Corporate social investment (CSI) that is well managed will be taken as seriously by a company as any other form of investment. After all, the moneys being spent are those of shareholders or owners and it is then obviously in the company’s interests that these are properly accounted for.
Managing internal decision-making and grantmaking systems is only one part of this proper management – another is to carefully monitor and evaluate how effective the CSI funds have been in achieving the social returns that the company is looking for. This is where project monitoring and evaluation (M&E) comes in.
Monitoring project progress
Let’s start by looking at monitoring in particular. This refers to the measurables or indicators in a project. These should be agreed upfront between donor and project even before funding begins.
These measurables will tend to be found in a project’s application for funding and will have informed the decision to support that project in the first place. Monitoring these is a process that should take place throughout the CSI funding relationship.
Monitoring is about us assessing progress in what was originally agreed to between the company and the project as the relationship unfolds. In the nature of things, we can adjust our expectations, and “accelerate” or “brake” the pace of what is being done in the project as we go along.
But knowing what course to take will largely be informed by our knowledge of what progress we’re making along the way. Our project monitoring, as mentioned, is therefore a sort of “cruise control” and a help to us in getting to our intended project outcomes, or destination.
Over-egging the pudding
Sometimes, in an effort to manage risk in projects a company supports leads to an over-emphasis on demanding clear and obviously positive project outcomes to such a degree that we lose sight of some of the realities of on-the-ground community development.
These realities may include the length of time needed for specific community upliftment projects to gain traction, other local circumstances that dictate the pace of progress, the practical consequences of having various partners involved in a project, and such like.
We should be careful not to over-egg the pudding. First off it’s useful to remember that CSI just isn’t rocket or any other kind of science (not that rocketry’s a science, but you get the drift). Often, it’s a very human thing, and sometimes decisions are based on gut, a sense of risk-taking that allows for innovation and even failure.
Or we may over-burden ourselves with an insistence on demanding unrealistic returns on investment. The need for a good ROI is all to the good, until one’s understanding of a business return on the investment overshadows CSI’s real purpose – a long-term social return, often impossible to accurately measure and, at its best, a thing of inter-generational consequence and thus of national impact, albeit in ways the donor cannot be sure to predict.
Some things to consider:
- Is the information we require from the project useful to our understanding of that project’s effectiveness?
- Are we unnecessarily burdening the project by asking for irrelevant information, difficult to quantify results, or reporting periods that are too short?
- Do our reporting requirements of projects add significantly to their cost of operating and, if we need that anyhow, have we provided the necessary additional funding for this?
- Do we as a CSI function have a system in place to collate and make sense of the reporting information that we’re receiving from the projects we support?
- Is the information we collect from projects helpful to us in determining whether the project is on the right track?
- Are both sides of the CSI relationship – company and project being funded – at ease and happy with the nature of the reporting (this doesn’t mean that both parties are pleased with the results of that reporting, which is another matter).
- Are we able to ascertain the worth and, if needed, double-check the accuracy of what we’re being told by the project?
Paul Pereira, WHAM! Media. This article is extracted from Nation Builder’s “Re:Calculating your Giving”. Download the full publication at https://proudnationbuilder.co.za/resources/.