The Top 10 Ways to Do Good with Data

by: Leah Haynesworth and Sithu Thein Swe

The Top 10 Ways to Do Good with Data

Data Scientists: The Unlikely Storytellers

As a team of social impact geeks, we love hearing about new, effective ways to create social change. Consequently, we recently sent two of our team members, Sithu and Leah, to the Do Good Data Conference in Chicago. The Conference, which took place from April 28-29, 2016, brought together over 800 individuals to learn about the present and future of data usage in the social sector. The conference sessions encompassed a wide range of topics, from “Pay for Success: Funding programs that measurably change lives” to “Unlocking the ‘So What?’: Better Data to Advance the Social Mission of the Arts” to “Dashboards and Databases: How Google Can Help.”

After taking time to digest all of their learnings, here are Sithu and Leah’s top 10 takeaways from the conference:

  1. Share learnings from your work – both positive and negative – to support the social sector’s development.
  • The next steps for foundations are managing information as well as producing and sharing knowledge, according to Bradford Smith, President of the Foundation Center. While there are great resources for the social sector, such as IssueLab, foundations should discuss their learnings with their grantees and peers.
  1. Move beyond Excel.
  • Excel is an oft-used tool in organizations’ analytical toolkits. However, there are other solid options to collect, store, report, and analyze data, including Tableau, R, and Python.
  1. Much of project feasibility is the ability to evaluate the project.
  • When launching a pay for success program, some key elements to consider are: outcome, populations, the organization’s quarter by quarter expenses for the next six to seven years, and accessing data for evaluation. Key term: “evaluability.”
  1. Use data to drive narratives.
  • Understanding and clearly communicating data are crucial in creating impact. “Your next role in life as a data scientist is a data storyteller.” – Steve MacLaughlin, Director, Analytics, Blackbaud
  1. Data is only useful if it is relevant.
  • “Data analytics and visualization are great and much needed, but if your data are bad or incomplete, or your outcomes are inappropriate, then all you have are pretty graphs.” – Fluxx
  1. Data is not a panacea.
  1. Start with the ends in mind.
  • When using data, it is critical to clarify the problems on which to focus, determine the right questions to ask, and understand the aim in using the data. Otherwise, it’s far too easy to become overwhelmed by the data.
  1. Create mindshifts in how your organization talks about data and its purpose.
  • Creating a data-driven culture isn’t easy, but Erika Van Buren, Director of Learning & Evaluation at First Place for Youth, takes a great approach. She works with team members almost like clients by supporting them from the initial program development phase and collaborating with them throughout the process.
  1. Are you ready and willing to make the tough decisions needed to be a data-driven, impact-oriented organization?
  • During the conference’s first keynote session, a leader from a prominent foundation said: “In 20 years, I’ve never seen data change anything. It takes courageous leaders to make the changes.”
  1. “Data science is easy; the ethics of prediction is hard.” – Tom Schenk, Chief Data Officer, City of Chicago
  • As Stephen Goldsmith, Professor of Practice at Harvard Kennedy School, mentioned, there are soft biases in all of our decisions. With data algorithms, however, we can make the biases explicit, transparent, and open for public feedback and iteration.

The conference sessions revealed the vast implications for data use in the social sector. Judging by the continual growth of the conference, the social sector as a whole is aware of the importance of data. What does this mean for your organization? How do you use data to inform your work and further your impact?

Does your (legal) form follow function?

by: Way-Ting Chen (with Giselle Timmerman and Taylor Chamberlin)

Deciding on the right legal structure for your social purpose organization or social enterprise can be a taxing process (pun intended), with many trade-offs to consider. Figuring out the differences between a Low-Profit LLC, Social Purpose Corporation, Benefit LLC, or traditional exempt organization is difficult enough to untangle, much less being certain of making the right choice for what your organization needs.

When considering legal structure decisions, start with the end in mind

Before deciding on a legal structure, consider your ultimate “ends”: your impact.

We’d like to help make this decision a little less tangled and a little better informed for you, and the first step is to answer the question, “legal structure for what?” Remember that in the world of social impact, your legal structure is just another means to achieving your ultimate ends: your impact. Simply put, your “ends” is your long-term organizational strategy, or intended ultimate impact. With the end in mind, you will have clarity about which legal status will help you to achieve your intended impact.

Let’s look at two client examples to put this approach into practice.

