“Tough Times, Creative Measures”


With this month’s update, we are pleased to share a detailed summary of the “Tough Times, Creative Measures” symposium Urban Institute hosted in October to exploreLeap of Reason’s key themes. The all-star participants shared great insights into the lack of support in the nonprofit community for data-driven management, human-capital development, and performance cultures. And they offered many ideas on what could be done to change this counterproductive, “shoot-ourselves-in-the-foot” dynamic. We owe great thanks to Elizabeth Boris, Mary Winkler, Gene Steuerle, and their colleagues at Urban for putting on a top-notch, thought-provoking event.

To encourage you to read the summary, here’s a teaser:

  • Pat Lawler, Youth Villages: “Most secretaries and commissioners of child welfare and juvenile justice [I meet] do not care anything about [outcomes]. Their words say they do, but their actions say they do not…. We have got to give them political cover [to make evidence-based decisions].”
  • Nadya Shmavonian, Public/Private Ventures: “I am stunned at the still head-in-the-sand perspective of many foundations.”
  • Bill Dietel, Dietel Partners: “We need something like an executive service corps for not-for-profits…. In England there is something called the Kilfinan Group where these very successful people are volunteering their time to be coaches to help non-profit organizations become much more effective in the way in which they manage their affairs.”
  • Mike Bailin, Public/Private Ventures: “Most people still do not really fully understand what management to outcomes really is, nor what it takes to get it done right and how gritty the process can be…. If you have not done it yourself or you have not spoken to people who have done it, you probably have no idea of what it really looks like on the ground nor how fundamentally it can change an organization’s operations.”

We will be using the participants’ insights to inform our strategies going forward, and we strongly encourage you to contribute your own voice. Send your reactions, pushback, and suggestions to info@leapofreason.org.

And here are some other recent developments from the Leap of Reason community:

  • We have just started shipping early versions of complimentary board packages that can be used for retreats, planning sessions, mission-effectiveness and governance reviews, and other convenings. In addition to the book, the packages contain a list of excellent reports on board effectiveness, my last two VPPNews columns (both of which focus on boards), and suggestions for using the materials. The final package will be available on the Leap of Reason website by mid-January. If you want copies for your board before then, just write to us with your contact information, timing, how many books you need, and how you plan to use them.
  • This week, we hit a big milestone. More than 25,000 copies of the book are now in circulation! Pretty crazy for a thin book on nonprofit management. How did we get here? Well, a friend of mine probably got it right when he said, “The book is ok. The timing is great!”
  • The Wall Street Journal recently published our letter to the editor in response to a strong special section on philanthropy. Here was the main point of our letter: “This debate about whether foundations should employ business practices to achieve social ends would be less contentious if we moved beyond the frame of ’business.’ This issue is about leaders defining their approaches, rigorously assessing progress and quickly improving. These practices are not the sole province of business.” The point was highly informed by Mindy Tarlow and others at the Urban Institute symposium.
  • We learned that professors at George Mason University plan to use Leap of Reason as a core text in the university’s Social Innovation Program, a six-week summer institute for next-generation entrepreneurs. There are now at least six universities that have made the book required reading.
  • Echoing Green President Cheryl Dorsey reports, “I had lunch a few weeks ago with one of our alums, Luis Mojica, who founded a terrific arts program in NYC,Multicultural Music Group He said that he read [Leap of Reason] in one weekend and used it to frame an evaluation project for which he received a $25,000 evaluation grant from the Wallace Foundation. He couldn’t have been more complimentary of the impact of the book.”
  • Philanthropist Jerry Hirsch is sharing Leap of Reason with all members of theArizona Grantmakers Forum and with all winners of the Lodestar Foundation’sCollaboration Prize.
  • We recently brought the Leap of Reason message to a White House Forum on Nonprofit Leadership, which focused on finding better ways to attract, utilize, develop, and retain human capital in the social sector.

The way I was able to learn best about advances in my field during my business life was to visit enterprises doing leading-edge, innovative work in their use of information technology—Boeing in artificial intelligence, the U.S. Department of Defense in distance learning, Wal-Mart in retail systems, etc. Following this same learning path, we’ve been devoting significant time making Leap of Reason site visits to nonprofit organizations doing leading-edge work in managing to outcomes and implementing performance-management systems. We’ll use these updates to share more about the visits and the compelling leaders we are meeting around the country. We want you to see why we’re gaining even more confidence that the “leap of reason” is not only feasible but necessary for any organization that wants to make a meaningful, material difference in the lives of those it serves.

Happy holidays.

– Mario Morino