My post on Friday set off a heated debate over whether measuring organizational performance was actually more important than measuring impact. Remember, I didn’t argue that high performance nonprofits are better than high impact nonprofits, I said that high impact is the holy grail and that high performing organizations are best positioned to complete the journey towards high impact.
Three comments from highly respected, senior people in philanthropy caught my attention in particular.
I’d ask you to consider a further delineation that takes this one premise into account: “good operating performance” does not necessarily translate to ‘good social benefit and results,”…
As this discussion goes forward, I only hope we never lose sight that the discussion of “high performance” should be always be in the context of the benefit/value for those served. It can be alluring to focus on operational effectiveness, while losing sight of what it is all about. And, this is why it gives me great concern that some are seeking to use “operational metrics” as a way to assess nonprofits.
I think the distinction that Sean makes between “high performance” and “high impact” nonprofits is conceptually precise but in a practical sense not of much help…a spurious precision if you will. In the nonprofit sector – which, it is useful to recall, was specifically created to address public needs – what pragmatic sense does it make to applaud “high performance” that does not include a notion of effectiveness in meeting public needs and improving the conditions or consequences of those needs? To do so trivializes the concept of “high performance”…which is at least an aspect of what I took Mario to be saying.
I would simply add that one hallmark of high performance is the presence of a clear road map to high impact.
So the question remains, does identifying and funding high performing organizations offer the best path to philanthropy creating high impact? Or does this strategy run too great a risk of funding “good operating performance” that doesn’t turn into “good social benefit and results”? In other words, is the correlation between high performance and high impact simply spurious?
My answer in my next post.