A supportive housing organization and a start-up apparel company both want to increase their financial sustainability while also growing their services. The supportive housing organization (let’s call it “Safe Haven”) is presented with the opportunity to develop a real-estate property adjacent to its building. The apparel company (we’ll call it “Sustainawrap”) is presented with the opportunity to create and sell products. How does each organization move forward with assessing the merits of these opportunities and their legal implications?

Safe Haven weighed the pros and cons of leasing market rate rental units or providing permanent supportive housing for homeless individuals. Their discussions landed on a critical question: Real-estate property for what end? They needed to define their intended ultimate impact in order to get clear and unified on what purpose the real estate property needed to serve. Ultimately, they realized they did not need a “cash cow” to generate unrestricted cash flow, so they committed to using this real estate for permanent supportive housing (using a hybrid legal model to minimize legal liability) to directly further their mission.

Safe Haven’s impact statement provided strategic direction: By 2023, North County homeless population will be reduced by 50%.

Sustainawrap weighed the pros and cons of launching a social enterprise to sell baby products. They struggled at first with defining how the social enterprise would contribute to their overall organizational strategy. After agreeing that their “ends” must be women’s self-sufficiency, they used their impact statement to help filter and guide decision-making.

Sustainawrap impact statement: By 2025, 100 homeless women living below the poverty line in LA County will be on the path to financial self-sufficiency. The means to their ends became creating jobs and selling unique baby products, so that impoverished women were employed. With this strategic goal in mind, business planning for their social enterprise was much easier, and they decided that a for-profit legal structure provided the simplicity and flexibility needed to achieve their ends. 

Organizations with similar mission statements may have very different impact statements. But, with clarity on their long-term strategic direction, the legal structure decision (along with many other critical choices) becomes simpler.

Finally, the expectations and perceptions we have of various legal structures is evolving. Based on the most recent Edelman trust barometer report, a full 80% of people agree that business must play a role in addressing societal issues.

"Scrooge McDuck"

A “for-profit” legal structure doesn’t make you a Scrooge McDuck

A for-profit structure doesn’t make you a Scrooge McDuck, just as a nonprofit status doesn’t put a halo over your head.  So, setting aside any expectations or stereotypes, make the hard decisions to figure out your intended impact and strategy, then make the legal structure decision that follows.

Click here for our briefing on what an impact thinking mindset is, and here for how you can become a better ‘impact do-er’. For further help with your social enterprise’s legal structure, check out Sustainable Law Group, and the webinar series we presented together with the Society for Nonprofits.

What do you get when you mix international development, problem solving, and a love of dance?

Blue Garnet is proud to introduce our newest pragmatic idealist, Leah Haynesworth! Leah is joining us as an Analyst, which means she’ll be rolling up her sleeves on the research and analysis that fuels our client work and on building our firm culture. Giselle Timmerman, a BG team member for almost nine years, sat down recently to welcome Leah and help you all get to know her. Here are some highlights from their conversation…

Giselle: Let’s start with your “why” – Why did you choose Blue Garnet?

Leah: For two reasons. One: I love solving complex problems and I’m very analytical, which draws me to consulting. Two: I’m passionate about social impact – I’ve worked in international development in both Uganda and New York and interned in corporate social responsibility (CSR) at NBCUniversal and The Walt Disney Company. So I feel that Blue Garnet offers me the perfect opportunity to apply my skills and experiences to help organizations better achieve social impact.

Giselle: Perfect combo indeed! What kinds of projects are you hoping to dig into?

Leah: Well, I’ve just started working with one of our corporate clients on Board leadership, so I’m eager to expand what I know about CSR. Blue Garnet also works with quite a few arts organizatinos, and I am also a trained ballet, modern, and jazz dancer, so it would be great to work with them. And I really am analytical by nature; it’s my default state. So I’m excited to apply that strength.

Giselle: The BG team takes developing our strengths seriously and we help clients do the same. You’ve taken a few strengths assessment surveys—apart from being analytical, what other strengths do you frequently rely on?

Leah: I loved taking these strength assessments and found them really interesting. Perseverance is one of my top strengths and I definitely am very goal-oriented. When I get involved in something, I have every intention of completing it.

It was a bit surprising to see that humor was my top VIA strength. I definitely like to be goofy and I tend to get along with different types of people, but it’s not always something I share right away. Fairness and judgment are also big ones for me. When I initially meet someone, I usually give them the benefit of the doubt.

