Posts from the ‘Business for Good’ Category

Taking Stock: Turning Inward on Your Racial Justice Journey

Shannon Johnson / September 2020

(This is part 5 in our racial justice essay series. Read more in our other posts: introduction, taking a systems view, getting proximate, defining goals.)

 

The Blue Garnet team is encouraged that a large number of people and organizations have been sparked into action in response to the current racial justice movement. We’ve seen numerous organizations publish “diversity and inclusion” statements, or share their  ideas on how to make their organization more equitable.  We think this is a great first step – in fact, our last blog focused on developing a long-term vision for racial justice.

Yes – we are encouraged, but we are also cautiously optimistic. We don’t want this racial justice movement to mirror what happened last year with the Business Roundtable’s “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation.” When 187 CEOs of major public corporations promised to “deliver value” to all STAKEholders, not just shareholders, it was considered a major milestone in corporate social responsibility (also noted in another BG blog). However, just one year later, the statement has been called a scam and “should be viewed largely as a PR [public relations] move rather than as the harbinger of a major change.”    

Please don’t let that happen here – this moment is too important. We need to hold ourselves accountable to doing better for racial justice. It’s time to transition from PR statements to action, and every journey starts with a single step. In our experience, your first step should be to “take stock.” In order to set achievable, realistic goals for racial equity at your organization (e.g. determine where you want to go) – first turn inward to really understand where you are today.

Below are 5 questions (with accompanying recommendations) to help you “take stock”:

  1. How has systemic racism impacted your organization?
  2. Who are you hiring, and how are you orienting and developing them to support a culture of racial equity?
  3. [For philanthropies] Who are you funding, and are you investing in organizations led by people most proximate to the challenges of their communities?
  4. How are you resourcing your efforts to center racial equity?
  5. How will you manage this organizational transformation to center racial equity?

Q1: How has systemic racism impacted your organization?

Even if your organization’s mission does not explicitly tackle racial justice, look at your mission, programs, and history through a “racial justice lens.” Ask yourself – how has systemic racism played a part in our history? How has it impacted our constituents? Staff? Leaders? Who has benefitted and how? Involve your Board and staff, and acknowledge that searching for this truth is going to get uncomfortable.  Once you’ve acknowledged this history and context, you can start to figure out what to do about it.

A good example is The National Park Conservation Association. Last year, it published its Statement of Intentions which included: “We also know our visionary founders marginalized certain people. We were not always on the right side of justice; we helped pioneer the concept of public lands but excluded important voices in the creation of national parks and our organization. And many of our national parks and public lands were created by forcibly removing those who called them home. That history cannot be unlived, but facing these difficult truths allow us to do our best work going forward.” Let’s be honest about our history, then commit to changing the path of our future.

Q2: Who are you hiring, and how are you orienting and developing them to support a culture of racial equity?

Who is more equipped to fight for racial justice than those who have experienced the trauma of systemic racism firsthand? Moreover, there is a multitude of studies showing the benefits of workforce diversity, including increased innovation and financial gains. Having a diverse workforce (or at least adopting policies to work towards increasing diversity) is also a tangible symbol of your authentic commitment to centering racial justice.

One way to get real data and hold yourself accountable to equitable hiring practices (and funding practices, too!) is to conduct a “Diversity Audit”. There are many tools in development, including from Social Justice Fund North West. In any case, the best ones give tangible metrics around your “baseline” diversity level, where you are today.

In addition to hiring a diverse workforce, you need to think about retaining them. Will your culture and norms allow Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) staff to bring their authentic selves to work, or will they be required to adapt to a white-dominant culture, or serve as the token voice for their entire community? Do your salary and promotion policies ensure equity across marginalized populations? In answering these questions, check your retention numbers. Without realizing it, you may be struggling to retain diverse talent with valuable perspectives and ideas that you worked so hard to bring in.

We know that collecting sensitive information like this is not easy. It may help to keep the data anonymous, share only consolidated totals, and communicate that the purpose is to promote racial justice.  Or you can hire a third party like Blue Garnet to help collect and draw insights from this information for you.

Once you know the “baseline,” set diversity targets for where you want your organization to be in the future. Then make an action plan for how to get there, and hold yourself accountable to results.

