Framework for Greater Impact
Experience has taught us that the health and strength of any organization ultimately depend on a few vital, but hard to come by materials.
Taken together we often refer to these as an organization’s “container,” because a living organization grows out of them. This video shows how a sturdy container provides a place for the living organization to take root and grow.
In our work with mission-driven organizations we meet boards and leaders who inevitably face challenges, such as: changes in executive staff, shifts in the funding environment, meeting program demand, and board stagnation, to mention just a few. Boards and staff are keenly aware of the most visible problems at hand, but they do not always have the core components in place to lend clarity in challenging times.
Here are the container’s core elements:
- Vision Every organization has come into being to address some need. Our vision is a global expression of that: the change we want to see in the world.
- Theory of Change In light of our vision, a theory of change describes our intended impact and outcomes, and the programs and strategies we will employ to bring them about.
- Business Model How will we pay for our programs? A business model shows our mix of revenue and how we’ll sustain a financially viable organization over time.
- Metrics By documenting and measuring our performance we can evaluate our effectiveness over time and relative to our goals. Performance data provide evidence that our programs are effective, and are a vital point of accountability for funders and the broader community we serve. Metrics also reveal new opportunities for continuous improvement.
When these core components of the container are in place, the organization can firmly take root and grow, enlivening its programs, fundraising, communications, governance, and other operational elements. To be sure, each of these elements is critical to an organization’s success, but we have found they reach their potential impact only when rooted in a sturdy container.
Often missing from this discussion are two intangibles of human experience: leadership and culture.
With the elements of the container in place, leaders can be confident in their purpose and in the alignment of resources to support them. That same confidence supports a culture of pro-active, supportive people who welcome data as evidence of impact and as a tool for continuous improvement. Leadership and culture also drive the success of the core components, providing the fertile soil for the organization to implement its work, grow and thrive. Conversely, a dysfunctional culture results in poor conditions for the work to take root.
How does this framework apply to the problems that organizations often encounter? Here is a sampling of challenges we have observed:
- When boards are not performing to their potential, it is often because they are confused about the organization’s program goals and lack clear metrics for anchoring board meeting conversations and aligning with staff.
- Stagnant fundraising programs may result from the organization struggling to communicate its approach and the way it measures results.
- When leaders experience difficulty managing programs and services, and raising funds to grow them, they often lack a clear articulation of their program model or theory of change. A lack of clarity prevents them from narrowing their focus to the most vital programs to achieve their vision and build a clear base of evidence.
- Problems of leadership and culture often reveal shortcomings not in commitment, but in confidence that the organization is pursuing the right set of well-articulated impacts, with a common set of metrics demonstrating success.
The elements in the container provide a starting point for building a healthy organization. Every organization benefits from a periodic exercise to articulate the core elements that define its container, to examine every part of the organization for alignment, and to ensure the leadership and culture is in place to create the conditions for success.