrounding measurement and evaluation.Screenshot 2016-12-16 16.30.50

Our initial meetings with Cohort 1’s organizational leaders took us to iconic places and hidden corners throughout the city. We met with the Norris Square Community Alliance in their office overlooking the welcoming square park; the Barnes Foundation on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway; the Philadelphia Parks Alliance at a massive converted warehouse in Parkside; the Settlement Music School at their branch in Germantown; the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia in the heart of Rittenhouse; the Education Law Center in the historic Philadelphia Building, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook nestled on Ranstead Street just off of Jeweler’s Row; and the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation overlooking Camden. We also traveled the virtual skyways to the Ashville Nature Center of the Delaware Nature Society, and to North Carolina and Maryland to meet the River Network Team.

When we conceptualized this program almost a year ago, we couldn’t have imagined a more committed or diverse collection of organizations. They vary in size from 3 employees to 220, with missions ranging from ensuring access to a quality public education for all children in Pennsylvania… to making bicycling a safe and fun way to get around for anyone in the Greater Philadelphia Region.

Despite these differences, as we got to know the leadership of these organizations, several common themes emerged…

First, it’s clear that these organizations are all deeply committed to improving the quality of life of residents in the Greater Philadelphia area. Whether through reigniting the conversation between communities and their local recreation centers, empowering and uniting people and communities to protect and restore rivers, or serving as an information source and voice for parents, students, teachers, and community members working for quality and equality in Philadelphia’s public schools – these organizations are determined to have a social impact in Philadelphia!

Second, organizational leaders want to better understand the needs of the individuals and communities they work with – whether they are the members of their organization, visitors of their spaces, customers of their businesses or those who experience the fruits of their advocacy. This desire for information goes beyond the basic demographic questions (such as age and address) to questions that would provide a deeper understanding of their needs, interests, and passions.

And finally, for most organizations, there’s no shortage of data….which is both promising and daunting! Leaders reported collecting event attendance data, student test score data, member survey data, ticket sales data, website traffic data, inventory data, and the list goes on….. The challenge is not typically collecting data, but figuring out how to use that data to inform improvement and communicate about impact with diverse audiences from funders to beneficiaries. Leaders recognize that data can be a powerful tool for not just measuring impact, but inspiring change.

The Social Impact Collaborative is designed to enhance organizational leaders’ ability to impact the communities they serve. We believe this will happen by connecting the deep passion these leaders bring to their work with strategies for using data more effectively. But we also believe that achieving social impact requires going beyond just collecting data and reporting numbers to funders; it involves putting lessons learned from data into action and building data-informed cultures within organizations. Over the next nine months, we will join these organizations in identifying the metrics that matter most, developing strategies for evaluating – and maximizing – their impact, and sharing their story with the community. We are excited to get to work!

*The opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the William PennFoundation.