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294 posts categorized "Nonprofit Management"

Does It Count, If You Don't Count It? The Future of Social Impact Measurement

October 19, 2016

Solutions_outcomes_signpostOutcomes. Impact. Results. In the for-profit world, all are key to the long-term viability and health of an organization. Today, in the giving sector, we are seeing the same concepts around performance and measuring outcomes take center stage. 

But as the conversation around best practices for results-focused giving continues to gain traction and the ability to demonstrate the results of giving becomes more important, organizations and individuals across the philanthropic spectrum, from foundations to nonprofits to corporations, to the individual change agents that support them, are struggling to define a common language for performance measurement and reporting. 

While that language may not yet exist, players across the giving sector can agree that being able to demonstrate social impact involves many of the same elements as good storytelling.

Needless to say, the power of good storytelling has been a feature of politics, business, and our dinner tables for as long as any of us can remember. That's because the best stories get to the heart of their subject and leave the listener feeling moved — whether to act, reflect, or investigate the subject matter. And while a story focused on a single individual, if told well, can grab our attention, when the story relates to something bigger or greater than ourselves, it is even more powerful.

Across the giving sector, we see champions for social good who understand that strong stories, powerfully told, can make a difference. Nonprofits, foundations, and corporations alike are harnessing the power of storytelling to share the impact of their work, to draw people to their mission, and to inspire action. But once social impact begins to be viewed through a storytelling lens, it becomes clear that crafting a compelling story about impact starts with a focus on measurable results. In other words, a donation or giving campaign that doesn't lead to the measurement and reporting of results is like a story without an ending. 

Consider the following statements: "The XY Foundation vaccinated three hundred children children"; or "The XY Foundation’s vaccination program reached three hundred children and led to a 50 percent reduction in instances of measles in the region." When organizations can track, measure, and share the results of their efforts in terms of the value being delivered, their story becomes much more powerful.

A year ago, the United Nations announced seventeen Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, as a way to "stimulate action over the next fifteen years in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet." The SDGs include goals to end poverty, hunger, ensure inclusive and quality education, gender equality, clean water, and more. If each foundation, nonprofit, and corporate donor could track the results of their donations, efforts, and partnerships and map them back to one of the SDGs, think how many powerful stories the giving sector would be able to tell. And powerful, compelling stories are what inspire donors to provide more resources to advance social and environmental goals.

The first step in helping the giving community track results and create powerful stories is to settle on an agreed-upon taxonomy. With a sector-sourced (and continuously growing) lexicon of outcomes and output measurements, a common language will enable those who are already successful in achieving impact to share their best practices while giving those who are just starting out on their outcomes journey the ability to more easily jump in. Standardized measurement and reporting also will lead to greater transparency so that all involved in changemaking efforts can see exactly where resources are going. 

For individual organizations in the giving sector, the measurement journey begins with understanding where you are and where you hope to end up. Whether your organization is just starting out, has developed some competence, or has arrived at a completely integrated stage of measurement proficiency, a thorough understanding of your goals, objectives, strengths, and weaknesses is essential to the successful execution of your outcomes measurement framework. 

Headshot_charlie_vanekAs outcomes measurement in the field becomes more sophisticated, the organizations best poised for success will be the ones positioned to capture and use results data to build strong impact stories. Find out where your organization falls on the spectrum of outcomes maturity today, and begin the journey toward a more impactful tomorrow. 

Charlie Vanek is vice president of product management and business development at MicroEdge + Blackbaud.

Weekend Link Roundup (September 3-5, 2016)

September 05, 2016

Ball_and_racket_headOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Corporate Social Responsibility

The landscape of corporate philanthropy is changing — for the better. Andrea Hoffman, founder and CEO of Culture Shift Labs, looks at one Wall Street firm determined to change the existing stock-buyback paradigm.

Disaster Relief

In aftermath of the recent flooding in Louisiana, The (Baton Rouge) Advocate's Rebekah Allen and Elizabeth Crisp look at how crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe are disrupting the traditional disaster relief funding model.


