How do investors make smart choices without data or measuring tools? Answer: They can't. So the Acumen Fund, led by CEO Jacqueline Novogratz, is launching Pulse, its portfolio data management system for donors and philanthropic investors. Developed with Google engineers' pro bono support, Pulse standardizes social and financial metrics, allowing donors to compare the impact of different projects they support — say, the $1 million for mosquito nets versus the $1 million for a clean-water project. "If what we are doing is a real innovation in philanthropy and development assistance, then we should have evidence," CIO Brian Trelstad explained in the MIT journal Innovations. The second phase of Pulse, launching in July 2009, will pool data across institutions, allowing an unprecedented level of comparison.
A version of this article appeared in the December/January 2009 issue of Fast Company magazine.