October 2015 Newsletter

Featured Blog Post: Making Program Evaluation More Accessible

Featured Blog Post: Making Program Evaluation More Accessible

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles, Free Digital Photos

I just finished teaching a 2-evening Program Evaluation course at California State University East Bay. This month, I engaged students in a quasi-debate fueled by a 2-part SSIR essay arguing that nonprofit service providers should NOT evaluate their own program outcomes. Because they lack social science research expertise and face conflicts of interest in reporting objective findings, nonprofits instead should learn about what’s been proven to work in their area (based on rigorous evaluations) and implement these “evidence-based practices” faithfully.

In implementing EBPs, they should monitor outputs as a way to bolster program delivery. “Leave program evaluation to the experts and focus on delivering good programs” is the author’s clear message. See my post about these essays last fall.

As I predicted, the essays prompted lively discussion.

A Strong Foundation for Strategic Thinking and Planning

Over the summer I had the privilege to work with a small business association on organization and board development. A problem many nonprofits would love to have, this merchants group was tasked with determining how to spend the funds collected in a City-administered “business improvement district” (BID). The board members’ peers—neighbor retailers—were counting on them to make good decisions about use of the fees for managing the commercial area’s pressing parking, lighting, landscaping and other issues.

In our first conversation, the association’s board chair said the group needed a consultant to guide strategic planning. In listening closely to her, however, I realized the most pressing need was for the group to develop better ways to organize themselves, conduct their meetings and recruit and retain board members. Board meetings rarely led to consensus decisions, board turnover was an ongoing challenge and the few remaining active members were nearing burnout.

To address these issues, the chair and I designed and co-led a retreat to:
• Honor the group’s long history--and its single long-time member,
• Create a shared vision, shared values and consensus on the expected behaviors for board members at and between meetings,
• Re-organize committees to increase accountability and effectiveness, and
• Set the stage for strategic planning and the making of important decisions that would responsibly spend the BID funds and lead to a more attractive retail district and thriving businesses.

The retreat went very well and everyone who attended—both new, old and in-between board members—felt empowered by the process and optimistic about the future.


Furthering my fascination with the Social Impact Bond movement, the Aspen Institute released a report on income inequality this year. The Bottom Line: Investing for Impact on Economic Mobility “builds on opportunities in the growing impact investment field [and] draws on the lessons from market-based approaches to identify tools and strategies that can help move the needle on family economic security,” according to the Institute’s website. If you’re a Chronicle of Philanthropy subscriber, you may want to also read an opinion piece about the downsides of SIBs in the 3/29/15 issue .

Rise Together Bay Area is a 10-year collective impact initiative to measurably cut poverty and grow prosperity for residents struggling to make ends meet in the 9-county San Francisco Bay Area. Over 180 partners from philanthropy, government, nonprofits and the private sector have come together for this common cause. See the coalition’s Roadmap to Cut Poverty and 2015 report, Promoting Family Economic Security in the San Francisco Bay Region

The Performance Imperative (PI) is a framework to increase organizational performance in the social sector. Developed by over 60 co-creators and led by the Leap of Reason folks, the PI defines what a high performance organization is, emphasizes leadership, recognizes that culture and people are key to performance, continuous learning and improvement, blends disciplined execution, people focus, and data-driven decision making, ties external evaluation as essential to operational performance and focuses on organizations overall (not just programs). The website promises that it’s “blissfully jargon-free.” Check out the PI here.