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JCF Blog

Why Ask Why?

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 3/30/2016

Why Ask Why? Please don’t answer “Try Bud Dry.” (Although for you marketing types like me who never forget a jingle, I understand and forgive you.)

No, I’m serious. Why is it worth asking why? Because let’s face it, those of you who have (or ever had) toddlers, know that “Why?” can be the most annoying question on earth. 

Why? can also be an excruciatingly beautiful or painful expression of the soul. “Why” can drive exploration into our spirituality and what our religion means to us. 

Why? in a social context can be about digging deeper, understanding ourselves better, uncovering assumptions and learning about our view of the world.

As the Director for the Foundation’s Center for Innovative Philanthropy, I ask “why” often, not to be annoying or because I have a spiritual or social agenda. For me, “why” is the foundational concept behind strengthening nonprofits, behind creating excellent programs, and behind achieving our goals. 

“Why” should be the beginning of everything. 

If we can’t explain why we’re pursuing something, odds are we won’t know if we’ve achieved what we hoped to accomplish. That’s why we go back to the refrain of three essential questions:

Why are we doing this? 

What will it look like when we’ve succeeded?

How will we know?

We’ve been exploring this concept with many community partners, using a fancy term: outcomes measurement. 

The concept goes something like this:

1. Identify your goals. 

2. Identify what it would look like if you achieved those goals (outcomes). 

3. Figure out what you need to do to get to those outcomes (activities). 

4. Determine how you know if you got there (measurements). 

It’s a simple framework, but not easy.  It’s a framework that starts with why, creates space for us to learn as we go, and ultimately, helps us deliver on a vision. It helps us to see the connection between what we do and why we do it. 

Many folks assume that outcomes measurement is a good skill to have for writing grants and reaching out to funders. And they are right, no doubt about it. As a funder, the Foundation always benefits from understanding the connection between what a nonprofit does and what it accomplishes by doing so. 

Outcomes measurement achieves more than just a good grant proposal. Outcomes measurement ensures that nonprofit staff, board and donors are on the same page about intentions and definitions of success. An outcomes measurement framework helps professionals determine priorities on a day-to-day basis.

The term “outcomes measurement” doesn’t sing the way an ad jingle does. So if you can’t remember it, just hold on to one magical word: Why? 

It will take you quite a ways on the road to success. 

Kathryn Gonnerman is the director of the Center for Innovative Philanthropy. Kathryn hails from Newton, Massachusetts and previously resided in Los Angeles, California where she worked for the California Community Foundation.She lives in Avon with her husband Darell and her perfect pug Picasso.

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