Demonstrating impact can be a challenge for social enterprises and nonprofits alike. Social impact accelerators are uniquely positioned to foster impact measurement and management (IMM) in a social enterprise ecosystem. In this blog we will explore:
- What is a social impact accelerator?
- Social impact accelerators and IMM
- The Miller Center: an example from the field
What is a social impact accelerator?
A social impact accelerator is a program that helps developing social enterprises get access to resources. A social impact accelerator helps a social enterprise to:
- grow as businesses
- create and monitor social impact
The concept of accelerator programs comes from the Silicon Valley tech start-up world. Accelerators have become increasingly popular in international economic development as well.
Social impact accelerators typically work with early or growth-stage social enterprises that have moved beyond the idea stage. These social enterprises have already set up their business. Perhaps they have some programs/services already in the community. The social impact accelerator helps social enterprises through this adolescent stage by connecting them with funders, technical expertise, and mentorship.
Similar concepts include impact investing accelerators and social impact incubators. Accelerators focus on financial and business support. Incubators may work with the early-stage development of social enterprises.
Research from the Global Accelerator Learning Initiative (GALI) has shown that accelerated business ventures increase revenue, employment, and outside investment more than non-accelerated ventures.
There are clear business benefits of accelerator programs. Let’s explore how social impact accelerators can specifically help with creating and monitoring social impact.
Social impact accelerators and IMM
As an accelerator, demonstrating social impact is critical for your program, funders, and stakeholders. IMM is often less straightforward than accounting for economic returns.
Social enterprises can be mired in complex theories of change, an overabundance of indicators, and reporting specific requirements to multiple funders. In some cases, social enterprises don’t know where to start. Impact measurement and management can take time and resources that a young social enterprise may not have.
To address this challenge, social impact accelerators create impact management capacity for a social enterprise ecosystem. By providing the tools, mentorship, technical expertise, and training, accelerator programs such as help streamline the impact measurement process.
Read More: 3 Tips For Measuring Social Impact Projects
The Miller Center: an example from the field
The Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship is one such social impact accelerator. The Miller Center works to foster IMM capacity. In August 2021, the Miller Center in conjunction with Sopact launched a pilot program focusing on IMM for 10 social enterprises.
The IMM challenges faced by the social enterprises in the pilot program included:
- Basic or no Theory of Change and metrics
- Lack of data collection
- Lack of outcome focus
- Lack of alignment to frameworks (ie. five dimensions of impact)
- Focus on qualitative data
Read More: Beyond theory of change
Changes with Sopact
The pilot program provided the social enterprises IMM training and put their entire portfolio on Sopact’s signature Impact Cloud. Through this platform, social enterprises were able to:
- Align goals to impact frameworks
- Identify a Theory of Change with outcome-based indicators
- Design and implement data collection
- Demonstrate impact through interactive dashboards
As a result of the platform, the social enterprises were freed of a reporting burden, saving precious resources. The social enterprises now have impact evidence rolling in, on-demand, and ready for future investment decisions.
While each social enterprise had their unique set of circumstances, most experienced some critical takeaways.
- Stakeholders are the focal point.
This includes understanding who your stakeholders are and what is most important to them. Tracking outcomes unimportant to the stakeholder is not only a waste of time, but it confuses the focus of the work. Clarity on what matters most is critical for a social enterprise to make an impact aimed at the communities they serve.
- An impact is an iterative process.
Impact measurement isn’t a one-and-done ex-post evaluation. It is a process of continuous communication, experimentation, learning, and growth. Embracing this is fundamental for a social enterprise to scale up.
Accelerate social impact
Social impact accelerators can build the IMM capacity of social enterprises. Measurement and management is a field that entrepreneurs may not be experts in. It is usually a challenge and often a burden on resources. In the end, accelerators offer crucial tools, mentorship, and technical expertise in the field of IMM. To learn more, check out the webinar “Accelerating outcome learning for social enterprises and nonprofits” from The Miller Center and Sopact.