Q3: For philanthropies, who are you funding, and are you investing in organizations led by people most proximate to the challenges of their communities?

“Fund us like you want us to win” was a rallying cry to philanthropies from South Los Angeles community leader Gloria Walton, at a Southern California Grantmakers conversation we attended back in June.  This quote really hit home for us. While the social sector may be well-intentioned, philanthropic redlining exists. A recent Bridgespan report found that organizations led by people of color win less grant money than those with white leaders. And budgets for white-led organizations were 24% higher than those led by people of color. We want to lift up Ms. Walton’s rallying cry to every philanthropic ear. It’s time to do the work – to transition your DEI statements to grantmaking decisions.

Start by taking inventory of your past grants. What does board and executive leadership look like at the organizations you fund? How does that compare with the communities the grantees serve? And how do you make it easier (or harder) for organizations led by community leaders to access and ensure your partnership? This simple step can help open eyes to implicit biases that exist in your organization’s grantmaking.

Similar to Q2 above – once you know your funding diversity “baseline” – review and adapt your policies, set future diversity goals, and develop an action plan to achieve them.

Q4: How are you resourcing your efforts to center racial equity?

As we all know, transforming your organization to center racial justice takes significant time and resources. If you are making a genuine commitment, you need to allocate appropriate staff capacity and budget to support the process of transformation. Think of your budget as a “moral document,” as it illuminates your organization’s true priorities. Take a look at yours and consider if you’re “putting your money where your mouth is:”

  • Do you have funds for emergent, equity-focused strategies (e.g. programmatic changes, advocacy)?
  • Where are the funds for on-going equity training for staff, leaders, and Board members?
  • Take a deeper look at your compensation across gender, race/ethnicity, age, and other social justice characteristics. If you find implicit bias in your compensation practices – do the work to make it right.
  • Do you have funds to hire people or consultants to help inform and execute this transformation? Most organizations are stretched thin already. Simply adding these responsibilities to someone’s already full plate will reduce the likelihood of achieving your results.

Question 5: How will you manage this organizational transformation to center racial equity?

For most organizations, centering racial justice is a significant, foundational change that will require thoughtful, strategic change management. Every organization will encounter resistance and roadblocks, because change is hard. Each individual transitions at their own pace, “letting go” of the way things used to be. Kotter’s 8-step process (see visual) is a helpful framework to execute transformation. Additionally, working to create shared leadership and an inclusive culture will provide a stable foundation to see this change through.

We know that “taking stock” is just the first step in a long journey to center racial justice. Blue Garnet is on the same journey. Though we may have started our journey earlier, we’re still learning, too. What steps have you taken (or want to take)?  Let us know if you need a strategic thought partner to take steps towards racial justice and to manage this change at your organization.

For more on racial justice from Blue Garnet, check out our other essays in this series: 1, 2, 3, 4.

What BG has to say about racial justice

Way-Ting Chen // July 2020

(This is part 1 in our racial justice essay series. Read more in our other posts: taking a systems view, defining goals, getting proximate, taking stock)

Welcome to the racial justice conversation.

Jenni and I launched Blue Garnet back in 2002, with a strong nod to our shared experience at a place steeped in the Quaker tradition of social justice and responsibility, and deep gratitude for the strong shoulders of brave mentors, who challenged the status quo to carve the path on which we now walk.

Over the years, we have been privileged to work with leaders and organizations that strive to achieve more just and equitable results for those they serve. For us, this has always meant supporting our client and ecosystem partners to take the long-view, while finding creative, data-informed solutions to a range of seemingly intractable challenges. We firmly believe that progress along the inevitable arc of justice requires a commitment to diversity in process and participation, equity in outcomes that matter, and clarity that these can only be achieved in an inclusive way.

We are proud to have spent nearly 20 years in the trenches of the movement toward lasting social change. We have integrated social determinants of health into the evaluation framework of a healthcare funder, helped a public agency understand how low-income housing residents value access to universal land lines, benchmarked outcomes for educational programs in a community with high-levels of poverty, defined the tipping point required to create a sustainable urban tree canopy, etc. (Can you tell we thrive on the variety of this work?)

