Allison Fry

The Key to a Great Workout


The New Year brings gyms and workout classes filled to the brim with people who have set a new year’s resolution to get in shape. As a workout fiend myself, I love going to workout classes that are fun, but also tough and little painful. The fun keeps me engaged, but it’s the discomfort in the process that makes me stronger.

When debriefing a recent strategic planning project with our client, the CEO joked that the strategic planning process had been “mostly fun, and a little painful.” Our consulting team had brought up some tough questions that were uncomfortable for the organization’s leadership to confront, but ultimately important to figure out as the organization looks to the future. And the leadership’s efforts to think through those challenges will make the organization stronger.

The parallelism struck me. The point of strategic planning is to make an organization stronger in the long-term. It’s fun to think about the future, especially the opportunities. But, it can also be uncomfortable to face challenges and threats to the current way of doing business. For me, it’s fun to be active, but I’m not getting stronger if I’m not challenging myself. As workout instructors are always encouraging their classes, it’s the tough moments when we most want to quit that we are making the most progress towards our goals. And, upon finishing a workout, I always feel accomplished and glad I did work through the hardest parts. Our work can be like that of the instructors, and my hope is that every organization feels that sense of accomplishment and progress through strategic planning.

We Can’t Do It Alone


A number of clients with whom I have worked recently have been grappling with the desire to affect large-scale change, while also facing the reality of targeted expertise and limited resources. We have been working with them to understand their core competency – where they deliver the most value – and to scale those efforts, while partnering with or referring their service recipients to other organizations that offer tangential value.

This article goes even deeper into the need for and benefits of extensive collaboration for large-scale change.

Who are we not?

For an organization, just as important as “who we are” is “who we are not.”

It is an easy trap for an organization to want to be all things to all people, though that approach often leads to doing nothing really well. A focused and well-defined strategy is not only useful to inform an organization on what it is and where it is going, but is also useful for clarifying what an organization is not. A strategy can be a good filter, such that using the discipline to check that work fits with the strategic direction – and eliminating work that does not fit – can help avoid spurious efforts that drain resources or lead to lack of clarity. Effort will be put in the places where it is needed the most and will have the most impact.

In other situations, an organization does something very well, but needs to shift course due to market changes or business lifecycle. When a strategy adds elements to an organization’s scope of work when staff are already stretched thin, I often hear the question “how will we ever find the time to do that?” At that point, the strategy is a useful test or yardstick by which to measure all of the organization’s work, and weed out the efforts that no longer fit with the strategy. This then frees up organizational bandwidth to tackle those efforts that are directly in line with the strategic direction of the organization.

Using a strategy to define what we are not – in addition to what we are – helps make an organization’s identity crystal clear and efforts coordinated for maximum impact toward a common goal.

Implementing New Metrics

Have you ever tried to implement metrics to measure work or impact and realized it is much harder than anticipated? Recently, a number of Wellspring clients have been interested in implementing new metrics, and I’ve noticed that there are a few key elements that are easily overlooked. There is more to successfully implementing and utilizing metrics than simply declaring you want to understand something; there are three key steps:

1.      Defining

2.      Tracking

3.      Reporting

Defining metrics:

Five metrics that are well chosen and defined work better than 25 that nobody pays attention to.   Useful metrics are often both broad and precise Broad metrics allow for just a few to be used across an entire organization or division. Yet, these must also be precise enough to get at the key indicators of the work being measured. Precision must go one step further to draw boundaries around the details of the metric. For example, measuring instances that your organization is mentioned in the media might is one indicator of visibility, but the strength of that metric is determined by how “media” is defined.  Does it include social media? Does it account for whether the organization is mentioned by a credible news source versus a friend of the organization? Further still, what is considered a credible news source? These details must be defined before the metric can be implemented.

Tracking metrics:

An organizational leader may define a set of great metrics, but can they be tracked using the organization’s current systems? This is just one of many tracking logistics that must be determined. Others include how often each metric will be tracked, what unit of measure will be used, and who will be responsible for tracking. Successful implementation often means having one person accountable for tracking, even if they get the data from various parts of the organization.

Reporting metrics:

An organization can expend vast amounts of energy defining and tracking metrics, but if nobody looks at them to inform the leadership of the organization, it will have been a waste of energy. Reporting should be considered when defining metrics: understanding who will be using this information and for what ends can help identify what metrics need to be defined. Additionally, organizations will need to consider how often reports will be distributed, via what medium, and in what display. Reporting displays should make the metrics easy to interact with and to glean the information needed.

The road to metrics is often paved with good intentions, but without giving thought to each of these steps, metric implementation will likely be challenging and tough to utilize. At the same time, strong metrics can truly help an organization reflect on its work and improve into the future.

Curious about Social Movements?

