Jul 05, 2011

Next Generation Nonprofit Performance Measurement and Management

As nonprofits and public and philanthropic partners navigate emergent trends in the field of performance management, a conference from June 12-14, 2011, hosted by Charity Navigator and RCLA with funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Liquidnet, highlighted current research, groundbreaking practitioner strategies and the roles funders can play in advancing these efforts.

More than 200 people attended the public portions of the conference, "Managing to Outcomes: A Forum of Transparent Nonprofit Performance Measurement and Management," including funders and executive directors of small and large nonprofits. The two-day conference also featured smaller workshop sessions attended by invited professors from leading academic institutions across the US who teach courses on managing for performance in public service, top New York City agency officials, and nonprofit directors.

"The response to the convening of this conference was extraordinary, and signals rather clearly that evidence-based nonprofit performance management is an idea whose time has come," says NYU Wagner Professor and RCLA affiliated faculty member Dennis Smith, who organized the conference with Charity Navigator CEO Ken Berger.

Conference Highlights

Paul Brest, president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Seth Merrin, founder and CEO of Liquidnet, and John Dugan, founder of Charity Navigator, opened the conference with remarks on the need for a more efficient and effective nonprofit marketplace that generates genuine commitment by donors and grantees to produce evidence of social impact and monitor progress toward goals. RCLA Executive Director Bethany Godsoe also spoke on the leadership panel, highlighting ways that stronger performance management can strengthen organizational capacity and learning.

The Government's Role in Managing to Outcomes

John Mattingly, commissioner of the NYC Administration for Children's Services (ACS), presented ChildStat, a program that monitors the performance of foster care case workers, administrative staff and nonprofit partners. The success of ChildStat's approach is built on mutual learning between managers and front-line staff through four areas of focus: clarifying policies for staff; evaluating organizational structures and beliefs; illuminating the operational system and how decisions are made; and finally, fully understanding front-line practices. Mr. Mattingly noted the importance of "improving the system, not just the worker."

Lisa Garabedian, assistant deputy commissioner for the New York City Human Resources Administration, and Susan Fojas, associate commissioner for Performance Measurement, Monitoring and Improvement at ACS, also addressed the government's role in managing to outcomes in terms of agency support and technical assistance for nonprofits.

Charity Navigator Expansion

Ken Berger, CEO of Charity Navigator, highlighted the organization's new efforts to expand beyond measuring financial accountability to measuring outcomes. Of the $300 billion donated annually in the US, 75 percent is given by individuals. Charity Navigator (CN) has played a critical role over the last decade in helping donors determine where to direct their funds. CN 2.0 is a pilot project that uses crowd-sourcing (among professors and graduate students) to assess charities' Web sites and IRS 990 forms to measure not only charities' financial health, but also their accountability and transparency and (starting in 2012) results. The goal is two-fold. First, donors will have a more complete picture of organizations when deciding to make a charitable gift.  Second, nonprofit organizations will have incentives to think strategically about how they communicate about their impact to stakeholders.

Panel Discussion on Driving Money to High-Performing Nonprofits

A panel of thought leaders and funders in the field of performance measurement and management focused on the goals and complications of driving more money to high-performing nonprofits. For example, while funders seek a return on investment in the form of social impact, there are no standard metrics for nonprofits to report overhead, efficacy and outcomes, making it difficult to compare and determine investment value. The panel was moderated by Brian Walsh, director of Liquidnet for Good (the corporate social engagement arm of Liquidnet), and speakers included:

  • Jacob Herald, Philanthropy program officer for the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation;
  • Jeff Mason, vice president of Social Solutions and chair of the Alliance for Effective Social Investing;
  • Cynthia Strauss, director of Research of the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund; and
  • Margaret M. Coady, director of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy.

Foundation representatives also attended a conference dinner hosted by Paul Brest, president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, to discuss the role philanthropic organizations can and do play in supporting performance measurement.

Views from Nonprofits

Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, PhD, the executive director of Catholic Charities; Mindy Tarlow, executive director and CEO of the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), and Barbara Gunn, president and CEO of Seedco, highlighted their different organizational approaches to program measurement and management. They shared practices and procedures for establishing organizational accountability and transparency, determining benchmarks, engaging in internal and external evaluations, and communicating about outcomes.  The exploration of performance measurement and management was informed by cases studies of CEO and Seedco written by NYU Wagner students and faculty for the workshops.

Teaching and Resources for Nonprofit Performance Measurement and Management

NYU Wagner Professor Dennis Smith, known for his long-term work in performance management, hosted a discussion on teaching nonprofit and public performance measurement and what students need most in terms of technical training, ability to work with data and opportunities to implement what they are learning. This session was informed by course syllabi and other materials submitted by faculty participants from Harvard, Georgetown, George Washington University, the Evans School at the University of Washington, Indiana University, Rutgers, Mills College, the College of William and Mary, Columbia, Stanford, Seattle University, Northern Illinois University, Texas A &M, and Western Carolina University.

The conference also featured current resources in the field. Robert Penna, author of the new book, The Nonprofit Outcomes Toolbox: A Complete Guide to Program Effectiveness, Performance Measurement, and Results, presented his work with nonprofits. Attendees also watched a special release of the documentary Saving Philanthropy and participated in a Q & A with the filmmaker, Kate Robinson. As a former nonprofit executive, her guiding query for the film became one that was also central to the conference: "What constitutes an effective strategy for managing to outcomes and how is such a strategy best communicated and shared?"

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