“How Do You Measure Success in Social Philanthropy?” Case Example

By Bareeq AlBarqawi

Last month, the Knight Foundation announced that it would be giving $1.3 million in grants to technology projects in order to get more people involved in developing their communities. The Knight Foundation decided to split this money into four different grants:

1- $590,000 given to Change by Us, a project of CEOs for Cities, to help expand their website so more citizens can suggest ideas on how to make their cities better and more livable. Also the money will help in integrating the website with social media and making it available for other cities to adopt.

2- $250,000 to Good360 which is an online marketplace for nonprofits to post their needs, find products, and communicate with sponsors, both individual and corporate.
3- $236,000 to DailyFeats which is a site that allows people to take small steps towards a goal that will improve their health and well-being. They plan on using these extra funds to expand its outreach and measuring results and seeing what works and doesn’t work for their site.

4- $225,000 to OpenGovernment.org, a project of the Participatory Politics Foundation. This site is a free, open-source website that assists people to track current policy proposals under consideration by city councils and helps to communicate with local elected officials.

In addition, the Knight Foundation published a new report titled, “Digital Citizenship: Exploring the Field of Tech for Engagement,” which outlines successful online projects while mentioning the challenges ahead for organization that had to work in implementing similar tools as the organizations mentioned above.

This is social philanthropy at its best, however, how will the Knight Foundation measure the success of its grants? Will they base it on the successful implementation of the projects that this money will help fund or based on the impact made on the community? If the latter, how will that be measured? Will it be based on website traffic, the number of donations, the number of donors, or how much closer the organization has gotten to its goal if outlined specifically? This goes to show that to measure success in this field, you may have to look at more than one variable or aspect of the work.

Personally, I believe that since these grants are focused on increasing civic engagement, then to look at that locally. Many of these websites are broken down locally into different cities and I believe that looking at these cities individually and gauging what impact they have had may be something to look into. It is hard to base the actions within a city on a website alone, but engaging their website visitors to get their feedback, perhaps through social media, will prove to them they are doing a good job or not.

It is a very tricky transaction to maneuver around when you are giving funds to an organization doing a great thing for the community and to know that your money is making a big difference. In addition, the Knight Foundation published a report to assist these organizations complete their projects, but how effective is this strategy? I do believe that, in comparison, catalytic philanthropy is much more efficient; however, this may be an easier way for the Knight Foundation to do their business. Many foundations out there do not have the manpower or time to provide these organizations someone who could help them on the ground in strategy implementation so this is a less involved method of aid. It is helpful, but

I do not feel that it compares with the impact that can be had using catalytic philanthropy which solves many problems as they arise.

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2 thoughts on ““How Do You Measure Success in Social Philanthropy?” Case Example

  1. worawanw November 13, 2012 at 4:45 PM Reply

    I totally agree with you that it is hard to measure the success of its grant; website traffic, the number of donations, or the number of donors seems to be insufficient. And, you are right that we may have to consider more than one factor to measure the project.

    I would say that the project itself should set its periodical milestone for the whole process. In this case, the grants are focused on increasing civic engagement. The milestones can be quantitative indicators e.g. #% increase of web traffic, #% increase of members, etc. By these numbers we can only how many there are not how well they do. However, even though these quantitative indicators might not be able to show the success of the project, as mentioned before, holistically they help us qualitatively measure how the project works and improve the performance.

  2. tlhill2012 November 24, 2012 at 5:29 PM Reply

    Bareeq, Waorawan – the question of measurement is really tough and really important. Definitely a paper or three here.

    Measuring impact is the ideal, in this case an increase in civic engagement. What might good measures of increased civic engagement be? Higher participation in local votes? In comments submitted to rule-making hearings? Increased citizen reporting on problems (and successes) in various parts of a city? Increased discussion in social media forums?

    Once this is clear, the next step is to build the logic chain back to the grant. If money was given to improve a website, how is that supposed to lead to more civic engagement? Maybe the steps are: Improved facility for collecting input, leading to more input, leading to more discussion, leading to advocacy for certain ideas, leading to implementation? If so, perhaps there are measures at each stage, some easier to collect than others.

    Interestingly, as much as we push impact measures for social ventures, financial measures are not usual impact measures (such as increase in GDP/capita); rather, they are outcome measures (return on investment, net profit) or output measures (sales). Maybe we should hold private firms to higher standards of impact, as well? Or relax settle for some sort of social return on investment for social ventures.

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