- What will my legacy be with this organization?
- How will I have a positive local and global impact through my work with this organization?
- What are the strategic priorities of the organization?
- What is the complete and uncensored history of the organization?
- What are the community’s dreams for the future?
- How will I strengthen the organization’s relationships and open up new relationships?
- How is the board engaged in the work of the organization?
- How is the community engaged in the work of the organization?
- What do the staff, board, and volunteers need from me to be successful?
- What can I do to strengthen the organization’s processes?
- How will I promote the flow of information and ideas?
- How will I strengthen the organization’s fiscal position?
- How can I share my unique gifts and skills through this organization?
- How can I help others – staff, volunteers, program participants — make the most of their unique gifts and skills?
- What does our organization do well? How has it been successful in the past?
- What are our organization’s core competencies?
- What does our organization not do well? How has it be challenged in the past?
- What needs to be changed and what needs to be maintained or enhanced?
- Is the organization’s structure adequate to support the needs of the organization?
- What additional resources are needed to achieve the organization’s goals?
- What specific needs will this organization address?
- How has the need for this organization been discovered and documented?
- How will specific community needs be identified and explored?
- What is my motivation for starting this organization?
- How does this organization connect with my personal and professional goals?
- How does this organization fit in with the programs and services offered by other organizations?
- What can we learn from other organizations who are doing similar work?
- What resources (money, people, facilities, technology, etc.) are needed to start this organization?
- Who will be involved in the development of this organization?
- How will the community be engaged in the work of the organization?
- How will the work of this organization be sustained over time?
- How will this organization help the community served realize its dreams?
- What is the organization’s vision and mission?
- How will the strategic direction for the organization be developed?
- What are the specific goals of this organization?
- What are the legal requirements for starting an organization in my state and municipality?
- How will we let other people know about this organization through every stage of development?
- Who will benefit from this organization?
- How will this organization enrich the community as a whole?
- What best practices will guide the development of this organization?
- What is our intended impact?
- What are our specific goals?
- How will we know if we achieved each of our goals?
- What is our organization doing to contribute to that intended impact and those specific goals?
- What resources and relationships are needed to achieve our goals?
- What internal capacities and skills are needed to achieve our goals?
- What internal capacities and skills are needed to conduct the evaluation?
- Who will be involved in the evaluation process and what will their responsibilities be?
- How will we measure our progress toward our goals?
- How will we evaluate process, outputs, and outcomes?
- How will we collect data and stories for this evaluation?
- What data collection instruments need to be designed?
- How will we analyze the information that is collected?
- What kinds of information will the evaluation reveal?
- How will we use the information that is collected through our evaluation?
- How will the results of the evaluation be used to strengthen the program and the organization?
- How will we communicate the results of our evaluation?
- How is accountability integrated into the culture of our organization?
- How are the voices of program participants included in the evaluation process?
- How will this evaluation reveal unmet needs and how will the organization respond to these?
- How does the mission of the organization align with my values?
- What are the responsibilities of board members?
- How will I meet my obligations as a board member?
- What information do I need to be an effective board member and how will I get and use this information?
- What information, ideas, resources, and relationships do I need to share to be an effective board member?
- How can I make a meaningful and significant contribution to the board?
- How can I make a meaningful and significant contribution to the organization?
- How will I strengthen this organization?
- What can I learn from serving on this board of directors?
- How can I share my gifts and skills with this organization?
- How can I promote the work of this organization in my community?
- What relationships should I help develop for this organization?
- How can I help the board to function more efficiently and effectively?
- How will I support the executive director and executive director?
- What communication means are most effective and useful for me as a board member?
- How will I communicate my new opportunities to the organization’s leadership?
- How will I communicate my concerns to the organization’s leadership?
- How does being a board member enhance my personal identity?
- What is my motivation for serving on this board of directors?
- How much time am I willing to contribute to this organization and how will I make the most of that time?
My new sometimes series, 20 Questions, will be dedicated to nonprofit capacity building. Each of these posts will share a collection of 20 reflection and discussion questions to help you and your organization strategically investigate various topics. These questions can be used comprehensively to develop a plan of action or they can be used one by one to address the particular needs of organizations. You can use the questions to prepare for meetings or present them at meetings to encourage collaborative discussion. Staff, the board of directors, volunteers, program participants, community partners, elected officials, and the community at large can all be engaged in the work of organizations by using these questions.
We will get started with 20 Questions to ask when you join a board of directors. Coming soon!
I would like to propose an alternative to the ‘divide and conquer’ tradition of political action – unite and prosper. By authentically aligning and integrating our truest needs and desires, we will all benefit.
My early experiences working in human services resurfaced the trauma of many of my own personal challenges. I found a lot of commonality between my life story and that of the people served by the organizations for which I worked. This led to a strong sense of experiential empathy to complement my feelings of generalized or theoretical compassion. I truly felt solidarity with others based on my own past and felt that this made me more effective in my work. Yet, I found myself focusing on the most negative aspects of my personal life story. I became a professional victim.
Focusing on problems is quite common in human service and other nonprofit organizations. It is the modus operandi and the basis upon which organizations justify their existence and promote their case for support.
I feel that acting as a professional victim was psychologically damaging. Rather than learning from and healing my past to move forward, I felt stuck in the mire of my previous lives.
Now that I am more mature, I understand that I can still feel compassion, empathy, and solidarity with others without limiting myself to the most negative aspects of my life story. I can focus on all of the good things we have in common as well as the bad or challenging things. We can engage around our shared dreams for the future.
I have become a provocateur of possibility.
…outdated, unoriginal, uninspired, and boring. When program evaluation demonstrates that a program has made a human or social impact, it is sometimes labeled as evidence-based. Evidence-based programs are packaged, sometimes commodified, and ‘sold’ — either literally or figuratively — as proven solutions. Other organizations are encouraged to adopt evidence-based programs with full fidelity to the original program design.
This process fully obscures the many contextual/environmental factors that contribute to the achievement of outcomes in pilot sites. It also assumes that the environment is fully controlled so that the impact of the program can be isolated from other influencing variables. It further postulates that what works in and is appropriate for one particular time and place is universally applicable.
I prefer to develop creative programs, co-designed with representatives from the entire community, based on their perception of needs and potential. Not only is this much more fun, it promotes community-led visioning and unique, innovative program design.
Philanthropic organizations are increasingly demanding that grantees measure impact. It is not the measuring of impact to which I object, it is the way this expectation is unidirectionally communicated and enforced. This paternalistic practice is an abuse of power that emphasizes control and containment over partnership and possibilities.
The MacArthur Fellows Program is an amazing example of trusting philanthropy (and I hope to be one someday!). Grantees are selected according to their contributions and are then trusted to make decisions about the best use of the funds; reports are not required. As a teacher, I take a similar approach with my students in the community or online setting. I expect students to take what we learn in class and to use it to the best of their ability in their context. My hope is to inspire change that can’t be captured in numbers or even words, and to provoke changes that are multiplicative.
With trust and freedom, great things will happen. Let’s share with each other out of love rather than fear.