Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Measuring Impact on the Community

We asked fellow nonprofit geek and accountability hero, Andrew Gilbert, to share his views and thoughts behind one of our favorite Accountability Standards, Impact on the Community.
A reality faced by nonprofit organizations is that they are shaped by those who fund them. This simple concept was asserted just over ten years ago in the article Not-for-Profit Management: The Gift that Keeps on Giving. This was important at the time because the nonprofit sector was poised to begin taking on more work that had traditionally been done by public agencies. In today’s economy, it remains no less true and is most obviously evidenced by the prevalence of donor-advised funding in the sector, as well as the continued trend of government as grantmaker that started when the article was written. Simply put, the values, priorities, and philosophies of the donors, not necessarily the mission of the organizations, determine the type of work that is done.

Virtually all donations include an exchange, in that someone who provides money to an organization does so because they feel as though the value they share with the organization is being furthered through its work. In that way, the nonprofit sector has been formed to reflect the values of various individuals or groups who view the work of nonprofits to be worthwhile extensions and proponents of their value system.

Nonprofits that can demonstrate that their mission aligns with the value system of a donor are much more likely to receive a contribution from that individual or group.

The best way of demonstrating this is to show how working toward meeting organizational goals and objectives have benefited its stakeholder community. Many funders, particularly institutional funders, are placing an increasing amount of emphasis on the ability of funding recipients to demonstrate measurable results from donations. Nonprofit leaders have been working diligently to develop a myriad number of measurement systems (e.g. frameworks, scorecards, benchmarks, guideposts, toolkits, logic models, indicators, and strategy maps just to name a few), so many in fact, that one could almost conclude that there are as many ways to measure organizational success as there are organizations to measure.

A measurement tool is all well and good if a nonprofit provides an easily quantifiable service, but it gets much trickier for nonprofits that deal in human services and social welfare. It is difficult to generate metrics in a social welfare context that accurately demonstrate results that are directly attributable to organizations. Additionally, it is not always understood if results can be attributed to organizations. The metrics used are generally process related, such as the number of clients served. The success, or failure, of a constituent is tied to several different factors that are often independent of the services provided by a nonprofit. Because of this, many human service organizations have had trouble demonstrating desired results, even though their work has had significant impact on the community.

The important thing to keep in mind is that this movement toward results based management has changed the emphasis of many organizations from telling the story of their organization to describing its work through statistics.

I propose that a medium must be reached so that the values of the organization aren’t obscured by its “results.” Use the metrics that can be generated to demonstrate the progress of the organizations in reaching its goals and objectives in a way that tells the story of the organization.

Tying the effectiveness measurements of the organization into the value-driven story it tells to donors has two direct benefits:

The first is that it demonstrates to donors that the organization is committed to furthering their shared values, and that institutional pressure toward “success” measurement is not going to divert it from its mission.

The second is that it demonstrates that it can and will be a responsible, effective steward of the donation. At once the message can convey both passion and competence.

This lesson is an important one to learn for leaders in a sector in transition. In order to satisfy their own stakeholders, institutional funders (in particular grantmaking local and state governement agencies) are requiring grantees to be increasingly accountable for the results generated for an often-decreasing resource pool. Only those organizations that can share objective successes of community impact through the language of their values will properly be able justify their deservedness as grantees.

Andrew Gilbert is a graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Management program at Hamline University. He is currently working as an Outreach Coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Health.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Using Twitter Smart: Lists of nonprofit thought leaders

Most organizations use or are told to use social networking sites. And most know why: share information with constituents, increase brand awareness, promote services, follow other interesting people, and the reasons go on.

At the Charities Review Council, one of the main ways we utilize Twitter is to follow other thought leaders in our cause space: nonprofit capacity building. By following sector leaders, trend spotters, and nonprofit news sources, we’re able to stay on top of major nonprofit happenings in one single place.

While that might sound all well and dandy, in reality with 72% of nonprofits having a presence on Twitter, there’s a lot of information floating around—some good and useful, some not so much. We follow over 1,800 Twitter accounts and sifting through our main feed can be daunting.

We’ve created a few public Twitter lists to help us organize our followers and access the information we need quickly. 

