Plotting a Course for 2017

2016 was a year of flipping the script and changing up the status quo. Come tomorrow, it is time to push through our anxiety about what may lie ahead and plot a course to best navigate the unknown terrain of 2017.

But where to start? Some thoughts…

Where will the road take you in 2017?

In December, I always look forward to Lucy Bernholtz’s data and philanthropy forecast for the upcoming year and the insights in Blueprint 2017 are as thought-provoking as those of its predecessors. It is available for download at the Foundation Center’s Grant Craft website.

Diversification of revenue is more important than ever, especially among donors as well as sources.

Show the impact of the work you do – the very change your program facilitates at both the client and community levels. It seems to be in fashion to downplay all measurement because quantifying impact can be challenging, what with small samples and scattered cohorts and bias (oh my!). Yes, it is. But demonstrating how a program meets expected and desired goals – the outcomes – is not a clinical trial, it is just good practice. As is using those data to inform and improve services.

In Pennsylvania, as this fiscal year’s budget shortfall grows, all signs point to a doozy of a 2017-18 negotiation process. Structural changes to the current human services system are also on the table, which may signal new opportunities for nonprofits. How can you best advocate for the sector and your organization?

Moving purposefully into the unknown may be less intimidating for a nonprofit when there is a verbal AND a financial commitment to cultivate leadership within the ranks.

On the topic of developing leaders, this is a perfect time to engage in a some formative assessment of a more personal nature. As an established or up-and-coming nonprofit leader, how do will you look back on 2016 and plan for 2017?

  • Set aside some time to conduct your own career-centered end of year review.
  • Use/create a rubric to determine where you are now and what you should focus on, add, or set aside in 2017. Rubrics consist of a descriptive set of items or elements and a related performance scale. List your goals or expectations for 2016, then rate each one on a numerical scale where each point is defined along a continuum of progress, for example, 0 = “No progress made” while 4 = “Achieved 100%.” Add as much or as little detail to each rating point as needed to accurately capture the situation.
  • Last January, I worked with Emily Marco on a year-in-review that included a look back at professional and personal events and milestones of 2015 and planning for 2016. She also helped me clarify my goals and identify “action steps” to begin working toward them immediately. Emily is a visual problem solver who excels at helping people organize their thoughts and build a plan of action to achieve their goals. If you are interested in exploring a new way to digest the old and plan for the new you can learn more about her new online learning experience Relaunch 2017 or contact her for a goal setting session at Emilymarco.com.

 

 

Note:  This post is not sponsored.  I do not receive any compensation or services for mentions or links included in the post.

PA Nonprofits May Want to Prepare for a Rough 2017-18 Budget Process

A few years ago, a study from the Forbes Funds, The Pittsburgh Foundation and the United Way of Allegheny County examined the impact of nonprofits (minus the health care systems and institutions of higher education) on Pittsburgh’s economy. It found that nonprofits, ranging from human service agencies to animal rescue organizations, provided over 75,000 jobs for local residents and spent $4.4 billion in the local economy – supporting over 31,000 jobs in other industries.  Preventive factors associated with such community–focused programming resulted in both lives and tax dollars saved. The state-wide data for nonprofits (including healthcare organizations) confirms the strength of the sector. In 2015, Pennsylvania nonprofits employed over 15% of the state workforce and generated $132 billion in annual revenue.

Unfortunately, even with this proven social and economic impact, there is concern that Pennsylvania nonprofits may once again face a serious threat to their operations during the upcoming budget process. First, the 2016-17 budget was never really balanced, and the expected revenue shortfalls are a reality (first quarter revenue collections were $200 million short).  Second, a pension reform bill supported by Governor Wolf failed to pass in the PA House earlier this week after opposition from unions, including the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, pushing that debt issue further down the road.  Third, our decaying infrastructure issues, already underfunded, are not going away in 2017-18 and the gas tax residents pay to fund repairs and improvements is being spent on state police. Also, 2018 is a gubernatorial election year in Pennsylvania. Could we see the sequel to the 2015 impasse?

You can stay up to date on nonprofit-focused policy and budget news at the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership (GPNP) website’s weekly summary page. The Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations (PANO) is another resource for news out of the General Assembly.

Reboot Your Approach to Outcomes Measurement

graph-249937_640Outcomes measurement in the nonprofit sector needs a reboot.  First off, the word “impact” should not cause stomachs, or any other body parts, to clench, shoulders to sag, or blood pressure to rise.  Second, measurement should not be viewed as a zero sum game – as in program directors are terrified that the sum of their outcomes will result in zero funding.  This kind of anxiety just creates extra obstacles, especially for the small-to-mid-size organizations that are trying to build capacity for program measurement and reporting.  Let’s shake off those fears and shake up how you approach outcomes.

You, yes YOU, get to drive the outcomes bus.

Unlike the pigeon from the 2003 children’s story, I say we should LET nonprofits drive this bus. You are the experts when it comes to your work. As experts, you define program success and require a regular flow of relevant information to ensure programs are operating in a way that enables them to achieve that success.  Outcomes are not just about looking backward; they help you plot a more informed course forward. I recommend David Grant’s The Social Profit Handbook as an excellent resource for mission-driven organizations struggling to assess their impact in accordance with more traditional sector standards.  He brings a new perspective to assessment that includes nonprofits taking back the power to define what success looks like. Talk about shaking up the status quo!