Today, we as a society are witnessing flashpoints around underlying issues that have always been around. Of course, the pandemic has shown that our connectedness as humans makes us all vulnerable. However, while the virus is a great leveler, it has not been a great equalizer. We see the disproportionate impact on people of color and the financially poor. On top of this, the video of George Floyd’s murder forced us to confront and awaken our hearts to the systemic racism, and resulting injustice, that have always existed. We, as a society, are now primed to take the movement to another level – to make a lasting difference.

At Blue Garnet, we know the journey is paramount. As trusted advisors to our clients, and collaborative learners ourselves, we have been and are making space to process, learn, and engage on the topic of racial equity and justice. From my perspective, distilling all our reactions, thoughts, and ideas down to one simple statement risks “dumbing down” this deep topic. That’s why, instead of “issuing a statement,” I am excited to introduce a series of essays from members of the Blue Garnet team. We want to share in a way that honors the complexity and diversity of viewpoints on events in our current time, and set them in context of systemic challenges.

In the coming weeks, please look for these essays that reflect our team’s current thinking on racial justice. There’s a lot of ground to cover. We’ll:

  • Delineate terms that have entered the mainstream discourse, from our perspective
  • Highlight partners working in the cracks in our system long before the pandemic and protests
  • Share how we’re taking action as a team
  • Bring stories of hope, showing that real social change is possible in our time
  • And, through it all, keep our focus on solutions to root causes and how to make them real.

We hope you’ll find the time to sink into ideas and resources that we share, and hold them in your thoughts as you and your organization navigate through this multidimensional movement. And, this is more valuable as a dialogue, not a monologue. So, please reach out to me at way-ting@bluegarnet.net, and let us know how this series is landing with you, and how we can work together to advance the cause of racial justice.

Making business work for everyone and for the long haul

by Way-Ting Chen

It’s taken me a while to put my thoughts together about the BCorps Champions Retreat, which took place in Los Angeles in mid-September. My teammate Sofia and I have mulled over ideas and opportunities from the Retreat, and even started to carry forward some of them. Now, I’m finally ready to sit down and share some reflections.

I think the experience of attending a global gathering in your hometown lends an interesting perspective. In straddling the “getaway” with the “day-to-day,” I stepped in and out of the energy and momentum of the event. Each day, I had the chance to be attentively present during the BCorps discussions, AND then step back during my commute and consider new learnings from Blue Garnet’s cross-sector perspective.

With this, I think my biggest reflection is that it feels like this community is at the cusp of something. That the sectors (business, philanthropy, social impact) are blending in ways that accelerate positive change like never before. As a committed, “Best for the World1” BCorp, Blue Garnet is proud to be part of this global movement and excited about the direction the business sector is heading. And here’s why:

  • Valuing strength in diversity. It’s funny—while we literally depend on others to complement our abilities in just about every aspect of our lives (e.g., food, transportation, education, sports, government), we somehow need to be convinced that having varying perspectives at the table produces better outcomes. Props to B Lab (the nonprofit behind the B movement) for very consciously putting on an event that models what diversity and inclusion could look like in a global community. Almost all of the people on stage were people of color and/or non-North Americans. There were breakouts for people of color to enable conversation that did not include the majority, and a session on how to be a white ally. We’ve been having lots of conversations like these in our nonprofit and philanthropic work, and it’s exciting to see B Lab taking on the mantle of driving this for our B Community.
  • Focusing commitment to our collective “So What?” B Lab is leading and has invited BCorps to declare goals aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). It is critically important to our planet and to our collective future that we commit and hold ourselves accountable to defined impact. Blue Garnet works with individual organizations to develop Evaluation & Learning Frameworks to measure their impact over time and build accountability. But the SDG framework brings tracking outcomes to a global, collective level. We are excited to join this global SDG movement (one of the only things the world has agreed upon in the last few years is these Sustainable Development Goals, so let’s work toward them together!) In aligning with the SDGs, businesses can work together with government and nonprofit sectors to move the needle on the most pressing societal and environmental issues of our time.
  • A modernized standard for corporate responsibility is emerging. There are now more than 3,000 certified B Corporations in 50 countries. B Lab is also seeding this movement in economies all over the world. In August, the Business Roundtable (comprised of CEOs of leading US companies) announced a new Statement of Purpose of a Corporation that moves away from shareholder primacy and toward commitment to all stakeholders– customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders. Wow. Clear evidence that the principles of the movement are gaining traction beyond our BCorp community!

