Values That Drive Change (Third Sector Capital Partners)

By John Grossman

At Third Sector, we believe that our value-based approach is integrally tied to our success. We often find it difficult to explain what we do without also explaining how we do it. Each of our engagements with governments, service providers, funders, and other stakeholders is shaped by our culture, and nothing explains our culture better than our mission and values.

Third Sector’s mission, to accelerate America’s transition to a performance-driven social sector, does more than simply set out what we are trying to do. More importantly, it implies three crucial points that inform how we relate to the governments and social service agencies with whom we work.

  1. We are advancing a movement that has already started: While our goals are bold, we have an optimistic view of America’s social sector and government. We are merely accelerating the evidence and performance-based initiatives that many of our partners are already developing across the country.
  2. We are part of an ongoing process: By focusing on a transition, we implicitly acknowledge that our goal is not some distant ideal but continuous improvement.  We will not make the perfect the enemy of the good.
  3. Private funding is a means to an end: Our mission intentionally makes no mention of the deployment of capital or impact investing.  While we believe that ‘social impact bonds,’ and other creative disbursements of commercial and philanthropic dollars can drive performance within the social sector, it is no more than a means to the end.

Rather, our theory of change focuses on government. With over 90% of social sector spending coming from public sources, we seek to improve the way government deploys its resources towards much-needed social services.

Our progress towards this mission is rooted in values that animate our work each and every day. Our “5 R’s” —Rigor, Results, Resourcefulness, Respect, and Reflection—define our interactions with our clients, with each other, and with everyone with whom we interact:

  • Rigor: This describes how we think, how we write and how we build financial models. Perhaps most palpably, we are proud that all of our launched projects involve the most rigorous social science methodology, randomized control trials (RCT’s). While it is likely that not all of our projects will involve RCT’s, we will remain consistent with our values by always selecting the most rigorous evaluation suitable to each project.
  • Resourcefulness: Third Sector’s resourcefulness has led us to receiving several federal Social Innovation Fund grants, launching the largest PFS project in the US to date, building the first blended capital stack in a PFS project, managing the first entirely county-level PFS project in the country, and developing the first use of an “RCT overlay” as an evaluation methodology.
  • Results: Our pragmatic orientation differentiates us from more academic entities. We believe that writing a report does not alone drive change. Though we subscribe to no orthodoxy as to how to foster a performance-driven social sector, our commitment to achieving meaningful results for those in need by driving the reallocation of government dollars is unwavering.
  • Respect: Governments, providers, funders, and evaluators invariably know more than we do about their work. Our job is to bring them together, to facilitate what they do.  We can only do this if we have a deep and abiding respect for their knowledge, experience and perspective.
  • Reflection: Our execution of the previous four “R’s” is driven by taking the time to actively identify where we as a firm and individually have succeeded and where we can do better as we take on such an audacious goal of changing the way government allocates hundreds of millions of dollars. We must remain deeply humble acknowledging the difficulty of the task at hand, the efforts of others, and the profound importance of measurably improving the lives of those in need.