Quantifying Social Accountability
May 13, 2015 | by David Tobenkin
Understanding the “why” of social accountability (a.k.a. community benefit) activities is fundamental for not-for-profit providers, but the “how” of quantifying and explaining those efforts brings its own challenges. Here is how some providers are doing it.
For American Baptist Homes of the West
(ABHOW), $20.4 million is the 2014 charitable bottom line.
For the past decade, ABHOW, based in Pleasanton, CA, has prepared annual social accountability [a.k.a. community benefit] reports that detail its charitable contributions to its residents and the greater community, with a degree of rigor approaching that of for-profit corporations reporting their financial annual reports. ABHOW breaks down the charitable bottom line figure into sub-component dollar totals for things such as discounts to residents from full contractual rates, direct benevolence to residents, use of community buildings and leadership time, volunteer services to the broader community and many other categories.
“This report helps demonstrate that we are justified in being exempt from tax as a charitable nonprofit,” says ABHOW Senior Vice President and General Counsel Louise Rankin, noting that the 2014 total of $20.4 million in charitable contributions greatly exceeds the $8.9 million in interest and tax benefits received that year. “But it does much more than that. We have always been mission-based, and we want to be sure that we are providing the benefits to our residents and to the greater community that we think we are. This report helps to hold ourselves accountable to our mission.”
LeadingAge members have long done many good works for residents, staff and the larger community. Quantifying such efforts and promoting them through statistics, reports and other efforts, say providers who have tracking and reporting systems for their social accountability efforts, makes sense for a lot of reasons, including: justifying their tax-exempt status; holding the community and its staff accountable; assisting marketing efforts; understanding the charitable needs of residents, staff and community members; and improving esprit de corps.
But they note that doing so properly takes a considerable amount of time and effort, imposes related demands upon staff, community members and others, and even raises potential legal issues. Despite these challenges, they say there is a general need for providers to step up their games by formalizing and improving the means by which such information is gathered, measured and disseminated.
“Last fall, we ran a survey around LeadingAge members’ social accountability efforts and the results, which will be published soon, show that only 55 percent of 450 senior living provider organizations completing the survey are currently tracking their social accountability efforts, similar to the results of a comparable survey in 2010,” says Nikki Rineer, president of consulting firm Holleran in Mountville, PA. “That is concerning. If organizations have their nonprofit status challenged, they will not be prepared to quantify the good work they are doing and will be at a higher risk for losing their status.”
“There’s never been more scrutiny of nonprofits as there has been in the last few years, including examination of federal reforms that would tax elements that have not been taxable for nonprofits before,” notes Kristin Clarke, director of social responsibility at ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership
Many LeadingAge members are responding. “We have been doing common good for the larger community for more than 109 years, but more recently we noticed that we had opportunities to keep better track of our social accountability initiatives by both staff and residents,” says Lynn O’Connor, president and CEO of Washington, DC-based senior living provider Ingleside
. She says that a desire to track social accountability efforts better led to new quantitative efforts over the past several years. “Each year we want to continue to improve ‘our story’ qualitatively and quantitatively by capturing all the social accountability efforts the entire organization is doing to include in the organization’s annual ‘The Good We Do’ and IRS Form 990 reports.”
O’Connor and Ingleside Chief Information Officer Dusanka Delovska-Trajkova say that beginning in 2013, Ingleside purchased Community Benefit Inventory for Social Accountability (CBISA) software from Lyons Software to assist in quantifying the organization’s social accountability achievements.
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To chart social accountability efforts, Ingleside uses CBISA categories that include community health services, health profession education, subsidized services, research/innovation, donations, community-building activities, community benefit operations, and individual volunteerism, O’Connor notes. Ingleside has created forms based on CBISA software that help categorize activities, as well as track things such as volunteer hours by board members, staff and residents along with outcomes and costs, notes Delovska-Trajkova.
