The Imperative for High Impact: Good Works Are Not Enough

The nonprofit sector has long been doing good works with children, families, and communities, but we continue to seek a healthy society and strong communities for all children, adults, and families because opportunity, health, safety, economic security, and well-being remain elusive for millions of Americans.

Communities deserve high-impact nonprofits.

Impact is not about what nonprofits do—how many people they serve, how long they’ve been in existence, or how far their service areas reach. It’s about the positive change they achieve and whether or not it lasts. Organizations that achieve impact are influencing, either directly or indirectly, the number of people:

  • Gaining financial security and independence
  • Living safe and healthy lives
  • Moving on pathways toward educational and employment success

Organizations must stay focused on their missions and impact if we are to achieve our shared vision of a healthy society and strong communities for all children, adults, and families.

Snapshot of the Landscape

Not only are many of the personal, family, and community challenges nonprofits seek to eliminate or reduce extremely large and highly complex, the economic, political, and cultural climates are and will continue to be replete with headwinds that challenge the traditional course of human and community development work:

  • Shrinking resources
  • Increased demand for human services and supports
  • Higher expectations of nonprofits to demonstrate a return on investment
  • Disengaged and uninformed public
  • Highly partisan and polarized government

Within these volatile climates are specific conditions that nonprofits must understand and use to inform their present work and future plans:

  • Demand for effective practices and evidence-based tools to pursue them
  • Rapidly emerging, changing, and improving science and technology
  • Health care reform
  • Substantial demographic shifts related to age and ethnicity
  • Erosion of governmental funding streams
  • Movement away from fee-for-service to third-party payer models
  • Questions regarding the nonprofit value proposition
  • Redefinition of the social contract
  • Changing leadership paradigms

While specific conditions will change, this volatile operating environment is the new status quo for the nonprofit sector; consequently, strategy and execution can no longer be sequential—they must be concurrent. Organizations must embrace an adaptive planning process that is based on continuous forecasting, beta testing, and course correcting. Human-serving organizations must also boldly commit to rigorous practices around leadership, advocacy, and execution if they are to achieve their missions in the current operating environment.

Commit to High Impact

The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities believes that organizations do not achieve impact by accident, but through dedication and rigorous attention to ambitious practices and values. Therefore, it has identified the Commitments of High-Impact Nonprofit Organizations to serve as a framework and pathway for impact.

While the Alliance has identified 10 Commitments of High-Impact Nonprofit Organizations, they should not be viewed as distinct and separate. They are an interwoven framework of practices; organizations will have the most success in working to improve upon their practice and policy across all Commitments, rather than focusing only on certain ones.

Organizations that uphold the Commitments effectively focus on achieving not only immediate outcomes, but lasting impact. Further, they do not think about their work only in terms of programs and services, but rather as advancing change and supporting the vision for success defined by the children, families, and communities with whom they work.

High impact organizations make internal policy and culture changes that support and sustain improved well-being; strong, sustainable relationships; and community history and pride.

Commitments of High-Impact Nonprofits

Because the Alliance believes that organizations do not achieve impact by accident, but through dedication to rigorous practices, it has identified the following Commitments to serve as a framework for impact:

  • Leading with Vision
  • Governing for the Future
  • Executing on Mission
  • Partnering with Purpose
  • Co-Creating with Community
  • Investing in Capacity
  • Measuring that Matters
  • Innovating with Enterprise
  • Engaging All Voices
  • Advancing Equity

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