Why Are Board Members and Funders Still Using “Trust but Verify”​ When Measuring Nonprofit Effectiveness?

The phrase “trust but verify” was made famous by Ronald Reagan after the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Treaty with Mikhail Gorbachev in December 1987. At the time, the Soviet General Secretary bantered, “You repeat that at every meeting.” Reagan replied, “I like it.”

What was President Reagan really saying? He was saying, “I trust you to lack accountability and transparency.” He was not saying, “I trust you.”

The nonprofit community adopted a similar yet different understanding of “accountability and transparency” related to operational effectiveness, most especially around predetermined measurement and reporting. In this situation, too, it has caused trust issues.

When it comes to getting an objective view of your operational effectiveness, most nonprofit executives and board members are too close to judge. This is a common and sticky problem. Some of the hardest parts are determining what gets measured, where the gaps are, and what to do about them.

Funders have a different dilemma. Many larger donors would like to give your nonprofit more money but lack the confidence that you can do what you say you will do. In other words, they need to know more about your organizational competence and capacity.

In both cases, board members and funders are joining nonprofits to move from the existing “outcomes first” trust but verify approach to a “relationship-first” trust and validate process.

From Trust but Verify to Trust and Validate

Until very recently, the only real option was to have a subject matter expert conduct a formal assessment. Aside from being very disruptive, taking months to complete, and costing tens of thousands of dollars, the results are always limited by the subject matter expert’s specific expertise and their firm’s capabilities.

The good news is that you can now quickly identify your operational competency gaps and what needs to be done next. By combining nonprofit best practices and the use of simple artificial intelligence, you can now measure 60 operational practices and know the three most important things you can do to improve your operational competency in less than 60 minutes.

Measuring competence against best practices or prescribed industry standards removes all the guesswork.

The premise is simple: Nonprofits want more funding. Funders want more confidence. More confidence comes from validated operational competence. Funders with more confidence give more. Operational competence can be measured and improved.

Enter OpX360, Smart Online Tools to Trust and Validate

OpX360 is like a $50,000+ consulting engagement without the cost or the weeks of discovery involved. Instead, the program is comprised of six online modules: one for each of the areas of operations in a nonprofit organization. Each OpX360 module has 60 Best Practice statements based on proven industry standards to help your nonprofit determine your current level of competence in any of the six operational areas of your organization. 

The tool also gives you a score that you can measure and improve and helps you to understand the consequences of nonperformance and what you can immediately do to improve any underperforming areas.  

Within one hour of completing any of the six modules, you will receive an Executive Briefing designed to be shared with your executives, board, or funders and a 70+ page Detailed Report addressing all 60 Best Practice statements for the person or team responsible for that specific area of operations.

CPA and nonprofit leader Jim McKee said, “We’ve paid consultants many thousands of dollars in recent years. For a fraction of the cost, OpX360 provided us with more focused feedback, recommendations, and actionable steps for improvement than our consultants ever have.”

Any of these assessments can be taken individually or together, depending on the needs of your organization. 

The six areas of nonprofit operations are:

  • Finance & Accounting 
  • Governance, Legal & Risk Management 
  • Fundraising, Marketing & Communications 
  • Program Management & Accountability 
  • People & Organizational Development 
  • Business Systems, IT & Facilities

OpX360 is available with tiered and bundled pricing to provide access to the largest number of nonprofit organizations, regardless of size. For more information, please visit www.opx360.com. Partial and full scholarships are also available.

Are you ready for Trust and Validate?

For smart online tools that measure and improve nonprofit operational effectiveness, please visit The Capin Center for Nonprofit Excellence, where nonprofits, funders, and recognized experts work together for the greatest impact. We make nonprofits better. We can help yours.


Marc is Co-Founder and Principal Advisor of The Center. For the previous 12 years, Marc served full-time as executive and practitioner in three significant yet very different nonprofits, overseeing extensive domestic and international operations.