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social benefit corporations; b-the-change

Businesses have traditionally had fairly simple metrics that they use to evaluate their work: sales and profit. However, three factors are driving businesses to consider social benefit as well:

  1. Competition for customers, employees or investors forces companies to seek differentiators.
  2. People around the world prefer to work for companies that are socially responsible.
  3. The ubiquity of information available through social media allows people to draw fast judgements about whether businesses are socially responsible.

Companies are turning to evaluation strategies that have long been used in the nonprofit and public sectors to document and describe social benefits. They are overcoming some of these challenges:

  • Companies that donate money as a primary social benefit strategy, like Target’s 5% program, are seeking ways to equate dollars with impact. Many work with their grantees to document results, but find it difficult to develop measures for complex issues like “healthy communities” or “sustainability.” As a result, they are adopting logic models and other evaluation tools.
  • Other companies offer products or services with a social benefit, and they respond rapidly to the marketplace. For example, MNPHARM uses energy- and water-efficient agriculture to grow important medicines. As a winner of the Benefit Cultivator Program, MNPHARM worked with the Improve Group to clearly articulate its benefit when the actual medicines produced will vary depending on needs.
  • Just like their counterparts in the nonprofit and public sectors, business leaders struggle to dedicate resources to evaluation. For example, several of the businesses we worked with in the Benefit Cultivator Program are in start-up mode, with leaders focused on getting customers, investors, and systems in place. Their time is limited, and any discretionary funds are often put right back into the business.

Recent developments will increase attention and sophistication as companies consider social benefits. Several states have recent laws enabling companies to incorporate with a benefit corporation status. In Minnesota, consumers will have direct access to information about public benefits through reports required of companies that incorporate as a benefit corporation. And third-party rating systems, such as B-corps, provide consistent benefit measures that can be compared across companies.

Posted: April 30th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Improve Groove Newsletter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Grant Gazing – Target Field Trip Grants

Target Corporation isOutdoor Field Trip accepting applications from education professionals for the Target Field Trip Grants program to bring k-12 students to museums, historical sites and cultural organizations. With the increasing difficulty of funding learning opportunities outside the classroom this grant offers teachers assistance in providing special learning experiences for their students.

Target will provide up to $700 toField Trip grantees. Last year, over 3,600 grants were awarded to K-12 education professionals to cover field-trip related costs. Educators, teachers, principals, paraprofessionals, or classified staff at these institutions are eligible to apply and must be willing to plan and execute a field trip that will provide a demonstrable learning experience for students. The application deadline is 12:00 p.m. CT on September 30, 2014. Visit the links above for more information on past trips, and to apply.

Posted: September 10th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Grant Gazing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Grant Gazing: Target Arts Education Program

Arts EducationTarget is now accepting applications for its Arts, Culture & Design in Schools Grant initiative. The aim of this program is to help schools bring more arts and culture into their classrooms. Target funds in-school arts programs that enhance the classroom curricula. By increasing the creative learning experience in schools, students are able to get a more well-rounded education.

Each grant provided through the initiative will award $2,000. Grants are available to K-12 schools. Programs must take place between September 2014 and August 2015. Applications are due on April 30 by noon CST. For those who are interested, you may follow the link above or apply here.

Posted: April 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Grant Gazing: Target Field Trip Grants

Field Trip GrantsTarget Corporation is accepting applications from education professionals for the Target Field Trip Grants program to bring k-12 students to museums, historical sites and cultural organizations. With the increasing difficulty of funding learning opportunities outside the classroom this grant offers teachers assistance in providing special learning experiences for their students.

Over 3,600 grants of up to $700 will be awarded to K-12 education professionals to cover field-trip related costs. Educators, teachers, principals, paraprofessionals, or classified staff at these institutions must be willing to plan and execute a field trip that will provide a demonstrable learning experience for students. The application deadline is 12 p.m. CST on September 30th 2012. Visit the links above for more information on past trips, and to apply.

