AZENet Week: Sarah Griffiths on The Sustainability Formula

I’m Sarah Griffiths, Senior Partner, Wholonomy Consulting, in Tucson, AZ.  I’m going to share some highlights of the recent AZENet conference which focused on Building Capacity for Organizational Effectiveness.  The learning goals for participants were to:

  • Understand what research shows about organizational effectiveness in three key areas: Adaptive Capacity, Leadership, and Management Practices.
  • Explore the connection between organizational effectiveness and sustainability.
  • Learn about elements of successful capacity building.
  • Think about application in the social sector in Arizona.

Co-sponsors from multiple local organizations joined AZENet in this effort, including Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, Phoenix chapter, Grant Professionals Association, Arizona Chapter; Community Foundation of Southern Arizona; ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation; and Arizona Alliance of Nonprofits.  Participants reported a deeply engaging experience brought on by both the content and the opportunity to share learning and reflection with others from different parts of the social sector.  This type of cross sector involvement promotes community learning – a goal of the conference.

Keynote speaker Peter York from the TCC Group shared his current work which builds on the TCC authored publication entitled, The Sustainability Formula:  How Nonprofit Organizations Can Thrive in the Emerging Economy.  From it, we learned the following formula:

Effective Leadership + Adaptability + Program Capacity = Sustainability.

To summarize, effective organizations exhibit the following behaviors:

    • Leadership (capable of timely strategic decision making);
    • Adaptability (ability to constantly learn and change)  both financial adaptability and program adaptability; and
    • Program Capacity (have resources to run effective programs)

A key element of sustainability is strategic learning.  Peter shared some guiding principles of strategic learning which began with “listen to the client”, followed by these 7 steps:

  1. Determine the “real” outcomes,
  2. Find or create the metrics,
  3. Gather data, quantitative then qualitative,
  4. Make meaning out of patterns,
  5. Create/modify program models,
  6. Re-design programs, and
  7. Repeat steps 2-6.

Peter’s introduction was followed by small group discussions, led by conference participants, who shared examples of strategic learning in their work. Hosts included funders, consultants, university center staff, state agency staff, and YNPN Phoenix Board members.

Hot Tip: Partner with young leaders near you – find them through the Young Nonprofit Professional Network.

Rad Resource: The Sustainability Formula.

Rad Resources: To find nonprofit associations in your area to collaborate on learning activities, go to the Council of Nonprofits.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Arizona Evaluation Network (AZENet) Affiliate Week with our colleagues in the AZENet AEA Affiliate. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our AZE members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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