Valuing Frontline Work


Presented by:

Lehn Benjamin, associate professor of philanthropic studies, Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Indiana University
Katya Fels Smyth, founder and CEO, Full Frame Initiative
Maria Peña, chief program officer, LIFT
Jesús Gerena, senior vice president, Family Independence Initiative


Moderated by:

Michael Slind, senior editor, Stanford Social Innovation Review

Date: Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Time: 11:00 a.m.–12:00 noon PDT, 2:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m. EDT



Over the past two decades, funders and policymakers have put more pressure on nonprofit organizations to pursue and achieve measurable outcomes. The increasing focus on performance-driven frameworks such as “pay for success” and “social return in investment” signals that such pressure will only grow more intense. For nonprofit professionals, that trend raises troubling questions: What if the ways that your organization makes a difference in people’s lives are not easily measured through conventional performance metrics? What if the logic model of your organization does not fully account for the value that you deliver through direct work with beneficiaries? Funders and policymakers also face a quandary: What if the performance data that you receive do not adequately capture the effectiveness of the nonprofits that you fund?

Lehn Benjamin, associate professor of philanthropic studies at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, will lead a discussion of what frontline nonprofit work looks like in practice—and how we can accurately measure the value of that work. Joining Benjamin will be Katya Fels Smyth, founder and CEO of the Full Frame Initiative; Maria Peña, chief program officer of LIFT; and Jesús Gerena, senior vice president of the Family Independence Initiative. In the webinar, these presenters will:

  • Explain how some of the most popular performance models used in the nonprofit sector fail to measure the true impact of what nonprofit professionals do
  • Examine the reasons why it can be so difficult—yet so important—to recognize the value that on-the-ground work delivers to beneficiaries and their communities
  • Explore examples of nonprofits that have succeeded in capturing and conveying the full value of frontline work

“Valuing Frontline Work” will be of interest to nonprofit practitioners whose organizations provide direct services to marginalized groups. The webinar will also be highly relevant to funders, consultants, evaluators, and other professionals who support organizations that engage in such work. During the latter half of the session, registrants will be able to direct questions to Benjamin, Smyth, Peña, and Gerena. Michael Slind of Stanford Social Innovation Review will moderate the webinar.

Price: $49, which includes access to the live webinar; unlimited access to the webinar as many times as you’d like for twelve months; and downloadable slides. 



Speaker Bios


Lehn Benjamin, associate professor of philanthropic studies, Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

Lehn Benjamin has spent almost 25 years working on issues facing marginalized communities. Her research examines how nonprofit organizations challenge and reinforce the marginalization of poor communities and the consequences for democratic citizenship. She has focused specifically on how performance and accountability requirements shape the work of nonprofits. Her recent research seeks to shed light on these questions by looking at the daily work of frontline staff and the experience of the people they serve. Prior to joining the faculty at IU, She worked in South Africa during the democratic transition, on the Senate Banking Committee, Subcommittee for Housing and Urban Affairs and for the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund. 

Katya Fels Smyth, founder of CEO, Full Frame Initiative

Katya Fels Smyth is the founder and CEO of FFI, a nonprofit working nationally to change systems so people, families and communities facing poverty, violence and trauma have the supports, tools and resources they need to thrive. She has over two decades of experience working with communities, nonprofits and public systems to design, implement and evaluate responses to the intersection of poverty, violence and trauma. A recipient of several social entrepreneurship awards and fellowships, Fels Smyth speaks, publishes and provides consultation nationally.

Maria Peña, chief program and cities officer, LIFT

As chief program and cities officer, Maria Peña is responsible for innovating LIFT’s program and managing performance across the six cities in which LIFT operates.  Prior to LIFT, Peña served as global head of economic development at Vital Voices, an international NGO founded by Hillary Clinton to support women’s leadership globally. Before that, Peña served in various roles at Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting, and IBM Consulting, specializing in entrepreneurship, process improvement, and risk advisory. Peña holds a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania and enjoys living in the Washington, DC area with her husband Ben and three-year old son Riley. 

Jesús Gerena, senior vice president, Family Independence Initiative
Twitter: @fiinational

Jesús Gerena joined FII in 2010, bringing more than 15 years of experience as a community organizer. Jesús is a member and co-chair of the English for New Bostonians Oversight Committee, and serves as president of the board for the New England Grassroots Environment Fund. Prior to joining FII, he served as the deputy director of the Hyde Square Task Force, a program dedicated to empowering and engaging youth in turbulent neighborhoods. He is a cofounder of the Community Fellows Program a program of the Institute for Nonprofit Management and Leadership at Boston University School of Management. Gerena was recently named a Barr Fellow by the Boston-based Barr Foundation; he was selected for his contribution to the city and his potential to drive positive change for years to come. 

Michael Slind, senior editor, Stanford Social Innovation Review

Michael Slind is senior editor of Stanford Social Innovation Review. He has extensive experience as a writer, editor, and publishing professional. Slind is coauthor, with Boris Groysberg, of Talk, Inc.: How Trusted Leaders Use Conversation to Power Their Organizations (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012). Previously, he worked at Harvard Business School, where he wrote widely used case studies on corporate strategy and entrepreneurial management. Earlier in his career, he served as managing editor and as a senior editor at Fast Company magazine.