Deciding what to count as charitable can sometimes involve challenges, with different providers counting things slightly differently. “This process is voluntary, so no governmental agency has created any rules,” Rankin says. “A resident who enters a CCRC expects that if they run out of money through no fault of their own, the CCRC will continue to provide their care,” says Rankin. “That is one of the easy cases [to measure the value provided]. But not everything charitable that residents or staff do should be counted. Sometimes residents will say, ‘I volunteered at the food bank; you can count that.’ We tell them no, that is their personal contribution done on their own time without any sponsorship or support from us and so should not be counted as ABHOW’s contribution.”Florida Presbyterian Homes
, Lakeland, FL, began tracking social accountability as part of its first-ever annual report in 2012, says Public Relations Manager Jennifer Olivier. Its second report in 2013 greatly expanded efforts to measure volunteer charitable efforts. “The first two reports were very similar except that I enlisted the support of the new volunteer coordinator to survey residents to report their volunteer hours on- and off-campus for the second annual report,” says Olivier. “I knew that would be powerful and I was right. Approximately two-thirds of our residents participated in the survey and reported over 21,000 volunteer hours out in the community and over 22,000 volunteer hours on our campus.”
Still, Olivier says that efforts to replicate the volunteer charitable measurement in 2014 were less successful and taught a powerful lesson: “We attempted to survey the residents again for 2014 volunteer hours and the response rate was far lower,” Olivier says. “They expressed that they are tired of participating in surveys and do not want to track their volunteer hours every year. So we decided to conduct the volunteer survey every three to four years instead. It is unlikely the residents’ volunteer hours are going to change drastically from year to year and by waiting several years, many new residents will have come to live at Florida Presbyterian and it will be new to them.”
Another challenge is that numbers themselves don’t always tell the full story. “The [Ingleside] governance committee and boards of directors have found that the quantitative metrics must be accompanied by the qualitative reports of the social accountability initiatives so that all understand the Ingleside community benefit,” O’Connor says. “Providing both the quantitative and qualitative information has made the social accountability efforts real for many, including board members, residents, and staff.”
Some suggest that not-for-profit organizations should take a more holistic and broad view of what constitutes social responsibility that can be measured, particularly with respect to matters close to home, says Mike Wallace, managing director of BrownFlynn, a corporate responsibility and sustainability consulting firm in Cleveland, OH.
“For a nonprofit type of institution,” says Wallace, “it is important to be recognized as a good citizen acting consistently with its mission to ‘take care of people.’ For instance, [communities] have an impact on people, planet and profit. Reducing energy use reduces costs and pollutants that are emitted from local power companies. Managing the use of chemicals and chemical-containing products reduces exposure to patients and staff, as well as eventual disposal to landfills or incinerators. Procurement with a view towards sustainability and exposure can save money while staying aligned with a health care institution’s mission. The same procurement strategy can also be adopted toward food services.”
Including and training key stakeholders is also key to quantification efforts, say O’Connor and Delovska-Trajkova. They say Ingleside has improved its understanding of social accountability tracking needs by involving a large number and variety of stakeholders, including its board of directors, staff and residents, and a Social Accountability Committee of residents and staff. The committee created a mission statement approved by the board of directors, standardized forms for data collection, policies and procedures, and educated the boards of directors, staff and residents on the program goals and methods.
Implementing such efforts takes a large time and staff commitment and constant reeducation, says Delovska-Trajkova.
Dissemination of social accountability measurement results is accomplished through various means. Internally, many share social accountability results with key stakeholders through internal reports, spreadsheets and other documents. Externally, aging-services providers often share results through annual reports and website content.
“Our annual report is printed and delivered with the monthly newsletter to residents, distributed to staff by their managers, mailed to board members and the wait list, [and] mailed to key contacts and churches in town,” says Olivier. “It’s posted on our website, announced on Facebook with a link to where the annual report is located, and extra copies are available in brochure racks on campus and distributed during marketing events,” says Olivier.
Those seeking to quantify community benefit efforts should take care in doing so. While the efforts themselves may be soft-hued and feel-good, the hard numbers provided in reports are subject to scrutiny. If used in public documents and official reports, such as annual financial reports or statements to the IRS, they are subject to verification and potential adverse regulatory or legal consequences if they are inaccurate. Even if they are not used in such filings, they could be examined and challenged by a skeptical media.