Giselle: Where do you think your fairness comes from? Does your upbringing play a part?

Leah: I hadn’t really thought about it, but yes! My siblings are twins, so I had a front-row seat to an emphasis on sharing and fairness. 

Giselle: I’m curious to know more about your experience in Uganda. What was that like?

Leah: It’s a difficult experience to put into words. I really loved learning about international development in the field. And I learned something everyday, personal or professional—ranging from how to communicate in Luganda, the local language, to the sensitive issues surrounding working with commercial sex workers.

Giselle: So how did you shift from being an English major at Princeton University to being passionate about social impact?

Leah: While in undergrad, I studied in South Africa and volunteered as a teacher in a township that was in a poorer area of the city. I was deeply impacted by the dichotomy between rich and poor, blacks and whites. So then I was inspired to go back to Africa after I graduated and my passion for working in the social sector snowballed from there. That’s why I pursued work in Uganda and it’s also what eventually led me to USC’s Master of Public Administration program.

Giselle: I know that you collaborated on consulting projects with several local organizations while pursuing your MPA. A large part of Blue Garnet’s work is helping organizations make the shift to an impact thinking and doing mindset. In your own words, what does it mean for an organization to have a longer-term focus on impact?

Leah: I think it means that an organization is always looking to make its desired vision and strategy real. In other words, instead of only concentrating on social impact for specific projects, programs, and initiatives, an organization with a long-term focus on impact attempts to incorporate social impact into its organization overall and searches for ways to push the limits of its organizational capacity for social change.

Giselle: Finally, I have to ask, what’s your honest first impression of BG’s culture?

Leah: My third interview was with the entire team, which cemented my feeling that BG was the right place for me. I feel welcomed and part of a community of people who are smart and work hard, but don’t take themselves too seriously – that can be hard to find!

Click here to learn more about Leah and the rest of our team.

 

 

Setting (and achieving) goals take guts!

by: Giselle Timmerman and Taylor Chamberlin

Over the last several months, we’ve explored two of the three key components to setting and achieving individual goals (see developing a vision and establishing a plan). Today, let’s finish by tackling the final component: commitment and guts.

achieving goalsWhen you have developed a vision and established a plan to achieve it, the third step to effective goal-setting is to make these behavioral changes stick.

Much like a muscle, you can exhaust your willpower when you use too much of it. Plan ahead to conserve willpower and prevent yourself from slipping into situations that deter you from your goal. For instance, dieters can preempt future desires by knowing before entering a restaurant exactly what they will do and say when the dessert menu comes. To stay on track and accomplish your goal, identify a handful of obstacles that could block progress and decide exactly what you will do if these hurdles arise.

Another way to ensure perseverance towards your goal is to develop courage in small ways. To activate a “growth mindset,” you’ll need to manage fear of failure by courageously embracing mistakes as a necessary part of learning. Find creative ways to push yourself by exercising courage, and as an added benefit you will build your sense of self-efficacy, thus improving your ability to stick to your goal. I find Eleanor Roosevelt’s adage useful: Do something that scares you everyday.

Lastly, ensure that the activities you must do to achieve your become habits, which require far less willpower to maintain. To build new habits:

  1. Use cues that trigger your unconscious mind, such as a framed photo of mom next to the phone.
  2. Be honest with yourself every day on what you did to make progress. Ask yourself: How much effort did I put in today? How much progress did that create?
  3. Hook a new habit to an old one. This can be as simple as remembering to floss after you brush.
  4. Reduce the level of “activation energy” it takes to start your new habit. For example, put your running shoes right by the door, or keep your to do list visible on your desktop to easily tackle when you are waiting on hold.
  5. Enlist an accountability partner or coach (every great performer, from athletes to surgeons to managers now use them) and include them in the process of achieving your goals and building your habits.

There you have it – a researched and empirically tested way to dramatically improve your ability to achieve your goals. Blue Garnet works with clients to define and achieve success at the organizational level, but it’s a treat to share with you some tips for planning at the individual level.

Please let us know how you put your goals into practice, and what your experience has been with learning to achieve them. And of course if you have any questions, email us at hello@bluegarnet.net!

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!

Local Leader Spotlight: Colleen Mensel on sharpening your business model

El Viento provides children and young adults with opportunities for success in life through long-term relationships based upon: Mutual Trust and Respect, Exemplary Character, Skills Building, Leadership, Teamwork, and Learning. El Viento Foundation’s success will be measured by the happiness and fulfillment of our participants.

