Because I Said I Would

This month, I want to introduce you to Alex Sheen, an inspiring young man who serendipitously popped up on our radar a little over a week ago. A friend reached out hoping the Leap team could offer Alex some advice on the nonprofit he has just formed.

Alex, 27, lost his dad last September. “He wasn’t an award-winning author. He never met the President,” Alex said. “But what my dad did do was keep a promise. If he said he was going to do it, it would certainly be done.”

To honor his dad, Alex created a “Because I said I would” Facebook group, Twitter handle, and website to inspire others to make and follow through on commitments. He began sending out “Because I said I would” promise cards (for free) to anyone who requested them and encouraged people to post them online. (Here’s an example.) And Alex has been modeling his message by sharing short videos every week on the commitment he’s made and how he’s followed up on it. The promises range from the geeky (reading Leap of Reason to understand “how to successfully run a nonprofit”) to the endearing (“I will teach my grandma how to Skype”).

When I heard Alex’s story, all of my sensors went off. This young man finds a life passion. He leaves a good job with a regular paycheck to pursue that passion. He comes from my old roots (software). He has impressive social media skills. The icing on the cake was the fact that he found value in Leap of Reason and was sharing it with other young leaders in his networks.

I told Alex I’d be happy to help him get his new Because I Said I Would nonprofit off the ground with a running leap of reason. I also want to help him introduce the messages of Leap of Reason to more college students (and not just those in social entrepreneur tracks) and to young professionals who are looking for ways to become more civically engaged. Ultimately, the Leap of Reason message is all about following through, with rigor and discipline, on commitments to those you aspire to serve.

We’re so impressed with Alex, we’re hoping he’ll co-locate with us in Rocky River, OH, so we can leverage our respective resources and networks. What’s not to love about this opportunity?

And now, here are some other updates from around the Leap of Reason community:

  • Our kudos to Michele Jolin and Results for America (RFA), an initiative of America Achieves. RFA is doing a great job of building a coalition to encourage and support the federal government to invest in what works (i.e., budgeting based on reason and evidence rather than bias and belief).On April 17, the group partnered with the Hamilton Project to bring together top-ranking officials from across the political divide, including Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH). At the event, RFA released a comprehensive policy proposal from Harvard’s Jeff Liebman, which helped seed a supportive Washington Post article entitled “Why not measure how well government works?”. RFA has also found a true champion in Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who last week built on the momentum from this event in a letter to key appropriators. “In these times of fiscal constraint,” she wrote, “scarce federal resources need to be focused on investing in programs that work.” RFA’s analysis of President Obama’s recently released FY2014 budget proposal concludes that these proposals included “an unprecedented focus on evidence and results.” The barriers to evidence-based budgeting are enormous; less than one percent of all federal funding today is allocated based on evidence. But it’s clear that RFA has a real shot at shifting the debate.
  • In my most recent Chairman’s Corner column for VPP News, I wrote about an aspect of courageousness that gets little note in the burgeoning discussions around performance: “facing brutal facts,” in the words of author Jim Collins. I named a set of leaders who truly see performance as a moral issue and therefore are willing to face whatever the data tell them. “They don’t fix blame,” I wrote. “They fix problems.”It’s clear that there’s a shortage of know-how—best practices, products, consultants—to help get organizations started on the path toward high performance. But I believe a bigger gating factor is the shortage of face-the-facts courage.
  • We recommend Bridgespan’s “Plan A: How Successful Nonprofits Develop Their Future Leaders” and the video, “Understanding Future Needs,” which packs helpful content into a brief and witty package. The report and video emphasize that leadership development should not be an ad hoc response to a crisis but rather a systematic investment grounded in the organization’s strategy.
  • The Leap team just passed a threshold: We now have 60,000 copies of Leap of Reason in circulation. We take all of this with a grain of salt, because the book is available for free. But we’re also aware that these kinds of book “sales” are pretty unusual these days. According to The New York Times, only 62 of 1,000 business books released in 2009 sold more than 5,000 copies.

Finally, in the spirit of following through on commitments, we promised last month to begin highlighting upcoming events for leaders focused on high performance. So here goes:

  • The Center for Effective Philanthropy is holding its every-other-year conference in Detroit on May 20-22, with the theme “Pursuing Results: Effective Foundation Practice.” I will be speaking on a panel entitled “Nonprofit Performance Management: Why It Matters and What Funders Can Do,” with a Dream Team of Nadya Shmavonian, Michael Bailin, Denise Zeman, and Dan Cardinali.
  • The Foundation Center is offering a series of four webinars in May on “Outcome Thinking and Management,” featuring Debra Natenshon and John LaRocca of the Center for What Works at the Rensselaerville Institute.
  • Social Solutions is offering a free webinar, “What Difference Are We Making? How to Become Performance-Driven in the Field of Domestic Violence” on May 7.
  • The Forum for Youth Investment and United Way Worldwide are presenting “Achieving Collective Impact: How Partnerships Change Community Outcomes,” a three-day learning program, May 7 to 9, in Alexandria, VA.
  • PerformWell and the Leap of Reason team are co-presenting a conference entitled “After the Leap: Building a Performance Management Culture,” on December 3-4 in Washington, DC. Much more to come on this in future updates.

What have you said you would do to raise your organization’s game? Consider writing it down on one of Alex Sheen’s promise cards. We’d love it if you’d tweet or email your commitment.

My best,