Here are a few lessons I’ve learned, in no particular order:
You need to make sure that your mission, operations, and desired outcomes are aligned with each other.
Movements for equity, inclusion, and belonging have the potential to revolutionize both mission-based organizations and philanthropy.
Carefully tailored one-to-one desk-side coaching usually increases a worker’s effectiveness much more quickly than classroom training.
The nonprofit/philanthropic sector in Massachusetts is different from the analogous sector in any other state in the U.S.A.
Poverty is an insufficient reward for devoting one’s professional life to a nonprofit organization.
In a mission-based organization, many problems that initially appear to be about information and communication technology are really about organizational culture, knowledge management, or a combination of organizational culture and knowledge management.
Age discrimination is alive and well in mission-based organizations.
It makes much more sense to aim to run a nonprofit organization like a highly effective organization, rather than to aim to run it like a business. There’s nothing inherently superior (or inferior) about businesses.
Every human being is eligible to help others and to be helped by others; moreover, it’s a mistake to stigmatize being helped by others.
Bringing token members of various demographic minorities into the building isn’t enough; real power means being at the table when crucial information is disseminated and crucial decisions are made.
When you decide to solve a problem, you need help from the people who are deeply affected by the problem in order to determine:
the real nature of the problem
the possible solutions
a clear and specific idea of what success in solving the problem would look like
I invite you to leave comments about what lessons you’ve learned from working with mission-based organizations!
Or, if you prefer to send me a private message, you can do so by using the form shown below:
After five very productive years at Tech Networks of Boston (TNB), I am now looking for my next professional challenge. I’m ready for a career shift! I’ve notified the leadership at TNB, so this is not a covert search.
If you know about any job opportunities at organizations that need someone with my skill set, I’d love to hear about them. In my next job, I’d like to focus on some or all of the following:
Weaving networks among nonprofit organizations in order to build collaboration, peer learning, and communities of practice.
Building the capacity of philanthropic and nonprofit organizations to achieve and document their desired outcomes.
Fostering equity, inclusion, social justice, and corporate social responsibility.
Aiding philanthropic and nonprofit organizations in seamlessly matching resources with needs.
Establishing best practices in the strategic use of information and communication technologies among mission-based organizations.
Facilitating candid dialogue and successful collaborations between grantmakers and grantees.
In the past few years, it’s become fashionable to talk about the importance of a “theory of change” for nonprofits. This is merely a way of underlining the importance of making an explicit statement about the causal relationship between what a nonprofit organization does and the impact that it has promised to deliver. I applaud this! It’s crucial to say, “if we take all of the following resources, and do all of the following actions, then we will get all of the following results.” An organization that lacks the capacity to marshal those resources and take those actions needs to reconsider, because it is on track to fail. If its capacity is not aligned with its commitment, it should acquire the resources or change its commitment to results. Of course, it some cases, it will merely need to revise its theory of change. In any case, it will have to work backward from its mission, and understand how each component contributes to achieving it.
This kind of thinking has lead to a lot of conversations (and a lot of anxiety) in the nonprofit sector about performance measurement, outcomes management, evaluation, and impact assessment.
I’d love to have some of this conversation focus on the information/communication technologies that nonprofit organizations are using. In other word, it’s time to be explicit about a theory of change that explains in detail how every component of the technology an organization uses contributes (directly or indirectly) to its ability to deliver a specific kind of social, cultural, or environmental impact.
Likewise, I’d love to have the conversation address the ways in which the efforts of a nonprofit organization’s performance measurement, outcomes management, evaluation, or impact assessment team contributes (directly or indirectly) to its ability to deliver the kind of impact that it promised its stakeholders.
It’s true. It’s so true in nonprofit technology that it hurts every time I think about it. However, I was immediately and immensely grateful to Tom for articulating so succinctly and eloquently what had been merely tacit knowledge for me.
One of the biggest problems in any nonprofit technology implementation is the difficulty in reconciling it with the organization’s culture. It’s not just that individuals within it may not want to learn new things or do things differently – it’s that every organization is a delicate ecosystem of incentives, disincentives, alliances, and hostilities. A change in information and communication technology systems can easily upset the organization’s equilibrium. Just the same, new implementations may become necessary, and at that point the challenge is not to arrive at an abstract understanding of group dynamics, but to gain the good will and participation of all the stakeholders by demonstrating that the potential benefits of the change are far greater than the threats to the status quo.
(And now for a full disclosure of financial relationship: I’ve served as a paid consultant to Kathryn’s organization, Community TechKnowledge, for some time. However, she did not ask me to endorse this white paper, and she certainly is not paying me to recommend it.)
I am not attempting to create a graphic that illustrates everyone’s ideas about the role of data in a mission-based organization. I am merely trying to illustrate my ideas.
Visualizing the role of data for mission-based organizations – Round II
Item #2 on the list notwithstanding, I am enjoying very much the opportunity to learn more about what others in the field think about (and visualize) when they ponder the role of data in our sector. Once again, I invite you to post your reflections, suggestions, and questions in the comments section here on this blog.
I firmly believe that if your organization is driven by data, you’re stopping too soon.
It’s important to roll that data (which is raw material) into information (which has been sorted and analyzed), to roll that information into knowledge (which has been enhanced by understanding of context), and to roll that knowledge into wisdom (which been enhanced by experience and intuition). From there you can proceed to good decisions, and ultimately to mission success; moreover, at this point you of course now have more data. From there, it’s an opportunity for continuous improvement and possibly even further innovation.
My challenge right now is to come up with a clear image to convey this. The one that springs naturally to my mind is linear, but trusted advisors seem to favor a more cyclical illustration.
Please take a look at these two logos (which were created by yours truly), and tell me which one gets my message across most effectively:
And please feel free to post comments here (or send me email) to elaborate on your thoughts about this!
Engage with people at all levels of the client organization so that they can learn, manage information, and communicate easily in a safe and supportive computing environment.
Use experience, skills, and knowledge to help our clients build a mature information technology function that aligns with organizational mission and goals.
Enable nonprofit organizations to use innovative and effective information technology tools to serve human needs.
Talk about mission alignment! I’ve already dedicated my professional life to these goals (plus a few others), but now I will be an integral part of an organization whose motto is “we’re better together,” rather than a lone nut! The ultimate in desired outcomes is that the world will be a better place, because the organizations that Tech Networks of Boston is serving will be succeeding in their missions.