REDF's Commitment to Measurement and Evaluation

The challenges facing our society are complex and interconnected. In order to create substantive change and provide economic opportunity for all citizens, we must make decisions based on rigorous research and hard evidence. That means testing which models and practices are working, strengthening the most promising programs, and expanding those that have a measurable impact in order to help more people in need. By taking that approach, we can solve society’s most intractable problems.

History of Evaluation Methods
REDF’s concept of venture philanthropy is deeply rooted in setting measurable goals for grantees and tracking progress to inform future grant-making. In the late 1990s, REDF pioneered the concept of “Social Return on Investment (SROI)”, which measures enterprises’ social benefits to society through outcomes such as greater income and increased housing stability for employees, reduced taxpayer burden via lower reliance on government assistance, and reduced rates of recidivism.

REDF’s commitment to evidence evolved with the 2011 award of a Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant, which enabled REDF to understand the demands of conducting a more rigorous evaluation than ever attempted before. REDF partnered with the Mathematica Policy Institute to investigate the impact of grant capital and expert technical assistance on the beneficiaries of the social enterprises in the portfolio.

The Mathematica Jobs Study (MJS), published in 2015, measured whether participants at these social enterprises had higher employment and better life stability one year after they began their social enterprise jobs. Results were encouraging: employment rose from 18% to 51% and monthly income rose from $653 to $1,246 along with reduced reliance on government assistance programs, and an increase in continuous stable housing. In addition, the MJS conducted a cost-benefit analysis of REDF’s portfolio and found that every dollar that the portfolio enterprises spent generated $2.23 in societal benefits, more than doubling the initial investment.

Current Evaluation Methods

Measuring the Impact of our Portfolio
In 2015, REDF built on the success of the MJS study by implementing a hybrid Randomized Control Trial and Quasi-Experimental Design study on a national portfolio of 21 social enterprises. This study, implemented by REDF’s external evaluator RTI International began in January 2018 and will result in a final impact report in the Spring of 2021.

In conjunction with the evaluation, REDF created an Evaluation Learning Committee to incorporate social enterprise staff and transitional employees to share, listen, and strategize around the evaluation progress and findings.

Measuring our Regional Impact
REDF is also participating in the evaluation of the Los Angeles Regional Initiative for Social Enterprise (LA: RISE), a public-private partnership REDF manages in Los Angeles. This evaluation will examine promising approaches to improve the social, education and economic outcomes for low-income Americans through a random assignment impact study with a total research sample of 1,000 individuals.

Enhancing our Evaluation Effectiveness
Through the support of Fund for Shared Insight, a funder collaborative that encourages the incorporation of feedback from clients (or those we seek to help) into the daily practices of nonprofit and philanthropic organizations, REDF has incorporated a perceptual feedback study into the formal evaluation of its grantees. The study will collect feedback on participants’ perceptions of their social enterprise program’s responsiveness, focus, supportiveness, and other aspects of general program effectiveness and evaluate whether participants’ perceptions can predict subsequent job placement and retention or other secondary outcomes. The evidence built from this study will be used for identifying and supporting program design elements that strengthen both the programs themselves as well as the participants’ perceptions of the programs.