Posts from the ‘Local Events’ Category

All Aboard!: A Tool for Changemakers to Create Impact

by: Marcelo Pinell

Setting sail on the sea of social impact can be a daunting and overwhelming feat. Some, out of fear, have yet to leave shore while others have been tossed and turned by the challenging waves of the social sector. As the newest member to step on board Blue Garnet, I have been privileged to navigate these vast waters with a team of skilled and experienced social impact geeks who have steered through the rough seas, withstood the storms and driven the high winds of strategy to help leaders and their teams chart their ultimate impact.

Recently, I had the opportunity to witness these social impact geeks in action as I provided support for our Impact Formula Strategy Lab series. We had three eager organizations initially commit to investing in the development of their strategic thinking for three sessions spread across May through July. I was able to join the second session in June and watched the teams progress all the way up to a fourth session this November, which was later added due to popular demand. As it turns out, the work done during this Lab series was not what I expected. The following are some key insights that I walked away with after the Lab. I hope my reflections serve as a fresh perspective on the value of this Lab series in helping leaders create impact.

 

The right dosage can help leaders and their teams address their outcomes

Truth be told, not every nonprofit can afford consultants who can extensively work with them one-on-one for months on end. Plus, some nonprofits may not even need the full services of a consulting firm. Strategy Lab Session 4 PhotoThe Strategy Lab proved this point for me. Providing the correct dosage of support can help leaders and their teams address their outcomes. From May through July (and then once more in November), we trained and educated teams from three organizations. Once a month, they attended a half-day session in which they actively learned, participated, and worked through their Impact Formula. These teams would then go back to their organizations to work on assignments from the session and would return for another session the following month to gain more clarity and continue to build on their work. It was an iterative process that demanded hard work, but after the Lab series, these teams left with the tools and confidence they needed to head back as change agents for their organizations.

 

Consultants are not the changemakers, leaders are!

I’m sure you’ve heard this proverbial saying before: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” I began to see this proverb unfold before my eyes as I watched the Lab participants wrestle with strategic questions. More than giving them a business model, the Lab gave participants the time and space to work as a team with other people in their organization, which is typically difficult to do due to competing priorities and schedules. Additionally, the Lab allowed participants to gain awareness of a holistic view on achieving their “ends,” ask key learning questions and acquire strategic tools so they could think critically about their organization’s impact.

The assumption so often is that the professional consultant creates the impact. Though there is a place for consultants, no one can replace the passion and hours that these leaders give to the people they serve. If you can help equip a leader and deputize them as a change agent, then he or she can build a culture of change.

 

Reaching your intended impact is an intense, iterative and invaluable process

During the Lab, all of the teams got on board and steered through some serious strategic questions. As they sought to gain clarity, though, I noticed that their comfort articulating their theory of change interestingly and surprisingly took a slight dip during the second session. Strategy Lab Session 2 photoOn a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high), the teams rated their comfort articulating their theory of change a 3.6 after the first session, which then dropped down to a 3.3 after session 2. By the third session, however, the rating jumped back up to a 3.8. The data seems to point to the reality of the intense and iterative nature in building discernment. From my perspective, the teams were initially shocked by some big waves regarding their theory of change, but they gained more confidence and clarity over time to create a vision for impact.

The teams were able to create a vision for impact not only because they iterated on their own work, but also because they learned from each organization’s different approach to tackling its Impact Statement. The value of peer learning was so great that the teams asked for a fourth session, which we completed last week. This additional session allowed the teams to check-in and hold each other accountable to their work.

Navigating the waters of social impact can be overwhelming, but the opportunity to help these organizations map out their impact was an invaluable journey for both them and me. I jumped on board the Lab and saw that it provides the right dosage to help these changemakers “zero in on impact.” Great job, teams! I look forward to the impact that comes forth as a result of your labor. Keep on sailing!

