Posts from the ‘Impact & Strategy’ Category

What BG has to Say about Racial Justice

Way-Ting Chen // July 2020

Welcome to the racial justice conversation.

Jenni and I launched Blue Garnet back in 2002, with a strong nod to our shared experience at a place steeped in the Quaker tradition of social justice and responsibility, and deep gratitude for the strong shoulders of brave mentors, who challenged the status quo to carve the path on which we now walk.

Over the years, we have been privileged to work with leaders and organizations that strive to achieve more just and equitable results for those they serve. For us, this has always meant supporting our client and ecosystem partners to take the long-view, while finding creative, data-informed solutions to a range of seemingly intractable challenges. We firmly believe that progress along the inevitable arc of justice requires a commitment to diversity in process and participation, equity in outcomes that matter, and clarity that these can only be achieved in an inclusive way.

We are proud to have spent nearly 20 years in the trenches of the movement toward lasting social change. We have integrated social determinants of health into the evaluation framework of a healthcare funder, helped a public agency understand how low-income housing residents value access to universal land lines, benchmarked outcomes for educational programs in a community with high-levels of poverty, defined the tipping point required to create a sustainable urban tree canopy, etc. (Can you tell we thrive on the variety of this work?)

Today, we as a society are witnessing flashpoints around underlying issues that have always been around. Of course, the pandemic has shown that our connectedness as humans makes us all vulnerable. However, while the virus is a great leveler, it has not been a great equalizer. We see the disproportionate impact on people of color and the financially poor. On top of this, the video of George Floyd’s murder forced us to confront and awaken our hearts to the systemic racism, and resulting injustice, that have always existed. We, as a society, are now primed to take the movement to another level – to make a lasting difference.

At Blue Garnet, we know the journey is paramount. As trusted advisors to our clients, and collaborative learners ourselves, we have been and are making space to process, learn, and engage on the topic of racial equity and justice. From my perspective, distilling all our reactions, thoughts, and ideas down to one simple statement risks “dumbing down” this deep topic. That’s why, instead of “issuing a statement,” I am excited to introduce a series of essays from members of the Blue Garnet team. We want to share in a way that honors the complexity and diversity of viewpoints on events in our current time, and set them in context of systemic challenges.

In the coming weeks, please look for these essays that reflect our team’s current thinking on racial justice. There’s a lot of ground to cover. We’ll:

  • Delineate terms that have entered the mainstream discourse, from our perspective
  • Highlight partners working in the cracks in our system long before the pandemic and protests
  • Share how we’re taking action as a team
  • Bring stories of hope, showing that real social change is possible in our time
  • And, through it all, keep our focus on solutions to root causes and how to make them real.

We hope you’ll find the time to sink into ideas and resources that we share, and hold them in your thoughts as you and your organization navigate through this multidimensional movement. And, this is more valuable as a dialogue, not a monologue. So, please reach out to me at way-ting@bluegarnet.net, and let us know how this series is landing with you, and how we can work together to advance the cause of racial justice.

Local Leader Spotlight: Beverlyn Mendez, Easterseals Southern California

June 2020 / Sofia Van CleveA picture of a woman, Bev Mendez

At Blue Garnet, we are honored to partner with passionate leaders who are working hard to tackle the most pressing social inequities of our time. In our Local Leader Spotlights, we celebrate one of these wonderful leaders. This month, I (Sofia) chatted with Beverlyn Mendez, COO at Easterseals Southern California. Easterseals (hereafter, ESSC) works to change the way people define and view disability, and provides services to people with disabilities. Blue Garnet has been working with Bev and her team for the past two years on strategic business planning and implementation. We are continually inspired by Bev’s kindness and wisdom, and we hope to share some of that with you today!

Blue Garnet (hereafter, BG): Bev, you’ve worked at ESSC for 30 years, which is truly remarkable!  What’s your WHY? What makes you get up and go to work every morning?A snapshot of ESSC services
Bev: The ability to contribute and lead at Easterseals is very fulfilling to me personally; it really is a tremendous organization. Our team here has a combination of heart and talent that is so unique. This also describes our participants and families. There’s such an incredible synergy that goes on within the organization that makes it an amazing place to work.