Are you as excited about this as we are? Join us— and add to the energy that is (we hope) permanently shifting our economy that works for everyone, and for the long haul. Here are just a few ways to do so:

  • Get smart: If you’re just hearing about the B movement, B Certification, or SDGs for the first time, we encourage you to learn more
  • Vote Every Day: Make decisions every day that reflect what you care about, including buying from and doing business with BCorps (look for this logo!)
  • Look out for the 2020 BCorp Champions Retreat in Mexico! They have opened up the conference to a broader “business for good” audience, so consider attending if you’re leading a social-purpose business and considering applying for BCorp certification or getting more involved in the movement.

As the motto of the Vote Every Day campaign goes, “Let’s get to work!”

 


1) Note: For those of you not as familiar, the BCorps Champions Retreat is annual gathering of certified BCorps from across the world. BCorps are purpose-driven businesses that commit to balancing profit, people, and planet, and undergo a rigorous process of certification by the nonprofit B Lab. I’m proud to say that Blue Garnet has been a certified BCorp since 2014, and a “Best for the World” honoree 6 years in a row! That means we scored in the top 10% of BCorps worldwide in the annual Impact Assessment. This year, we were Best for the World in 3 categories: Overall, Customers, and Changemakers. Click here to see our scores!

A brief moment for reflection and encouragement

By Way-Ting Chen

My 25th year college reunion was a couple of weeks ago (those of you who know the Blue Garnet founding story know my business partner Jenni Shen also hails from Swarthmore, and she was lucky to attend the reunion). I was disappointed to have missed it, and all the fun and nostalgia that comes with seeing people for the first time in decades, and (re)discovering who they have become in the meantime.

That said, while I missed the in-person fun, I caught some glimpses of the reunion virtually. One post by an onsite classmate included a comment made by the president of Swarthmore College, Valerie Smith (see right). And it gave me pause.

This call to action challenges us to turn inward and examine our own mindset, assumptions, biases and behaviors, even as we collaborate with others to make the world a better place.

Reading this filled me with pride at being part of an institution that would invoke this challenge. More importantly, it relates to an important point of view that Jenni and I intentionally built into our work at Blue Garnet:  No one goes at it alone. It’s the team’s blend of individual strengths that makes us powerful.

The work of social change asks a lot of each of us. And no matter how hard we may try, we alone are not the answer. It takes longer and more energy to do the internal homework that makes each of us comfortable with complexity and ambiguity, in order to effectively join forces with others in pursuit of social change. Yet, this is what we need to do – individually, as a team, and in collaboration with our community.

The process of effective systems change and business model transformations must be inclusive and can be trying. For me, when I am “stuck” in the struggle with no obvious way out, these words remind me that the conditions are ripe for creativity and, potentially, a new path forward:

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do,

we have come to our real work

And when we no longer know which way to go,

We have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

~ Wendell Barry

This summer let’s make time for internal reflection and external aspiration, so we can break through the struggle, and in community with our partners, all be the better for it.

 


Want more content like this directly to your inbox? Sign up for our newsletter here!

Social inspiration from an unlikely space – the corporate world

While Blue Garnet is known mostly for its work in with nonprofits and philanthropies, we also proudly work with socially-minded corporate clients. Our corporate clients wrestle with many of the same questions as our nonprofit and foundation clients, such as impact articulation and measurement. However, they do have a unique challenge: clarifying their purpose. Corporate citizenship (or CSR or community development) departments that began as legal compliance or “charity work” purely for marketing purpose purposes are evolving. A new wave of leaders has “found a seat at the table” and they have a genuine commitment to sustainable social change and are armed with innovative, inspiring ideas.

