State of the Industry: A Vision for Human-Serving Nonprofits

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Susan DreyfusWe, the nonprofit human-serving sector, feel it's urgent to collaborate and do everything we can to achieve our collective missions for the country’s vulnerable children, families and adults.

Civic leaders, policymakers and funders challenge our organizations and our sector as a whole to demonstrate how our efforts create lasting change amid shrinking resources, increased demand and higher expectations.

Yet I believe 2015 will be a crucial and exciting time. There is no doubt the social compact is being renegotiated, and we need to be more active than ever before.

In the volatile operating environment that forms our new status quo, strategy and execution can no longer be sequential. They must be concurrent. But human-serving nonprofits cannot lead haphazardly through disruptive change.

Recognizing that, the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities saw a need to provide the field with a clear path toward organizational excellence and genuine community impact. That path became the Commitments of High-Impact Nonprofit Organizations, a specific framework of approaches, values and disciplines that empowers nonprofits to maximize all their capacities and meet stakeholder standards by embracing 10 Commitments areas:

  • Leading with Vision
  • Governing for the Future
  • Executing on Mission
  • Partnering with Purpose
  • Measuring that Matters
  • Investing in Capacity
  • Co-Creating with Community
  • Innovating with Enterprise
  • Engaging All Voices
  • Advancing Equity

The Commitments are an outgrowth of the Alliance’s more than 100 years of experience as a leading network of human-serving nonprofit organizations. They also stem from the Strategy Counts Initiative made possible by the Kresge Foundation, as well as Alliance member feedback and an extensive literature review.

Unlike other industry frameworks, the Commitments are backed by a deep and integrated system of resources for evaluation, learning and change — from webinars to peer exchange groups and library collections.

There is no stipulated sequence or pace to the Commitments, nor is it a rote set of compliance or accreditation standards. Instead, it’s universally applicable to human-serving organizations regardless of size, complexity, maturity level or program orientation.

Achieving optimal organizational performance is a necessary foundation for achieving greater impact these days. Yet performance without advocacy is efficiency, not impact. The uniqueness of the Commitments is that they address not just business and compliance best practices, but the values orientation that a human-serving organization must embrace. They guide not just an organization’s what, but its how and why.

In this new reality, let us pursue excellence across these Commitment areas. Let us remember we must be advocates first and service providers second, measuring success not in services but in the number of people able to free themselves from poverty to achieve lives of safety, health and educational and employment success.

There is growing recognition that the challenges and opportunities we face are more complex than any one organization can address on its own — no matter how large or sophisticated. Leaders at all levels must anticipate change and strategically position their organizations to take advantage of future partnerships.

Through the Alliance’s scope and reach, the Commitments framework has the potential to be that guiding force that substantially transforms and accelerates the entire sector’s journey toward excellence and genuine impact.

Indeed, I believe we are at an historic moment when the human services sector can shine its brightest. We must move forward from a position of strength with an unwavering determination to make sure every child, family, adult and community has the ability to thrive and prosper.

Learn more about the Alliance’s Commitments here.

Susan Dreyfus is the president and CEO of the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, the nation’s largest network of human-serving organizations. Susan is the former secretary for the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services and Wisconsin’s first administrator of the Division of Children and Family Services. She is a member of Leadership 18, a coalition of CEOs from the largest and most respected nonprofit organizations in America, as well as a board member of the American Public Human Services Association, Generations United, National Human Services Assembly, and International Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers. She was appointed to the 12-member National Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities in 2013.