Our three main lists:

Nonprofit Thought Leaders—this is a list of individuals who are leaders in the nonprofit and civic-engagement spaces and tweeting their journey along the way: executive directors, leadership staff, and up-and-coming sector superstars.

Nonprofit News—here you’ll find some great organizations (and some individuals) who consistently share insightful information about the nonprofit sector at large.

Reviewed Nonprofits—this is a list of nonprofits currently meeting all of our Accountability Standards and have earned our Meets Standards seal.

We hope these lists are helpful to you or your organization and we know our lists are far from complete—we’ve probably overlooked a lot of great organizations and individuals. So please, if you know of any accounts we should add to our lists, let us know in the comments!

Happy tweeting!

Photo credit: Check out Aled Lewis' gallery for more adorable photos 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Allied for Action: Addressing the Big Questions

By Chris Oien, Minnesota Council on Foundations

When I joined the Minnesota Council on Foundations in 2011, the one thing that excited me most about the work, and still does, is the opportunity to address the big questions facing our sector: what are our common challenges, how can grantmakers and nonprofits come together to tackle them head on, and what resources do they need to help make it happen?

Coming up next month is Minnesota’s biggest and best platform to answer those questions and more, during the Minnesota Council on Foundations and Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Joint Annual Conference, November 1 & 2 in St. Paul. With the theme of Allied for Action, we’ll spend those two days learning how to harness our differences to work together toward the greater good.

We’ve worked hard to make this conference an interactive experience, where you’ll be directly involved in the sharing and learning. Some of the highlights we’re particularly looking forward to include:

  • The Friday Plenary, where three of Minnesota’s prominent civic leaders (Nate Garvis, Lori Saroya and Paul Schmitz) will give TED-style talks to challenge you to rethink long-term strategies for engaging stakeholders and for serving communities.
  • The Art of Hosting, where you’ll participate in a small group conversation on one of six key questions the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors must address.
  •  30+ breakout sessions, with your choice of expert speakers for you to engage in the topics you find most relevant.
  • Friday morning coffee chats to jolt your brain awake with concrete tools and ideas to take back to your office.
  • The Nonprofit Awards Luncheon, celebrating some of the best of Minnesota’s nonprofits and grantmakers.

What all of these have in common is the chance to meet, network and swap ideas with 1,400 other leaders in Minnesota’s nonprofit and grantmaker communities. When so many dedicated, knowledgeable people get together under one roof for the same cause, we know that good things will be happening from start to finish!

Head over to www.alliedforaction.org to see everything that’s in store for you and to book your spot. But don’t delay! Register by October 17 to beat the late fee.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Onboarding for Success

With many boards gearing up to elect new members for 2013, now is the perfect time for nonprofits to take a look at their board orientation process. We asked fellow nonprofit geek and accountability hero, Andrew Gilbert, to share his views and thoughts behind one of our vital governance Accountability Standards, Board Orientation and Assessment.

Joining a board of directors can be an exciting time for a new member. For most new members, it is their enthusiasm and passion for the mission that drives them to serve. Whether or not a new director has served on other boards, this enthusiasm will come face to face with the unique challenges of the organization that were previously unseen from the outside. This prospect can intimidate, disillusion, and ultimately overwhelm any new member that is not properly prepared.

If a board as a whole is expected to lead an organization, each individual member should be oriented quickly in order to help meet challenges and govern effectively.

One of the most effective tools to facilitate this orientation is a board manual. Both new and existing board members will have their own ideas concerning what is best for the organization. Often, these differences can result in conflict and unless handled effectively may begin to pull the organization in more than one direction. A comprehensive board manual will provide “common language” with shared values and expectations that the board can routinely reference in order to frame conversations and avoid unproductive conflicts. It will also be a great help when assessing the board’s capacity to govern.

Another effective strategy for orienting new members is to have one-on-one meetings between the board president (or a designated board member) and the new member during the initial months of board service. New members will have a chance to ask questions and gain insight that they would not get otherwise. This type of mentor relationship can encourage new members to quickly become engaged in their board during a time when they may be unsure of their new role.

For more on what elements should be included in board manuals refer to BoardSource.org. Another great resource is the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Leadership and Governance Overview.

Andrew Gilbert is a graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Management program at Hamline University. He is currently working as an Outreach Coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Health.