Toby Johnson
21 January 2015

Bilancio sociale (IT)

The social balance (bilancio sociale) is an annual statement that reports on an organisation’s social impact. It is a tool for communicating an organisation’s values to workers, funders and other stakeholders.

In Italy, the preparation of a social balance is compulsory for organisations registered as social enterprises (imprese sociali) and also for those registered as social cooperatives in the regions of Lombardy and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The content of these compulsory social balances is laid down by national or regional law, and covers the organisation’s aims, governance, activities, outcomes, finances and the methodology used to prepare the social balance.

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However according to survey evidence, 73% of social enterprises in the broad sense, most of which are social cooperatives, also find it worthwhile to prepare social balances voluntarily. They use them primarily to communicate with their workers, as a tool to increase participation within the enterprise. To a lesser extent, they distribute them externally to build trust among other stakeholders such as customers, service users, volunteers and donors. Public authorities and financial institutions find them useful to assess the impact of any contracts they might make with a cooperative.

Lessons of social accounting

  • Three-quarters of social cooperatives find it worthwhile to prepare a social balance even though they are not legally obliged to do so. They use them mainly to increase participation among their workers;
  • However the social balance is underused as a promotional tool, as while 44% of social enterprises distribute it to their workers, only 6% send it to their customers and only 12% post it on their websites;
  • The social balance is a useful tool which social cooperatives use to raise their visibility and build trust among their stakeholders, but it would be much more effective if used as part of a broader communication and stakeholder engagement strategy;
  • The measurement of social impact is becoming an increasingly important issue, and so the social balance is likely to become an ever more important tool;
  • In those regions where social cooperatives are obliged to prepare a social balance, the public authorities find them a useful source of information on the impact of their policies;
  • Nevertheless it is possible that if the social balance was made compulsory for all social cooperatives, the quality of the information would fall due to the constraints of standardisation.