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.

Contemplating the Cost of College – Time for a System Adjustment?

In the midst of commencement season, there is good news from the America’s Promise Alliance regarding high school graduation rates in the United States. In 2014, the rate hit a record high of 82.3 percent, with a reduction in the number of schools with low graduation rates. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 69 percent of new high school graduates continue their education at a college or university. Unfortunately, the cost of attending public two-and-four year colleges continues to increase, while state funding for these institutions remains below pre-recession levels.

A May 2016 brief from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explores how the cuts to higher education funding have resulted in these ever-increasing costs being passed on to students and families. Twenty states have cut funding by 20 percent or more since the recession. In Pennsylvania, per-student funding is 33 percent less than it was during 2007-08, even as tuition has increased.

Nationally, tuition increased nearly 30 percent from 2007-08 to 2014-15, while the median income decreased by 6.5 percent during that same time period.  Tuition alone for an incoming student at my (private 4-year) alma mater increased 348 percent since my own freshman year (total inflation between January of that year January 2016 calculated to be 86 percent).  Not surprisingly, the amount of debt that students graduate from public four-year colleges with has increased by 18 percent since 2007-08. To put this in perspective, the authors point out that in the 6 years prior to the recession the average amount of student debt increased just one percent.

A concern raised in this brief, Funding Down, Tuition Up State Cuts to Higher Education Threaten Quality and Affordability at Public Colleges, is that while tuition and fees have increased, faculty positions have been reduced or replaced by part-time instructors, classes have been cut, services for the student body have been scaled back, and some campuses have closed altogether. Students and families are taking on more debt to meet the increased costs but appear to be getting less.

Analyses and opinions vary on what has led to the jump in the cost of higher education and on any possible remedies. Perhaps it is time to adjust a system that has been in place for too long – before another bubble situation (similar to mortgages).  Perhaps student success outcomes should be tied to funding? There are no easy answers. Yet, although anecdotal, there seems to be a swath of the population that make too much for their academically successful teenager to receive aid, but too little to not require high 5-figure loans to off set the expense of a bachelor’s degree.  Is this the new normal?

Implementing, Modeling and Managing a Measurement Culture

Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming election, the nonprofit social services sector – from mental health clinics to food banks – will still be challenged to meet an increased need with fewer resources and limited funding.  Savvy nonprofits have already moved toward an evaluation culture, embracing logic models and short-and-long term impact data to illustrate why (and how) their programs work. Organizational innovation and unique program accomplishments are practically prerequisites for making a successful connection with alternate funding sources, including corporate partnerships, yet nonprofits are still struggling to identify and quantify their impact on clients, the community, and the overall condition they work to modify.  Performance measurement, logic model and outcomes are not new or faddish terms, so why the hesitation?

The report, Tough Times, Creative Measures: What Will it Take to Help the Social Sector Embrace an Outcomes Culture? from the Urban Institute, came out of a Fall 2011 event that brought together leaders from the government, nonprofit, philanthropy, and business sectors to discuss the issue of data-driven management in social and human services and the challenges related to successfully utilizing a performance management system.  Some of the challenges identified:

The difficulty of turning away from the organization’s immediate needs to plan and implement a measurement system. No matter how small the agency, the demands on the executive director’s time and talent are immense. Writing up an organization-wide evaluation strategy and implementation plan, including models, indicators, instruments, and data collection plans is an enormous amount of work – and I haven’t mentioned the pilot testing, analysis and reporting aspects.  The role of director should be to communicate progress and needs with the board as they guide the agency through this kind of culture change, not create every step of the process.

The reality that  sometimes the best outcomes may not be rewarded.  Conspiracy theories and snarky excuses aside, well-crafted stories, high profile connections and nonprofits with missions or target audiences that are more interesting or appealing than your own may have an easier time selling their effectiveness. That said, incomplete or inaccurate information on program impact won’t help remedy the situation.

Some nonprofits may be waiting for the trends to flip and the tides to turn. Why move heaven and earth within your organization to embrace a culture that may seem like a phase (especially to long-time employees who have seen edicts from funders come and go).   Buy-in for outcomes tracking and reporting  may be based on acceptance of the  hoop-jumping norms, not the real value of performance measurement to the overall health of the organization.  It is time for boards and directors to be brave and commit to an organizational culture change – but be prepared to illustrate how it will be  beneficial for staff and (more importantly) clients.

In response to these and other impediments, I mean realities,  the symposium attendees identified strategic areas that would have the most impact in encouraging and implementing a data-centered culture: human and financial capital –  the tenacity and the tab, creative advocacy – sector giants to back this shift,  and ready-to-use systems and tools so directors don’t have to start from square one.  How can nonprofit leaders better model and manage  a measurement culture?   Why are some nonprofits hesitant to embrace this shift?