Sheri Chaney Jones, founder of SureImpact and Measurement Resources, answers the question of how social enterprises can quantify and communicate their impact.
Sheri sheds light on why and how social enterprises should be ardent in assessing their social impact. By doing so, they can validate their social impact, and distinguish themselves from their competition. She strongly advocates for starting impact measurement early, as soon as the project commences.
Sheri introduces listeners to the concept of a logic model, a one-page tool that helps social enterprises decipher their core motivations and lay out short and medium-term outcomes. She generously shares her knowledge on the significance of recognizing a social enterprise’s fundamental motivation and the methods of quantifying the outcomes they aspire to realize.
Her groundbreaking platform, SureImpact, serves as a reliable tool for nonprofits, social enterprises, and government entities, enabling them to monitor their impact and enhance their services. Sheri recounts the story of SureImpact’s inception and its role in assisting 112 nonprofits in Columbus to manage their outcomes connected to the city’s investment in the nonprofit ecosystem.
She shares valuable insights into using data to solve intricate social issues, measuring success, and making a tangible impact on the world. The discussion also uncovers how technology can be harnessed to assess social impact and the significance of comprehending the impact that social enterprises create to refine their programs and services.
To delve deeper into SureImpact and Measurement Resources, check out their websites at sureimpact.com and measurementresourcesco.com. Sheri also hosts enlightening monthly webinars, accessible on the SureImpact website’s resources page.
[00:00:11] Adam: Welcome to People Helping People, the podcast to inspire social entrepreneurs to build better social enterprises. I'm your host, Adam Morris, and I'm very excited today to explore a topic that so many social entrepreneurs struggle with. Which is how do I measure the impact that I'm making? So I'm very excited to have an expert in this field.
Sheri Chaney Jones has built two companies, Measurement Resources and Sure Impact, tackling this in different ways, and we are gonna dive into this and explore to its fullest. So Sheri, welcome on the podcast.
[00:00:42] Sheri: Thanks Adam. I am so excited to be here and talk about impact measurement for social enterprises.
[00:00:48] Adam: Yeah, this is great. Can we start off, can you tell us a little bit about Measurement Resources.
[00:00:52] Sheri: Yeah. Measurement Resources is a organizational development and research firm, but it's exclusively, designed to serve the needs of the social enterprises government and nonprofit ecosystem. So we help our clients use data to solve complex social problems and develop high performing organizations that deliver real, results for our community members.
[00:01:18] Adam: What's a good example of a project that you'd work on with Measurement Resources?
[00:01:22] Sheri: Yeah. Well there's tons of things that I love that we do, but one, something we did here in Central Ohio and Franklin County is we worked with, the Franklin County ADAMH board, which is the board that is responsible for distributing mental health funding for providers. So we worked with them to do a comprehensive needs assessment for what are the mental health services needs in Franklin County. So we surveyed a lot of community members over a thousand, uh, community members. We hosted a variety of focus groups analyzed a lot of public available data as well as surveyed mental health providers and assessed kind of what, what is the public stakeholder responds to the quality of the services offered in Franklin County, where the gaps in terms of what people need and what they have access to. What are the greatest mental health needs in our community, and how can the community come together and, uh, work together to build a more comprehensive, robust, successful ecosystems serve that.
So that's one real tangible kind of project that we do.
[00:02:24] Adam: I love that. And then, about five years ago you started a second company. Sure impact.
[00:02:30] Sheri: sure did.
[00:02:31] Adam: Because one isn't enough. So what's the difference? Like what does Sure Impact do and how does that fit alongside measurement resources?
[00:02:39] Sheri: So, essentially I was the first ideal Sure Impact customer. And what was happening is our firm, in addition to, I talked about a large, you know, needs assessment that we, uh, created for system. But another service line that Measurement Resources offers is helping social enterprises, nonprofit, government better tell their story through data.
So helping them quantify what they do, how well they do it, and how people and communities are better off. And we were developing these frameworks and you know, trying to help these organizations with very limited resources in terms of staff time that were doing really great work, but the work in, in the labor intensive nature to actually collect this data and then analyze it to better tell your story.
