Hui Pie: Serving Up a Slice of Abundance

This being Thanksgiving week, it seems appropriate to talk about pie. And how we who work in the social sector view the size of that pie. And why sharing slices of that pie can be preferable to eating them ourselves.

About two years ago, on the heels of a successful roundtable discussion led by several Hawaii grant writing consultants, an idea was seeded. Several of us realized the local community of social sector consultants was robust, but fragmented. We each knew of nonprofits' frustrations in locating and researching consultants to meet their needs. What is more, we consultants realized that many of us worked independently, but craved connectedness with colleagues. The situation seemed ripe for the creation of a consultants’ hui.

In Hawaii, the term “hui” roughly translates to a club or an association, but as I took the lead in reaching out to colleagues to create a consultants’ group, I gravitated more toward the idea of the hui as a network. We were each “nodes” in our own right, with our own spheres of influence. But we could be infinitely more useful to the community, and to one another, by linking our nodes through more intentional connections with one another.

Some of the colleagues that I reached out to “got it” right away. They viewed the idea from an abundance mindset, and realized that such a hui could expand opportunities for all of us, creating a powerful resource for the nonprofits many of us served. Several others, however, were resistant to the idea of collaboration. Scarcity thinking revealed itself in their questions: Won’t we be in competition with each other? Won’t we be cutting into each other’s piece of the pie? What would be in it for me?

As I recruited colleagues to the hui over the next few months, I shared several truths from my own experience that I hoped would address those kinds of questions:

  • There is always more than enough pie to go around. I have found that among nonprofits, there is always a greater demand for expertise than there is supply. Particularly in Hawaii, where more than 5,000 charitable nonprofits serve the community, demand for consultants’ services far outpace their ability to meet organizations' needs.
  • Sometimes sharing your slice of pie is tastier—and better for you—than eating it yourself. In my consulting experience, I have found that some projects are simply too much to tackle alone. Collaborating with colleagues allows each of us to take on more challenging or complex projects than we might choose to do solo. By tapping into a cadre of fellow consultants, we open ourselves up to greater opportunities within a broader range of work, often in ways that are more satisfying to us professionally. And collaborations allow us to learn from the insights of our colleagues, bounce ideas with a partner, and generally get out of the echo chamber in our heads.
  • If you specialize in making apple pies, it’s just good business to know fellow bakers who specialize in pumpkin pies. Although some consultants are successful generalists, most of us specialize in some way—which means that we can’t be all things to all organizations. For example, maybe a consultant is terrific at fundraising. But she is at a loss when asked by an organization to help with strategic planning, or board training, or technology implementation. Since most of us hate leaving potential clients empty-handed when they ask for help or referrals, having a network of colleagues whose expertise complements our own is extremely useful. It allows us to help organizations meet their needs when we cannot. And over time and through relationships, we ultimately benefit in the same way, becoming the shared referral when others realize they are not the “right fit” for a particular organization’s needs.

I am glad—and deeply grateful—that enough of my colleagues embraced abundance thinking that we were able to grow that seed of an idea into a full hui, now known as Hawaii Community Benefit Consultants. What started off as a group of roughly 20 social sector consultants has since grown to more than 50; the majority of members choose to include themselves in our online directory as a free service to Hawaii nonprofits seeking expertise to support their efforts. As consultants to community benefit organizations, I believe we have to model the kinds of values we hope to see around us: collaboration, community, and relationship building. We have to “walk the talk” of our values, both with one another as colleagues and in our interactions with our clients. Taking time to create and foster connection with fellow social sector consultants seems an appropriate way to do just that.


How have you embraced abundance thinking in your organization or work? How have huis that you are a part of—either formal or informal—allowed you to grow?

What Researchers Can Learn from Bacon's Bad Week

If you’re a bacon lover like me, you probably read Monday’s news on the World Health Organization’s classification of processed and red meats as carcinogens with some mixture of alarm, disappointment, and an utter lack of surprise. I think we’ve all known for a long time that red meat is less than healthy for you, and that anything as processed (and tasty!) as bacon probably isn’t good for you, either.

But the speed and breadth with which the news of the WHO’s report spread was something to behold. The “bad week for bacon” has been a fascinating case study, too, revealing some unfortunate truths about the clarity—or lack thereof—with which researchers communicate with lay consumers. And while this particular example is from the realms of nutrition science and public health, social scientists and social sector researchers can certainly learn some lessons as well.

