Countless organizations across the United States have used IMPLAN to gain insights into their economic impacts, inform event location decisions, and so much more. One such organization is Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) Sorority, Incorporated. AKA Sorority was established in 1908 and has since grown to a membership of over 300,000 women focused on personal and professional development as well as leadership and advocacy for social change.
The IMPLAN team recently sat down with Vereda Williams, Ph.D. to discuss her experiences using IMPLAN in her role as chairperson of the sorority’s Economic Impact Study Committee.
A Lifelong Kind of Venture
Williams is a “golden member” of AKA, having joined over fifty years ago during her undergraduate studies at Johnson C. Smith University. Growing up in a family of educators, she was aware of the organization even before that, and participated in their events throughout her childhood. As a college student, she was eager to play a part of her own in the organization’s dedication to “service of all mankind.”
“We’re all about service,” says Williams. “It’s a lifelong kind of venture.”
In the years since she joined AKA Sorority, Williams has served the organization in “about every capacity I can think of,” she says. Meanwhile, she also completed her undergraduate degree, went on to earn her doctorate in economics from Duke University, and worked as a professor of economics at North Carolina A&T State University until her retirement. She has authored numerous studies on environmental economics, the economics of the Caribbean, and other subjects. Today, she teaches online classes at her alma mater, Johnson C. Smith, while also making huge contributions to her sorority by combining her passion for economics with her commitment to service.
A New Mission: Dollar Value
A few years ago, AKA Sorority’s national president, Glenda Glover, approached Williams with a request. “She was really interested in finding out the dollar value of some of the activities that the sorority has been involved with,” Williams explains. “These functions include things like workshops, regional activities, leadership activities, and community organizations… So we sat down and we talked about a plan as to how to come up with this dollar value.”
The goal was to provide AKA members with insight into the dollar value of the organization’s effort. “We always knew what we did in the community,” says Williams, “but just having an idea of what this is worth to a community is really outstanding.”
In taking on this new initiative, Williams knew she would need the right tools to find an accurate dollar value for the sorority’s activities. She ultimately chose to equip herself with two major things: survey results and IMPLAN software.
When tackling her dollar value mission for AKA, Williams looked at a variety of forecasting models and ultimately settled on IMPLAN. Williams was familiar with IMPLAN from the 34 years she spent as a professor at A&T. From that experience, her impression was that “It’s really helpful to have all this data in one place.”
“It was a choice in my head, either you can get down on nuts and bolts and create this system yourself, which would be really tedious, or you can look for a system that is not a cookie cutter system, but one that you can use and it’s flexible, that would fit our organization,” Williams says, “and IMPLAN just had the best package out there.”
“Using your NAICS codes was wonderful because there wasn’t any piece of our event planning process that we couldn’t find, and so it was really helpful to go through it step by step,” Williams continues. “I think it was user friendly and very easy to use. It gave us the output that I needed so I could turn around and then explain it to leaders of my organization so that we can share it and make sure that we document where we are and where we want to be.”
Williams’ other secret weapon for her studies is survey data.
“The surveys have been amazing,” Williams says. “We did several surveys during this [President Glover’s] administration and we were able to collect a very good amount of data in order to proxy the rest of the data.”
The sorority’s surveys – conducted on a regional level – ask members about a variety of matters, including how much they spend when attending organization events such as the yearly Leadership Conference. “Having that alongside the data with numbers on sorority members, it was easy to expand it out to see what it should look like for the average person in each region,” explains Williams.
What Williams’ Committee Has Studied So Far
So, what impacts has Williams’ committee studied so far?
They started with a study of AKA’s 2019 Leadership Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. Leadership conferences are a part of the organization’s “lifelong learning” initiative.
Williams explains: “So we have these leadership conferences every other year and at this conference, we learn lots of activities that can help us in our sorority life as well as our personal life and our positions that we’re working in. So we had one in Nashville, Tennessee in 2019. It was an in-house kind of experience and I was able to model our contributions that we brought. For example, we do things like looking at eyeglasses. We may have a program that’s going to collect different eyeglasses so that they can be re-used and re-fitted for other people. Or we do things like donate clothes to different global need programs. So I was able to take all this information that was brought in by our different regions. I could then use the IMPLAN model to look at how much of an effect we had for that time period that we were in Nashville. I was able to look at the kind of money that we brought to the area and how it was used in the Nashville area, the kind of jobs that were created because we came to Nashville, food market industry, the use of equipment, different facilities that we used there. So it was great for me to be able to start that way.”
From there, she has studied other big events in large cities as well as smaller, more localized efforts conducted by individual chapters of AKA.
Williams says that there is “a lot of room for growth” in terms of other studies she could conduct to continue helping AKA members and others better understand the organization’s economic impacts.
“Being able to tell this story in the present moment is important,” she says. “I would also like to go backward and tell the story of what has happened in the past with different programs and different administrations that we’ve had.”
Williams says that with each study, she learns things that help her work better on her next project, as well as things that help the organization maximize service efforts. She’s excited about what the future holds and being able to “Not just talk about words, but talk about dollars.”
Find Out How You Can Follow in AKA’s Footsteps
Are you interested in following in AKA’s footsteps and putting a dollar value on your organization’s programming? Our team is here to help.
To learn more about Vereda Williams’ studies using IMPLAN, check out our webinar recording. To discuss your own project, schedule a demo with our team today!