I'll be honest, Adam, it. It was cost prohibitive. So I understood why the social sector ecosystem was saying, nevermind, I don't wanna be data driven. This is a technology didn't exist to support them in their efforts to do this. And so I went researching cuz our customers were saying, Sheri, we love the insights, Measurement Resources providing us, what technology should we be using to have this at our fingertips?
And so short of. Basically me handing over our intellectual property and then some consultant paying that nonprofit or that social enterprise a really lot amount of money to build it. That was like really the only answer. So I thought, well, hmm, do I wanna build this myself?
[00:04:10] Adam: Do you have a background in technology?
[00:04:12] Sheri: I am a data scientist, so I guess I'm knowledgeable enough to be dangerous.
[00:04:18] Adam: I love it.
[00:04:20] Sheri: The first product I ever built was based in Microsoft Access. So that was the extent of my programming language.
[00:04:27] Adam: So what was it like building a technology company?
[00:04:30] Sheri: Well, I guess I'm still building it. I mean, we're five years in. We have a stable product in the market, but I've learned so much about, product design you know, how do you stand up a, a product team working with engineers, you know, developing requirements and then translating those requirements into code.
And, you know, I think measurement resources is a pretty successful, boutique consulting firm, but if everyone that worked in Measurement Resources chose to leave the company today, I have done every single job. I can do every single job. And so it's more comfortable that way, whereas building the software company, I have to rely on other people. So that just the, the like learning of, of trust and teamwork and collaboration. I mean, it's been a, a wonderful journey, uh, but definitely a huge learning curve.
[00:05:24] Adam: If we have time at the end, I'd love to explore that experience a little bit because I see a lot of social entrepreneurs starting and they're like, if I wanna build a tech solution And so hearing a little bit about figuring that out would be really cool story to share.
But before we get into that, I would love to just dive into this whole topic of social impact because I made a lot of budding social entrepreneurs, and the question is like, where do I even start?
[00:05:47] Sheri: Yeah, so we'd like to help any organization that's like, I wanna measure my social impact. There's a step we have to do before we even talk about data and measurement and numbers. And that is really look at what is that organization's theory of change. So that's where you start really.
It has nothing to do with measurement. It has nothing to do with data. It's about getting really, really clear on what your organization does and for what purpose and what problem, you know, it's, it's solving in the world. And what's strange is, and I know Adam you have some experience in the for-profit world as well, is that when we talk about it in a for-profit way, It's really no different.
It's just the outcomes are different. Right. Whereas when we're thinking about, uh, let's just, I like to use a for-profit example first because it's really linear and clean. And then I can translate that into the, the social sector, but, in a traditional for-profit model, you, obviously you have a, a need in the community and your business has the solution to that problem. And people then, in this model though, people pay money for you to solve that problem. And so if you solve that problem well, people are gonna buy from you again. They're gonna refer their clients to you, right? So, and then your revenues are gonna grow. And so now you have evidence of.
Success in high performance. So it's very linear. And so the metrics we use are pretty, it's easy, right? You can use revenue as a proxy for a good quality product that's solving that problem. It's not that simple, but I think for our cases we can say it's that simple. You following me?
[00:07:26] Adam: Yep.
[00:07:26] Sheri: Okay, great. So now let's, let's look at the complicatedness of a social sector.
So in that case, often the problem in the community that the social enterprise wants to solve for, it can't be solved for in a straight for-profit model because the beneficiaries of that service can't afford to pay for it. So we need to then look at other ways to gather revenue, right? So we either need, if we're a nonprofit model, we get grants, we get funding from other things.
Maybe our social enterprise is a traditional for-profit, but we're taking those revenues and then trying to solve another problem with our revenue. So already we're like subsidizing it, but it's not as easy because the people who are often paying for the social change are not the direct recipients of that program or service.
So we can't use straight revenue dollars because dollars into a social sector organization does not equal impact. And I know people don't love when I say that, but it's true.
