PwC: The value of measuring the impact of your community programmes

Stephen Hogan, Senior Manager, Corporate Sustainability at PwC writes about the importance social impact measurement has in proving the worth of your company's CSR activities.

Stephen Hogan, Senior Manager, Corporate Sustainability, PwCRecent articles about the value of corporate social responsibility (CSR) have put community engagement in the spotlight, questioning its value, writes Stephen Hogan, Senior Manager, Corporate Sustainability. Yet, for many businesses, community investment programmes are a longstanding, essential part of who they are.

At PwC, for example, we’ve worked with our communities for more than 25 years, through programmes focused on four “E”s – education, employability, enterprise and the environment.

Some of the criticisms of community programmes have their roots in the way companies reported on them in the past – focusing too much on the resources they expended (their inputs) and the activities they undertook (their outputs), rather than what happened as a result (the outcomes).

Perhaps because of this, community programmes have often been perceived as an altruistic add-on, divorced from companies’ core activity. But now that’s changing, with a much greater concentration on impact, and on integrating skills-based community programmes with day-to-day business.

Why focus on impact?

Measuring impact is not an easy thing to do, but it’s vital if you are to robustly understand how effective your programmes are.

If you’re putting significant amounts of time, money and effort into something (for example, our community contribution at PwC was £6.9m in 2015, including more than 60,000 hours of volunteering), you want to know whether all that effort is making a difference, and what effect it’s having.

Understanding your impact also lets you assess and refine your programmes to maximise the benefit derived by all the parties involved. And having genuine data on your impact means you can confidently communicate what you’ve achieved to your stakeholders.

Over the past four years at PwC, we’ve developed evaluation mechanisms for use amongst both employee volunteers and the beneficiaries of our community activities.  These help us measure and understand the business and social impacts of our major community programmes.

We adapted established methodologies - long used by economists - to suit the corporate context, tested our research mechanisms on some smaller volunteering programmes and then rolled them out across our full suite of activities.  

Measuring the business impacts

A big part of our community investment work is delivered by employee volunteers, usually through skills-based volunteering that makes PwC employees’ valuable skills available to local communities. So, to understand the business impacts of our community work, we survey our employee volunteers before and after their volunteering.

We ask how volunteering affects their attributes in four key areas: skills, engagement, networks and their wider social/environmental awareness. We receive around 1,500 surveys a year (approximately a 25% response rate), which has enabled us to build a significant bank of evidence about how volunteering is developing our people.

I run the school mentoring programme in our office and find the experience really rewarding. It's a great opportunity to meet new people, network with colleagues and get away from your desk for a bit to give something back to the community. I have had great feedback from both the school and fellow PwC colleagues who take part.

The interview practice candidates we spoke to were interested to hear our thoughts on their respective answers, and it was a mutual learning curve for both parties.

- PwC volunteer surveys, 2015
Overall, our people report their biggest development is in their softer skills, such as relationship building, coaching skills and creativity. This is particularly true for those involved in activities in schools or working with social entrepreneurs. In contrast, outdoor team activities around environmental issues have delivered more pronounced increases in participants’ networks and environmental awareness.

Measuring our impacts told us that each type of volunteering has a different ‘footprint’ of impact. This has helped us to integrate volunteering into our people development, by enabling us to detail the benefits our volunteers obtain from each community programme we provide.

We also know that volunteering brings something additional to our people over and above traditional learning and development methods, as the vast majority (75%) of them say that their volunteering activities have enabled them to develop further or faster than would otherwise have been the case.

Short term: measuring social impacts

I will be more determined and work harder at school.

Great experience – taking part in the PwC programme has been one of the best things I have done.

I have nothing but great things to say about my mentor.

- PwC beneficiary surveys, 2015
We also survey the beneficiaries of all our main volunteering activities at the end of their involvement with us, to see if they’ve experienced the kind of change that our programmes are designed to achieve. We aim for our programmes to make our beneficiaries more aware of the business world, develop their skills and raise their aspirations. But unless we talk to our beneficiaries about how they’ve been impacted, we can’t be sure if we’re having those effects.

Our evaluation research assesses these short-term social impacts of our programmes and enables us to report on them. And, just as importantly, the surveys help us to see how effective our programmes are and to make operational changes where necessary.

For example, when we first evaluated an education programme we run with a theatre and one of our partner schools in North West England, we found that the students taking part weren’t getting as much out of the programme as we had hoped. That prompted us to have a conversation with the theatre, which turned out not to be the difficult one we’d feared, but instead uncovered some operational issues they had encountered with the school.

Those issues had adversely affected the running of the programme, making it less effective than it could have been. The evaluation results proved this, and when the school was presented with the evidence, they were jolted into doing things differently.

The following year, thanks to changes that were made, the pupils reported a 26% increase in the impact the programme had on them.

We’ve been pleased to find our evaluation evidence confirming that our community programmes overwhelmingly make a strong, positive difference to those we work with. Our education programmes are helping students to get ready for and be successful in the world of work; our support for social enterprises has helped forge more sustainable businesses and more skilled entrepreneurs; and overall, our programmes are raising the skills, aspirations and business knowledge of thousands of beneficiaries across the country.

But we want to go further, to understand the longer-term impacts of our work and to measure the business and social return on our community investment. In the past year, we’ve taken a significant leap forward in that respect.

Long term: measuring return on investment

In April 2015 we published Making a Difference: the social impact of Brigade. The report analyses the social return on investment (SROI) generated by our London-based social enterprise restaurant, Brigade, which provides training and employment opportunities in the food industry to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

The report marks a new chapter for PwC’s community team, as we’ve progressed to a much more sophisticated level and type of measurement. Instead of reporting on just inputs and outputs, or even the outcomes and impacts, we’re now valuing that impact so that we can understand the social returns our community programmes generate.

The report concluded that every £1 invested in Brigade by the various partners who have made it possible (PwC, Beyond Food Foundation, De Vere Venues, Homes and Community Agency and Big Issue Invest) has generated £1.57 in social value, by reducing costs incurred through the unemployment and health issues which those at risk of homelessness have experienced, as well as through the positive economic impact of getting them back into work. 

Producing this SROI report is the latest step on our journey to understanding the full effects of our community programmes. Measuring impact is not always straightforward, and it’s definitely a journey – but it’s one that’s worth taking.

We’ve always believed that our community programmes were a key part of attracting, engaging and developing our people – and now we have the proof. And we’ve always felt that supporting the communities around our offices was an important part of our overall stakeholder engagement, but now we can point to the specific contribution we’re making and demonstrate that it’s delivering a concrete, positive return. When it comes to the value generated by this part of our corporate responsibility programme, we’re happy for it to be in the spotlight.

For more information about PwC’s community programme, and our work to understand its impact, please visit the Corporate Sustainability pages of the PwC UK website.