An article called, “Five Social Impact Trends that Inspire Us,” outlines five of those inspiring ideas. Spoiler alert: the articles highlights and describes the trends of increased transparency, workplace volunteerism, corporate leaders taking a stand on polarizing issues, correlation between purpose and profit, and impact measurement. While it’s a great starting point – I wanted to push the list further and add my two cents. My reflections come from an extensive corporate citizenship benchmarking effort among leading corporate citizenship companies I recently led at Blue Garnet. So, without further ado – here are a few additional trends that I think are not only inspiring, but critical to truly maximize the impact of a corporate citizenship.

  • Increased engagement: As the article mentions, corporations are more frequently taking a stance on polarizing issues – everything from climate change to LGBTQ rights and immigration. In fact – many corporations seemed to have developed a public persona. But whose views is the corporation expressing? I believe it’s a combination of key leaders, staff, and its community. In order for an organization to accurately express the beliefs of and truly engage with its staff and community, many leading corporate citizens have learned the value of listening. In order to not only align your corporate views to your key stakeholders’, but also improve the well-being of your employees and community – you need to ask them – directly, genuinely, and regularly. I heard some great examples, including robust “listening tours,” community and employee surveys, and a community taskforce to inform corporate priorities.
  • Empowered employees: In line with the article’s trend of increased transparency and “bringing your true self to work,” leading corporate citizens are handing over (some of the) reigns. They are empowering employees to direct corporate resources. The most common way employees are given a “voice” is through workplace giving campaign donations matches. Additionally, more companies are letting employees decide the nonprofit beneficiaries of corporate volunteer events. And to save the best for last – a few leading companies let a panel of employees determine its community grant beneficiaries.
  • Increased focus: Sophisticated citizenship programs have moved beyond the “confetti” or “spray and pray” approach where lots of small grants/gifts are provided to many different organizations. These grants are nice – but lack the power to truly make a difference. This approach is typical when a company’s primary citizenship objective is marketing-focused (e.g. building a company’s reputation). However, if a corporation truly wants to fund sustainable social change and develop a brand known for doing good, it needs to focus its giving priorities and provide fewer, larger grants to long-term grantee partners. Additionally – particularly in technology – leading companies align corporate giving objectives and priorities with corporate and employee expertise. A couple of real-life examples are a utility company that prioritizes STEM education or a technology company that provides grants to organizations that use technology to combat society’s biggest challenges. The benefits of a focused, strategic giving strategy are two-fold: employees are more easily engaged when they understand and connect to your citizenship efforts (which is easier to do when the objectives are aligned to their expertise) and it provides a great opportunity for skills-based volunteering (e.g. an engineer for a utility company mentoring a student at the local school’s corporate-sponsored robotics lab).
  • Becoming certified: B-Corporations take the commitment to be a good corporate citizenship to the next level! B Corps are purpose-driven and creates benefit for all STAKEholders – not just SHAREholders. The goal: redefine success in business. B-Corps are certified to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. While a relatively new type of company, there are already a lot of them – more than 2,100 from 50 countries and over 130 industries. You many have heard of a few of them: Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s and (yours truly) Blue Garnet! (click here for more information about B-Corps)

I hope you are inspired as I am. What you would add to the list?

Nonprofit leaders are getting help from an unlikely place – robots!

by: Leah Haynesworth

Robots are here and they are transforming how we solve complex problems, including those in the social sector. At the University of Southern California (USC) Viterbi School of Engineering’s Robotics Open House this past spring, we caught up with some budding changemakers whose robots are helping to create positive social change.

Changemaker #1: Jens Windau, a Ph.D student, Jens Windaufounded AIO Robotics. His company prints 3D hands and wrists in Los Angeles. Typically, prosthetics take approximately four to six weeks to be delivered and cost over $5,000. These 3D-printed prosthetics, however, can be printed in 24 hours and cost $20, significantly reducing the wait time and cost of prosthetics.

Jens has used his work to create a better Southern California by donating 3D-printed prosthetic hands and wrists to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA). In the future, he said, 3-D printed prosthetics could expand to include other body parts, like feet.

Changemaker #2: Rorry Brenner has developed a vision-based system that allows robots to guide blind people through the grocery store. In his study, Rorry blindfolded 45 participants to see if they could find a box of Lucky Charms with this system. He witnessed 100% accuracy and is now trying to incorporate a high-definition camera into the system to increase speed.

