12 Jan. 2016 | Comments (0)
In 2012, the Social Impact Exchange (SIE) launched the S&I 100, an index of nonprofit organizations that are developing high-impact solutions to pressing social issues in the United States. With a heavy focus on evidence-based initiatives and evaluation, the S&I 100 categorizes nonprofits by education, health, poverty and youth issues. In this Giving Thoughts Q&A, SIE’s vice president for nonprofit strategy, Anne Sherman, and the managing director of network partnerships, Toni La Belle, explain the S&I 100.
Q: Please explain the philosophy behind the S&I 100.
A: Our mission at SIE is to support the development of philanthropic growth capital markets that support nonprofits seeking to scale their social impact. The concept of scaled social impact is deeply ambitious. It implies positive change at a population level—thousands or millions of people rather than dozens or hundreds. Achieving this large-scale impact requires a new type of social sector marketplace, where there are clearly defined standards of quality and impact that are well understood by both those providing the intervention and those funding it. Once these basic rules of engagement for a “scaling marketplace” are understood, there need to be ways for stakeholders to engage. The S&I 100 was created to provide donors with a comprehensive tool to support high-impact nonprofits in the U.S. that are scaling innovative solutions to complex social problems. Its name is a play on the S&P 500 and, like that index, is designed to provide reliable, comprehensive information that is readily accessible to help funders make good decisions about their philanthropy.
Q: Why is the index limited to organizations that deal with education, health, poverty and youth issues?
A: SIE’s mission is to support the development of philanthropic growth capital markets to support nonprofits that seek to scale their social impact. This is a huge arena and we had to set some boundaries. We chose to limit “social impact” to those four categories because of their urgency and because they reflected the interests and priorities of the funders and other stakeholders engaged in the development of the index. These four areas are nonetheless quite broad and encompass 20 sub-issue areas (such as “college access” within education or “aging” within health).
Q: What elements of evaluation are most important for nonprofits seeking to be listed on the index?
A: Because of SIE’s emphasis on impact, evaluation and evidence play a critical role in the design of the S&I 100. To be considered for the S&I 100, nominated organizations must have a quantitative outcomes evaluation conducted by a third party. We accept randomized control trials (RCTs), quasi-experimental designs, and outcome evaluations. That being said, we do not only accept nonprofits that have performed these evaluation techniques. Whereas many experts consider RCTs the gold standard of program evaluation, the field is far from any consensus on a single methodology. Like anything else, each technique has its pros and cons. For example, although a high-quality RCT provides objective evidence about what works that other types of designs cannot, they are also extremely time and resource intensive. Furthermore, RCTs do not offer information about program quality or the process of program implementation. If we want to scale an innovation, it’s not enough to know just what works (or not), we also need good information about for whom, why, and under what circumstances. So for these reasons, nonprofits can submit any study or program evaluation and it will be assessed by outside evaluation consultants for the quality and integrity of the design and the findings.
Q: The S&I 100 includes a robust network of nonprofits that have proven their success in the areas of education, health, poverty, and youth. Do you work with these organizations to develop common success metrics in these specific issue areas?
A: We do not. We agree that the discussion of shared metrics is an important and complex one, however.
Q: With such a focus on evidence, how do you ensure funders and nonprofits continue to support innovation in the nonprofit sector?
A: It’s important to point out that SIE seeks to support nonprofit interventions that have been tried and tested and are ready to go to the next stage of growth, development, and impact. There are other places in the social sector where social entrepreneurs can seek funding to pilot new ideas. There currently is no consistent system that supports sustained scale of effective interventions. That is the gap we seek to fill. That said, we strongly believe that evidence and innovation are by no means mutually exclusive. The private sector relies on data in order to improve current products and develop new ones. We think that the same can and should be true in the social sector. We do not lack for innovative solutions, but we do need more information about what success or failure looks like, for whom, and under what circumstances, so we can keep innovating and improving.
Q: What are the benefits to a nonprofit of being listed on the S&I 100?
A: Many of the nonprofits on the S&I 100 have told us that their participation has served as a sort of “seal of approval” for them and has been helpful in engaging new funders. The due diligence process that we use is fairly rigorous, and we have heard back that reviewer comments about their evaluations, business plans, or other documents has been very useful.
Q: Why is the S&I 100 important for corporate funders?
A: We think that the S&I 100 is a valuable tool for all philanthropic funders because it provides comprehensive information about an initiative’s impact and capacity to grow in a way that is intuitive and user friendly. In addition to the summary information about the organization, the platform also includes links to critical documents such as their evaluation, business plan, and audited financials, among other information. Interested donors can easily contact the CEO of the organization for more information, or they can just click the “donate now” button if they want to make a gift right away. We believe that the S&I 100 is the only platform that includes comparable breadth and depth of information on as wide a range of nonprofits, with as strong an emphasis on impact. The platform does resonate with corporate funders who appreciated the underlying commitment to documented impact (as demonstrated through the evaluation studies) and potential for sustainable growth (as demonstrated through the business plan, another core component of our due diligence process).