Monday, August 1, 2011

Success by Design

Innovation and Improvement in the Nonprofit Sector
Peter York – TCC Group

Similar to many organizations, the Philadelphia Zoo got to a point where it needed to assess how well it was doing in meeting its ambitious goals. In the mid-1990s the zoo had crafted a new mission, which called for advancing “discovery, understanding, and stewardship of the natural world.”

Years went by. Exhibits were built, opened and closed, and millions of people stepped through the zoo’s doors. And yet, how far had this experience gone in shaping visitors’ attitudes? Even more profoundly, could the zoo take credit for shifting people’s actions, for turning them into the stewards it had envisioned?

The zoo’s efforts to answer these questions suggest a new approach to learning that may no longer warrant the label “program evaluation” as it is typically used in nonprofit sector – to prove something to an audience of funders or donors looking for validation of an entire program’s right to exist.  Instead, it seeks to serve the people who create and design programs — the on-the-ground social innovators who benefit from direct insights that improve on their interventions. In other words, it functions like R&D in the private sector, providing a specific look at what is actually working.

So, why is R&D so important to the social sector? TCC Group's data from nearly 2,500 nonprofits provides statistically significant evidence that organizations whose leaders engage in R&D practices (only 5% of all nonprofits surveyed) are more sustainable -- nearly 2.5 times more likely to grow at or above the annual rate of inflation.

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