All this year, I have been writing a blue streak — here, here, and here — on the topic of “managing to outcomes.” In these articles:

  • I’ve argued that all but the smallest nonprofits have a mission-critical need and responsibility to make collecting, analyzing, and using information a core management function;
  • I’ve shared my fear that many current efforts to collect and use information “major on minors” — that is, leaders get bogged down in the details of measurement and metrics while losing sight of what they’re trying to accomplish for those they serve;
  • And I’ve highlighted a handful of nonprofit innovators who are showing what is possible when organizations create a culture of information-based introspection and performance-management systems that allow them to use and apply the information they need on an ongoing basis.

Now, I want to offer some thoughts on what the nonprofit community and those that serve it can do to nurture and support the profound culture change that managing to outcomes requires.

In brief, I believe there are two overarching actions that the nonprofit community must take to change the norms in our sector. First, we must demonstrate the desirability of outcomes-based management to increase demand and acceptance. We can do this by showing what’s possible, illustrating how managing to outcomes helps nonprofits do what they do better, and rewarding successful adoption of outcomes-based management that leads to increased benefit for those served. A great example of this can be seen in the documentary “Saving Philanthropy,” now in production.

Second, we must enhance the feasibility of outcomes-based management. We can do this by providing financial incentives, strategic assistance to encourage leadership to engage, and the tactical help to make it easier for motivated nonprofits to invest the tremendous time and effort required to shift their culture to one that can rigorously manage to outcomes.

The Missionary Sell
Back when I was in the high-tech industry, we used the term “missionary sell” to describe the introduction of a new product or service that would require a change in process or culture, always extremely challenging. We focused our initial efforts on finding those organizations and catalytic leaders that were already “believers” or strongly predisposed to the new concept. We didn’t allow time and effort to be diluted by the “non-believers.” Instead, we concentrated our resources on helping the pioneers be successful in their implementation. Then, as Geoffrey Moore conveyed so well in his 1991 book Crossing the Chasm, we used this beachhead of demonstrated value to reach out to the more traditional institutions and to spread the word to larger markets for much broader acceptance.

I believe we need the same missionary-sell approach here. I urge a relentless focus on ferreting out, supporting, and sharing the results of those early adopters who are demonstrating the feasibility and desirability of outcomes-based management. This cadre of successful nonprofits and their catalytic leadership can then provide an invaluable asset from which to build a broader movement of nonprofits that want to do good better.

Doing Good Better
Building on the success of leaders like these, we could design an initiative — let’s call it Doing Good Better, to borrow an evocative (if overused) phrase — to develop the building blocks for making outcomes-based management the norm in our sector. Our motivation should not be the “elegance” of outcome metrics and management systems. We would do this for one reason only: to create meaningful, measurable, sustainable benefit for those served!

In my next SSIR blog post, I will offer some concrete thoughts on potential elements of a plan of action. If you don’t want to wait, click here to read an extended version of my thoughts on a Doing Good Better plan.