Identifying Effective Practices

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After you have identified areas of need for your clients and community, you will begin to unearth potential practices to address these need areas. This is accomplished in one of two ways: by identifying existing practices that have already been validated to meet the needs of your clients and community; or by identifying new practices that meet the needs of your clients and community. When identifying potential practices, consider the following questions: What problem or challenge does the practice address? In what contexts has the practice been successful? For how long has the practice been in implementation? What outcomes or impacts has the practice helped to achieve?

Utilize peer networks and online resources to identify existing practices.

Network with other nonprofit organizations, coalitions, and academic institutions to determine the practices they have identified as successful. Suggested organizations and networks in which to identify effective practices include:

  • National and local foundations
  • Regional associations of grantmakers
  • State and Federal grant programs
  • Universities and academia
  • National and local think tanks and research institutes
  • United Ways
  • Other corporate giving programs
  • National policymaker associations such as the U.S. Conference of Mayors or the National Governor's Association
  • Faith-based networks such as the Christian Community Development Association or the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability
  • State and national nonprofit associations

You can also search for existing practices by utilizing searchable web-based databases such as those maintained by the University of Nevada at Reno's Center for the Application of Substance Abuse Technologies and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices.

Identify new practices through observation and in-depth interviews.

For those nonprofits that need or want to identify new practices, the primary place to find these effective practices will be within your own organization or among peer networks of nonprofit organizations that serve a similar purpose and population. A nonprofit may self-identify a potential practice as an effective way to meet client or organizational needs, or your organization may observe an activity or method in practice that you believe will help to close the gap in a need area.

Large nonprofit organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters or Boys and Girls Clubs have hundreds of thousands of program sites throughout the country to draw from and can more easily identify effective practices that meet common needs and are easily transferable from one site to another. However, smaller nonprofit organizations, due to their size, will likely have to turn to peer organizations to identify and observe "what works" in meeting specific need areas.

Document the practice through a programmatic/organizational review.

One of the best methodologies for documenting an effective practice is to conduct either a programmatic or an organizational review of the practice. Which type of review you'll conduct depends on whether the potential practice is programmatic or organizational in nature. While different individuals with varying skill sets are involved in each type of review, the process is largely the same for both.

The programmatic or organizational review draws predominantly on subjective data sources and is intended to:

  • Identify the critical elements that are inherent to the practice.
  • Capture procedural information supporting each critical element.
  • Identify the tools, processes, and systems that support the practice.

Download the sample organizational/programmatic review process and explore helpful hints for each step of the process by clicking on the interactivity on the right.

Click to open interactivity Organizational/programmatic reviews document effective practices.

Organizational/programmatic reviews document effective practices.

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