I am also passionate about our services! ESSC supports people with disabilities throughout their lifespan (see Figure A.). Personally, inclusion and community living for people with disabilities also drives me. I went back to complete my doctoral degree several years ago and wrote my dissertation on the role of disability advocacy in deinstitutionalization. (more on this in a minute!)

BG: ESSC is meeting this moment with COVID-19 head on (ESSC blog here). Could you share about ESSC’s approach and innovation responding to the pandemic? And challenges you’re facing?
All our services have continued in unique ways. Like all organizations now, we’re leaping forward with technology in remote services and telehealth, like providing Applied Behavior Analysis, Speech, and Occupational Therapies and Social Skills Groups remotely. Across sectors, barriers to remote services have eroded. We’re moving forward to fill gaps and meet people’s needs where they are. That means reaching out to people in their home environment, and in the case of our Child Development Services, also providing resources like food, formula, and diapers to families to help meet basic needs during the crisis.

It is harder to reach some individuals during this time, though, including those who live in large congregate settings. They are more intensely affected by the pandemic; they’re more isolated and at higher risk of infection. We usually support these individuals to be active in their community through our Adult Day Services. In the midst of the pandemic, people who live in institutional settings are the hardest to reach, and that’s heartbreaking.

We have learned a lot, though, during this time. As people begin to go back to their regular routines, we want to carry forward what we’ve learned in remote services and telehealth. We want to continue and build on this creativity and new ways of connecting.

BG: Like this example you shared, we’ve been talking at BG about how the pandemic illuminates cracks in our systems to a broader audience—surfacing inequities in technology access, job security, affordable housing, food security, etc. How else has the quarantine revealed systemic inequities for people with disabilities?
Isolation is a significant issue for people with disabilities across all age groups, and it’s further intensified by the pandemic. ESSC supports people to be a part of their community, to engage with others, find jobs, and develop friendships. Obviously, this has been a challenge for everyone under the safer-at-home orders. But that isolation is not new for people with disabilities, and it’s just further exacerbated now. Similarly, families who have children at home (with and without disabilities) have been under far more stress during this time, and this is even more of a challenge for parents who have children with disabilities.

BG: In a way, the rest of the world is experiencing a glimpse of the challenges people with disabilities face daily. With this new empathy, is there anything our readers can do to support people with disabilities now or post-COVID?
Yes! We encourage everyone to be inclusive and to make all opportunities as accessible as possible (
resource here), including book clubs, classes, or other activities you’re organizing. At ESSC, our vision is to make Southern California the most inclusive place for people with disabilities to live, learn, work, and play. That means people can help make everything from schools, jobs, social experiences, and housing more inclusive.  We are passionate about what happens when people with disabilities are included.

BG: You just mentioned ESSC’s vision for impact developed last year: “By 2030, Southern California will be the most inclusive place for people with disabilities to live, learn, work, and play.” (info video here) How have you seen that start to play out? What has been the initial reaction you’ve received?
We were just wrapping up our launch of our new vision for impact, then COVID hit! The initial reaction has been extremely positive. During the pandemic, our whole org needed to pivot to support people in new and dynamic ways. We quickly realized, though, that we were putting all the guiding principles and strategies from our Strategic Business Plan to good use. We were excited to tell Blue Garnet “The plan fits! It’s working even during a global pandemic!” We’re living out our plan to expand our services to more people, provide leadership in the disabilities field, share learnings with other organizations, and change the way people view disabilities. The plan continues to guide us, and has sparked even more creativity across the organization. If the plan got us through a global pandemic, we know it will continue to serve us well.

BG: Wow, that’s so exciting to hear! Thank you for sharing that. After working with Blue Garnet for almost 2 years now, what was the most valuable part of your experience?
Two things come to mind. First, your strengths-based approach of looking at the whole organization. As all orgs, we do have areas we want to improve, but the strengths-focus resonated with us because it mirrors how we approach working with people with disabilities. Secondly, your level of engagement across our organization. BG reached deep to connect with our participants, families, community members, and funders. That process of reaching all our key stakeholders was extremely helpful for us! This input guided our strategies, and continues to guide us to make sure we’re doing what is most important for people with disabilities throughout Southern California.