I have recently had a number of clients who have been curious about social movements. The question of how social movements are formed and gain momentum seems elusive, but could be illustrative for clients hoping to see broad-based change on a particular issue over a long time horizon - whether it’s a foundation seeking the biggest impact for their grant dollars or a social justice organization seeking to take their campaigns to the next level by connecting their work across the country. SSIR has a webinar on “Building Better Movements” coming up in January that struck me as something many of our clients, and others seeking social change, may be interested in:

The Messy Business of Social Movement Funding

I recently worked for a foundation that had admirable aspirations of creating large scale social change, potentially through a social movement. As we researched the business of social movement building, it proved to be a topic mired in caveats. In speaking with various funders throughout the country, we found that organizations’ timelines for shifting toward social movement building is a great unknown. Funders seeking to fuel this kind of change are in various stages along their journey, as shown by the graphic below. Some organizations have been on this trajectory for decades, while others are just beginning. But in every case, the tactical shift to building social movements as a means to fueling societal change certainly did not happen overnight.

Messy business picture v3 5Nov14
Messy business picture v3 5Nov14

One of the primary hesitations from these funders is their resistance to leading the social movement. The big question that these funders are grappling with is “how do we make a movement happen, without being the movement?” The funders understand that a social movement cannot be dependent on one organization, but to be successful, a movement must take on a life of its own, with the vision and energy coming from the community. Foundations can fuel the movement via funds, capacity building and strategic support during the ebbing periods, but cannot be the movement itself.

Funders’ apprehension to the term “social movement building” itself also stood out. The majority of funders with whom we talked noted that this language can be counter-productive. Even if they internally understand they are using the tactics of social movement building, they use language such as collaboration, networks and ecosystem to represent their approach, while avoiding the potentially stigmatized label.

It seems that a sizeable number of funders are more thoughtfully seeking long-term, deep social changes, requiring the tactics of social movement funding. An admirable goal, foundations should be prepared for a very long-term, difficult-to-define, ever-evolving journey.

Good Money or Bad?

I have been thinking about my work helping organizations resolve issues of revenue, funding and sustainability, a perennial issue among nonprofits. To support its mission sustainably, an organization’s impulse is often to “get funding from whoever will give it.” This reminds me of a theory developed by Clay Christensen of Harvard Business School, which asserts that good money comes from funding sources that are impatient for profit, and patient for growth, while bad money comes from sources impatient for growth, yet patient for profit. In business, profit can be an indication that a company provides value and its strategy is on target, suggesting a solid basis for growth. If a business scales before proving that its model will make money, it risks scaling a model that is not viable long-term. When a business accepts bad money, its decisions can be inordinately influenced by the funder, causing the business to scale rapidly before vetting the soundness of its model.

Nonprofits face similar pressures, and in many cases are more vulnerable to accepting funding from any willing provider. Additionally, due to many nonprofits’ shoestring budgets, they may lack the wherewithal to push back on funder influence. To avoid this pitfall, organizations would do well to distinguish between good money and bad before accepting funding. Similar to a business, it is often beneficial for a nonprofit organization to be clear about the value it provides and to whom – proof that its model works – before attempting to scale. Otherwise, the organization may not survive for the long-term.

I recently worked with an organization hoping to scale significantly in coming years.  I was impressed by this organization’s Board members who, when facing a substantial funding opportunity focused on growth, thought hard to determine if they had sufficient proof for the viability of the organization's model to be comfortable with scaling.

Given that a concrete predictor of viability is often hard to come by in the nonprofit sector, it is important that organizations accept major funding from those committed to proving the organization's strategic viability before investing in its growth. This in turn will help organizations avoid a potential boom and bust cycle created by focusing inordinately on growth.

If Kids are to Learn Character, Involve the Whole School


A number of programs offer methods that teachers can use to bring character education (or social and emotional learning) to their classroom. The Character Lab, Open Circle, and Peace Firstall deliver programs with that intent, each in different ways.

In working with these programs and others, and in interviewing teachers they serve, we heard that character education delivered by a teacher in one classroom will dissipate if not reinforced and supported across multiple classrooms, in multiple grades, and even on the playground and in the lunchroom.

This may seem self-evident. But when schools make funding available for individual teachers to learn character-education methods for their classroom, the investment is ineffective. To have a lasting impact on positive character development, programs should be instituted across the whole school.

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Social Media: More Shallow or More Deep?

There is a book you should read: Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. It turned my thinking around. For me it clarified how social media and web communities are becoming an increasingly important way to build meaningful business relationships.

I have heard critics say that social media is downgrading our interactions into large quantities of relationship snippets. However, I find myself observing that a whole new order of social interaction is emerging, and we all are in the process of learning it.

When Brogan and Smith urge us to be kind, humble, on time, and helpful in our web interactions, it becomes an important admonishment as I rush through my web communications and emails. A little more care in my communications often leads to heartfelt interchange. In fact, I find web technology allows us to connect in genuine and helpful ways with a greater span of interaction than ever before. Used well, we will all be emotionally and spiritually richer for it.

What do you think? Leave us a comment.