24/100 Things We’ve Learned: You can learn a lot by looking

Today is definitely a web discovery kind of day. It started this afternoon when I received an email from The TCC Group heralding a new study they released called “The Sustainability Formula.”

The Sustainability Formula is based on an analysis of TCC’s Core Capacity Assessment Tool.

The formula is:

Leadership + Adaptability + Program Capacity = Sustainability.

I really liked this framework (though I think there might be a few missing pieces of the definition, for example, how about something around longevity? Or resilience as in – the ability to bounce back from adversity).

I’m working on a project now with the Rhode Island Foundation‘s Initiative for Nonprofit Excellence that enlists an organization assessment tool by the Marguerite Casey Foundation that is framed around the 4 Core Capacities developed by TCC. So I was particularly interested in reading this report.

But my really amazing discovery was captured in one small paragraph at the bottom of page 2. It talked about nonprofit lifecycles and offered a framework that I hadn’t bumped into before. The stages went like this:

“Stage 1: Core program development

“Stage 2:  Infrastructure development for the purpose of taking programs to scale

“Stage 3:  Impact expansion which is defined as community leadership that changes the systems and policies that affect an organization’s ability to achieve its mission.”

I was floored, I have to admit it. One of those AHA! moments.

Some people have AHA! moments by finding the wreckage of the Titanic on the ocean floor. I have them when I discover amazing new organizational frameworks or research nuggets that challenge our sector’s core assumptions. (Or when I eat some really fabulous dark chocolate)

This was SO MUCH MORE VALUABLE than the typical “Start Up, Growth, Maturity, Decline/Renewal” lifecycle model I see so often. This was a lifecycle framework that was MISSION-focused.

Be still my beating heart.

As someone who tries to pay attention to new literature on nonprofits, I kept scratching my head on how I could have missed this gem. So of course I went on a Google journey to find more details about this model.

After a nonproductive search on TCC Group’s own website (though there are lots of interesting publications there), I ended up on The Philadelphia Foundation‘s website where I found the article “Characteristics of High Performing Nonprofits based on Organizational Lifecycle.” Which I spent time reading.

That article referenced a 2005 BoardSource publication, Navigating the Organizational Lifecyle: A Capacity Building Guide for Nonprofit Leaders I had seen the book as a subscriber to BoardSource but I never ordered it because I figured it was just the same old same lifecycle framework. That will teach me to assume!

Yes, you may be asking about now, other than alerting your readers to all these great resources, what is the point of this blog entry?

Okay, here it is.

I regularly encounter individuals, usually good-hearted souls, who have done little research on best practices about how to build a great nonprofit. Or how best to build effective programs that address the problems or needs they’ve taken on. I’m always curious, when there is such great stuff out there usually for free, why they didn’t take the time to look.

Maybe they’ve taken to heart the old adage about curiosity killing cats and been scared away?

My problem is just the opposite. I rarely have difficulty finding really valuable information – besides Google, I’ve got great colleagues and Twitter to keep me busy.

No, my problem is trying to tear myself away from the next great read.

So, a word of advice: Try some research. You can learn a whole lot by looking, to paraphrase the great Yogi Berra.

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