We hope that learning more about Easterseals and the challenges people with disabilities face moves you to greater inclusion in your personal life, and louder advocacy for equal access across all spheres of society. Let’s be includers!

For more info on Bev or ESSC, click here. To connect with Blue Garnet, feel free to drop us an email at hello@bluegarnet.net.

Planning for an Uncertain Future

Way-Ting Chen

April 2020

Only three weeks ago, we were holding in-person design sessions, meeting for coffee, and chillin’ out after work together. How quickly things have changed. Now, we live in a heightened state of physical isolation and general uncertainty.

When our “todays” are evolving so rapidly, it’s natural to ask questions about our “tomorrows.” What will happen to… our organization and its work? …the vulnerable we support and those in community with us? …the physical, mental, and financial health of our staff and volunteers? …this year’s grantmaking or programmatic budget and future sustainability?  Even… what will happen to me? How do I manage work and high-energy kids at home, in the small space we share? And for all of us: How long will this last? When will we know that the crisis is over?  When can we be in each other’s presence again?

Do you relate to (some of) these questions?? Though they can be anxiety-inducing, they are also real and valid. Our vulnerability in voicing them can be a powerful tool. In asking the question, we pinpoint issues of importance and highlight areas where we face the greatest ambiguity. Pandemic or not, we would never have the answers to all of these questions at once.

That said, one thing we CAN begin to address, is what MIGHT happen. And often, when we start thinking in terms of what MIGHT happen, we start to flesh out ways our tomorrows might transpire, organize them into related groupings, and spot areas where we have some degree of influence over the results. This is what we call “scenario planning.” 

Scenario planning allows us to imagine and consider multiple possible futures, then make judgement and plans for each, where possible. This strategic thinking helps to bring structure and focus to uncertain times and draw insights into how we deal with the future. Ideally, we all have the discipline and time to do this scenario planning in advance of a crisis (you know us, we’re planners at core!). That said, tackling scenario planning during times of upheaval builds clarity for us today and confidence to respond quickly as situations evolve.

To give you a sense for what scenario planning entails, we’d like to offer some big-picture questions that can help focus your path forward:

  1. What are 3-5 ways this year could unfold? This is a generative question, so don’t be afraid to think broadly. It can help to think in terms of best- and worst-case scenarios. Or feel free to adapt to options, or scenarios, that make the most sense for you.
  2. What are key implications for each scenario? If you go down each path, what might this mean for people, budget, operations, etc? What actions would you need to take, by when?
  3. How will you know what scenario you are in? What are the markers that trigger change, or indicators that point toward needed adjustment? Is it a demand level? Available staffing? Financial milestone?
  4. What is the likelihood of each scenario happening, based on what you know now? Start working toward the most likely scenario and be on the lookout for changes in those markers.

If the situation changes (which it likely will), you’ve already thought through what you need to do, and can transition to the more pertinent scenario. A few years into the Great Recession, we had a former client tell us that they realized they were in “Scenario B,” and in short order, the Board and staff leadership adopted “Plan B.” Past planning using scenarios with us allowed them to recognize the signs and quickly pivot with less anxiety.

If you’d like a little more reading on the topic, here’s a McKinsey article about scenario planning. While focused on the corporate sector, this article gives further language to the level of uncertainty we encounter and how to plan accordingly.

Finally, please remember that you are not alone in facing the challenges of today. Thousands of organizations and millions of individuals across the country are grappling with these very same questions – as are we at Blue Garnet. While we may not have all the answers, we are doing our part to support our community through this time, in the best way we know how.

With this, we want to try something new and host a virtual Coffee & Conversation on the topic of scenario planning. We’re gauging interest now, so please email us hello@bluegarnet.net to let us know if you are interested, then we work to find a mutually convenient date!

If you have other ideas for how we can be of help, please comment below our shoot us an email.

Be safe and stay healthy, everyone.

Best,

Way-Ting

On being a generalist in a specialist world

There’s a lot to be said about having deep, expert knowledge. And the world is on a trajectory that points to specialized knowledge as powerful and valuable.

