This is How Movements Start


We’ll admit it: Three months ago, when the PerformWell team opened registration for the After the Leap conference, we weren’t sure we wouldn’t be playing to an empty concert hall. It didn’t help that we scheduled the conference for December 3-4, right after the rush of Thanksgiving travel, smack dab in the middle of Chanukah, and shortly before Christmas and Kwanzaa (not to mention Festivus).

Turns out that we have the opposite challenge. Registration is now full, and we have a waiting list of great leaders who want to come. Our PerformWell partners are doing what they can to reconfigure the space to accommodate more folks. It would be a shame to turn away anyone who wants to help improve the impact of his or her own organization and be part of a movement to increase the performance of the social and public sectors.

Lowell drew the long straw; he gets to moderate a rock-star panel of high-performance leaders: Tom Jenkins, Mindy Tarlow, Cynthia Figueroa, Sam Cobbs, and Bill McCarthy. And Mario is working hard to get ready for his closing plenary, “How to Build a Movement,” while Lowell is reminding him, as always, not to talk too quickly.

In our December e-newsletter, we’ll share meaningful insights that emerge from the conference. For now, here are some updates from around the Leap of Reason community:

  • In this month’s VPP News, Mario previews a few of the things he and colleague Katie Paris learned over the past year about the value E-learning offers for raising performance. “Factoring in the … overzealous predictions that often accompany these advances,” Mario writes, “my instincts still say that the evolving [approaches] of E-learning could hold tremendous potential for the social sector as a whole—from helping to address our acute need for developing talent to improving program and service delivery.” Mario and Katie will be publishing more on E-learning in the coming months.

  • We commend our friends at Bridgespan for their new report What Does It Take to Implement Evidence-Based Practices? The report, a case study on federally funded teen pregnancy prevention programs, argues that it’s not enough to know that an organization is using evidence-based practices; you also need to monitor to make sure those practices are implemented well. Here’s a quotation we love: “When an intervention is shown to be effective in a randomized controlled trial, it suggests that it could be effective if delivered again by someone else in a similar setting. But only if its core components and the context in which it is being implemented are essentially the same. Perhaps if you dropped two of those six sessions, or substituted a mixed group of boys and girls for a single-sex group, the intervention would still work—perhaps. But the evidence base would be gone, replaced by hope and a hunch.”
  • We are equally enthusiastic about another new Bridgespan publication, Geek Cities: How Smarter Use of Data and Evidence Can Improve Lives. The report, written in conjunction with Results for America, offers concrete examples of how seven cities—Baltimore, Denver, Miami, New York, Providence, San Antonio, and London—are using data and evidence to steer funding decisions and set priorities. Here’s a Twitter-length version of one of the great examples from the report: London mayor, university, nonprofits join forces to help NGOs develop evidence and synthesize findings across interventions.
  • If you’re like us and believe that our sector is woefully deficient in its attention to leadership, please check out “The Leadership Development Disconnect,” a brief post on the CEP blog by Linda Wood, Senior Director of the Haas Leadership Initiative. “Not enough funders are investing in strengthening the leadership of their grantees,” Wood concludes. “And … many of those who do may not be providing the kind of support that nonprofit leaders want and need.” Here’s one successful approach to addressing this disconnect.
  • Last month, Mario was in Milan for Philanthropy Day, sponsored by Fondazione Lang Italia, which works with companies to help them define their social investment strategies and also promotes best philanthropic practices in Italy and abroad. (Lowell made an impassioned case, complete with proper Italian hand gestures, for accompanying Mario on this trip, but to no avail.) The event, dedicated to measuring results in philanthropy and exploring the strategic value of corporate philanthropy, drew some top Italian civic leaders, including McKinsey & Company’s Vittorio Terzi, Foundation Vodafone Italia’s Maria Cristina Ferradini, and Fondazione IBM Italia’s Angelo Failla, as well as an impressive audience of philanthropic and corporate leaders. No surprise: Mario emphasized the importance of funding based on results rather than anecdotes and activities. An unexpected bonus was that print copies of the Italian version of Leap of Reason were presented to attendees. (We thought there would only be a digital version, and you can bet that Mario’s ancestors were high fiving Italian style!). Our thanks to Tiziano Tazzi, the foundation’s president, and the entire team for a very well-done event.
  • Please visit the new Leap of Reason website that went live on Tuesday, November 12 (in beta mode). This new site moves the website from a “poster site” for the books to a site focused on advancing great organizations with a culture of performance for greater social impact. Let us know your ideas for must-have additions to the site. And please share your own stories of how you’re leaping forward.
  • The Solutions Journalism Network, co-founded by the impressive writer David Bornstein, is creating new models for disseminating social innovations that have traditionally gotten too little ink and too few pixels in mainstream publications. A great case in point: Claudia Rowe’s front-page, above-the-fold article “Teachers jump-start turnaround at White Center Heights Elementary,” in Lowell’s hometown paper, The Seattle Times. With support from the Solutions Journalism Network, Rowe provides a compelling portrait of a now-surging school where “a new emphasis on instruction affected everything in the building,” thanks to “a blunt-spoken new principal who reels off education research as easily as making a grocery list.”
  • Our friends at the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy sent us their take on a very encouraging development that could eventually affect wide swaths of the federal government: “The federal government has taken a major step forward to institutionalize rigorous evidence standards, with the publication of Common Evidence Guidelines developed by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and National Science Foundation (NSF). The Guidelines ‘identify the spectrum of study types that contribute to development and testing of interventions and strategies, and … specify expectations for the contributions of each type of study.’”
  • We love the short (1:40), clever video “If We Want Our Funding to Change the World,” from the Donors Forum, the regional association of grantmakers in Illinois. The core message: We funders need to understand what it really costs our grantees to get the job done well—rather than fixate on arbitrary “overhead” figures. If this message resonates with you, visit the Donors Forum for more information about its “Real Costs” initiative and to download discussion guides.

Events for Raising Performance: 

Our best,
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.

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