Commentary: Is JACL a Good Investment (Pacific Citizen)

By Rhianna R. Taniguchi

In 2014, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled a program using Social Impact Bond (SIB) financing to enroll more children in pre-K classes. The program aims to get 2,600 children into half-day preschool classes by the end of 2018.

The SIB would make payments for each pupil who, after pre-K, does not get placed in a special education program ($9,100 per pupil), is deemed ready for kindergarten after pre-K ($2,900) and scores above the national average for third-grade reading ($750). If successful, this program will save the city money on special education while also preparing children for success in kindergarten.

This model of financing for social services is called “Pay for Success” and has captured the attention of taxpayers, governments, investors and nonprofits on a global scale in recent years. “Pay for Success” is mainly associated with Social Impact Bonds — investments focused on creating monetary savings for local governments through preventative or interventional social services. Governments pay investors if the service delivers the intended result. This model is designed to improve outcomes and reduce costs.

Exciting models like “Pay for Success” are making philanthropists ask how their donations are being allocated, if not to organizations that use similar concepts of evidenced-based intervention. Every JACL member is essentially investing in the organization, and we need to ask ourselves, “Are we making a good investment?”

I personally consider my investment in JACL one of the best I’ve made to date. JACL has offered me educational opportunities, leadership roles, mentors and, most importantly, amazing people that I continue to learn from and call friends. Although I know many others who can explain the benefits of being a member of JACL, we need to make changes at an organizational level.

We need to start questioning where our money is going and take action to ensure it’s being used in a manner that’s consistent with our mission. Beyond that, we need to make sure it’s being done in a cost-effective way, producing a ROI that is better than other organizations in the same space.

To sponsors and donors, we’re losing our edge and many would say our purpose. Yes, we are a nonprofit and we value the experiences of members on an individual level, but are there other organizations who are more effective in carrying out our mission?

I can attest to the tremendous value that JACL has brought to my life, but are we still effective in securing and maintaining the civil rights of Japanese Americans and all others who are victimized by injustice and bigotry? I’m not entirely sure.

Grants have always tried to define the outcomes of programs, requesting lengthy applications and reports.

We need to go beyond a survey at the end of a training or event and take the time to define success.

What does success look like, and how can we take the organizational and financial steps to ensure that JACL fulfills its purpose on a performance-based model? Answering these questions will help us to outline a healthy and sustainable budget while also being impactful.

We as members need to thoroughly read through the proposed budgets and utilize the expertise of the many professional financial counselors available to us.

We also need to communicate clearly how our organization is spending its funds, how it aligns with the mission and how it creates a sustainable future for JACL. I value art, experience and outcomes that cannot be quantified, but I highly encourage individuals, chapters and districts to consider implementing a performance-based model where it is applicable.

By doing this, we can not only qualify but quantify the immense impact JACL has on our community. This is the language that sponsors, donors and future members speak, and we can all play a part in helping JACL speak this language, too.

Rhianna Taniguchi is an account executive at the Denver Post. She was the 2014 JACL Norman Y. Mineta Fellow.