Maybe it’s the liberal arts background in me, or the unquenchable curiosity that I have, but it’s hard for me NOT to take a blended, interdisciplinary approach toward most things – including social Impact. There’s power in combining the lessons we’ve learned from for- and non-profit sectors across all types of industries.

Being a social impact consulting firm, we at Blue Garnet are often pulled into discussions with organizational leaders regarding strategy and evaluation. The vast majority of the time, these are separate conversations:

  • Conversation 1: What can we do to take our mission achievement to the next level? How do we make the most impact?
  • Conversation 2: What is our “impact story”? How do we demonstrate the impact that we are having and/or can have?

In the social sector, we tend to pick up and put on our “strategist” hat or our “evaluation and learning” hat. And we start our conversation on one or the other. But the fact is, strategy and evaluation are, and should be, mutually reinforcing. They are the yin and yang of social impact. They are the same hat.

We recently listened to a webinar from CNM on their survey of the nonprofit sector in Southern California. Among their interesting findings, they found that one of the top five priorities for nonprofit leaders is to conduct evaluations and outcomes measurements. And as evaluation and learning partners to our clients, we are very excited to hear this! That said, organizations that align strategy and evaluation can create greater, and more measurable, impact. Blue Garnet strives to expand and guide our clients in broader discussion on how to best make meaningful change—integrating strategy and evaluation into one conversation from the start.

Of course, aligning strategy and evaluation can be challenging. These are distinct disciplines that are often siloed and need to be bridged. This work is also messy and non-linear, requiring patience and continued support.

But fear not! It is actually possible and, in fact, highly worth it. How? By starting with the end in mind and relying on a growth mindset.

Intrigued? Check out this video of a workshop I gave at UCLA Anderson. If you have a good chunk of time, I invite you to watch the whole thing (in my completely unbiased opinion, I think it’s pretty educational!) If you want to delve into some specific examples, the first example about a charter school system considering scaling starts at 26:55. Also, stay tuned for an upcoming blog on concrete tips for putting into action integrating strategy formation and evaluation and learning!

We need both generalists and specialists to solve our world’s complex problems; both bring unique strengths to the table. The good news – we make great partners!  We can bridge disciplines to make and measure more change, and you bring the deep knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. Feel free to drop a line to talk more! way-ting@bluegarnet.net

 

 

 

 

A brief moment for reflection and encouragement

By Way-Ting Chen

My 25th year college reunion was a couple of weeks ago (those of you who know the Blue Garnet founding story know my business partner Jenni Shen also hails from Swarthmore, and she was lucky to attend the reunion). I was disappointed to have missed it, and all the fun and nostalgia that comes with seeing people for the first time in decades, and (re)discovering who they have become in the meantime.

That said, while I missed the in-person fun, I caught some glimpses of the reunion virtually. One post by an onsite classmate included a comment made by the president of Swarthmore College, Valerie Smith (see right). And it gave me pause.

This call to action challenges us to turn inward and examine our own mindset, assumptions, biases and behaviors, even as we collaborate with others to make the world a better place.

Reading this filled me with pride at being part of an institution that would invoke this challenge. More importantly, it relates to an important point of view that Jenni and I intentionally built into our work at Blue Garnet:  No one goes at it alone. It’s the team’s blend of individual strengths that makes us powerful.

The work of social change asks a lot of each of us. And no matter how hard we may try, we alone are not the answer. It takes longer and more energy to do the internal homework that makes each of us comfortable with complexity and ambiguity, in order to effectively join forces with others in pursuit of social change. Yet, this is what we need to do – individually, as a team, and in collaboration with our community.

The process of effective systems change and business model transformations must be inclusive and can be trying. For me, when I am “stuck” in the struggle with no obvious way out, these words remind me that the conditions are ripe for creativity and, potentially, a new path forward:

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do,

we have come to our real work

And when we no longer know which way to go,

We have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

~ Wendell Barry

This summer let’s make time for internal reflection and external aspiration, so we can break through the struggle, and in community with our partners, all be the better for it.

