The last few posts on the Community Wealth Partners Blog have explored the role of competition in building stronger organizations and fueling improved social outcomes. In her last post, Sara examined how understanding your organizations’ competitive advantage can help set you apart. At Share Our Strength, we have found that accountability can serve as a key component of competitive advantage.
Good intentions have long been the Achilles heel of the nonprofit universe because they are often the rationale for not being rigorous about measurement. But as the philanthropic marketplace gradually becomes more responsive and begins to reward high performance and superior strategy and execution and penalize low performance, stakeholders look for accountability.
Support for rigorous accountability is found in inverse proximity to geography. Those inside and closest to you will be the least comfortable with it. When we first gathered about 60 of our closest allies in the anti-hunger community to share our vision for ending childhood hunger, about 59 of them were against it, for a variety of predictable reasons: “How would we measure? What if we failed?” Mostly the culture of our sector was one of discomfort with accountability. When we presented the same notion to our business partners their response was the mirror image opposite: “If you are telling us that you have a goal line, and you know how far you are from it, and what it takes to get across, we are in.”
For most donors and partners in the nonprofit sector, there are no apples-to-apples measurement for return on investment. How do you know if you get more impact putting your dollars into Share Our Strength or Feeding America? In Teach For America or College Summit? In City Year or Experience Corps?
But if one of the choices holds itself accountable to specific outcomes and the others only to aspirations, that is at least a clear and powerful differentiator.
Accountability doesn’t come cheap, though. It costs money to measure and to communicate what you’ve measured. That is money that might have gone instead into providing even more service or benefits to the population you serve. In the short-term.
But the bet is that, in the longer term, accountability will eventually yield ever more resources so that you can serve more than you otherwise would have.