There are three specific initiatives I’m involved in that I believe represent catalyzing efforts to shift from the “nonprofit sector, expanding activities and efforts” to “the social sector, managing to results”:
1) Full cost/Real cost funding toolkit
2) The Performance Imperative momentum
3) Local examples of infrastructure and commitment to change
I’ve summarized these actions, which transform the conversation from theory to practice. Each is closely aligned with my vision for DBN & Associates: “Social change is defined in terms of client outcomes, rather than well-intentioned programs and activities.”
First, the Donors Forum is making headway on a strategic initiative called “Full cost funding”. I am passionate about this topic. I have been a strong proponent starting around the time that GMN’s Project Streamline published “Drowning in Paperwork, Distracted from Purpose” and pre-dating Bridgespan’s work with Donors Forum, resulting this short video on “Real Talk about Real Costs”. Since then, Guidestar, Charity Navigator and BBB Wise Giving Alliance published “The Overhead Myth” and the message of effectiveness beyond earlier definitions reached a wider audience. As co-chair of the Donors Forum initiative, we are taking the foundational concepts and bringing them to life. As the process continues, the Commitment to Full Cost Funding, will grow from a manifesto into an action-plan for Illinois funders and service providers – transforming from an idea at the conceptual phase to an actionable set of beliefs that will translate into practice. To reach beyond the early adopters, there are several educational tools and resources planned that will guide funders and service providers on how to use “Full Costs” in both culture change, communication, and budgeting processes. With a parallel effort in California and national interest from organizations like Guidestar and GEO, this has great potential to become a sustained campaign for change.
Second, I wrote in my Spring blog about the ground-breaking publication of the Performance Imperative. Since planting the seed, great new action steps are blooming.
· Harvard Business School is using it in an MBA course;
· Large social sector organizations like Building Changes are baking it into their theories of change;
· Grant-makers, like St. Luke's Foundation, are using the PI to guide the organizations they fund in asking themselves the right questions toward high performance.
Third, there are many great examples emerging of the culture changes needed to truly achieve social change. The momentum that Collective Impact catalyzed should not be understated. While the PI is focused at the organizational effectiveness level, sustainable social change happens when high performing organizations come together with shared outcomes, and widely varying yet complementary strategies to forge large scale results. In my current work with the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, it is clear that a culture of trust and long-term relationships lead to investments that represent true partnerships and a focus on continuous improvement. Their commitment to population change, via agency support is inspiring. It is exciting and energizing to facilitate and witness agencies and leaders who serve the same target populations to come together and learn from each other. From this listening and learning, shared results and contributions will lead to a greater understanding of gaps and opportunities. With hard work and good planning, the result will be even better, more streamlined programming and services for the people that the whole eco-system aims to benefit.
Why should we care about this?
Immersed in the nuances of implementing outcome management, I spend significant time thinking about the connection between the true costs of running a nonprofit organization and the vast difference between the cost of running activities and achieving outputs and the need to invest in participant results and achieving outcomes. Outcomes are expensive AND represent the level that all social sector leaders need to aim for, in both time and resources. Yes, this may mean more focus, more support, and greater scrutiny, but it WILL forge the social change that we are all in this to achieve. It will mean healthier people, organizations and communities.
We know the benefits of flexible funding models, of trusting and investing in courageous, adaptive executive and board leadership (First pillar of the Performance Imperative). So, what is on the horizon to help the funding community embrace investing in results and in fact, implementing it as the new normal?
Increasingly, really smart people are writing and speaking on these issues. So, even if you are new to this conversation or have been following the trends for many years, the question is: what can you do?
Three things this month (follow the wisdom of Nike and “Just do it”):
1) Read and share the Performance Imperative with your organization at every level – it is short, straight-forward and credible. Get it in the inboxes of your CEO, board, and management team.
2) Focus on a specific program in your organization and ask the question: Are people better off now than when you started? This is beyond a single anecdote (even though every changed life matters) but focused on whether the program is systematically achieving positive client outcomes. Simply ask the question and consider how you might find out the answer.
3) Keep the faith that our sector is shifting, that funders are embracing the need to invest in full cost funding and longer-term results and that providers are defining success and managing to achieve it. There are increasingly smarter tools to assist service providers to embed outcome management and continuous improvement into their very DNA.
I leave you with a One Minute Manager Kenneth Blanchard quote: “There's a difference between interest and commitment. When you're interested in doing something, you do it only when it's convenient. When you're committed to something, you accept no excuses - only results.”