Gauging Progress Toward High Performance

Last newsletter (July), I wrote about the plethora and uses of nonprofit organizational capacity assessment tools, such as the popular OCAT and CCAT. In researching such tools, I came across one that was new to me–Performance Practice (also called the Performance Imperative Organizational Self-Assessment or PIOSA). I liked its structure, transparency and the way its developers and an array of satisfied users described how best to use it. I found on the website testimonials from nonprofit leaders, foundation executives and consultant capacity builders like me. I offer a bit of background and an overview of the Performance Practice approach and its suite of free downloadable tools.

Several years ago, the Leap Ambassadors–more than 100 nonprofit and philanthropic leaders across the United States—developed the Performance Imperative, a framework for identifying what nonprofit organizational effectiveness looks like. When people saw the new PI framework, many understood intuitively how powerful it was—and they wanted to know how best to employ it. So the Leap folks got to work, using their broad-based Ambassadors network to develop an organizational self-assessment tool. The result was the PIOSA, now in its second iteration and with a new name, Performance Practice.

A Tool for Defining and Tracking Nonprofit Performance

Key to understanding the Performance Practice suite of tools is the Leap Ambassadors Community definition of high performance: “the ability to deliver—over a prolonged period of time—meaningful, measurable, and financially sustainable results for the people or causes the organization is in existence to serve.”

(Many of you are familiar with the Leap Ambassadors Community. For those who aren’t, this broad swath of social sector leaders was inspired by venture philanthropist Mario Morino’s game-changing 2011 book, Leap of Reason: Managing to Outcomes in an Era of Scarcity .  Morino was recently profiled in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.)

Performance Practice is both an approach and a robust set of open-source tools to assist nonprofits and funders learn more and talk about their own organizational capacity and identify strengths and growing edges. This recent webinar talks about how tools have been and are being used by small nonprofit organizations.

For funders seeking to partner with nonprofit organizations to improve organizational effectiveness, Performance Practice offers a structured, straightforward methodology and common language. These features allow the two sides to “get on the same page” about such sensitive issues as leadership, culture and organizational capacity, which helps to reduce the power imbalance between them. When funders and grant partners review the assessment findings together in a spirit of learning, the Performance Practice’s shared lens and language make it possible for them to, first, come to a shared understanding of the issues facing an organization and, second, to reach agreement on specific goals to advance the nonprofit to the next level of effectiveness.

Performance Practice’s developers recommend the assessment not be used to make Yes/No grant decisions (a “hammer approach”), but rather employ it in ways that enable funders and grantees to jointly decide on the best strategies for foundation capacity-building investments. This more collaborative (“carrot”) approach helps to build long-term, honest funder-grantee relationships that lead to higher organizational performance, philanthropic success, and increased social impact.

Pillars of High Performance

The Performance Practice tools describe specific practices and characteristics of high-performing organizations. These “best practices” have been organized into seven “pillars” or modules of high performance:

  1. Courageous, Adaptive Executive and Board Leadership
  2. Disciplined, People-focused Management
  3. Well-designed and Well-implemented Programs and Strategies
  4. Financial Health and Sustainability
  5. A Culture that Values Learning
  6. Internal Monitoring for Continuous Improvement
  7. External Evaluation

Each pillar (module) contains a set of “proof points”—brief statements of best practices, without jargon. Individuals or teams of board and/or staff members are asked to self-assess and score their organization on each element and add short comments. Once all the organization’s responses have been compiled anonymously, participants come together to discuss, as a group, their ratings and comments on their organization’s performance, celebrate where they are doing well and begin to develop strategies for improvement where needed.

Have you used the Performance Practice tools? Or another organizational capacity assessment tool? If so, how did you use it? Do you think it was helpful? In what ways? Please drop me a line about your experiences with such tools.

iStock image by FatCamera