Robotics has already started to combat pressing social issues, even though it is not necessarily the most obvious complement to social change. “There are problems that people don’t even consider tech being able to solve,” Rorry said.

Can robots help you? Where to start:

Curious to know if robots are in your future? Brenner recommends carefully examining artificial intelligence (AI) as a tool when looking to solve social problems. In order to capitalize on, or at least recognize, how robots can help affect change, those of us in the social sector should:

  1. Stay aware of the advancements in robotics and artificial intelligence
  2. Realize that there will be an increasing number of partnerships that can be created between the social sector and the field of robotics
  3. Start to understand what we do not understand; robots do not have to be seen as scary

To get you started, we wanted to share three resources that we have found about the cross-section between robotics and the social sector:

  1. Information about e-NABLE, a Google-sponsored community that prints 3D hands
  2. A story about how Jens and CHLA are using prosthetics to help children thrive
  3. Background on OpenAI, a recently created non-profit AI research company associated with Elon Musk whose objective is to advance open-source-friendly AI in a way that benefits humanity

We’re “geeking out” (and hope you are now, too!) about how robotics will impact the social sector in the future. Do you currently use robots in your social change work? Let us know how by commenting below.

The Top 10 Ways to Do Good with Data

by: Leah Haynesworth and Sithu Thein Swe

The Top 10 Ways to Do Good with Data

Data Scientists: The Unlikely Storytellers

As a team of social impact geeks, we love hearing about new, effective ways to create social change. Consequently, we recently sent two of our team members, Sithu and Leah, to the Do Good Data Conference in Chicago. The Conference, which took place from April 28-29, 2016, brought together over 800 individuals to learn about the present and future of data usage in the social sector. The conference sessions encompassed a wide range of topics, from “Pay for Success: Funding programs that measurably change lives” to “Unlocking the ‘So What?’: Better Data to Advance the Social Mission of the Arts” to “Dashboards and Databases: How Google Can Help.”

After taking time to digest all of their learnings, here are Sithu and Leah’s top 10 takeaways from the conference:

  1. Share learnings from your work – both positive and negative – to support the social sector’s development.
  • The next steps for foundations are managing information as well as producing and sharing knowledge, according to Bradford Smith, President of the Foundation Center. While there are great resources for the social sector, such as IssueLab, foundations should discuss their learnings with their grantees and peers.
  1. Move beyond Excel.
  • Excel is an oft-used tool in organizations’ analytical toolkits. However, there are other solid options to collect, store, report, and analyze data, including Tableau, R, and Python.
  1. Much of project feasibility is the ability to evaluate the project.
  • When launching a pay for success program, some key elements to consider are: outcome, populations, the organization’s quarter by quarter expenses for the next six to seven years, and accessing data for evaluation. Key term: “evaluability.”
  1. Use data to drive narratives.
  • Understanding and clearly communicating data are crucial in creating impact. “Your next role in life as a data scientist is a data storyteller.” – Steve MacLaughlin, Director, Analytics, Blackbaud
  1. Data is only useful if it is relevant.
  • “Data analytics and visualization are great and much needed, but if your data are bad or incomplete, or your outcomes are inappropriate, then all you have are pretty graphs.” – Fluxx
  1. Data is not a panacea.
  1. Start with the ends in mind.
  • When using data, it is critical to clarify the problems on which to focus, determine the right questions to ask, and understand the aim in using the data. Otherwise, it’s far too easy to become overwhelmed by the data.
  1. Create mindshifts in how your organization talks about data and its purpose.
  • Creating a data-driven culture isn’t easy, but Erika Van Buren, Director of Learning & Evaluation at First Place for Youth, takes a great approach. She works with team members almost like clients by supporting them from the initial program development phase and collaborating with them throughout the process.
  1. Are you ready and willing to make the tough decisions needed to be a data-driven, impact-oriented organization?
  • During the conference’s first keynote session, a leader from a prominent foundation said: “In 20 years, I’ve never seen data change anything. It takes courageous leaders to make the changes.”
  1. “Data science is easy; the ethics of prediction is hard.” – Tom Schenk, Chief Data Officer, City of Chicago
  • As Stephen Goldsmith, Professor of Practice at Harvard Kennedy School, mentioned, there are soft biases in all of our decisions. With data algorithms, however, we can make the biases explicit, transparent, and open for public feedback and iteration.

