Taking the Leap, Across the Pond

27
Jun

Last month, we shone a bright spotlight on Impetus-PEF, a London-based foundation that is doing a great job of investing in the performance of its grantees. The Impetus-PEF story is so rich with insights that we want to put more meat on the bones here.

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Impetus-PEF, the product of a 2013 merger of two like-minded foundations, has learned that being serious about impact means investing serious money in its own capacity. CEO Andy Ratcliffe has structured his investment team to give each member the time to work in close partnership with grantees. Each of the foundation’s six investment directors manages just two or three grantee relationships at a time, far fewer than the typical foundation officer.

Since 2013, the investment team has screened more than 2,000 charities, spoken with the leaders of hundreds, and invested in only 18 of them. Once Impetus-PEF selects a grantee, the investment team provides highly engaged support to the CEO and senior management team of the grantee. Impetus-PEF’s investment directors, who are the lead relationship managers with grantees, spend more than 200 hours a year attending board meetings, coaching executives on change management, helping them build the organization’s leadership capacity, and helping guide evaluation planning. “I’m really confident that to help transform their impact you need … to see problems that any small organization is facing not from outsider’s perspective,” says Ratcliffe. “You need to be a trusted insider.”

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Investment directors’ support spans the length of the Impetus-PEF investment, which can run for up to 10 years. When genuine trust develops, the relationship can be transformative. Investment Director Sebastien Ergas has worked closely with the CEO of The Access Project, a tutoring organization focused on helping disadvantaged students attend top universities. Early in the relationship, he found constructive ways to push CEO Andrew Berwick and colleagues to clarify their definition of success. “Right below the surface, there were some important differences of opinion within the organization on what they existed to do,” says Ergas. “When there’s ambiguity around what success looks like, it’s really hard to manage to outcomes.”

Through their work with Ergas, Berwick and his board came to see that the organization’s outcomes weren’t strong enough. “We did our part in asking new questions,” Ergas says. “But the success of our work ultimately hinges on leadership of the organization, especially the CEO. Our model works if there is a courageous leader who is willing to be challenged and let go of certain assumptions.”

The Access Project’s outcomes have dramatically improved during the course of the partnership. Today, the organization is doing a better job of focusing its resources on its target population: 90 percent of all students served are truly disadvantaged (rather than simply attending schools in disadvantaged communities), up from 50 percent. The “dosage” of tutoring has increased by 50 percent. More than 50 percent of students are now placing at highly selective universities, up from around a third.

If you’re a foundation leader looking for insights for your own performance pivot, please check out the Leap Ambassadors Community’s Building the Case for Funders series. And if you have stories to offer others, please let us know! We’d love to write about you.

Updates From Around the Leap Community

Please check out the Leap Ambassadors Community’s new Performance in Practice In the latest installment, our dear friend Lou Salza tells the story of “A Kick in Our Behinds” at the Lawrence School, which he leads. To stave off the complacency that “kills initiative, diminishes drive, and discourages the … innovative thinking required to keep on the move toward excellence and high performance,” Salza and his leadership team completed the learning-culture section of the Leap Ambassadors Community’s Performance Imperative Organizational Self-Assessment. The exercise was well worth the time and effort!
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We encourage you to take a look at two external evaluations of PropelNext, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation program focused on helping nonprofits adopt data-driven management. The evaluations show that PropelNext grantees are making impressive—and in some cases, transformational—progress on their journey to becoming performance-driven organizations. The evaluations also acknowledge the tensions that grantees are facing as they try to implement major change and wrestle with the costs of operating at a higher level. In this blog post, the team from Harder+Company Community Research, PropelNext‘s evaluation partner, shares lessons learned and keys to sustaining and deepening the work.
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In more evaluation news, we were delighted to read the latest research study on Playworks‘s efforts to help schools use recess time to build a positive school climate. The new evaluation, published in Health Education Journal, found that schools where Playworks operates have improved classroom behavior and also have three times less conflict than non-Playworks schools. At a time when many adults in America are doing a lousy job of modeling empathy and mature conflict resolution, it’s great that Playworks is making a meaningful, measurable difference for kids.
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We highly recommend “Unleashing Large-Scale Change,” by The Billions Institute’s Joe McCannon, Becky Margiotta, and Abigail Zier Alyesh. It’s a valuable response to the question we’ve been asking as we work to make high performance the norm in our sector: How do we convert interest and engagement into meaningful social change? The authors, who have deep experience sparking change in the field of healthcare, looked at nearly 50 examples of successful movements for lessons. We only have room to highlight one of the eight key lessons they present: Lose control. “Rather than asking, ‘How can I get all these people to do what I want them to?’ savvy leaders begin to ask, ‘How can I help all these people do what they want to do?'”
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We’re thankful for Rick Wartzman‘s new book, The End of Loyalty: The Rise and Fall of Good Jobs in America. This book deserves to get every bit as much attention as Robert Putnam’s seminal Bowling Alone. Wartzman, a disciple of the legendary Peter Drucker, dives deep into General Motors, General Electric, Kodak, and Coca-Cola to tell the story of the slow erosion of the social compact between corporations and their employees. The book provides great context for understanding the broken promises that have exacerbated the seismic shifts in our economy, society, and politics.
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Events/Webinars for Raising Performance

July 19 webinar Is Your Nonprofit Shovel-Ready? A Donor-Grantee Dialogue on ‘Big Bets’
SSIR
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Sept 12-13 Stanford, CA Nonprofit Management Institute: Leading Social Change in Turbulent Times“;
SSIR
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Oct 19-20 Seattle BoardSource Leadership Forum“;
BoardSource
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Oct 25-27 Detroit Our Common Future” conference;
Independent Sector
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Nov 2-3 Washington, DC Feedback Summit“;
Feedback Labs, Fund for Shared Insight
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Nov 6-11 Washington, DC From Learning to Action” conference;
American Evaluation Association
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