Is your nonprofit making progress towards its vision? How do you know?

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In this two-part interview with Adrian Bordone, a “Leap Ambassador,” I was interested to hear about the importance of evaluating outcomes to both build the trust of supporters, as well as be a more effective nonprofit. We first discussed what it means to measure impact and evaluation of outcomes on the path to becoming a high-performing organization.

The background is that four years ago, a modestly self-published book took the nonprofit community by the shoulders, giving us all a good shake. The book was Leap of Reason, and the shake ended up clearing heads about why nonprofits need rigorous, disciplined approaches to measuring their outcomes. What resonated the most to me about Leap of Reason was the practical lens applied by its authors, giving us confidence to take on “performance management” – which can feel overwhelming – on our own terms. With its focus on creating meaningful change for—and not causing inadvertent harm to—the people and causes nonprofits serve, and its strong message: “resources are scarce: nonprofits that demonstrate they are making a positive difference are those that will survive,” the energy Leap of Reason created around the topic of evaluation of outcomes was nothing short of transformational for the charitable nonprofit community.

Four years later, I was eager to explore “what’s new?” in performance management (also referred to as “outcomes measurement”) with Adrian Bordone, co-founder of Social Solutions and currently a “Leap Ambassador.” In this two part interview, I asked Adrian how far he thinks we’ve come, and what some of the remaining challenges are for nonprofit leaders seeking to take their organizations from exploring – to leaping into -- outcomes measurement.

First, I asked Adrian to explain what a “Leap Ambassador” is.

AB: The Leap of Reason Ambassadors Community is a learning community of nonprofit thought leaders and practitioners. The 85+ ambassadors in the community bring a passion for inspiring others to build great organizations, an understanding that mission and metrics are inextricably linked, and a commitment to making high performance the norm in the social sector. Here’s a list of all the Leap Ambassadors.

JC: Tell me about the evolution of the Leap of Reason community. The book was published, quietly, on the Internet. Then what happened?

AB: The short answer is that the book and its message went viral. Not ice bucket-challenge viral. But it went out farther and wider than we ever expected. The philanthropist Mario Morino, the lead author of the book, took a big leap of faith and printed 10,000 copies—and worried that 7,000 of them would remain in boxes and clutter up his conference room for years. It turns out that there are more than 85,000 copies of the book in circulation now, and it’s made its way to more than 70 countries. People tell us they’re putting it to use in board retreats, strategic planning sessions, management curricula, and professional development.

Once the Leap of Reason team saw that the book struck a chord, they started asking how they could turn the book’s message into a campaign to encourage nonprofits and funders to shift their thinking on issues of performance. They wanted to stoke nonprofit leaders’ internal motivation to ensure that they’re making a meaningful difference for the people and causes they serve. And they wanted to influence funders to do more to help those internally motivated nonprofit leaders build great organizations. So they started bringing together leaders whose views strongly aligned with the view that performance mattered. They helped coalesce these leaders into the Leap Ambassadors Community to take on this daunting challenge together. If you want to read more about our campaign for high performance, check out http://leapambassadors.org/products/performance-imperative/about-pi/

JC: Where has the performance management “movement” landed today?

AB: We’re seeing an increasing awareness that passion and desire to make a difference are necessary but insufficient for driving great results. In other words, these ingredients don’t always translate to increased mission fulfillment and more meaningful, sustainable results for those served.

I don’t know that we could really call it a true “movement” yet, because the universe of organizations that are focused day in and day out on improving their performance remains small. But wearing my old Social Solutions hat and my new Leap Ambassadors hat, I can tell you that more and more organizations are acknowledging that they need to learn more about what high performance means, why it matters, and what it takes to get there. The Leap Ambassadors are providing some good answers for those seekers and early-stage adopters. Our first community product is called “The Performance Imperative: A framework for social-sector excellence (PI).” The PI identifies 7 pillars that define high-performing nonprofits. The Performance Imperative is free, written in plain English, and should appeal to any leader on a path of individual or organizational learning.

In the second part of our interview with Adrian Bordone, I asked him to share more details about guidance offered by “The Performance Imperative” for nonprofits that seek to be high-performing organizations, and challenged Adrian over the seventh pillar: external evaluation. We also talked about the fifth pillar: cultivating a learning culture in your nonprofit.

Two resources to get your nonprofit started on the path to measuring outcomes:

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