what’s he up to now?!

Present and Recent Projects and What I’m Learning from Them

I had an interesting email conversation recently with a long-time friend who leads a nonprofit that he founded many years ago. This organization works to find, help, develop, and support a certain kind of leader that is working to promote a certain important, global cause. Sorry to be vague, but maybe I’ll leave it at that. I’ll change some other details of the story also to guard his anonymity, but I think you’ll get the picture.

He told me that things were going very well with his organization, that they were in the middle of a growth spurt. They now have about 500 leaders they are working with, in about 50 countries, and hundreds of current inquiries. This is part of what I said to him:

Wow. Those are big numbers.

1.         Rapid growth is wonderful, but also a big challenge. There are things you promise to do for those who sign on to your roster. How do you keep those promises well, as the roster grows? How do you grow the size of the infrastructure in parallel with the number of people you are serving – without diminishing the quality and impact of what you do for them? Not easy.

2.         As I said, those are big numbers. I wonder what other numbers you’re monitoring that help keep you achieving your mission well – especially your =real= mission. A quick look at your website tells me your real mission is not just to grow the number of people on your roster, but things like –

a.    to equip them so their lives make an impact for the cause.

b.    to help them pursue/develop/grow the scope of their work for the cause.

c.     to get a very wide circle of people, globally, to get on board with the cause.

Anyhow, I wonder how you are measuring the achievement of your real mission, in these kinds of things. This is a day when nonprofits, and (especially) their funders, are seeking to not just measure and report on outputs (things we do) but outcomes (changes in peoples’ lives because of things we do).

So measuring outcomes is harder and more complicated than measuring outputs, but it can be done. We’ve learned a lot about how to do it well. Many organizations are getting a vision for this, but many others have hardly begun to think this way. It takes courage (I’m being bold here, sorry, but I know you well enough to know you’ll receive it in the right way).

3.         You are old (as long as I’m being bold, I might as well go for broke, right?) You are a dynamic personality, with a very unique set of gifts, skills, experiences, and contacts. I wonder about succession. This one is not going to be easy. Probably you already have given a lot of thought and attention to this. Anyhow, nonprofit leadership succession is another area where much has been learned, that not all mission organizations know well. Especially transition from dynamic founders – it’s a high risk/high reward proposition – done well, it can lead to wonderful expansion of impact; done poorly, it can result in a rolling train of disaster.

I’m happy to report that my friend did indeed respond well to my comments, and he’s very keen to pursue the conversation about how I, as a consultant, might be of help on these things, especially the measurement of outcomes.

In other news, I felt bad last week because my Dodgers got swept by the Padres. I feel better this week because my Dodgers swept the Giants. Our cherry tree produced tons of cherries, so I made a cherry cheesecake, I made a dark-chocolate cherry torte, and I pitted and froze many cherries. After all that, I still went around the neighborhood giving away bags of cherries. Now the veg beds are producing. It looks like another good kale year.

love, joy, peace … Michael

www.michaeljaffarian.com. Michael is a freelance consultant to nonprofits, with an emphasis on research. Contact him for a free, one-hour consultation. emichaeljaffarian@gmail.com.

Vol. 1 No. 29