Relevant Post-DLC Forecast Thoughts on Impact

Many in the arts and culture field subscribe to Thomas Cott’s email newsletter “You’ve Cott Mail” or follow him on Twitter. Cott is Director of Marketing for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and is an industry expert on a wide variety of pressing arts-related issues. Recently Cott scoured the web for helpful thoughts on the importance of impact – which dovetails nicely with the DLC’s insightful Forecast on October 21st titled Measurement or Myth: Accountability in Fundraising.  His post is below.

“Any form of art is a form of power; it has impact, it can affect change…”   — actor/director/writer/social activist Ossie Davis

 Commentary: What nonprofit leaders should know about impact and funders

Tom Watson,, 11/14/11

I shivered a little bit when I read this sentence in Mario Morino’s excellent [book] Leap of Reason: Managing to Outcomes in an Era of Scarcity, released by his Venture Philanthropy Partners:

“Public funders — and eventually private funders as well — will migrate away from organizations with stirring stories alone, toward well-managed organizations that can also demonstrate meaningful, lasting impact.”

But Morino is right. Nonprofits are granted an extraordinary privilege — they exist tax-free in exchange for the social benefits they promise. Morino encourages strong, questioning, creative people in nonprofit management. “In my experience, people who improve, innovate, and adapt are curious souls and self-learners. An organization’s culture should encourage people to ask questions, seek advice, do research, improve what they do and how they do it, help each other, push each other’s thinking, probe, nudge, adapt, look at things from different vantage points. All of these behaviors lead to improvement and innovation for the organization and the individuals who are part of it.”


Book excerpt: “Passionate people, empowered with data, can transform lives”

From the chapter “Mission Possible” by Tynesia Boyea Robinson

I have implemented performance-management systems in both for-profit and nonprofit settings. Most nonprofits attract people who have self-selected based on the mission of the organization. [This] gives these professionals intrinsic motivation. In my experience, building a performance-management system that taps into intrinsic motivation involves 3 essential ingredients:

Creating a feedback culture. Performance-management evangelists often say things like “Nonprofits that truly care about their mission will embrace data collection and analysis.” This is a huge mistake. Most nonprofit professionals find such statements offensive and may respond defensively. Therefore, before any system is even discussed, the first step is to create a feedback culture. It can start with weekly staff meetings where people share what went well, what should be changed. Ideally, feedback should include the perspective of [patrons], since [patron] feedback underscores the connection to the mission and may diffuse tension.

Becoming bilingual. If you put for-profit and nonprofit professionals in a room together, there’s often a big cultural divide. Both sides must seek to understand before asking to be understood. As I reflect on my first years as a board member of a nonprofit theater (soon after I left a Fortune 500 company), I cringe when I think about how I often fell into this trap. My fellow board members and I pushed the theater staff for data on ROI for set design. We graphed which types of performances were most profitable. And we even began inserting ourselves in program selection. Instead of getting riled up about statistical significance and trends, we would have been better served by trying to understand what the [theater’s] executives got riled up about.

Relieving the pain. It’s easy to say data and analysis are the panacea for all nonprofit woes. But many standardized tests and data systems create additional work with very little change in outcomes. These systems often fail because they stay at the macro level. The real need is to go deeper — to gauge not just whether something is working or not, but to understand why. To get more granular, you must first establish credibility with [nonprofits] by making their lives easier. If you are working within a feedback culture and speaking in authentic, mission-focused language, it will be easy to spot opportunities for reducing pain.

Performance management is not easy. But when it’s done right…the results can be profound. Passionate people, empowered with data, can do remarkable things to drive performance — and, more important, transform lives.

FROM TC: You can download the entire text of Leap of Reason here.

= = =


Commentary: Measuring impact is critical to sustainability of any nonprofit

Kelly Hill of Nexus Research Group, Foundation Center’s website, 11/7/11

Are you making a difference or having a real impact in the lives of the people you serve? It might seem rhetorical, but anecdotal evidence aside, most non-profits can’t articulate the extent to which their efforts are truly having an impact. This is why program evaluation is so very critical to the effectiveness and sustainability of any non-profit. Here are 4 things you might want to consider:

1. Do I have a data management system in place?  For some that might be a database or spreadsheet, for others a well organized catalog of rosters, forms, charts or reports. Regardless of your approach, the key word here is “system”, meaning information must be captured in a way that is logical, consistent and reliable over time.

2. Do I have a logic model or theory of change?  While a logic model is more focused on articulating key elements, activities and outcomes of a program, a theory of change forces one to consider precisely how the program is to work and all preconditions that need be in place in order to achieve success. Many evaluators consider both to be critical to understanding a program in full.

3. Have I identified my organization’s key indicators?  For instance, how many people have you served? How many people have you connected to resources? How many people have achieved some measure of success according to your program goals?

4. Do I have internal evaluation capacity or a relationship with an external evaluator?  Evaluation isn’t cheap, and sometimes the costs can be enough to cause organizations to avoid it altogether. However, the fact of the matter is that in this age of increased accountability, non-profits can no longer afford not to evaluate their programs. Therefore, if you don’t have the budget to work with an external evaluator, consider the ways you might begin to develop evaluation capacity among your own staff.


Commentary: Is a number worth a thousand pictures?

Sarah Keen, blog of UK-based consultancy New Philanthropy Capital, 10/25/11

Anyone who has played a musical instrument, painted a picture or performed in a play knows that the arts are not the soft option. The arts may be enjoyable, but they also have the ability to engage people, to develop their skills and sense of responsibility, and to foster better relationships. For these reasons the arts have long been used to help rehabilitate offenders or those at risk of getting involved in crime. And yet arts charities have traditionally struggled to provide hard evidence of their effectiveness, particularly in achieving criminal justice system targets. Today we launch a report that explores whether the value of the arts in criminal justice can be shown through economic analysis. Commissioned by the Arts Alliance, the report takes three arts charities — Clean Break, Only Connect and Unitas — and quantifies the costs and estimated benefits of their interventions. The three charities that we look at provide savings to the public purse as well as provide savings to the public purse as well as improve the life chances of the people helped. Our best estimates show that these three charities provide returns on investment of between £3 and £6 for every £1 invested. However, our findings could have been more conclusive with better data. Economic analysis has the potential to be a powerful tool for valuing the arts in criminal justice, but charities, funders and the government need to prioritise better data collection and access so that economic analysis gives the numbers that fully and accurately capture the value of arts in criminal justice. You can download the full report or executive summary here.


Guinness Fund offers grants to Irish arts orgs with clear way to measure impact

Business to Arts website, 11/1/11

The Arthur Guinness Fund [is] seeking applications specifically from the arts & culture sector. The closing date is 30 November, so time is short. There are a number of grants available of between €50,000 to €100,000 for start-up and established projects which have a social impact and are innovative and sustainable. Some useful application criteria to be aware of:

* Project applicant must be resident in Ireland (North or South) and over 18 * Projects should address a social / environmental / community issue in an innovative way * The project’s primary focus must benefit people over 18 years of age * The project’s primary focus must benefit communities in Ireland * You should have a clear plan for growing the initiative
* There should be a clear way of measuring impact

There is more information on how to apply to the fund here.


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