In the New York Times, Christopher Edmin, an associate professor at Teachers College, Columbia University and the author of For White Folk Who Teach in the Hood ... and the Rest of Y'all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education, challenges the idea that the answer to closing the achievement gap for boys and young men of color is to hire and retain more black male teachers.


Wondering how to get the public solidly behind your cause? Of course you are. Regular PhilanTopic contributor Derrick Feldmann shares some good tips here.

Higher Education

As the call for institutions of higher education to diversify their curricula grows louder, maybe it's time, writes the University of Texas' Steven Mintz on the Teagle Foundation site, for colleges and university "to embrace the Great Books spirit and delve into the most problematic aspects of our contemporary reality through works that speak to our time and perhaps all time."


The Organizational Effectiveness program at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation has launched an Organizational Effectiveness Knowledge Center designed to be a space where nonprofits, funders, and others can "exchange learning, resources, and reflections about improving nonprofit organizational and network effectiveness."

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Why Collaborate?

August 04, 2016

CollaborationCollaboration in the social sector takes many different forms and can be approached in a variety of ways, but before nonprofits address the what and how of organizational partnerships, they should consider the most important question of all: Why?

Everybody loves collaboration — in theory. I mean, who doesn't believe that two or more nonprofits working together to achieve common goals is a good thing? To not think that would be churlish, right? But put aside the feel-good factor for a moment and let's be honest: collaboration is not a good in itself unless it serves a definite purpose.

Nor is collaboration always the answer. A nonprofit has any number of strategies to choose from to advance its mission, and partnering with others is just one of them. But when considering which strategies to pursue, it can be helpful to think about certain kinds of partnerships as lending themselves to certain types of goals.


Although I've already used the term "collaboration" in a broad sense to refer to organizations that agree to work toward a common goal or purpose, it can also refer more specifically to the most common types of partnership, which tend to be limited in duration and degree of organizational integration. Some of the goals that can be advanced through collaboration include:

  • Pooling expertise or resources in co-sponsored or shared support of a time-limited effort.
  • Amplifying a policy message around a shared cause or issue through joint advocacy.
  • Creating and sharing collective wisdom and knowledge through collaborative learning.
  • Leveraging networks of like-minded organizations to tackle social issues requiring sustained, coordinated action.


Alliances tend to be more formal and longer term than collaborations (though they need not be permanent), while still allowing a significant level of organizational autonomy. This type of partnership can be useful for advancing goals such as:

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[Review] Mission Control

August 01, 2016

In Mission Control: How Nonprofits and Governments Can Focus, Achieve More, and Change the World, Liana Downey argues that many well-intentioned nonprofit organizations lack focus and, motivated by a need to be everything to everyone, end up being less effective than they could or should be. Most of us have encountered this kind of "mission creep" in one form or another. It could be a local food pantry that, after noticing that many people who are coming for food have other needs, "starts offering referrals to homeless shelters and...providing job training" without taking the time to assess whether it is "the best organization to be meeting these needs." While that organization may have "gone wide in its services, and...helped people along the way," no one is sure whether the "increase in the breadth of services enabled it to better meet the initial need." In other words, are there still people in its community going hungry?

MissionControl-3D_FINALThose are difficult and important questions, and in Mission Control Downey has created a "step-by-step guide" for nonprofits that want to avoid mission creep, find their focus, and change the world.

Downey begins her book with a chapter on how to "Prepare for Success" that looks at whether now is the right time for your nonprofit to find its focus and develop an action plan to increase its impact, who should be involved in the process , how much time your organization should spend on the process, and whether you need external help (in the form of a facilitator, advisor, or consultant).

Having determined that it is indeed a good time for your organization to find its focus, the next step is to "get the facts." And that means asking a series of questions about your clients (who are they, what do they want, etc.), your organizational structure (how many employees/volunteers, your fixed and variable costs, funding sources and reserves), and how the broader environment in which your organization operates affects its work (who are your competitors, who are your funders, who are the key players in the policy arena, etc.).

