#h#A Good, Hard Look At Nonprofit Success#/h#
David Grant, president and CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, loves the synergy of interdisciplinary activity. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in English from Princeton University, he sought more of an intellectual mix in the American studies program at the University of Michigan, where he got a master’s degree in 1974.
It was in graduate school that Grant decided he wanted to teach high school, which he did for many years, first at Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, then at Milton Academy. But teaching also led him into new, but related directions. In 1976, as an outgrowth of teaching American literature, he developed a one-man show as Mark Twain that he has taken all around the world. "For a period I was the poor man’s Hal Holbrook," says Grant. "I spoke at schools and in concert halls, retracing Mark Twain’s round-the-world lecture tour of the 1890s."
That tour, during a 1982 sabbatical, ushered in a truly interdisciplinary joint venture with his wife, Nancy Boyd Grant, which brought together his summers managing a full-service family camp for the Appalachian Mountain Club and winters at Milton Academy south of Boston. He convinced the academy to buy a school in Vermont that had gone out of business so that he and his wife could create an adjunct environmental program.
As founding directors of the Mountain School of Milton Academy, the couple developed a semester-long, interdisciplinary environmental curriculum for 11th graders from all over the country. Studying resource management issues by living them, explains Grant, students cook their own meals and heat the buildings from the school’s wood lots. "They also took five academic courses, all revolving around an essential question about humankind’s relationship with the natural world at the end of the 20th century," he says.
Out in the real world a curriculum like this would have been hard to pull off. "Interdisciplinary learning is something a lot strive for," observes Grant, "but it is hard in existing schools because of existing structures that separate disciplines." But this school was created to be interdisciplinary, letting the central question carry the 45 students into different fields of study.
When the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation was looking for a new director in 1998, Grant’s name came up. It happened that the different pies in which Grant had his fingers were identical to the three primary focus areas of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation – education, the environment, and the arts.
Grant is speaking on "Thinking Differently about Assessment: Leading Your Organization to Non-Profit Success," on Thursday, January 31, at 7:45 a.m. at the Marriott Princeton Hotel and Conference Center. This nonprofit leadership forum is sponsored by the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce. For more information, call 609-924-1776.
Immediately preceding his tenure at Dodge, Grant spent four years doing workshops around the country on educational assessment and curriculum design. Used to interdisciplinary thinking, he realized, when he got to Dodge, that many of the principles behind educational assessment were transferable to nonprofit organizations.
The assessment initiative Grant has brought to Dodge provides its grantees with a format where colleagues may discuss what matters to them and what success looks like. The initiative is encapsulated in nine principles:
The primary purpose of assessment is to improve performance, not evaluate it or judge it. Having had more experience than they would like with the A-to-F grading schemes of most school systems and the performance appraisals that determine longevity and merit in the workplace, most people assume the purpose of assessment is to judge and rate. But the assessment process Grant touts is self-analytical and will transform a nonprofit into a learning organization, one that seeks constant improvement through learning together.
Good assessment requires being clear. Goals, standards to which you aspire, and the criteria by which you would measure success get lip service, but people don’t actually do it, observes Grant. As a leader Grant must both convince his grantees that this self-analysis is necessary and ensure that they set aside the time it requires. "You never get to it unless you protect the time," he warns. "It doesn’t have the urgency that a pile of E-mails do." He devotes three to four days a month to doing assessment workshops and follow-up sessions.
The questions he asks an organization include: What are we trying to do here? What would it look like if we succeeded? What standards are we aspiring to? By what criteria would we judge the success of our work?
Peter Forbes, executive director of the Center for Whole Communities, one of Dodge’s grantees, ties self-knowledge to the potential for social change. "We wanted to figure out what matters most to us, because we’re at a time in our history when it felt like we needed to remind ourselves how we could make the most amount of change?" he observes in an interview posted on the Dodge website.
For Grant, figuring out what mattered to his organization was a long process. To jumpstart the process, he collected the best writings he could find on the role that land plays in our culture, and published it in 10 chapters. He then discussed one chapter a week in a 750-person listserv consisting of $1,000 donors, staff, board, advisory councils, and the authors. The discussion was fully egalitarian and respectful but raised some thorny questions. For example, the morality of second homes. The next step was a week-long retreat, followed by others in subsequent years.
