We have great news for the many members of this community who have been asking for practical insights for boards and executive teams that are ready to take the leap of reason. In February, we will be joining forces with Leap of Reason essayist David Hunter, one of our sector’s true experts in sparking this process, to publish and launch his new book, Working Hard—and Working Well.
If you liked Leap of Reason, you’ll love Working Hard—and Working Well, which will be available for free download in various electronic forms. In the book, David generously gives away all of the secrets of his legendary Theory of Change Workshops. David’s workshops have had a transformational impact on dozens of nonprofits that today are widely considered to be among the best performers in the country. If you haven’t had the honor of participating in David’s workshops but have the aspiration to raise your performance, you need to read this book.
The book puts forth the hard questions that boards, leaders, staff members, and funders have to ask themselves and outlines a process for how to do so effectively. Leap of Reason set the stage for why we need to strive for high performance and manage to outcomes; Working Hard—and Working Well lays out an excellent path for how to take this on.
More details to come, but we wanted to give this community an early heads up because we know that David’s book will have direct relevance to so many of you.
And now for some brief updates from around the Leap of Reason community:
We commend American Youth Policy Forum for its new report Beyond the Numbers: Data Use for Continuous Improvement of Programs Serving Disconnected Youth. The report presents case studies of three mission-driven, data-informed, high-performance organizations: Roca, Our Piece of the Pie, and Diploma Plus. (It’s no coincidence that all three of them have benefitted from David Hunter workshops and consultations.) “At the core of these programs’ success with the hard-to-serve population,” the report demonstrates, “is an ability to collect, analyze, and utilize data to drive program decisions.” Through strong examples, the report shows that good data systems are necessary, but real progress only comes when an organization builds a culture from top to bottom that values information and uses it to “reflect on outcomes, make adjustments aimed at improvement, and continue to monitor progress.”
The topic of nonprofit performance has truly gone mainstream. On December 10, TIME published “How Nonprofits Can Use Data to Solve the World’s Problems.” The article, by talented young reporter Victor Luckerson, draws on great examples from Nurse-Family Partnership, Youth Villages, and the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation. Here’s one quotation we loved: “Though Nurse-Family Partnerships is decades old, their sophisticated, data-focused model seems poised to become the standard for how a non-profit should operate in the 21st century.” Let’s hope Luckerson is right!
Last week, Carol Thompson Cole, Lowell Weiss, and I participated in an important meeting in New York organized by Results for America (RFA) to “narrow the funnel” of options for advancing evidence-based funding at the federal and state level. I was impressed with the group of leaders that Michele Jolin, RFA’s director, assembled. RFA’s mission to “improve outcomes for young people and their families by helping drive public resources more efficiently toward results-oriented solutions” is a daunting one. But I left the meeting convinced that committed leaders can make real progress if we can get clarity around the definition of “evidence,” “what works,” and “results-oriented solutions;” develop language and approaches that cut across different ideologies; recognize that we will also have to invest to help leaders build organizations to deliver “what works;” and mobilize to take advantage of some big opportunities that could present themselves at this time of intense budget pressure.
Perhaps the biggest such opportunity is to encourage and support the Office of Management and Budget’s steady push for evidence-based approaches in federal agencies. At the RFA meeting, we learned that OMB is likely to come out with a framework for evidence-based decision-making by the end of the year. This framework is intended to add meat to the bones of Acting Director Jeff Zients’s memo from May, in which he directed all agencies to “demonstrate the use of evidence throughout their Fiscal Year 2014 budget submissions.” This OMB initiative could have significant impact on every federal agency and influence many billions of dollars. If done right, this could be a real game-changer.
Last week our team had a great conversation with Muzzy Rosenblatt, the executive director of the BRC in New York City, an innovative social services agency founded in 1971 by people living in the Bowery’s infamous “flophouses.” It was clear to us how ahead of the curve he was when he shared a case study he published in 2006 describing the agency’s use of performance data to “ensure that clients are receiving the most effective services possible.” The case study is now six years old, and based on work that began more than a decade ago, but it’s engagingly written and could be very useful to other nonprofits looking to demonstrate to stakeholders why taking the leap of reason is so valuable for a mission-focused agency.
For the latest on high performance, courageous leadership, innovation, and merit-based funding, you can now follow Leap on Twitter or Facebook. Don’t be shy about adding your voice to the conversation or sharing with your own networks.
As we close the books on 2012—with yet another brutal reminder of the fragility of life, the urgency of hugging our children tight, and the power of community—thank you for all that you have done this year to strengthen the families and communities you serve.
On behalf of the Leap of Reason team, our best wishes to you and your families for a safe, peaceful, and gratifying holiday season and new year.
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