Leading for Impact Turns Five

Where can a community's mainstay nonprofit get the consulting support they need to take their impact to the next level? Here.

Tony Mestres, president and CEO, Seattle FoundationIn 2014, The Bridgespan Group launched Leading for Impact® (LFI), a two-year program that helps organizations develop their strategies and improve their effectiveness. Five years in, the LFI consulting experience has helped 260 leading nonprofits in Atlanta, the Washington, DC, region, Seattle, Boston, Chicago, and most recently Detroit increase the impact they have in their communities.

Local philanthropists make this possible by creating a scholarship pool to cover 80 percent of program costs, so LFI is accessible to the nonprofits that can benefit the most. Over a five-year period, LFI supports 50 nonprofits in a participating community—increasing impact for each organization and for the community overall. "Leading for Impact allowed us to make a deep and lasting contribution to a critical mass of nonprofits and leaders essential to our community," says Tony Mestres, president and CEO of Seattle Foundation. "It was a rare opportunity to make a world-class investment in the impact we care about."

Lifting Seattle

Since 2016, LFI has served 50 Seattle nonprofits that provide nearly $1 billion in services annually. Here are some of their results.

Rainier ScholarsRainier Scholars gives low-income minority students a pathway to college via a 12-year educational support program. The organization noticed one segment of its students was dropping out at higher levels than others. An LFI coach worked with Rainier Scholars to analyze those students' experiences and to redesign outreach, intake, and personalized support systems to better meet their needs. "The tools and frameworks you provided had very real outcomes: retention rates [for the targeted segment] have increased from 50 percent to 95 percent," says Rainier Scholars Executive Director Sarah Smith.

YouthCare Seattle

A homeless services organization gets clarity.

YouthCare provides a range of supports for homeless youth in Seattle/King County—from basic services and shelter to employment training and housing. The organization chose to focus its LFI project on clarifying its theory of change and target outcomes. YouthCare also identified improvements to its processes and created an executive dashboard to show progress on organizational and strategic priorities. "I'd describe LFI as nothing short of transformative for YouthCare," says the organization's CEO and president Melinda Giovengo. "It prompted us to completely rethink how we carry out our mission. We're much clearer now on the impact we are trying to have for young people and the community. Most important—we know how to get there."

A family service organization gets savvy about its offerings

Jewish Family Service of Seattle StaffJewish Family Service (JFS) of Seattle helps vulnerable people in the Puget Sound region build healthier, more stable lives. With the help of LFI, JFS assessed its range of programs and identified opportunities to increase its impact while reducing costs. This included divesting from a service that didn't fit with its mission—and finding a community partner better able to run that service. "I cannot overstate the impact Bridgespan has had on this organization," says JFS CEO Will Berkovitz. "You gave us the language and structure for something we wanted but weren't sure how to do."

One part strategy, one part team effectiveness

When an organization chooses LFI, it signs on for:

Two high-impact projects. Bridgespan works with executive teams to identify and address a strategic or organizational priority, one for each year of the two-year program. Bridgespan then provides coaching and advisory support over the course of the projects.

The chance to dig deep on key issues can be rare—and revelatory—for organizations. "Having clarity on the impact that we really want to have in the city helps us think differently about our resources and how we allocate them," attests Beth Chandler, president and CEO of YW Boston.

For nonprofits that can't commit to the intensive LFI experience, Bridgespan offers online programs on several LFI topics, such as drafting a theory of change and strengthening leadership pipelines.

Executive team development. During the first six months of the project, Bridgespan convenes leaders from a cohort of 8¬10 local nonprofits for monthly, daylong classroom sessions exploring the core elements of strategy, organization, and team effectiveness.

For many teams, the experience is a game-changer. "Over the last four months, my executive team has been a part of LFI, and it has been amazing," says Rebeca Nieves Huffman, former vice president and executive director of City Year Chicago. "There really isn't anyone else out there doing this kind of work."

After LFI…

… A youth mentorship organization reversed seven years of decline in the number of youth served—and grew by 10 percent—using its new growth plan.

… A medical services organization made a "go" decision on a new service line that will fill a provider gap in the region.

… Applications to a teacher residency program tripled, thanks to a new recruiting strategy.

Extending our impact even further

Over the next five years, LFI will launch in five more cities and plans to provide both the two-year experience and the shorter online programs in each of those communities. The online offerings draw on the experience of nearly 500 projects conducted with LFI clients. Between the full LFI program and the online courses, LFI can reach as many as 100 nonprofits in a community to increase their collective impact.

Created: June 2019