The Power of Data-Driven Decision Making – Lauren Sauer – Perspectives on Impact Blog Series

At REDF, data is about more than just the bottom line. Senior Business Analyst Lauren Sauer talks impact measurement, how she made her way to REDF, and what she wishes more people knew about the world of employment social enterprise.

In my role as Senior Business Analyst, I manage the impact measurement of REDF’s work – from developing the systems we use to collect data to examining how we can best track our impact. REDF invests time and money into businesses, but unlike other investors, we cannot measure success with just a number. Our team is seeking to evaluate the financial and social return produced by social enterprises, or the Social Return on Investment, a measurement concept developed by REDF 20 years ago. We collect both quantitative and qualitative data to determine if a social enterprise is achieving its mission of improving the lives of those they employ. Are their program participants getting and keeping jobs? Are they moving to stable housing? These are the answers we need to properly evaluate long term outcomes.

For our social enterprise leaders, data-driven decision making empowers them to expand and sustain their impact – an idea I’ve been passionate about throughout my career working in nonprofits.

I studied Biology and English in college, with a dream of being a veterinarian, but reality took me in a different direction. My first job out of college was at a science museum. There I experienced the struggle that some nonprofit leaders have with making good business decisions. I knew there must be a better way – so I enrolled in business school with an eye on applying decision science to the nonprofit sector.

It was in my coursework at Saunders College of Business—which is part of Rochester Institute of Technology—that I learned about social enterprise for the first time. I was immediately hooked. After graduation, I managed the data system integration for a university merger, but outside of work I began to immerse myself in the social enterprise sector. I volunteered with the Social Enterprise Alliance, read books on social enterprise, and attended conferences and events. At one such event, I heard REDF CEO Carla Javits speak for the first time and began to follow REDF’s work. Years later, when I saw the Senior Business Analyst opening, I jumped at the opportunity to combine my experience in data systems management and analysis with my passion for social enterprise.

In almost two years on the REDF team, my appreciation for the potential of employment social enterprise to help solve some of society’s biggest challenges has grown tremendously. I will never forget my first visit to the manufacturing center of Orion Industries, a member of REDF’s national portfolio based outside of Seattle. Orion manufactures sheet metal for the aerospace, marine, and automotive industries and produces products on par with and above the quality from other competitive metal fabrication businesses. The difference is – they provide jobs, training, and supportive services to people with employment barriers. In 2017 alone, Orion served 475 people through training and employment programs, and placed 160 individuals into competitive jobs in the community. It is a scale that many would never associate with social enterprise, much less think was possible.

But industry and size are not the only misconceptions about employment social enterprises. Too often, there is a belief that an organization with a social mission should not make a profit. However, it is the ability to generate revenue that enables social enterprises to have long-term sustainability. It allows them to continue employing people and impacting lives, beyond this year or the next. Employment social enterprise leaders are making smart business decisions to make lasting social impact possible.

It is the social enterprise leaders we work with and my team at REDF that inspire me day in and day out. Each day at the REDF office I am surrounded by the most passionate, intelligent, diverse, and collaborative team I have ever experienced. It is truly inspiring to know that together we are scaling social enterprises and creating jobs for thousands who face barriers to employment.

Perspectives on Impact – Meet Our Staff Blog Series highlights our team’s unique backgrounds, expertise, and contributions to REDF’s mission.