Measure what matters. Often these serious discussions reveal that what matters most to an organization is not necessarily measurable in dollars and cents. The Center for Whole Communities had been evaluating its success in terms of acres and dollars, but what the staff realized through the assessment process was that although saving individual parcels was really important, what they were really after was social change.
Their next challenge was figuring out how to measure it. Grant helped them out with simple advice – describing what they wanted to achieve could be just as powerful as quantifying and analyzing it.
Plan backwards. Figuring out how to get the information you need to measure can be dicey. Grant offers the example of a social service agency that offers a workshop attended by 100 people. Those numbers tell nothing about the people’s experience at the workshop, and an evaluation where people rate its helpfulness tells little more. What really matters is whether or not the participants ever used the information from the workshop and how well they used it. But that data is much harder to get.
This is where planning backwards comes in. The planners must ask themselves how to get information about whether the attendees use the information from the workshop with their own clients. To get this information, they might need to provide an incentive for participants to be part of a follow-up study or even invite them to help design a post-workshop activity.
Assessment that improves performance involves timely feedback. This feedback needs to be descriptive of what is happening rather than praising or blaming. It needs to be contextual, taking into account goals, standards, and criteria for success. Feedback is information that helps people get better at what they do, and it can be in the form of either words or data.
Use the rubric. Eventually all of the exploratory work accomplished by Forbes’s organization was captured in a measurement tool called a rubric. The rubric gave them a place to put the descriptive information they had gathered about what the organization was trying to achieve. It is organized according to four levels of leadership strategy, from working alone or with a circle of friends to collaboration and community building.
"The rubric is a tool everybody can use," says Grant. "It illustrates principles easily." For the task of conducting effective meetings, the possibilities range from "Leader unable to engage others in problem-solving meetings that can lead to a solution to community concerns" to "Leader uses the techniques for successful meetings before, during, and after a meeting."
"A rubric is not some absolute thing," he continues. "The key is to have a way to easily describe what you are doing now and what it might look like to do it better. It’s a tool as opposed to an end in itself."
Grant contends that rubrics change what an organization does. "You might take level of performance that you might associate with stellar performance and make it more your standard because you have taken the time to identify it," he says.
He has seen evidence of the rubric’s power in the one that Dodge has created about its website visits. "It provides a format for a conversation that either might not have happened or might have been forgotten," he says, "but we had a place to put it." It specifies, for example, what things to do and not to do during a site visit as well as specifics about what to do after the visit, whether that is a note expressing appreciation for an organization’s time or a copy of a book that relates to discussion during the visit.
Think variety. Good assessment requires a variety of measures, data, and feedback, with tools like questionnaires, surveys, interviews, focus groups, follow-up studies, and use of outside evaluators.
Good assessment is ongoing. It is about continuous improvement. It is built into the work, informing and improving it, not something left until the end.
Done collectively, assessment builds community.
Grant grew up in the 1950s in Baltimore, where his father was businessman and his mother a homemaker. He met his wife, who now works for New Jersey Seeds, during the summer of 1974 in an a capella singing group in Washington, DC.
The assessment initiative is not something that the Dodge foundation has imposed on its grantees but Grant offers it as a powerful tool to help organizations translate ideas and aspirations into action, in a way that becomes part of their culture. It facilitates the core conversations for any enterprise, particularly for nonprofit organizations, where success is almost always qualitative as opposed to quantitative.
"This kind of assessment work builds community," says Grant. "I have found that it is a way of working together that is really positive, not about personalities or right and wrong, but about turning aspirations into actions, literally getting on the same page."
– Michele Alperin
Thursday, January 31
#h#The `Power Hour’ Is At Hand#/h#
On Thursday, January 31, at 10 a.m., the Small Business Development Center at the College of New Jersey will kick off its first "Power Hour," a planned monthly program aimed at connecting business owners with experts for free advisory services. The event takes place at the SBDC office on the TCNJ campus. Registration is necessary, call 609-771-2947.
