Effective Assessment Systems Embody What Success Looks Like
To prove their value to funders, political leaders, and others, nonprofits most often rely on quantitative measures, but what they really should do, according to The Social Profit Handbook, is provide qualitative assessments that reflect their vision of what success looks like.
Doing so enables nonprofits to keep their focus, as well as others' attention, on how well they are achieving what they care about, according to author David Grant, former president and CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and a consultant to nonprofits.
In fact, Grant argues, the very word "nonprofit" is misleading, as it conjures up "for profit" in which money is the dominant metric. Calling mission-driven entities "social profit" organizations more accurately conveys their purpose, he writes. And it also requires a different way of assessing performance, one that inspires people and funders to invest in them.
He makes the point by citing a quotation often attributed to Albert Einstein: "Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted."
During a time when nonprofits increasingly are concerned with their ability to sustain themselves in the face of technological, demographic, and cultural change, their ability to appropriately assess, and convey, their impact is under greater challenge than ever before. Grant provides valuable guidance in a thoughtful, comprehensive, practical way.
The centerpiece of his evaluation methodology is the rubric, a tool that defines "levels of performance along a spectrum, in relation to the most important criteria for success, as determined by those who know the work most intimately." It not only provides a structured approach for organizations to ask what matters most, but also can be a tool for giving and receiving feedback by providing context for that feedback.
Rubrics often take the form of a table, where the columns indicate degrees of achievement and the rows delineate specific activities. For example, a board assessment rubric might look like the following, with the bottom row filled in.
Rubrics may contain numbers, but they also have as many words as needed to convey current goals, define success, and help users maintain momentum toward future plans and goals. Most importantly, to get organizational buy-in, rubrics are jointly developed by the people involved in using and applying them.
All of this takes time, and here Grant makes one of his most important points. Mission-driven organizations need to carve out time, what he calls mission time..."where we can achieve thoughtful clarity about who we are, what we are going to do and not going to do, what we do best, and how we will go about it." It's what enables organizations to figure out how the world is changing around them and how they will know if they are succeeding.
Far from being a polemic, The Social Profit Handbook is just that, a handbook, and as such is chock full of real-world examples that instruct readers in how to think about and implement effective assessment strategies.
He concludes with pointed advice for executive directors, board members, and foundation officers on what to consider in building an assessment culture that supports organizational success. Carve out some mission time, read the book, reflect, and act
The Social Profit Handbook: The Essential Guide to Setting Goals, Assessing Outcomes, and Achieving Success for Mission-Driven Organizations is available from Chelsea Green Publishing.