The Unlikely Proliferation of ’Radioactive Broccoli’

24
May

A year ago this week, we at Venture Philanthropy Partners (VPP) launched Leap of Reason. We cautiously hoped that a few thousand leaders would find our little chartreuse book (one colleague quipped that it’s the color of “radioactive broccoli”) to be of practical value for their work.

A year later, the physical or digital book is in the hands of more than 43,000 leaders, and we continue to hear from leaders we admire that it is helping them face up to hard fiscal realities and encouraging them to think rigorously and creatively about how they can do more for those they serve.

We won’t belabor this anniversary. But please, please know how grateful we are to this community for the many ways you’ve supported us this past year—from giving us the benefit of your candid feedback to adding the book to management curricula to using it to inform strategic-planning retreats.

And most of all, I want to offer my deep gratitude to those of you who took, well, a leap of faith and contributed chapters to the book. Without your on-the-ground perspectives, the book would have been a pie-in-the-sky treatise.

Okay, enough said. Now let’s get on with more important notes from around the Leap of Reason community:

  • Last week, I had a chance to review a study from the widely respected economic-modeling firm EMSI that exemplifies the value of analytical rigor in this era of scarcity. My friend and colleague Dan Cardinali, the president of Communities in Schools (CIS), was brave enough to commission a five-year study of CIS’s impact on dropout rates and graduation rates. Cardinali didn’t stop there. He wanted to understand not just whether his program was effective but also to understand to what extent it was cost-effective. So he commissioned EMSI to look at CIS’ economic and social returns to society, using a cost-benefit framework that aligns (not coincidentally) with standards set by the Office of Management and Budget. Among the findings, EMSI reports that “the discounted present-value benefits exceed the total investment costs by almost $2.6 billion.” Thanks to their courage, Cardinali and his high-performance team now have highly compelling evidence of their effectiveness and cost-effectiveness to bring to potential investors.
  • Huge kudos to Nancy Roob and the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation for launching an intensive new venture, PropelNext, to help nonprofits “develop the knowledge, skills, and tools they need to enhance their program models, set strategic priorities, improve decision-making, measure performance and impact, and use evidence to increase public and private support for their work.” You can view a list of the first 15 PropelNext grantees here. The foundation, which is trulythe national model of supporting grantees to enhance their performance and effectiveness, will select a second round of grantees next year.
  • Our friends at the Nonprofit Finance Fund recently released a State of the Sector survey that clearly documents an increase in demand for nonprofit services. “The recession may be over,” NFF says, “but the nonprofit financial crisis is not.” Among the key findings:
    • 85% of respondents reported an overall rise in demand in 2011, with four consecutive years of growth in those experiencing “significant increases.”
    • 88% expect an increase in demand for services in 2012.
    • 57% have three months or less cash-on-hand.
  • Bridgespan has been highly productive on the high-performance beat. Bridgespan is bringing its new program Leading for Impact to New York (in June) and Boston (in September). The program is anything but a “one-off.” Over the course of nine months, CEOs and their senior team members from eight to ten organizations will get together to go deep on how they can improve their strategic-management skills and discipline. In addition, Matt Forti and Kathleen Yazbak released a report that makes a truly compelling and highly actionable case for building the capacity to measure and manage performance. One of my favorite findings: “It takes leadership commitment, more than money, to get started.” Hear, hear!
  • I want to point you to a brave opinion piece Bridgespan’s Daniel Stid published last month in The Washington Post: “The Social Services Industrial Complex.” The piece provoked angry reactions from leaders I respect (e.g., “The author faults the victim—the provider community—when it is perennially-unaddressed fragmented public policies and programs that are the problem”). But Stid’s insights clearly presage new demands for performance that human services organizations must address.
  • On behalf of all my colleagues at VPP, I am pleased to report on how all of the charter schools VPP supports are managing to the important outcome of high school graduation. This month, the DC Public Charter School Board released the graduation rates of DC Charter High Schools’ 2011 senior class. All VPP-supported charter schools had exceptional graduation rates: SEED School with 90%, Friendship Collegiate with 86%, and the Maya Angelou Public Charter School network with a rate of 58%. (The Maya Angelou number is right at the district average, but it’s actually quite high considering that the school serves students who are traditionally unable to succeed at conventional schools and thus are the most at risk of dropping out).
  • The Christian Science Monitor recently published an article by book critic Yvonne Zipp about Leap of Reason and its origins. She starts out by saying that “the subject of ’Leap of Reason’ sounds almost as exciting as ’101 uses for duct tape.’” Ugh. But fortunately, she concludes “the book is, in fact, a bracing call to arms.”
  • On May 16, I was interviewed by Mike McIntyre on WCPN’s “Sound of Ideas.” I spoke too quickly at times (what’s new?!), but if you’re interested, you can watch the interview here.
  • You’ve already heard more than enough about my speech at the City Club of Cleveland, but I promised to send along a link to the video and podcasts when they were ready. Here they are.

I’ll leave you right where we started—with gratitude for all that you are doing to propel the themes of Leap of Reason, our “little engine that could.”

My best,
Mario