Sunday, December 04, 2011

Making the Case to the Team, Board, or Executive Director

Sometimes, you believe in implementing something new to the nonprofit: a fundraising campaign, a thank the donor event, a money saving method, a volunteer and community partners raising campaign, but someone on the team, or a board member or two, or maybe the executive director does not get it.  In this moment, do not despair.  Like you, I have been there before, as has most anyone passionate about an organization and its welfare.  Volunteer, staff member, and even consultant alike have walked this path.

Having said that you are not alone, there is more hope, yet, still!

There are many ways to make a compelling case to get all key players on board with implementing a new concept or program.  Below I list several that I have used and have worked to bring new ideas and projects to light among colleagues in nonprofits I've worked for, as staff, as a volunteer, and also as a consultant.

As I so often do in this blog, I must temper what I am saying here with a healthy dose of reality.

First of all, not every idea that I've come up with and been passionate about (even the "really really good ones")  was right for the organization, the best timing, the most supportive of the current organizational or department (i.e. programs or fundraising) goals, etc.  Just like there can exist good reasons to implement new steps, there may be  very good reason not do something at all or not to do it right then, or to not do it the way that it was initially envisioned to happen, etc.  So, I implore you, as you proceed in attempting to get your new project underway - keep an open mind and listen to others in the know, at the nonprofit, as they react or comment to your proposed scheme.  It may be really good and powerful for the future of the organization and it may not be.

Next, I know and you know that there are many interpersonal snafus, let's call them, that come up (no matter whether in a nonprofit or for profit) when anything new or different is being proposed.  There may be career goals stepped on, interpersonal politics heated, personalities brought more to the fore, communication issues enlarged, or any other unpleasantness that most of us avoid (if we'll admit it) and many of us dislike.  There are ways to, before one proposes anything, to acknowledge these kinds of conflicts may occur, use them as opportunities for everyone to be heard and to truly work through them for the sake of the organization and to improve operations and thereby lessen operations' costs.  I suggest that if conflict or even just a ruffling of feathers is a serious possibility from your proposed new step, admit that and deal with it head on, proactively, before the project gets proposed by arming yourself with proactive, proven, and equalizing communications and processes and actually use these tools, skills, and processes.  There are many excellent books, consultants, and classes that can impart effective conflict management and alleviation processes.  Check out some that are highly regarded and recommended by trusted colleagues at other nonprofits, professional affiliations, professional publications, etc.

"It isn't easy being green." - Kermit the frog   Lastly, if you are clear about the organization's beneficiaries' current (demonstrable) but as yet unmet needs (that are pertinent to your organization's mission statement, the organization's current state of operations,  its budget, and the current direction of the organization's professional field including its ethics and best practices); and you feel strongly that your proposed project is in line with each of these - then stick to your concept, and hang in there.  I don't mean to sound glib.  Like I said, above, I've walked this path and am familiar with meetings where I was sure everyone that I heard speak got the concept I proposed, only to find out the next morning via a rash of heated e-mails thrown around, after that meeting, that nope...no one really got the concept.  In one way - it was frustrating and it set us back, time-wise.  In another way - it was an opportunity and I had to see that I had obviously not explained the concept clearly.  I needed to do that (and in a different way than I had, before).  If it's really something that can be proven to enable and improve all involved, don't give up.

Having tempered the idea of moving a new concept through a nonprofit organization, above, these are some tried and proven ways to get others to see why your proposed new concept should be implemented:

__ Meet and during the meeting(s) present and provide verifiable, factual, thorough, and compelling reasons why what you are proposing: empowers the mission statement, enables the organization's current programmatic goals, is cost effective (or better yet, cost reducing), meets real current but as yet unmet needs in the community, and why it's a unique opportunity that is uniquely suited to your nonprofit, specifically.  Do not make any assumptions like, 'obviously this is a good idea - who wouldn't see that', or 'they're all going to hate it, I'm not even going to propose the idea'.  Give your idea and you a chance, but also, do not assume that a case does not need to be made.  Making a case, at a minimum, demonstrates respect for ones superiors and colleagues and helps them to make the right choice (whatever that is) and in the best case, actually helps bring it to fruition.  This process winds up being informative to the grant proposals that may go out to request funding for this new project, should it get a 'thumbs up'.

__ Admit what the limitations, difficulties, challenges, and all other possible negatives are to your idea and then (next to each one in a presentation slide, even) list what the (really viable, cost effective, efficient, and ethical) solution is to each foreseeable possible problem with the idea.  Every new idea has something wrong with it.  So, proactively admit and address each one.  This step, too, will be included in a grant proposal, eventually.

__ Suggest how the proposed project would actually work.  List and cost out a realistic project description, staffing plan (including volunteers as much as possible but be real if new talent needs to be acquired for this to be successful), a budget, project goal, a timeline (including benchmarks like planning, implementation, cost benefit achieved, anticipated outcomes, etc.), and what the anticipated outcomes might or will be.  Guess what?  All of this, too, is crucial to any well written grant application and will go into it, too.

__ Do your research.  If your idea is a good one, the need for someone to do it and or its intended outcome is relevant.  Go to your public library's Reference Desk, to a pertinent government office's website or office, academic or professional journal, or to any other verifiable, reputable, professionally regarded source and use the most recent data sets describing the nonprofit's beneficiaries and their current but as yet unmet needs  (and it should be recent data sets in order to make a case that the proposed is pertinent right now) or data that describes the organization's beneficiaries such as demographics and use these to make the case on the data sets' trends or studies' findings.  This is an integral part of any excellent grant proposal, too.

__ Clearly point out which current and potential new donors have a high, moderate, and low likelihood of contributing to the proposed project and show why you state that about each group of donors or individual donors (i.e. such as specific grant donors that have current giving goals aligned to the outcomes of the proposed project, etc.).  Too, list which current or potential new community partners would be interested in working with your organization to bring the proposed to fruition.  Yup, this, too, would go into a well written grant proposal.

__ If this is a project or program that could be successfully replicated by other nonprofits elsewhere, then it may be a model program, and if it is - say so in your presentation explaining why it may be a model program.  If this is the case, this information must go into a grant proposal.  Donors, but especially grant donors are often very interested in funding new projects that are demonstrably possible model projects for other organizations to replicate and find success with.

__ Finally, some excellent advice that I received, once, as I was learning about nonprofit operations was 'it never hurts to make your superiors look good'.  This is nothing that would necessarily be inserted into the case stated in a grant proposal, but it sure helps to make for a wise presenter.

Making a case for a new idea is not easy but it is not impossible, and it turns out that much of what is compelling that makes a case to colleagues tends to be equally compelling to all kinds of different potential donors, including grant donors.  If you are about to embark on making a case, I wish you the best.

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