4 Steps to Implementing Your Social Change Strategy: A Case Study with SEFCU

Since 2008, SEFCU’s Community Support Program has helped more than seven million people within its branch footprint – which includes upstate New York’s Capital Region, Binghamton, Syracuse and Buffalo areas – through funding vital nonprofit organizations. As the philanthropy has evolved for the 84-year-old credit union headquartered in Albany, NY, which is among the 50 largest credit unions in the U.S. with more than $3.7 billion in assets and 360,000 members, so have requests for financial support.

As a results consultant I had the pleasure of working with the SEFCU team to design a measurement framework that enabled SEFCU to become more targeted and specific about how they wanted to invest their human and financial capital to ultimately be able to demonstrate their success toward their end desired result of “measuring lives improved”.

Like many other funders, SEFCU’s leadership was starting to ask the ‘so what’ question – “what is different because of our involvement and contribution to the community?”  This is the first step along the journey to results. A traditional funder may contribute by giving a grant check to a variety of causes and be satisfied with the act of giving back itself.  And other funders may focus on particular areas of importance, like education, but in general they ask few questions regarding the impact of their contributions. But results-focused funders are aiming to address the ‘so what’ question by asking their grant partners to go beyond describing their program’s activities to detailing the changes in behavior or condition that those activities generated, and therefore what the funder’s grant contributed to. And in SEFCU’s case, how these results were contributing to their desired end state.

The desired end state is what I encourage clients to start thinking about when getting started together, basically asking the question “What would achieving your organization’s mission look like?”  From there the next critical step is ensuring that your core focus areas or program areas can directly contribute to getting your organization from your mission to your visionary desired end state.  And finally of critical importance is to determine how you will monitor progress towards that desired end state.

The work SEFCU and I did together is an excellent example of an organization that is making the shift to results -focused investing allowing them to begin speaking to their desired impact or end state that I spoke to previously, “measuring lives improved”. Here are the four steps I advise organizations take when making the shift to results-focused investing, exemplified by the work of SEFCU, as told by Community Impact Leader Katie Farrow.

1. Start with the end in mind

Work backwards and determine your desired impact organizationally and specifically for each focus area. Make sure to ask for consistent metrics for each area as well—the key to being able to compare programs/grants, roll-up data and determine your overall impact is asking for apple to apple indicators.

Working with SEFCU we created a social change logic model, tying their strategies (focus areas) to their overall mission and vision as an organization.  From there we worked to ensure that all their inputs, outputs and especially their outcomes or indicators and desired impact all were aimed at contributing to their mission and vision.

2. Question yourself along the way

Add some results-focused questions to your strategic applications—data alone does not tell if the program will be successful. 

Adding narrative questions that tie to the data points and clearly outline who will be impacted, how you will get there and when you will know you are successful will also allow program staff to look at the risk and return of the grant.

Risk = what are the chances the grantee will achieve the stated results?

Return = is this the best use of our funds given all opportunities in front of us?

For SEFCU, this specifically meant adding the following:

  • Be clear on what you are seeking to fund and achieve
  • Ensure narrative questions are results-focused
  • Ask grantees where they are along continuum of change
  • And, most importantly, providing guidance, training, and grantee technical assistance to partners to ensure their success

3. Monitor outcome progress throughout the grant term

Make the relationship a partnership and have check-ins throughout the grant term.

Tracking progress means grantees can alert program staff if the project is off-track and needs assistance, allow program staff to quickly report on each project’s level of success, and determine the level of future funding (if any). All of these factors contribute to a higher likelihood of reaching your shared goals and desired outcomes.

4. Use both types of data—qualitative and quantitative

Leverage both qualitative (the what or why) and quantitative data (the how much) to share your organization’s impact story and inform future strategy.

For SEFCU, they will look to examine the information in the end of grant learning report that they’ve set up in their outcomes measurement tool, Blackbaud Outcomes, looking at the data for the overall story and narratives for the individual stories of each grant in the program.

Keep an eye out for the recording of the session Katie and I presented at bbcon 2018, Measurement Fundamentals: Getting Started, where we’ll dive deeper into how technology can help your organization to operationalize your social change strategy, and the power of partnerships based on a culture of learning and improvement.