[00:08:32] Adam: You can make a lot of money and make just a little
[00:08:35] Sheri: And make just a little impact. Like it doesn't just because you're raising money or like a lot of the great social enterprises that are selling goods and services and then they're using those proceeds for something better in the community.
But just because they're very successful at selling that goods and service does not mean that they're having impact with the dollars used in that social cause. We have to look at different metrics.
[00:09:00] Adam: There's so many different social impact models, right? So, you know, there, there's models where if you look at an employment model, for example, where part of your benefit is from providing those jobs.
[00:09:12] Sheri: Mm-hmm.
[00:09:13] Adam: And then even then, a lot of those dollars go back into support services for those employees or things like that.
And then there's like models that are more passed through where it's like a, an awareness model.
[00:09:26] Sheri: Yeah.
[00:09:26] Adam: So like the, the Roosevelt Coffee House for example, they're nonprofit coffee house and they're raising money, and those, profits are going towards clean water or to fight human trafficking.
[00:09:36] Sheri: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And so that's where we go back to that the Theory of change concept is for, and one of my really dear friends and mentors early on, who's a huge advocate in this space was Allen Proctor. And we had tons of conversations, back and forth around these conversations because, you know, he comes from a, a finance world and he, we'd have these conversations around like, there's a finite best practice measures in the accounting space, right?
And I'm like, I wish I could tell you here's 10 measures. And everybody in the social sector ecosystem measure these. And I did actually, we worked together and we came up with a social enterprise measurement framework that had 18 measures. However, each one of those 18, like let's take the increased awareness.
That was one of them. But you have to further define what is it you're increasing awareness in. But it's really having that social enterprise, especially if like they're a new one. And I think the best place to do this is when you're starting out, is to map out, okay, these are my inputs.
This is the service or the activity we're gonna do, and this is who we're doing it for. And these are the results that we expect to achieve in our community. So whether it's, you know, decreased hunger, poverty, or increased awareness, or, increased capacity, or, increased wages, whatever it is, define it first and then you can start to attach measures to it.
[00:11:02] Adam: And I suspect the motivation is different if it's a for-profit company or a nonprofit company, whereas like a nonprofit company generally has to gather certain metrics to show to where they're getting their grants from, that they're achieving what's outlined in the grants. How does that change for a for-profit social enterprise?
[00:11:20] Sheri: Mm-hmm. Well, it's about integrity for the for-profit social enterprise because they can claim that they're the social enterprise and not be, I mean, in the true technical fashion, not be,
[00:11:34] Adam: Yeah.
[00:11:35] Sheri: so if they really wanna differentiate themselves from , you know, I love Roosevelt, the coffee house down the street.
That's where impact measurement becomes so beneficial because if you have two coffee houses that are a for-profit model, if you don't have proof of your the true social impact that you're making, why would you be any different than the Starbucks down the corner?
[00:11:59] Adam: Yeah, and if you can't speak to it or, or share what you're working on or what your challenges are and I suspect there, there's two sides of that. Not just selling, Hey, here's the great stuff that we're doing, but also being transparent about where there's areas for improvement.
[00:12:14] Sheri: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, I'm a big believer when, especially when we start talking about measuring social impact, is that it is relative to the resources that you have. So if you are a small startup social enterprise and your social impact is small, like relative speaking. That's fine. So it's it, you know, and one of my big movements that I'm trying to push through across the sector is this new measurement called cost per success.
Because at the end of the day, it's a formula, it's a ratio, but it puts everyone on, somewhat of an equal playing field because if I can only, you know, benefit five people, I can talk about my cost per one outcome as much as someone who can serve thousands of people, right? It's, it's kind of gets us all on the same ecosystem.
So if like, for example, if the cost per success is to get one person stably housed is, I'm making a number up, but let's say it's $1,500, then I can, whether I'm, I need to sell $1,500 worth of cups of coffee to, to deliver that. Or if you're a nonprofit and you're trying to raise money from a foundation, you need $1,500.
