By Katie Hanners
For the past year, impact measurement has been the buzzword in the social enterprise industry. No longer do we focus primarily on innovation, but instead we need an innovative solution to make a significant social impact. But for some reason, those of us in the social enterprise sector continue to get tripped up when talking about our impact.
Intuitively, we know we do more than generate revenue, but when asked to share our success we focus on those easily measurable metrics – revenue, sales, volume, etc. This past year, one of the social enterprises that I oversee at Catholic Charities Fort Worth – WORN — realized we needed to change our story, to more effectively work toward our agency’s goal to end poverty in our community.
WORN provides refugee women living in the United States an opportunity to utilize the traditional skill of knitting to increase their families’ household income, thus empowering them to rise above poverty. Each product is hand-knit by refugee women out of their home, overcoming significant barriers such as language, transportation and child care. All of the profits from this project go directly back into the community through Catholic Charities Fort Worth to further equip the women with the necessary skills to become self-sufficient.
We wanted to articulate our impact to our stakeholders and start measuring the metrics that matter and what an amazing exercise this has been for WORN.
We found that by answering three simple questions, we were able to change our story. No longer do we lead with how many products were sold and how much revenue was earned, instead we emphasize our message of empowerment, self-sufficiency and the number of women whose lives were changed.
- Why did we start this business? It is okay to list revenue, but there has to be more to it. For us, we wanted to help refugee women overcome barriers to employment, such as transportation, language, work experience and childcare. By offering a work-from-home opportunity that utilizes their life-long skill of knitting, we could provide these women with the resources needed to help their families rise above poverty.
- What do we consider a success? Again, it is fair game to list net profit, but what is an indicator of social success? To be truly successful as a social business, we need to know that we are offering enough women meaningful employment and to understand what our knitters define as meaningful employment. In addition to offering employment, we needed to offer other life skills that helped our knitters gain self-sufficiency, such as financial education, tax preparation assistance and ongoing leadership training.
- How do we measure our success? Once you identify your impact, you also need to measure it. Of course, this can be tricky. How do you measure someone’s ability to rise above poverty? How do you know you increased someone’s self-sufficiency? At WORN, we focused on how many women knit our products, how many hours the women knit, the average monthly earnings and the number of women who attended educational offerings. And, to make certain we were on track, we asked our knitters. On our annual survey, our knitters note that WORN changed their life, helped them pay their bills and gave them the confidence needed to contribute to their families’ earnings.
I am sure our impact will continue to grow and our method for measuring will evolve; but, we will continue to focus on these three questions as we evaluate the message we share with our audience and the success of our organization in the future. I will be speaking on the topic of impact measurement at the Social Enterprise Alliance Summit in Nashville April 13 – 16. Join us!
Image Credit: Catholic Charities Fort Worth
Katie Hanners is Senior Director of Social Enterprise for Catholic Charities Fort Worth, and speaker at the upcoming Social Enterprise Alliance Summit 2014.