How Starwood Measures Social Impact

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An Interview with Kristin Meyer, Associate Director of Community Partnerships

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Kristin Meyer, Associate Director, Community Partnerships

Since 2009, Global Citizenship has been a cornerstone of Starwood’s business strategy. Global Citizenship provides Starwood’s guests, customers, communities, owners, and associates a better way to experience the world. A key component of influencing lasting, sustainable improvements in communities around the globe is accomplished through collaborative partnerships with the Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Foundation, Inc. (“Starwood Foundation”) and international charitable organizations. The Starwood Foundation is dedicated to enriching communities by supplying financial grants to select partner organizations driving change in three key focus areas: Workplace Readiness, Human Rights, and Community Vitality (includes: Sustainable & Ecological Development and Disaster Relief).

When we first started a partnership, the Starwood Foundation team knew they needed to track, quantify and evaluate their social impact and put a system in place to manage the complexity. As a first step, the Starwood Foundation contracted with The Rensselaerville Institute (TRI) who suggested a shift in mindset from ‘funder’ to ‘investor’ to achieve a portfolio approach. With that perspective, the Starwood Foundation created a strategic framework to clarify results for their signature program grants. With clarity on what results they were seeking, they could be more strategic in how they identify partners, educate those partners, align the application and selection process, create effective grantee reports, and implement performance assessments. The flexibility of the Versaic online solution made it possible to streamline the grantmaking process and aggregate results across programs.

One year ago, Versaic wrote about Starwood’s grants program in this ebook. We wanted to follow up with Kristin Meyer, Associate Director, Community Partnerships, to get an update on the Starwood Foundation’s grants programs and the impact they are having.

The interview is hosted by Jennifer Spencer, Content Marketing Manager at Versaic:

1. Thanks for joining us Kristin. Let’s start by talking about the Starwood Foundation’s workplace readiness program. The investments the Foundation has made in this focus area and the impact it has had on your hiring in those communities is such a great example of tying corporate philanthropy programs to business goals. Can you elaborate on your signature workplace readiness program and the results the Foundation has seen?

By adopting more of a results-based framework, we’ve been able to apply what we’ve learned from our partnerships with NGO’s around the world to better understand what needs to be done in the private sector to support the requirements of the community. In the area of workplace readiness specifically, we know from the results shared by our partners that training is not enough to move the needle in the workforce development space. Our partners were achieving phenomenal success equipping individuals and marginalized populations with the appropriate skill set as well as the social and emotional support to enter the job force. Yet many of our partners often commented on how time consuming and challenging the process was to establish employer partnerships and place their clients into local jobs. In addition, employment retention was quite challenging, not because the clients weren’t adequately prepared, but because employer expectations were sometimes not aligned.

We have taken some of the learnings from our investments on the CSR side and applied that to how we can do our part as a business within those communities. How do we better train and equip our hotels to ensure they are working with those same NGOs on the ground, and actually hiring from that talent pool? How do we make sure they really understand not only what an NGO does, but the populations that they serve, and how those populations may differ from our typical candidates? What are the practices they may need to alter internally in order make sure that those individuals are adequately supported starting from an initial interview, through onboarding, hiring and retention? That is really where our program has been successful. We learned from our philanthropic investments the impact we’re achieving and where there are gaps, and are applying that to our business model to ensure that as an organization, we are playing our part by hiring from the talent pool we are helping to create.

2. Regarding the other pillars that you’ve focused on, are you getting the same kind of results, learning, and impact in those areas that you’ve achieved in workplace readiness?

