Can You Really Skip These Investments? by Dana Bright

In a recent edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR), Aaron Hurst, founder and president of the Taproot Foundation, identifies what he sees are five areas in which nonprofits dedicate large amounts of resources towards but with little return on investment: volunteers, websites, boards, social media and strategic planning. According to Hurst, nonprofits are led astray by the buzz created around “best practices” in these areas by the media and nonprofit consultants.

Upon reading the post, I immediately sent it to a couple friends, who work in the nonprofit sector and who are deeply involved with volunteers, websites and social media within their organizations and the sector as a whole, to get their take. As expected, they disagreed with Hurst on several points. One friend ultimately summed it up well by saying, “If the article wasn’t controversial, people wouldn’t read it!”

Whether intentional or not, I think that is partly the purpose of Hurst’s article, to get people sharing it with their nonprofit colleagues and to spark discussion and debate by shining the spotlight on so-called “best practices” and arguing that maybe nonprofits have it all wrong after all. Mission accomplished as evidenced by the number of comments posted in response to Hurst’s article on SSIR’s website alone.

Focusing less on what should be done and more on what needs to be done to achieve goals is Hurst’s advice for nonprofits. I agree that there are a lot of “shoulds” being thrown around in the sector today. Things are moving at such a rapid pace particularly in the areas of technology and modes of communication to reach one’s audience. I can imagine how challenging, overwhelming and taxing it could be for a smaller, under-resourced nonprofit to weed through all the talk of best practices and hone in on those areas in which to focus time and energy to gain the most return.

I see a challenge emerging from Hurst’s article. If we as nonprofit professionals disagree with his comments based on what we know about the effectiveness and impact something like social media has for our organizations, then what data do we have to back up our claims? What evidence or research has been done to substantiate or disprove Hurst’s thoughts about whether or not to invest in areas like social media, websites, strategic planning and boards? Are we making the case to our organizations to prioritize evaluation, data tracking, and other strategies to show return on investment?

YNPN Chicago blog readers, what are your reactions to the “Five Investments You Can Skip”? Let’s get the conversation going.

Dana Bright, LSW, is the Manager of Health Promotion with Older Adult Programs at Rush University Medical Center where she oversees health promotion and disease prevention program development and implementation for older adults and caregivers. She also serves as an adjunct faculty member in the Rush College of Nursing, and is a former Executive Board member of YNPN Chicago. Dana received her B.S. in Social Work from Xavier University and graduated from the University of Michigan with her Masters in Social Work.

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