Strategies for Elevating Social ImpactThree Lessons from the Wharton Social Impact Conference

Social impact is a dynamic and growing field, with many different types of actors who each have unique strategies and goals. The Wharton Social Impact Conference, hosted by the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, brought together leaders in the space to discuss their approaches, emphasizing innovative tools and models.  While social impact crosses fields, many practitioners are thinking about common themes, directly related to our work at Third Sector. As we bring together stakeholders to orient social services towards outcomes, we often think about how to best leverage data, the long-term vision for impact, and how to ground conversations on a local and personal level. Major takeaways on how to increase impact from the conference included:

Data-driven. With all outcomes-focused work, developing a methodology by which to define and evaluate success is key. Often, this involves a good deal of effort to understand the information needed, gain access to high-quality data, and develop assessment tools in order to determine efficacy. This upfront legwork is essential to developing rigorous social impact programs. While data-driven efforts have typically focused on quantitative outcomes, speakers also emphasized the importance of qualitative data. Qualitative data can be challenging to capture and measure, but is helpful in creating a well-rounded understanding of impact. One suggested approach was to conduct surveys with open-ended questions to gain insight into how different stakeholders think about a certain hurdle or opportunity. Another suggestion was to measure commitment to social impact by how often leaders and management mention outcomes, impact, and data-driven decision-making in their communications.

Comprehensive. Increasingly, foundations are looking beyond the impact of their grantmaking to understand how other activities, including endowment investments, may or may not be aligned with their broader mission. This more holistic approach to thinking about how dollars are spent presents a huge opportunity to leverage untapped funds for social good. Additionally, impact investors are taking a critical look at the knock-on effects of their investments. Through evaluations and longer-term follow on efforts, institutions are working to better understand the far-reaching or unintended consequences of their funding. These learnings will inform their future grants and investments, with a view towards a broader, longer horizon of impact.

Human-centered and place-based. Speakers also highlighted the importance of designing services around the customer, or the program participant. This human-centered, design thinking approach takes a different view of how funders should define and think about the customer, in order to consciously structures services to better meet their needs today and in the long run. Organizations are also making a concerted effort to foster better connection with community by focusing their activities locally. In both these human-centered and place-based approaches, anecdotes are incredibly powerful. While data is helpful in grounding challenges and potential solutions, being able to share stories of impact resonates more deeply and fosters a better connection among community members, donors, individual investors, and other potential partners.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]