Recently, the UMKC Bloch School of Management was host to the Third Annual Midwest Symposium on Social Entrepreneurship. The symposium brought together some of the brightest minds in nonprofit, low-profit, and socially minded for-profit organizations to discuss the challenges associated with social entrepreneurship.
For those of you who were not fortunate enough to attend never fear, I paid ample attention and below are a few thoughts on the discussions that took place.
1.) Mission and values– These statements define an organization, and if not, then you are doing something wrong. When it comes to program evaluation, the organizational mission and values set the standard for what you want to do. Too broad and you will never achieve your goal (ex. The organization dedicated to world peace who only has $100,000 in the bank) as well as undermine all the things that your program did accomplish. This carries over to marketing where the mission and values have to be at the core of your messaging to the community about what motivates you and your colleagues to come into work and perform the best they can. Mission and values are an expression of the energy that you like to see in everything your program does, and the failure to carefully craft these statements can show all across your organization. You can check out our United Way of Wyandotte County mission here.
2.) My goal is to put myself out of business– I hate this phrase, and so do most funders. It is a nice rhetorical ploy that probably wooed everyone the first time it was used, but there are three problems with it. First, if you don’t have a business plan for putting yourself out of business in the next 3-5 years, then it is just empty talk. Second, it is naïve to think that your program can overcome the major socioeconomic forces often at the root of many problems nonprofits face. You are not going out of business because your business is unmet needs and they will (more than likely) always exist. Third, it is over-used and has no meaning. My advice: drop it from your “asks” to funders.
3.) Telling your unique story is key to marketing – A brief caveat to the comment I just made is that there is a kernel of truth to the statement “my goal is to put myself out of business.” Many programs exist because of unmet needs in education, income, and health which is a bureaucratic way of expressing that people are suffering in a multitude of ways. Most people are part of the nonprofit sector because they want to alleviate that suffering and have found jobs that allow them to take on that role. Conveying the true motivation of an organization and the stories of why people are working there often becomes lost or watered down when decisions get made about website design or marketing. You must focus on blending design with your motivation for being in order to generate an effective way of communicating about what your organization does.
4.) Why evaluate? – I could go through the laundry list of reasons to evaluate programs (and I basically have in other blog posts), but I want to focus on the socially constructed nature of evaluation standards. The questions programs and funders need to ask is why evaluate? What is the purpose of that evaluation? Is it to improve performance? To know that money was well invested? One of the most common things I hear is that we need program evaluation data so that we can demonstrate our organization works when we are designing fundraising/marketing materials. The problem is that most of the ways you measure program performance do not translate into anything that a normal person will be compelled by. Most people do not care about the hard science of measuring effectiveness or efficiency, and indicators are often crafted around language that sounds good to an administrator (e.g. the phrase “unmet need”) as opposed to rhetoric that provides a persuasive tool to tell people about the amazing work your program has performed. I bring up this notion of social construction, because there is no one right way to evaluate a program and many of the standards we use (indicators/outcomes) may not be appropriate for the ends we would like to use those standards for (marketing our programs to donors). This is an issue for both funders and agencies because we need to make sure if we are undertaking an effort to conduct evaluations, then the evaluation needs to be conducted in line with the goals we intend for it to serve.