From Legitimacy to Learning: How Impact Measurement Perceptions and Practices Evolve in Social Enterprise–Social Finance Organization Relationships

  • Saurabh A. LallEmail author
Original Paper


While the links between the fields of social enterprise and social finance appear apparent, academic research on the relationship lags behind practice. This study examines how social enterprises interact with social finance organizations in the context of impact measurement. Through qualitative research with eight social enterprises and their respective funders, I find evidence that both sides view impact measurement primarily as a means for establishing legitimacy prior to engagement, and in the early stages of their relationship. These relationships are hierarchical and rigid at early stages, but over time evolve into more collaborative partnerships. Eventually, social enterprises embrace impact measurement as a tool for organizational learning, and social finance organizations develop more empowering approaches for impact measurement. The level of flexibility and the closeness of the relationship between social finance organizations and social enterprises suggest important lessons for the development of a more enabling use of impact measurement.


Social enterprise Social finance Impact measurement Evaluation Social impact 



The author wishes to thank Kathryn Newcomer (George Washington University), Burt Barnow (George Washington University), Jim Koch (Santa Clara University), Jasmine Johnson (George Washington University), and Nathan Dietz (The Urban Institute) for their invaluable comments and feedback. The author is also grateful to the study participants, the editors, three anonymous reviewers, and session participants at the ARNOVA 2017 conference.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© International Society for Third-Sector Research and The Johns Hopkins University 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Planning, Public Policy and ManagementThe University of OregonEugeneUSA

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