The ’Show-Me’ State of Mind


This month, I want to start off with some optimism rather than being that guy with the fire hose dousing the campfire.

In my most recent column, “Why We Need a Mass ’Missouri’ Movement,” I reference the famous 1899 quotation by Rep. Duncan Vandiver that gave Missouri its state slogan: “Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.”

I go on to highlight a diverse group of nonprofit leaders—from Share Our StrengthFounder and CEO Billy Shore to Kaboom! Founder and CEO Darell Hammond—who aren’t just talking about high performance. They’re showing it.

They’re showing this curmudgeon that nodes of true innovation are emerging in more places than I had realized. As I state in the column, “The aggregate innovation and achievement is breathtaking—and this from the guy who’s correctly accused of gloom and doom!”

Their experiences—both their big successes and frustrating hurdles—make it clear to me that we need to find ways of connecting these disparate nodes, helping them learn from each other, and then building a critical mass of this activity across the social and public sectors. If we could do that, we’d have a real shot at sparking a movement—across our public, social, and private sectors—organized around two critically important propositions:

  • We must demand—and support—high performance from those who provide services to serve our nation and solve its social challenges.
  • We must demand public and private funding decisions based on merit and reason, not stirring stories or blind loyalty.

If you have a moment, take a look at the column. Before you head off for August R&R,tell us what nodes of innovation we missed.

And now for some brief highlights from around the Leap of Reason community:

  • Continuing with the theme of great leaders showing what performance looks like, I was pleased to see that NBC’s “Rock Center with Brian Williams” recently profiledDavid Domenici and James Forman, Jr., co-founders of VPP Investment Partner See Forever Foundation. Chelsea Clinton, a special correspondent for “Rock Center,” did a good job of showing the culture of high expectations that Domenici and Forman have cultivated at Maya Angelou Academy and its role in turning around the lives of young people just about everyone else has written off.
  • I enjoyed the opportunity to speak last week to 600+ emerging public sector leaders at the NextGen Summit 2012, sponsored by Young Government Leaders (YGL) and GovLoop. They blogged, they tweeted (100+ during my keynote alone, even amid a Twitter FAIL), and they appeared to respond to the message that we don’t have a single dollar of public or private money to waste on organizations that don’t have some reasonable way to know that they do what they say they do.
  • Social Solutions, which provides the performance-management software used by many of our sector’s best-run human services organizations, is sponsoring threeone-day conferences this fall for those interested in creating a learning environment that can correlate services delivered with measureable outcomes. We generally don’t highlight conferences, but these events, which will be capped at 75 participants per session, will feature talks by three great thinkers from the Leap of Reason community: David Hunter, Bob Penna, and Steve Goldberg. At the end of September, I will be spending a day at Social Solutions with Social Solutions Founder Steve Butz and his team to learn more about the company’s products, which I’ve now seen in action during numerous site visits to high-performing organizations. Butz is a former social worker with great values and a great story.
  • Our friends at Bridgespan and Bridgestar have developed yet another free resource that is of great value for improving the performance of nonprofits. Plan A: How Successful Nonprofits Develop Their Future Leaders has actionable insights for any nonprofit that wants to be more intentional about cultivating talent and doing so as a part of the day-to-day life of the organization.
  • Another valuable resource from Bridgespan is Matt Forti’s recent blog post “Six Pitfalls to Avoid in Developing Your Theory of Change,” which takes some of the mystery and confusion out of a process that scares the bejesus out of a lot of nonprofit leaders.
  • I also want to commend P/PV and The Wallace Foundation’s new report Building Stronger Nonprofits Through Better Financial Management. Although the report is not on outcomes per se, the report broadens the discussion of what good management requires. It peers into the operations of 26 youth-serving organizations and identifies the keys to a nonprofit organization’s ability to be financially strong and effective.
  • Jim Schuyler, the executive director of the Virginia Community Action Partnership(VACAP), wrote to update us on his organization’s partnership with the Mason Center for Social Entrepreneurship to help public and nonprofit agencies develop measurable outcomes. “Six of our local community action agencies are continuing to work to develop measurable outcomes…. We are hoping to expand the effort with a new federal grant beginning in October 2012 so these six agencies will work one-on-one with the Mason Center to develop measurable outcomes for more of their programs and services, and to expand the project to include an additional five to six of our agencies to begin the process of managing to outcomes.”
  • Author, professor, and Jones Day partner Andrew J. Sherman was kind enough to include my recent column “Saving the Ship by Rocking the Boat” in his new bookEssays on Governance. Sherman’s book has a focus on corporate governance, but the principles are quite applicable to nonprofits and governments as well. It’s the kind of book you might want to share with your board to inspire them to new levels of leadership, oversight, stewardship, innovation, and engagement.
  • Quotation of the Month: Leap of Reason “pushes us in the nonprofit field not to confuse good intentions with real results. In a book that is remarkably free of jargon, [Morino] asks that our discipline be as strong as our convictions and we define where are we going and how we’re going to get there.” —David Kass, President, Council for a Strong America

Here’s hoping that in the coming weeks you have a chance to escape the heat, unplug from emails like this, and toast some s’mores without getting your campfire doused!

My best,