Bottom line, if you do not measure your program, you are letting someone else do that for you.  Don’t let the perceived value or understanding of your work be left solely up to other people’s business models, compliance checks, and anecdotes.

Your model matters.   

Unless you are just in the start–up phase, you likely have a program model or logic model of some kind. I hope it isn’t sitting undisturbed exactly where it was placed upon completion.  See, this document is the essence of your nonprofit. It should live, breathe, and change just as your nonprofit does.  These models display the elements of your programs and services, the reality that your organization operates in, and how the programs are expected to address the problem(s) driving your work.  At the most basic level, the model answers the questions: What’s the problem here?  What are we going to do? With what? And how?  What do we expect will happen?  If any of the answers to those questions change over time, the model should be updated and reviewed for internal consistency.

“Oh please,” you think, how can we shake up the sector when you are using phrases like “internal consistency?”  Well, here is where it gets a little bit radical. Not only do you define your success; you take the reins to design a measurement plan that will best fit your operations and resources.  Take that model off the shelf and transform it* into a strategic data collection plan, where activities (what you do) link to outcomes (the intended result), and are documented by indicators (measure to determine if outcome is being achieved.)  Add a timeline for the collection and reporting schedule, and BOOM – get measuring.

*Ok, this part gets technical, and it may be best to seek out training or technical assistance to take your group through this process. I’ve worked with clients who bring our team back in to monitor data collection and assist staff with reporting.  Still, it often comes as a surprise to sector professionals that they already have exactly what is needed to develop a measurement plan that provides useful information for service and program planning, not just for funding reports. No need to start at square one.

You say social impact; I say long-term outcome.

I have to admit, one of my favorite topics of discussion with colleagues of late is how to navigate the veritable scrum of terms associated with assessing impact. The concept of measuring program outcomes has become mistaken for the idea of demonstrating sweeping social impact. While long-term outcomes do refer to a change in a condition or status brought about by program activities, that is not synonymous with causing a wave of change in their region for the typical nonprofit.

Andrew Harding of the London School of Economics and Political Science wrote a blog post on the difference between these two results in human welfare research to challenge this interchangeable use of terms.  He describes an outcome as “a finite and often measurable change,” with a pre-defined reach and limited scope.  Impact on the other hand, “refers to a much broader effect – perhaps the effect information and advice had on ability to make an informed choice, empowerment or wider life experiences. Impact can be conceptualized as the longer term effect of an outcome.”     

I think much anxiety around outcomes can be attributed to this misconception; that long-term outcomes must be far-reaching and epic when in reality the change is only expected within the population that experienced your program. That said, leaders should absolutely challenge their organizations by setting ambitious long-term program goals. With a robust model, the condition-changing outcomes you aim to achieve will be in proportion to your program scope and the intensity of your resources.  You cannot control every factor, but you must have the fortitude to regularly examine the results of what you are doing.

Reboot your expectations around measurement.  Define success. Take ownership of your outcomes. 

Pennsylvania Nonprofit News: School Readiness, Wage Inequality, and Who Decides Tax Exemptions

With budget season looming, Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children is keeping an eye on the happenings in Harrisburg. They recently commented on the education funding in Governor Wolf’s proposed 2015-16 budget and in February released a brief detailing the state of school readiness among the Commonwealth’s youngest residents. According to their analysis, less than 19 percent of 3- and 4-years-olds have access to quality, public pre-K programs,  and 7.5 percent of youth up to age four have high-quality child care.  The data briefs on school readiness factors for Allegheny County (and all counties) are also available on the PPC website.

 

The Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University formed the 74% Project to explore the lives of women leaders in the nonprofit sector. Wage inequality in nonprofits throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania is their current research focus – one that resulted in some interesting data on the salary disparities of male and female executive directors.  Their debut fundraiser, “The Great Debate” will be held on Equal Pay Day April 14, 2015 from 5:30 – 8:00 p.m. at the Twentieth Century Club in Oakland.

 

On the other side of the state, nonprofit leaders are, by their own reports, stressed out. A survey conducted by the Nonprofit Center at La Salle University’s School of Business found that half a decade after the official end of the Great Recession, 51 percent of Philadelphia nonprofits are still struggling to bounce back, with little or no economic recovery reported. Of those leaders who reported some recovery, the majority (75 percent) attribute it to individual giving. Long term financial stability and finding the budget to hire additional staff (to meet in the increase for services since the late 2000’s) were the top concerns among nonprofit executives. Exhausted and stressed were the top responses (tied at 22 percent) describing how the respondents felt as leaders, but 19 percent reported feeling optimistic. The complete report is available at the Center’s website.

 

Pennsylvania Senate Bill 4 continues to be debated in both the press and the Legislature. The bill would grant power to legislators to determine what charities are eligible for tax exemptions through an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution. Rich Lord and Chris Potter of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette look at the impact of this change and why many nonprofits back the amendment in their article Pennsylvania bill debates definition of taxable charities.