With the answers to the above in hand, it's on to the crux of Downey's process: establishing a clear, achievable goal "that will help you make decisions, motivate your team, and increase your impact." A goal is not the same thing as a mission, nor is it a vision or value statement. While both those things are important, she writes, "they are not the real differentiator between organizations that achieve great things and those that don't." That's the function of an ambitious and actionable goal.

As Downey walks readers through a series of steps designed to help their organizations craft such a goal, she makes it clear that every organization has the capacity to create meaningful change — so long as its efforts are grounded in facts. Or, as she puts it: "Good intentions, hard work, and intelligence are not enough to change the world. To succeed you must focus your efforts on the interventions that actually work."

In the chapter "Identifying Your Strengths," for example, she invites readers to reflect on what their organizations already do well and encourages them to take stock of its capabilities and assets. And in one of the "Cynic's Corner" sidebars sprinkled throughout the book, she shares an anecdote about a nonprofit whose culture was so rigid and hierarchical, it didn't even ask its volunteers about their skills and experiences — capabilities that could have advanced the organization's mission in very real ways. 

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The Strategic Thinker-Leader

July 27, 2016

Rodin_thinker-leaderFor those who read my "5 Reasons Why 'Strategic Doing' Beats Strategic Planning" post, it will come as no surprise that I spend a fair amount of time thinking about, critiquing, and doing strategy. Truth be told, strategy is a bit of an obsession for me, more creative art and less a science, despite what the bean-counters and McConsultants would have you believe.

Like other creative arts, truly great strategy is the product of inspiration. And inspiration comes to us in its own good time rather than during scheduled meetings: while we’re arguing with a friend, thinking about a problem, noticing something we’d missed before, even while we sleep. (Okay, maybe that’s just me…)

More to the point, strategy isn't a thing, a plan, a committee, or a document. It's a way of thinking about change — a way of imagining that demands action. Because, at the end of the day, strategy is nothing more than a language for translating ideas into outcomes.

So what makes for great strategy, and how do you get there? When do you know you've nailed it? And, perhaps most challenging, can the art of strategy be taught? I don’t have the definitive answers to those questions. Maybe great strategy is like pornography: you know it when you see it, to paraphrase the late Justice Potter Stewart. That said, allow me to share a few observations from my years in the trenches about the what and how of strategy.

If strategy is nothing more than an organized way of thinking about change, then "doing strategy" should be built through a sequence of cognitive steps — a disciplined intellectual process that transforms what is to what could be and leads to a clear, compelling end-state vision.

So what does that disciplined and orderly thought experiment I call strategy look like? Like any other disciplined intellectual process, strategic thinking is built around a sequence of questions:

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Mission-Driven Architecture

June 08, 2016

Womens-opportunity-centersIt's not unusual for architecture and engineering firms to work on a pro-bono basis or for a reduced fee on "mission-driven" projects. In such cases, firms often are willing to trade profit for the reward of doing work that is rewarding in other ways. Some firms also take on such projects because the work is likely to raise their profile and, down the road, benefit their bottom line. Most importantly, populations in need also benefit. Schools and clinics are built where there were none, local people are employed and taught marketable skills, and the project — if planned well and executed efficiently — gives a boost to the local economy that is felt long after the construction dust has settled and the architects and engineers have moved on.

That said, I believe communities in developing countries would be better served if my fellow professionals and their NGO partners approached many of these projects differently and incorporated, from the outset, new thinking about how they are budgeted.

In the traditional budgeting model, firms wait for an RFP to come in over the transom or for an organization to come calling with a project (and budget) in mind. The problem with that, more often than not, is that the budget is woefully inadequate: whether it's a school, a clinic, or some other piece of critical local infrastructure, it typically includes only enough for the "basics," with little or no thought given to the kinds of "nice-to-haves" that would enable the project to serve the community in a more sustainable way. Systems for recycled rainwater, thoughtful waste management, proper siting to take advantage of passive solar — all too often, such considerations are non-starters in the budgets we see.

