The Marlboro Record

Graduate School

Graduate program leads the way for Vermont nonprofits

Vermont band Lynguistic Civilians tours in a van loaned by Big Heavy World, one of the nonprofits benefiting from BBVTThe Program in Nonprofit Management at Marlboro College Graduate School has already prepared many regional leaders of mission-driven organizations to be more strategic and effective. As of last year, Marlboro College is also the lead partner for Benchmarks for a Better Vermont (BBVT). A $400,000 project, funded by a $200,000 federal grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service matched by contributions from partnership agencies, this collaborative initiative is helping nonprofits measure their performance.

“Nonprofits in the state are seeking tools to help them track their performance and demonstrate their impact,” said Kate Jellema, director of BBVT as well as program director at the graduate school. “BBVT works closely with these organizations to help them develop customized performance measurement systems that are easy, powerful, and designed to tell them what they need to know to meet their goals.” 

In March, BBVT was co-host for the 2013 Vermont Nonprofit Conference, a day-long meeting in Fairlee on the theme of “The Data-Driven Nonprofit.” One panel of nonprofit leaders highlighted the work of BBVT and the use of a planning and evaluation framework called Results-Based Accountability. The RBA framework has been used by some Vermont nonprofits for more than a decade to exploring in detail what they do, how well they do it, and most critically, “Is anyone better off?”

“We do work that’s useful to Vermont from several perspectives and have found it challenging to describe our contributions concisely,” said James Lockridge, executive director of Big Heavy World, a nonprofit that engages young people in promoting live and recorded music statewide. “RBA is helping us boil down a message for funders, describing the worth of our cultural preservation, community and economic development, and workforce development activities. And it helps us build the tools to improve the quality of those efforts.”

The Vermont Accountability Compact, which was recently launched by BBVT in collaboration with other community partners, uses the RBA framework to support, promote and regularly assess the performance of nonprofits. This historic document, already signed by major players in state government, philanthropy and the nonprofit world, gives Vermonters the opportunity to make a personal commitment to advancing a culture of accountability in our state.

“We’ve been astounded by the response to this work,” said Kate. “What started as a program has become a statewide movement with dozens of collaborators in both the nonprofit and the state sector.”

Marlboro College works with five other trusted intermediary capacity-building organizations through BBVT: Common Good Vermont, the Vermont Commission on National and Community Service, United Way of Chittenden County, United Ways of Vermont and the Vermont Community Foundation. The A.D. Henderson Foundation has also provided valuable funding for the project. Together, Benchmarks for a Better Vermont strengthens the nonprofit sector’s capacity to make significant, sustained improvements in the well-being of Vermont communities and individuals.

“The state depends on this sector to support human services, the arts, the environment and other areas that improve our quality of life,” says Marlboro College President Ellen McCulloch-Lovell. “I’m pleased that Marlboro College can work closely with the other consortium partners to increase the ability of our nonprofit sector to achieve results.”