El Viento provides children and young adults with opportunities for success through long-term relationships. El Viento Foundation’s success is measured by the happiness and fulfillment of its participants.

What does it take for an organization to move from good to truly exceptional? For starters, it takes leaders willing to tackle tough strategic questions. Colleen Mensel, President and Chief Executive Officer of El Viento, is one such leader.

Colleen, along with Julie Taber, El Viento’s Operations Manager, participated in a bootcamp on “Sharpening Your Business Model” taught by Blue Garnet and sponsored by the Fieldstone Foundation. The bootcamp focused on how impact and business models fit together, what the key components of a business model are, and how to measure success. Simply put, the bootcamp experience “was something to help us with our compass and how to move forward.” When we spoke with Colleen in May, she shared why this process has mattered so much.

Taking an integrated view

Blue Garnet: Ultimately, why did you feel it was important to spend time sharpening your business model?

Colleen: When you look at how typical nonprofits move forward with their “business plans,” they really see many different plans, rather than seeing how they are all related on a more basic level. We now have an overarching model and everything plugs into that. We were able to share our model with our board and get their buy-in, and to take this model to our funders.[1]

Blue Garnet: Why was Board engagement in this process so essential?

Colleen: We were able to set realistic goals, down to the level of annual performance objectives. Before, our dashboard was all financial; now we are looking at multiple moving parts of the organization (e.g. kids’ retention rates, GPA). We’ve worked with the board to understand that our business model includes every aspect of the organization, not just finances.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 1.45.02 PM

Developing a growth mindset, creating mindshifts

Blue Garnet: Having an overarching business model really seems to have shifted the way you and your organization think.

Colleen: Yes, it has. The business model [framework] helped us look at our core competencies and refine what we think is good, but good wasn’t enough for us. We are constantly asking ourselves how we can be better. This model integrates all the work we do, and following it has helped us to grow. In fact, it has helped us better think through future growth – we can see where we are and use the model to help us grow in different areas. We’ve decided to put together an Academy, and we went back to the [business model] framework to help us think through this decision.

Blue Garnet: Can you give me another example?

Colleen: We’ve looked differently at our measures. We make a 10-year commitment to our kids, and over the years we used to lose about 50%, which most thought was a good retention rate. But we asked how we could become better. The business model helped us look at our core competencies, especially how we interact with the students, and as a result last year our retention rate was 94%.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 1.57.10 PM

Having the courage to change, taking risks

Blue Garnet: What does it mean to you to be an “impact thinker”?[2]

Colleen: You have to be aware of the dollars that are coming in so you can make the most of that generosity. If you aren’t an impact thinker, you’re doing a disservice to your contributors. We encourage everyone at El Viento to be impact thinkers, from staff to board to the people we collaborate with out in the community. We have to make the most out of the tools, time, and dollars we have—knowing that has made us a little braver.

Blue Garnet: Were there any challenges to making this shift?

Colleen: Impact thinking means always looking, having an idea of where you want to be, but also having the courage to change to improve. People questioned our change, and yet we pushed forward and now are in a better place. A year later, they can see the improvements. Working on our business model helped forge the way.

Blue Garnet: Can you share a specific benefit of this change?

Colleen: We looked closely at what we were doing. For example, we decided to do fewer, more meaningful and educational field trips. That was a hard change, but everyone sees the benefits now. Having a tool for assessing decisions, particularly with staff, helps you analyze and understand what you’re doing to be most effective.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 1.55.07 PM

Seizing opportunities

Blue Garnet: What were some other tangible actions or results from this work?

Colleen: We now use our business model as a tool to assess decisions. We have used our model to evaluate a new opportunity that arose to get reimbursed from school districts for the tutoring we provide. Going back to the model helped us understand that we could take this opportunity and make it a social enterprise. We are also doing a pilot of another social enterprise and are looking at tailoring the learning experience to be more proactive rather than reactive. We are using our business model to understand how what we learn from this pilot fits into El Viento’s long-term strategy for impact. Having the basics on how to assess these opportunities is very helpful.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 1.59.04 PM

We applaud Colleen for openly and generously sharing part of her leadership journey, as well as to El Viento for its tenacious commitment to helping children and young adults succeed. If you would like to dive deeper into how exceptional funders and nonprofit leaders become better “impact doers,” check your inbox in a few weeks for our Impact Doing Briefing or sign up to learn more about one of our upcoming Impact Accelerator workshops.

