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Nothing but Bionic Parts

Wouldn’t you like a good way to take a deep look into your organization—to discover how you’re doing, identify ways to get better, and create open introspection that helps people learn and improve? If so, please take a look at the Performance Practice, a resource from the Leap Ambassadors Community. According to Ingvild Bjornvold, who oversees the continuous-improvement process for the Performance Practice, “I doubt there’s a nonprofit out there that wouldn’t gain valuable, actionable insights from trying it.”

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If you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while, you’re probably familiar with the Performance Imperative, which offers a clear, definition of “high-performance organization” and unpacks the seven organizational disciplines that lead to it. The Performance Practice is directly linked to the Performance Imperative via this Continuous Improvement Pathway. The Performance Practice reveals the specific practices or behaviors (i.e., “proof points”) that the top organizations use for putting each discipline in action. It’s the secret formula for building an organization made up of nothing but bionic, high-performance parts.

The Leap Ambassadors Community has found that the Performance Practice has three main characteristics that users love.

First, it’s holistic. Friends of the Children President Terri Sorensen coaches all the new executive directors she hires to run the organization’s chapters. She often saw these new directors make good progress on delivering a strong program but less progress in building other organizational disciplines. That’s why Friends of the Children’s chapters are using the Performance Practice to think more holistically about performance, across seven different dimensions of organizational development, without running up a lot of expense or burden. “It all comes down to finding a simpler way to look at something that feels big and complicated,” Amanda Squibb, executive director of the Klamath Basin (Oregon) chapter, said. “The Performance Practice has been a way to untangle things and break them down to their root causes, which helps me figure out what I need to do.”

Second, it’s objective. The Performance Practice sets organizations up for safe, open introspection about what matters most. It helps them set aside past grievances in favor of future-oriented discussions about getting better. In the words of Kevin Jones, former executive director of the Urban Coalition for HIV/AIDS Prevention Services, “What I like best about the Performance Practice is that it’s non-judgmental and opens the door for candid conversations. It helped us discuss organizational strengths and weaknesses openly and honestly.”

Third, there’s no hidden agenda. Unlike other such resources in use in our sector, the Performance Practice was developed collaboratively by 60+ nonprofit doers, donors, and experts representing a diversity of experiences and backgrounds. Nonprofits love that people who’ve walked in their shoes were involved in creating it.

Whether you’re a board member, executive director, evaluation director, front-line staff, or consultant to nonprofits, please take five minutes over lunch or on the treadmill to watch this brief video. You’ll get a quick sense for whether it’s relevant for your needs. If it is, take a look at this sequence of steps you can do to learn, improve, and then repeat.


With warm Thanksgiving wishes,

Signatures: Mario and Lowell
Mario and Lowell


Mario Morino is chairman of the Morino Institute, co-founder and founding chair of Venture Philanthropy Partners, and author of the lead essay in Leap of Reason. Lowell Weiss is president of Cascade Philanthropy Advisors, co-editor of Leap of Reason, and advisor to the Leap of Reason initiative.


Updates From Around the Leap Community

Speaking of Terri Sorensen, last week she published a great piece in SSIR offering insider perspectives on the seven major steps Friends of the Children took over seven years to scale rapidly. The first of those seven steps was music to our ears: invest in performance management. “Organizations seeking to scale need to demonstrate to funders and communities that the organization is well managed and high performing,” she wrote. She gives a shout out to the Performance Imperative and how it provided the core framework “to ensure we are providing the best possible support for each child.”

Remember Jack Nicholson’s “You can’t handle the truth!” from A Few Good Men? If you’re the type of leader who can handle the truth, read Bill Meehan‘s Forbes post on what ails philanthropy. Here’s his thesis in a nutshell: “Philanthropy can and does help solve social problems. But to do more than it does today, it needs to rethink all its basics: its organizational model; its decision-making processes; its true intentions; its focus.” The post isn’t a scorched-earth polemic (like Anand Giridharadas‘s Winners Take All). It’s more tough love—and a must-read.

Speaking of insightful truth-tellers, over the Thanksgiving break we’ll both be reading Ford Foundation President Darren Walker‘s new book, From Generosity to Justice: A New Gospel of Wealth. (You can download the book at this website.) We’re eager to read it because we’re admirers of Walker’s leadership and writing ability and because of Jeff Raikes‘s praise for the book in his post “Our Bootstraps Narrative is Tying Us Down.” As Raikes puts it, Walker calls “on the philanthropic sector—and others too—to examine our privilege, transform how we operate, and use our various forms of power to dismantle the systems that allowed such injustices to fester for so long.” As the Leap Ambassadors showed in this profile, Jeff and Tricia Raikes are doing a good job of modeling this journey. We’re trying to follow suit.

Kudos to the Connecticut Opportunity Project, created by the serious and strategic philanthropists Ray and Barbara Dalio, for its work to improve the lives of young people who are disengaged or disconnected from high school. The organization’s approach, which we heartily endorse, is to do everything in its power to help strengthen good organizations already serving this target population. Thanks in part to the encouragement of Leap Ambassadors David Hunter and Ellen Bass, the Connecticut Opportunity Project has adopted the Performance Imperative as the framework for implementing its approach. Given the importance of this work and the high profile of its donors, we’ll be watching closely and report on the project’s lessons.

Speaking of important experiments, we’re big fans of Project Evident, an Edna McConnell Clark Foundation spinoff focused on transforming how nonprofits gather evidence to guide and improve their work. Project Evident’s core belief is that nonprofits should be “the engine of the evidence train,” not the caboose. The organization’s recent research on this topic is top notch. And so is its hands-on work with nonprofits to help them build and implement Strategic Evidence Plans. If you’re a nonprofit leader who is tired of getting “fundersplained,” we encourage you to seize back control of your learning-and-improvement efforts with the help of Project Evident.


Events/Webinars for Raising Performance

Dec 4 — New York, NY
Advocacy and Lobbying for Nonprofits” training; GrantSpace by Candid

Dec 11 — Online
How to Create a Successful Earned-Income Model” webinar; SSIR

Feb 14 — New Haven, CT
Yale Philanthropy Conference” conference; Yale School of Management

Feb-May — Online
Achieving Strategic Clarity” online course; The Bridgespan Group (deadline to apply: December 31, 2019)

Mar 24-26 — Baltimore, MD
Nonprofit Technology Conference” conference; NTEN