The inaugural hour will feature tax expert Michael Pucciarelli, principal of Bartolomei & Pucciarelli CPAs, 2564 Brunswick Pike, who will discuss deductions, allowances, and more.
"We find so many businesses leave the paperwork to their accountant but have no idea of how many dollars they maybe leaving on the table," says Lorraine Allen, director of the SBDC. At the Power Hours, she says, business owners can get "candid answers to burning questions about their taxes."
Monday, February 4
#h#China’s Progress Comes with a Price#/h#
Last year China’s $2.7 trillion economy grew 11.5 percent, giving it 14 percent of the world’s total purchasing power. This great lunge forward has given the average citizen 10 times the earning power he had just 12 years ago. At the same time, China claims the dubious honor of housing 20 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities.
Generally, China’s leadership has responded to these destructive levels of pollution by saying, "Let us first advance, and feed our people, then we will worry about pollution." Critics counter that feeding and poisoning the populace need not go hand in hand. The extent of the China’s high tech expansion and her concurrent pollution problems will be debated in the New Jersey Technology Council’s panel "China’s Growing Role in Manufacturing Electronics," held Monday, February 4, at 3 p.m. at Stevens Institute of Technology, Babbio Center, in Hoboken. Cost: $60. Visit www.njtc.org.
Acting as moderator is Phoebe Yin-Hua Xu, who, as a senior accountant for Amper, Politziner & Mattia, has just returned from doing business in Beijing. Speaker’s include Christos Christodoulatos, director of Stevens Institute’s Center for Environmental Systems; Bill Adiletta, president, TekFinancial Solutions; and Nick Carter, senior director of QUALCOMM/Flarion. In addition to the panel discussions, each panelist is asked to present and defend two predictions for 2008 in his field.
Christodoulatos sees his field as a boiling pot of technological innovation. Thus he feels secure in predicting that a mere year from now at least half of all water treatment technologies will be based on nano materials. Already nano-size particles of iron are being used to eliminate polluting PCBs very effectively and inexpensively. Recently crystalline titanium dioxide particles have proven an excellent barrier for filtering out aqueous metals. "The capabilities are limitless and the applications, typically inexpensive," says Christodoulatos.
"Hopefully many of these new nano-solutions can be applied to China," notes Christodoulatos. "Until now, the sheer overwhelming scale of the pollution and cost of cleanup have made the Chinese take the environmental stance of sacrifice for growth."
All this ultra tech stands in stark contrast to Christodoulatos’ early upbringing. Son of a farmer on the sylvan Greek Isle of Kefolonia, Christos experienced a peaceful, traditional childhood.
Coming to America, he earned a bachelor’s in chemical engineering in l982, then a master’s, both from New York’s City College. He took his Ph.D. in environmental engineering at Stevens Institute and for the past six years has been director of the Institute’s Environmental Center.
While immersed in the lab today, Christodoulatos hopes to someday return to the farm.
Oils upon the waters. While still in the background, the calls for controlling manufacturing discharge are increasing. With the Olympics coming to Beijing this year, China is scrambling to buff itself up and present a clean image. Water quality regulations on a national level have been drawn up and even a system of inspections have been implemented in many regions.
The trouble lies in enforcement, Christodoulatos points out. Very much like America a few decades back, Chinese environmental laws remain relatively toothless. Further, local cities and towns seeking to woo industry into their precincts either turn a blind eye or lavish environmental variances. There is no doubt that China has the technological development both to clean up and to halt further polluting – but have they the political will?
Christodoulatos cites what he terms as two typical East vs. West solutions. From l900 through l950 plants around Jersey City dumped vast quantities of hexavalent chromium into the Hackensack River. The cleanup of this toxic chromium, once used in paints and coatings for auto bumpers, has led to a 1.5-million-ton swap of good soil for bad. Clean fill has replaced the chromium-contaminated soil, which has been placed at a well-lined, thoroughly monitored landfill.
