Stories from the field: 40 nonprofits create roadmaps for impact. You can too!

November 22, 2013

Innoweave’s Impact and Strategic Clarity module helps organizations increase their impact and make better decisions. Learn more about the module, by signing up to attend for our one-hour introductory webinar on November 29th at 11:00am EST. Applications to participate in the fourth wave of the module are now open.

Impact and Strategic Clarity module wave II wrap up event in Montreal, September 25 (Image courtesy Kim Auclair)

“It’s funny because you go through your day thinking that everyone on your team understands a particular term the same way, but they don’t,” says Saman Ahsan, Executive Director of Girls Action Foundation, a non-profit that supports a network of more than 300 girls’ and young women’s programs across Canada. “So it becomes difficult to then be on the same page about what our goals are. What are our strengths? What is the impact we want to have?”

Sound familiar?

Many NFPs struggle with clarity about how the various branches of their organization and activities feed their primary goals. And with funders demanding accountability, organizations are also having to come up with ways to track and measure the impact they’re having.

Saman Ahsan, ED of Girls Action Foundation speaking at a conference in Toronto.

For Ahsan and her team at Girls Action Foundation, the decision to sign up for Innoweave’s Impact and Strategic Clarity module was made at a time when, “Our strategy wasn’t very clear; we wanted to think through it with our management team and other stakeholders and weren’t really sure how to start.”

Enter Innoweave coaches Stephanie Garrow and Lara Evoy.

“The Impact and Strategic Clarity module asks organizations to move out of their comfort zone,” says Evoy. “Not only does it ask groups to understand the impact they having in the community, but it also demands that groups hold themselves accountable to these outcomes.”

How do you do this?

Evoy shares the story of another organization that went through Innoweave’s ISC process: Santropol Roulant, a Montreal-based Meals on Wheels program that is committed to “breaking social isolation”.

Image courtesy Santropol Roulant

“So in this example,” Evoy says, “you need to be able to understand how delivering meals can lead to breaking social isolation. Research shows that you can make a link between social isolation and the objective measure of social interaction. So, as an organization, you now have to determine whether your meals on wheels delivery program has the minimum requirements that enable people to feel less isolated.”

Questions like:

  • Are you visiting people frequently enough?
  • Are the types of interactions you are having fulfilling and contributing to breaking social isolation?
  • What are you not doing that you should be doing?”

Once groups have this information in hand, they are better able to adapt programs to reach intended impacts.

They can then go to stakeholders, funders with hard data and are able to back up their assertions that they are in fact “breaking social isolation”.

Chad Lubelsky, Executive Director at Santropol Roulant describes the ISC module process as, “Intensive but very beneficial.

“Working with the coaches and having support while pushing your thinking can be difficult sometimes,” he continues. “We had some significant breakthroughs: we identified that the strategic clarity we wanted was to be able to understand and share out in a clear way how our different activities integrate together to break social isolation.”

Lubelsky describes one of the “AHA!” moments his team experienced, “We know that what a volunteer gets out of our program really depends on what they put into it. Now we can take our agriculture work, bike co-op, volunteer activities, meals on wheels, etc and represent it visually as an activity wheel. And while we knew from day one that we wanted to break social isolation, we’re now seeing our work more holistically as building social inclusion.”

Structure and intensive hands-on training

Both coaches and module participants seem to agree that the best part about the Innoweave process is its focus on collaboration and interactive learning. Participants get to view a webinar, participate in two workshops where they learn side-by-side with management teams of other organizations and then get intensive, customized coaching over a five-month period.

Coach Stephanie Garrow says, “The biggest insight for us as coaches is probably that organizations are in fact craving this type of structured approach to strategic thinking — which offers both a strong curriculum with tested tools, frameworks and case studies as well as a very elaborate, five month-long coaching process.

“Executive Directors are busy enough raising money, speaking to donors and managing their teams, and therefore they welcome a process that demands they put asides a half day per week to table these sometimes messy and uncomfortable issues about where their organization needs to be heading and focusing.”

Team Building

At Girls Action Foundation, Ahsan describes how she brought together not just the management team, but also their board of directors (one of whom attended a workshop co-led by Innoweave coaches Garrow and Evoy).

It wasn’t always easy…

“We had a lot of hard questions we were trying to grapple with: how are our various activities related? Which are the ones that have the most impact and are our priority? But (the process) helped us get a lot of background information. We did research on other organizations and programs in our field and how they measure. We found out what’s out there.”

And they’ve created a living document to help guide their path forward.

“It’s our Theory of Change document – a mapping out of all our programs, how they’re linked and what is the impact we’d like to have. It’s what we aspire to be rather than what we are, which is a good starting point.”

This is a living document, which means it’s always changing as new circumstances reveal themselves in the ever-changing NFP world. “But,” Ahsan says, “having this document to share with team members, network partners, funders and stakeholders is extremely helpful. And we’ve now set up a Strategy Committee to continue this process of research and measurement so we’ll really be able to use our learning to build in focus and accountability.” You can learn more about Girls Action Foundation’s experience here.

Could YOUR organization benefit from this process?
Innoweave is about to kick of its third cohort with 10 organizations (see them here). We’re launching a 4th wave in early 2014. If you think your organization could benefit from evaluating its impact and strategic clarity, it’s simple to get started!

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Sign up for the free webinar on Nov 29, 2013 led by Sally Fazal and Lynn Fergusson
  2. Apply to be a part of the next Impact and Strategic Clarity cohort (this step is independent of webinar participation).
  3. DEADLINE: Applications for Wave 4 are due by Jan 6, 2014.

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