How to Make 2012 a ‘Leap’ Year


One of my New Year’s resolutions was to follow the KISS principle—Keep It Simple, Stupid—more often. I’ll try to put that principle to use in this update, given how many developments in the Leap of Reason community we want to highlight this month.

First, we want to share some concrete ideas for how boards, foundations, donors, and nonprofits can make 2012 a “leap” year. In a section entitled “A Role for Everyone” in my VPPNews column this month, you can find suggestions like the following:

  • “The next time you’re in a board meeting and a stirring story of a child is featured to pull your emotional heartstrings, shift the discussion from the heart to the mind by asking: How many of those served have lived this same story and had this same benefit?”
  • “Instead of blindly encouraging more nonprofits to start up, I now believe we should be looking at effective ways to advance collaborative efforts, co-locations, and consolidations…. What are the top ten opportunities in your region?”
  • “What if we could develop an ’impact index’ that would allow regions to rank their nonprofit, public, and private-sector organizations?”

The initial response to this article has been strong—perhaps because I bluntly acknowledge my own shortcomings in my transition into the nonprofit sector in the ’90s. My good intentions didn’t prevent me from making a ton of rookie mistakes. “People who didn’t know me saw me as a brash, arrogant interloper,” I write. “I did not meaningfully comprehend the nonprofit ethos, the social complexities inherent in what nonprofits do, [or] the stunning lack of support for leaders with the courage to manage for greater impact.”

Second, we’re now shipping complimentary Leap of Reason board packages, which organizations are already using to prepare for and sharpen the focus of board retreats, strategic planning efforts, visioning sessions, and self-assessment exercises.

Our not-so-secret motive for creating these packages is to fire up boards to assert strong governance and stewardship roles—to ensure that their organizations are doing what they claim to do and are creating meaningful, sustainable, and measurable change in the lives of those they serve.

In addition to the book, the packages contain a user guide, a list of excellent reports on board effectiveness, two VPPNews columns of direct relevance to boards, and a form for sharing your feedback. If you want copies for your board, just write to us with your contact information, timing, how many packages you need, and how you plan to use them.

And now for a staccato, KISS list of other key happenings we want you to know about:

  • More than 27,000 copies of the book are now in circulation, across 30 countries.
  • A richer version of our website now highlights the many extra pieces of content that we and others are creating to advance the book’s key themes.
  • Leap of Reason reached the Saint Luke’s Foundation at just the right moment. According to Denise San Antonio Zeman, the book helped inspire the foundation to “rethink, redesign, and reinvent” its entire approach to grantmaking for 2012 and beyond. We’re impressed with what we’ve seen of these efforts already and intend to report on them in greater detail in future articles and speeches.
  • Matthew Bishop, The Economist’s American Business Editor, named Leap of Reason as one of his 2011 “Books of the Year.”
  • Speaking of UK publications, we recommend an outstanding report from London-based New Philanthropy Capital: A journey to greater impact: Six charities that learned to measure better (free login required). We would be enthusiastic about the report even if they had not featured our friends at the Latin American Youth Center.
  • Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge newsletter, which reaches more than 150,000 subscribers, features a dialogue with Professor Alnoor Ebrahim and me on improving nonprofit performance. “Many nonprofit boards see their work as simply looking after the financial integrity of the organization and following the letter of the law,” says Professor Ebrahim. “Equal if not greater priority is actually focusing on the mission of the organization and making sure there’s a strategy that can be implemented and measured in terms of performance targets.”
  • The current issue of Alliance for Children & Families Magazine gave Leap of Reason prominent coverage, calling the book “a wakeup call for those who have been resistant to measurement.”
  • Foundation Center’s Philanthropy News Digest has just published a Q&A on the book. “We hope the book will give you some ideas,” I note. “But, ultimately, you have to make the highly personal decision—in some cases akin to a conversion—that you want and need to do this.”
  • Reader Response of the Month: “I started reading it out of a sense of obligation and quickly became engaged by your straightforward prose. I read it in one sitting. Not many nonprofit books have that power—at least, over me!”—Barry Silverberg, President & CEO, Texas Association of Nonprofit Organizations

Finally, on behalf of the VPP Leap of Reason team, thank you for all the ways you have responded to Leap of Reason. The tweets, emails, blogs, reviews, and reports on your reactions to the book—and the illustrations of ways you’ve put its ideas into action—have gone way beyond anything we had envisioned last year when we were in the throes of writing it. We look forward to continuing this discussion in 2012 and doing justice to the array of ideas and stories you’ve shared. Many thanks and please keep them coming!

– Mario Morino