Fw: VPPNews: February 2011

my buzz & my blog

“When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.” George Washington Carver

What is Social Entrepreneurship?

Statement of Faith
You can find other “Market with Meaning” but you definitely want to see “Profit with Purpose”.
I personally “Believe in Kingdom Transformation” because I know there is only ONE “Life for Significant”.

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2011年2月9日 星期三,Venture Philanthropy Partners <jraderstrong@vppartners.org> 寫道﹕

寄件人: Venture Philanthropy Partners <jraderstrong@vppartners.org>
主題: VPPNews: February 2011
收件人: incubator.hou@gmail.com
日期: 2011年2月9日,星期三,上午1:17

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Chairman's Corner

The Inescapable Importance of Culture, Part I

Over the course of the past two years, I’ve used this space to focus attention on organizational imperatives from mission effectiveness to managing to outcomes to values-based transparency. Recently, a good friend pushed me to go further. He said, “You need to tie all this together…Take it further to stress what folks can to do change their organizational culture.” His advice resonated strongly, because I believe an organization’s culture makes or breaks its ability to deliver on all of the organizational imperatives I’ve previously covered.

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From VPP

Year Up, National Capital Region and Northern Virginia Community College: A Model Partnership

Over the last two years, Year Up, National Capital Region (NCR) and the Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) have formed an innovative partnership that provides a clear path to solid careers for low-income youth from around the region. The partnership has been so successful that others around the nation are looking to adopt the model.

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Chairman's Corner

The Inescapable Importance of Culture, Part I

Mario Morino

Over the course of the past two years, I’ve used this space to focus attention on organizational imperatives from mission effectiveness to managing to outcomes to values-based transparency. Recently, a good friend pushed me to go further. He said, “You need to tie all this together…Take it further to stress what folks can to do change their organizational culture.” His advice resonated strongly, because I believe an organization’s culture makes or breaks its ability to deliver on all of the organizational imperatives I’ve previously covered.
In my business life, our firm was retained by organizations like Boeing, the US Navy, and Merck to deal with system failures, security breaches, serious data losses, and other thorny problems in large, complex computer networks. Technical glitches or failures were often the immediate cause of the problem, and we’d go in and fix them. But over time we learned that we were patching rather than solving the problems.

As we dug deeper, we discovered that technology was not at the root of the problems. Instead, the origins were almost always human. For example, it could be a technician who didn’t care enough about the quality of his work or a manager who didn’t provide relevant training or set clear expectations for his team. People, and the organizational culture in which they functioned, were the proper starting point in the chain of causality.

My experience in working with nonprofits mirrors this phenomenon.

How many times have you seen an organization announce ambitious reorganizations, develop new strategic plans, implement new methods, create checklists—only to see these efforts struggle to produce what was envisioned or, worse, flat-out fail? Nine times out of ten, the reason is that the organization’s leaders did not have the willingness, insight, or courage to deal with the most fundamental aspects of their organizations. To repurpose a blunt campaign slogan from James Carville, “It’s the people and culture, Stupid!”

Organizational Culture—What Is It?
There is no shortage of “organizational culture” definitions. I’m going to use one I’m quite familiar with that was offered in the publication Effective Capacity Building in Nonprofit Organizations, which McKinsey & Company produced for Venture Philanthropy Partners (VPP): “The connective tissue that binds together the organization, including shared values and practices, behavior norms, and most important, the organization’s orientation towards performance.”

Why is this important? Simply put, an organization’s culture has a huge impact on whether the organization can achieve what it wants to for those it serves. To me, all organizations should strive not only to foster a healthy culture, where their people understand the mission and feel appreciated for their role in fulfilling it. They should also strive to set the example for and nurture a performance culture.

I use the term “performance culture” with some trepidation. I know this term is radioactive for some, especially those in the education field. My definition shouldn’t be threatening. I simply mean that the organization should have the mental mindset to do what it does as well as it possibly can and continually seek to do even better. For example, there are many teachers I know who would not naturally see themselves as representing or contributing to a performance culture per se. And yet they constantly stay up late grading papers; stay late to tutor or counsel; care immensely about helping students learn and grow; even show up to cheer their students on at games, plays, and other events. These teachers may not inherently see what they do as being driven by a performance mentality, but their actions in serving their students speak louder than words.