Related Links and Resources

  1. How El Viento makes a difference
  2. Blue Garnet’s Impact Accelerator Workshops
  3. Connect with El Viento on Twitter (@ElVientoFndtn)

[1] Blue Garnet defines three components of an organization’s business model: 1) what you do, 2) for whom you do it, 3) how you afford it.

[2] See Blue Garnet’s Impact Thinking Briefing for more on how to be an “impact thinker.” Link to briefing: Blue Garnet’s Impact Thinking Briefing.

You’ve got a goal–what comes next?

by: Giselle Timmerman and Taylor Chamberlin

There are three key components to setting and achieving individual goals: developing a vision (see our post on this topic here), establishing a plan, and committing to the journey. Last month, we shared how you can develop a clear vision; today, let’s tackle planning for success.

Planning

You know your goal and why it matters to you. Most people stop here, and that is why so many goals fall to the wayside (over half of Americans don’t make it to June on their New Years Resolutions[1]). Consider the reality of where you are today, and what actions or improvements are necessary to close the gap between where you are now and where you want to be. To focus your energy on activities that matter to successfully achieving your goal, ask yourself: What areas do I need to develop to realize this goal?

Think of the 3-4 activities that matter most to achieving your goal—the “how” to achieve your “what” (i.e. your goal)—as your “big rock” activities. Here is a quick clip from Franklin Covey explaining why we must prioritize the big rocks in our life to accomplish our goals. Write down your 3-4 activities in priority order, to translate your goal into real behaviors that get rid of any wiggle room.

For example, say I want to learn a new language. First, I would do some visioning and define the exact proficiency level I am aiming for, and then I would define the major activities needed to be successful, such as signing up for a class and finding a language partner. After you write down the major activities (big rocks) to achieve your goal, jot down any resources or tools related to those activities that you would need.

Stay tuned for part 3 of our goal-focused series, coming next month!

 


 

[1] Mona Cholabi, data journalist at FiveThirtyEight, on NPR, January 4, 2015 

The Two Essentials for Amplifying Impact: Interview with Sara Beggs of Exponent Philanthropy

Think impact assessment has to be costly, drawn out, or tedious? Think again. Sara Beggs, the mastermind behind the 10-minute impact assessment, recently spoke with us to share “the 10-minute impact assessment,” a simple tool to increase impact and identify behaviors where you can focus energy and grow.

As Senior Program Director at Exponent Philanthropy, an organization dedicated to empowering philanthropists to leverage their resources and amplify their impact, Sara has taken this assessment on the road, sharing it funders in LA and nationwide. Read on for highlights of our conversation!

Inspiration behind the ten-minute impact assessment

We all want evidence that our efforts to support positive social outcomes are effective, but impact can be intimidating. We at Blue Garnet believe there is a rigorous yet practical and approachable way to discuss impact, evaluate your behaviors, and improve. So does Sara:

Small funders that needed an accessible way to think about impact inspired us to develop the assessment. We brought together a 45-member working group to help us better understand what they were experiencing in the field, and we had a breakthrough when a member mentioned how useful a diagnostic tool could be.

Now, with the 10-minute Impact Assessment, funders can identify where they are on a simple spectrum (from “thinking about impact” to “planning for impact” to “amplifying impact”). Then, using the accompanying resources, they can identify opportunities and measure their improvement over time, to ultimately spur more impactful grantmaking.

We at Blue Garnet see Exponent Philanthropy’s assessment as a simple starting point for both staff and Board to catalyze conversations around impact.

Resources for organizations interested in evaluating their impact

Blue Garnet believes that evaluation can serve as a learning opportunity, helping an organization to move toward their intended impact, instead of retrospectively answering the question of whether we reached a target. Exponent Philanthropy encourages this mindset by providing resources to funders:

Once a foundation takes the assessment, they want to know is what to do next. So, we included tips, resources, and examples of how other foundations have improved, so that after competing the assessment, foundations are equipped to move the conversation forward and begin to make more intentional and effective decisions.

The assessment’s results

Understanding where your organization is at today is only the first step of the journey. How mini case-Swayne Foundationhave leaders used the assessment as a springboard for improvement? Sara shares:

The assessment engages decision-makers to contribute insightful ideas, empowering them to contribute and ask good questions to move the organization forward. After the assessment, they see impact as a journey where they will continuously learn, improve, and push the envelope by asking, “How can we do more?”

