NIB Career Q&A: Farron Levy, Founder of True Impact (2013 Speed Networking VIP)

Boston skyline

FWL OrigFarron Levy is the Founder and President of True Impact and will be a VIP at this year’s Speed Networking. At Net Impact’s June 4th event Farron will be discussing social impact measurement. In a conversation with Net Impact team member Katrina Stanislaw, Farron discusses his path to founding True Impact and shares his insight on social impact measurement. 

How did you first become interested in sustainability?

It was a confluence of things: My first job out of college was for an economics consulting firm which did a great deal of work between private industry and the EPA, and finding business-friendly ways to reduce environmental impact.  At the same time I was getting involved with City Year – which was designed as a domestic, inner-city version of the Peace Corps, and was enjoying a great deal of corporate support.  I found both exciting and engaging.

Later, as I was looking for a Master’s thesis topic in graduate school, I wanted to help promote the kinds of win-win social/business partnerships I’d been so excited about.  I settled on measurement: developing a regime of objective facts that would help all types of stakeholders to more readily identify and take advantage of such win-win scenarios.  I ended up analyzing the corporate citizenship programs of a range of major corporations, to identify those that were fully justifiable from both a social and business impact perspective and worthy of universal support.  That has been my work ever since.

What was your path to starting True Impact?

After graduate school, I joined a social auditing firm focused on helping companies operate more responsibly in ways that make business sense.  Our teams would take a broad look at corporate operations to identify opportunities to, for example, promote employee wellbeing in ways that promote productivity and reduce turnover; reduce environmental impact in ways that reduce operating costs or risk; or use corporate community investment in ways that drive sales, recruiting, or skill development.

Each consulting project would include a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed recommendations, to help educate the company on the expected value, and to provide guidance on how to monitor performance during implementation.  Over time, we found companies were increasingly interested in the measurement part of our audits – a particular interest of mine – so I ultimately spun off True Impact as a separate company to focus exclusively on providing tools and services to measure the impacts of CSR activities.

Can you walk me through the scope of your work at True Impact?

We help companies and their nonprofit partners measure the social impact and business value of their community investments, including grant-making, volunteerism, pro-bono, green teams, and sustainability initiatives.  The purpose of our work is to help companies prove the value of their CSR programs to their various stakeholders, and also to improve the value of those programs, by identifying what’s working well (so it can be replicated) and what isn’t (so weaknesses can be addressed).

While we’ve always done custom work for individual corporate CSR portfolios, we’ve recently begun building broader networks of organizations that can collect standardized impact data around their volunteerism and grantmaking, to make measurement even easier, and to also facilitate benchmarking and best practice-sharing.

What’s the most interesting/most fun/most challenging aspect of your job?

What is wonderful about our work is that it gets us involved with some of the coolest projects on the planet.  Everything from PepsiCo’s efforts to promote global safe water access though progressive agricultural practices, rainwater harvesting, and microfinance; to Pfizer’s work with international health NGOs, via their Global Health Fellows program; to Wells Fargo’s domestic sustainability practices through its environmental innovation grants and employee-led Green Teams.

And our focus with all of these programs is to develop measurement strategies that are simple to implement and produce credible and compelling data to serve the organization’s reporting and management interests.

What’s the best networking advice you’ve ever been given?

Be open to meeting folks even if they’re not directly associated with the things you think you’re interested in. Ideas and leads often spring up from unexpected places.

Where do you go from here?

At True Impact, we’re concentrating on building out our web-based, turnkey offerings, to make impact measurement easily accessible and affordable to a maximum number of organizations, regardless of type (from corporations, to nonprofits, to government agencies) or size (from sole proprietors to Fortune 500 companies).

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