“Gone are the days when corporate donors wrote checks for the ‘nice’ programs or the ‘cute’ girls,” according to the CEO and chief fundraiser for Girls Inc. of the Capital Region.Donors ask for financials and business plans, and “they want to know how you’re changing the communities in which you exist.“ Rick Cohen, NonProfit Quarterly. August 27, 2010; Source: The Business Review |
This is the 3rd in a series of posts were we explore one of 5 Evaluative Practices, that if adopted put you on the path to being evaluative. The last post highlighted how important it is to Know Thyself as one embarks on this journey. Core to that post are the following:
- Being clear about the degree to which you are comfortable with and able to test your assumptions about why you do the work and the change you seek as a result of your efforts
- Clarity on intent and what can be accomplished opens you up to what you need to do to make that happened and not want you hope will happen.
The next critical practice is to “not confuse what you do with the difference you make.” There isn’t a single organization with which we have worked regardless of size, type or focus that cannot in a blink of the eye provide a list of all the things they do. They can talk about the activities, the work they do, who they serve/support/target…etc. It’s often amazing the depth and breadth of knowledge they have about the work. And yet, often when asked, “Why? What difference does it make? Or even more directly, what is the impact that is intended?” There is silence. And when that question is posed again, the response is often a restatement of the activities/strategies.
Why does it matter? And why is it so hard to do this?
Well it matters if you want to evaluate your efforts. Evaluation is the process of determining the merit, worth and value of things. To successfully design an evaluation framework and implement an evaluation plan, it is important that the intention of said work (expressed through outcomes and objectives) is clear so one can determine progress towards a stated aim.
And the response to why it is so hard is a complex one. It could be that mission and vision statements which are often used as the default guiding star for non profits are so broad, they don’t support saying no and focusing efforts towards a single end point. Or it could be that being clear about outcomes/objectives is a new muscle that has only been in practice for 5—7 years (10 at the most).
Regardless of the why, when it does happen, it is a transformative moment. Following are a few examples:
- Bay Area arts organization – After engaging in strategic framework process (theory of change + decision screen) –they re-framed themselves as being an agent of social change that uses art as a tool for dialogue, healing and identifying solutions.
- Oakland youth organization – No longer focused on describing the issue, they are now better able to state (and work towards) a specific outcome within that environmental context. They can also stick to an evaluation plan.
- South Bay community center – By being more explicit about the why and the to what end (outcomes), they are now less likely to stray in to the land of “good work” but stay focused on the “right work”.
- Foundation – By developing a theory of change for its own initiatives, it seeks partner organizations that are not only aligned through values but whose work supports progress towards foundation outcomes. It also made the reporting and evaluation efforts easier and more meaningful.
Share your stories about your efforts to get clear.