What do you & Spokes do?
I am the CEO of Spokes, a nonprofit organization that provides training and resources to the Directors, executive management and staff of nonprofits to help them better manage their organizations, meet compliance standards and exceed expectations of the public trust.
What was the original goal tied to your HINDsight? What did you set out to do?
We wanted to redefine the way Spokes measured its programmatic success. Historically, our organization quantified its success based on the number of workshop attendees or resource libraries. We could assume or hope that we had some impact on improving the management skills of those we served, but we didn’t know for sure.
The idea was to create an online assessment tool, eventually named the Nonprofit Capacity Assessment Tool (NPOCAT), that allowed nonprofit organizations to measure how they were performing in key management areas. The tool would gather input from both Directors and staff and provide an easy-to-read compilation report. Spokes would review that report and, where the scores were lowest, identify and provide resources to improve performance in that area. Organizations would take the assessment at least annually, and, as their scores (hopefully) increased, we could confirm our impact and success toward our mission.
What actually happened?
I, personally, spent several months identifying well-reputed measurement tools, negotiating partnerships and permissions to use them and working with a hired computer programmer to design and launch the tool. We invested $5,000 into the creation of the tool – a considerable amount for our modest budget. I promoted the new tool widely to our members and throughout our community.
Then we launched it and the first few folks used the assessment. Lots of folks had complaints. For some, the assessment questionnaire was way too long and burdensome (approx. 80 questions). For larger organizations, it was a bit redundant as some already had to conduct similar assessments for their industry certification programs. For smaller organizations, the majority of our users, there was a major disconnect. Where we used terms like “Human Resources,” smaller, all-volunteer organizations stumbled assuming that the term only extended to employees. In our opinion a nonprofit organization’s human resources include all volunteers and staff. It was clear that the tool was going to need a major re-writing before it would become widely-used and valued.
What was the final outcome? What did you learn?
Ultimately, we have chosen not to rewrite the NPOCAT. We may still rewrite and reconfigure it at a later date, but for now, we’ve put it to rest and replaced it with a different, easier-to-use tool – the Standards for Excellence Organizational Assessment and Implementation Planning Tool©. It will require more effort on our part to compile the results of the tool, but the adoption of the tool will be easier and the ease-of-use for our members will be much improved – and these are critical steps as we seek to measure our success.
In HINDsight, I would not have invested in programming the tool before I did more pilot study. Although the tools we adopted for the NPOCAT had already been tested and piloted, they hadn’t been tested with our local target audience which is very unique in its number of smaller organizations. The new tool was created for theMaryland nonprofit sector, which mirrors the SLO County nonprofit sector in both quantity and budget size. I know to test a survey before implementing it, but I failed to recognize this tool as the survey that it essentially is. To have tested sections of questions using a less expensive resource like SurveyMonkey, which we already use, would have allowed me to recognize the problems, program the tool differently and improve our chances for a more successful launch of the NPOCAT. It was an expensive lesson to learn, but one I won’t forget. There is some more advanced support curriculum for the new tool that comes with a considerable price tag. Before we invest this time, I am focusing just on the basic tool. So far, the response has been extremely positive and, if it continues, we’ll be able to make additional investments with confidence.