An organization with a performance culture is focused on mission effectiveness (doing well what it says it does) and mission fulfillment (doing it well for as many as it reasonably—maybe even unreasonably—can). It allows and encourages, even at times pushes, the people who make up the organization to be the best they can be. A performance culture enables an organization to maximize the benefit it delivers to those it serves and the positive social impact that ensues.

A Great Culture Starts with Great People
If you walk away with only one thought, this is it: Recruit, develop, and retain the greatest talent that fit with your core values. Failure to do so is, to me, literally a dereliction of duty of board and management—from executive director to line supervisor. Board and management need to “get the right people on the bus, in the right seats,” in the famous words of management expert Jim Collins.

I’m a big believer that people are what make things happen. Best practices are wonderful things, but they are most effective in the hands of highly talented people. I’d take best talent over best practice and great plans any day of the week. Too many of us think that organizations and systems solve our challenges. They play a vital role, but the key lies in the people who execute those plans.

So this is the basic question: Do you have the right talent in place to execute your mission? Next to questioning the mission itself periodically, this is the most important question boards and management must ask themselves.

Asking and answering this “hot potato” question is difficult. It might require change and improvement on the part of those already on the bus—including the person driving. It might require bringing different people on the bus. Most often, it is a combination of the two.

The truth is we’re not good at this type of change in our sector. We often sacrifice the quality of our programs and services in order to protect those who aren’t doing their jobs well.

Why? For one thing, we generally lack effective ways to assess the performance of staff to help them improve or move on. More important, executives just don’t want to deal with confrontation when it comes to getting the right staff in place. We avoid providing the honest, constructive feedback people need to improve—and this phenomenon increases as one goes higher in the organization. When steps for improvement don’t work, we are loath to make changes, especially terminations, lest we rock the boat. Too many of us allow appeasement and accommodation to override doing our best for those we serve.

It’s a delicate balance when you’re dealing with someone’s career (and livelihood). Candidly, there are times I’ve made the go/no-go call too quickly. I’ve seen people develop to become solid performers, even leaders in their organizations, who I thought weren’t going to make it. Fortunately, others saw something in them that warranted going the extra step. These decisions are never to be taken lightly. We should recognize there’s no checklist for how to do this. It comes back to the quality of judgment of those making the decisions and being honest that intuition and instincts are an important part of the equation. But don’t kid yourselves, whom you hire, develop, and retain is the most important thing you do as a leader, next to mission focus and clarity.

In the early years of VPP, I took the team to visit the offices of General Atlantic, LLC, a preeminent global growth-equity firm that invests to build great companies. In a discussion with one of the best executives I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, one member of the VPP team asked, “What’s the most important thing you do to help the firms in which you invest?” He said simply, “Make sure the firm has a great CEO, and then make sure he or she has or gets a great number two. It’s all about the people.”

I can’t begin to relate how true this has been in all aspects of my business and nonprofit careers. In 1987-88, as CEO of Morino, Inc., I led a bold move to recruit a new executive management team with the background and experience to lead our firm where we aspired to go. Trust me, this was not a popular action, but it proved central to allowing the firm to achieve what it did in the years that followed.

In 1989, we merged with another firm to create LEGENT Corporation. One of the smartest and best actions we took was to recruit three new outside board members who were seasoned executives and “had been there, done that.” Absolutely invaluable! In all too short of a time, I came to understand they had more insights about building great organizations in their little fingers than I possessed in my entire body (and I was heavier in those days). Being around them while we worked through the integration of the firms was invaluable professional development for me!

After I transitioned to the nonprofit world, recruiting Carol Thompson Cole to VPP was a defining action in 2003. She both fit into and helped change our culture in positive ways. It is the primary reason for Venture Philanthropy Partners’ broad-based acceptance and success to date.

If we had more time and space, I could offer a dozen additional stories that emphatically illustrate the value of getting the right people with the right fit at the right time to help an organization succeed. But what is probably even more instructive is to acknowledge that each time I strayed from going after the right top talent, we paid a high cost. I inadvertently set these individuals up for failure and needlessly caused great angst for those around me and our organization. And it always took a toll on those we served.

I’m not alone in this feeling. One school president recently shared a sentiment echoed by many others I’ve met: “Believe me, I have tolerated a [lower performer] than we needed, and I paid the price for keeping a well-meaning but ineffective person around much too long.”