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Building Nonprofit Sustainability Through Digital Apps

June 07, 2016

NPO-Mobile-AppsProduct-based income strategies are challenging for nonprofits because of the costs associated with inventory. Either your organization has to shell out significant capital to keep the products you hope to sell in stock, or you have to partner with a company that will manage the inventory for you. In most cases, the company will take a portion of your sales to cover their costs and turn a profit before turning over the remainder of the proceeds (if any) to you – in effect, turning your carefully cultivated army of volunteers into a second sales team working to boost its own P&L statement.

With a digital product like an app, on the other hand, a nonprofit bears the one-time cost of product development and then is able to sell the product in perpetuity – or what passes for perpetuity in the digital age -- without having to worry about costs associated with building and maintaining inventory. In the digital marketplace, once an app has been created, selling a hundred thousand copies doesn't cost you any more than selling ten thousand copies.

What's more, having an app on a supporter's mobile device creates a new channel through which you can communicate with that supporter as conveniently as you can with email but without the "noise" created by the hundreds of emails most of us receive on a daily basis. Push notifications that directly target users of an app can quickly mobilize your user base, alerting them to new petitions, challenge grant opportunities, and other kinds of events designed to deepen donor engagement. (Note: while nonprofits are allowed to make money from the sale of digital apps, they cannot collect donations through an app. If you want to use the app to generate donations, you need to get potential supporters to click a "Donate" button that sends them to a mobile-friendly Web page where the transaction can be completed.)

So how much does it cost to develop an app? In 2014, when the team at RedRover first hit on the idea of building a digital version of our RedRover Readers program, we didn't have a clue. And asking a developer how much it costs is like asking an architect how much a new house will cost – the answer can range anywhere from hundreds of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on what you want the app to do. The more complex the functionality, the more it's going to cost.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (May 2016)

June 04, 2016

Greetings from Northeast Ohio, where the seventeen-year cicada are vibrating their tymbals to beat the band. We're pretty excited, too — about our lineup of popular posts from May featuring pieces by a whose who of social sector luminaries. So grab a cold beverage and your noise-canceling headphones and let us know what you think in the comments section below....

Got a submission you'd like to share with our readers? Drop us a line at

4 Performance Measurement Mistakes You Don't Want to Make

May 05, 2016

Warning-286x300Performance management can be a tricky beast — hugely important, but difficult to get right. Here are four common mistakes my team and I see made by social, government, and nonprofit organizations trying to measure their impact, and tips on how to avoid them:

1. Measuring too much. By far the most common problem we see is that most organizations try to measure too much. Every additional measure you track uses up precious staff time for collection, aggregation, and analysis. In some cases, tracking too many measures is as almost as bad as not tracking at all. One client we served had a list of more than eight measures it was trying to track. Managers and the board were so overwhelmed by the huge amount of information that their eyes tended to glaze over when the data was presented, and little or nothing happened as a result. We helped them whittle the list down to just a few outcome measures for each client group, and that enabled them to focus their energy, track their efforts in a meaningful way, and improve their outcomes.

2. Underutilizing what you have. Many organizations are so busy worrying about measurement that they don't realize what a trove of information they may already be sitting on. One national nonprofit I know had been working on putting together a measurement system for three years, engaging external consultants, and doing a lot of hand-wringing about their lack of a large-scale control study. Its senior leaders, like those at many other organizations, found themselves overwhelmed by choices, confused by terminology, and with little to show for their hard work. Yet in the background, the organization had been collecting all kinds of information. With an infusion of new energy, leadership took stock and found that simply by undertaking an audit and tidying up the organization's data they were able to tell a compelling story to current and potential funders. The moral of the story? Before you do anything else, investigate what you have at hand. What information are you already collecting that measures outcomes for your clients?

