Online Resource Aims to Improve Nonprofit Performance
Research and educational organization The Urban Institute and Social Solutions, provider of performance management software for nonprofits, recently announced that they're collaborating to create a online resource for nonprofit organizations looking to enhance their performance.
The Outcomes and Effective Practices Portal is a free tool that will feature guides that share best practices to help organizations better serve stakeholders and assess program effectiveness. It was unveiled at Social Solutions' recent ETOlution 2009 conference in Baltimore, Md., and is scheduled to go live next spring.
FundRaising Success recently had the chance to speak with Jeff Mason, vice president of Social Solutions, to learn more about the tool and how he thinks it will impact the nonprofit sector. Here's what he had to say:
FundRaising Success: Why did you decide to create this portal?
Jeff Mason: I sort of wear two hats. I'm a vice president at Social Solutions. I'm also the chair of something called the Alliance for Effective Social Investing. The mission of the alliance is to drive more money to high-performing nonprofits.
The idea is that if more money goes to high-performing nonprofits, then more organizations will want to be high-performing. And that all comes out of this whole notion that today a lot of nonprofits are rewarded for being able to tell heartwarming stories or simply for having the right relationships or developing a recognized brand — and not so much around their performance.
And so there's sort of this movement — and it's not just the people at the alliance. There's a lot of people that are talking about this and working toward this. There is this movement to start to fund organizations based on their performance or their capacity to perform and to generate social value. So there's a lot of work going on on that side.
And so if more money goes to high-performing nonprofits and more want to be high performing, well then the next question is how do they do it. So that's what this Outcomes and Effective Practices Portal is all about. We just thought that we had sort of a moral responsibility — if we're trying to drive more organizations to be high-performing — to have some resource that they can use in order to actually find recipes for how to run an effective practice.
Today this information exists in a variety of different places. It's scattered amongst a whole bunch of different researching sites. A lot of this information is not in a single, easy-to-find location. Often this information isn't in a format that is practical and easy to use. What's really crucial is that a lot of times this information isn't associated or doesn't come along with specific tools for how you can then administer an assessment on an individual organization to determine whether or not that organization is making progress.
So we're going to pull together a variety of industry experts to contribute to make this Outcomes and Effective Practices Portal the single resource for nonprofits in order for them to evolve and become high-performing organizations.
FS: What type of information will be on the portal?
JM: Let's say you're running an after-school program. You would go into this portal and you could either navigate by program type or outcome type or tool type, but in this case let's say you navigate by program to "after-school program." What you're going to find there is an explanation of what an after-school program should achieve, what is the appropriate target population for an after-school program. So for instance, it doesn't make sense to start an after-school program that's going to help kids to graduate from high school and set that up in a neighborhood where 99 percent of the kids graduate from high school anyway. So, what is the appropriate target population, what are the assessment tools, what are the questions that you can ask the potential client to make sure that they fit within the appropriate target population, what are the specific outcomes that you should strive to achieve? You've got the immediate outcomes and the long-term outcomes. And how do you measure your progress toward achieving those outcomes?
That's the kind of information that's going to be in this portal. It's information that is related to how do you actually, strategically run a program in order to achieve or generate social value.
None of this stuff is together in a comprehensive format. So that's the information we're going to provide. A lot of nonprofits … they start up an after-school program or they start up some other type of a program and they don't really have a well-thought-out strategy for how they're going to achieve their goals. What this portal's going to provide is the specifics. The real, hard specifics, the details and the tools that an organization can use in order to run an effective program.
FS: How do you see this helping in regards to fundraising?
JM: I think it fits perfectly. Like I said, if more money goes to high-performing nonprofits, then if you want to raise money, you're going to have to show that you are high-performing. The only way to do that is by implementing a lot of the practices that this portal is going to have. In fact, it's going to be the only resource, the only resource that I know of, that's going to help somebody to transform themselves into a high-performing nonprofit.
High-performing nonprofits are basically organizations that have a clear set of reasonable goals. They not only have specific goals, but they have specific indicators that they use in order to measure their progress toward achieving those goals. And then based on the information that they collect as they work, as they manage their progress, they use that information to refine their approach and to continuously improve.
And so there's a whole bunch of criteria, a whole bunch of characteristics that you can look at in an organization to determine whether or not they're capable of doing those things.
FS: What's your vision for how it will change the nonprofit sector going forward?
JM: It's the stuff that we're doing with the Urban Institute and the Effective Practices Portal in combination with what's going on with the Alliance for Effective Social Investing. And this whole movement toward driving more money to high-performing nonprofits. If we're successful with both of those things, then what's going to happen is funding to organizations simply because they have the right relationships or they've developed the brand or they're great at telling heartwarming stories is going to fizzle out and nonprofit funding is going to be based on an organization's ability to generate social value.
And if that happens — if we get there or we get much closer to that — then there are world-changing consequences to that. It's only if we do those kind of things that we stand any chance of really solving or coming close to solving the serious social issues that we face.