Leap of Reason Update: April 2014
To highlight core concepts of high performance, we’ve started to build a gallery of short video clips featuring courageous, outspoken nonprofit leaders. Here are some of the blunt messages you’ll see these leaders deliver:
- “If we don’t know we’re making a difference, then there’s no reason to be doing what we’re doing. We can’t sleep at night if we don’t understand whether we’re making an impact.” Bridget Laird, WINGS for Kids
- “Stories substituting for facts is not an acceptable thing; it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard.” Anne Goodman, Greater Cleveland Food Bank
- “Without a strong performance management infrastructure, we never would have understood there was a problem.” Isaac Castillo, DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative
We encourage you to lift the clips for conference presentations, board retreats, video-enhanced blogs to advance the themes of greater effectiveness and higher performance. If you use any of the clips, please let us know how it went over. And of course, we’d love to see any clips that you think we should feature on our site for others to use. Feel free to reach out to Lowell directly. With your input, this gallery could become a robust resource that you and others can use to explain why high performance is important and why it is a path to mission fulfillment.
And now for updates from around the Leap of Reason community:
- Last month, the Hewlett Foundation announced publicly that it had learned, through external research and evaluation, that its Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative had been based on faulty assumptions and was falling far short of meeting its goals. As a result, the foundation will be winding down the program and shifting its budget to a new strategy aimed at increasing two-way openness in foundations. Some commentators were quick to seize on Hewlett’s decision as a sign that the foundation is backing away from, or even repudiating, the pursuit of “effective philanthropy.” We see it as the opposite: Hewlett is practicing exactly what it preaches about effective philanthropy! The foundation’s leaders identified a high-risk, high-reward opportunity; codified their hypotheses and made a set of grants aligned with them; commissioned outside experts to test whether its hypotheses had borne fruit; did not get defensive when the outside evaluations showed no discernable impact; determined that their resources could and should be put to more productive use; and then communicated their findings and decisions with a high degree of transparency. Our hats are off to our friend Fay Twersky and her Hewlett colleagues for the model they’ve provided for us all.
- It will come as little surprise that the Packard Foundation operates with similar DNA. In her SSIR blog post “Foundation Learning: The Case for Productive Anxiety,” Packard Evaluation and Learning Director Diana Scearce engages in admirable reflection on shortcomings in the way her foundation and others use the data they collect. “We have well-established practices for tracking progress,” she writes, “but too often the motivation behind these activities are internal reporting requirements or a sense that we ought to engage in a systematic analysis of how we’re doing because it’s good practice, rather than an important learning need.” We think she’s right on with diagnosis of the problem as well as her thoughts on how to “generate meaningful insights, and then [use] those insights to drive better decisions and greater impact.”
- In last month’s Update, we highlighted the impressive progress of Results for America and its “Moneyball for Government” campaign. We were delighted to see journalist David Bornstein pick up the ball and run with it in his New York Times Fixes blog. Bornstein acknowledges the many hurdles that stand in the way of allocating resources based on results rather than relationships. But he makes a case that moneyball budgeting could appeal to Democrats and Republicans alike. “It represents an expanding area of common ground among lawmakers from different parties, and it may be the best opportunity we have today to cut through partisan gridlock,” Bornstein writes.
- At risk of giving too much love to the Fixes blog, we feel compelled to highlight Dax Devlin-Ross‘s post “Tackling Mass Incarceration,” which sings the praises of a very praiseworthy organization: Roca, Inc. Devlin-Ross does a great job of narrating Roca’s transformation from a small community-based organization that was “winging it” (in the words of Executive Director Molly Baldwin) to one that rigorously tracks all of its outcomes and has been selected to lead a $27 million Pay for Success initiative with five private foundations and Goldman Sachs.
- PerformWell has just added nine new assessment tools for those working to prepare foster youth to navigate successfully as independent adults. As Lowell saw firsthand while participating in one of David Hunter‘s legendary Theory of Change Workshops, PerformWell’s tools are a remarkable, tangible resource for organizations making the leap from guesswork to great work.
- Paul Carttar, who is as good a writer as he is a thinker, makes a compelling case in his latest Bridgespan blog post that “innovation” and “evidence” are not at odds. We think Carttar does a great service by pointing out that the real value of innovation is not “creating attention-getting novelty concepts” but rather developing “superior practices … that generate increased social impact for the cost.”
- We like it when stories and data aren’t viewed as an either/or proposition, so our congratulations to Brian Sooy on his new book, Raise Your Voice: A Cause Manifesto. Sooy provides a framework for understanding how an organization’s purpose, character, culture, and unique voice can connect mission and audience more effectively. The 12 principles of the Cause Manifesto help leaders align their communication strategy to the outcomes they are working to achieve.
- Two great quotations worth sharing:
“You can’t measure everything, but you can measure almost everything through quantitative or qualitative means, so that we know what we’re disproportionately good atand, candidly, what we’re not so good atso we can stop doing that and double down on what we’re particularly … good at.”
Chelsea Clinton, Clinton Foundation
“Metrics properly handled are a power that can be inculcated from the grassroots up, not just an instrumentality of top-down control. Metrics and human dignityI had felt one was Rome, the other Christ. Now I see that properly taught, metrics are an expression of love: ‘Here is how you can manage yourself and get better, and do more for others.'”
Phil Cubeta, The American College
Events for Raising Performance:
- “How to Read Research Findings to Distinguish Evidence-Based Programs from Everything Else” virtual workshop and weekly conference calls; April 24-June 12; Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy
- “Moneyball for Government Congressional Forum”; Washington, DC; May 1; Results for America; email firstname.lastname@example.org to register
- “Raising Social Impact Money” webinar; May 13; SSIR
- “Show Me the Data: From Research to Practice to People” webinar; May 27; The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and E3 Alliance
- “How to Measure Outcomes: Practical Tips & Tools” conference; London; June 4; New Philanthropy Capital
Mario and Lowell
Mario Morino is Chairman of the Morino Institute, Co-Founder and Founding Chair of Venture Philanthropy Partners, and author of the lead essay in Leap of Reason. Lowell Weiss is president of Cascade Philanthropy Advisors, co-editor of Leap of Reason, and advisor to the Leap of Reason initiative.
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