Researchers need to speak more clearly to lay audiences. To its credit, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the working group that issued Monday’s report on red and processed meat, distributed a Question & Answer brief as a way of concisely addressing public concerns that might arise from their report. Unfortunately, even the Q&A would be difficult for a layperson to understand, given its high reading level and the scientific nuances in the interpretation of data. This opens up the door for mass media to reduce the findings to sensationalistic headlines, such as “Processed meats rank alongside smoking as cancer causes—WHO.”  Which leads me to my next point…

Researchers need to better understand—and respond to—the layperson’s interpretation of scientific information. In the case of this week’s report, the IARC’s placement of red and processed meats in the same carcinogenic classification group as cigarette smoking understandably leads many to conclude that eating bacon and burgers are the dietary equivalent of puffing a pack a day. But that’s not quite the case. As Cancer Research UK explains in its post, “Processed meat and cancer—what you need to know,” the IARC classifications reflect strength of scientific evidence that a substance is carcinogenic; they do not, however, reflect the actual increased risk that that substance causes cancer. That subtlety—that although they share the same classification category, bacon and cigarettes are not remotely equivalent carcinogens—gets lost in in the messaging. And as Sarah Zhang of Wired points out in her article “Bacon Causes Cancer? Sort of. Not Really. Ish.,” the IARC recognizes that risk assessment is part of how the public wants to understand health and other scientific data—it has just chosen to be unresponsive to that fact. Leading some to simply throw up their hands and declare, everything you love will kill you, so why even bother trying to be healthy?


So we know what some of the problems are with researchers’ communication patterns. The bigger question is, what can researchers do differently to successfully share important findings with the public?

Check for clarity among lay audiences. Much like market research is conducted, scientific communities could “market test” sample research findings with public audiences to check on readability and clarity of messaging. In addition, questions that arise in response to these tests could be better anticipated and addressed. Visuals, such as the infographics created by Cancer Research UK, also go a long way in helping distill and simplify complex scientific information for the general public.

Translate findings into practice. Researchers need to ask themselves, What do these findings mean for people in their day-to-day lives? The IARC’s Q&A brief, unfortunately, offers unclear, somewhat confusing advice to readers seeking answers on whether, and to what extent, to change behaviors. (One example: “Q: Should I stop eating meat? A: Eating meat has known health benefits. Many national health recommendations advise people to limit their intake of processed meat and red meat…”) Cancer Research UK is again a great counter-example to the IARC’s obfuscation. In the graphic below, the organization helps readers estimate how much meat a person might typically eat in a day, and offers helpful suggestions on how to decrease processed and red meat consumption.

Consider Blogging. Leading news outlets—such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal—have science or wellness blogs, as do research sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Harvard Health Publications. These blogs help readers sift through scientific mumbo-jumbo by culling key information, suggesting practical lifestyle modifications, and making research findings less intimidating. If one of the goals of the research community is to inform and change behaviors, it behooves researchers to use tools—such as blogs—to make their findings as accessible and user-friendly as possible.

What challenges has your organization had in using, or sharing, research findings? What suggestions would you make to improve researchers’ communications with the public? 

Child & Family Service's Evolving Journey to Outcomes

As I mentioned in my last post, measuring outcomes in theory can be quite different from measuring them in practice. Child & Family Service (CFS) is a Hawaii-based social service nonprofit that, in many ways, is “ahead of the curve” locally in its active embrace of performance assessment. Subsequently, CFS offers a unique case example for insights and lessons learned. Howard Garval, President and CEO of CFS, has championed more rigorous evaluation of social service programs for a numbers of years, and has “walked the walk” at his organization, leading a culture shift toward outcomes-based assessment. Recently, via email, I asked Howard about the changes he’s witnessed, the lessons he’s learned, and the insights he’s gained along the way. As he describes below, it’s a process that takes time, patience, and perseverance, but that is ultimately—and rightly—focused on improving outcomes for those served.


What specific changes or progress have you experienced in recent years at CFS that you attribute to the organization's embrace of an outcomes-based culture?

We have done two key things to move us to an outcomes-based culture:

(1) We adopted the Results-Based Accountability (RBA) model for program performance measures, developed by Mark Friedman of the Fiscal Policy Studies Institute and author of Trying Hard is Not Good Enough. RBA asks three primary questions: (a) How much did you do?—this is the outputs question; (b) How well did you do it?—this is the quality question; and (c) Is anyone better off?—this is the outcomes question. I have added a fourth question: How can we use the data to get better?

(2) We implemented Efforts to Outcomes (ETO)/Social Solutions electronic record software, which is the system Geoffrey Canada uses for the Harlem Children’s Zone that formed the basis for the Federal Promise Neighborhoods grant funding. Our staff has given ETO/Social Solutions rave reviews, and there has been practically zero resistance to implementation of the electronic record. Staff members have become more comfortable talking about data and outcomes. CFS has developed a common language as a result of RBA. Performance measures continue to evolve, and we keep drilling down to the question: “Is anyone better off?”