[00:13:33] Adam: Yeah. Well, And I suspect too, like if you are tapping into some of the impact investment funds as a for-profit, that that really helps to be able to say, Hey, here's my cost per the impact that I'm making. And so people can see, hey, here's where dollars will increase that and scale with that.
[00:13:50] Sheri: If we really care about the changes we wanna see in the world, we have to have real and honest conversation that, it's gonna take investment. But let's invest in things that we know will produce results. Instead of us just trying to tell a great marketing story.
So I think really as a sector, we have to decide is it just about marketing or do we really mean it? Do we really wanna see , change in lives, and change in circumstances?
[00:14:19] Adam: Yeah. And so this is a great question, is like, well, sometimes there's very easy metrics to capture, right? So you mentioned, oh, okay. If I'm doing a housing project, I can say how much it costs for me to house somebody. If I'm employing somebody, I can say, here's how many people I employed. But quite often the, the social impact is less tangible, right?
So it might be, You know, mental health services, or peer mentoring where it's like, yes, we can say here's the number of hours or our amount of people we served, but to actually quantify the less tangible impact. How do you go about doing that?
[00:14:52] Sheri: Well, I, I think you ask yourself for any of those services let's say you put it in a for profit context, right? And let's say that the market really could bear, someone was gonna pay for peer support. What would keep that person from continuing, to repeat, right? Like what would be the retention metric or what would be the graduation?
Me, I guess maybe cuz I measure things for a living and I have been for 25 years. I think very few things are not measurable. They might have to be self-reflective or, or self-reported, but that's okay. Our Holiday Inn on the street, we'll send you a survey and use that metric to decide if it was successful in delivering quality to its clients.
[00:15:43] Adam: Got it. So being mindful to capture that data if it's not like a clear number. Do feedback surveys, with the people that you're serving and understand their experience or the growth.
[00:15:56] Sheri: yeah. What's their experience? I mean, there's a really great tool. If anyone's in the stability space, it's called the Arizona Self-Sufficiency Matrix. And it has a variety of domains that are kind of related to, to self-sufficiency in various areas, whether it's income, employment, healthcare disability, wellbeing, you know, you name family stability.
And it's a great kind of a one to five progression scale, uh, that can help you really understand like, have we helped someone move towards the path, of self sufficiency, if that is, you know, what the nonprofit is trying or social enterprise is trying to solve for.
[00:16:35] Adam: Now what about a very young social enterprise? So I've heard you say in the past, it's always great to start measuring your impact as soon as you can.
[00:16:41] Sheri: Yeah. Yes, it's, it's the best time to start, actually.
[00:16:45] Adam: And sometimes people are like, well, if I measure something now and then I change how I measure it later, is that gonna change things?
But. One of the questions I see coming out from, let's say a, a team coming from Sea Change
right? Where they, they're very new, they are just validating their idea. Maybe they've done a pilot with one or two people and they're trying to tell the story of like, here's the impact I'm gonna create, but they don't really have a way to measure that upfront. You mentioned coming to understand the core motivation for them. How would they flesh that out or really define that in a way that would lead to
[00:17:17] Sheri: Mm-hmm. Yeah. So there's a tool that we use and promote, and it's called, and it's comes out of the evaluation field, but it's called a logic model, and it's on a one sheet of paper. Very theoretical process at the beginning, and you just say, okay, what are my inputs? So you list all the things, your social enterprise, if you're new, either you have today or, or you would like to have at some point, then what do you do?
So what are your activities, services, you know, what's your, basically your business model? What do you do? But then the next thing is you need to say, okay, for those people, we do it for. What are those short and medium term outcomes that we believe, especially if you're brand new, right? You're not writing down what's true.
You're just writing 'em down. What you believe to be true, that if people participate in this, if they work in my restaurant and I'm employing Second Chance citizens, what am I doing for that population? What am I doing in immediate term and what am I doing in. It's like kind of a second tier, uh, medium outcome type thing.
So it's like a hypothesis, right? Put it, put it down on a piece of paper, and then once you have it on a piece of paper, it's a lot easier to say, well, how would I quantify that? How would I know if I really am helping, second chance citizens increase their income and stability? And then attach the metrics to that.
