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Key takeaways:

    • Collaborate with academic researchers: Leveraging academic research can help you identify reliable metrics, gain confidence in your investments, and enhance the credibility of your program. 
    • Find innovative measurement methods: One CSR leader shared how they leveraged a brand lift study, typically used in marketing, to measure beliefs around a social issue.
    • Leverage logic models or theories of change: While developing these models can be a big lift, they can be invaluable tools for illustrating your goals, how you’ll achieve them, and their impacts.

It’s no secret in the corporate giving space that translating your philanthropy, volunteerism, and other social impact work into reportable data is challenging. 

This is an area where many corporate social responsibility (CSR) leaders — even those at the largest companies — struggle, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. 

Nonetheless, from leveraging logic models and theories of change to academic research, CSR leaders have utilized a myriad of innovative strategies to prove their impact.

Let’s dive into how those leading foundations at some of the world’s biggest companies have found creative ways to boost confidence and gain credibility for their team’s efforts.

Leaning on the Work of Academic Research

The social issues today’s companies strive to address and influence are indisputably complex, from mental health to income inequality or climate justice.

Collaborating with academic researchers who have devoted their careers to understanding these issues can provide invaluable information for your program. 

Amy Mart, who leads Social Impact Measurement, Evaluation, and Thought Leadership at the Allstate Foundation, detailed how academic studies can help you gain confidence in your investments during a recent panel discussion on impact measurement.

Some figures, like the number of people served or hours volunteered, are easier to track, but more complicated data, like that on economic well-being, is not nearly as straightforward. 

This is where academic work can play a massive role.

Amy said, “There are people who’ve invested their whole life in reliably measuring some of these things.”

Amy said it’s essential that both your team and your community partners are steeped in the academic research pertaining to your social initiatives. Where there are gaps in research, you can explore funding it.

“Reliable metrics are really valuable. Often, folks working in academic settings are best positioned to have a team of people that can pursue that kind of measurement work.” — Amy Mart, Social Impact Measurement, Evaluation, and Thought Leadership at Allstate Foundation

Dennis Duquette, Head of Community Responsibility and President and CEO of the MassMutual Foundation, echoed this sentiment. 

MassMutual Foundation is devoted to building financial resilience in communities where it doesn’t exist. To help aid this mission, the foundation has sponsored academic research to evaluate the effectiveness of a major investment they made toward enabling financial literacy,  according to Dennis. 

He also shared that they’ve completed one longitudinal study and are in the middle of a second. 

Dennis said they’re using this research to maximize the impact of their work and ensure the needle is moving.

Collaborating with External and Internal Partners to Source Reliable Metrics

One of the Allstate Foundation’s initiatives is to break the cycle of relationship and financial abuse — which are often so intertwined — and help survivors rebuild their lives. 

Amy said the team has collaborated with a credit-building program to utilize credit scores, which heavily influence people’s ability to access resources, as a proxy for fiscal well-being. 

“We can look at the average change in your credit score — your average credit score upon entering and exiting the program — and then really dig into who seems to be benefiting more based on various identity or contextual factors,” Amy said. 

Based on that data, the team can make tweaks to ensure they’re providing the highest benefit to those with the greatest need. 

Working with Internal Partners to Repurpose Existing Methodologies

To influence the prevention of future relationship abuse, you have to break the cycle, which Amy said involves shifting beliefs around healthy relationships. 

She shared how the team was able to measure the impact of that work by creatively leveraging a brand lift study traditionally used by marketing and brand departments to measure the effect of advertising.

Yet, instead of showing individuals an ad and asking how it influenced their perception of Allstate, they displayed content and asked questions related to their beliefs around relationship and financial abuse. 

Using the same methodology of a brand lift study, they compared those results to those who hadn’t seen the content on this important issue. 

Leveraging Logic Models and Theories of Change to Add Credibility

There are a number of creative methods for proving your impact, but there’s one set of tools that promises to help discern the numbers that really matter: logic models and theories of change.

The Center for Research Evaluation states that logic models, which demonstrate an underlying theory of change, help programs illustrate exactly what a proposed initiative intends to achieve and the expected impacts.

During the panel discussion, Meredith Shull, Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning Manager at the PepsiCo Foundation, agreed that building logic models will take time, but they can be useful in illustrating your goals and how you’ll achieve them.

Determining the effectiveness of your model hinges on your ability to establish and regularly monitor clear indicators. 

“That’s where we’re really leaning heavily into the learnings. In every stage of a theory of change, it’s monitoring, looking at where we are, and having clear indicators throughout.” — Meredith Shull, Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning Manager at the PepsiCo Foundation

Meredith shared how the foundation launched the PepsiCo Livelihoods Implementation Framework for Engagement (LIFE) alongside the sustainability office to credibly measure the impact of their efforts to improve the livelihoods of farmers and communities in their supply chain. 

The methodology was developed in collaboration with the Committee on Sustainability Assessments (COSA), as well as many other partners, by establishing a series of 21 indicators ranging from food security to land rights and wages.

Today, PepsiCo offers this framework as a resource for others seeking to improve livelihoods and states they will continue to improve this framework based on learnings and feedback.

Benchmark with Leaders at Other Corporate Foundations

It’s important to remember that developing these processes and frameworks takes time.

In fact, ESG & CSR Board member shared it’s taken them ten years to be able to effectively articulate their impact programs via the inputs and outputs of their programs.

Yet, this endeavor is as difficult as it is necessary. 

“I can’t over-emphasize how valuable it is to be investing in high-quality measurement,” Amy said. “You can only reliably improve at scale what you can reliably measure at scale.”

If you and your program could benefit from benchmarking your impact measurement strategies with other corporate philanthropy leaders, then contact the ESG & CSR Board below.


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