What has been most surprising about CFS' journey toward performance measurement over the past few years?

Human service professionals are in this field for their heart; in general, they did not come into this field because they liked data and measurement. However, a smart thing we did was create an agency-wide steering committee and coaches who have been both our cheerleaders and trainers to support our program staff to measure outcomes. I expected more resistance, and even though we have had some pockets of this, overall staff members have moved forward with the journey better than I anticipated. However, we have to keep motivating staff to see how performance measurement can help them improve their services to our clients. Once our direct service staff can see how the data and outcome measurement can help them deliver better services, we think their buy-in will be strengthened. Direct service staff in some programs have stepped up and taken some ownership, breaking down barriers to data collection and actively having a voice.

What has been the greatest challenge in becoming a high performing organization?

I think we have learned that it is better to get a program on ETO/Social Solutions software first, before doing the RBA work. For example, The Institute for Family Enrichment, or TIFFE, fully merged with CFS effective July 1, 2015. Based on what we’ve learned, we will be sure to move TIFFE programs onto ETO/Social Solutions first, then do the RBA work. The greatest challenge is to help human service professionals get comfortable thinking about outcome measures and asking the right questions about how we know a program is effective, and how we know that we are producing a measurable benefit for the people we are serving.

What suggestions would you share with smaller nonprofits that are interested in outcomes assessment, but that may not have the human or financial resources to fully invest in changing organizational culture?              

I think the RBA model has a simplicity to it that makes it accessible to smaller nonprofits. Through our new Institute for Training & Evaluation, CFS is now the only licensed RBA provider in the state of Hawaii. For a reasonable cost, we can assist organizations to learn and implement this model; it also comes with a RBA scorecard developed by the Results Leadership Group. Organizations could potentially pool resources to have us work with them. Also, “train the trainer” models could be a less expensive way to build capacity, as we did with our coaches. I would also say small organizations at least need to ask themselves, What would tell us that one of our programs is actually working and producing a measurable benefit for the people our program serves? It’s a process. It takes time, patience, and perseverance. It certainly helps if resources can be dedicated to move this forward.

What do you think being performance-based makes possible for your organization? For those you serve?

I think performance-based assessment positions us to be a leader in human services, and will enable us to garner additional support from funders and other donors. I think it will also help us sustain funding as funders will increasingly demand outcome measures that show their investment is producing impact. Using data to tell our direct service staff how we are doing and to demonstrate what is working will enable us to really do continuous quality improvement and get better at delivering services that work. In addition, our staff are becoming more aware of the impact they are having on program participants, and that in turn is improving the quality of their work.

For our clients, being performance-based has supported their individual journeys and self-awareness regarding the need for services. For example, one of our program’s PTSD “pre-tests” has led to clients recognizing their own need for counseling services. We can see that one of the benefits of our increased emphasis on outcome measurement is empowerment of our clients, who gain additional insights in tracking their personal growth.


Nonprofit leaders: Does your organization have experience with “walking the walk” of a performance-based culture? What successes and challenges have you encountered in creating that culture?

Funders: Is your foundation/philanthropy leading by example when it comes to being an outcomes-based organization? What unique challenges have you encountered in assessing the effectiveness of your philanthropic efforts?

Child & Family Service's "Leap" Toward Outcome-Based Assessment

Nonprofits are often looking for resources to start them on the road toward impact measurement. Moving beyond outputs (the count data, or answers to the "how much" question) to outcomes (the impact data, or answers to the "what meaningful changes did you effect" question) can be overwhelming, especially for smaller organizations. One of my go-to resources for nonprofits seeking guidance on performance assessment is the monograph Leap of Reason, which I describe below. And although I originally published this post in March 2012, it certainly bears revisiting--not only because outcomes-based assessment continues to be a "hot" topic in the nonprofit sector, but also because our understanding of what it takes to be an impactful organization continues to develop.

While talking about measuring outcomes is all well and fine in theory, it's helpful to know what it looks like in practice. Here in Hawaii, I sometimes hear from local nonprofits that few examples exist of organizations that really "get" performance assessment. That's why I'm happy to shine a spotlight on Child & Family Service (CFS), a well-known and respected local social service organization that can serve as a model for others. What is more, CFS has been open about its journey and continuing evolution in fully embracing an outcomes-based culture. I'll be sharing more about CFS' journey in my next post--stay tuned!


