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How SROI helped Furniture Bank measure, report and scale impact

Furniture Bank is a charity and social enterprise which redistributes gently-used furniture and housewares from donors in the community to families and individuals experiencing furniture poverty. A pioneer of the circular economy, Furniture Bank has rescued and redistributed nearly 1 million furniture items to over 125,000 families and individuals over the past 25 years.

In this interview, Executive Director Dan Kershaw explains how SROI (Social Return on Investment) has enabled Furniture Bank to embed impact measurement in its operations, report on impact to funders, and prioritize its programming to focus areas of most substantial impact. He says, “SROI is not just a measurement tool. It’s a dynamic, transformative process that amplifies our ability to make strategic, data-driven decisions for Furniture Bank.”

Why did you want to take a training course with Social Value Canada?

As Executive Director of Furniture Bank, I am always seeking new ways to quantify and communicate the full impact of our work. While stories and counts of those served are powerful, I believe robust data more deeply conveys our value and inspires supporters.

In 2014, a major funder asked me to calculate our ROI per child furnished – a profound but daunting request. This began my journey to find a methodology that was rigorous yet adaptable to our context. Of the options, SROI stood out for its ability to monetize outcomes, engage stakeholders, and inform strategy. Though initially intimidated by SROI’s complexity, learning its principles through Social Value Canada’s training has equipped me to embed impact measurement into our operations.

What was your experience of the course?

The course provided an interactive deep dive into every facet of SROI. The instructors’ expertise brought the methodology to life through real examples and insights. I appreciated the blend of conceptual frameworks, practical tools, and peer exchange. Though I have not yet pursued certification, the training instilled core capacities to apply SROI and enhance our impact management. I plan to take an updated course with our board in 2024 to formalize our skills.

How has the training supported your work?

The training demystified SROI so we can employ it despite limited staffing for impact measurement. It has been invaluable for identifying material outcomes across our diverse stakeholders, collecting meaningful data, and calculating our holistic value. This strengthens funding applications, reports, and communications with robust impact evidence. It also enables more strategic decision making based on the SROI data and cost-benefit findings. Ongoing learning will build our confidence and credibility applying SROI to optimize programs.

What were some key takeaways of the SROIs which you commissioned of the Furniture Bank?

Historically we viewed impact solely through served families. The SROIs illuminated the breadth of stakeholders impacted, from governments to the environment. Using financial proxies revealed which outcomes drive our value creation, like improved mental health. This understanding focuses our programming and messaging on amplifying our most substantial impacts.

And how have these SROIs supported the work and development of the Furniture Bank?

The SROIs have been invaluable for:

a) Securing major gifts and budgets to expand this work

b) Demonstrating holistic impact to funders with compelling metrics and stories

c) Informing strategic resource allocation based on cost-benefit data

d) Identifying priority impact areas to concentrate programming

e) Strengthening community relationships through stakeholder engagement

f) Building internal capacity around impact measurement to ingrain it organizationally

g) Enhancing our communications with evidence-based value propositions.

What advice would you offer to someone who was interested in conducting an SROI?

a) I recommend starting small with a focused pilot to learn without getting overwhelmed (because you will). Use the analogy of a puzzle – a full SROI model that can be a 5000-piece puzzle… start small with a 500-piece puzzle.

b) Involve your team and stakeholders throughout to build buy-in and gather meaningful inputs. Consider pro bono expertise to strengthen methodology, if you can make the budget to hire a firm to pull you through it 100% do it! Focus on material outcomes and be conservative with valuations to maintain credibility. Be transparent about the limitations in the model #ProgressOverPerfection. Most importantly, ensure your SROI actively informs your strategy and investment choices. View it as a dynamic process, not a one-time tool. With care and patience, your first SROI can yield transformative insights and benefits.

c) We did all of this and are now looking to expand our model to allow our national support model to benefit from all of this experience.