Keep Calm and Write It Down: How Reflective Practice Leads To Better Results for Nonprofit Giving Days | Beth's Blog

Keep Calm and Write It Down: How Reflective Practice Leads To Better Results for Nonprofit Giving Days


I’m facilitating a peer exchange for the Knight Foundation for a group of grantees that are hosting a Giving Days over the next year using its recently published Giving Day Playbook.   The idea is not only for participants to acquire the skills and knowledge to host a successful giving day, but for them share and transform practices together.   This is a design aspect called “Transformative Capacity Building,”  where a cohort of peer organizations come together to practice a skill and get better results.

The skill, of course, is hosting a Giving Day and we are now looking at processes, techniques, and ideas for follow up and assessment.   The guide has a lot of highly useful advice, examples, resources, and templates – mostly about collecting data from surveys and learning from metrics.      It also includes an excellent set of terrific questions to discover impact, but there are many different methods for this type of reflective learning after completing an event, communications strategy, or program.

One of the most valuable is to incorporate a process evaluation, capturing what actually happened as the event or program unfolded.    You can always learn from documenting as an event unfolds and having a formal reflection or debrief post program or event.   I know this sounds like extra work, but keeping a journal can help you remember exactly what worked really well or what you’d like to tweak or improve the next round.    I was chatting with Dana Nelson from GiveMN, one of the longest running giving days who tell me she and her team are always “writing it down as they go.”       Dirk Slater, another colleague who does nonprofit technology capacity building, once shared with me that he and his team keep journals during programs they’re managing and that writing down what could improve takes some of the stress out of it as well.

Capturing insights like this as the event unfolds is a good technique because if you wait until the event is over, there is a chance you won’t remember everything in vivid detail.    It isn’t just about writing it down, it is also reviewing what your captured with your team in an “After Action Review.”    Here’s a methodology for doing an After Action Review, but it boils down to:

  1. Capture the lesson learned (big or small)
  2. Put it on a social site so all members of your team can add and access (a google document works great for this)
  3. Ask team members to reflect on their lessons learned
  4. Review it together in a meeting and summarize into a series of  “do, improve (say how), don’t do)

Another creative way of doing the debrief, is to use organizational storytelling.  Storytelling or rather story sharing isn’t just for presentations, it can help build your nonprofit’s capacity.  Have each member of the team share a story.  Moments in which best practices, know-how, and insights are exchanged, streamlined stories are high leverage strategies to make knowledge memorable.   This can avoid repeating mistakes of the past.   There is also an opportunity to weave in analysis of your data from surveys and incorporate storytelling with your data.

My colleague, blogger Michele Martin has this well-researched deck with many more examples of methods for doing a process evaluation and reflective practice.  All of these work well with small groups and inside of organizations.   What I am curious about is how you would design and facilitate a reflective process to capture learning from a connected learning network such as what is unfolding with GivingTuesday.  In other words, how to scale reflective practice in age of connectedness?





How does your organization learn to improve its campaigns, strategies, programs, and events?   How do you go beyond just doing a survey or collecting metrics?  Does your organization incorporate a process for capturing informal learning that help improve what you’re doing?   Does your organization encourage staff to use reflective practice?  Share your examples in the comments below.

8 Responses

  1. I do a lot of ‘intense period debriefs’ for advocacy organizations, and I am going to try to incorporate these journaling and storytelling components in some of those processes. As always, your generosity and creativity are great gifts to the field.

  2. Beth – This is a great post and a timely reminder as so many folks are thinking ahead to 2014 planning. Of course before you can make plans, reflection has to happen. Even on a smaller scale, like after a conference or other professional development event, most of us usually don’t make time to reflect and think about how we will implement what we’ve learned. It’s definitely a bad habit that I’m trying to break! Focusing on quality learning rather than quantity learning.

  3. […] hat, she’s contributing and sharing great best practices for the nonprofit community. This week, Beth wrote about a process evaluation project she’s helping with and shares some great tips on writing down […]

  4. Beth,
    All our Museum Education Leadership students at Bank Street College write reflections after each class, linking theory with practice on the job. These are gathered by the end of the program to form what is called ‘an ark of understanding’ in a portfolio. In addition, reflections are shared with advisers and among peers as part of “conference groups”. What underlies our educational approach is that you can’t separate the development of the person doing the thinking or planning or evaluating from the job itself, the way actors and singers for example have to understand their own voices and bodies as the instrument of what is being communicated. So reflection and self-awareness are essential to the sorts of endeavors your are describing.

  5. […] a huge fan of reflective practices, so Beth Kanter’s post about how being a reflective organisation can help you be a successful […]

  6. I help my nonprofit clients put in place a formal lessons learned process that lives in their shared online collaboration workspace:

    First, celebrate the opportunity to improve! Then…

    1. Log the problem/opportunity immediately
    2. Set the status to “logged”
    3. Go back to work, or continue to next step
    4. ID solution (preferably through team collaboration)
    5. Set the status to “solution identified”
    6. Go back to work, or continue to next step
    7. Put in place lasting corrective measure
    8. Set the status to “lesson learned”

    We schedule monthly team reviews of all lessons learned by status and assign ownership for completing the process. We place a lot of meaning in the name of this process!

  7. […] can keep track of aha moments, lessons, ideas, mistakes and experiences during events. In Keep Calm and Write It Down: How Reflective Practice Leads To Better Results for Nonprofits, we’re reminded that a key step to improvement is having an accurate retrospective view. So […]