A lot of people are talking about new ways of communicating what not-for-profit organizations do for the people they serve and the causes they champion. Dan Pallotta has inspired millions with his TED talk
and has done the sector a huge service by inspiring people to think about new ways of thinking about not-for-profit. The Stanford Social Innovation review posted a good rebuttal
to some of Dan's points, which keeps the conversation going.
Before we talk about how to communicate what we're doing, or how to fund it, it should be clear what we're trying to achieve. Who are we serving, what cause are we advocating for? What impact will we hold ourselves accountable for achieving? Does our strategy define the very tight alignment of the impact we intend to have with the resources we need?
Every not-for-profit agency funded by government faces tough decisions about whether to chase funding dollars that are tied to the someone else's vision for service to the people or causes we support, or to find new ways of funding, achieving and measuring impact. Many funders are allergic to paying for overhead, as though running a high-performance organization is possible without facilities, back-office and staff support. I wish I knew who to attribute this to: "It's tough to run a high performance organization from your car"
As a result, articulating Intended Impact gets muddier and harder. In our work with agencies looking to focus their Intended Impact and Theory of Change, it has become clearer over time that the more we can diversify funding sources the more we can retain the independence we need to stay true to our mission. By relying heavily on one funder, we lose the capacity to set our own course.
Pelee Consulting’s tag line is “Building Community Capacity”, and it’s something we feel pretty strongly about. When I first started working in not-for-profit, I was surprised by the amount of money spent by not-for-profit agencies on consulting. It seemed that anytime there was a project that needed doing that was outside the day-to-day provision of service to clients it either had to be done by volunteers (often board members) or the agency hired a consultant to do it.
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. Our approach involves facilitating the work of management teams but not replacing it. A successful project to us is one that builds the capacity of community organizations while at the same time executing 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. Funders have different priorities, funding periods, and definitions of inputs and outcomes. This adds up to a lot of time and money spent gathering information that doesn't mean a lot to an agency’s measure of its impact in the world.
All this reporting overhead can cause agencies to neglect some unique 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.
Of course, we are consultants, and we think we can add a lot of value. The difference is that in every engagement we work on building your internal capacity for the next time. An important benefit of that collaborative style is the buy-in you get to the final result. Data gathering and analysis is one example of internal capacity building that will make planning and resource allocation better. In the end, the better you can tell the story of your impact, the more support you can secure.
Leaders and workers in the not-for-profit sector are often motivated by a passion for service. We enjoy the journey: the daily interaction with clients and causes and influencers, and the heady rush of ideas and new initiatives.
"We're doing such good work, we must be making a difference!"
Let's continue to enjoy the journey. But while we're doing that, some suggestions toward ensuring we are as effective as we can be:
1. Be clear about who our beneficiaries are and the difference we're trying to make in their lives.
2. Be clear about what programs we will offer and what programs we will not.
3. Be clear about the impact we're trying to make in the world.
4. Be clear about how we can measure the impact we're having so as to continuously improve our programs and activities to keep us focused on the mission.
5. Make all decisions based on this clarity.
Good stewardship and happy equanimity need not be mutually exclusive. Let's enjoy the journey, but have a map too. Let's celebrate both for the joy we take in our work and the difference we're making. Strategic clarity won't stop our creativity and innovative spirit, but it will focus it and help us change change the world.
We've been tweeting the past few months about the Impact and Strategic Clarity module of Innoweave
, now working with our first cohort of fourteen organizations across Canada. The shadow coaches working with this first cohort are now certified to lead organizations through the initiative's Group Consulting Process. To quote the Innoweave site: "The Impact and Strategic Clarity module helps community organizations clarify what they aim to achieve, how they will achieve it, and how they will measure their success. Participating organizations conduct an in-depth analysis of their own program data and examine external evidence to clarify where to focus their efforts and how to measure success."
Three free webinars (two in English and one in French) are planned in February for interested agencies to learn more about the program. Click here
for the application form, and here
for the webinar schedule and registration.
Organizations that can clearly articulate their Intended Impact make better decisions around how to allocate scarce resources to drive the most change.