At Twin Lakes Community
, Burlington, NC, we have a simple Excel spreadsheet that captures the activities and donations of time, money and in-kind items annually. The sheet is divided into three categories: services, donations, and volunteer services. Categories are defined this way:
Services: Service provided to other not-for-profit organizations and students.
- Local groups who use our buildings for meeting space, for which we charge no fees. Additionally, meals or snacks may be provided at no cost.
- Students-in-training from public schools and colleges train in various areas of our organization (nursing, dietary, activities, administration, social services, etc.). Special education classes from a local high school use our dining services for training their students.
Donations: To not-for-profit organizations we make donations of cash (grants and project/fundraiser support) and in-kind items.
- Used cabinets, appliances, etc., from restored living units are donated to Habitat Re-Store; food & money is given to support local food pantries, build Habitat for Humanity houses, etc.
- Sponsor the NAMI Walk, Crop Walk, and Alzheimer’s Association Walk; provide scholarship funds; support neighborhood parks and emergency services, etc.
Volunteer Services: provided by our staff to other not-for-profit organizations.
- Some of our staff serve on other not-for-profit boards. Some will volunteer to use paid annual leave time to help build a Habitat house or serve in the local soup kitchen.
- During our monthly staff education, part of the day is used for outreach: Staff and residents work together to make scarves for the homeless shelter, provide tray pleasures for Meals on Wheels, etc.
In each of these categories we have the following columns:
- Date: when service, donation, or space was given
- Event/Contribution describes what and how it was given
- Number Served
- Staff Hours
- Staff Name: the particular person(s) who worked on this gift (each on separate lines)
- Pay Rate: base rate for the person(s) identified
- Salary Expense: rate multiplied by hours
- Benefits: the percentage of benefits offered by the organization for full-time workers
- Other Expenses: costs for food provided, supplies used in making gifts, mileage, or dollar amount of donation in that category
- Revenue: used when we have agreed to an amount from an organization lower than our costs; or perhaps they paid for lunch but used a room for a full day of meetings
- Building Usage: number of hours at an hourly rate based on estimated costs
- Net Value: adds up all the costs, minuses out the revenue received and gives us a net total for that line item
Each fiscal year has one spreadsheet in the community benefit workbook. A new one is added to the workbook at the beginning of each fiscal year.
Organizing Data Collection
The information above goes into the final product we share with the North Carolina Medical Care Commission when reporting our community benefit. However, getting to this point can be time consuming. A template of the spreadsheet is provided in a folder on the shared server for every member of management and those additional persons, such as the food service directors and activity directors, who provide service as outreach. The template is modified to eliminate the columns that ask for pay rate, salary expense and benefits so that information remains confidential. A one-item reporting form for other staff is provided on that shared server as well and in print form for the non-computer users.
Each quarter, staff is reminded to add details of their involvement to their community benefit spreadsheets or forms. For some, it will only be their personal reporting of volunteer service. For others it will include the services provided by their staff or department. An assigned member of the administrative staff copies information from each of their spreadsheets and pastes it onto the master, adjusting as needed to eliminate duplication. As lines are copied from the individual sheets, a highlight color is added so it is obvious the information has been extracted. (All information remains on these individual sheets because it makes it easier for them to see what they have included and review their work.) This is how we capture the individual and departmental donations of time and service. For monetary donations, a listing of checks written is given to the administrative person for inclusion in the master spreadsheet.
For information purposes, we also track the benefit our residents provide through their volunteerism in the broader community. All residents are given a blank “volunteer” calendar created by staff each year on which they record the volunteering they do at Twin Lakes and in the broader community. At the end of our fiscal year in September, they are asked to return the completed calendar and get a new one that begins in October. Resident volunteerism is captured on these calendars and recorded by our volunteer coordinator.
At the end of each fiscal year, we compile all the data and the benefit provided to the community for the annual report by the President/CEO. A brief version of that report is placed in a tri-fold brochure that outlines all the pertinent outreach and campus statistics available for mailing, marketing and to anyone entering our facilities.
Written by Sidney Becker, executive assistant at Lutheran Retirement Ministries of Alamance County, NC.