In China, when similar chromium leeching and contamination was discovered, plant managers merely collected the toxic residue and put it into manufactured steel. Though a thrifty answer, the poison gets passed onto to new products. Christodoulatos is quick to point out that neither response is a really good one. Ideally, the chromium should be separated and chemically nullified. However, this process is very costly. So in the end, Jersey City will receive a cheap, if not permanent cleanup, while the regions around Shanghai will see a more cost driven solution in which toxins come back to haunt.
Fuel and Air. Even in its high tech production, China is maintaining its old manufacturing technologies. Seemingly endless amounts of cheap labor provide an economic cushion that allows the traditional use of coal and other dirty fuels to continue. Former metal stamping factories can be transformed to electronic circuitry producers while still burning the local soft coals in old, inefficient furnaces.
"Yet this lax use of old energies will be short lived," says Christodoulatos. "China is a nation very much on the move. It will soon be impossible for them to be competitive without running lean and clean on energy." Alternative fuels as power sources have few Chinese proponents. While solar, wind, and biomass hold tantalizingly attractive operating price tags, installation costs are formidable. The idea of rebating such clean energy set ups is scarcely a program favored by the tightly strapped Chinese government.
Nuclear power has become one popular clean energy solution popular throughout China. Funded and often installed by a handful of German and French companies, 20 new nuclear plants now dot the Chinese landscape. "These are not the old-style nuclear plants with questionable safety methods," says Christodoulatos. "These plants are as technologically updated and safe as anything in Europe or in the U.S."
By any measure, China will continue to take its place as a major player in both high tech and standard manufacturing. It will continue to export globally – including 20 percent to the United States. The rest of the worldwide commercial community will no longer be able to dictate safe environmental practices by sanction or fiat. It would be nice if the world’s other major producers could lead by example, but America’s failure to even show up at the last Kyoto Treaty does not bode well for such leadership.
The one hope Christodoulatos sees comes from good old capitalist competition. Energy costs will indeed rise globally, despite any one nation’s natural resources. The direct and vicarious costs of unbridled global warming are becoming ever more apparent. "The Chinese are smart business people," says Christodoulatos. "The sheer cost of polluting will soon catch up with them." Whether it’s the color of the Yangzee or the color of the ink on the ledger, Christodoulatos’ second prediction is that the Chinese business community will soon be striving for cleaner environs.
Thursday, February 7
#h#Management School, Abe Lincoln Style#/h#
He never had a chance to be a peace time president. From his entry into the White House in 1861, when he dealt with the firing on Fort Sumter, to his assassination in 1865, when several divisions of Confederates still remained in the field, Abraham Lincoln served our nation only in war.
While performing so admirably in the many presidential capacities, Lincoln was perpetually the nation’s Commander-in-Chief. "He faced an enormously steep learning curve," says renowned Civil War historian James M. McPherson, "but he learned quickly from his mistakes. I cannot think of any president who could have handled his situation better."
The author of 18 books about the Civil War, McPherson has just completed "Trial by War" to be published in October, which details the days of Lincoln as the Union’s military leader. To give a foretaste of this work, and to relate Lincoln’s command from a logistical/managerial perspective, the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce has invited McPherson to speak on "One of Our Great American Leaders – Abraham Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief." This luncheon talk is held Thursday, February 7, at 11:30 a.m. at the Princeton Marriott Hotel. Cost: $45. Visit www.princetonchamber.org.
One would be hard pressed to find any aspect of the America Civil War towards which McPherson has not ardently turned his scholarly attention. Born in North Dakota McPherson was raised in Minnesota, the son of two educators. He earned his bachelor’s from Gustavus Adolphus College in l958 and then came east. During his next four years as a graduate student at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, McPherson became intrigued with the incipient Civil Rights movement and began tracing its roots to the pre-Civil War abolitionists. "I saw these two groups working the same way, toward many of the same goals," says McPherson. His dissertation about the abolition movement went on to be published in 1964 as "The Struggle for Equality: Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction."
In l962 McPherson came to Princeton University to teach, where he has stayed ever since. His book "The Battle Cry of Freedom won the Pulitzer Prize in l988. Many have credited his works and personal fervor as a main impetus behind America’s recent renewed interest in Civil War-era history.
