It has been a great few weeks, kicking off Impact projects across the country- from the Maritimes to the West Coast to the North.  I'll be capturing my observations here in the next few months as  we work together with our clients toward strategic clarity. One of the great things about this work is that I'm learning as much as I'm teaching- I have a lot of admiration for the knowledge and passion of leaders in this sector. 

One of the common themes we've noticed recently is a disinclination to leave anything out that might be helpful to the people our clients serve.  When your initial Theory of Change (TOC) is aspirational, it is tempting to try and fit in all of the possible routes to your ultimate intended outcomes. I expect people will find, in the course of the analysis and research phases of their projects, is that while there are many things worth doing (the need can be endless), not everything is equally worth doing, or worth doing by you. 

We encourage the organizations we work with to focus on the areas where they are uniquely equipped to have an impact, and work toward collective impact with other collaborators in their sectors to advance the rest.  While it can be tough to leave some things to others, every initiative or program not-for-profits retain should be aligned with their intended impact and well matched to their resources and capability. Every effort that is less aligned with the outcomes you will hold yourselves accountable for achieving comes at a cost - sometimes in terms of space or other resources, but most often in terms of management time, attention and focus. 

We can't boil the ocean. Sometimes it's a relief to find out we don't have to. 
Do you want to clarify the impact your organization can have and how you will achieve it? Do you need a roadmap to support tough decisions?

If so, your organization may be interested in attending a free Innoweave Impact & Strategic Clarity Information Session, hosted in collaboration with Halton Region and thePwC Foundation on June 16th, 2014 from 8:00 am to 10:00am. The PwC Foundation has generously donated space in their new centre in Oakville for this event. This session will be led by Sally Fazal and Lynn Fergusson and will provide an overview of the module; examples of organizations who have undertaken the 5-month facilitated coaching process; and the potential benefits for your organizations. The session will be interactive and include opportunities for discussion, questions and answers.

Event Details:

  • What: 2 hour Impact & Strategic Clarity Information Session.
  • When: Monday, June 16th, 2014, from 7:30 AM registration, session starts at 8:00 AM
  • Where: PwC Centre, 354 Davis Road, Suite 600, Oakville, Ontario
  • Registration:  Free - Space is limited, so please click here to register.

We've been tweeting the past few months about the Impact and Strategic Clarity module of Innoweave, More than forty organizations across Canada have worked through the module and many are already feeling the change in focus, internal and external alignment, and clearer decision-making. 

To quote Innoweave : "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." Have a look at the recorded webinar on the Innoweave site. 

Almost everyone in our sector is motivated by a passion for service and an interest in the people we serve and the difference we make. We enjoy the journey: the daily interaction with clients and causes, 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 what impact we intend. 

2 Be clear about what activities drive the impact we're working toward and which don't.  

3. Be clear about evaluating the impact we're having and act on what we learn from meaningful data and evidence. 

4. Don't get bogged down counting stuff- find a few clear indicators to keep you on the road. 
4. Make all decisions from this position of clarity

Let's enjoy the journey, but have a map too. Let's celebrate both 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.  

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. 

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. 

Dan talks about the importance of building high-performance organizations and investing the real dollars needed to move the needle on social innovation. Funders can be allergic to paying for overhead, as though running a high-performance organization is possible without facilities, back-office and staff support. As someone wise has said:   

        "It's tough to run a high performance organization from your car." 

We find, though, that not-for-profits who are very intentional and clear about the impact they are trying to make, and whose strategy demonstrates a tight link between activities and impacts, gains credibility with funders.  Getting to clarity means answering specific questions about impact: 

  • What impact will we hold ourselves accountable for achieving?  
  • Does our strategy describe the very tight alignment of the impact we intend to have with the resources we need? 
  • Do our programs align with our intended impact? 
  • Can we say no to funding that doesn't align with our intended impact?
  • If we lose funding, will we know

The better we can articulate and measure our impact the more credibility (and funding) we get.  

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.
In the AGM season aproaches, 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.

Volunteers care about the agency beyond their own or their family’s use of it, are true believers in the mission and vision, and constitute the pool from which future board members will be drawn. This year, when thinking about the strategic plan, ask volunteers about what projects and objectives will drive impact best.  Chances are you will get useful and thoughtful insights from some of the people who care the most.    

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 drive impact.