Nonprofit leaders are getting help from an unlikely place – robots!

by: Leah Haynesworth

Robots are here and they are transforming how we solve complex problems, including those in the social sector. At the University of Southern California (USC) Viterbi School of Engineering’s Robotics Open House this past spring, we caught up with some budding changemakers whose robots are helping to create positive social change.

Changemaker #1: Jens Windau, a Ph.D student, Jens Windaufounded AIO Robotics. His company prints 3D hands and wrists in Los Angeles. Typically, prosthetics take approximately four to six weeks to be delivered and cost over $5,000. These 3D-printed prosthetics, however, can be printed in 24 hours and cost $20, significantly reducing the wait time and cost of prosthetics.

Jens has used his work to create a better Southern California by donating 3D-printed prosthetic hands and wrists to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA). In the future, he said, 3-D printed prosthetics could expand to include other body parts, like feet.

Changemaker #2: Rorry Brenner has developed a vision-based system that allows robots to guide blind people through the grocery store. In his study, Rorry blindfolded 45 participants to see if they could find a box of Lucky Charms with this system. He witnessed 100% accuracy and is now trying to incorporate a high-definition camera into the system to increase speed.

Robotics has already started to combat pressing social issues, even though it is not necessarily the most obvious complement to social change. “There are problems that people don’t even consider tech being able to solve,” Rorry said.

Can robots help you? Where to start:

Curious to know if robots are in your future? Brenner recommends carefully examining artificial intelligence (AI) as a tool when looking to solve social problems. In order to capitalize on, or at least recognize, how robots can help affect change, those of us in the social sector should:

  1. Stay aware of the advancements in robotics and artificial intelligence
  2. Realize that there will be an increasing number of partnerships that can be created between the social sector and the field of robotics
  3. Start to understand what we do not understand; robots do not have to be seen as scary

To get you started, we wanted to share three resources that we have found about the cross-section between robotics and the social sector:

  1. Information about e-NABLE, a Google-sponsored community that prints 3D hands
  2. A story about how Jens and CHLA are using prosthetics to help children thrive
  3. Background on OpenAI, a recently created non-profit AI research company associated with Elon Musk whose objective is to advance open-source-friendly AI in a way that benefits humanity

We’re “geeking out” (and hope you are now, too!) about how robotics will impact the social sector in the future. Do you currently use robots in your social change work? Let us know how by commenting below.

Tackling the “impact question”

By Jennifer Shen 

How many times have you heard the word “impact” or “outcomes” this week? We’re betting quite a few — we’d even say they’re buzzwords of the year.

In fact, at the recent 2015 Green Hasson Janks Nonprofit Conference, the discussion touched on these themes. We heard, “data is king […,] you need to measure results and understand your true costs […,] create case studies that highlight impact […,] and exceptional leaders are always looking 3-5 years out. Yup, though Panelists Fred AliRegina BirdsellPegine Graysonand Scott Pansky were addressing different issues like leadership, marketing and volunteerism, we heard all their observations as related to creating exceptional impact.

These themes are centered on a critical question that still begs to be answered: so what? Or put less provocatively: What is the specific impact your organization seeks? And how does what you do create that impact?

We believe a different approach is necessary to operate in today’s outcomes-focused world. One that aligns your intentions with what you do and the results of your efforts. Here are three tidbits to get you started:

impact, biz model, and learning are linked

Your impact, business model, and evaluation can and should be linked

1) Start with the end in mind. Creating social change is complex and takes a long time. Start by focusing on what you want your outcome to be over the long term, then develop your strategies to achieve that impact, rather than taking a quick-fix approach to answering “the impact question” on your latest grant report.

2) Link your strategy for impact, your business model, and your learning and evaluation efforts (see visual to the right). This link creates alignment and integration — you don’t have to separate the work of creating social change from figuring out whether or not that work is indeed making an impact. These elements are and should be mutually reinforcing.

3) Develop a common language. We need a shared language and reasonable expectations for funders and nonprofits to talk about output, outcomes and impact. Our current system incentivizes short-term thinking, and expectations around impact are often unrealistic. By creating opportunities for communication on this topic with both funders and nonprofits, we can begin a conversation that will create a more honest and effective social sector.