"If you were to bet on the war’s outcome based on each leader’s experience, you’d really have to put your money on the Confederacy," says McPherson. A West Point Graduate, Jefferson Davis had commanded admirably as an officer in both the Black Hawk War and then the Mexican War. In 1852 he served as secretary of war for President Franklin Pierce, who praised Davis as "distinguished in energy and ability."
Lincoln, on the other hand, short of a brief stint as captain in the Black Hawk War of 1832, came to the White House with no military experience. But McPherson points out that it was the vast difference in these two men’s character that was to give the Union such a great leadership advantage at the top.
Lincoln’s challenge. The launch of the Civil War in l861 marked an entirely new method of warfare which neither general nor front line soldier had ever experienced. The dawn of massive artillery, repeating rifles, and Gatling guns were reaping unimaginable casualties and forcing a permanent shift in strategies. In addition to the revolutionary technology, the sheer scale of this war had never been witnessed on American soil. With numbers of combatants in the millions and lines of war stretching across thousands of miles, the task was unprecedented indeed.
Also, Lincoln was waging a war within his own country – a country he wanted to keep alive, united, and not ruined at war’s end. From the outset, his only force was an undersized, all-volunteer army, which he had to convert into professionals via a massive, very unpopular draft. Finally, Lincoln’s every action and rationale was greeted by fierce opposition in a Union where the lines between politics and military were virtually nonexistent.
Old Abe’s CEO power. "Probably the greatest Lincoln asset, was his amazing ability to get people to like him," says McPherson. He admits that Lincoln possessed an immense ambition that sounded throughout his character like a ticking clock. But that remained unwitnessed. What people saw and became enamored of was the famed Lincoln wit, sincerity, and compassionate warm heartedness.
Jefferson Davis, McPherson depicts as an exact opposite – thin- skinned, always angry, and forever embroiled in personal feuds with his own cabinet and military commanders. Thus while Lincoln’s good nature and calculated charm were winning over new allies, Davis was alienating advisors and slowing the decision process.
Nearly as advantageous a trait for Lincoln as CEO/commander was his almost uncanny sense of choosing the right man for the job. "Even though he opposed his election as president, Lincoln appointed Edwin Stanton as secretary of war. And Stanton proved to be to be a superb administrator," says McPherson.
Stanton faced the unenviable task of prodding the sleeping giant of the Union’s industry into a energized war machine. He had to deal with the new wartime factors of rail transport, steam power, and communication by telegraph. Lincoln seemed to know just when to pull back and let his determined secretary of war work, and how to insert his influence when Stanton would veer off toward a personal vendetta.
Lincoln’s selection of Ulysses S. Grant as general-in-chief remains another celebrated selection of the right man picked in the face of overwhelming opposition. Accused of micromanaging the war when McClellan and other generals seemed reluctant to fight, Lincoln found in Grant a real and trustworthy combat leader. During the battle of Vicksburg, with no telegraph or other communication functioning for over a week, the president’s trust was sorely tested. But Lincoln remained calm and victory came to hand.
"Lincoln made many errors, particularly at first," says McPherson. "But he always was aware, and learned from them." Lincoln was above all, a listener; an attribute that no doubt aided in this self-correction process. Cabinet members were constantly amazed that he would gather advice, with intense interest from what seemed anyone willing to give it. Then he would decide on his own.
Lincoln lionized. "Certainly Abraham Lincoln has been lionized in every aspect of his life," says McPherson. "His assassination turned a great career into a martyrdom. It becomes the historian’s job to see through the gloss of idolatry and the marble man enshrined in Washington, D.C., to give a just picture and assessment."
After all the decades of scholarly study and with literally mountains of primary sources at hand, McPherson makes the judgment that President Lincoln deserves the praise he receives as commander-in-chief. "One might argue that Washington could have conducted the Civil War nearly as ably as Lincoln, but certainly no other President could have. Washington and Lincoln, I would rate as our top two presidents overall. The real tragedy was that America never got to experience Lincoln’s amazing leadership on into the peace process."
– Bart Jackson