Why Prove and Improve?

Why do it? The benefits of proving and improving
Making good decisions
Getting people involved
Being accountable
Building a brand and reaching customers
Winning business
Securing investment or funding
Case studies: Tropical Wholefoods’ Story: What it says on the bag
Case studies: Local economic benefit

Why do it? The benefits of proving and improving

Focusing on ‘proving and improving’ as part of how you work each day can help you to achieve the linked goals of having a positive social, environmental or economic effect with being a sustainable organisation or business. This Toolkit brings together the experience of a range of social enterprises in testing out methods to help them strengthen either the social side, or the business side, or both.

Good planning, monitoring, and evaluation can help you to know when and how you are accomplishing your social, environmental, or economic mission. Paying attention to how you are operating your organisation, involving people, and being held accountable by them helps to strengthen the organisation internally and in the eyes of the people who matter to you.

“Doing an impact map helped us to identify the longer-term changes we were looking for and to make sure that the actions we are taking today are helping to achieve that mission. Now we just need to measure that it’s happening!”

– Impact Map workshop participant

Making good decisions

Each organisation has a vision of what a better world would look like. Getting there is its mission. Understanding the link between the things that you plan to do – or that you are already doing – and how they create the changes you seek provides you with a way to decide where to direct your efforts. Clarifying the ways in which your organisation is achieving its objectives and knowing what effects it is having on the wider world can help you to make better decisions such as where to allocate resources and which activities are most important.

Using a strategy map… “should enable us to focus on key issues more quickly and use resources in a more efficient way to help drive the business”.

– Liberty Credit Union

Getting people involved keeps you on track

Keeping connected to the people who your organisation affects, or is affected by, helps you to ensure that the time, the resources, and the energy you invest are spent well. When the people your organisation serves or works in partnership with are involved in planning and evaluating, they can help you to gather information for decision-making and contribute to achieving the organisation’s goals.

For example, service users or clients can help ensure you’ve got a solution that meets their needs. Similarly, partner organisations can help you to ensure that your activities and actions are well-directed within the context of the other goods and services available. When people help to measure or evaluate the effects of something they’ve been involved in, they can see change for themselves and take part in celebrating it.

Knowing about, and then reporting on both positive and negative results and impacts openly and transparently, can be seen as a challenge but transparent reporting can elicit help from your stakeholders in meeting the challenges your organisation faces.

“We were measuring the things that our funders wanted — mainly training. When we asked the young people in our programme what was important to them, it was that they got jobs afterwards. So we now measure our success in terms of what our young people want as well.”

– Karen Lowthrop, Hill Holt Wood

Being accountable: earning and building trust

Socially driven organisations have a responsibility to the communities they serve and affect. Communication and transparency are important elements in building a relationship of mutual trust and understanding. Undertaking an intentional process of proving and improving can help you to report your progress to the people whose trust in your organisation is essential.

Reporting on the areas where you are succeeding, as well as areas for improvement and how these will be addressed keeps your stakeholders informed and can allow them to feel part of the process or to directly feed into the process.

“Where we have acknowledged issues or problems through our social accounting process, our stakeholders have been quick to identify with the problem and want to contribute to the solution.”

– Traidcraft

Building a brand and reaching customers

Proving and improving can also help you to focus on ‘business development’, or the range of activities that goes into bringing in new customers. By identifying the core values and impacts your organisation has, you’ll know more clearly what you have to offer. With this knowledge, you can concentrate your efforts on the customers, businesses and other buyers who are interested in buying your products and using their money to support the mission and achievements of your work. From there, you can develop a brand that speaks to the values of customers, and a marketing strategy that ensures that your products, services and impacts get the attention of potential customers.

“Going through a process to help us define more clearly the ‘personality’ of the organisation will make it easier for us to sell our design services.”

– Core Design

Winning business

If your organisation creates social, environmental or economic benefit in the course of making a good or delivering a service that a company or government agency needs, make the case for ‘procuring’ from you as strongly as possible. In addition to competing with other companies based on price and quality, you can let the people know that you have something more to offer. If you can identify corporate or government aims that your social enterprise meets you could have a ‘leg up’ in making the case for purchasing from your organisation.

“Our [co-op] members will be able to hold us to account for our stewardship of their business and the fulfilment of its social and co-operative purpose. They will have the satisfaction of associating with an organisation with demonstrable values and principles.”

— Lincolnshire Co-operative

Securing investment or funding

In order to start or grow an organisation or business, you need to show your investors or funders a solid plan that reflects how you will keep the business afloat and make surpluses or profit. Clarifying your goals, setting targets and measuring success for both the sustainability of the organisation and how it achieves social benefit will help you to create realistic and effective business plans and funding proposals. These skills will also help you to maintain a good relationship with investors or funders by keeping up a positive flow of communication when you need to adjust the plan and the targets.

Being in charge of your own plans, targets, and reporting can also ensure that you are not driven off track by the measurements that funders, lenders, and others need from your organisation to ensure their own accountability.

“Drawing upon our balanced scorecard, funders will be able to clearly see our goals and priorities and the actions we are taking to achieve them.”

– Liberty Credit Union

Case Study – Tropical Wholefoods’ Story:
What it says on the bag

Millions of African and Asian farmers grow fruit and vegetables. But only a tiny number earn a good living from them. When we lived in Uganda, farmers were always asking us how they could get more for their products. So we began to experiment with drying fruits in solar driers. All we needed was: sun, fruit and energy – all available in abundance. We took our first sun-dried fruit back to England and sold it at markets. People loved them. Harvested when fully ripe and immediately sun dried meant that they had startlingly full flavours. They were also 100 per cent pure fruit, free from all preservatives. We set up a fair trade company in Uganda called Fruits of the Nile. It now works with over 100 farmers groups who receive guaranteed prices and cash payments for their sun dried produce and regular training. When we ask farmers what they spend the profits on, they always tell us: their children’s healthcare and education, their family homes and farms – all investments in a better future. Today in the UK, Tropical Wholefoods run a dedicated factory and bakery, packaging and processing dried fruits, cereals and nuts. We work with many fair trade businesses in Africa and Asia. Our guarantees of profitable prices, secure markets and training have significantly improved the lives of thousands of farmers.

Case Study – Local economic benefit brings business to local fruit and veg producers in Northumberland

By showing that their businesses produced high quality fruit and vegetables, while also keeping money circulating in local economies, small-scale farmers in Northumberland were able to win contracts that had previously been given to large national suppliers. The LM3 local multiplier tool showed them how to make the case.


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