Social Impact 100: Where are the Advocates?

posted on: December 5, 2012

By Lisa Ranghelli

Just before Thanksgiving, in time for the year-end charitable giving push, the Social Impact Exchange announced the “S & I Index” or Social Impact 100. These are a hundred nonprofits that are working in education, youth development, poverty or health; have proven evidence of their impact; and are ready to grow or replicate their model. The exchange defines “evidence” as a “quantitative study conducted by a third party (e.g. randomized control trial, quasi-experimental study, or outcomes evaluation) documenting the positive impact of their work.”

The goal of the S & I Index is to “build the growth capital marketplace in the nonprofit sector, so that more philanthropic dollars go to support effective organizations seeking to scale their impact.” Organizations on the list have already prepared a business or growth plan, and experts have determined that they are both ready and worthy of going to scale.

According to Anne Sherman, vice president of Nonprofit Strategy, Social Impact Exchange at Growth Philanthropy Network:

“The standards are so high because the stakes are so high. We know that the challenges our society faces are great.  We also know that there is too little information about effective solutions.  And most of all, we know that there has to be a more effective and efficient way to get money to support the expansion of those programs and initiatives that have shown positive results.  It is our hope that the S&I 100 is a step toward helping great nonprofits share their secret so that they can get the resources they need to help turn the tide.”

I agree that the stakes are quite high. In the last month I have been reminded just how complex our societal problems remain, from the devastation wrought by Sandy in my hometown of New York (while climate change remains a non-starter in national politics) to the continuing racial disparities evident in the four issues these 100 nonprofits focus on, and in many other facets of life in the U.S. (highlighted at the Applied Research Center’s fabulous Facing Race conference).

I have no doubt that these individually-vetted organizations are doing important and effective work. I was very impressed by many of their accomplishments as I perused their profiles. And I would love to know how many of them are seeking to change systems and policies as they provide programs and services. I could discern only a few organizations (such as the Osborne Association) with an explicit advocacy mission among the top 100. Yet, policy change that is shaped with community input and successfully implemented can be one of the most “effective, high-impact interventions serving large numbers of individuals in need.” Just think of how many tens of thousands of low-wage workers have been lifted out of poverty by state and federal policies that raise the minimum wage and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit.

We know that extremely effective advocacy organizations exist. While I question the narrow definition of evidence used by the exchange, I believe that with adequate resources, advocates can meet the same high standards for documenting impact as these laudable hundred. In fact, NCRP rigorously quantified the policy impacts of 110 nonprofits in 13 states. We determined the dollar value of their advocacy successes (if monetizable) and verified the role each organization played in achieving impact. These organizations and their coalition partners secured more than $26 billion in community benefits over five years. This finding represents just a fraction of the incredible impact that community organizing and advocacy groups are having all across the country.

I hope the S & I Index will adapt its vetting process and support the capacity of advocacy and organizing groups to apply to be on this influential list. These organizations are creating long term change to address significant challenges in our society, and we need them to be able to “share their secret” with donors and “scale up” as much as these 100 effective programs and service providers. Otherwise, we’ll never “turn the tide”  and banish inequity, and our communities’ need for those programs and services will never go away.

In the meantime, check out NCRP’s “Advocacy Impact 100” (or so) and see what they’ve accomplished in recent years.

Which highly effective advocacy and community organizing groups would you like to see listed in the S & I Index?

Lisa Ranghelli is the director of NCRP’s Grantmaking for Community Impact Project.