Proper financial processes must be established to ensure that a voluntary health organization is being fiscally responsible and fulfilling the requirements of tax law. But in the voluntary health organization world, many workshop participants also believed that some level of social accounting was necessary to ensure that a group is supporting its charter, advancing the group’s broader mission, and providing a positive impact on its constituents. In order to achieve these ends, an organization should develop mechanisms to assess and measure the progress and impact it is having on the field.
While a typical venture capital fund will try to get a return of 30 percent to 40 percent each year, Peter Heinecke, chief business officer of Experimed Bioscience, suggested that voluntary health organizations would probably be satisfied with much less than that. “A venture philanthropy fund has a double bottom line: one line is still return, but the other line is the social good that you are advancing,” he explained. These two bottom lines exist in tandem because while the Internal Revenue Service requires one, a voluntary health organization’s donors and constituents require both.
It is important for an organization to have reasonable near-term expectations for its social bottom line. For most voluntary health organizations, the long-term goal is to cure or eliminate disease. However, other achievable goals are nearer term and help to measure investment and medical success; therefore, resetting expectations to include shorter-term definitions of success while not losing sight of the longer-term ones is smart, Heinecke suggested. Those definitions will be dependent on the target of each grant or project. For organizations funding a small start-up, success might be finding animal models that provide enough proof of concept to help them attract new private-sector investment. For a later-stage program, the definition could be the conclusion of a successful clinical trial. Heinecke also insisted that even in failure an organization must take the time to understand why it failed and commit to making data and information available to others.
Carol Mimura’s Intellectual Property & Industry Research Alliance Department at the University of California, Berkeley, also uses a double bottom line and agrees with defining success in short-term blocks. The bottom line in terms of social impact is lives saved and medical costs reduced, she explained, but these are not easy metrics to collect. The eventual social impact of an action might be decades removed. The ad-