Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Where are we headed? (Part 2)

Last week in my blog I spent a little time on the background of the Accountability Wizard evaluation project we’ve begun and on three of the themes that emerged in a focus group we held earlier this spring.

I wanted to finish up the themes that will help give a frame work for a future survey tool and talk a little about what we’ve learned to date.

Theme 4: More Recognition By Donors Needed
Is there a measurable difference in donor attitude toward a nonprofit once they have met standards? This, of course, is the proverbial million-dollar question for the Council. What we heard indicates a potential split between individual donors and institutional grantmakers.
I have a feeling that not enough donors consider [meeting the Accountability Standards] an essential for giving money and that the donors who overtly ask you about it tend to be certain corporate or foundation donors rather than individual donors.
Since we see individual donors as a core constituency of our organization, is this a signal that we need to do a better job of connecting with donors and promoting our work? After all, the Kintera/Luth Nonprofit Trend Report in 2005 indicated that 65% of donors do online research before giving. Or is this indicative of what a Hope Consulting study found in that although donors say they believe in doing research before giving, few do? At this point it’s unclear what this means, but clearly there’s something there that we need to dig a bit deeper into.

Theme 5: Increased Confidence
Although focus group participants didn't identify a monetary bump after going through a review, they did say that participating in a review provided an increased sense of confidence.
I wouldn’t say we’ve changed much in the way that we operate. I think there’s, from the board on down, there’s a feeling of confidence that we’re doing the right thing.
This increased confidence was tied to knowing that they were keeping up with best practices. (One of the themes from last week's blog.) A side benefit was also improved communication between staff and the Board. For example, staff had a better grasp of how to help their Boards better understand and apply appropriate standards by which the Board would use to assess the organization.

Theme 6: Strengthening Infrastructure
All interviewed organizations shared the belief that going through the Accountability Wizard helped them to better understand their internal structures, policies, and processes.
[Going through the Accountability Wizard] really strengthens the infrastructure of the organizations and the stronger that gets the more productive and efficient that it is.
For example, some organizations reported that going through the Accountability Wizard has helped improve their internal structures for keeping, organizing and reporting data. Others reported how going through the Accountability Wizard led to streamlined internal reports. Organizations shared the strong belief that the better each were internally, the more it could direct its attention and energies towards its work and towards making a difference with those it served.

Theme 7: Catalyst For Change
The last theme that came up in the focus group was that the Accountability Wizard can serve as a catalyst for focusing an organization on aligning its operations towards best practices. This results in better policies, better and more consistent language used across policies, and better understanding of where we currently stand in terms of organizational best practices
And [the Accountability Wizard] is a nice tool because sometimes we tend to procrastinate about when we do things, about maybe tweaking a policy. So I always say, “Well the Charity Review is coming up folks, get this to the Board” and it gets to the Board so it’s great. I like it! It gets it done.
This theme is an interesting one since, in other words, the review process could be used as leverage to get things done.

Well, that wraps up the themes from the focus group. As we continue down this path of evaluation, we’ll keeping blogging about it, but I’d be interested in hearing what others are doing regarding evaluating their impact. Any suggestions for us? Any lessons learned the hard way or otherwise? Any reactions about what we’ve done so far?

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