Major League Answers for Nonprofits

It must have been on mind last weekend entering Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers.  I was back in my home state of Wisconsin with college friends to see the surging Brewers play the Chicago Cubs.  “It” was something called the Triple Bottom Line, the subject of an office discussion several days earlier.

The Triple Bottom Line (TBL) measures the degree to which an organization like HI-USA is successful on three fronts – people, planet and profits.  It’s all about promoting sustainability, a holistic concept that transcends simple finances.  And HI-USA is in the early stages of implementing its own TBL framework.

The trick is measuring TBL.  Profits are measured by dollars.  But how should social impact (people) and ecological health (planet) be measured?   And how can the whole process inspire wider appreciation and action by others?

I came away from Miller Park convinced that Major League Baseball may have some of the answers.

Baseball is a sport of strategy … and metrics.  With each batter at the plate, the scoreboard flashes a dozen statistics.  Fans quickly can judge what matters and the possibilities ahead.

Baseball has long had its own TBL, of sorts, for batters and pitchers.  The Triple Crown is awarded to a batter who in a single season leads the league in homeruns, runs batted in and batting average.  (Even an occasional fan like me knows that Boston’s Carl Yastremski was the last winner, 44 years ago.)  There’s also a Triple Crown award for a pitcher who leads the league in wins, strike outs and earned run average (most recently San Diego’s Jake Peavy in 2007).

Baseball uses statistics to engage fans, and to advance itself organizationally.  How do we create a similar climate for a Triple Bottom Line?

Here are some answers from Miller Park:

Use measurements that people widely understand and care about.  We need to identify what excites our own fans, equivalent to baseball’s home run.

Actively engage audiences in appreciating them.  We need to view our web sites and annual reports in the same way that baseball uses the stadium score board and game day programs.  And we need to find our own way to engage stakeholders in selecting metrics and determining the relative importance we place on them.

Celebrate champions.  We need to build interest in our individual and team champions, just like baseball does.

Dig deep for measurements with decision-making relevance.  Over time, we should consider developing our own equivalent to Sabermetrics – baseball’s less-publicized measures that help wise management decision making, in our case around sustainable practices and more.

Not to forget the most obvious outcome of the evening: the Brewers beat the Cubs, 5-2, on 8 hits (including 1 HR), 3 RBI’s, 4 players left in scoring position, 3 stolen bases, and 1 fielding error, with hundreds more statistics for this game on the Brewers web site.

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