Friends of the Children

Friends of the Children

A Year of Leadership Development

In the midst of significant (60%) growth, Friends of the Children’s leadership teams across the country are finding the Performance Imperative Organizational Self-Assessment (PIOSA) helpful. Follow their progress here.

When the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) awarded a $4 million grant to Friends of the Children, President Terri Sorensen knew she had an unprecedented opportunity. If she could raise the $9.4 million match the grant required, hundreds more children in foster care and high-poverty, high-crime neighborhoods would receive professional mentoring—from Kindergarten through 12th grade—dramatically increasing their odds of graduation and success in life.

Just before learning of the SIF grant, Terri had agreed to beta test the Performance Imperative Organizational Self-Assessment (PIOSA) for the Leap Ambassadors Community. In the face of the opportunity (and challenge!) to reach 60% more youth, any president would have been tempted to move the PIOSA off the to-do list. Suspecting, however, that it might be helpful rather than a distracting “extra” task, Terri decided to move forward.

“I’m so glad we were asked to test the PIOSA,” she said after going through the self-assessment with her national leadership team. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to celebrate how far we’ve come and… to make sure we are considering all the right questions and next steps to reach our goals.”

After completing two of the seven pillars, the national leadership team realized that it did not have to be a one-and-done exercise. A few months later, the opportunity to use the PIOSA in Friends chapters across the country presented itself.

Going National

Terri knew the Friends executive directors were fully committed. But with half of all executive directors in place for two years or less and several chapters in planning stages, leadership development was necessarily a high priority. All of the executive directors had to be fully supported and able to make sure the Friends model was implemented as designed if they were going to produce the same positive outcomes found in evaluations.

“The point of scaling isn’t just to serve more children; it’s to help more children succeed,” said Terri. “That’s why each and every one of our chapters has to be high-performing.”

Executive and board leadership development had been a topic of conversation on monthly network leadership calls for months. But the team wasn’t sure where to take the conversations next.

That’s when a new idea began to take shape. What if they used the Performance Imperative‘s Pillar 1—courageous, adaptive executive and board leadership—to frame the conversation?

“At National, we had beta tested that part of the PIOSA within our own team, and it occurred to us that the PIOSA can help the entire network do even better,” Terri said. “We think the process can help us build on our strengths, help each other, and get executive directors of new chapters off to a good start.”

Follow Friends’ Year of Leadership Development

Friends of the Children’s plan will change depending on its findings, but their intention is clear: to introduce the PIOSA, invite all chapters to complete pillar 1, and then return to share and discuss what they’ve learned. In every 2017 monthly network leadership call, they will pick a leadership issue of shared concern and ask one executive director to facilitate the conversation.

Terri has agreed to share what they learn and how it informs their ongoing process. Follow along here.

February: Getting Buy-In

In the executive directors’ February conference call, the national leadership shared how the PIOSA beta test exercise had both affirmed numerous strengths and helped them see areas for growth. Leadership development issues had come up repeatedly in previous calls—someone would pipe up and ask for input and they would hear popcorn responses from one or two people. Members of the national leadership team suggested that using the PIOSA would allow them all to work from the same questions.

“I don’t like the idea of leading by carrots and sticks,” said Terri. “Chapter executive directors are leaders themselves, and it only makes sense to use something like the PIOSA if they are fully invested and believe it will help them get where they need to go.”

People welcomed the idea. In particular, executive directors liked that the PIOSA had been developed by 50+ content-area experts from across the nonprofit sector—practitioners, consultants, researchers, funders, and policymakers—as well as vetted by the entire Leap Ambassadors Community. They were excited about being guided by a set of questions that define high performance, described in the Performance Imperative as “the ability to deliver—over a prolonged period of time—meaningful, measurable, and financially sustainable results for the people or causes an organization exists to serve.” It fit their commitment to breaking the cycle of generational poverty perfectly.

By the end of the call, it started to feel like a generative process. “We build intentional long-term relationships with children, because that’s what it takes to help them succeed,” said Sarah Beiderman, Expansion Fund and Grants Manager. “As a network, we do the same with each other, and the PIOSA is going to help our learning community’s growth.”

March: Agreeing on the Process

Since everyone had agreed in the February call to use Pillar 1 of the PIOSA as a guide, the March conversation turned to process. How would chapters complete the self-assessment? Terri described how the national leadership team members had completed the same section of the PIOSA individually and then discussed it together, but she offered other ways to approach it as well.

Who should be involved? Should an executive director complete it on her own, or should she involve her entire leadership team, and maybe even the board, since pillar 1 is about executive and board leadership? If involving the team, would each person complete it individually before getting together to discuss, or would they discuss each question as a group and come to consensus?

Several executive directors felt that the self-assessment could guide organizational conversations and wanted to include their leadership teams. In the end, the group decided that each chapter should approach it in the way that made the most sense to them. Their PIOSA ratings and rationales would be only for themselves. The purpose was learning, not accountability.

“I’m excited about learning more and beginning to use the PIOSA, and I hope we’ll have opportunities for longer training sessions and discussions so that we can learn from each other,” said Kelly McKee, executive director of the Seattle chapter. “I see a lot of potential for strengthening our organization and our leadership, now and in the future.”

Next month, after completing the PIOSA in their own chapters, everyone will come back to discuss.

April: Debrief

In April’s network leadership call, members of the national leadership withdrew, allowing executive directors to have a peer-to-peer discussion about their PIOSA experience. “There was such good organic conversation,” observed National HR Director Cheryl Johnson, who stayed to facilitate, “on topics from managing two-tier boards to assessing effectiveness.”

Some had engaged their leadership teams, but many executive directors—wanting to familiarize themselves better with the PIOSA before involving others—had completed it on their own. Later, they felt, it would be valuable to invite senior leaders and board members to be part of the process.

The group decided collectively to dedicate the next network leadership call to sharing experiences and resources for board development, which emerged as a major topic. “It sparked a lot of really good conversations, conversations you just don’t think about having until a tool like the PIOSA draws your attention to them,” said Cheryl.

We will add the next update as soon as we receive it from Friends of the Children. Please check back or email us at PIOSAinfo@leapambassadors.org if you’d like to be notified when new content is posted.

Do you want to assess and improve your organization’s executive and board leadership? Check out Pillar #1 in the Performance Imperative and Performance Imperative Organizational Self-Assessment (PIOSA).


Friends of the Children

Locations: Harlem and South Bronx, New York; Seattle; Boston; Portland, Gresham, and Klamath Basin, OR; San Francisco; Tampa Bay; Cornwall, U.K.

Field: Mentoring and youth development

Budget: >$18 million

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High performance matters when @FriendsNational is expanding services… Click To Tweet@FriendsNational and chapters share their year of leadership development… Click To Tweet

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High performance matters! Friends of the Children is not expanding to serve more children but to help more children succeed. Follow a national organization’s year of leadership development http://leapambassadors.org/performance-in-practice/friends-of-the-children/