The quality of life in our communities is hugely affected by the work of many, many small groups of people who give their time to make something better.
Over time, they attract community resources – volunteers, donations, gifts in kind, free use of community space. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the goal of our efforts to attract all those resources is the direct impact we intend to have in the community.
Building strength for your organization is a means to community impact, not a goal in itself. Nobody ever started an organization in order to have a stronger organization.
The good news is that your organization can be more accountable for its community impact without spending a cent. You just have to thoughtfully, as a group, answer seven questions.
Question 1: What is our shared vision of the “better community” we are trying to create?
If you can’t describe what your community looks like when it is “better”, or can’t agree, then creating that vision is critical. How can you take a single step towards your dream without knowing the destination?
Question 2: How would people who have never heard of us see our community as better because of what we have been doing?
Think about the secondary effects. Perhaps your group worked for better lighting and safe streets, and now you see many more people strolling about each evening.
Question 3: How well have we identified and addressed conditions for success in our community?
Needs just continue to grow, way beyond our ability to serve them, if we don’t address what conditions must change to reduce those needs and enable progress towards our vision. Conditions are often complex and interrelated—so identifying the conditions can be a wonderful opening for new collaborations and partnering.
Question 4: How do we know that all our efforts have been planned and carried out in a way that maximizes progress towards our idea of a better community?
Set and stick to priorities, or personal agendas, pet projects and well meaning but misguided efforts may greatly reduce the resources (especially time) available for what matters.
Question 5: How well did we communicate our plans and our actual results as well as resources to supporters and potential supporters?
A community impact or strategic plan is your best accountability document. Tell your community up-front what you hope to achieve, as well as explaining what happened in the past. They just might get interested in your plans and want to help!
Question 6: How well are we as a group and as individuals modelling the ethical values we want in our community?
When you described that better community, you almost certainly used terms such as respectful, inclusive and healthy. Do you treat each other and your staff, partners, clients, suppliers, etc., as you want to see everyone in the community treating each other?
Question 7: How well are we collaborating with others working towards similar goals to leverage all our efforts on behalf of our community?
One person or group can be the catalyst for change, but it takes many people to truly make your community better. We are all inter-dependent, so there is no point acting as if we are alone.
Act on the answers
If you are like every other group I’ve ever seen, you weren’t happy with some of your answers. It will take some work to make sure you are much happier as you revisit these questions each year.
These questions can be re-worded many ways, and customized to the language and culture of any group.
But these are not the only questions we can ask. What questions would you add? Please share the powerful questions you use to help groups think through their accountability for community impact, and your stories of what happened after such questions were asked.
Jane Garthson is a consultant specializing in governance and ethics. She is a graduate of Creating the Future’s immersion course, co-facilitator of our monthly #NPCons twitter chat to help consultants reach their highest potential as change agents in their communities. Connect with Jane at the Garthson Leadership Centre.