Last year, Mario gave a passionate and personal talk entitled “Relentless: Investing in Leaders Who Stop at Nothing in Pursuit of Greater Social Impact.” You’re welcome to read it all, but since you’re probably trying to cram in some relaxation in these final days of summer, here’s the thesis in a nutshell: If leaders want to solve rather than just salve big social challenges, they must be humble enough to take a hard look in the mirror and courageous enough to reinvent if they find they’re achieving only incremental gains.
Writing about Bill and Darell is timely. Last week, they (and their colleague Amy Celep) published in Stanford Social Innovation Review “When Good Isn’t Good Enough.” It’s a brave, instructive account of their parallel journeys, which we’ve watched with admiration over the years.
Bill, who co-founded the anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength, had the courage to rethink everything about his organization—from its goals and strategies to staffing and brand—when he and his team came to the realization that its hard work and hundreds of millions of dollars in funding were not making a big enough dent in the problem of chronic hunger. “I began with an idea that was clear, simple, and wrong: We would end hunger by raising money and granting it out to food banks and other emergency food assistance programs,” Bill wrote. “All of [the organizations] were doing an impressive job of feeding hungry people, but few of [them] were focused on ending hunger.”
Darell is the founder of KaBOOM!, an organization that works very hard to ensure that play is a part of every child’s life. He, too, has been transforming his organization to achieve more than incremental victories. “The choice was stark: continue our almost exclusive focus on building playgrounds or [hold ourselves accountable for helping] all children, particularly the 16 million children living in poverty, get the play they need to become successful and healthy adults.”
Neither leader had a strong external incentive to rethink and reinvent. Both have gotten great press, been showered with honors, and raised huge sums of money from corporate and private donors. The drive to put everything at risk was purely internal. The external rewards began to feel hollow when they each came to the realization they were “unintentionally short-chang[ing] ourselves and those we meant to serve.”
To learn the details of their new approaches—and the positive results that are starting to flow from these approaches—please take a look at their account. We think you’ll see why we believe this is exactly the type of leadership that philanthropists should support.
And then, in a quiet moment of self-reflection, ask: Am I unintentionally short-changing those I mean to serve? What do I need to learn to get clarity on this mission-critical question? In what ways do I need to rethink to achieve more than just incremental gains?
And now for brief updates from around the Leap of Reason community:
- McKinsey & Company has released a new and improved version of OCAT, the Organizational Capacity Assessment Tool. The tool, which McKinsey first developed and launched with Venture Philanthropy Partners ten years ago, has been used by thousands of organizations to assess and improve their performance; it’s been accessed online approximately 3,000 times monthly and has been translated into 11 languages. We encourage you to visit the OCAT site and sign up to use the tool for free in preparation for your next board meeting or strategic planning retreat. You’ll get a set of automated, confidential reports that will highlight your organization’s view of its own capacity and help tee up great conversations about areas of strength and weakness.
- We applaud the launch of Impact Rising, a new site that aims to help nonprofits get the consulting support they need for raising their performance. The new site—funded by three highly respected Bay Area foundations (Hewlett, Packard, and Haas Jr.)—still has some kinks to work out. But it has links to a set of strong resources (including the OCAT, mentioned above) that can help consultants raise their game and deliver more value for nonprofit clients that are ready to raise their own game.
- Uber-consultant David Hunter makes a strong case for the importance of efforts like Impact Rising. In an article in the latest edition of the Alliance for Children and Families Magazine, David remarks, “Most nonprofits hire consultants every few years to come in and help them set up a strategic plan; however, most strategic plans are garbage…. They indulge in the use of vague, although sentimentally exciting, rhetoric.” The article, which touts the value of David’s new book Working Hard—and Working Well for human-service organizations, also includes this urgent call to action from David: “There is going to be pressure on the field in which the lion’s share of the revenues will go to high-performing organizations that can absolutely show results they promised.”
- Harvard Professor Steve Kelman keenly noted that a recent front page of the Sunday Boston Globe contained two great examples of how high-performance leaders are using evidence to learn and improve. The article “Hospitals size up the lessons of marathon attacks” affirms that the trauma surgeons and other providers who treated victims did a great job of saving lives. Instead of patting themselves on the back, these medical providers “have already made some changes for handling mass emergencies and are continuing to review their performance for ways to strengthen the city’s already sophisticated trauma system and share their lessons with hospitals nationwide—so they’re prepared for the next time.” The article “Dartmouth College tackles binge drinking” highlights how the school has dramatically reduced alcohol overdoses in part by borrowing insights from the successes of its former president, the celebrated public health expert Jim Yong Kim, in combatting the spread of HIV and TB in developing countries.
- Another example of the use of data to drive better results comes from recent post-mortems of the 2012 Presidential campaign. Our favorite account comes courtesy of The Washington Post (recently bought by a man whose primary business is synonymous with the power of big data). Here’s one example, from Obama digital director Teddy Goff, of how the Obama team used data to continuously improve their voter-registration efforts: “For people who allowed us, we were able to say to them: ’All right, you just watched a video about registering to vote. Don’t just share it with all your friends on Facebook. We’ve run a match, and here are your 10 friends on Facebook who we think may not be registered to vote and live in Ohio, Colorado, Virginia, Florida.’” If you read the story, don’t get caught up in the elegance of the technologies the Obama team deployed. Think about the campaign’s fierce drive to learn, improve, and win—and how you could apply that mindset to your cause or campaign.
- We don’t want to appear too partisan here, but we are seeing increasing evidence that the Obama team is applying this same mentality to governing. The heads of the Office of Management and Budget, Domestic Policy Council, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Council of Economic Advisers jointly put forwardguidance for federal agencies to drive resources preferentially toward programs that have or are generating evidence of effectiveness. This unprecedented guidance mirrors the proposals that former Obama and Bush advisors Peter Orszag and John Bridgeland offered in their compelling Atlantic Monthly article, “Can Government Play Moneyball?”
- We applaud New Philanthropy Capital’s Tris Lumley on his “Raising the Bar on Nonprofit Impact Measurement” blog post for SSIR. Tris shares new research, conducted in the UK, that shows that the primary reason nonprofits measure results is to satisfy their funders. Unfortunately, when funders are the main driver of measurement, these efforts often go astray. We agree wholeheartedly with Tris’s conclusion: “If we want impact measurement to result in improved services and increased impact, then we have to make sure it works for the nonprofit. Only then should we turn to what funders want out of impact measurement.”
Upcoming Events for Raising Performance:
- “Leading for Impact” program; Boston; begins September 17; Bridgespan
- “The Art of the Collaborative City” national meeting; Grand Rapids, MI; September 29-October 1; CEOs for Cities
- “Improving Impact Measurement and Analysis” conference; London; October 15, 2013; New Philanthropy Capital and Third Sector.
- “Communities for Change” leadership symposium; Omaha, NE; October 23-25, 2013; nFocus.
- “After the Leap: Building a Performance Management Culture” conference; Washington, DC; December 3-4, 2013; PerformWell and Leap of Reason
- “Acumen Leadership Essentials” online course; registration opens August 1, 2013, course begins February 9, 2014; +Acumen
We hope you get a chance to recharge your batteries over the next week and have renewed energy for courageous leadership this fall.
Mario and Lowell
Mario Morino is Chairman of the Morino Institute and Venture Philanthropy Partnersand author of the lead essay in Leap of Reason. Lowell Weiss is president ofCascade Philanthropy Advisors, co-editor of Leap of Reason, and advisor to the Leap of Reason initiative.
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