And so if you do have a pilot where you're only serving one or two people, maybe, you know, then you can maybe have a more qualitative interview with that person afterwards. But make that qualitative interview related to that theory of change you have or that hypothesis you've just created to see if indeed your services help that person in those ways.
You thought it did. And now you can see as you go to scale your services, you'll have, you can now put in a, repeatable process to help you measure over time.
[00:19:16] Adam: Well, thank you for that. So coming back to Sure Impact what's the vision for where you're growing.
[00:19:20] Sheri: Yeah. Well, so I am a visionary that's, I've leaned into that part of my personality and if I'm gonna do something as risky as Sure Impact, I'm gonna go big. So I would encourage any social enterprise who has a big vision, like, go, go big because the world needs you. They need your vision, they need the change you wanna see in the world. So just go big. And so my big vision is that as, QuickBooks, which is a software company for small business helps small business and probably medium sized business get a sense of their finance.
Sure Impact is the platform that is used across the ecosystem to help nonprofit social enterprises, foundations, government entities have visibility into the impact that we're making. Because our platform also has this really cool, seamless data share. And we're, we get to test this out in a huge way.
We've already tested it out in like the state of Ohio health improvement zones in the Seamer Institute, but this month, we're launching 112 nonprofits across the city of Columbus will be using Sure Impact to track outcomes related to the city of Columbus's, uh, investment into the, the nonprofit ecosystem in Columbus.
[00:20:42] Adam: Wow, 112 nonprofits. That is awesome.
[00:20:45] Sheri: Yes. 112. And when we look at this, we already have, partners on the platform that are reporting data to multiple funders. So think about how that's just such a game changer for the busy social enterprise or nonprofit that has multiple funders and they're spending so much time just in busy reporting requirements, but now they have a platform that just seamlessly shares data in a HIPAA protected way.
Might I add that shares this data. And it delivers them the insights they need to deliver better programs and services.
[00:21:24] Adam: I would imagine that would be a game changer for the city of Columbus just to understand, hey, here's the impact that's actually being made and maybe where some of the holes are or where we need to give some attention.
[00:21:34] Sheri: Mm-hmm. That's always our motivation is we want all people to use these insights for true intervention and program improvement. And you know, basically how can we be more innovative to deliver and drive greater impact? But we also under understand the reality that some people need to do it to justify funding.
[00:21:55] Adam: That makes sense. Reflecting on like the way that you went about starting Sure impact one thing that I, I really like is you didn't start off being like, I'm gonna build a technology platform to measure social impact.
[00:22:08] Sheri: No, I tried to, uh, resist that idea several times.
[00:22:13] Adam: That's good. Well, you know, and I've seen this with Jerry Valentine from Rentor Mentor. When he, when he started, he, he wanted to build a technology company and it was like, well, I'm not gonna start with a technology. I'm gonna start by connecting with the landlords and the tenants and build the, those relationships and, and programs around that.
And you as well, you started with Measurement Resources. So you had a lot of this experience actually working with the people who would use the tool.
[00:22:36] Sheri: Yeah.
[00:22:36] Adam: Do you find that as like a much better way of starting a technology company?
[00:22:41] Sheri: I, well, I do. I'm a little biased because that's the path I chose, but even, you know, I did something somewhat similar when I started Measurement Resources, and it's what I recommend all entrepreneurs do, and that is even before I left the state of, I was with the state of Ohio before I started Measurement Resources is I did an unfunded market research study where I surveyed 200 nonprofits.
To understand what data they had, how were they using it, what the results they were using. So it was that data that basically gave me the one, the confidence, there's a need for what I wanna bring to market, but it helped me understand my market better. It helped me understand what services may be desired and which ones wouldn't.
And we did the same thing when starting Sure Impact is we said, okay. I think there's a need here, but let's test our theory. So we did another similar study and found out that 55% of our ideal customers said that if Sure Impact was in the world, they would buy it. So that, I mean, it was, it kind of, yes.
