Impact is not about what you do—how many people you serve, how long you’ve been in existence, or how far your service area reaches. It’s about the positive change you achieve and whether or not it lasts.
Because the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities believes that organizations do not achieve impact by accident but through dedication and rigorous attention to high standards, we’ve identified the following Commitments to deliver foundational direction in achieving lasting impact:
It is the Alliance’s mission to help its network master all of the Commitments, so that, together, we can realize our vision of a healthy society and strong communities for all children, adults, and families. The Alliance will provide organizations with tools to assess and benchmark their current levels of competency in each of the Commitments, and it will organize all membership offerings around helping organizations elevate their proficiency in the specific areas.
The Commitments were identified through an extensive literature review, Disruptive Forces: Driving a Human Services Revolution, member engagement and feedback, and the Alliance’s more than 100 years of experience in working with the human services sector.
These foundational Commitments assert that nonprofit organizations cannot afford to rely on leadership styles and governance models that worked in the past. If they are to succeed in the uncertain economic, political, and technological climates, leaders cannot focus on the mechanics of management and boards of directors cannot focus on operational issues.
Leaders at all levels are courageous and disruptive. They embrace new ideas and are open to looking outside of traditional relationships and hierarchies. Those who lead with vision are not deterred by complexity or ambiguity; when confronted by challenges, they listen carefully and think critically. They are among their organizations’ best ambassadors and champions of the cause.
Governing boards of high-impact nonprofits analyze market, political, and practice trends to define the organization’s preferred future and ensure mission alignment. They push and support their organizations in pursuing lofty goals, taking risks, and innovating. They are guardians of the horizon, and they do this by helping their organizations define and realize their future aspirations, rather than focusing on solving operational problems.
Strategic Organizational Commitments
Because the challenges communities face are highly complex, adhering to these intermediary Commitments helps organizations gain traction. To achieve the most impact, organizations will maintain focus by aligning all programs and services to their missions and build networks with diverse partners. High-impact nonprofits grow community capacity and quickly mobilize around emerging community needs. They also continually invest in and improve their operating systems and business functions.
To execute on mission, organizations must articulate a clear purpose, target audience, and intended results of their efforts. High-impact organizations refuse to deplete resources across jumbled programs, services, and activities, even if it means rejecting funding. They continually examine their programs to assess relevancy to mission and divest those that are misaligned.
High-impact organizations’ budgets position them for the future and are used, first and foremost, as policy and strategy guides, as opposed to binding documents. They continually improve the operating systems and business functions that support resource generation and high performance. Organizations raise unrestricted revenue to allow risk taking, finance good overhead, and scale what works. High-impact organizations seek and identify efficiencies to reinvest dollars in their missions.
High-impact organizations relentlessly focus on achieving outcomes tied to meaningful, measurable change in lives, systems, and communities. They infuse performance management in all levels of their organizations. Staff relish the ability to improve their approaches and inform their decisions with internal and external data, research, and practice evidence. Organizations also commit to using evidence to educate funders, government agencies, and the public on the impact of their social interventions.
As opposed to diluting their potential for impact across a diverse spectrum of programs, organizations will address the complexity of social problems through diverse networks that revolve around shared visions and values. Those who partner with purpose share control around program implementation, funding, and recognition to further the cause.
Cultural and Values Commitments
A set of leaders and services alone will not translate to high impact. These Commitments enhance programs and operations by attuning staff to a culture of high impact. They thoughtfully push themselves to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently, whether it is through researching best practices, monitoring internal performance, or taking risks. Staff of high-impact organizations also are led by their values of inclusiveness and equity, ensuring that every voice is heard and has influence.
By being nimble and connected to community, high-impact organizations are uniquely positioned to identify and efficiently mobilize around emerging needs, even if the work goes outside of the scope of contracts and funding commitments. Organizations work with and through their communities to build solutions that maximize their assets. Residents view organizations as vital institutions and economic engines, and they have a sense of shared ownership in the missions.
Through cultures of innovation, staff are comfortable with ambiguity, and they recognize that uncertainty often inspires creativity. High-impact organizations encourage staff in all positions at all levels to challenge the status quo and take calculated risks. Instead of punishing failure, they reward it along with success, only punishing inaction.
High-impact organizations know that placing residents and clients at the center of decision making and goal setting achieves meaningful and durable outcomes for individuals, families, and communities. Their practices, policies, and relationships all reflect a person-centered, asset-based orientation. Through this orientation, organizations create multiple pathways through which individuals can provide feedback that shapes their own paths and that of the organization and broader community.
High-impact organizations understand that equity is central to human development. Instead of viewing advocacy efforts as separate from their program or service delivery, organizations view it as part of their social justice orientation to address issues of disparity and disproportionality. They tackle relationships that cause and sustain inequity and seek to reduce the social exclusion of underrepresented and marginalized communities in society and social processes.