The Background

The Sundance Family Foundation’s mission is to “accelerate youth development and strengthen family stability.” Recognizing that “young adults from low-income neighborhoods are currently facing unemployment rates that are 4-6x” the Minnesota unemployment rate1, Sundance mentors and partners to recruit and retain our newest workforce.

There’s a clearly identified need for youth workforce development in Minnesota, especially for low income communities, communities of color, and underrepresented communities, which is why Sundance created programs to listen, learn, and support Minnesota’s emerging workforce of talented young adults and their innovative employers. 

For years Sundance has done this through a Youth Social Entrepreneurship employment Program (YSE), meant as an afterschool program for 14-18 year olds to develop social and emotional skills, community engagement and workplace readiness. Based on the learnings Sundance has from this program, they developed a new program called Earn & Learn. It has a similar set of goals and objectives as YSE, but is meant for 18-24 year olds, specifically from low income communities and communities of color, who may be out of school and not working.

Ecotone was brought in to measure the impact of the new Earn & Learn program and answer the research questions “What is the estimated social return on investment in the average Earn & Learn program and to whom do the benefits accrue?”

Ecotone’s work 

Ecotone estimated a projected SROI of $3.50 generated, but specific programs vary, so the social value per dollar ranges from $1.90-$7.50. The benefits of these investments are seen by the youth they serve, taxpayers, employers and overall society (shown in the diagram below). 

Below you can also see some Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that were identified, as wells as a logic model with inputs (from both Sundance in general and the earn and learn program), outputs and outcomes (both long and short term) as well as the Impact Management Project (IMP) five dimensions of impact which are the what, who, how much, contribution, and risk of the impact. 

Below are the identified Sustainable Development Goals that the program aligns with.


As a foundation, Sundance wanted to structure this project in a way that would be applicable to its grantees. It’s helpful specifically for non profits, because it makes note of non monetized outcomes which can be useful in communicating the good that their organization is doing even if those outcomes don’t yet have a monetary value tied to it (due to data limitations). 

Recently Ecotone’s CEO & co-founder Tim Roman participated in a webinar about Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with Peg Thomas, the executive director of Sundance Family Foundation. Sustainable Development Goals are a set of 17 goals agreed upon by the United Nations as part of its 2030 agenda for sustainable development. The SDGs offer a high-level categorization of impact, and outline the key targets and measures identified for investment in each area to achieve the global goals (read more about SDGs here). Ecotone aligns projects to the SDGs, displaying them in all of its Impact Overview Projects, as well as aligns to other frameworks like the Impact Management Project (IMP) Five Dimensions of Impact

Peg is a proponent of using Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to align the goals of the foundation. While its Earn & Learn program does hit a few different SDGs, Sundance most closely aligns with SDG 8, specifically indicator SDG 8.B.1: “Existence of a developed and nationalized strategy for youth employment, as a distinct strategy or as part of a national employment strategy”. 

Peg believes that SDG goals are a good tool to use because they create a “longitudinal map” and a specific goal to work toward as well as common indicators to measure against. It’s a good way to get everybody in the foundation from different functional areas on the same page and also gives grantees a common way to measure goals of their programs. They create a roadmap that everyone can use, and a tool to measure the outcomes and effectiveness of investments. 

  1. 1 Source: Sundance website and MN DEED, Metropolitan Council, and the Georgetown Center for Education and Employment. 

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