I ran across the HBS Research Brief “The New Measures for Improving Nonprofit Performance” and wasn’t terribly impressed by it. It was a fairly generic interview with the founder and chairman of Venture Philanthropy Partners Mario Morino (also author of Leap of Reason) and an HBS professor Alnoor Ebrahim.
- Non-profits don’t invest enough in capacity building, organization development
- Strategy for non-profits is hard because lack of alignment of the stakeholders. Donors, not beneficiaries are paying, so it can warp the direction set by the non-profit management away from things that really help. (Incidentally, TED talk by Engineers without Borders’ David Damberger What Happens when NGOs Admit Failure (13 minute video) does a better job making this point.)
- For profits have well-understood metrics, non-profits don’t.
- It’s hard (though important) to separate the contribution of different organizations working to create change in the same set of interrelated issues.
- Build a culture of transparency and results-orientation by leadership from the top, with values; even at the board level.
- There should be a willingness to acknowledge and learn from failure (again, the TED talk does a better job of this…)
For me, the most compelling part of the whole interview was when the author asked Mario Morino why he was interested in the topic. His response (italics mine):
My family was blue collar, but we were never poor. There’s a distinction between being in deep poverty and living in a low-income world. We had food and clothing. And the world was different in the 1950s. Even a tough neighborhood still had a social fabric to it. Today the social fabric is gone. The economic base for that income level has been almost fundamentally wiped out. And there’s a prevalence of guns and drugs. Those three things together create a deadly cycle for a community.
When I grew up I had all kinds of people encouraging me, helping me get through things. That’s what’s missing in communities today. In metrics, we don’t track the existence of caring relationships with adults in a student’s life. Yet it’s the biggest reason a kid succeeds in school. I’m trying to apply the analytical world to the passion of how do you help people, how do you make a difference in their lives.