Becoming a Data-Driven Social Enterprise

Last week, Echoing Green was thrilled to be highlighted in CEO Marc Benioff’s guest blog post for Forbes about the power of philanthropy and social-minded organizations. For those unfamiliar, is an enterprise cloud computing company that provides organizations with a suite of customer relationship management (CRM) tools. The corporation operates on the 1/1/1 model, meaning they aim to donate 1% of equity, 1% of employee time, and 1% of their product to nonprofits and higher education institutions around the world through their corporate foundation. You can learn more about the Salesforce Foundation here. has been incredibly valuable to Echoing Green’s success in finding and supporting the best emerging social entrepreneurs around the world. As we grow an organization, we continue to invest in and implement new business solutions to support our mission. Donations, Echoing Green Social Investment Council applications, and quarterly reports from Fellows—it all goes into our database to be analyzed and securely stored.

Despite their generosity, did come under some criticism when trying to trademark the term “social enterprise.” But, in September 2012 they withdrew applications after pressure from industry advocates such as Muhammad Yunus and Social Enterprise UK.

We have enjoyed the privilege of advising some of our Fellows on using CRM platforms in their own social enterprises. From 2009 Fellow Barbara Bush’s Global Health Corps to 2010 Fellow Nick Ehrmann’s Blue Engine, we have played a role in how they use data to troubleshoot, manage customer relationships, and make key organizational decisions.

2012 Fellow Taylor Downs launched Vera Solutions to help other social enterprises use data capture and cloud-based systems to bring critical data to life—changing the way social change organizations operate. Taylor has helped 2009 Fellow Eric Glustrom (Eduate!) build a robust monitoring and evaluation system while he rolls out a socially-responsible leadership and entrepreneurship curriculum in Uganda. And Taylor is working with 2012 Fellows Ani Vallabhaneni and David Auerbach (Sanergy) on a data dashboard that will monitor a network of low-cost sanitation centers across Nairobi.

Here are some tips for those looking to become a data-driven organization:

Ask big questions:  What data points are you constantly looking for? What data points would help you gauge success? Write them all down, and prioritize a list of what you need to track from a cost (How long will it take to do this?) versus benefit (How valuable is that information?) perspective. Ask others who do similar work how they are collecting and storing information—most will be more than willing to share lessons learned.

Embrace big (and small) data: When organizations set up systems to collect information, it can be overwhelming to define exactly what is needed. Often you have only one chance to collect information from someone, so make it count and collect necessary details at both a macro and micro level. Consider both the time it takes to provide and manage that information as well as what you will do with it—if you do not have a plan to use it, you may as well lose it.

Make big changes: A common pitfall is to design systems that tell you only what you want to hear, but where is the fun in that? You want to be alerted to both successes and failures from your data. Set up systems that scrutinize parts of your work that are challenging, and give yourself time to use that information to both tweak processes and make big changes in how you do your work.

From long-established providers such as, Microsoft and Blackbaud, to newer solutions such as Get Satisfaction and Hirise, there are a lot of solutions out there for social entrepreneurs looking to harness data. To find a system that is right for you, check out some of these resources:

•    Idealware’s annual report of Low Cost Donor Management Systems
•    The Connected Cause’s Insights into CRM for Nonprofits
•    Paul Greenberg’s Social CRM blog with an annual CRM Watchlist of reviews

Data is big, data is powerful, and data is here to stay. From The New York Times to the McKinsey Institute to Foursquare, all signs point to a future where social enterprises challenge the status quo not only with their ideas and innovation but with their data. And as systems like continue to grow and expand their services, data is a very tangible tool that seems to be making the bridge between business and philanthropy much, much smaller.

Photo: Alpha_Auer

Related Posts:

Not Everyone Should Be a Social Entrepreneur.


Introducing Recoverable Grants.


Leave a reply

Your comment has been submitted and is awaiting approval.