Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Great Tools for Setting Outcomes

I have been giving the same speech for about fifteen years on the importance of nonprofits setting outcome measures – both for programs and at the organizational level.  When a Board asks itself “How do we know we are making a difference?” there needs to be some kind of reliable measure that provides the answer.

Inevitably, though, when I give this “speech” someone says “But for my organization it's really hard!”  And they are right.  It is more complex for some organizations than for others.  Happily, we are seeing more tools come available to assist organizations.  For example, a few weeks back I referenced Mario Morino’s new book, Leap of Reason, which is a great resource.  Ten days ago at the annual nonprofit researchers' conference (ARNOVA) I got an update on two other web-based resources that I highly recommend.

From http:\\homelessoutcomes.org.uk
The first is a product of The Urban Institute and you can check out the beta version of it at www.oepp.org.  OEPP stands for “Outcomes & Effective Practices Portal” and its purpose is to provide “practical knowledge that nonprofit professionals can use to manage their day-to-day performance.  Information in the OEPP leverages research-based findings that have been synthesized and simplified by experts in the field.  By providing information about program outcomes, effective practices, performance indicators and measurement tools to gauge performance, the OEPP helps nonprofit practitioners to deliver more effective social programs.”  The Urban Institute has been a long time leader in nonprofit research and this is a great tool that will just continue to get better when it is officially launched in March.

The next tool is from The Foundation Center, another major leader in philanthropy.  Their tool is at http://trasi.foundationcenter.org/ and is dubbed TRASI for “Tools and Resources for Assessing Social Impact.”  It is “a searchable, expert-reviewed database of over 150 approaches to measuring the impact of social programs and investments. It also features a community portal for nonprofits, grantmakers, and social enterprises to connect with peers and evaluation experts.”  TRASI was developed in partnership with McKinsey & Company and links to their “Learning for Social Impact" site at http://lsi.mckinsey.com/

This is great stuff.  If you have been stumped on how to develop outcome measures, then check these out ASAP.  Clarifying your outcome measures will make you more efficient and more effective in making a Mission Impact.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Give Your Strategy a Tune-up

How are you going to pursue your vision and work toward accomplishing your mission?  What is your strategy?   

Your strategy is a collection of your answers to these three questions:

*What programs/services do we want to provide to make a Mission Impact?

*How will we staff our organization?

*How will we fund our organization?

The collective answers to these questions describe your strategy.  But is it a “good” strategy?  Here’s how you know:

First, how well do your answers to the above questions allow you to leverage your organization’s strengths, fortify your weaknesses, seize your opportunities, and block your threats?  If not done well, you run the risk of being derailed by a weakness or threat -- or missing an opportunity you could seize with a strength.

And second, how well do your program plans, staff plans, and funding plans support one another?  For example, does your funding plan provide enough resources to have the kind of staff and programs you need to make an impact?  Look at each plan to see how well they are integrated.

Step back and evaluate your strategy according to these two criteria.  If you aren’t happy with your answers, then maybe it is time to give your strategy a tune-up.  Take another look each of the strategy questions and update your plans to make sure each plan supports the other and that you are addressing your SWOTs.  Your tuned-up strategy will give you a better opportunity to make a Mission Impact.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Basic Fundraising “Ask”

It is a simplistic fundraising formula.  But I am a simple-minded guy.

The three words I always make sure to keep in mind when I discuss a possible gift with a prospective donor are Problem, Opportunity, and Challenge.  Though it is indeed a simplistic approach, I have found it to be very helpful.  It keeps me on track during a fund-raising conversation.  I have used it as a personal guide and I have taught it as a guide for others – especially for volunteer fundraisers.  A conversation with someone about making a gift should be sure to cover:

Problem.  This is where the Mission is discussed and it is the perfect place to discuss your organization’s Mission Gap – the unmet needs of those you serve.  “You may not be aware of this, but . . . . . and insert your own explanation of your organization’s Mission Gap.”  Example:  “Twenty percent of the adults in our county are not literate.”

Opportunity.  This is where you talk about your organization’s Vision.  You explain what you are doing now, but you then paint a picture of what more you want to do so you can close that Mission Gap and meet those needs more effectively.  “We have a dream that one day all adults in our community will be literate and we have programs that are proven to make a difference.”

Challenge.  “We understand the Problem.  And we have a Vision for what needs to be done to address it.  Our Challenge is that we do not have the resources at this time to begin making that Vision a reality.  Will you invest (insert your vision of their gift) to help us make that Vision come true for the benefit of those we serve?”

The nonprofit executives who do a lot of fundraising know that I am simplifying a lot here, but it is amazing to me how many people skip one or more of these basic steps.

There are many who chit chat and then go straight to the Challenge (“We need money!”) and ask for a gift.  The prospective donor is not given the chance to understand the magnitude of the Problem and worse, they are not given an Opportunity to dream about helping to solve the problem.

Perhaps still worse, there are those who explain the Problem in excruciating detail and then go directly to Challenge, without discussing the hope of the Vision.  Talk about a depressing conversation!

Vision provides opportunity.  Vision provides hope.  With Vision, we have a chance to make a difference.  Creating an Aspirational Vision for an organization that can help close the Mission Gap is vital to any fundraising effort.

And as we all know, funding is needed by all organizations in order to make even more of a Mission Impact.