From the Executive Director

Are You High Performance? Leap of Reason Can Help You Answer “Yes!”

By Chip Edelsberg on March 11th, 2015

In 2011, social-sector thought leader Mario Morino released a book entitled Leap of Reason. In essence, Morino argued that the social-sector could be vastly improved by relentlessly measuring results for which organizations held themselves accountable to achieve. Morino subsequently created a community of stakeholders committed to this perspective and a website as a portal for conversation about Leap of Reason’s thesis and main ideas.

In the years that followed, Leap of Reason expanded from being a title of a book to the name of an ambitious initiative. Last month, this ambition was on full display as Leap of Reason’s e-newsletter asked a simple yet profound question: “Are you High Performance”? Of course, who doesn’t want to answer a resounding “Yes!”

But nonprofits organizations, including the Jim Joseph Foundation, cannot answer “yes” honestly without first determining the definition of “high performance.” More challenging is having proper tools in place for measuring any set of targeted outcomes. Perhaps even more daunting still is charting a course–and following through with pragmatic implementation–that leads a nonprofit to reach the level of “high performance.”

Leap of Reason has set out to arm organizations with information to address the key questions above. After a year of work and collaboration by its Ambassadors Community, Leap of Reason unveiled The Performance Imperative: A framework for social-sector excellence (PI) to provide clear, actionable answers. The PI is designed to help organizations not only answer the questions from a place of empirical knowledge, but to have that answer be “yes, we are high performance.”

The PI offers both a bird’s-eye view of strategic considerations—its seven pillars—accompanied with detailed operational considerations covering a range of areas, from management style and culture, to organizational financial stability, to programmatic design.

In full disclosure, I am a member in Leap of Reason Ambassadors Community. But regular readers of this blog or those who follow the Jim Joseph Foundation’s work closely know that principles encompassed in the PI have significantly informed the Foundation’s work since its inception in 2006.

Holding ourselves accountable—along with the Foundation’s grantees—is one way we believe helps to address the high performance question. Undoubtedly, thorough information gathering, concrete measurement of outcomes, and a critical analysis of data are core to the Foundation’s approach to philanthropy.

The Foundation’s understanding of best measurements and metrics to determine our level of performance and that of grantees is still evolving. I would argue that this is true for our field as a whole, given the field’s complexities and plethora of views on what constitutes successful Jewish education outcomes and experiences.

That said, we strive to set high standards and to hold ourselves and grantees accountable to those standards. Grantees attest that the Foundation not only wants to see those standards reached, but also wants to ensure that the standards identified align appropriately with the Foundation’s mission and vision. Those elements together constitute an often complex process of measurement and evaluation. But through past trials and errors and continued learning, we work closely with grantees to hold all parties accountable and to determine, as best as we can, whether standards are being met.

As one example, various grants to the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) can be deemed successful based on the increase in campers; the diversity of Jewish backgrounds represented in those families; and the outcomes regarding Jewish learning and connections those campers exhibit. FJC recognizes that it must undergo this scrutiny to help determine whether its strategies are working and are worthy of continuation, or warrant a change in direction.

Secondly, the Education Initiative—comprised of the major grants to Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and Yeshiva University (YU)—has undergone a rigorous evaluation process each of the past three years examining a range of important areas. Obviously, reaching a benchmark of numbers of graduates is not enough to deem this grant successful. The Foundation and these institutions expect deep, long-lasting outcomes as a result of this investment, with the capacity of HUC-JIR, JTS, and YU graduate programs substantially enhanced.

As a third example, for the various Foundation grantees focused on teacher training and induction, we can point to evaluations that show increases in tenure at day schools for teachers who have participated in DeLet, the Jewish New Teacher Project, and programs offered through the Pardes Institute, among other grantees in this space.

Do these examples mean the Foundation and these particular grantees are high performance? Possibly not. But they are integral pieces of a puzzle that helps to answer the question, “is the Foundation effectively selecting grantees that perform successfully?”

I believe that the field of Jewish education has much to gain by vigorously and transparently pursuing high performance.

The PI explains:

“The journey toward high performance leads to more meaningful, measurable change – whether its lifting families out of homelessness, closing global health inequities, preserving land, inspiring artistic expression, raising educational achievement, or any of the myriad missions that give purpose to the worlds social-sector organizations…In this era of scarcity and seismic change, high performance matter more than ever. The social and public sectors are increasingly steering resources towards efforts that are based on a sound analysis of the problem, grounded assumptions about how an organization’s activities can lead to the desired change, and leadership that embraces continuous improvement. This is the formula at the core of the PI.” (page 3)

I encourage you to learn more about the PI by watching this brief video. While broad in scope, the PI’s focus on the single and critical question of “high performance” makes it a practical framework. It is a valuable resource for organizations of varying sizes, structures, and missions. And it may be a catalyst for important conversations about how our field can achieve more significant outcomes in more efficient ways.

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The Jim Joseph Foundation invests in promising Jewish education grant initiatives. We partner with effective organizations that seek to inspire young people to discover the joy of living vibrant Jewish lives.