Have you ever read a book that so clearly, concisely, and compellingly distilled an issue, you just felt the need to share it? Recently, I encountered such a book on outcomes-based management for the nonprofit sector, titled “Leap of Reason: Managing to Outcomes in an Era of Scarcity.” A monograph by Mario Morino, Chair of Venture Philanthropy Partners, Leap of Reason is a call to nonprofits to move toward the rigorous identification and measurement of outcomes to drive the impact of their work. Morino makes the case that in the current climate of tightened budgets and reduced funding from government and philanthropic sources, a paradigm shift toward meaningful, measurable impact is both necessary and desirable throughout the social sector.

I had the pleasure of being introduced to Leap of Reason by Howard Garval, President and CEO of Child and Family Service (CFS). Garval is a veteran nonprofit manager, having served for more than a decade as COO and CEO of The Village for Families and Children in Hartford, Connecticut, before his current tenure at CFS. During his time as an executive at The Village, Garval became familiar with Result-Based Accountability, a framework for producing measurable improvements in the public sector developed by Mark Friedman, Director of the Fiscal Policy Studies Institute. Impact assessment, then, is not a new concept for Garval; he has long embraced the idea of measurable outcomes at the organizations of which he’s been a part. As a result, “Leap of Reason really hit home,” Garval said. Last week, Garval and I had an opportunity to talk about the book, its resonance with his own experience in social services, and the ways in which outcomes-based management is helping shape the management and future direction of CFS.

Garval shared a few key take-aways:

1.    When we talk about outcomes, we are ultimately—and most importantly—talking about creating impact for those we serve. Garval pointed out that for him, the goal of improving CFS, its programs, and its operations is an intermediary step. His ultimate goal in utilizing outcomes-based management is to provide “evidence that we produce measurable benefit, and are truly making a difference [to those we serve].” Likewise, Morino states in Leap of Reason: “The greatest dividends [of managing to outcomes]…accrue to the communities, the families, and the individuals with whom we work. They benefit from stronger schools, smarter clinics, and safer communities—all because of nonprofits’ commitment to becoming better.”

2.     While it’s important for nonprofit leaders to “buy-in” to a performance culture, a top-down approach alone won’t ensure meaningful changes within an organization. Garval noted that in his experience, having direct line staff that subscribe to a culture of measurable impact is just as important as having leadership that does the same. Sometimes, he said, “line staff have the best ideas for producing [measurable] benefits,” precisely because of their direct contact with the individuals and families served. Garval further stated that identifying staff who are “early adopters” of an outcomes approach is helpful in engaging staff overall, since peer-to-peer engagement may be a stronger influence than that exerted by an organization’s leaders. Morino makes this same point as well: “Leaders can’t simply create by edict the organizational cultures they desire.”

3.    Identifying the right questions to ask is challenging, but critical to an organization’s work. Garval described taking part in a recent CFS leadership training in which the group reviewed the organization’s outcomes for five core service areas. Looking critically at the outcomes was “the best part of the training,” said Garval. “We drilled down deeper into our measures to [examine if] we are measuring the right stuff.” The exercise, however, sometimes led to more questions than answers: Are we measuring what’s most important? How are we using the information we collect to continually improve our services? Are we collecting outcome data that will ultimately strengthen programs and, consequently, be most beneficial to those we serve? In Leap of Reason, Morino states the challenge this way: “…With all the rhetoric around mission, scaling, accountability and the like, the reality is that we often have to go back to basics and ask, ‘To what end?’ Defining an organization’s true purpose is absolutely essential to cultivating a performance culture.”

4.    Better outcome measurement may have negative short-term implications, but it’s a crucial investment in long-term improvement. Garval described another CFS leadership training exercise that involved identifying forces that support and restrain the organization’s increasing shift toward a performance culture. The worry that better outcome measurement may initially mean less impressive results for an organization was named as a restraining force, and is certainly a valid concern. Yet, Garval noted this is a concern that must be overcome, because the collection of data on baseline performance and subsequent goals for the organization’s improvement are what will allow CFS to identify and maximize its impact on those it serves. Morino recognizes this challenge—and opportunity—as well: “…The transition to outcomes-oriented management will almost certainly have some negative near-term implications for the organization. These changes, though, will just as certainly have a positive impact for the nonprofit in the long run as it becomes more effective in achieving its mission.”

Nonprofits leaders: Does your organization employ an outcome-oriented approach to its work? How has this approach influenced the management and impact of your organization?

Funders: To what extent have your funding decisions been driven by nonprofits’ outcome performance? How has your funding organization supported nonprofits’ efforts to improve their impact in measurable ways?