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Impact Reports for Nonprofits

Business and sustainability make for a fun time at the SBN Annual Members Meeting. Photo credit: Jesus Rincon

Devi Ramkissoon is executive director of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia (SBN), a trailblazing nonprofit that supports local, independent businesses. Member businesses provide active, visible demonstrations that they can build profitable enterprises while serving community needs, sharing wealth, and protecting the environment.

Started in 2001 by a legend in the living local economies movement, Judy Wicks of the White Dog Cafe, SBN has 140+ members and is the FIRST nonprofit to use the Unit of Impact platform to produce and publish its impact report, which can be viewed here.

What’s the state of local small business in Philadelphia these days?

Broadly speaking, businesses are still feeling the effects of the pandemic, especially when it comes to access to financing and debt management. 

While we don’t provide loans, we have been able to help connect businesses with alternative financing from impact investors and issue micro-grants to support businesses’ sustainability efforts. 

Do you have a feel for how many of your members measure their impact?

It’s hard to say, but my guess is that anywhere from 60-70% of our businesses have some type of measurement. However, that may not be a formal and comprehensive assessment. Many members focus on one or two aspects of their work, but I’d say the vast majority of them are able to articulate some quantifiable measure of their impact.

What are examples of how your members measure impact?

Our members measure their impact in different aspects of sustainability. For example, we have composting companies that divert a significant amount of food waste from the landfill and regenerate that waste so it can be used again. In addition, we have businesses whose entry point to sustainability is around social issues, such as helping recently returned citizens access meaningful employment when they come out of incarceration, which is very measurable. 

Devi Ramkissoon

Why is it important for you to publish an impact report?

We started publishing impact reports when I joined SBN, which was two years ago. I thought it was really important to do so for our own data collection and record-keeping, as well as to share publicly what we’ve been able to accomplish.

How was your experience with Unit of Impact?

This was the first year we’ve used Unit of Impact for our reporting, and it was tremendously helpful. Before, we had a bunch of data points, they were a little bit scattered, and we needed to engage the support of a graphic designer. With Unit of Impact’s tools, it’s easier for us to have control over our own reporting format. It’s so very well laid out. We could plug in what’s relevant to us and take out what isn’t. 

“I think the software is such a gem, and I wish more businesses knew about it. Nonprofits, too.”

What’s the response been to this year’s impact report?

Generally positive. We use it whenever we’re meeting with a new potential member or a donor so we can share the impact of our work over the last year. We launched and showcased the impact report for the first time at our Annual Member Meeting.

In future years, if we’re able to replicate this it will be good for our internal planning to have those data points captured and potentially be able to use them for annual board retreats and internal planning sessions.

You’re the first nonprofit to use the Unit of Impact platform for impact reporting. Do you think it would be of value to other nonprofits, too?

Yes. I actually talked to a nonprofit just yesterday who is very interested in using the system, so it’s catching on!

Do you have advice for small businesses on how to measure and report their impact? 

My advice to start measuring and communicating your impact as soon after you start the business as possible. Most businesses only think about it once they’ve fully gotten entrenched in this work, then realize there are all these years of data that could have been collected but never were. So, they miss the opportunity to really capture the great work that they’ve done and the opportunity to share it with the community.

Any final thoughts?

I think the software is such a gem, and I wish more businesses knew about it. Nonprofits, too.