Nurturing Culture Change
Another adage is worth mentioning: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” When it comes to improving organizational performance, you can’t simply will or decree change. You have to create the openness to and readiness for change. For example, in our work at VPP we seek to support great nonprofit leaders who have a vision for change—change that allows for expanded impact. We have to make judgment calls early on about their leadership and culture. Are the leaders truly committed to a vision for change, and do they have the courage to make the difficult decisions real change requires? Does the organization have the capacity to absorb the change? And, most important, will the organization’s culture have the willingness to embrace the change?

A related caution: Leaders can’t simply create the organizational cultures they desire by edict. The best we can do is to influence culture through our words and deeds. An organizational culture is a complex, organic system that shares a lot in common with a coral reef. In the words of high tech CEO Jim Roth, “Coral reefs are one of nature’s most beautiful creations. Man has not figured out how to create them. What we do know is we can care for them and nurture them to survive and thrive or kill them through neglect and abuse.” The same is true of culture.

In my April column, I’ll illustrate seven specific ways that leaders can influence their organizational culture through words and deeds.

Until then, I encourage you to take a look at your current organizational culture. How would you describe it? What do you like? Does it help or hinder you in what you do? Is it encouraging or recriminating in nature? Are contributions valued, or is compliance and acceptance the desired behavior? If you could wave that magic wand to change the culture, what would it look like?

– Mario Morino

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Investor Update

Year Up, National Capital Region and Northern Virginia Community College: A Model Partnership

Year Up LogoOver the last two years, Year Up, National Capital Region (NCR) and the Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) have formed an innovative partnership that provides a clear path to solid careers for low-income youth from around the region. The partnership has been so successful that others around the nation are looking to adopt the model.

The idea was formed when VPP Board Member Bob Templin, President of Northern Virginia Community College first sat down with VPP investment partner Year Up NCR Executive Director Tynesia Boyea-Robinson in the fall of 2008.

“At that first meeting, it was really clear there was amazing alignment of both leaders’ vision for a local community college-college credit partnership,” said Bill Browning, Special Assistant to Templin for Workforce Initiatives. “And there were clear benefits for students and both organizations to move forward together.”NOVA Logo

Prior to this partnership, Year Up NCR was working with an out-of-state private college to provide their participants with college credits, which were often not transferable to other area schools. Year Up NCR also saves a significant sum through the new partnership, around a hundred thousand dollars a year. These savings may make it possible to create a revenue stream for Year Up NCR as NOVA and Year Up continue to build their alliance.

Year Up NCR participants can now receive a little more than half a year’s worth of credits to NOVA while participating in the year-long workforce development program onsite at Year Up NCR. Classes in the program include things like learning how to interview for a job or do a presentation in a corporate setting, as well as more technical classes in finance and technology. Participants are placed in internships at a major company in the region, like AOL or Freddie Mac. Year Up staff continue to provide support to the students during and after their internships to make sure both participating corporations and the young people are getting the most out of the experience.

“Coming to Year Up gives [our participants] an opportunity to get back into a classroom setting, while still working and developing their professional skills,” said Clif Morgan, Year Up NCR’s College Partnership Specialist. “They want a way to earn some income in a career that has growth, that isn’t a dead-end job. Coming to us and having the support and the staff that we have on site, it makes them comfortable being back in the classroom, and helps them build the confidence that they are able to do the work.”
The partnership between Year Up NCR and NOVA began before VPP’s investment in the organization, but the investment selection process was already underway. Templin had heard about Year Up prior to VPP’s interest, but VPP’s research into the organization helped solidify the partnership.

College credits are an important complement to the professional training that Year Up provides its participants. Many of the students’ internships lead to full-time employment, but those positions require some sort of college experience. About 20 percent of the participants in Year Up NCR continue to take classes at NOVA or transfer the credits to another local college to complete their associates or bachelors degree.

“From the employer’s standpoint, the reason we are able to have the partnerships that we often have is because of this college credit. Our interns are able to work in positions that require degrees, or at least degree-seeking individuals,” said Ronda Thompson, Senior Director of Program & Academics at Year UP NCR.

NOVA has made serving the working student population a priority. It has developed a workforce initiative, which Alexandria Campus Provost Dr. Peter Maphumulo heads, to develop and maintain partnerships with local and national nonprofits to help recruit and support working people who also want to go to school.

