The morning began with more conversations with our customers and other attendees that stopped by our booth. The main topic of conversation has been measuring program outcomes and assessing impact.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, we are asking conference attendees to respond to the question, “Where are you on your journey to measuring outcomes and impact?” The choices are: Minimal/Basic; Developing; and Strategic/Integrated. “Developing” still has a clear lead. “Minimal/Basic” is second with a significant number of votes, and “Strategic/Integrated” is third with eight votes.
This lines up with the research that influenced our outcomes measurement solution, Blackbaud Outcomes™. Several years of research and 5,000 interactions with customers and other practitioners in the industry showed us that many organizations have begun outcomes measurement programs, but need to tie technology into their efforts to be effective.
Later in the morning our very own Annie Rhodes, senior product manager, moderated a panel “The Journey to Impact and Beyond.” The panelists included Joann M. Ricci, Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness, Greater New Orleans Foundation; Michael Tipton, President, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation; and Joe Rosier, President, Rapides Foundation.
Here are some key points from their thought-provoking discussion:
- Joann commented that money of course is essential for nonprofits, but capacity building is also vital to help nonprofit leaders more effectively run their organizations. Grantmakers should not only invest in programs, but also in the people running these programs. Investing in capacity building with nonprofit partners helps ensure long-term change and lasting impact.
- Michael said that he encourages his grantee partners to share when things to off track to help his organization learn from what doesn’t Joann said that her organization likes to be up front with setting expectations, including that it’s ok if something doesn’t succeed as long as that experience is shared and learned from to strengthen future activities.
- If constraints are removed and nonprofit partners are allowed to get creative and think outside the box, we pave the way for amazing discoveries. Joann’s foundation asks: “What’s your big idea? What’s going to be different because of your big idea? How will you know whether you’ve had an impact?” Joann also urged foundations to make better use of the data that they are asking nonprofits to provide to them.
- Annie asked the question: “Would foundations work together if they are working toward the same outcomes and impact?” Michael said that he sees this to some degree, but not as much as we should. He added that foundations need to build partnerships around common causes. Funders typically urge nonprofits to work together, but they also need to partner when working toward common goals to leverage combined resources for greater impact.
- Annie asked the panelists if measuring outcomes and impact is on the minds of their board members prior to making funding decisions. All the panelists said no; Joann expanded on this, saying that board members may ask about the impact that grants are having, but they are asking the question after the fact. The question needs to be asked before a grant is funded so that the funder knows what to measure, how to measure it, etc.
Unless we agree beforehand on what we’re trying to achieve, we don’t stand a chance in making a difference.
- Joe highlighted that clearly defining their organization’s mission helps them decide on which nonprofits to fund. “We need to keep drawing the line back to what we’re trying to achieve and change,” Joe said. “And then we need to measure.” Joe also said that when you look at giving grants as making investments, then a foundation needs to look at its nonprofit partners as its portfolio, and ask the question “Does this portfolio of investments help us achieve our goals and missions?”
- Annie asked the panelists how their organizations are helping to educate their nonprofit partners about outcomes and impact. Michael said that they help consult on business plans, defining missions and effective storytelling. Joann added that by defining the desired outcomes at the beginning of a program, funders can help bring together like-minded organizations that are working toward those outcomes that can not only improve the program, but also enable the nonprofits to do more.
- Joann stated that funders need to be willing to invest in measurement and evaluation if they are going to ask their nonprofits to provide it. Funders need to not only support programming, but also invest in a nonprofit’s ability to measure outcomes and tell their impact story.
Thanks to Joann, Michael, Joe and Annie for a great panel session.
I’d love to hear your reactions to these points, or about your own experiences with partnerships and measurement!