Momentum for Merit


This month I will lead off by thanking the Communications Factory, in Hiram, OH, for doing a great job of condensing my address to the City Club of Cleveland into a quick-hitter five-minute video. We realize that a YouTube video of a pontificating funder can’t possibly compete with skateboarding dogs and sneezing pandas. But we hope that the video will be shown at board meetings, strategic planning retreats, and staff brainstorming sessions when leaders want additional ammunition for making the case that high performance is a mission-critical imperative—not a luxury—in this era of scarcity.

One of the key themes of the video and the speech as a whole is that we all must speak out for allocating funds based on merit and reason rather than gripping stories or blind faith. Therefore, you will not be surprised to learn that we are, well, leaping at the news that the Executive Branch is taking an important step in the direction of merit-based funding. As the big-brained, big-hearted writer David Bornstein recentlyreported in the New York Times’ Fixes blog, the Office of Management and Budget “advised agencies to include information about how they plan to evaluate the effectiveness of their programs and link their disbursements to evidence.

This directive was put forward by OMB Acting Director and Chief Performance Officer Jeff Zients, who came to the Administration with impressive business chops. I join Bornstein and others in the hope that Zients’ bold move will usher in the age of “evidence-based policy making.” As I am saying in every speech I give, “We need to concentrate our precious dollars on the organizations that have reasonable evidence that they are making a real difference for those they serve. In this era of scarcity, we don’t have a single dollar to waste!”

And here are some other brief updates from around the Leap of Reason community:

  • In light of the OMB directive I mentioned above, the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy could not have been more timely in the release of the publication Rigorous Program Evaluations on a Budget: How Low-Cost Randomized Controlled Trials Are Possible in Many Areas of Social Policy. The report makes a compelling case that gathering “gold standard” evidence doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Creative, low-cost approaches can produce valid, actionable data to guide policymakers who care about results.
  • My heartfelt thanks to columnist Rick Wartzman, the director of theDrucker Institute, for penning “Three Things Business Leaders Should Do to Help the Nonprofit Sector—Before It’s Too Late.” The column elevated ideas I floated in a recent speech to the National Human Services Assembly. The most gratifying part was his conclusion that the speech was triggering introspection and action: “After Morino’s keynote, a large contingent of nonprofit executives at the Assembly meeting committed themselves to the kind of bold ’reinvention’ that he said is so urgent.”
  • I should acknowledge that my speech also generated constructive criticism from Nonprofit Quarterly contributor Kathi Jaworski. “What’s sorely missing from [Morino’s] mix of recommendations is the role of corporate America to provide direct financial support and policy advocacy for the sector.” I respect the overall point that corporate America has, with notable exceptions, not done enough to support a healthy society. But in my view, corporate leaders could do the most good for our sector by investing strategically with their dollars and their intellect to encourage and reward high performance, and set the example for merit-based funding.
  • About a week after the National Human Services Assembly event, National Council of Nonprofits President and CEO Tim Delaney gave a rousing call to action to the leaders of state nonprofit associations after I delivered a keynote at their annual conference. Delaney is a leader who clearly “gets it” and sees the need for nonprofits to improve and reinvent.
  • inProgress, an organization with an international focus, has developed Project Monitoring, a valuable manual for nonprofits working to improve their performance. I urge you to check it out. It’s available for free download.
  • Kudos to Plain Dealer columnist Margaret Bernstein for highlighting the efforts of the St. Martin de Porres High School in Cleveland to take the leap of reason. The school’s leadership had the courage to ask itself tough questions about its relatively low retention rate—and then found creative ways to boost its retention rate from 73 to 92 percent.
  • The Case Foundation’s inspirational Be Fearless campaign is encouraging social sector leaders “to take risks, be bold, and fail forward.” Because the campaign is highly aligned with Leap of Reason, Jean Case and her team interviewed me for her “Fearless Focus” blog. (Thanks to Tom Watson for highlighting the interview in

Finally, I want to give you a heads up about a new toolkit we’re developing in response to requests from mission-driven, high-performance leaders. We’re creating a presentation to make it easy for any leader to share the key themes of the bookLeap of Reason and the “Relentless” speech within his or her networks. Once we release the presentation, we will encourage anyone who uses it to send any new material he or she adds so we can continue to improve it through crowd-sourcing. More to come soon.

My best,