“It is part of a fast-evolving strategy for NOVA to better serve the working student population, whether it’s the young adult at Year Up, or a 30-something who needs to be employed while they go back to school,” said Browning. “It’s a way that colleges and community based organizations, like Year Up, can leverage what each other does best to better serve the same audience we’re both pledged to serve.”

Dr. Maphumulo said that NOVA is currently working on a plan to help Year Up NCR participants map out a career and college plan for after their internship ends, which will include taking the necessary classes for a career they are interested in. He said that NOVA has already hired one person to work exclusively with Year Up NCR participants, and they will soon be hiring another to work on creating these “pathways” to college and then careers with Year Up students. 

“If we are not able to execute that last part, the pathways…we haven’t done justice to the program,” said Dr. Maphumulo. “It means these kids did not reach the optimum levels we know they are going to need to be successful in their lives moving forward.” 

Browning, and others at Year Up NCR, said that many community colleges are not yet effectively serving this population, and many working students do not graduate due to the stressors of family, work, and school. Through its joint effort with Year Up NCR—and the four other workforce development organizations it has partnered with—NOVA gains access to this population in a way it could not before.

“Community colleges are no longer serving the population they were initially intended to serve,” said Thompson. “There needs to be another layer of support added for young people who at one point would have probably been in community college, but now need a foundation prior to community college.”

As the partnership grows and evolves, both sides hope to have an even more institutionalized relationship in the future. Morgan said he hopes to open up a site on NOVA’s campus, not just for the benefit of Year Up NCR participants, but also for NOVA students. 

“If dreams come true, we would be able to set up a site on one of NOVA’s campuses and become integrated into the college even more directly,” he said. “NOVA has students that actually are on campus that could definitely benefit from what Year Up has to offer.”

Even at this early stage, there is talk of this partnership becoming a national model for not only other Year Up sites around the country, but also for other workforce development organizations in general. Browning says that for other community colleges to replicate this kind of success, they need to recognize that they are not serving all of the vulnerable populations they can and they need to reach out to organizations like Year Up for help.

“If you look right down the street, you will find near every community college a nonprofit job training provider which is really great at serving their audience,” he said. “But most often that job training nonprofit down the street is disconnected from the college. So the participants are doing college-level coursework without getting college credit. The nonprofit can get participants their first job but not that long-term credential that is key to long-term career success.”

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Jeff and Cal Leonard: Leading by Example and Inspiring a Legacy of Giving

Jeff and Cal Leonard, VPP’s newest investors, bring very different, but complementary professional experiences to a shared vision for giving back in the National Capital Region. Jeff is the President and a founding partner of the Global Environment Fund, which is one of the largest private equity firms focusing exclusively on energy and the environment. Cal recently retired after 31 years as a child psychologist, first at the Community Mental Health Center in New Jersey and then with the Head Start Program in Montgomery County, Maryland.   She has served on numerous boards addressing policies and practices related to services, education and mental health programming for children and families.

But both share a deep love for the region they grew up in and care about making it a better place, particularly for children and families in need.

“We have always played off each other’s strengths,” said Jeff. “I am able to benefit from Cal’s direct experience with programs and her knowledge of which models are effective interventions.”

“And Jeff’s strategic mind, his knowledge of how to help organizations become more efficient and succeed in an environment where the funding piece is critical, has been very important in our philanthropic work,” added Cal.
Both Jeff and Cal were introduced to volunteering and activism at very young ages. Cal, whose grandparents were immigrants, trick-or-treated for UNICEF each year and donated at church. She has vivid memories of participating with her family in the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  Poverty and equality have always been key issues for her. Jeff’s father brought him to the then segregated Lincoln Park neighborhood in Rockville when he was 10 years old to tutor kids twice a week. There he experienced the effects of segregation and sometimes taught kids his own age or older.

“I went to a school that was integrated, but many local institutions such as Glen Echo Park, and local swimming pools, were not.  And, even as segregation in the DC area was dissolving, it was clear that the he economic disparities between communities were still huge,” said Jeff. “I learned how poverty and education are intertwined. If you don’t start with many advantages, you face many barriers. I’ve taken that with me through everything I’ve done.”

Jeff and Cal both take a high-engagement approach to their philanthropy. Jeff was a founding board member of Beacon House, which provides programming to at-risk youth, and Cal is a board member at Strathmore, a Bethesda performing arts center, where she has helped develop outreach to and programming for low-income communities.

