Monday, December 28, 2009

V is for Value

"A COUPLE OF BOARD MEMBERS HAVE BEEN ASKING questions recently about the value of our organization. I realize I have to do more than become angry and come up with something that answers the question with a business-based answer."

That was the substance of a recent email from a heritage organization board member.

There are some things in professional life that continue to confound me – even pull me up short – despite the fact that I know they exist. For me, these “professional surprises” run the gamut from an organization’s unwillingness to ask for community input to the downright failure of some boards and staffs to recognize, or understand, that a nonprofit organization’s reason for being is the public benefit it provides. Knowing all that still didn’t prevent my heart from skipping a beat when I read that email.

There it was, the “V-word” (not to be confused with the other problem “V-word” – vision). Articulating the "value" issue plagues many cultural organizations, yet it’s the life-blood of what an organization does. If an organization’s own board members struggle with the “V-word” is the organization doomed to failure? On some levels, I would say, most likely, yes – particularly when it comes to making opportunities and seizing those offered by others.

Part of the struggle resides in the fact that there are many ways value can be measured – educational and economic are two that come immediately to mind. As Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, comments in this post, we might do our organizations a world of good by learning to value them for the reputation, access, and ideas they embody. Brown identifies and defines six values criteria: network, brand, social, knowledge, meaning and monetary.

And in this post, Terrie Temkin makes a strong argument for determining mission impact. How would you take on her challenge?

Another part of the "V-struggle" is slogging work: collecting and analyzing the data that illustrates whatever values or impacts your organization deems critical to delineating its public benefit. But collect and analyze you must or be relegated to vague, squishy descriptions of worth.

So, my emailing board member has some work to do before a case is made that the organization does have a “business based” impact. I suggested that determining the amount of money visitors to the organization spend in the community as a result of their visit would be a place to start. Combining that with how much the organization spends on local goods and services, on salaries and sales tax should result in a fairly impressive dollar amount that no one has heretofore given much thought to.

Photo: Measuring tape sphere (large) from Nick Sayers

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