 


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Blue Garnet’s pro tips for every social enterprise

 

By Sofia Van Cleve

Building an impactful social enterprise is far from easy. Through the ups and downs of Blue Garnet’s 15+ years working in social impact consulting and building our own social enterprise, we’ve learned some huge lessons in social entrepreneurship the hard way. In late April, we had the chance to talk about these learnings at Social Enterprise Alliance-LA’s new event, the Professional Services Night. Along with six other volunteering organizations—spanning social media, tech, law, and strategy consulting—Blue Garnet was happy to provide our pro bono help to the participants.

 

The creativity and passion we saw during the night got us super excited about new social enterprises in LA and wanting to share some tips with social entrepreneurs at large. Our co-founder, Way-Ting Chen, and the attendees explored how to improve their existing organizations or build their entrepreneurial dream with an eye for impact. Daniel Nash, a music composer and web designer, said Way-Ting’s help was “Phenomenal—I got the next steps for my business idea and steps down the line that I had no idea about. She helped me think ahead and know what resources I need to connect with and when I will need them.” We loved chatting with people like Daniel (and not just because he gave us the nicest compliment in the entire world!), but we don’t want to be stingy with our advice. So we’re going “open source” with our recommendations, hoping they’ll help other social enterprises out there, too.

 

If you want to maximize your impact and develop a high-performing organization, you need to make sure your organization has the following four components.

What You Need to Know About Impact as a Social Entrepreneur:

  1. Organizational clarity: Start with the end in mind. What impact are you trying to achieve through your social enterprise? What are the top three things YOU need to do really well to get there?
  2. Shared Leadership: Bring others on board to do this together and build your team to complement your strengths.
  3. Healthy Economics: Align your business model to your goals by focusing on who your target client is, what you offer them that truly makes a difference, and how you can afford to do so over time.
  4. Accountability for Results: Define your 10 key measures of success related to both impact and performance. Gather and analyze relevant data for insight, then iterate your strategy.

It’s okay if you don’t have all of these right now. The good news is that you can build them over time. If you have questions or want to build these for your organization, please contact us at sofia@bluegarnet.net.

 

We hope that the Services Night and Blue Garnet sharing these four tenants of impact will inspire social entrepreneurs in LA and beyond!

 


A special thanks to SEA-LA and Danny Brown for organizing this event, and West Monroe Partners for hosting! Thanks also to Daniel Nash for your incredibly kind words (we’re still blushing!).

Social inspiration from an unlikely space – the corporate world

While Blue Garnet is known mostly for its work in with nonprofits and philanthropies, we also proudly work with socially-minded corporate clients. Our corporate clients wrestle with many of the same questions as our nonprofit and foundation clients, such as impact articulation and measurement. However, they do have a unique challenge: clarifying their purpose. Corporate citizenship (or CSR or community development) departments that began as legal compliance or “charity work” purely for marketing purpose purposes are evolving. A new wave of leaders has “found a seat at the table” and they have a genuine commitment to sustainable social change and are armed with innovative, inspiring ideas.

An article called, “Five Social Impact Trends that Inspire Us,” outlines five of those inspiring ideas. Spoiler alert: the articles highlights and describes the trends of increased transparency, workplace volunteerism, corporate leaders taking a stand on polarizing issues, correlation between purpose and profit, and impact measurement. While it’s a great starting point – I wanted to push the list further and add my two cents. My reflections come from an extensive corporate citizenship benchmarking effort among leading corporate citizenship companies I recently led at Blue Garnet. So, without further ado – here are a few additional trends that I think are not only inspiring, but critical to truly maximize the impact of a corporate citizenship.

