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What does it all add up to? The Mountain of Accountability

sprig by Posted in Blandin Foundation

Today we welcome Wade Fauth, vice president of the Blandin Foundation. As vice president of the Foundation, Wade is responsible for organizational assessment and planning as well as coordination of the Foundation’s leadership, policy, grants, communications, and information services activities.

The Blandin Foundation, like many foundations and nonprofits, is a complex organization that engages in a wide range of activities to advance its strategic priorities including leadership training, policy advocacy, community facilitation, grant making, improved student outcomes, economic improvement, expanded inclusion, and strategic communications.  The inherent challenge of divining the effectiveness of individual programming activities in the nonprofit world becomes even more vexing when an organization tries to understand how well different program activities are complementing each other, the overall impact of the organization, and what adjustments should be made for the future.  Thus the question, “What does it all add up to?”

Over the past eight years, the Blandin Foundation has committed itself to building an organization-wide assessment system that contributes to improved performance and adaptation to a changing world. Efforts in the first six years focused on understanding how all of the different activities of the Foundation work together to advance the organization’s vision and strategic priorities.  This approach was very successful in building understanding of how all of the work of the Foundation adds up to a cohesive whole; however, after several years of producing lengthy annual assessment reports that sought to wrap our arms around everything the Foundation was doing, there was a growing desire among board and staff for a more elegant approach.

Enter the Mountain of Accountability.  An epiphany moment occurred during a reflective practice session that the Blandin senior staff was conducting with Dr. Michael Q. Patton, an evaluation consultant who provides guidance on developing and implementing the Foundation’s assessment system.  Blandin had previously viewed the different inputs into our assessment system as being homogeneous, but at that point, we realized that assessment information could be differentiated into a hierarchy we refer to as the Mountain of Accountability.  The base of the Mountain is composed of fundamental systems and processes like financial audit, human resources performance review, investment returns, trend indicators, and data on other basic systems that are pre-requisites for a healthy organization.  The middle of the Mountain is composed of impact assessments conducted on discreet grants or program activities.  The top of the Mountain is composed of reflective practice activities in which board and staff use data from the base and middle of the Mountain to learn, develop, and adapt for the future.

You are invited to take a look at the Mountain of Accountability graphic and the accompanying description.  We welcome your comments and thoughts as to the helpfulness of the Mountain of Accountability in rationalizing the many different potential inputs into an organizational assessment system.  For its part, the Blandin Foundation continues its effort to understand, “what does it all add up to,” but with the Mountain of Accountability, we are much better able to differentiate the purpose of different pieces of information and how they relate to the performance and future direction of the organization.



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