Natural vs. Unnatural Ways of Working
Posted by Allison Fine on January 7, 2010
I read the post “Why Haven’t Foundations Made More Progress in Becoming Strategic?” by Bob Hughes on the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s (CEP) blog with interest. Hughes reports findings from a recent CEP report on foundation effectiveness that indicate that:
- Only half of the CEO’s report a shared understanding among the Board, CEO, and the staff of the foundation’s goals
- A majority don’t have a logic model
- Just one-fourth use performance indicators to assess all their strategies.
Hughes notes that working in strategic ways enables foundations to streamline their work by accomplishing two goals. “The first is to set out a positive direction to help guide decisions. The second function, which Porter and Kramer noted in their seminal article, is to clearly say what the foundation will not be doing. This is often a source of conflict, as any funder who has decided to leave a field well knows.”
As I was reading this I was reminded of the unfolding conversation on Ken Berger’s blog at Charity Navigator on nonprofits and outcomes evaluation. Hildy Gottlieb lays out an alternative option rather than each organization assessing their efforts. Hildy suggests, “Within the context of the ultimate end goal of improved communities, therefore, What’s Next would be a system for first measuring the larger context of community-wide improvement, and only then measuring the performance of individual organizations within that larger context.”
This comes on the heels of a survey last year by Charity Navigator that revealed that very few nonprofit organizations are measuring outcomes.
Anyone feel like Sysphus?
One of the wonderful attributes of social media is that enables people to work in natural ways. People want to have conversations with one another. They want to share their news, photos, contacts, information and knowledge with friends and friends of friends. Efforts and information go viral and social networks grow friction-free and quickly because they are natural ways of being and working.
I wonder working towards “foundation effectiveness” and “outcomes measurement” are simply unnatural ideas and processes for most people and organizations to absorb. Of course, there are some foundations like Hewlett have found that working in planful, strategic ways fits their DNA well. But, since most foundations haven’t, perhaps the notion of shoe-horning foundations created for the sole purpose of enabling people to give money to causes and issues and organizations that simply make them feel good is never going to work?
I spent many, many years fighting the battle of spreading the gospel of the benefits of outcomes evaluation. And it never spread. Why not? Because nonprofit organizations continue to raise money and serve communities just fine, they feel, without measuring outcomes. They are no consequences to not doing it — and very real, and potentially bad consequences, to finding out that your organization isn’t doing all of the wonderful things it promised in those grant proposals and board meetings.
Maybe it’s time for a different kind of conversation. Perhaps we should start to talk about how we can encourage organizations and the people who run them to go with the flow and work in natural ways by folowing their passions and instincts rather than trying to steer them into systems and processes that feel uncomfortable and artificial? Maybe we should take advantage of the particular as the norms and rhythms of social media in order to spread the spirit of foundations and nonprofits through social networks that can be tracked and monitored?
These are just a few burgeoning thoughts, would love to hear what others think.
This entry was posted on January 7, 2010 at 11:48 am and is filed under Social Media. Tagged: Bob Hughes, Center for Effective Philanthropy, Charity Navigator, hildy gottlieb, Ken Berger. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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