Life-and-Death Urgency


Prompted by a brutal murder, a surprisingly uplifting message landed in our inboxes this month.

Our colleague Patrick Germain, the Chief Strategy Officer for New York City’s Project Renewal, wrote to tell us that a client of his organization’s Bronx Boulevard homeless shelter abducted and then murdered Ana Charle, the shelter’s director and mother of two young daughters.

“We were obviously devastated by the loss of a dedicated and loving employee, but we could not lose sight of the thousands of people who rely on us daily for their shelter, food, and healthcare,” Patrick told us. He said that “The Performance Imperative” (PI) has helped them keep this focus. As a core tool in the organization’s strategic planning process, the PI is helping the team keep its head up and ensure the organization is doing everything in its power to help thousands of New Yorkers change their life trajectories for good. “It is a beacon of light in a time of devastating darkness. We are refusing to be made powerless in the face of tragedy.”

We share Patrick’s words in the hope that they inspire all of us in the Leap community to ask questions about what we can learn from the inevitable losses in our own lives. How can we transform the enervating feelings of senselessness and powerlessness into energizing feelings of meaning and purpose? How can we bring more life-and-death urgency to our life’s work?

We suspect that on Friday we’ll hear the President eloquently touch on these themes in his eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, in Charleston. We hope the President’s words will help move the country away from easy recrimination and into the hard work of introspection about who we want to be as individuals, neighbors, and as a country.

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

  • Yesterday, Mario attended the inaugural TEDxPennsylvaniaAvenue event, featuring talks by an incredible lineup of national and international notables on the theme of evidence-based approaches to our big challenges. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer explained how LouieStat, run by its Office of Performance Improvement, has helped undergird the city’s efforts to continually improve its core services. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) spoke with sincerity and seriousness about the need to reinvent how we address poverty. Mario did not agree with all of Ryan’s views, but he felt it was reassuring that Ryan feels that poverty is a critical issue and that good evidence is important for making good policy. Mario loved the talk by Communities In Schools CEO and Leap Ambassador Dan Cardinali, who passionately argued that schools have to more fully embrace evidence-based community services that can give public school students, more than half of whom are functionally poor, the opportunity to develop their non-cognitive skills, not just their literacy and numeracy. (Communities In Schools is doing so for only $160 per student per year.) Kudos to Leap Ambassador Michele Jolin and her colleagues at Results for America (RFA), who played a huge role in convening the event and have helped grow results-oriented federal programs to $1.4 billion in FY2015. Videos of all the TEDxPennsylvaniaAvenue talks will soon be available on the Results for America website.
  • In his Alliance magazine article “Why aren’t we learning?” (subscription required), Leap Ambassador Tris Lumley argued that the sometimes-threatening concept of “impact measurement” should always be driven by organizational learning, not compliance. “We need to ensure that learning is the explicit primary purpose of impact measurement,” Tris wrote. “If we’re learning as charities, we know we can be better next year than we were this year. If we’re learning as funders, we know we’re getting better at putting our increasingly precious resources to the best use in a sector that desperately needs us to.”
  • We loved “Looking Beyond the Numbers, Achieving High Performance,” a recent CEP blog post by WINGS CEO and Leap Ambassador Bridget Laird. She beautifully described WINGS’s evolution from a focus on “Are we achieving our intended outcomes?” to the even-more-admirable “Are we a high-performing nonprofit?” The former question “limited our focus to just numbers—enrollment levels, attendance rates, academic and behavioral percentages.” The latter question “allows us to evaluate all aspects within our organization which directly and indirectly affect our ability to impact kids’ lives.”
  • Hawaii Community Foundation (HCF), led by Kelvin Taketa, highlighted the PI alongside HCF’s own “CHANGE framework” in the blog post “High-performing nonprofits will bring the change Hawaii needs.” We are delighted to see the ways HCF is explicitly linking performance and mission as well as allocating resources toward those leaders who are brave enough to embark on the journey to high performance.
  • Kudos to Edna McConnell Clark Foundation CEO Nancy Roob for taking fellow foundations to task for skimping on grants and then expecting miracles. In her article “Nickeled and Dimed” in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Roob wrote, “By neglecting our responsibility to help our grantees measure and evaluate the programs we fund, philanthropists are shortchanging the very people we exist to help.” Hear, hear!
  • In “Disciplined, People-Focused Management: Pillar 2,” Leap Ambassador Nell Edgington added flesh to another one of the PI’s pillars. Leap Ambassador Brad Dudding, the COO of the Center for Employment Opportunities, described how his organization has developed sophisticated human and technological systems for determining on a daily basis whether programs are delivering on their promise to participants. In a related blog post, Nell interviewed Leap Ambassador Mary Winkler, who lent additional weight to the argument that there’s a moral imperative “to understand if resources are being used effectively and certainly to guard against the possibility that programs could be doing more harm than good.”
  • We were pleased to hear from Bryan Williams—not the beleaguered news anchor but the executive director of the Community Foundation of South Lake (Florida)—that the PI “put on paper exactly what we are trying to communicate to our nonprofit leaders. We have built the document into our executive leadership and board training sessions … to teach board members what their role is in holding the organization and executive leadership accountable in fulfilling the mission. We are also teaching executives how to use the Imperative to structure their organization and activities to use data for analysis and decision making.”

Events/Webinars for Raising Performance:

Good luck on your journey,
Mario and Lowell

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