Early impressions: How Candid’s new tool helps refine our community leadership practice
Candid’s new Community Leadership Assessment Tool is a free resource that allows community foundations to assess their engagement in several dimensions of community leadership, such as the lifting up of community voice, equity, influencing public policy, and more. Community foundations can measure engagement in these areas along a seven-point scale and consult guideposts for how to deepen that engagement. The tool was designed to inform conversations within foundations as they assess their level of investment in these activities and strategically plan for the future. The Rochester Area Community Foundation was among the tool’s earliest adopters. Simeon Banister shares the community foundation’s experience with the tool.
Candid’s Community Leadership Assessment Tool comes as a timely contribution to our field amidst a maelstrom of challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic, global in its reach and local in its impact, re-emergent racial strife, and an ever more polarized political climate are placing increased demands on community foundations. Even in the best of times balancing competing priorities, attending to diverse constituencies, and building the right internal culture for community leadership are challenging pursuits. As we attempt to plug the proverbial dike with financial support to a strained nonprofit sector, we are also confronted with the need for solution-oriented leadership that demonstrably strengthens our communities. Said plainly, our communities are looking to us for resources, they are looking to us for answers, they are looking to us for leadership.
Considering the frenetic pace at which we are all moving to respond to these demands, many of us are time-starved to reflect on the effectiveness of the leadership we are attempting to provide. CF Leads had already done the field a great service in 2008 and again in 2013 by offering and updating the Framework for Community Leadership. This accessible resource allowed us to visualize and define the practice of community leadership. This was an important step, but it is one thing to envision community leadership and another to implement and evaluate its successful practice.
“What gets measured gets done!”
This iteration of the trope, made popular by the “Red Bull of management thinking,” Tom Peters, has become the go-to cliché for articulating the importance of utilizing metrics to guide implementation, particularly in a hectic environment with competing priorities. Indeed, there is value to setting measurable criteria to ensure focus on pertinent work, but as Jerry Muller points out in his provocatively titled The Tyranny of Metrics, “Not everything that is important is measurable, and much that is measurable is unimportant.” Community leadership, given its complexity, certainly involves measurement resistant elements, but this is precisely where we have found value in Candid’s Community Leadership Assessment Tool. Instead of reducing community leadership down to a staid set of measurable data points, the tool utilizes a rubric-based approach that captures much of the complexity of community leadership in an easy to deploy format.
The tool has been an important arrow in the Rochester Area Community Foundations quiver as we continue to refine our community leadership practice. Even in the barrage of pressing concerns to address, the tool has helped us to remain focused on responding to our community’s leadership needs and evaluating our performance. Here are several facets of our experience using the tool.
Formative or summative?
We have deployed the tool as a developmental and formative assessment rather than as a summative assessment. Doing so has allowed us to take a more iterative approach with the expectation that we will continue to hone and improve our work over time. We also see value in frequently using the tool to speed up our improvement cycle and maintain fidelity to the goals we are trying to achieve.
Another aphorism, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This also applies to assessments. A rubric-based assessment is subjective by definition and depends on the honesty of its participants. In our experience, a prerequisite for successfully using the tool is to ensure a culture of open, transparent, and non-punitive reflection.
In our case, we have focused on connecting the assessment to our mission “to strengthen our community through philanthropy.” Further, we acknowledge that every team member has a vested interest and role to play in our community’s improvement for our respective families and loved ones. With these ideas as touchstones, the tool gives us the opportunity to ensure that we are doing all that we can to maximize the contribution we can make. We then use staff meeting time to review the results together in conversation to fully leverage our collective insights.
Managing blind spots
If we were to only utilize the tool with our staff we might miss key insights that can only be gained from perspectives from outside our organization. It has been beneficial to share relevant sections of the tool with nonprofit partners and, most importantly, members of our community that are not practitioners. Even further, we also look forward to inviting members of the community, especially the most vulnerable, into conversation with our team, so that our work is informed and driven by community input and equity focused.
We are grateful for Candid’s and CF Leads’ offerings to the community foundation field. It is exciting to consider how the Community Leadership Assessment Tool will continue to evolve as more foundations adopt and contribute to its development. There is no doubt that as we move forward in these uncertain and tumultuous times, community leadership will only become more critical as a defining characteristic of community foundations. We would do well to redouble our efforts to improve our performance and leverage innovative resources such as the Community Leadership Assessment Tool to do so.
Want to learn more?
Join Simeon as well as Stuart Comstock-Gay and Sarah Grunewald from the Delaware Community Foundation, Deborah Ellwood and Len Bartel from CFLeads, and David Rosado, director of CF Insights at Candid, for a free webinar. They’ll discuss how to use the Community Leadership Assessment Tool at your community foundation to evaluate and inform your community leadership efforts. Register for the webinar.