April 1, 2013
What do you reckon? How does your organisation rate for effectiveness in what it does? What is your performance rating? Can you ring the bell at the top of the scale? Bottom line question: what is the return to donors and funders for their investment in the services provided by your organisation?
There’s a global push these days to find answers to these questions, putting pressure on NGOs and NFPs to lift their game. Do not mistake me, I am all for demonstrating impact and effective social change, but why do I feel like a captured mouse being teased by the cat? Or like the caged big cats being whipped along by the circus ringmaster?
When you de-code the signals you can see how philanthropic donors and funder contracts are controlling and directing the community and voluntary sector environment. There’s a sinking lid on what we are allowed to do in the name of ‘charity’, as well as reduced funding. It’s like there is a takeover in progress, and we are letting it happen, being sucked into the ways and means of the public and private sectors. Corporate sponsorship and partnerships with business are attractive to get leverage and influence for social change, but how long before we are dancing to the whims of the corporation’s board? To the tune of the latest marketing programme? Or to the political good idea that gets turned into a statutory regulation?
The language of inputs / outputs / outcomes, of efficiency and effectiveness has been around in business for decades, and community and voluntary organisations have made efforts to record their work along these measures. But nothing is clear-cut, and I have yet to see a proven methodology for measuring outcomes and impact that works for the NFP sector.
Years ago I had to persuade a new manager who had come from a canning factory that disabled people were not cans of peas; they did not roll off an assembly line in neatly packaged ways; and really, there were multi-multiple factors to take into account in service planning and delivery, and in what could be counted as measures of ‘success’.
It’s still much the same these days. Consider Buddy or Befriending programmes for example – they are out there in organisations for the elderly, in mental health programmes, in services for disabled people, for de facto grand-parenting and parent support groups, and for disaffected youth. Think about the multiple stakeholders who could be involved in these services: funders and donors; the provider organisation; families; volunteers, and hello! the manager of volunteers who is responsible for making the programme work and best possible experience for the volunteer and for service users.
The impact of services like these goes in several directions. Families and individuals get support / advice / information to keep on keeping on and to take new leaps into the future. The organisation takes another step in fulfilling its mission, and maybe reporting to funders and donors on real achievements. Volunteers gain in their personal sense of well-being, and in health benefits. There are spin-off benefits for other health and welfare organisations, and for government services. Managers of volunteers can glow with pride when they see what a great team of volunteers they are leading and what they have achieved. The spread of impact goes way beyond performance indicators and a one-eyed review of measuring what the organisation does, even if we are not talking it up, or making formal assessment of achievements. That is Civil Society for you, a large amorphous collective that keeps on keeping our communities and societies keeping on.
We should not need to be reminded about the role and function of Civil Society. We should not need to recall there is a much larger view of the world than profit and loss accounts, of measuring outcomes and impact and social change. Civil Society is the third leg of the stool that vies for social harmony at local, national and global levels. As a significant part of Civil Society our community and voluntary sectors offer a countervailing force against the might and main of government and big business. Do not let us lose traction by succumbing to hard-nosed political dogma, nor in being seduced by the attractions of social enterprise or the lure of venture capital and other funding arrangements.
But do – please – let us work together to find ways to report on achievement, successes, volunteer stories, and what really works to create change. We – the community and voluntary sector, and the managers of volunteers – need to state our case, and to stake a claim in the politics of impact measurement.
April 22, 2012
It’s always enlightening to bone up on organisation missions and visions. The office reception or the organisation’s website or letterhead is the place to go. That’s where I also look out for the values, the words that act as the moral compass to guide the organisation’s operation and practice.
Many NPF organisations claim they are Values-Driven, drawing on their foundation manifesto. But organisation values are not exclusive to our sector. Basic manuals on organisation development will include reference to the importance of developing a Mission, Vision and Values. Corporate businesses and government departments can spend time and a lot of $$ pinning the right words and statements to their mastheads. The mission describes the intention of an organisation’s design and plan, and the vision defines the desired end-state. The values express ends and means underpinning both mission and vision.
That is, the abstract words that name our values become real in our behaviour, the way we do business and in our relationships.
One writer* calls values “the DNA of an organisation, the glue that holds culture, leadership and strategy together”. So even if there are no values identified they will be operating under the radar. Much better to have them up front.
Many an organisation has failed because it got diverted from its mission and the vision got blurred. But none failed so spectacularly as the energy corporation Enron, in 2001. Engraved in granite at head office reception, Enron’s values were Communication, Integrity, Respect, and Excellence – decorative words that came to be a false deal in the company’s business practice.
This cautionary tale might be an extreme example, yet is a reminder to pay attention to organisational standards and everyday practices. And to go about identifying values if not already established – involving all staff and volunteers.
Choosing particular value-words is the fun part. What does this organisation stand for? What words represent the way we want our mission and vision to be understood? And more particularly, what words will inform our actions and behaviours? Yes, but value-words are abstracts that have no substance until we put meaning and actions to them. And then we have to understand how commitment to a particular value can operate on a continuum: people will put different weights to the meanings, depending on their own beliefs.
Let’s take Respect as an example. A discussion might go something like this:
Q: Why have we selected this value-word?
A: Because … we believe in the fundamental dignity of all people; people have rights; we are a people-centred organisation; because it fits with our mission.
Q: How can we live up to this value? How can we demonstrate ‘respect’?
A: We listen, actively; we want to empower others; we answer messages and queries promptly; we can agree to disagree; we accept differences.
Clearly such questions involve extensive discussion of the ‘makes you think’ kind. Values then become embedded in organisation planning and policies and operations. Values will be on the agenda in recruitment interviews. And the pay-off will become evident in organisation culture, staff and volunteer cohesion, and flow on to reputation in the community.
This piece is a very brief introduction to the business of values. A recent UK survey of NFP organisations will take you a bit further, under the title To Practise what we Preach. Exactly!
* Henderson, et al. (2006) Leading Through Values: Linking company culture to business strategy. Auckland: HarperCollins.