Social Impact Bonds: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Social Impact Bonds: An In Depth Guide

Table of Contents


Social Impact Bonds: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are Social Impact Bonds?

Social Impact Bonds (SIBs), also known as Pay for Success Bonds, are innovative financial instruments designed to fund and scale social programs. In a Social Impact Bond, private investors provide upfront capital to a service provider or nonprofit organization to implement a social intervention aimed at achieving specific outcomes. If the agreed-upon outcomes are achieved, the government repays the investors with a predetermined rate of return. However, if the outcomes are not met, the investors bear the financial risk.

How do Social Impact Bonds work?

Social Impact Bonds typically involve the following parties:

  • Investors: Private individuals, organizations, or funds that provide upfront capital.
  • Service Providers: Nonprofit organizations or social enterprises that implement the interventions.
  • Outcome Payers: Government entities or foundations that agree to repay the investors based on the outcomes achieved.
  • Intermediaries: Organizations that structure and coordinate the SIBs.

Once the SIB is established, the service provider delivers the intervention, and independent evaluators measure the outcomes. If the predetermined outcomes are achieved, the outcome payers repay the principal investment and provide a return to the investors. Successful outcomes are defined prior to the launch of the SIB, ensuring a focus on measurable social impact.

What are the benefits of Social Impact Bonds?

Social Impact Bonds offer several advantages, including:

  • Risk Sharing: Investors bear the risk, rather than the government or taxpayers.
  • Results-based Funding: Funding is tied to the achievement of measurable outcomes.
  • Innovation and Flexibility: SIBs encourage innovative approaches to social issues and allow flexibility in program design.
  • Cost Savings: Successful interventions can lead to long-term cost savings for governments.
  • Accountability: SIBs promote accountability and transparency by focusing on outcomes.

What types of interventions can be funded through Social Impact Bonds?

Social Impact Bonds can be used to fund a wide range of social interventions. Common areas include:

  • Education: Early childhood education programs, dropout prevention initiatives, and college readiness initiatives.
  • Public Health: Preventive health measures, reducing hospital readmissions, and improving mental health services.
  • Justice System: Rehabilitation programs, reducing recidivism rates, and supporting prisoner reintegration.
  • Unemployment: Job training programs, apprenticeships, and employment support for disadvantaged populations.
  • Housing: Homelessness prevention programs and supportive housing initiatives.

Are there any Social Impact Bond success stories?

There have been several successful Social Impact Bond projects around the world. For example:

  • The Peterborough Social Impact Bond in the United Kingdom reduced reoffending rates among short-sentence prisoners by 9%.
  • The Utah High-Quality Preschool Program SIB significantly improved children’s school readiness and reduced special education placements.
  • The New York State Juvenile Justice SIB reduced recidivism rates among participating youth by over 20%.

These success stories demonstrate the potential of Social Impact Bonds to generate positive social outcomes and provide a return on investment for investors.

Are there any risks associated with Social Impact Bonds?

While Social Impact Bonds offer potential benefits, they also come with certain risks:

  • Outcome Uncertainty: It is not always possible to accurately predict the outcomes of social interventions.
  • Selection Bias: SIBs may inadvertently exclude certain demographics or areas, leading to inequitable access to services.
  • Data Limitations: Availability and quality of data can impact the accuracy of outcome measurements.
  • Costs and Complexity: Designing and implementing a Social Impact Bond can be time-consuming and costly.
  • Dependency on Outcomes: If outcomes are not achieved, investors may not recoup their investments.

Where can I find more information on Social Impact Bonds?

You can find more information on Social Impact Bonds from reputable sources such as:

  • The Centre for Social Impact Bonds at
  • The Brookings Institution at
  • The Government Outcomes Lab at
  • The Global Impact Investing Network at
  • The Social Finance website at



Social Impact Bonds: An In Depth Guide