At Possible, one of the principles in our For-Impact Culture Code states, “We are transparent until it hurts.”
It’s a bold statement, but also a common one. Many nonprofits boast transparency in order to dodge skeptics and satisfy donors. I was extremely curious about what transparency meant for Possible before I made the decision to join the team last May.
Over the past 15 months, I’ve learned not only what transparency means for Possible, but why it’s crucial to our core mission. While external perception is a part of it, transparency is really about solving problems for our patients, and providing high-quality, low-cost healthcare to Nepal’s poor.
How? I’ve broken down Possible’s approach into two kinds of transparency: internal and external.
Being transparent internally forces our team to be more accountable, effective, and motivated. Everyone on our team (which includes our Nepali teammates, who make up 98 percent of our team) use the project management platform Asana, which is open to all employees so we can see what others are working on.
Anyone on our impact team can see what our marketing team is doing; anyone from our community health team can see what our CEO’s daily tasks are. We also publish individual and organizational objectives and key results (OKRs) so teammates have a deeper understanding of everyone’s goals and how they tie into larger company objectives.
Asana’s open platform simultaneously creates accountability, which directly lends itself to more effective work. We always say it’s everyone’s job to turn time into resources and opportunity for our patients. Asana allows teammates to assign tasks to others, follow projects, and comment openly, which adds an important layer of “social pressure” to do high-quality work in a timely way.
Transparency also breeds motivation. In a team-wide announcement space, employees can write announcements from strategy scenarios, welcome letters to new teammates, and pieces of media our work is featured in. The variety of announcements allows all 295 of us to get a better understanding of what we’re all working towards, whether it’s a funding, hiring, programmatic, or communications goal.
External transparency means being open about our impact, data, finances, failures, and successes to current and prospective funders and supporters. We do this formally in our Quarterly Impact Reports (QIRs), which are similar to a business’s quarterly earnings report. Here we update people on the progress of our Key Performance Indicators, which we measure on a quarterly and annual basis. We also take milestones we’ve identified at the beginning of the year and report on whether we’ve accomplished or missed them, or if our strategy has shifted and why. Our QIRs also include quarterly expense summaries, a complete set of data reporting, and quarter-by-quarter financial comparisons.
We also publicly share many of our internal documents. Our most recent one was a letter our CEO Mark Arnoldy wrote, which he sends to every job applicant before making them an offer. The purpose wasn’t only to inspire other entrepreneurs, hiring leads, and CEO’s to do the same, but to provide additional insight into our organizational culture for people who are thinking about joining our team.
In the letter, many people learn if Possible is or isn’t for them. In it, Mark writes:
“We value hard work and long hours. But we value smart work, productivity hacks, and incredibly well-run meetings even more. We don’t need you to be a martyr or live an extraordinarily austere lifestyle to fit in. We just need you to care about getting the most important work done most efficiently and pushing everyone to be better at doing the same. To keep it simple, a bit crass, and put into popular parlance of the times — we have a ‘get shit done’ culture where concision and results are king.”
This automatically filters out candidates who are not up for this particular challenge. And that’s vital, because only remarkable teammates create remarkable work in order to solve problems for our patients.
On a daily basis, we approach our communications in a way that provides a realistic look into our work. We’re not a fluffy nonprofit that only shows pictures of smiling kids coupled with success stories. Rather, we highlight important stories that illustrate the challenges and barriers we face, along with the resilience we put in practice to break through them.
We don’t believe there’s value in pretending that our work is easier than it actually is. As Mark explains, “Hiding challenges and failures for fear of punishment from the media or funders hurts the ability of our own organization and others to learn, iterate, and improve.”
An example is this piece, This Story Doesn’t Have an Ending, which details a successful C-section, but explains that there is so much more work for us to do to ensure that every pregnant mother in our catchment area understands, and can have access to a safe delivery.
Ultimately, transparency allows our team to work more efficiently and effectively, attracts the right team members, and helps develop the right partners and funders who understand and appreciate the honest realities of our work – and deep commitment to constantly improve so our patients get the best care they can.
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