Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Moneyball

A pile of new books made their way into my stocking this holiday season, and the first one to be put to bed is 'Moneyball' by Michael Lewis.  I was a massive baseball fan growing up, and until the 1994 strike-shortened season I tracked baseball stats like it was my job every summer.  The book was a fun reminder of those days, it's also a great story about the value of challenging established practises and what outside of the box thinking can accomplish. 

My good friend Anil Patel is the executive director of Framework, an organization that is leading a Moneyball-esque paradigm shift in how the not-for-profit industry communicates with its stakeholders.  Anil talks about how Framework is applying the lessons from Moneyball to the problem of measuring charities' efficiency and mission success here.  I encourage you to read the post, but Framework's key finding was this:

"Just like Lewis set-out to dig into how the A’s transformed themselves, we have been searching out the same type of inquiry in philanthropy. Here is what we’ve come up with:

From a governance perspective, there might not be a single more important management competency then how well its organization shares: How well does it share internally with their staff and volunteers? How well with its external stakeholders? And is the organization getting better at sharing month after month; quarter after quarter; year after year?"

Two things happened yesterday that made me think about the concept of organizational sharing in the not-for-profit sector:  
The first was reading that Lance Armstrong would be in Toronto today to promote his Livestrong line of fitness equipment, which got me thinking about how Livestrong has been faulted in the past for being unclear about their role in the fight against cancer versus their role is promoting the brand that is Lance Armstrong.  

The second was coming across a story in Outside Magazine that was published last week about the relationship between livestrong.org (the charitable organization), livestrong.com (a for-profit website that pays for the right to use the name) and Lance Armstrong himself. 

I found the article interesting as it tied back to the issue of sharing information - the writer addresses the confusion regarding the relationship between Livestrong donations and Lance Armstrong's lifestyle, or the fact that Livestrong doesn't actually contribute any money to cancer research when the general public seems to feel like that is the goal of the organization.  It feels like there's opportunity for Livestrong to share more information to make it easier for stakeholders to assess the organization's performance.  Information should be shared, not guarded.

Therein lies an opportunity for all the 'Davids' in the not-for-profit sector up against the entrenched 'Goliaths': in these days of economic uncertainty where there is an increased need for funding but donors are applying more scrutiny when doling out their dollars, those organizations that share how they spend those dollars in an easy to consume and easy to understand manner will be providing their stakeholders with peace of mind.  Something to consider when you're deciding on where to spend your charitable donation budget in 2012 - do you know how your money or volunteer time is going to be used?

Regardless of what happens with Livestrong or the FBI investigation into Lance's potential doping this year, I hope he races an Ironman in 2012 since it will be great exposure for the sport in the mainstream sports media, and may also get the talking heads over at Slowtwitch to stop debating how fast or slow he'll be...

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