The level of funding an agency can reasonably expect is a test of the reasonableness of our plans but it isn't an end in itself.
Try to avoid making "getting secure funding" a strategic goal, but rather as a means to achieving well articulated and measurable impacts in your community. Nothing will be accomplished in an agency run on wishful thinking, and so funding is important. It just isn't an end in itself.
We're thrilled to be working with the McConnell Family Foundation and Bridgespan in the Innoweave Strategic Clarity
project. Fourteen organizations across Canada will be working together over the next six months to develop powerful Intended Impact Statements and Theories of Change for their organizations.
Sally has been selected as a shadow coach for this process, and will be leading a group of organizations in the project's second phase, starting in 2013. Applications for the second phase will begin in January 2013- we'll let you know when.
If you would like to here more about the project and how your organization can participate, please contact us
For more on this initiative, please see the Foundation's website.
In this series I've been exploring the elements that contribute a high-performance culture. Performance need not be a goal only for highly competitive for-profit corporations. Performance in any organization drives the impact it has: in the not-for-profit world high performance ensures the ongoing viability, relevance and effectiveness of an agency's mission in its community.
Often, in not-for-profit organizations, annual performance reviews and comprehensive strategic planning sessions are skipped or postponed because of lack of time. The needs of the people we serve are great and we have little time and even less funding to spare. This short-term thinking is a risk to the performance of our organizations.
By taking the time to engage everyone (clients, staff, volunteers, funders, community leaders and other people of influence) in strategic planning we can learn what we don't know and need to find out. We can learn about resource gaps, and go about planning how to fill them. We can learn about service and how it can be improved to reach more people better. We can learn about upcoming trends and pressures on funding, and ask for advice and generate ideas about alternatives. Continuous learning is one way agencies protect their viability and ensure longer-term effectiveness.
More organizational learning is possible through a well-managed performance review process. A performance review should not be a 'gotcha' exercise in pointing out someone's weaknesses. Far from it. A well managed performance review process allows employers and employers to share information, plan for development and celebrate achievements. A positive performance process supports organizational learning, and allows for spending on training and development in a systematic and ultimately cost-effective way. Sending people on ad hoc courses in response to errors or deficiencies is much less effective than planning development from both an individual and agency perspective and celebrating positive growth.
In this AGM season, boards and senior management teams are working hard on budgets and thinking about their organizations’ strategic plans. It is important at this time to reach out to many stakeholders and ask for input in guiding your agency toward the future, and protecting its viability and relevance.
The Carver Policy Governance Model suggests agencies think about who the moral owners of an organization really are. In for-profit organizations, the owners are most often the shareholders. In not-for-profit organizations we tend to think about funders, clients, founders, or employees as moral owners, but we seldom think about volunteers.
When you consider the attributes of moral owners in this model (people who care about the agency beyond their own or their family’s use of it, who are true believers in the mission and vision, and who constitute the pool from which future board members will be drawn), it is clear that volunteers are key moral owners. This year, when thinking about the strategic plan, ask volunteers about what projects and objectives will serve the mission best. Chances are you will get useful and thoughtful insights from some of the people who care the most.
As the fiscal year end approaches for many not-for-profit organizations, strategic planning starts to come back into focus. As we prepare for our Annual General Meetings, work to finalize the new fiscal year budget, and report our accomplishments to our stakeholders, now is a good time to step back and consider how closely those accomplishments match our best intentions and our agency's defining mission.
Organizations often find they have done a lot, but haven't been able to focus on the big challenges or keep the long-term growth and viability of the agency in mind.
Now is the time to reconsider the mission, vision and strategic plan- do they still make sense? Do our stakeholders still want and need the same things? What must we do to ensure our ongoing viability and relevance? What has changed in our sector? What will be changing? What opportunities have we been too busy to see?
Taking the time to involve all stakeholders in strategic planning now will pay off in the new fiscal year and in the years to come, in better focusing everyone's efforts. Ensuring everyone's perspectives are heard and built into the plan will go a long way to building ownership and buy-in from employees, clients and funders. Most importantly, it will help focus everyone anew on your defining mission.