If you’re interested in taking this approach at your organization, take the next step by attending our upcoming workshop, “What You Need to Know about Outcomes as a Nonprofit Leader,” on October 23rd at First 5 LA’s downtown offices. Register now as space is limited, and learn more on our webpage.      


About Green Hasson Janks

Green Hasson Janks is one of the premier accounting firms serving nonprofits in Southern California. We have over 30 years of experience serving public charities and private foundations, and we are well-versed on current nonprofit benchmarking and governance issues. We offer our nonprofit clients a wide range of professional services including accounting, auditing, management consulting and tax planning and compliance.

Thank you to Donella Wilson and Green Hasson Janks for sharing this post on their blog!

Doing Good With Data

by: Sithu Thein Swe, June 1, 2015

As we enter into the thick of conference season, I want to share my recent experience at a pretty unique and relatively new conference: Do Good Data 2015.

In just its second year, the conference brought 600+ data geeks from across the country (and even other countries) to Chicago — quadrupling the size of its first conference. There were opportunities to connect with like-minded do-gooders, the keynote speakers were inspiring, and workshops helped build practical knowledge and skills. Topics covered included program development, data visualization, evaluation, marketing and fundraising, and even machine learning.

Having spent some time post-conference “digesting” and sharing learnings with the Blue Garnet team, here are the highlights from the conference that resonated most with me:

  1. Ned Breslin speaking honestly about Water for People’s progress and hiccups in their pursuit of impact
  2. Michael Weinstein sharing the Robin Hood Foundation’s rigorous monetization approach to grantmaking
  3. Dean Karlan discussing the role of randomized control trials in today’s social sector landscape

1. Fearless honesty as a nonprofit

It is easy for an organization to feature anecdotes of success and suggest they are representative of all the work they do (regardless of how accurate this may be). But how often do organizations call attention to failures and shortcomings as part of a commitment to transparency and improvement?

The latter approach takes courage and leadership, and is exemplified by Ned Breslin, CEO of Water for People. He spoke about the “fearless honesty” necessary to understanding progress (and hiccups) towards impact. Rigorous monitoring helps them to constantly learn what’s working, what isn’t, and how to improve. For them, this commitment to fearless honesty entailed developing open-source technology, setting expectations with staff that data and monitoring are everyone’s responsibility, engaging partners, and taking blame for failures. Ned has taken fearless honesty to the extreme by literally stripping down on YouTube to call attention to projects that weren’t working and their commitment to do better.

2. Fearless honesty as a funder

Michael Weinstein shared the Robin Hood Foundation’s approach to philanthropy, which has many parallels to the transparent, data-minded, and bold (yet humble) approach of Water for People. I was impressed to hear about the Foundation’s efforts not to overstate impact by considering counterfactuals and displacement effects to better determine “true impact.” At the end of the day, accountability for funders is usually self-imposed, and the Robin Hood Foundation seems to set the bar high for itself and practice what it preaches.

Naturally, this rigor applies to the Foundation’s funding strategy. They practice “rigorous monetization” to better understand costs and benefits of programs across sectors, and how these programs help the Foundation achieve its intended impact. Their cost/benefit assumptions and calculations are made public; for example, they’ve calculated that the poverty-alleviating benefit of a high school diploma is $120,000 in earnings and $90,000 in health benefits. Michael has admitted they are imperfect—but by making this information open to all, he hopes others can help them become “less wrong.”

Michael and the Robin Hood Foundation’s approach may not be for everyone, but the advice he shared should resonate with funders of all types: “Never, ever make grants on the basis of arithmetic alone.”

3. Measuring what matters with CART

Dean Karlan, a development economist who has helped push the thinking in this field (and greatly influenced my own worldview), was another keynote speaker that left quite an impression. His work exemplifies just how powerful, insightful, and critical randomized control trials can be, as illustrated by a recent study on learning how to help the world’s ultra-poor.