The conference sessions revealed the vast implications for data use in the social sector. Judging by the continual growth of the conference, the social sector as a whole is aware of the importance of data. What does this mean for your organization? How do you use data to inform your work and further your impact?

Does your (legal) form follow function?

by: Way-Ting Chen (with Giselle Timmerman and Taylor Chamberlin)

Deciding on the right legal structure for your social purpose organization or social enterprise can be a taxing process (pun intended), with many trade-offs to consider. Figuring out the differences between a Low-Profit LLC, Social Purpose Corporation, Benefit LLC, or traditional exempt organization is difficult enough to untangle, much less being certain of making the right choice for what your organization needs.

When considering legal structure decisions, start with the end in mind

Before deciding on a legal structure, consider your ultimate “ends”: your impact.

We’d like to help make this decision a little less tangled and a little better informed for you, and the first step is to answer the question, “legal structure for what?” Remember that in the world of social impact, your legal structure is just another means to achieving your ultimate ends: your impact. Simply put, your “ends” is your long-term organizational strategy, or intended ultimate impact. With the end in mind, you will have clarity about which legal status will help you to achieve your intended impact.

Let’s look at two client examples to put this approach into practice.

A supportive housing organization and a start-up apparel company both want to increase their financial sustainability while also growing their services. The supportive housing organization (let’s call it “Safe Haven”) is presented with the opportunity to develop a real-estate property adjacent to its building. The apparel company (we’ll call it “Sustainawrap”) is presented with the opportunity to create and sell products. How does each organization move forward with assessing the merits of these opportunities and their legal implications?

Safe Haven weighed the pros and cons of leasing market rate rental units or providing permanent supportive housing for homeless individuals. Their discussions landed on a critical question: Real-estate property for what end? They needed to define their intended ultimate impact in order to get clear and unified on what purpose the real estate property needed to serve. Ultimately, they realized they did not need a “cash cow” to generate unrestricted cash flow, so they committed to using this real estate for permanent supportive housing (using a hybrid legal model to minimize legal liability) to directly further their mission.

Safe Haven’s impact statement provided strategic direction: By 2023, North County homeless population will be reduced by 50%.

Sustainawrap weighed the pros and cons of launching a social enterprise to sell baby products. They struggled at first with defining how the social enterprise would contribute to their overall organizational strategy. After agreeing that their “ends” must be women’s self-sufficiency, they used their impact statement to help filter and guide decision-making.

Sustainawrap impact statement: By 2025, 100 homeless women living below the poverty line in LA County will be on the path to financial self-sufficiency. The means to their ends became creating jobs and selling unique baby products, so that impoverished women were employed. With this strategic goal in mind, business planning for their social enterprise was much easier, and they decided that a for-profit legal structure provided the simplicity and flexibility needed to achieve their ends. 

Organizations with similar mission statements may have very different impact statements. But, with clarity on their long-term strategic direction, the legal structure decision (along with many other critical choices) becomes simpler.

Finally, the expectations and perceptions we have of various legal structures is evolving. Based on the most recent Edelman trust barometer report, a full 80% of people agree that business must play a role in addressing societal issues.

"Scrooge McDuck"

A “for-profit” legal structure doesn’t make you a Scrooge McDuck

A for-profit structure doesn’t make you a Scrooge McDuck, just as a nonprofit status doesn’t put a halo over your head.  So, setting aside any expectations or stereotypes, make the hard decisions to figure out your intended impact and strategy, then make the legal structure decision that follows.

Click here for our briefing on what an impact thinking mindset is, and here for how you can become a better ‘impact do-er’. For further help with your social enterprise’s legal structure, check out Sustainable Law Group, and the webinar series we presented together with the Society for Nonprofits.

What do you get when you mix international development, problem solving, and a love of dance?

Blue Garnet is proud to introduce our newest pragmatic idealist, Leah Haynesworth! Leah is joining us as an Analyst, which means she’ll be rolling up her sleeves on the research and analysis that fuels our client work and on building our firm culture. Giselle Timmerman, a BG team member for almost nine years, sat down recently to welcome Leah and help you all get to know her. Here are some highlights from their conversation…

Giselle: Let’s start with your “why” – Why did you choose Blue Garnet?

