Sunday, January 04, 2009

Nonprofit New Year's Resolutions That Will Make Your Nonprofit A Better One...

Happy New Year!

Being that we are underway in a baby new year we offer a 2009 New Year's Resolution list for your nonprofit to considering ramping up or implementing, if it's never been done there, before.

Organizational New Year's Resolutions for 2009:

First, pull the recent strategic plan, current fundraising plan (including the goals and benchmarks to achieve those goals), and any other recent ratified planning that has been completed on behalf of the organization's best interests out of the filing cabinet and evaluate the following keeping the organization's mission statement and ratified goals first, and foremost, in mind.

__ Objectively evaluate the organization's current board, overall, and then the board members, themselves, against what the organization needs to improve, grow, and provide more to the community. How capable is the board, as its own entity? Can it achieve the goals, benchmarks, succeed, and achieve the best for the nonprofit?

Fairly and objectively consider each individual board member. Are there members with different professional experiences and successes that creates a board very capable to professionally oversee, create good policy for, and plan so that the organization actually succeeds at its new goals? Is there a CPA, a lawyer, a professional fundraiser, a professional in your organization's field of work, etc.? If not - why not? Your organization needs leaders who know how to oversee a nonprofit professionally and can lead it to success and healthy growth. Does each member either raise or donate, themselves, the full annual board contribution amount expected of them, each year? Does each member attend 85% of all board meetings? Does each board member discuss why they volunteer with your organization with their friends, colleagues, and family? Does each board member occasionally volunteer with the organization or attend special or fundraising events?

Is there more of a focus on making sure that the board is complicit with the executive director? Is there a culture, in the nonprofit, that is focused on making sure there isn't any disagreement, an effort to be sure that no authority or decisions are questioned, or is there a culture of friends and family running an organization (rather than invested volunteers from the community, in general)?

Either revamp the board position job descriptions and expect a new level of knowledge, expertise, investment, involvement, success, etc. and educate them so that they become these new more effective, efficient, and successful leaders - or shop and recruit better board candidates to consider for newly open board positions. Get the best possible leadership for your organization - even if they aren't friends or family, even if they aren't likely to agree with everything you or the executive director decides or wants. Focus, instead, on what is best for the organization and its mission statement.

__ The staff, administrative volunteers, and the board should review the executive director considering if he/she has the experience and recently demonstrated their project management capabilities, track record for achieving benchmarks on time, focus, objectivity, professionalism, skills, and leadership skills to achieve the organization's goals successfully, efficiently, and in a timely manner.

__ Volunteers should be asked for suggestions. They should be asked to recommend improvements to the volunteer program at your nonprofit. Ask them how the nonprofit can make their volunteer experience a bit more rewarding, easier to do for the organization, and how the nonprofit can better retain the volunteers that its already trained and has. Take their recommendations under serious considerations. Remember, managing volunteers so that they feel achievement, success, fulfillment, and so that they feel listened to and valued is how to acquire and retain free people power. It is also how to maintain community. Every organization needs volunteers and for them to stay on with the nonprofit.

__ Staff should be asked for suggestions, too. These people are the folks who are most in touch with what the nonprofit is achieving, where it can improve its work and processes, and they can offer excellent suggestions to make the organization more efficient, leaner money-wise, and better at customer service and donor development. If a nonprofit does not concern itself with how well it is working with the community, it is likely only operating at a moderate capacity, compared to where it would be if it concerned itself with its image in the community and how it treats people and succeeds at its mission work. No nonprofit is an island. All organizations need donors, community support, success, and volunteers. If a nonprofit doesn't understand its ability to increase all of these through better community relations and outreach - the leadership needs to educate itself about professional nonprofit best practices.

__ If no independent, professional, annual financial audit is conducted, at your nonprofit, how do you know that the bookkeeper is doing their work correctly, that the board is overseeing the financials as well as they should be (according to the law), and that donations are being received and spent as they have been recorded? Furthermore, how do potential donors (such as larger amount donors, like foundations (grants), major donors, or other potential contributors) know that the nonprofit is spending money where it reports that it is? The professional best practice of transparency is an expectation, now - not just something that larger wealthier nonprofits can afford to do. For instance, it's pretty standard for grant donors to request the most recent audited financials (independently audited by a professional CPA) to be included with a nonprofit's grant application. If you don't include one - you've just made it easy for the potential grant donor to throw your application into the 'reject' pile. Transparency is a modern management method that is here to stay. Consider the cost of the audit as an investment in raising more and larger donations.

__ Share with colleagues working at other nonprofits, more this year; and listen to them more. Ask one or two to join in the discussion, too. Given this extremely difficult economy, now is the time for nonprofit professionals to come together and brainstorm, share innovations and successes, and listen to one another. New professional best practices come from innovation (probably in the face of adversity), innovation is tested when an organization implements the innovation and tracks results, and the successful innovations become best practices when the innovation is shared with colleagues at other nonprofits who try the innovation out themselves, and track the results. The successful innovations become new professionally accepted best practices. Right now - we nonprofit professionals need each other to innovate, share and listen. You may not think that you have the time, have the resources, or are that creative; but give us the benefit of the doubt and try. No one who developed a new innovation, knew beforehand, that they were about to invent a new professionally accepted nonprofit best practice. American communities need us to figure out how nonprofits will survive and thrive in today's tough times. We need you.

__ Try, this year, to make key decisions for the nonprofit not based on insecurities, on ego, on a personal career agenda, or other self serving perspectives. I'm not saying that you're selfish, evil, or fearful in your work. What I am saying is it is natural for people to operate from any one of these positions, in day to day activities. The way to grow an organization is to make the mission statement and the organization's beneficiaries the first consideration in all decision making. How can you improve this decision making even just a little bit? Work to (and practice) being conscientious. Regularly consciously check in with yourself about how you made a recent decision. If, to do this, you need to write on the calendar every few days 'am I focused on the mission statement?' - do it. Do whatever will work for you to regularly stop to really check yourself. Practice checking yourself, during decision making meetings, and think to yourself 'I am going to make this decision based on what is truly best for the organization's future and mission statement'. Encourage other leadership colleagues to do the same. Create a culture of 'mission statement first'.

These are exceptional times, yet, here you and I are. We are passionate and intelligent people, still working at it and because this is the case - we have a good chance. We need successful survival and achievement methods (professional best practices). Consider the state of the economy a challenge and take it on by grabbing the bull by the horns. If you discover any good survival methods, please share them (even here, on this blog, as a Comment, below). I promise to do the same. Happy new year!


Scott said...


I enjoyed your post and wholeheartedly agree with reaccessing the board. 2009 will be a highly competitive year for grants and donors alike and every nonprofit needs to make the biggest impact they can but in order to ramp up they need desperately to check out the board to see if each and every member is doing their level best guiding the nonprofit through these difficult times.

Enjoyed the post!

Arlene M. Spencer said...

We're glad to help and thank you for your kind feedback! Happy new year, Arlene