Even though he’s a leading expert in randomized control trials, he recognizes that they aren’t always appropriate. His talk focused on how organizations can build strong data practices and measure what matters most, regardless of organizational size. His suggested “CART” principles are a helpful way of thinking about right-sizing data collection. He suggests we ask: Is the data Credible? Actionable? Responsible? Transportable?

Rather than flesh out each of these CART components here, I’ll refer you to his SSIR blog post for more detail.

We need leaders at every level to support data-organizations

Finally, a theme that emerged across the conference was the critical role of leaders. An organization that embeds data into its DNA doesn’t have all the answers—rather, this practice guarantees that data will surface failures and shortcomings. But that’s what helps organizations understand what does work and what doesn’t.

Staff, executives, and Board leadership need to be comfortable with seeing “bad” information that can help guide improvements. As Ned Breslin noted, this emphasis will in turn attract a different type of individual (and donor) to the organization.

In wrapping up, I want to pose a question:

  • Nonprofit leaders—what can you do to promote a data-hungry, learning culture within your organization?
  • Leading funders—amidst an environment that incentivizes organizations to only show successes, what can funders do to support bold leaders trying to take this data-driven approach?

My strategic plan is done… now what?

by: Sithu Thein Swe, 4/29/15

Last month I had the opportunity to attend the California Charter School Association (CCSA) Annual Conference in Sacramento, and presented to a group of charter school leaders alongside our friends at Camino Nuevo Charter Academy. We had the privilege of supporting Camino’s strategic business planning a few years back, and it was rewarding to present with Dr. Ana Ponce and Atyani Howard as they shared how they’ve made their strategies real and ensured their plan is a living document.

I won’t pretend that this short post can do justice to the great insights, perspectives, and advice Ana and Atyani shared. Still, I wanted to quickly share a few highlights that stood out to me, on the hard work of implementing a strategic plan:

A strategic plan isn’t a silver bullet, it’s an anchor.
It’s important to note that a strategic plan doesn’t magically solve (or prevent) all challenges and issues. Rather, it serves as an anchor by helping institutionalize and codify the Camino model amidst tremendous growth. It eliminates wasted energy, keeps the organization focused on where it’s headed, and drives (and even simplifies) decision-making to focus on achieving the organization’s impact.

Continue to engage those stakeholders
Board members, teachers, community members, parents, and supporters helped inform Camino’s strategic direction, as the planning process focused on engaging the right people in the right ways. In implementing the plan, Camino continues to engage these key groups, for example through their “State of Camino” annual address to principals and staff, where they share updates on the organization’s direction, how things are going, and refinements that have been made.

Expect that things won’t go perfectly as planned, and adapt
We’ve discussed Emergent Strategy in a past post, and it simply means strategies change and evolve. You will inevitably have some unrealized strategies (let those go), but you will also have realized strategies (keep these going) and emergent strategies (seize these opportunities). What’s important is recognizing this reality, learning from what’s working and isn’t, and adapting, while still focused on long-term impact.

It takes investment, but it’s worth it
Even from the few highlights listed above, it’s clear that implementation requires a lot of hard work. It can’t all fall on one person, and the leadership team that drives this work needs the time and capacity to carry through with it. Proactively preparing during the planning process can help, and taking the time to develop key tools can go a long way towards supporting implementation (e.g. an implementation roadmap that is regularly updated; an Impact Formula framework (aka Theory of Change); a performance dashboard at the Board-level and management-level).

Camino’s hard work is paying off—they’re serving more students, growing to additional campuses, engaging the community in exciting ways (such as through La Caminata), and getting recognized for it; they received Charter School of the Year from the California Charter Schools Association (see press release here). To learn more about how you can execute your strategic plan using an implementation roadmap, check out this briefing and to learn more about making your strategic plan a living document, you can explore our resources page.

