Collaborative Learning Helps Nonprofits Reach Mission Impact Goals


by Nhu Te

There has been a growing trend in our space, and it keeps on growing. With over 1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S. alone, those who are supporting various nonprofits are demanding more accountability-they want to know how their dollars are being spent and how those dollars are impacting nonprofit missions.

Now, nonprofits are held accountable for the dollars they raise and what they’re doing with it. With this new responsibility, how are nonprofits sharing their impact with their supporters? In a document called the “Increasing Mission Impact Through Collaboration: Chicago Benchmarking Collaborative Processes and Toolkit,” it shares how collaborative learning can help organizations reach their intended impact. A total of nine organizations have participated in the Chicago Benchmarking Collaborative since 2008: Erie Neighborhood House, Chinese American Service League, Gads Hill Center, Chicago Youth Centers, Christopher House, Chicago Commons Association and Marillac St. Vincent Family Services.

To give a little more insight on collaborative learning, Traci Stanley, director of quality assurance at Christopher House, said in an exclusive interview with NonProfit PRO, “This group is for us to use data and learn from each other, so that we can improve programming and services to children and families, and increase the impact on the participants that we serve. Collaborative learning can look like, for example, one agency achieving higher outcome results than the other, so we’re learning what strategies and practices they are implementing on a day-to-day basis.”

“There’s a lot of great work being done to increase organizational deliverable mission and shared learning amongst program staff,” Lori Baas, CEO of Christopher House, said.

The document outlines four stages of collaborating:

  1. Establish a shared vision and goals
  2. Building capacity for data use and collaborative learning
  3. Use data and improve practice
  4. Sustain and institutionalize systems

Attracting and Retaining Employees

Staff turnover has been a recurring issue in the nonprofit sector, as organizations are already strapped for time and money. How can nonprofits mitigate the turnover problem with collaborative learning?

To achieve the nonprofit’s established shared vision, the organization needs to go through a significant culture change. To do so, nonprofits need to write a statement that describes what that change will look like to develop a culture of continuous improvement using data. According to the document, make sure your nonprofit has a cohesive staff who is engaged in using data at all levels, and workflow processes and uses of technology help staff move quickly from talk to action.

“A great way to have a room of thoughtful people, who really want to learn how to do their jobs better and have a greater impact, is to participate in a learning group. This is definitely something that helps retain and develop staff and increase their ability to practice, which is a development step to staff investment and a key driver in staff retention,” Baas said.

In order for nonprofits to improve work culture for their employees, nonprofits need to use data for continued improvement. This is critical for nonprofits because by analyzing data, the organization can make data-informed decisions, ensuring that the organization is taking all the required steps to achieve its mission goals and improve its footprint in the industry.

“In our care learning collaborative, we’re sharing data with program staff, directors and managers who have control of budgets and can reallocate resources, so they can make data-informed decisions,” Stanley said. “A lot of the data charts and visuals we produce are for that stakeholder group, so that they can create smart goals around data points that they want to increase or data points that they worked really hard to achieve.”

To download the full PDF, click here.