Measure, focus, incentivize, COLLABORATE, measure

By Andrew Foote

Most human service organizations (schools, faith-based groups, healthcare, senior citizen care, etc.) have commendable and far-reaching goals. Beyond staying financially sustainable, they have the purpose of improving the lives of others. This is not an easy task; there is no handbook for how to develop people spiritually or build self-confidence in struggling youth. It often takes collaboration with other like-minded people and groups to learn how best to achieve impact.

We’ve written many pieces about the importance of a data-driven approach and how it can help non-profits achieve their vision. Data focuses attention on the areas that give non-profits the most “bang-for-their-buck” (list resources here). What is just as important as data, however, is the team of people and organizations with whom a non-profit collects and analyzes data.

We are fortunate to be leading a two-year program with thirteen faith-based organizations in Chicago. The organizations are part of a cohort of peers that share their data (anonymously) in order to provide meaningful benchmark analysis on how to improve membership retention and spiritual growth. The program has a four-step structure which we’ve outlined below. All steps are important to the process, however, we’re seeing some of the biggest payoffs in the third step, “collaborate and share.”

  1. Measure
  2. Focus + Incentivize
  3. Collaborate + Share
  4. Measure + Reward
  • Measure: Conduct an assessment of the organization’s performance, identify the low hanging fruit to improve performance and create an action plan on areas that have the highest likelihood of impacting the organization’s outcomes.
  • Focus +Incentivize: Consult with the organization on how to channel its efforts and deliver on its action plan. Use program funding to incentivize nonprofits to make significant improvements in their “bang for their buck” selected areas.
  • Collaborate + Share: When presenting data, we’re big on contextualization (much like a doctor contextualizes your cholesterol score). In this program we compare data across similar organizations from our in-depth database of 40+ faith-based organizations. Often, one of the organization’s peers is excelling in another organization’s selected focus area. For example, one group (organization A)  is focused on increasing the degree to which the synagogue’s vision and values resonate with members. Just last year organization B (a similar size organization) went through a revisioning process and the data shows them to be at the top of the peer group. Having each organization share evidence-based best practices and a community of organizations working on similar areas can been transformative. It allows non-profits to not be constantly reinventing the wheel and focusing efforts on evidence-based solutions.
  • Measure + Reward + Repeat: In another 6 months we will re-measure how the organizations performed on their focus areas. Based on making a statistically significant improvement organizations will be rewarded with their incentive grant. The re-measure process will also begin the cycle of organizations creating new action plans and collaborating with peers that excelled in their focus area.

The more we work with nonprofits the more we are seeing the power of having a community that is going through a process together. Whether you are a nonprofit, funder, or board member, think about how you can embed yourself in a community and learn from peers who are excelling, as in some cases, the wheel has already been invented.