Tag Archives: outcomes
So now we have launched TNB Labs, and all sorts of queries are starting to come in – not just from folks who needs services, but also from folks who want to be part of our circle of mavens who provide services.
From the beginning, we have thought of TNB Labs as a lean organization, nurturing a community of practice that would provide fractional resources to nonprofits that need data and evaluation services.
What follow here are some personal reflections on mobilizing a community of practice. These are free associations, based on a recent conversation with Susan Labandibar. Please don’t regard these ideas as official TNB Labs policy, but as an invitation to engage in your own free associations.
Let’s talk about a hypothetical scenario.
Let’s say that you are a full time employee of a medium-size nonprofit organization. Your job title is “data analyst.” By temperament and training, you are a data geek, and you are proud of using your powers for good. You are passionate about the importance of your work, because it helps your organization document the ways in which it is making the world a better place, while also identifying ways that it could do even better.
However, there are a few things that aren’t perfect about your job:
1) You’re the only person with any kind information technology training at your organization.
1a) This means that you don’t really have people with whom you can regularly compare notes about the intersection of technology and the nonprofit sector.
1b) It also means that you are asked to do all sorts of tasks that aren’t in your areas of interest or expertise, because you are reputed to “know all about computers.” In vain, you do your best to explain that social media campaigns require a different skill set from data analysis, even though there could be some overlap.
2) You’re interested in new challenges, such as becoming an evaluation specialist. However, you don’t want to quit your job at a nonprofit organization that you love, even though you don’t see opportunities opening up there.
3) You’d like to get some experience with the challenges at other nonprofits, but you don’t really want to moonlight, because that implies doing something underhanded, without the knowledge of your home organization.
How about sunlighting? (Not to be confused with the Sunlight Foundation, which is a great and entirely unrelated organization with a great and entirely different mission.)
Here’s how sunlighting might work for you:
1) You join the TNB Labs Community of Practice, which has regular meetings for peer support and professional development.
2) You work with TNB Labs and your home organization to create a three-cornered agreement, so that a certain percentage of your time is devoted to assignments from TNB Labs to provide services at other nonprofits. (That’s what we mean by “fractional resources.”) It’s all done in an ethical and above-board manner. TNB Labs takes responsibility for finding assignments, invoicing the client organizations, and paying you. It might even represent a cost saving for your home organization; they can hire an entry level person at a lower rate to do some of your routine tasks. It will mean less boredom for you, and valuable on-the-job experience for the entry level person.
3) In accordance with nonprofit client demand and your preferences, your potential TNB Labs assignments will vary. They might involve 2 hours or 200 hours of time for a one time-project, or they might involve an hour or a day every week for three years.
4) TNB Labs’ share will be an administrative fee. This will be an excellent value for the client nonprofit, because they can get a fraction of the time of a first-rate professional (that’s you) without having to add another full time position to their payroll for a set of tasks that doesn’t require a full time person.
If you’re a nonprofit data analyst, would you consider this scenario?
If you’re an executive at a nonprofit organization that needs data analysis or evaluation services, would you consider going to TNB Labs for help from a member of our community of practice?
I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments section!
It’s not just a half-day outcomes management training for nonprofit executives – it’s an occasion for rejoicing!
For more than two years, I have been worrying aloud about the lack of training for nonprofit professionals who want to lead their organizations in implementing outcomes management and data visualization. Today I’m rejoicing, because Tech Networks of Boston opened registration for a free (and sales-pitch-free) half-day outcomes management training for nonprofit executives.
It’s happening in April because some wonderful allies have stepped up – such as TNB’s co-hosts, the Mel King Institute and the College of Public and Community Service at the University of Massachusetts, and the wonderful Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk of Community TechKnowledge, who will serve as our trainer.
This isn’t the full series of three day-long trainings on outcomes management and outcomes data visualization that I had originally envisioned, and that I still hope we can organize. If we are able to do that, the other trainers will be the equally wonderful Beth Kanter and Georges Grinstein. Right now, I’m looking at plans for Kathryn’s half-day outcomes management training as a miracle in itself, but also as the thin edge of the wedge. (If you prefer more up to date jargon, you can call it a “proof of concept.”)
Of course, my thinking has become even more grandiose since I originally came up with the idea of a three-day outcomes/data viz training series. Now I’m thinking in terms of a “Massachusetts Institute of Nonprofit Technology,” in which the first initiative would be a degree program in nonprofit data analysis.
Let’s take this training opportunity, which will be brief in comparison to the more elaborate programs that I’ve envisioned, and build on it!
How much fun is the Nonprofit Technology Conference? This much fun. (Plus some thoughts about shifting from tactical to strategic support of nonprofit organizations.)