Posted: September 9th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Grant Gazing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Recently, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal recognized twelve companies with the Jefferson Award for Public Service. The selected businesses found similar benefits from contributing to their communities: it allowed them to use their own talents to make a difference, address issues important to the company, and helped their employees feel good.

For corporations where corporate giving is on a much larger scale, and has been institutionalized in the form of a foundation or other office, evaluating their corporate giving will extend beyond an informal analysis of these benefits. They may want to assess whether different funding strategies lead to specific community impacts; for example, Target has set very specific goals for putting more U.S. kids on the path to graduation, reducing its environmental impact and helping Target team members and their families live healthy, balanced lives.

At the Improve Group, we use a three-step approach to evaluating our own corporate giving.

  • First, we are clear about our goals. At the Improve Group, our goals are: (1) make a difference on the causes that touch our hearts; (2) use both talent and money to make a difference; (3) give our employees meaningful experience as we make a difference; and (4) find and nurture new business opportunities.
  • The scope of our giving is fairly small, so the second step – gathering data about these goals – is pretty informal. We gather stories about how our work was used, ask our pro bono clients to evaluate our services, and ask our employees to share feedback about their preferences.
  • Finally, we use the information to reflect and strategize. We work on an annual cycle, and use our annual retreat (usually in late Fall) to discuss our experiences over the previous year.

How does this align with evaluation of corporate giving in other companies? Each company uses different strategies. For example, Carlson Company uses its corporate giving to engage employees in making decisions and in community outreach through their 12 days of giving program, so success is based both on who is served and how employees got involved. Others build long-standing relationships to make a difference in one particular cause, like Baker Tilly’s support of VEAP; the partnership leads to new ideas and programs. The one common thread across companies investing in their communities is that all report being invested in the triple bottom line: doing good things for people, that are good for the broader community, and ultimately good for business.

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Posted: December 19th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: About evaluation, Improve Groove Newsletter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Big Data: What It Can And Can’t Do For You By Leah Goldstein Moses

Have you heard of big data? If not, a recent article in the New York Times provides an excellent overview. If so, you might be thinking, like I am, what the implications are for you, the way you work and the way we understand our world. You might also be wondering why this is a hot topic now.

A few major factors are leading big data to be a current hot topic – and these same factors also greatly affect evaluation, research and planning:

  • We live our lives in ways that leave bits of data behind. From purchases made with a credit/debit card, to books checked out from the library, to visits with doctors, there are records. Even when your records are anonymous, they can be linked together OR combined with hundreds of other people to understand patterns. A recent blog and a video describing how your data is used, even when it isn’t linked to your name. 
  • Computers can do massive amounts of data crunching for us that wasn’t possible years ago. All of that data was cumbersome to manage and analyze without that computing power. Now, if you want to know the likelihood that someone who purchased matches did so because they’ve taken up smoking or because they are going camping, you can come up with a fairly good guess with a few clicks of a mouse. And, while we purchase fairly expensive licenses for statistical software to make our lives easier, you can have the same capabilities through free, open-source options such as R if you are willing to invest in learning how to use them.

What are the implications? Consider the following:

  • If you have big questions, big data is a goldmine. Imagine a question like that posed by Target – can we know if someone is pregnant before they even tell us? While that might seem a little creepy, there are other questions that the answers could be put to very good use by people in the social sector. Imagine answers to questions like: what circumstances lead people to binge drink? What triggers people to start smoking after successfully quitting? What communication patterns help or hinder us in the workplace?
  • Big data can also help if you want to explore options. For example, split tests, with a long history in the commercial sector, are becoming more common in the social sector. In split tests, you try a few different messages or approaches and find out the results. The recent Crisis Connection efforts to try text messaging as a strategy to prevent suicide is a great example; they can see differences in who accesses their services, when, and the ultimate result when people reach them by phone or email.
  • Would you be willing to opt-in to have even more data gathered if it meant improvements in health or other services? Each year, hundreds of people sign up for medical trials. If some data was gathered automatically – for example, your scale transmitting your weight or your phone tracking how many steps you’ve taken in day.

How might you use big data? What are your concerns about how it is used?

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Posted: February 27th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: About evaluation | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »