Pelee Consulting’s tag line is “Building Community Capacity”, and it’s something we feel pretty strongly about.  

Agencies hire consultants because there is no extra time available among the staff for working on special projects. We understand that. Even not-so-special projects are managed by consultants.  Agencies spend the time and talents of staff on direct service work, and have less access to their insights and experience when consultants work on research, planning and organizational design. By outsourcing the thinking and planning aspects of not-for-profit management, we run the risk of losing buy-in to the final result. 

When we say we’re building community capacity, we mean it. A successful project to us is one that builds the capacity of community organizations while getting results on project goals. 

Data analysis is one area where developing your internal capacity will pay off. This may seem a little counter-intuitive: I've heard Executive Directors say they can lose up to three months or every year to data gathering and reporting to funders. 

All this reporting overhead can cause agencies to neglect some important impact measures. It's critical to long-term success to be clear about the beneficiaries you’re serving or the cause you’re championing, the outcomes you expect for the beneficiaries or the change you hope to make. Come up with two or three clear outcome measures to track how you’re doing, and take time to think about and discuss the results.You spend so much time on reporting to funders, make sure you also develop the internal capacity to tell your own unique story and measure your impact on the community you serve.  It will help your decision-making and and tightening up your strategy. 

Data gathering and analysis is one example of internal capacity building that will pay off quickly: the better you can tell the story of your impact, the more support you can secure. 

As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, 'high performance' isn't just a goal for corporations.  High performing not-for-profit organizations recognize that viability, relevance and effectiveness in community service organizations requires clarity and consensus across the organization on the goals.  

When employees know what the agency's short and long term goals are, understand how they can contribute to achieving them, are engaged in developing objectives with their team-mates,  and understand how their work will be evaluated and recognized, they are freer to be creative than if they are 'doing what we've always done'. 

When clients and their families participate in setting goals and in giving feedback on their service experience they are invested in the success of the agency and collaborate where they can. 

Funders are encouraged when agencies engage them in strategic planning and can measure progress toward specific goals. 

In short, people are more likely to enthusiastically follow leaders who know where they're going. 
A client once asked me to change the term 'high-performance' to 'high-impact' in a presentation.  He thought high-performance sounded too corporate. What? It has made me think a lot about how 'high-impact' is really achieved and why high performance seems like a corporate ideal.

Of course not-for-profits want to maximize their impact in the communities they serve, but fostering a high-performance culture is easily as important in not-for-profit organizations as it is in for-profit ones. The outcomes and measures will differ. A high performance culture will drive competitive advantage and profit in corporate settings.  High performance culture in not-for profit agencies will drive high-impact for the communities served.

Performance is the input. Impact is the output. 

Funders often ask for counts of things- how many people served, how many man-hours expended, and how much money spent, but these are simply inputs. Even these simple measures are hard to calibrate across the highly diverse social service landscape. High-performing not-for-profit organizations understand clearly the impacts they hope to achieve, and are measuring and managing key performance drivers (inputs) to maximize impact.

Some attributes of high-performance culture borrowed from corporate Canada translate pretty well to not-for-profit management: 
  • Clarity and Consensus on Goals, Building Trust
  • Talent Acquisition and Employee Engagement
  • Organizational Learning and Continuous Renewal 
  • Recognition and Rewards
In our blogs to come in the coming weeks, we’ll explore some of these these areas in more detail.  We hope to show that high-performance isn’t just a corporate term; it’s the goal for every leader.