Performance Practice For Nonprofits

Performance Practice for Nonprofits

Performance Imperative Organizational Self-Assessment

Putting an actionable organizational improvement strategy within reach of every nonprofit organization

The Performance Practice is designed for leaders who are motivated to deliver meaningful, measurable, and financially sustainable results for the people or causes they serve, even if they’re strapped for resources.

Building on seven organizational disciplines necessary to achieve high performance, the Performance Practice provides a series of proof points—concrete behaviors and specific practices—that indicate an organization’s alignment with the disciplines.

The Performance Practice’s modular design and comprehensive proof points help you facilitate organizational self-assessment, individual and collective reflection, and then identify where best to focus your efforts to improve management, performance, and results.

How Can You Benefit
from the Performance Practice?
Ways for Nonprofits
to Use the Performance Practice

By engaging in a collaborative organizational learning process, you can advance your efforts to…

  • Strengthen your leadership team
  • Increase board engagement
  • Advance talent development
  • Improve financial sustainability
  • Build a better case for funder support
  • Produce better and more reliable outcomes

Benefit from the Brainpower of 50+ Experts

Access—in one place—the collective expertise of 50+ nonprofit practitioners, researchers, funders, and consultants on how to improve your organization’s performance. You will benefit from the results of a collaborative and rigorous process.

Take advantage of their hard-won experience to boost your own performance.

Uncover “Hidden” Strengths and Opportunities

Spark reflection among multiple stakeholders, learn from each other, and develop shared understanding of challenges, positions, and plans across the organization. In the process, “hidden” organizational strengths and systemic limitations may surface. Do some of your practices limit results?

Pinpoint and focus your improvement efforts on the areas of greatest opportunity.

Disrupt Complacency

By stepping back to reflect, your organization has the opportunity to look inward, acknowledge problems, and take action to solve them. Honest conversations about the most difficult and important questions will nurture the culture of learning that characterizes healthy, high-performing organizations.

Disrupt complacency—expect curiosity, questioning, and continuous improvement.

Engage in an Improvement Initiative on Your Own Terms

The Performance Practice doesn’t require you to follow a rigid process, nor do you have to do everything at once. Start with what you need most, and phase your Performance Practice use to align with availability and workload. Focus squarely on discovering a pathway to high performance that works for your organization.

It’s not about checking boxes; it’s about meeting your mission.

Learn and Improve, No Matter Your Budget

To advance its purpose of inspiring, motivating, and supporting nonprofit and public-sector leaders to build great organizations for greater societal impact, the Leap Ambassadors Community makes the Performance Practice available as a complimentary product. Many organizations use the Performance Practice successfully on their own, while others choose to hire a consultant to facilitate the process.

Whether you have a large budget, a small one, or no budget at all, you can find ways to get better at getting better.

If you’re committed to high performance, the Performance Practice allows you to assess, reflect, learn, and improve on your organization’s schedule and budget. Nonprofit leaders, like you, can choose diverse paths on the journey to high performance, including:

  • Pick a single module to complete and engage in a reflection, learning, and improvement process
  • Select a small set of proof points from a module and engage in a group discussion about how the organization or department is doing
  • Review the entire—or parts of—the Performance Practice for ideas while preparing to introduce a major change or becoming familiar with a new organization

Here’s a common pathway to facilitate learning and organizational development with the Performance Practice.



Choose a module and prepare your team

The Performance Practice is designed to support a continuous process of organizational learning—rather than provide a “one-and-done” diagnostic report. Most organizations start by focusing on a single module—to drive performance improvement in that area over time.

Trying to decide where to begin your journey to high performance? Take a look at the individual modules, and start with the one that feels most relevant to your organization’s greatest need.

Think about who will participate in the process. Board members, executive leadership, directors, and frontline staff? Representatives from across the organization or those from a single program, division, or department? It all depends on the module and your organization’s current goals and circumstances.