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The Empowered Leader…or 5 Reasons Why ‘Strategic Doing’ Beats Strategic Planning

April 07, 2016

Strategic-Plan-Poster Edited2One of these days I'm going to sit down and write a treatise on why I believe strategic thinking and strategic leadership are more valuable than strategic planning — particularly, but not only, in a not-for-profit context. I'm going to do it, I promise, but not today. I'm too busy doing stuff.

So apparently was Southwest Airline's legendary founder and CEO Herb Kelleher, who held that "strategy is overrated, simply doing stuff is underrated. We have a strategic plan. It's called doing things." Or, as management guru Tom Peters puts it, "the thing that keeps a business ahead of the competition is excellence in execution."

How many of us were taught that "boards make policy and executives implement it"? Turns out that assertion is both over-simplistic and short-sighted, at least as far as well-functioning organizations are concerned. The empowered leader — whether nonprofit or for-profit — must own and lead both the strategy process and the strategy itself, which is one reason why strategic planning is overrated and often ineffective. Done conventionally, strategic planning empowers the consultant, not the executive. Executive coaching, on the other hand, invests in the development of leaders who then empower their organizations, boards, and staffs to think big and execute well.

I'm not saying that strategic planning isn't important. It certainly is — especially to the legions of pricey consultants happy to have you pay for their thick workbooks and the many billable hours needed to walk the strategic planning team through them. Strategic planning is, after all, a big business. (Don't believe me? Stop by one of McKinsey's hundred and nine offices around the globe and chat with one of the eleven thousand consultants and advisors the firm employs.)

So what's a better option? You guessed it: focused and well-executed executive coaching. One-on-one coaching can be a valuable and effective alternative (or, even, precursor) to a full-on strategic planning process, especially for the already overwhelmed and over-burdened executive who is worried about the cost, in terms of time and money, of the latter.

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[Infographic] Charitable Solicitation Registration

March 19, 2016

Did you know that before before your nonprofit seeks and accepts donations, it must register in each state where it will be fundraising? You probably did. Did you know that forty-four states and the District of Columbia have charitable solicitation laws? I'm betting most of you didn't. Okay, so this is one of the weedier areas of the charitable sector, but as this excellent infographic from the folks at Harbor Compliance reminds us, ignore those laws at your own peril....

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[Infographic] Questions Nonprofits Should Ask to Assess Their Risk Management Practices

February 13, 2016

If, like the majority of Americans, you have some (or most) of your retirement savings invested in stocks, the last month and a half has been disconcerting (to say the least). The same is true for nonprofit organizations, which count on grants from endowed private foundations and deep-pocketed individual donors to fund key initiatives and, in many cases, keep the lights on. As anyone who was around in 2008, 2002-03, or the early 1990s can tell you, however, when stock portfolios fall in value, foundation grantmaking and individual giving are quick to follow. And volatility in revenue streams is just one of the many organizational risks the typical nonprofit faces.

What's a nonprofit executive to do? The worst thing he or she can do is to do nothing. As Ben Franklin liked to say: "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." So, how does one prepare for risks, both known and unknown, that lie in wait for even the best-managed organization? As the infographic from our friends at accounting giant BDO's global forensics unit reminds us, ask questions. Lots of them.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (January 2016)

February 02, 2016

Not even an epic mid-month nor'easter could keep January from flying by. Not to worry. For those who blinked and missed all the great content posted here during the month just passed, we've got you covered....

What did you read/watch/listen to last month that made you think, got you riled up, or restored your faith in humanity? Share with the rest of us in the comments section below, or drop us a line at

3 Surefire Ways to Engage the Best Volunteers

January 23, 2016

Happy_volunteersOver 60 million people spend an average of 52 hours a year volunteering their time with nonprofit organizations. Many organizations agree that volunteers are critical to their overall health and play a role in their ability to become, and remain, sustainable. Volunteers serve many functions; they can help deliver client programs, create awareness about mission and impact, and keep staff costs reasonable. But having volunteers can be a lot of work!