They use the assessment to create greater focus, and to understand steps they can take to make measurable progress toward their desired impact.

Where Exponent Philanthropy is taking it

Sara and Exponent Philanthropy aren’t resting on the success of the assessment—they too are on a journey to deepen their impact.

We’re excited to be developing an online version of the assessment. With this new iteration, organizations will quickly be able to analyze their results and benchmark to similar organizations.

We will continue to leverage the resources developed for the assessment, share stories about how organizations are moving along the impact spectrum, and help funders to start taking clear steps toward increased impact. The assessment prompts important conversations and mind shifts, which can have a profound impact on an organization’s grantmaking. Moving forward, we’re excited to help prime even more philanthropies for amplified impact.

The two essential things you can do to amplify their impact

  1. Be intentional. If you are not thoughtful about what your organization chooses to do (and not do), you may become so overwhelmed by the things you say yes to that you miss out on better aligned opportunities. Furthermore, deliberate decisions will help you to be more adaptive in this rapidly changing and complex environment.
  2. Bring all of your assets to the table. You may not realize that in additional to financial support, your thinking, influence, and bird’s eye view of the sector can prove extremely valuable to your grantees and your community. Think creatively and you’ll be surprised at what you can do!

To download the (free) 10-minute impact assessment, click here. For additional information about Exponent Philanthropy, check out their website or follow them on twitter, and for additional resources on impact, including our impact thinking briefing, check out Blue Garnet’s resource page.

by: Taylor Chamberlin

Set a vision, then make your individual goals “SMART-EST”

by: Giselle Timmerman and Taylor Chamberlin

business08It’s hard to believe, but we are already more than halfway through 2015. Are you coasting along with your New Year’s resolutions? Or, like over a third of all Americans, did you give up before the making it through January[1] (no judgment, we promise)? Regardless, we believe the principles of effective organizational goals apply to you as an individual, so we’d like to share some surefire strategies for setting and following through on your goals.

The research is clear: those who set effective goals are happier and more successful in their personal and professional lives. There are three key components to setting and achieving individual goals: developing a vision, establishing a plan, and committing to the journey. We’ll explore each of these components over the course of this summer but today, let’s tackle part one: developing a vision.

Visioning

Select a goal you want to accomplish. To make sure it is right for you right now, test it using the following three filters:

  1. Are you excited and motived to accomplish it? If your motivation is below a 7 on a 10-point scale, consider revising or selecting a different goal.
  2. Does this goal help you to be who you really want to be?
  3. Do you have the skills and resources to start making progress tomorrow? If your answer is not a solid “Yes!” then this is where the help of a coach can be extremely useful.

You may have heard of “SMART” goals, but to be exceptional, we recommend you make your goal the SMARTEST it can be:

Specific – Clear and detailed (e.g., call my sister weekly vs. have a better relationship with my sister).
Measurable –Criteria and tools to monitor progress (e.g., run a 5k by May vs. get more exercise).
Attainable – Achievable, but still challenging. Otherwise, this goal is nothing more than a wish or dream.
Realistic – Logical, given your time, money, resources, and skills.
Time-bound – Limited by a deadline, otherwise you may sow the seeds of procrastination.
Emotional – Triggers intrinsic motivation. Does the goal give you goose bumps when you think of achieving it?
Significant – Should contain words of special meaning. What is your “why”? Why would you regret not accomplishing your goal?
Toward – Invokes a growth mindset by focusing on how you can learn. A growth mindset means effort matters, making challenges or setbacks easier to deal with.

After running your goal through the three filters and making it “SMARTEST,” you should have something that is ready to polish. Goals that are vivid are more compelling and thus more likely to be achieved, so take ten minutes to detail what you are striving for. What does accomplishing this goal look like? Feel like? How would your life be different if you were doing this thing all of the time?

For example, if you’re excited, motivated, and ready to train for a triathlon, close your eyes and imagine crossing the finish line at the end of the race. Envision the crowds, imagine your tired muscles, and picture displaying your medal prominently at your house. Then write down your vivid and compelling vision, along with your succinct goal statement.

Once you have polished your goal into a meaningful statement (worthy of showcasing as a new your desktop background), you’ve completed part one! Let us know how you decided what your goals for 2015 are in the comments below.

[1] Franklin Covey Survey, 2008, n=15,031

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?