Two recent posts by the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) mentioned Mario Marino’s monograph, Leap of Reason: Managing to Outcomes in an Era of Scarcity. So I decided to check it out for myself (and the best part is you can read for free on your Kindle or PC). Here’s what I took away from this work.
Managing to Outcomes
In Leap of Reason, Marino writes that nonprofits and funders must understand the importance of “managing to outcomes” which he defines as a focus on actively pursuing meaningful, measurable good for the clients and community we serve (also click here for my previous blog post on outcomes). He argues that nonprofits must invest in the collection and use of information to systematically guide programmatic and organization decisions. He also notes that this outcomes based approach will require a shift in organizational culture and not merely a focus on numbers or technology.
In order to begin developing an outcomes culture, Marino offers a number of guiding questions for nonprofits to consider, including:
- Has everyone (staff, managers, board, etc.) bought into the reality that nothing else matters if your organization’s beneficiaries have not gained measurably from the services you provide?
- Do you make time to revisit and refine your purpose and strategies, with input from those you serve, on a regular basis?
- Can you clearly state the outcomes you are trying to achieve through each program and service your organization offers?
- Can you define what each of your programs and services actually does that leads to these outcomes?
- Does your organization systematically collect and use information to guide your decisions?
- Can you identify the leading indicators that help you determine if you are doing the right things to eventually achieve the outcomes you attend?
I appreciated Marino’s questions and also appreciated his recognition of the challenges inherent in developing an outcomes approach. He states, “I know many nonprofit leaders who are not managing to outcomes today but are strongly predisposed to do so. They inherently know what their outcomes are and very much want to assess and manage to them. But they are severely hamstrung by the lack of funding available to do this hard work.”
Greenlights has been conducting our own research on evaluation practices among Central Texas nonprofits, and like Marino, found that many nonprofits are motivated to conduct evaluation in order to improve their programs and services. However, Central Texas nonprofits are also facing hurdles when it comes to developing effective evaluation practices, including insufficient staff and time available to conduct evaluation, lack of funding, and a lack of knowledge regarding evaluation practices.
So, how should we deal with these challenges? While there are no easy answers or quick solutions, I would encourage you to take a look at Leap of Reason (which includes an extensive resources section), and check our report Measuring Nonprofit Impact: The State of Evaluation in Central Texas (2013).