Is it, is it risky to start a software platform? Absolutely. But when you have that type of data and experience and knowledge, it makes it a lot less risky.
[00:23:51] Adam: So moral the story whenever you're starting. Go and get feedback from your potential customers before you even dive in. Uh, It's starting to build.
[00:23:59] Sheri: absolutely.
[00:24:00] Adam: So, and let's see. You started Measurement Resources 10 years ago. Longer.
[00:24:06] Sheri: no. For 14,
[00:24:09] Adam: Wow. 14 years ago.
Neat man. Time flies.
[00:24:12] Sheri: I started in 2008 and then left the state of Ohio full-time, uh, in 2010. So it'll be 13 years I've been fully self-employed.
[00:24:22] Adam: How has that journey changed you?
[00:24:24] Sheri: Oh, goodness. Well, I'm definitely unemployable at this point maybe not, but. I don't know.
Risk to me is I just have lived outside the comfort zone for so many years now that I love it. But it's been definitely many, many years just saying yes to the right next thing and trust and having trust and faith that it's all gonna work out and. You know, I joke about being unemployable, but it, at the end of the day, if it all fell apart, I'm sure I could go get a job.
[00:24:57] Adam: Very quickly too. I'm sure there'd be people knocking on your door. So bringing it back. Hey, you touched on your experience. So if people want to get in touch with Measurement Resources or Sure Impact how do they best find you?
[00:25:10] Sheri: Yeah. Well, there's three ways if you're interested in just. Having connection to me. The best way to find me is on LinkedIn. I'm pretty active on LinkedIn. I love to connect with other social entrepreneurs, so feel free to find me at Sheri Chaney Jones on LinkedIn. If you wanna learn more about Measurement Resources Company, you can find us at measurementresourcesco.com.
And if you wanna learn more about Sure Impact, you can find us at sureimpact.com.
[00:25:38] Adam: Fantastic. And what are the ideal clients for? For each of those?
[00:25:42] Sheri: Yeah, so, the consulting company, so Measurement Resources, much greater kind of, use case cuz it's consulting. So we work from anywhere as the startup, uh, social enterprise, all the way to the federal government.
So if you are an organization and you have a desire to have someone help you use data to solve complex social problems, We can be your first call. You know, Sure Impact is for the organization who is ready to start tracking what they're doing, how well they're doing, and how people are better off. So if you're kind of in a stage where you're still exploring, what does that mean to you?
What should I be measuring? You probably should call Measurement Resources Company first, but if you're at a place where you're tired of managing Google or Excel spreadsheets to, to find this data, Then Sure Impact might be your next step.
[00:26:33] Adam: Wonderful. And then do you have any events or any, uh, anything coming up this year that people should be aware of?
[00:26:39] Sheri: With Sure impact.com, we host at least monthly webinars, free webinars, and we cover everything. We cover things from, nonprofit leadership to how to measure success. So I would highly recommend you go to sureimpact.com, look at our resources page cuz we've always got a webinar coming up and we have tons of on demand webinars, uh, where you can just go down and find them.
It's also why you should follow me on LinkedIn, I have a goal this year to speak a hundred times, so there is a good chance. That I am speaking somewhere either on the internet or near you soon.
[00:27:14] Adam: Wow. A hundred times. That's like once every three days.
[00:27:17] Sheri: It is, uh, yeah, like I've got Thursday I'm going to speak at Summit County to their whole behavioral health system. And then I'm speaking four or five times in June. It's quite fun.
[00:27:29] Adam: That's brilliant. I love it. Awesome. Well we covered a a lot today. I really loved , just one sharing about what measurement Resources and Sure Impact do, but actually diving into that whole story of like, hey, how do we measure impact and, and why and how can some social entrepreneurs who are just starting actually approach this which is great.
[00:27:48] Sheri: Yeah. Well, thanks for letting me tell the story.
[00:27:50] Adam: I love that. Cool. Well, thank you so much for joining me today
[00:27:53] Sheri: Thanks Adam and sounds like ,you're taking the risk. It sounds exciting.