Monday, 7. June 2010 23:43
On June 3rd, I had the honor of being the opening speaker for the 3rd Silicon Valley/Peninsula NonProfit Forum hosted by CompassPoint NonProfit Services, THRIVE , Center for Excellence in NonProfits, and the Silicon Valley Council of NonProfits. More than 200 individuals representing the vast array of services and issue areas reflected in the nonprofit sector were in attendance, of which 45% identified themselves as Executive Directors. Four themes framed the sessions and learning objectives of the day:
- Focus on the difference your nonprofit makes in the world
- Discover tools and best practices to clearly communicating your impact
- Connect with other nonprofit leaders
- Take Action to strengthen your nonprofit and the sector.
The title of my session was “Is Your Mission Statement Enough? Making a Stronger Case about Your Impact.” In spite of the word impact being in the title, the session was not about measurement. It was, at its core, about challenging nonprofit leaders to be explicit about the change intended through their efforts and supporting them to do so by contextualizing the questions which 1) lead to focusing their efforts, and 2) support demonstration of their evolving impact in a manner consistent with their organizational stage of development, capacity, and reality.
Over the past 15 years, working with leaders in the nonprofit, philanthropic and public sector, I have observed that reality, is often the hurdle which if successfully jumped opens up a set of questions leading to new and deeper dialogues which move beyond a mission statement to an explicit articulation of intended impact(s). That is not to say that there not external and internal factors and stakeholders which complicate this effort. We know that to be the case. However, in the absence of grounding an organization in reality, it is highly likely that the measurement pathway will be rocky, unsatisfying and an inefficient use of resources, particularly with regard to evaluation.
Clearly, this is not revolutionary. But just because something seems simple, doesn’t mean it is easy. And as debates continue around innovation, rigor, scale, performance vs impact and roles, now is the time for nonprofit leaders to take a breath, stand still or take a step back and objectively look at the context in which they do their work, their capacity, their intention and what they can realistically demonstrate about their impact.
It is important to note that working in reality is not the sole purview of those in the social sector (non profits). One could even argue that philanthropy and perhaps less so the public sector (particualry in California) given current funding challenges, could use a dose of reality too.
Mario Marino offers a thoughtful tool in his May blog Questions to Guide Your Evolution to Managing to Outcomes. If an organization can answer the questions in “The Why and the What” section they have a solid foundation on which to begin their journey towards impact.
It is the responsibility of a strong, healthy and effective leader to model and engage in honest reflection particularly in a time of increasing competition for resources and needs that are more complex. This is no longer optional but imperative.
Subsequent posts this month will present tools jdcPartnerships uses in our work to support our client partners in grounding and clarifying their intent based on their organizational stage of development and capacity.