Is Your Big Picture Holding You Back?
I attended a webinar last month titled "Are Nonprofits Helping or Harming?" and was interested in its "big picture" viewpoint. While we try to focus almost exclusively on tips and news of interest related to fundraising here, I found a lot of the big-picture points important. I mean, how can you fundraise successfully if your organization isn't achieving the objectives of its mission? The advice shared in the webinar, which I detail here, might reveal some big-picture things your organization can work on to help it better achieve its mission (and make your job of raising funds easier).
"It is the burden of every nonprofit organization to demonstrate that they are doing good," said the webinar's presenter, David Hunter, founder and managing partner of Hunter Consulting LLC. Determining whether your organization is helping or harming begins with defining its strategic performance management, i.e., the degree to which an organization is able to create social value and measurable change.
Performance management requires everyone in an organization to be results-driven and a top-to-bottom commitment to pursuing knowledge about what the organization's results are.
Hunter said outcomes consist of changes that are measurable, enduring, linked directly and plausibly to intentional efforts, and the results for which all staff are held accountable.
He said many nonprofits do a poor job of measuring outcomes for four reasons:
- Funders rarely support the full cost of running programs, let alone tracking outcomes.
- It is much easier to focus on what you do than on results.
- Social services often are conceived of so broadly that measuring outcomes may be dismissed as "narrowly reductionistic."
- The pressure and challenges of day-to-day work don't allow time to devote to tough, analytical thinking.
Hunter asked attendees to consider the unlikely goals offered by programs that aim to get people off of welfare and into jobs and then don't provide job-based coaching and support even though it's known that job retention is the biggest challenge faced by the people they serve. Or foster care programs that stop supporting kids when they "age out" of the system at age 18 or 21, exactly the time when they need intensive support.
A slide in Hunter's presentation showed the image of a scale. On one side of the scale was "resources used," e.g., people's time and money, and on the other side was "responsibility." He said the more resources an organization takes, the greater the burden of responsibility to society.
So, in a resources-poor environment, what can nonprofits do if they want to do good?
- Avoid sentimentality, and embrace intentionality and accountability. "Stop making excuses, stop blaming funders, and do whatever it takes to get the car running safely," Hunter said.
- Become a demanding grantee. "Negotiate with funders for adequate overhead and operational support, and reject unrealistic demands for results," he said.
- Develop a rigorous strategy for success (with a clear mission, well-articulated goals and measurable objectives).
- "Develop a robust theory of change with clearly identified 'target populations,' operational outcomes and indicators for assessing success," Hunter said.
- Implement a performance management system, i.e., "a set of data-driven, self-correcting processes where everybody is held accountable for program participants achieving good outcomes," he said.
- "Eventually, and only under the right conditions,” Hunter said, "consider an external evaluation to test whether the outcomes measured in your performance data correspond to real changes in or for the people you serve."
In conclusion, Hunter said the six essential elements of a results-driven, high-performance culture that all organizations should strive for are:
- Leadership at all levels committed to high performance, both of quality and effectiveness.
- Efforts that align to achieve targeted outcomes ("measurable, enduring change linked to intentional staff/volunteer efforts, the basis of organizational and individual accountability," he said.)
- Data-driven decision making. Tactical and strategic data use.
- Clarity about the metrics of performance at all levels and in all roles.
- Transparency about individual and collective performance at all levels.
- Ongoing, highly individualized professional development focusing on specific staff competencies related to success, as assessed using performance metrics.