The Nonprofit Outcomes Toolbox could not have come out at a better time. We are at the beginning of a tipping point in the nonprofit sector in the U.S. and the notion of donating to charity is slowly but surely being replaced, at least among some leading funders, by the idea of social investing. In other words, the awareness is growing that when you provide support to a nonprofit, you have a right to expect a return on that investment - meaningful change in communities and people’s lives (something of social value). In addition, the assumption that all donations help (result in positive social value), is crumbling under the lack of evidence to support the notion. In fact, most nonprofits do not have objective data to prove that they provide outcomes – where meaningful change is measurable, sustainable, linkable to efforts and there is accountability for results. Furthermore, most do not have the foggiest notion about their outcomes, because they do not have an internal performance management system to hold them accountable or even begin to compile such evidence.
The good news is that there have been some noteworthy developments in the evolution of tools that are available to improve the performance of nonprofits. The Nonprofit Outcomes Toolbox is an achievement in compiling some of the most significant strides that have been made in this area. The book digs deep and provides us with many jewels that can help nonprofits begin to perform more effectively and hopefully restore our confidence in the sector.
Dr. Penna and I both share a dream that, thanks to these tools, some day the most effective and efficient nonprofits will get the vast majority of investment in the time and treasure of our society. No longer will a heart rending story about how a nonprofit helped one individual suffice. Stories are important, but without data to back them up, they are largely meaningless in the bigger picture of changing our world for the better.
Therefore, we hope over time the public will increasingly demand to see evidence of high performance and impact. As Dr. David Hunter, a consultant and member of the Alliance for Effective Social Investing suggests, that means social investors (with the help of groups like Charity Navigator!) will insist that the nonprofit they are considering has capable and visionary leadership that care about outcomes. They will require evidence that the organization is outcome driven from top to bottom. They will also need to know that when the organization measures its outcomes and the results are not satisfactory, it changes its processes and keeps trying new approaches until it gets it right. In addition, they will only support organizations that hold themselves openly accountable to all of their constituents - their funders, their clients and the community at large. The Nonprofit Outcomes Toolbox is a place for nonprofit leaders to begin on the road to accomplishing all of this.
Looking to the future, Andrew Wolk, the CEO of Root Cause suggests that as the outcomes revolution takes hold, start-up nonprofits will have key outcome indicators, young organizations will at least have a simple performance management system, and more seasoned organizations will have a full performance evaluation system with external evaluation. And at the top of the heap will be proven organizations that can show impact. That means they will be able to provide robust, objective evidence of meaningful change in the lives of most of the people and communities served. They can prove it because, as the Hewlett Foundation identifies in its “gold standard” of performance information, the nonprofit has scientifically valid outcome and social impact data. Wherever your organization is in its lifecycle, The Nonprofit Outcomes Toolbox can help you move forward toward that gold standard.
The question of whether or not a nonprofit measures its outcomes is critically important to the future of nonprofits in America and throughout the world. It is a question that represents a battle for the very soul of the nonprofit sector. The “outcome” of this contest will determine whether we will continue to flounder around never knowing whether we are truly helping people, or measure, manage and deliver good outcomes. The Nonprofit Outcomes Toolbox has provided us with the critical tools to fight the good fight so we can win this battle and make the world a much better place.