Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

2 minute read

Social Capitalists

The Makings of a Social Capitalist

In picking the top change-making organizations, Fast Company and Monitor Group looked at five key factors. For each of our 20 winners, we've awarded grades based on these criteria.

  • Entrepreneurship: The ability to do a lot with a little - to galvanize resources and to build an effective and efficient organization around an idea.
  • Innovation: The startling new "big idea" or business model that's not just unique but also a dramatic leap from solutions that existed before.
  • Social Impact: Results, pure and simple. The best groups demonstrated both immediate impact as well as the promise of broader systemic change.
  • Aspiration: It's one thing to think big - and most of these groups do. But future goals have to jibe with past growth and with the resources available.
  • Sustainability: Can it last? It's one thing to deliver impact now and another to build an organization that anticipates and adapts to change.

How We Got Here

Our Strategy and Methodology

The Social Capitalist Awards project is the first of its kind - an attempt to measure both internal performance and external impact of social entrepreneuring organizations. It began with our advisory board - 20 prominent funders, academics, and other experts. They nominated 117 organizations whose work was notable for its ingenuity and results. Of those, 80 agreed to participate.

Fast Company asked participating groups to submit audited financial statements and IRS Form 990s for two fiscal years, a grant proposal or business plan, a mission statement, and names of independent experts to serve as references. Each organization's executive director and board chairperson completed online surveys about objectives, resources, and operating practices.

Fast Company and Monitor Group evaluated the entries for entrepreneurship, innovation, and social impact. We assessed each group's ability to galvanize resources and its efficiency in using those resources; the uniqueness of a group's defining "big idea" and of its business model; and the absolute size and breadth of direct impact as well as the group's ability to effect systemic change. In each category, we also checked for internal consistency between executive and board chair surveys and other materials submitted.

Based on that first assessment, we narrowed the field to 42 finalists. We assessed those on two more criteria: aspiration and sustainability. We looked at groups' goals for impact relative to historical growth and at their plans for expansion. We also analyzed reliability of revenue streams, fund-raising and program efficiency, and mechanisms to prepare for and adapt to change.

Ultimately, we weighted entrepreneurship and social impact the most and sustainability the least, with innovation and aspiration in the middle. Scores were adjusted to reflect the results of structured telephone interviews with each group's executive director and with independent experts qualified to speak about each organization. Numerical scores for each category were converted into the rough letter-grade equivalents that appear in this package.

A version of this article appeared in the January 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.