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Field Notes

How Root Cause Helps Nonprofit Leaders Get Smarter

May 26, 2015

I am often humbled by the amazing nonprofit leaders with whom I have the opportunity to work as a senior consultant at Root Cause. Our Peer Performance Exchange team recently completed organizational health and program quality assessments for 12 nonprofits across the country. For the past couple of months we’ve been debriefing the results of the assessments with each organization. I’m often blown away by what these leaders are saying about how our work together is opening their eyes to new ways of thinking, helping them see challenges that they weren’t aware of, and offering solutions that they hadn’t thought of. Below are some snippets of a handful of conversations that made me extra proud of the work that we do at Root Cause.

Marla Simpson is the Executive Director of Brooklyn Community Services (BCS), a New York City nonprofit that strives to ensure opportunity for all to learn, grow and contribute to One Brooklyn Community. Reflecting on our recent efforts to understand and consider a very unusual set of circumstances to fairly assess the financial sustainability of the organization using standardized metrics, Marla thanked us for our ability to understand nuance and ask pressing questions. She told us that that the entire process “made her smarter as an executive director.”

Danielle Ferrier is the Executive Director of Rediscovery and YouthHarbors at the Justice Resource Institute (JRI) in Massachusetts. YouthHarbors supports homeless and unaccompanied high schools students to find stable housing, develop life skills, graduate high school and become self-sufficient adults. She recently reflected on an analysis my team did of the youth career development aspect of the YouthHarbors comprehensive housing and support program. “At first I was very surprised by the report, but upon further reflection I realized that this analysis and way of thinking about our program opens us up to a whole new set of funders that we haven’t worked with in the past.”

Sharon Cohen is the Executive Director of Figure Skating In Harlem (FSH), a New York City nonprofit combining the power of education with the discipline of figure skating to transform young lives and help underserved girls achieve academic success, physical health and emotional well-being. Sharon and her team emphasized that the assessment came at the right time for them, as they are thinking about how to take the FSH model to a new city. “The need for a very tight performance measurement system that you highlighted resonated with me. We know we are doing good work here in Harlem and will need to make sure our metrics are tight as we expand. This is how we will be able to high-quality programming and results across the board.”

Kareem Moody is the director of the Network For Student Success at Pulaski Technical College in Little Rock, AR. The Network promotes and creates access to supportive relationships that help African-American males overcome barriers to college graduation. Reflecting on the assessment of his program, Kareem said, “The assessment process and report keeps us honest about where we are. We are very passionate about our program, but we needed the objective data and the external insights to be able to clearly think about and plan for the future. Now we have a clear baseline and realistic goals.”

At Root Cause we work with nonprofits and funders that are big and small, leaders who are new and those who are seasoned. We pride ourselves on being flexible and nimble, being able to meet each leader where he or she is, asking tough questions, and delivering actionable results. I’m particularly proud of our team who conducted the analysis and continue to support these leaders: Ankita Jhaveri, Anne La, Molly O’Donnell, Alicia Rule, and Mo Klaehne. The impact that they have (and continue to have) on these (and many more) organizations will last for many years to come.

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