For most social enterprises, the task of defining impact can be overwhelming. Being that there is no clear formula, most companies create an in-house system to measure up, which takes time, constant review and regular updates.
To learn more about such systems, I connected with Alexandra Ostrow, founder of WhyWhisper Collective, a marketing and strategy firm focused on social impact.
Prior to venturing out on her own, Ostrow worked for two social media marketing agencies where she managed global and local accounts for a wide variety of brands. Her clients included Mattel, JP Morgan Chase, Medtronic Diabetes, The Michelin Guide, and Pepperidge Farm.
Ostrow's passion for the impact sector first began while volunteering for a local animal rescue. Later, after visiting an orphanage for children affected by AIDS in India and establishing a nonprofit consultancy in Jamaica while still employed full-time, her path became clearer. It was then she realized it was time to go out on her own. Today, her clients address issues within the areas of health, human rights, education, and conscious consumption.
Ostrow shared with me how she and her team have gone about defining and measuring WhyWhisper Collective's social impact.
Have a Clear Vision
Ostrow set out to launch WhyWhisper with one objective: "to create a positive and flexible work environment that focused exclusively on addressing social needs and critical problems." The reason for this was two-fold. On the one hand, she saw too many talented and driven individuals experiencing burnout and isolation--to the point of serious health problems --due to"insane"hours in negative work environments. At the same time, Ostrow wanted her firm to address a variety of significant issues--from a lack of healthcare, poor education and wasteful consumption, to poverty, discrimination and violence, among others. "I wanted to create a firm that could address both. It was a lofty objective, but almost two years later, I stand by it."
And to ensure that she and her team consistently work towards this aim, they set annual goals with defined outputs that ladder directly up to it. "These pertain to the types of clients we work with, the ways in which we evolve our own systems and operations, and the services we add to our offerings,"she says.
Ostrow finds resources like BCorporation to be incredibly helpful in this process. In fact, certification is one of WhyWhisper's goals for this year.
Connect the Dots
Ostrow tells me that to be sure her business aligns with its social impact goals she and her team spend a great deal of time mapping out processes, client criteria, and service offerings that take into account the benefit of all stakeholders. "Our stakeholders include WhyWhisper team members, the companies and organizations we work for (clients), the people those clients aim to support, and the planet," she says. "It is a never-ending process focused on constant learning and being open to making changes."
Be Sure the Shoe Fits
To evaluate whether or not a potential client is a good match for WhyWhisper's services, Ostrow and her team created a list of questions that evaluate a prospective client's mission, needs, current capacity, and team dynamics. The firm's services aim to provide support at key moments, not create a long-term financial commitment. "We come in to help build a marketing strategy, fill a need between hires, execute a campaign, train a team member, address a problem, or identify new opportunities for social impact within a business,"she says. Above all else, Ostrow believes that it is crucial not to take on new projects if her team's evaluation reveals that they cannot properly help a client grow or address their problems.
"Our goal isn't to work crazy hours or to sell things that people don't need. Our goal is to serve as a valuable and trusted resource for high quality work in the impact sector."
Are You Reaching Far Enough?
WhyWhisper utilizes marketing tools such as a blogs, newsletters and social channels to provide tools, tips and resources to the changemaker community, as well as to share relevant news, viewpoints and stories.
Ostrow's team maximizes WhyWhisper's social impact by boosting their client's social impact.
"For many [clients], it's about storytelling: identifying the best way to bring our client's mission to life in a way that resonates with their audience and achieves the desired results. For others, it's about data segmentation: recognizing that different audiences have different motives and building out segmented approaches for reaching and engaging those audiences. And for others, it's about listening to the community and evolving products or offerings to meets their needs. Every company or organization needs a marketing plan that's specific to them."
When it comes to measuring up, Ostrow tells me that the BCorporation process has been an incredibly helpful tool for evaluating social impact and evolving her business. She also recently began using surveys to assess both team members and client satisfaction. Lastly, the firm works with clients to build metrics around its impact. "By helping clients better measure performance, we can, in turn, improve our own,"she says.