Leah: For two reasons. One: I love solving complex problems and I’m very analytical, which draws me to consulting. Two: I’m passionate about social impact – I’ve worked in international development in both Uganda and New York and interned in corporate social responsibility (CSR) at NBCUniversal and The Walt Disney Company. So I feel that Blue Garnet offers me the perfect opportunity to apply my skills and experiences to help organizations better achieve social impact.

Giselle: Perfect combo indeed! What kinds of projects are you hoping to dig into?

Leah: Well, I’ve just started working with one of our corporate clients on Board leadership, so I’m eager to expand what I know about CSR. Blue Garnet also works with quite a few arts organizatinos, and I am also a trained ballet, modern, and jazz dancer, so it would be great to work with them. And I really am analytical by nature; it’s my default state. So I’m excited to apply that strength.

Giselle: The BG team takes developing our strengths seriously and we help clients do the same. You’ve taken a few strengths assessment surveys—apart from being analytical, what other strengths do you frequently rely on?

Leah: I loved taking these strength assessments and found them really interesting. Perseverance is one of my top strengths and I definitely am very goal-oriented. When I get involved in something, I have every intention of completing it.

It was a bit surprising to see that humor was my top VIA strength. I definitely like to be goofy and I tend to get along with different types of people, but it’s not always something I share right away. Fairness and judgment are also big ones for me. When I initially meet someone, I usually give them the benefit of the doubt.

Giselle: Where do you think your fairness comes from? Does your upbringing play a part?

Leah: I hadn’t really thought about it, but yes! My siblings are twins, so I had a front-row seat to an emphasis on sharing and fairness. 

Giselle: I’m curious to know more about your experience in Uganda. What was that like?

Leah: It’s a difficult experience to put into words. I really loved learning about international development in the field. And I learned something everyday, personal or professional—ranging from how to communicate in Luganda, the local language, to the sensitive issues surrounding working with commercial sex workers.

Giselle: So how did you shift from being an English major at Princeton University to being passionate about social impact?

Leah: While in undergrad, I studied in South Africa and volunteered as a teacher in a township that was in a poorer area of the city. I was deeply impacted by the dichotomy between rich and poor, blacks and whites. So then I was inspired to go back to Africa after I graduated and my passion for working in the social sector snowballed from there. That’s why I pursued work in Uganda and it’s also what eventually led me to USC’s Master of Public Administration program.

Giselle: I know that you collaborated on consulting projects with several local organizations while pursuing your MPA. A large part of Blue Garnet’s work is helping organizations make the shift to an impact thinking and doing mindset. In your own words, what does it mean for an organization to have a longer-term focus on impact?

Leah: I think it means that an organization is always looking to make its desired vision and strategy real. In other words, instead of only concentrating on social impact for specific projects, programs, and initiatives, an organization with a long-term focus on impact attempts to incorporate social impact into its organization overall and searches for ways to push the limits of its organizational capacity for social change.

Giselle: Finally, I have to ask, what’s your honest first impression of BG’s culture?

Leah: My third interview was with the entire team, which cemented my feeling that BG was the right place for me. I feel welcomed and part of a community of people who are smart and work hard, but don’t take themselves too seriously – that can be hard to find!

Click here to learn more about Leah and the rest of our team.

 

 

Effectively visualize your impact using these 6 principles

Through their masters course at Pepperdine, Way-Ting and Jenni are teaching social entrepreneurs to think about, measure, and evaluate their organizations' impact. I recently had the opportunity to sit in on a class session, which focused on data visualization.

By following these six principles, whether you are communicating about a foundation, nonprofit, or, in the case of this course, a budding social enterprise, you’ll be primed to effectively marry "the head and the heart" to communicate your value and tell your impact story.

Read more


Warning: Use of undefined constant cacher_cacheHeaderAndFooter - assumed 'cacher_cacheHeaderAndFooter' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /nfs/c10/h11/mnt/227060/domains/bluegarnet.net/html/blog/wp-content/themes/linen_pro/functions/bp-cache.php on line 82