Sustainable & Ecological Development is another area where we’ve used a results-based framework to manage our charitable investments. Through this approach, we have been able to make investments in environmental organizations around the world. Similarly to Workplace Readiness, we are able to capture learnings from our NGO programs and apply that knowledge to our business operations. For example, one of the funding streams under Sustainable & Ecological Development is water risk, encompassing water access, quality, scarcity, security, stress and sanitation & hygiene. My colleague, Claire Cutting, works with our partner NGO’s within this focus area. Through these relationships, she is able to better understand the conditions that can lead to any one of these water issues as well as prevention and remediation actions. In one such case, the analysis from coastal and watershed restoration projects, funded by the Starwood Foundation’s results-based investments, has provided learnings that led to the creation of a water risk framework for our development team, ensuring that we, as a company, understand how to properly mitigate a community’s water risk as we build new properties. Applying knowledge from our Foundation investments to our business allows us to contribute positively to a community and ecosystem’s health. We also are able to share examples of successful business practices with our NGO partners so that they can share with other relevant stakeholders.

3. Can we talk a little bit about how you are collecting the data needed to analyze results and communicating impact?

We collect all of the data directly from our grant partners. We worked collaboratively with the Versaic team as well as our consultants at TRI to establish the results framework, which was specific to Starwood and the impact we were trying to drive. From there, we approached a small group of our grantees, showed them the results we were seeking, and asked them to help us understand what steps were involved for them to accomplish the desired results. That process helped us build out a more robust grant application that included the right indicators of success. We ask our grant partners to project their expected results during the application process and then we collect progress updates on a semi-annual basis, which makes it simple for them to submit and easy for us to discuss successes and challenges.

In addition, The Starwood Foundation team does a lot of training at the beginning of the relationship with a new NGO partner. If I were to call out one thing that we do as a best practice, it would be this initial training. Asking our new partners to attend a two-hour training on results-based impact is understandably a tall order, but many have since come back to us and said how worthwhile the training was for them. We want our partners to clearly understand the results-based framework, how to think about setting milestones, and what we mean when we talk about impact. Having our partners share their results is imperative for us to understand our larger impact as a Foundation. To understand the progress of our grant portfolio, we built scorecards that enable us to look at the results of each individual grant, as well as aggregate the results of our investments. As an example, for Workplace Readiness, we can look across our global portfolio to understand not only how many individuals have been served, but how many of them have achieved a certain education level or how many have retained employment for a certain period of time.

4. How has your impact reporting affected your brand and business?

For the Starwood Foundation, our results-focused approach has definitely elevated our exposure and reputation within the nonprofit field. The Starwood Foundation has become a respected partner within the charitable community. In addition, the work of the Starwood Foundation has enabled us to understand where there may be opportunity to have even more impact as a company. We’re able to more effectively evaluate and consider opportunities with both business and social returns. The Workplace Readiness program is a perfect example of this in action. As a result of the Starwood Foundation’s investments and the strategic framework, we were able to identify an opportunity on the corporate side in terms of how Starwood can more effectively drive social impact and tap into a new potential talent pipeline.

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Jennifer Spencer

Driving inbound interest means being everything from a publicist, researcher, and writer to thought leader.

 

 

Whether it's sponsorship, grants or donation, Versaic's best-in-class solutions are easily combined and customized to provide companies of any size a comprehensive solution for managing their CSR programs. Visit www.Versaic.com to learn more.

Source: How Starwood Measures Social Impact: An Interview with Kristin Meyer, Associate Director of Community Partnerships

Three Steps to Effectively Measure Philanthropic Impact

Written by Burt Cummings, CEO at Versaic | Originally published at Versaic Blog

According to The Council on Foundations (COF) Report, Increasing Impact & Enhancing Value, corporate philanthropy is as vital as ever to business and society. And yet corporate leaders are under increasing pressure to connect the value of their programs with performance drivers that matter in the business. They must demonstrate that their philanthropic investment is both effective and aligned with business outcomes. Quantifying results is not always easy and many leaders struggle to measure the social impact of their programs. While they’ve often identified broad focus areas for their program, they can find it difficult to create clear social impact metrics that can bridge their philanthropic outcomes to their business strategy.