Before diving into the assessment, make sure the team understands and buys into the Performance Practice process. Here are some ways to prepare your team:

  • Make sure your team is in the right frame of mind. It’s important that the team understands that performance matters because it’s inextricably tied to results. Tap into your staff’s passion and dedication to your mission, and determine how the Performance Practice can help you realize your shared vision. EXPERT TIP: Many nonprofit leaders find it helpful to read and discuss books like Leap of Reason and Working Hard—and Working Well before diving into their first Performance Practice discussion.
  • Emphasize what it means to be a high-performing organization. Share the Performance Imperative. We recommend stressing the definition of high performance, the interconnectedness of the seven disciplines, and the expectation that the framework can be used on your ongoing journey to high performance.
  • Explain why you’re introducing the Performance Practice. It’s helpful to make clear that the purpose is to engage in a collective learning and organizational development process. Stressing that it’s about organizational rather than individual performance can reduce anxiety, a common initial reaction, and rally everyone around the shared purpose of getting better at delivering on the organization’s mission.


Ask people to complete the organizational assessment on their own

Once you’ve selected the module, download the Performance Practice materials for that module and engage the team who will participate in the assessment process. The Performance Practice modules are available as Excel spreadsheets and accompanying materials are available as pdfs.

Next, send an email to team members asking them to complete the selected Performance Practice module. In your email, you may want to include:

  • Summary of the purpose of the process, even if you’ve explained it before
  • The module you are asking people to complete (an Excel spreadsheet)
  • Reminder that the rationale for the rating is as important as the rating itself
  • Date for team to return their completed file to the person who will aggregate the results
  • Address any potential concerns about anonymity and how the data will be used
  • Next steps


Aggregate the results and summarize key findings

The Performance Practice prototype design does not provide for automated compilation of multiple responses, but a “work-around” process allows for the manual compilation of data from multiple responses. Find what you need on the “Get Started” page for your selected module.

Once you’ve aggregated the results, look for themes and areas of agreement, as well as areas where there are wide discrepancies among the ratings and rationales from team members.

Before discussing the results together as a team, you may want to:

  • Share a spreadsheet with all the ratings and comments (if you do this as part of an anonymous process, make sure the comments don’t give away the respondents), so people can review and digest the information
  • Share the themes and questions the data raise for you, so people can think about them before you meet to discuss
  • Invite people to tell you whether they see additional themes or questions, so everyone can inform the agenda

Use the information to develop an agenda for discussion.


Embark on a collective learning process

The best way for an organization or team to reflect and learn together depends on many factors, including the level of mutual trust. The Performance Practice process provides an excellent opportunity to build team trust and a learning culture. Here are some ideas:

  1. Bring everyone together for a retreat or series of meetings to highlight and celebrate what you do well and discuss the key questions or themes that emerged from the assessment data. Find ways to engage both introverts and extroverts (by combining approaches like asking people to share opinions in writing and discussing in pair-share or smaller groups that report out to the larger group).
  2. You are likely to end up wanting to do more than you have the capacity to take on right now, so you may want to consider a prioritization exercise: What should you tackle first? Vote by putting red dots on a flipchart, discuss the best order for changes, or find another way to make a plan.
  3. Finalize your plan of action, for now, knowing that it will change over time, and course-correct as needed. Share responsibilities among individuals, teams, working groups, and any other appropriate groups.


Establish a system for keeping continuous improvement on track

Whatever improvements you’re working on—from introducing simple, new ideas to reengineering complex processes—regular meetings to assess progress, discuss, and reflect ensure your organization keeps learning and course-correcting as needed. Some organizations dedicate time in monthly staff or board meetings; others set specific team meetings dedicated to this purpose.

It’s also a good idea to go beyond simple progress check-ins and schedule time for substantive discussion. Focus on questions that will benefit from multiple perspectives, such as the implications of newly instituted changes and overcoming any challenges they present.

Depending on your approach, this process may require several months. Once you’ve made good progress making critical performance improvements on your first module, consider moving to another module (or doing the same one again to assess your progress). Some organizations decide to do one module every six months; others dive deep into one and repeat the assessment a year later. The choice is yours.

Get Started Today

Learn more about each of the modules below—or get started with one right away.

Module 1


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Module 2


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Module 3
Programs and Strategies


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Module 4
Financial Sustainability


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Module 5
Learning Culture


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Module 6
Internal Monitoring


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Module 7
External Evaluation


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Use All Modules


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Related Performance Practice Videos

Watch nonprofit leaders talk about how they’ve used the Performance Practice and what they’ve learned from it.

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