Nurture Your Inner Learner With Three McAdam Award Finalists

by Taylor Chamberlin 9/1/14 (updated 10/8/14)

Have you read any inspiring, insightful, or downright useful books on nonprofit management lately? If so, odds are it was a nominee  for The Terry McAdam Book Award. This annual award program, which honors Terry McAdam, who devoted his life to improving the nonprofit management field, selects the nonprofit sector book that best shares knowledge and builds the social change movement. Blue Garnet’s Jennifer Shen is thrilled to be a member of the selection committee, which announced a winning nominee at The Alliance for Nonprofit Management National Conference on September 17-19th in Austin, Texas.

We at Blue Garnet have an innate love of learning, so we strive to cultivate a similar curiosity in others. That means it’s that time of year once again (see last year’s posts here and here) to nurture your inner learner by sharing the 2014 McAdam Book Award finalists.

Creating Value in Nonprofit-Business Collaborations book coverCreating Value in Nonprofit-Business Collaborations: New Thinking and Practice (by James E. Austin and M. May Seitanidi)

Everywhere you turn, the nonprofit sector is buzzing about how collaboration can improve the work that we do. This timely and important contribution answers the all-important question, “What the heck is a value proposition?”, then gives practical advice for thinking about partnerships through a collaborative value framework. Austin and Seitanidi have a “pracademic” approach, sharing insights and guidance by balancing case studies, evidence of effectiveness, and storytelling. You can read more about transformational nonprofit-business partnerships by purchasing their book here.

Content Marketing for Nonprofits Book Cover

Content Marketing for Nonprofits: A Communications Map for Engaging Your Community, Becoming a Favorite Cause, and Raising More Money (by Kivi Leroux Miller)

In this outcomes-focused world, it is critical to know how to effectively share your story. Content Marketing for Nonprofits can serve as your handbook on creating a communication strategy that will help you climb up the “engagement ladder” to inspire behavioral change. Many organizations find creating a marketing strategy intimidating, but Miller’s approach makes communications mapping accessible.  You can purchase Content Marketing for Nonprofits here!

 The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook book coverThe Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook: Fully Integrating Online Service into Volunteer Involvemen(by Jayne Cravens)

Volunteers are critical to the success of many nonprofits, but all too often organizations don’t have a strategy in place for volunteer management. We believe that meaningful volunteer engagement can become a strategic advantage– we even highlighted our partnership with a foundation helping to build volunteer management capacity in our last newsletter. We were heartened to see a guidebook with up-to-date insights and advice on integrating online activities into volunteer management, especially considering the rapid change and innovation of the last decade. If you seek a easy-to-use and forward-thinking guide to integrated volunteer involvement, look no further! You can purchase The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook here.

Now it’s your turn: Have you read anything lately that you think deserves an award? What do you think about the 2014 McAdam Book Award finalists? Let us know by commenting below!

Update: the winner is…drumroll please… Kivi Leroux Miller for Content Marketing for Nonprofits! Read more about her work and this year’s McAdam Book Awards here. Congrats Kivi!

Balance Realism and Idealism by Embracing Your Inner “Corporate Idealist”

Our "BFF" Christine Bader shares her thoughts on Corporate Idealists in an adapted excerpt of her book The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil.

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Changing Colors for Social Change?

What do color-changing toothpaste, noise-reducing pillows, and retractable keychains have in common? They are upcoming business ideas from bright local Los Angeles high school students! A recap of the event that will send 3 finalists to Silicon Valley to compete at the national level...

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“It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s… a Charter School Leader!” (Yet, even heroes need a plan)

The CCSA Annual Conference is upon us! CNCA's Ana Ponce and Atyani Howard will be highlighting the success from their recent Strategic Business Planning with Blue Garnet, and offer practical takeaways to help organizations traverse the same critical issues. But who cares about Strategic Business Planning anyways? Well, according to this post, everyone should...

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3-Minute to Win It

Last week, a few of my Blue Garnet colleagues and I had the privilege of attending the Southern California Grantmakers (SCG) and Los Angeles Social Venture Partners (LASVP) Fast Pitch event, the nightcap to the annual SCG conference. The event allowed selected organizations to give a quick, 3-minute “pitch” to potential funders, and ultimately...

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