“Impact is one area where SVP needs to continue to evolve.…It’s where we’re going to go, who we’re going to be,” shares SVP Partner Pete Punwani, reflecting on why he chose to not only participate in SVP’s Real-Time Strategic Planning (RTSP) process but also to become one of its Impact Subteam co-leads.
“Impact” was one of three overarching areas of focus that came out of the initial stages of SVP’s RTSP process, which began at the 2017 Fall Partner Meeting. At that meeting, the SVP Partners feverishly scribbled question after question onto notecards about what they wanted the organization to strategically ask itself. Out of an analysis of these initial inquiries, arose a handful of Big Questions for SVP and a yearlong journey beginning to address them. Pete—along with Impact Subteam Co-lead Al Van Zeeland and several other Partners—set forth to answer “What impact is SVP having on Investees, Partners, and the community?” A year later, Pete and Al reflect on the process and progress.
SVP opted for the RTSP model over a traditional strategic planning approach because of RTSP’s agile and results-focused orientation. More traditional approaches run the risk of becoming exercises in trying to establish sets of objectives or goals for looking outward three years. This process demands a lot of energy to produce a plan, and, while it is a good exercise for creating some initial alignment and excitement over what is possible and where the organization should go, it often falls short in actually making things happen to get there.
“That’s because things change…resources change, new things emerge, new opportunities become apparent, and we become detached from the strategic plan. Next thing you know, we’re so far off the rails from it that we just put it on the shelf and it collects dust until we decide to hire consultants and do it again,” says Evan Ishida, SVP board president and RTSP co-chair.
“I think the Real-Time Strategic Planning is very well-suited for nonprofits,” adds Pete. But Pete’s appreciation of the RTSP model was not immediate; it gradually grew as he built his understanding that nonprofits cannot always plan several years ahead. Most for-profit, multi-billion-dollar corporations—with whom Pete had worked most—have to look out at least five years into the future to change anything they are doing in a dramatic way. Their time horizon is more long-term, so it makes sense for them to do traditional strategic planning.
“On the other hand, I found that the nonprofits that SVP deals with have a hard time predicting where their funds are going to come from in the next few months, leave alone beyond one year,” says Pete. “From that perspective, I can see how it would be difficult to do any long-term planning for them.”
The RTSP process is not necessarily simple or straightforward.
The Impact Subteam began with its focus on what impact SVP has had on its Investees. From an initial overview, it was confident SVP had done and was continuing to do good work with Investees, but how to measure it was a challenge. SVP had gathered information over the course of its 17 years of Investee engagements, but the data needed to be analyzed more cohesively.
One project that was undertaken was a qualitative analysis done by Partners Mary Bright and Tara Schmitt, in which they sifted through past Investee case studies, articles about engagements, and evaluations completed by Investees’ executive directors at the end of their SVP engagements.
The variety of data sources also proved a challenge. There was a lot of information, but, in part because each of SVP’s Investees’ organizational structures and missions are so distinct from one another, there were not many single metrics that were consistently measured across all engagements.
“My background in the manufacturing world is how to measure things…that’s where my brain tends to go with an engineering background,” shares Al. “I’ve come to learn that it’s good to be focused. To not overly complicate things. Keep it simple. I think it would be helpful if we consider evaluating our impact on Investees and on the community by having each Investee identify the one metric that evaluates how they are doing towards accomplishing their mission.”
According to Pete, there were also places where the subteam tried to push the broader partnership out of its comfort zone. One of the ideas was examining if SVP should find one particular focus area to summarize its Investees’ work. There was a debate within the group over whether a single focus or multiple foci was the best path.
The co-leads see the debate as healthy—as an example of what can be achieved through diverse thinking.
“But, at the end of the day, you also want to get consensus from the Partners so that, as you establish any kind of change in direction, you make sure the whole partnership is behind it. Because what you don’t want to do is splinter,” Pete recognizes.
Hilary Sparks-Roberts, executive director of Social Venture Partners Cleveland, observed, “What we heard from our Partners was that there was a consensus around the overarching issue of ‘closing the opportunity gap’ and maintaining our central focus on equity.”
Looking back, Pete reflects, “What we’ve accomplished so far is that we have a very good perspective of where we have been and how we currently measure things. We were able to use the Partner Meeting that we had on Sept 13th to kind of push out and ask, ‘What should we be doing going into the future?’ And I think that’s an exciting journey.”