Before evaluating an existing volunteer program or embarking on a new one, determine what motivates your volunteers and then work toward creating, and supporting, a program that best serves their needs while advancing your mission. I recommend using the "3 R's for Happy Volunteers" as a framework for the internal conversations that will help structure your program:

Relevant. Volunteers feel most productive when their time is connected to their particular interests and skills. Volunteers excel when they feel they're in a position to leverage their expertise in service to a greater purpose. To generate maximum volunteer productivity, interview prospective volunteers to understand their motivations, skill sets, and interests before assigning them a task.

Realistic. The typical volunteer is between 35 and 64 years old and is employed. Statistically, most people who volunteer also volunteer for more than one organization. In other words, your typical volunteer leads a busy life! When structuring a volunteer program, consider the scope of the tasks being assigned. Your goal should be to expand the capacity of your organization using volunteer know-how and enthusiasm while providing your volunteers with tasks that can be accomplished without overwhelming them (i.e., some of the larger, longer-term tasks on your to-do list may require a team of volunteers working in concert with a staff member).

Rewarding. People volunteer in part so they can feel good about making a contribution to their community. When developing a volunteer program, therefore, focus on providing high-touch, meaningful work that your volunteers will be proud to talk about with their networks, colleagues, and friends. And in those cases where the work that needs to be done is more administrative or mundane in nature (see "Relevant" above), make an effort to match the right volunteer to the task. As with donors, volunteers thrive on and respond to recognition and appreciation for their efforts.

Bottom line: Happy volunteers help drive the effectiveness of our organizations, make our lives easier, and are more likely to become both financial supporters of and advocates for our cause!

Want to learn more about creating a volunteer program that meets the needs of your volunteers and your organization? Then join me for "Build a Successful Volunteer Program," a Foundation Center webinar, on February 9, from 2:00-3:00 p.m. ET. We'll talk about the questions you should ask before inviting volunteers into your organization, practical tips for choosing the right volunteers, and tactics you can use to effectively recognize and retain valuable volunteer talent. We'll also focus on practical information you can use right away to create more meaningful and lasting volunteer engagement.

New York City-based Marti Fischer is an entrepreneur, radio host, teacher, career coach, and nonprofit development consultant who helps individuals and organizations hone their communication skills in order to "Achieve Their Next." Marti can be reached through her website

Weekend Link Roundup (December 5-6, 2015)

December 06, 2015

Rockefeller-center-christmas-tree-statueOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans

The Campaign for Black Male Achievement has released the inaugural Black Male Achievement Index, a "first-of-its-kind report to track and communicate how cities' efforts across the country are advancing black male achievement."

Climate Change

The University of Massachusetts has joined the growing list of educational institutions that have announced they will divest themselves of investments in coal companies. WBUR's Zeninjor Enwemeka reports.

Can so-called green bonds be a game-changer in the fight against global warming. Rockefeller Foundation president Judith Rodin thinks so and explains in the Guardian how the foundation's Zero Gap work is helping to show the way forward.

On the Barr Foundation blog, Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a national coalition of investors, environmental organizations, and public interest groups working with companies to address sustainability issues, looks at some of the companies that are stepping up to address the climate change threat

One major American company, Google, has announced that it will nearly double the amount of renewable energy it uses to power its data centers, with six different wind and solar power projects scheduled to come online within the next two years in the U.S., Chile, and Sweden. Michael Liedtke reports for the Washington Post.


The San Diego chapter of the Alzheimer's Association has joined the New York chapter in splitting from the national federation, setting itself up as a purely locally operated organization. The San Diego Tribune's Bradley J. Fikes reports.


Is donor-driven charity dying? After noting on the Huffington Post's Impact blog that the latest numbers released by the World Giving Index show that while total giving is up, the number of individuals making those gifts is down by 5 percent, George McGraw, founder and executive director of, argues that nonprofits need to start developing new revenue models and offers a few suggestions.

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