  • Increased engagement: As the article mentions, corporations are more frequently taking a stance on polarizing issues – everything from climate change to LGBTQ rights and immigration. In fact – many corporations seemed to have developed a public persona. But whose views is the corporation expressing? I believe it’s a combination of key leaders, staff, and its community. In order for an organization to accurately express the beliefs of and truly engage with its staff and community, many leading corporate citizens have learned the value of listening. In order to not only align your corporate views to your key stakeholders’, but also improve the well-being of your employees and community – you need to ask them – directly, genuinely, and regularly. I heard some great examples, including robust “listening tours,” community and employee surveys, and a community taskforce to inform corporate priorities.
  • Empowered employees: In line with the article’s trend of increased transparency and “bringing your true self to work,” leading corporate citizens are handing over (some of the) reigns. They are empowering employees to direct corporate resources. The most common way employees are given a “voice” is through workplace giving campaign donations matches. Additionally, more companies are letting employees decide the nonprofit beneficiaries of corporate volunteer events. And to save the best for last – a few leading companies let a panel of employees determine its community grant beneficiaries.
  • Increased focus: Sophisticated citizenship programs have moved beyond the “confetti” or “spray and pray” approach where lots of small grants/gifts are provided to many different organizations. These grants are nice – but lack the power to truly make a difference. This approach is typical when a company’s primary citizenship objective is marketing-focused (e.g. building a company’s reputation). However, if a corporation truly wants to fund sustainable social change and develop a brand known for doing good, it needs to focus its giving priorities and provide fewer, larger grants to long-term grantee partners. Additionally – particularly in technology – leading companies align corporate giving objectives and priorities with corporate and employee expertise. A couple of real-life examples are a utility company that prioritizes STEM education or a technology company that provides grants to organizations that use technology to combat society’s biggest challenges. The benefits of a focused, strategic giving strategy are two-fold: employees are more easily engaged when they understand and connect to your citizenship efforts (which is easier to do when the objectives are aligned to their expertise) and it provides a great opportunity for skills-based volunteering (e.g. an engineer for a utility company mentoring a student at the local school’s corporate-sponsored robotics lab).
  • Becoming certified: B-Corporations take the commitment to be a good corporate citizenship to the next level! B Corps are purpose-driven and creates benefit for all STAKEholders – not just SHAREholders. The goal: redefine success in business. B-Corps are certified to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. While a relatively new type of company, there are already a lot of them – more than 2,100 from 50 countries and over 130 industries. You many have heard of a few of them: Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s and (yours truly) Blue Garnet! (click here for more information about B-Corps)

I hope you are inspired as I am. What you would add to the list?

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!

Making Strategic Planning Real

by: Shannon Johnson

It’s time to get real…about making social impact in Los Angeles. That’s exactly what The John Gogian Family Foundation did on January 27th, 2016, in Torrance, CA. Lindsey Stammerjohn, Executive Director, understands that long-term sustainable social change doesn’t just happen – it needs to be carefully planned. So she and the foundation stepped up to the plate and hosted a forum for all their grantees (70+ in attendance, their highest ever) focused on “Making Strategic Business Planning Real.” Pretty awesome, huh? We thought so too.

I don’t mean to be Debbie Downer, but strategic business planning is (and should be) hard. You are asking and answering tough, strategic qDilys Garciauestions. Want to know what helps? Learning from others who have been there. That’s why we interviewed Dilys Tosteson Garcia, Executive Director at Court Appointed Special Advocates Los Angeles (CASA), throughout the forum. She candidly painted a real-life picture of the struggles and triumphs in her organization’s strategic planning process. Their process was of particular interest to the attendees as she and her team developed a bold and visionary plan to TRIPLE their impact while simultaneously undergoing a complete shift in their funding model. In the process, they strengthened their program model, invested in data systems and elevated their internal culture!

Thinking of starting a strategic planning process? As we shared during the forum, here are few tips to keep in mind:

  • A Strategic Business Plan becomes REAL when you not only define your desired impact in a measurable way but also align it with your business model, make sure you can afford it, develop a plan for how you’re going to implement it, measure your progress, learn along the way, and hold yourself accountable to it. PS – when all is said and done, it is a very, very powerful and beautiful thing and worth all the effort!

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  • Process is as important as content. Building a strategic business plan takes time, but it can be “chunked” out into 3 main steps:

Where are we today?

  • Engaging the “right” people at the “right” time is critical. Think about whom, when, and how different stakeholders (e.g. Board, staff, clients, funders, supporters) should be involved. Our motto: involve “early and often.”
  • Your plan should be adaptive. Strategies and plan can (and should) change over time. (Read more about emergent strategies here.)

A big thank you to The John Gogian Family Foundation, Dilys Tosteson Garcia, and all the inspiring nonprofit leaders who attended for an engaging, productive day!

Are you interested in Making Strategic Business Planning Real? Click here to learn more about Blue Garnet’s Impact Accelerator Strategy Labs.

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?


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