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What Is A High-Performance Nonprofit?

By Nell Edgington



PI-Poster-WebPromoGraphic-580x750I’m really excited to announce today’s launch of the Performance Imperative. The Performance Imperative is a detailed definition, created by a community of nonprofit thought leaders, of a high-performance nonprofit. The hope is with a clear definition of high-performance we can strengthen nonprofit efforts to achieve social change.

As we all know, we are living in a time of growing wealth inequality, crumbling institutions, political divides, and the list of social challenges goes on. The burden of finding solutions to these challenges increasingly falls to the nonprofit sector. So “good work” is no longer enough. We need to understand — through rigor and evidence — which solutions are working and which are not.

The Performance Imperative was created by the Leap Ambassadors Community, a network of 70+ nonprofit thought leaders and practitioners of which I am a member. The group emerged from the 2013 After the Leap conference, which brought nonprofit, philanthropic and government leaders together to create a higher-performing nonprofit sector. The group is determined to lead the fundamental, and critical, shift towards a more effective nonprofit sector.

The Performance Imperative defines nonprofit high performance as “the ability to deliver—over a prolonged period of time—meaningful, measurable, and financially sustainable results for the people or causes the nonprofit is in existence to serve.”

The Performance Imperative further describes seven organizational pillars that lead to high performance:

  1. Courageous, adaptive executive and board leadership
  2. Disciplined, people-focused management
  3. Well-designed and well-implemented programs and strategies
  4. Financial health and sustainability
  5. A culture that values learning
  6. Internal monitoring for continuous improvement
  7. External evaluation for mission effectiveness.

Each one of these 7 pillars is fully explained in the Performance Imperative.

Over the next several months I will write a blog series that digs into each of these 7 pillars to understand what each one means for a nonprofit organization and to examine case studies of how other nonprofit leaders have approached the pillars. And next week on the blog I’ll interview one of the founders of this movement toward high performance.

Although the Performance Imperative is targeted toward $3M+ nonprofits, it can also be a benchmark upon which any social change nonprofit can measure itself. Nonprofit boards and staffs can use the Performance Imperative as a north star to guide their journey toward higher performance.

To learn more about the Performance Imperative, watch the video below (or here), or download the complete Performance Imperative here.

The critical necessity of a high performing nonprofit sector is clear. We no longer have the luxury of benevolent good works that sit aside the business of our country. Now is the time to find solutions that really work and develop the leadership and sustainability to spread them far and wide.

As Mario Morino, founder of the Leap Ambassador Community has said, “If we don’t figure out how to build high performing nonprofits, nothing else matters. This is the last mile. Our nation depends on it.”

 

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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (www.socialvelocity.net), a management consulting firm leading nonprofits to greater social impact and financial sustainability. Social Velocity helps nonprofits grow their programs, bring more money in the door, and use resources more effectively. For more information, check out Social Velocity consulting services and clients.


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5 Comments to What Is A High-Performance Nonprofit?

Fernando Centeno
March 5, 2015

I commend your intentions but I would argue that too many nonprofits (& gov’tal entities) consider themselves to be successful, yet structural, generational poverty remains. There are no real consequences for those who believe they are “doing well” esp. as they continue to be funded just to maintain the status quo.

Planners who interface bet. public officials & citizens will not go to bat for their constituency, rather, they merely manage the community’s needs via the delivery of human services or community development programs.

I feel that we still need something more serious, more urgent, and more accountable. That something is best captured in the CED field, in my opinion. San Antonio, where I live, is a case in point; we’ve had “success” & “a city on the rise”, yet we remain a structurally, generational poor city. In short, it’s not happening.

I leave you with a great quote: “Anyone who declares success based on intangible benefits for a project that has not come even close to performing economically as expected should have to receive their salary in intangible benefits.” Michael Eglinski, city auditor, Lawrence, Kansas

Nell Edgington
March 6, 2015

Fernando,

Thanks for your comment. I heartily agree (as, I would imagine, the rest of the Leap Ambassadors would) that there are deep challenges facing our country, one of which is a growing wealth inequality gap. The point of the Performance Imperative is not to commend “successful” nonprofits, but rather to hold up a north star to the entire sector to encourage it to become more effective at attacking the very problems that are getting worse. Now more than ever we need effective solutions to the growing challenges we face. And for the Leap Ambassador group, that first step is to define what high-performance solutions look like so that all of the entities working on those challenges (providers, funders, regulators) can drive more resources to those that are effective. No one thinks that the Performance Imperative is a panacea. However, we have to start somewhere. And this is where the Leap Ambassadors have decided to start. But there is still much work to be done.

Lowell Weiss
March 6, 2015

I’d like to build on Nell’s post. Mr. Centeno, I urge you to download the PI. I hope you will see that we’re quite aligned with you. The PI presents a definition of “high performance” that holds nonprofits accountable for achieving tangible results for real people. We don’t care about performance for performance’s sake. We care about performance for ameliorating the wicked problems in our communities, such as intergenerational poverty.

There are plenty of nonprofits that define “success” and “doing well” in ways that do not have much to do with making a tangible difference. We’d like to help change that. We hope that the PI’s definition of success—the ability to deliver, over a prolonged period of time, meaningful, measurable, and financially sustainable results for the people or causes the organization is in existence to serve—will take root in our sector. If it does, then it will be harder for “success” to be defined based on the number of people served or even less tangible factors like good stories and marketing materials.

[…] As we all know, we are living in a time of growing wealth inequality, crumbling institutions, political divides, and the list of social challenges goes on. The burden of finding solutions to these challenges increasingly falls to the nonprofit sector. So “good work” is no longer enough. We need to understand — through rigor and evidence — which solutions are working and which are not. Read More […]

[…] but not least, we finish up by talking about this thing called The Performance Imperative and why this could be a game changer in setting the bar for execellence in effectiveness for […]

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