“We take a very venture capital approach to our philanthropy, often getting closely involved as volunteers and small donors before we make any large commitments…I always try to push institutions to stretch further and build capacity so they are able to continue long after our involvement,” said Jeff.

Their experience in the community helps make these local partnerships successful and rewarding.

“We like to be able to give locally,” said Cal. “Having grown up here and lived here most of our adult lives, we have historical knowledge of the issues, problems, and interventions.  This gives us a useful perspective and a stronger basis to judge effectiveness…We can more directly asses whether or not situations and systems are actually improving.

Cal and Jeff have supported many organizations in the area and always look to find ways to help organizations to increase their capacity fur future sustainability. They have issued several “Challenge Grants” to organizations like Beacon House, Strathmore, and City Year DC, for example.

“We always look for leverage points,” said Jeff. “We try to help empower institutions for the future.”

Jeff and Cal have been aware of VPP since its inception and knew of co-founder Mario Morino’s previous efforts to develop a venture investment model for philanthropy in the region.  “When I first saw the approach in the Edgewood neighborhood where Beacon House is located, I was skeptical and so were many in the community. VPP has developed a refined model for institution-building and has really demonstrated a core commitment to local collaboration. We can see now the extensive work [VPP] does before launching into communities.  It was time for us to get involved,” said Jeff.

“VPP has a willingness to dig deeply,” said Cal.  “The partners have a strong understanding of the complexities of social change and a track record of strategic intervention at multiple levels. They understand the challenges of cross-jurisdictional issues and know how to move an agenda forward to make significant and sustainable impacts.”

Jeff and Cal instill the importance of giving back that they learned at a young age in their own children. Their oldest son, Michael, began tutoring at Beacon House at around the same age as Jeff did in Lincoln Park. Their other children, Anna and Peter, have been actively involved in urban education, housing, and cultural activities.  Both Jeff and Cal hope their example has encouraged their children to pass along this legacy of service down through generations.

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JPMorgan Chase Supports Friendship Public Charter Schools Model Performance Management System

VPP Holiday Party
VPP President and CEO Carol Thompson Colewith Friendship Public Charter School and JPMorgan Chase Representatives

Last month, the JPMorgan Chase Foundation gave a $125,000 grant to VPP investment partner Friendship Public Charter School to support further development and implementation of its state of the art performance management system. The system, called the Engaged Performance system, provides administrators, teachers, parents, and students with the data they need to improve performance at the six charter schools in the Friendship network, which serves 4,007 students from preschool through twelfth grade.

“We look at community development and education as the key drivers of what we do,” said Helen Stewart, Mid-Atlantic/South Region Executive, Global Philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase. “We know that you need strong education systems to help kids build the skill sets needed to graduate from college and move out of poverty.”

Stewart first learned of Friendship’s system from Shirley Marcus Allen, partner at VPP.

“On several occasions Shirley and I had shared the strategies that VPP and JPMorgan Chase were considering,” said Stewart. “We had a strong interest in education reform and projects that weren’t just requesting operating support, but, like in this case with Friendship, projects that would be game changing in the way that they use data to drive improvement.”

The one-year grant will help support the further design and implementation of the system, which launched during the 2008-2009 school year. 

“Since implementing the performance management system, we’ve seen notable increases in reading and math proficiency. At our newest charter elementary campus, Southeast Elementary, the latest test scores show that we have more than doubled the students who are proficient in reading and math since opening the campus,” said Pat Brantley, Chief Operating Officer at Friendship.

Stewart and those at Friendship hope this performance management system can be used to help other charter schools across the region.

“While there is huge emphasis on performance management in schools today, there’s a real dearth of systems available to help schools monitor, manage, and accelerate performance,” said Brantley. “With the generous support of JP Morgan Chase we will be able to pilot new functionality and extend our platform so it may be used by a wide range of schools committed to advancing performance.”

JPMorgan Chase focuses its corporate philanthropy on place-based initiatives that create a meaningful difference in the highest need neighborhoods and catalyze systems change. Stewart said this initiative fits well into its focus on educational programs that ultimately provide a path out of poverty for youth. Locally, the foundation has identified Ward 7 and 8 in Washington, DC as high priority areas, and Friendship operates several schools in those wards. 

This leveraged support for Friendship adds to the over $34 million of additional funding secured for investment partners by VPP throughout its first ten years.

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Investment Partner Updates

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