There are no universally accepted metrics for measuring either the social impact of philanthropy or the Return On Investment (ROI) of philanthropic initiatives. Each company is unique in both their social impact goals and in their requirements for how to demonstrate the ROI. It can be difficult to translate the large-scale vision of what they hope to achieve into tangible success measures.  They struggle to find effective ways to track changes in behavior or condition for the nonprofits and community members they serve.

Burt Cummings, CEO at Versaic for HRTW
Burt Cummings, CEO at Versaic

Versaic client Starwood Hotels & Resorts is an example of an organization committed to investing the time and resources necessary to put a corporate philanthropy program in place that delivers significant value to the community as well as to the company and its employees. Starwood worked with Versaic and The Rensselaerville Institute (TRI) to develop a results-focused approach and implementation plan for their corporate philanthropy initiatives. Starwood’s primary objective was to employ new tools that would automate the process and improve their ability to track, quantify and evaluate impact. Their system is now live, and as a result, their philanthropy team has freed up time and gathered better data so they can have more productive interactions with grantees and effectively measure the results of their programs .

Here are some of the key things we learned about how to design and implement a successful program from our journey with Starwood and TRI: 

1) Create a strategic focus area(s): To identify focus areas that would address the most pertinent needs of the community while capitalizing on Starwood’s strengths, the Social Responsibility team looked internally for guidance. After multiple stakeholder interviews, focus groups and strategy sessions evaluating different aspects of the business, the team identified five focus areas that align community development objectives with Starwood’s strategic goals:

  • Workplace Readiness
  • Community Vitality
  • Conservation
  • Disaster Relief
  • Human Rights

2) Formulate a Plan: With the focus areas in place, Starwood developed a framework to plan and assess the effectiveness of their giving. TRI helped Starwood shift its mindset from acting as a ‘funder’ to acting as an ‘investor’ in order to seek the highest human gain for the available dollars. With that perspective, the foundation staff created a strategic results framework to clarify goals for their signature program grants.

Here are some basic questions to ask when establishing a result framework:

  • What changes do we want to see for the people or places we want to support?
  • What are the predictive changes in behavior or condition that indicate those people and places are on their way to success?
  • What types of programs and services will we invest in to get the end result?
  • What type of investments will we make to affect the change we seek? Will our portfolio include programmatic, capacity building and systemic change grants?

Below is an example from Starwood showing its results framework for its Workplace Readiness program.

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3) Design an Effective System: For Starwood it was essential to make their team and systems as streamlined and efficient as possible. They knew they needed to automate the process, and wanted an automation partner who could integrate their results framework throughout the system workflow. They needed a system flexible enough to track the specific outcome data points they required.

Starwood’s application process and communication system process addresses the following needs:

  • Educate grantees on the company’s philanthropic objectives
  • Clearly communicate their criteria for support
  • Help potential partners understand how they can engage with the organization.
  • Collect all relevant information required to make funding decisions
  • Collect necessary data to assess ROI and support impact reporting

By taking the time up front to design the right questions, Starwood now collects all the necessary information from charitable partners, from initial proposal through impact data collected post-grant. As a result, the team can demonstrate how their investments in local non-profits focused on building employments skills have resulted in a much better pool of potential employees. This is a clear win for Starwood and for the communities where they do business.

Conclusion:

If you’re daunted by the prospect of putting an impact-focused program in place, start by asking yourself, your team and your stakeholders questions about what you want to accomplish in your business and community. Use those answers and the three steps outlined above to develop a process that will deliver the results you want to accomplish. Be prepared to adapt as you go because even with the best plan in place your programs will continually evolve, just as the needs of your business and community change. Connecting and reporting social impact with ROI requires refinement as you learn from experience.

When you take this approach, you’ll respond more effectively to the needs of your community partners, your stakeholders and your social investing team while at the same time increase your impact. It certainly worked for Starwood. Read the full story of Starwood’s journey, Going From Strategy to Impact to learn more. 


Source: Three Steps to Effectively Measure Philanthropic Impact