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Measurement & Evaluation

Measure. Evaluate. Learn. Improve. Repeat.

Measuring impact is part of REDF’s venture philanthropy DNA. We’ve got 20+ years of collecting, analyzing, and using data to move the field forward, inform smart public policy, and help tell the stories of people whose lives have been transformed by social enterprise so that more people have the jobs, training, and support they need to succeed.

History of Evaluation Methods

To advance the field of Social Enterprise, in the late 1990s REDF pioneered the concept of “Social Return on Investment (SROI)”, which measures enterprises’ social benefits to society through outcomes. It’s an approach that tracks goals—such as greater income and increased housing stability for employees, reduced taxpayer burden via lower reliance on government assistance, and reduced rates of recidivism—to align our grantmaking with what works.

In 2011 our commitment to evidence-based grant making evolved with the award of a Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant. This Federal grant enabled REDF to partner 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. Additional benefits included reduced reliance on government assistance programs, and an increase in continuous stable housing. A cost-benefit analysis of REDF’s portfolio conducted by MJS found that every dollar that the portfolio enterprises spent generated $2.23 in societal benefits, more than doubling the initial investment.

Current Evaluation Methods

REDF collects a continuum of evidence to continuously improve our grantmaking and provide best practices to the field. Ranging from ongoing performance measurement of the financial sustainability of social enterprises to evaluating the outcomes of social enterprise employees, REDF is transforming data into learning for social enterprise practitioners and supporters.

Encouraged by the results of the Mathematica Jobs Study, in February 2018 we began to examine the impact of our investments at multiple social enterprises in our national portfolio with a higher degree of rigor and over a longer period. Conducted by REDF’s external evaluator RTI International, this study will result in a final impact report in 2021 that measures employment and life stability eighteen months after beginning a social enterprise job.

In conjunction with the evaluation, REDF created an Evaluation Learning Committee comprised of social enterprise staff to ensure that the evaluation is mutually beneficial to REDF and its grantees and provides relevant, actionable insights that the social enterprises can use to support decision-making and strategy.

Enhancing our Evaluation Effectiveness
REDF has become increasingly interested in incorporating beneficiary voice into decision-making and empowering social enterprise employees to have a say in the programs that serve them. To this end, REDF, with support from the Fund for Shared Insight, a funder collaborative that encourages the incorporation of feedback from participants—on a program’s responsiveness, focus, degree of support— incorporated a perceptual feedback study in our current evaluation to evaluate whether participants’ perceptions can predict subsequent job placement, retention and other outcomes.

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, which will include over 1,000 participants, will examine promising approaches to improve the social, education, and economic outcomes for low-income Americans.