The good folks of Netsuite.Org had a great idea for their exhibit area at the Nonprofit Technology Conference this year. They asked attendees to describe their technology visions in three words. I chose “shared” “data,” and “outcomes.” and an artist quickly drew up a visual to express this. (Unfortunately, I did not note down her name; I hope I can find it in order to give her proper credit for her work.) The photo shown above was taken by Peggy Duvette, and as you can see, I was delighted to see this concept, which is part of Tech Networks of Boston’s strategic thinking, become part of the patchwork quilt of ideas that were being expressed.
Here’s a close-up of the TNB concept:
At TNB, we are thinking more and more about collaborative technology management – not just in terms of how we work with our nonprofit clients, but also about how clusters of NTAPs and nonprofits can work together toward a shared long term goal. We have great relationships (and in many cases, shared nonprofit clients) with some great local nonprofit technology assistance providers, such as Annkissam* and 501Partners. The three NTAPs are already collaborating on a series of sales-pitch-free evenings in which local nonprofit professionals are offered pro bono tech consultations.
However, the potential exists to do so much more, especially considering how many clients we share.
Wouldn’t it be great if the three NTAPs could offer their shared clients the following:
2) Shared best practices for clusters of nonprofits with similar programs, operations, or missions.
The joy of #15NTC is in realizing that although we are just three NTAPs in one region, we are part of a wider movement. In fact, if you were to look at the entire collection of artist’s renderings that were done at the Netsuite.Org exhibit area, you’d see that many nonprofit organizations are on the cusp of dreaming this dream. Most of in the nonprofit sector understand that for lasting positive change in the world, one program at a single nonprofit organization is not enough. The future is in sharing and coordinating our work. What if nonprofit technology assistance providers started with that challenge, rather than the challenge of keeping a network server from crashing? The emphasis would shift from the tactical support of nonprofits to the strategic support of their missions. And by “missions,” I don’t mean vague statements; I mean specific (and even quantifiable) positive changes that nonprofit profits have committed themselves to delivering to their stakeholders.
Because mission achievement is why we all get up in the morning to do our jobs.
And because building a nonprofit technology movement that supports mission achievement is the best possible reason for participating in the Nonprofit Technology Conference.
* I also serve Annkissam directly as a consultant.
Laura Beals, who is director of evaluation at Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Boston, published a great article on the NTEN blog earlier this month, called “Are You an ‘Accidental Evaluator?’ “
I think that this is a great question to ask, because many nonprofit professionals currently managing program evaluation within small nonprofits are indeed coming to the task with less preparation than they would like. Perhaps they are program directors, or grant writers, or chief financial officers, or database administrators. And now the pressure is on them to come up with numbers that show that their organizations are actually creating the positive change in the world that the organization has promised to deliver.
In fact, many of today’s accidental evaluators at nonprofits are in the same position that accidental techies were ten or fifteen years ago.
I respectfully disagree with those of my esteemed colleagues who want to help nonprofit professionals by reassuring them that they don’t have to meet the standards of academic peer reviewed journals when they use data to tell their stories. While it’s true that the level of rigor required for nonprofit programmatic evaluation is much less strict, it’s not enough to point this out and encourage nonprofit professionals to relax. Those nonprofit professionals are running organizations with a special legal status that make them answerable to the public and responsible for contributing to the common good. This is a serious ethical obligation.
From my point of view, those of us who understand the importance of evaluation in the nonprofit sector should be working to deliver appropriate forms of professional development to “accidental evaluators,” just as NTEN has labored mightily to deliver professional development to “accidental techies.”
In fact, NTEN itself is in a very good position to assist “accidental evaluators,” because many technology topics are intimately tied up with nonprofit evaluation, such as database development, data integration, and data visualization. Indeed, if you look at some the companion articles on the NTEN blog, you’ll see that this effort is underway:
- How Small Organizations Can Use Affordable ICT-tools to Measure Impact
- On Transparency, Data, and Trust
- Measuring What Matters: Outcome-based Evaluation in Arts and Social Justice Projects
I’m pleased to say that here in Boston we’re actively addressing this. For example, Laura and her wonderful JF&CS colleague Noah Schectman recently led a meeting of local nonprofit professionals who are seeking to improve their skills in bridging between evaluation and technology. A pivotal moment at this session came when the executive director of a tiny nonprofit raised her hand and asked Noah, “Will you be my best friend?” Noah’s face lit up, and he told her that he would. That’s the kind of reassurance that we should be offering nonprofit professionals who feel overwhelmed; we should be telling them that support and training are on the way.