We're excited to be continuing and expanding our work with Innoweave in collective action. It has been an amazing experience to work with organizations across the country on the Impact and Strategic Clarity module, which we think is really foundational.
Historically, much of our collaboration has been at the sector level. Thanks to the efforts of Innoweave
, a new module has been introduced that supports groups to come together in a structured and proven process to work on issues than span across sectors. Through Innoweave's Collective Impact module, we now we have new tools and supports to help us work to create impact in communities by working together.
is an example of successful community collaboration in Canada. Purpose Built Communities
is another powerful example in the United States. Both of these initiatives started in a single community and their success has been replicated across their respective countries. CAROW
(Canadian Association of Residential Options for Criminalized Women) is a national level collaboration that brings together organizations focused on housing, poverty, mental health and criminal justice to ensure that safe housing and alternatives to incarceration are built for women in our communities. The low numbers of women involved in the criminal justice system means that their needs can be subsumed into solutions designed for the larger populations of street involved and criminalized men. By collaborating across sectors, CAROW is leveraging the effort of its member organizations across the country to achieve impact greater than the sum of what these agencies can achieve alone.
These are exciting times. Organizations that are very clear about the impact they can achieve and how they will measure outcomes are in a great position to leverage their impact further through collaboration with others. The Innoweave suite of practical tools is poised to have a huge impact itself on effectiveness and positive outcomes.
I love the idea of blogs. They're an amazing and accessible medium for sharing ideas and making new connections. To have any credibility and relevance, though, you have to keep posting. I haven't been here since July. So, here I go with a renewed effort to stay current.
Wish me luck.
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.
Theory of Change and Logic Model ideas have been around a long time in the not-for-profit sector. Sometimes, a leadership team will work on a theory of change, create beautiful diagrams to present it, and then stop. We get back into busy-work mode and forget what we think is primarily a philosophical or intellectual exercise.
A good theory of change is practical, and can inform all of the busy work we're doing. Here are 5 (I think there are more, but let's start with 5) attributes of a good theory of change.
- It describes, specifically, who we're serving. Lots of NFPs have grown organically over time, as our agencies step in to fill gaps we see in our community. Programs have a tendency to proliferate with the available funding (and indeed funding models tend to exacerbate this by funding new programming while neglecting basic infrastructure, but more on that at a later time.) By defining who exactly we are serving, we can ensure our programs meet this population's needs, and we can see where our time and attention may have wandered away from our defining mission.
- It shows how our programs and activities serve these people or advance our mission. A program or activity that doesn't meet the needs of our target population or advance our mission needs to be looked at carefully. Is it primarily a revenue generator? Does it really generate revenue? That is, does it cover all our costs, including management time and infrastructure, or just the variable inputs? Is it worth the time we're spending or is it a distraction? Is the program serving the people we intend to serve, or someone else? Are we serving people or advocating change in a sector someone else is covering well?
- Useful TOCs outline the specific short-term and long-term outcomes we are striving to achieve. We can't monitor how well we're doing until we really define what we expect to see. This isn't always easy- sometimes an outcome is the avoidance of something, and sometimes progress is slow. But the people we serve and the people who fund us want to know what we're trying to accomplish, and we should be able to articulate that clearly.
- Good TOCs incorporate realistic measures for demonstrating our progress and helping us make decisions for the future. Specific and realistic measurement can help us see whether we're making any difference, and how we can improve or better focus our activity.
This last point is most important. 5. A good Theory of Change supports and enhances decision-making.
Imagine your agency just got a no-strings attached windfall. Can everyone in the organization see clearly what the best allocation of those new resources would be? If not, your Theory of Change might need some more work. It will be time well spent.
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.
Most not-for profits are challenged when working to secure stable funding. Many foundations and government funders are inclined to support projects with tangible goals rather than operational expenses. This has to some extent encouraged more and more program extensions and less focus on good management of agencies' core business.
Funders are naturally more open to supporting the operational expenses of agencies that can articulate their intended impact and measure their success, and will support the operations of agencies that can demonstrate positive impact.
Can your agency clearly and specifically say what you are trying to achieve and for whom? Can you clearly say what you will not
do? Can you clearly articulate and measure how your programs are bearing fruit?
Have a look at this excellent article on Intended Impact in the Stanford Social Innovation Review
, and let us know what you think.