Creating a new generation of data to solve social problems.
A lot can change in 10 years. But can high school drop-out rates be cut in half by 2018? United Way of America (UWA) recently announced, among other things, that it will strive to do just that. At first blush, this is an impressive statement! At second glance, one wonders how UWA will accomplish this, given that decades of effort and millions of dollars have failed to solve the issue.
In a recent Washington Post article, Brian Gallagher, President and CEO of UWA, noted this challenging history and remarked that “United Way must hold itself accountable by declaring bold and measurable – even if unattainable – goals.” Measurable goals are certainly critical to the accountability of any organization and boldness can inspire staff and donors alike. The red flag, though, is raised by Gallagher’s parenthetical comment regarding attainability.
Stating broad and ambitious goals – while inspiring – poses unique challenges. Such announcements can result in an increasingly skeptical public, a loss in credibility, and a false understanding of organizational impact. In this particular case, UWA must be prepared for one of the following two circumstances:
The lesson here is that in order to measure success, an organization must focus on outcomes that exist within its sphere of influence. Many organizations succumb to the temptation of stating lofty statistics for their motivational and media-grabbing power, and in doing so, miss an opportunity to understand their true impact and build their credibility in the long run.