Measuring Effectiveness

If you’ve followed along with my thinking on this blog, you’ll note that I continue to come home to one major point: measuring the value of our work.

I’ve posted about it twice recently:

Will We Ever Effectively Measure the Public Value of Museums? (November 15, 2017)

Museums and Economic Impact (November 30, 2017)

This past December 11, the ever-interesting and truly engaging Vu Le of the incredible (yes, incredible) Nonprofit AF blog addressed the topic as well in his post How the Concept of Effectiveness has Screwed Nonprofits and the People We Serve.

Rainier Valley Corps, which Vu leads, is a nonprofit that “promotes social justice by developing leaders of color, strengthening organizations led by communities of color, and fostering collaboration between diverse communities.”

What Vu has done here, very effectively, is discussed how funders’ concepts of a nonprofit’s effectiveness is inherently exclusive in its practice. This is a different — but no less important — take on the value equation than what I typically fret over (more on that below).

He quotes an article by Kathleen Enright, CEO of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations:

“[The] work to define effectiveness has typically come from white organizations — prominent consulting firms, think tanks, universities, philanthropy and management support organizations. These institutions — and I count GEO among them — have advanced ideas about effectiveness that have unwittingly perpetuated or even exacerbated inequity in the nonprofit sector.”

Like most of what he writes, Vu’s post really gave me pause. It is different than how I’ve long thought of the issue of public value — particularly as it pertains to history organizations and museums. Vu brings up some points that has spurred my thinking and I thought maybe it would for you too.

In sum, he writes, “Effectiveness has been defined mainly by white organizations, and because #EffectivenessSoWhite, it has a whole bunch of flaws and causes a lot of problems.”

Here are the main points he made about predominantly white organizations defining effectiveness but you really need to READ THE WHOLE THING:

  1. It ignores the voices of the people most affected by injustice.
  2. It uses flawed concepts of data and evaluation.
  3. It minimizes complexity.
  4. It is short-term-focused.
  5. It punishes failure, and rewards risk-aversion.
  6. It uses harmful proxies for quality.
  7. It ignores the intrinsic worth of individuals.
  8. It favors larger, mostly-white-led organizations.

It’s important that you READ THE ENTIRE POST because I don’t want to summarize it too much and have you miss some of Vu’s key messages. (Plus, one of the joys of reading online writings is discovering other people’s inspiration.) And Vu is definitely an inspiration of mine.

In sum, while I’m thinking about and/or promoting notions of measuring value (aka “effectiveness”), I need to better keep in mind some of these core precepts but also the solutions he posits (don’t you love it when a writer offers not just a problem, but also a solution?).

To effectively measure effectiveness (see what I did there?), we must, he writes:

  1. Ground “effectiveness” on race, equity, and social justice.
  2. See Representation as essential to effectiveness.
  3. Trust the people most affected to define effectiveness.
  4. Invest in organizations holistically.
  5. Consider the entire sector when measuring effectiveness

Take note that none of Vu’s solutions are exclusive to nonprofits that serve communities of color. I firmly believe that the first two are two of the pillars of sustainability for our field in the immediate- and long-term. And the other three should be major considerations for funders, should they not?

I realize that it’s not only up to us to find a measure of the value of our institutions, but we have an important role to play. Vu is speaking not only for his own organization, but for nonprofits in general. The history field addressed this more than a decade ago at the Kykuit summit (see my blog post for its recommendations — several address funders).

How are you engaged in these discussions with funders and stakeholders? What ways do you think we can move the needle? Please share your thoughts.

A twenty-year veteran of the nonprofit world, Bob Beatty is founder of The Lyndhurst Group, a history, museum, and nonprofit consulting firm providing community-focused engagement strategies for institutional planning, organizational assessments, and interpretive direction.

President of The Lyndhurst Group, a history, museum, and nonprofit firm providing community-focused strategies for planning, assessment, and interpretation.