Saturday, March 17, 2012

What Successful Nonprofit Organizations Have In Common

  Posted in Management on Dec 3, 2010 by  Janelle Barker Gibson    0 Comments 
What Successful Nonprofit Organizations Have In Common
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Around the world, nonprofit organizations provide programs and services that improve the quality of life for millions of people. Organizations who take on the social contract of providing services for the public good vary widely in their missions, as well as their structures. From advocacy to zoological research, the nonprofit organizational structure thrives on the flexibility to identify needs within a unique community focus and thus develop programs and services to meet these needs.

The unique nature of the nonprofit organization is its ultimate strength. It allows for innovation and creativity, often without the stifling effects of bureaucracy found in their for profit counterparts. Those of us who spend our time (either paid or non-paid) within the nonprofit world, find that while litheness can be frustrating at times, the rewards can be endless. We get to wear many hats in these organizations which allows for skill building and enhancement. We also are given a great deal of freedom for creative problem solving in order to address multiple needs with limited resources.

With uniqueness and flexibility as strengths upon which to build, there are still several common characteristics which all successful nonprofit organizations share. These are elements that must be in place for building sustainable organizations of any size, focusing on any cause, in any community.
They are as follows:

A Viable Mission and Vision
An organization�s mission is its promise to the community. A mission successfully pursued brings a community one step closer to a shared vision of success. A mission-based organization integrates programming, services and outreach in response to that promise. Missions are not marketing. However, they do need to motivate, encourage and clearly communicate need, process and outcomes. Successful organizations use their missions to not only drive their work internally, but also as a way to engage external participation.

A Culture of Transparency
Because stewardship underlines our social contract, the value of transparency is fundamental to maintaining trust with our donors and those we serve. Accountability and transparency begins within the organization and is done by establishing policies and procedures for consistent and ethical decision making. These include but are not limited to personnel, finance, operations, media, and conflict of interest policies. Policies and procedures are not �sexy�, but are the codification of values within an organization. They hold the foundation for the corporate culture and assure that decisions are made within the context of an organization�s long term interests rather than because of present personalities.

An Engaged and Well Trained Board of Directors
Every board of directors should be a �working� board. Organizations cannot remain viable with �rubber stamp� or �policy-only� boards. This model is outdated, ineffective, and crippling. For organizations to become truly sustainable, they need a group of governing volunteers who can do the following:
  • Represent the mission of the organization to the community with passion and clarity

  • Effectively leverage resources from the community back to the organization.

  • Serve as a check and balance to ensure sound and ethical decision making at all levels and assume responsibility for both successes and failures.

To do this effectively, boards need information, training and character to understand their roles and responsibilities. Expectations should be clearly outlined, commitments defined and professional development continued to create the platform for long term success.

A Well Supported and Trained Staff
Human capital is the most precious resource of any organization. Investment in those who carry out the mission on a daily basis is critical to building long term capacity. Poorly trained and supported staff members provide poor service to your clients. While training can be an expense which challenges many nonprofits, it is a fundamental cost of doing �business�. There is no way around that. However, providing effective staff support can be done at little expense and is fundamental to creating a positive organizational culture. This includes: appropriate performance reviews, formal and informal communications and celebrations of success.

Plan, Execute, Evaluate, and Repeat
As the saying goes, if you don�t know where you are going, any road will get you there. Great organizations plan the work, work the plan, and evaluate their performance against the plan. Roles and responsibilities are identified between the work of the board and the work of the staff as to completion of goals and objectives. Time lines are created to ensure a sense of urgency in the work. Issues are prioritized and sometimes �great ideas� are put off until resources are more available. Lastly, accomplishments are reviewed, people are held accountable, and successes are celebrated. Then a new plan is developed, continuing the cycle.

Appropriate Organizational Infrastructure
Technology is no longer a luxury for nonprofit organizations. It is the basis from which our missions are accomplished. Without this foundation, our ability to communicate, manage staff, provide programs and raise funds is compromised. Outdated or inappropriate phone systems, computers or software makes staff inefficient and unproductive. Successful nonprofits build upgrades and expansions into their budgets and strategic plans.

Communicate Effectively
An often overlooked foundation to effective fund development is communication. Resources go to organizations who can clearly and consistently deliver the message of their mission to their target audience. This requires that board, staff and volunteers understand all of the functions and activities of the nonprofit on a regular basis. When internal communication activities are consistent, external communications are more efficacious.

As mentioned previously, missions are not marketing in and of themselves, but the work done in fulfillment of the mission is. Successful nonprofits determine which key messages are important for which constituents. From there, an appropriate mix of strategies can be used to reach targets in the ways most meaningful to them. A multilevel approach to organizational communication is critical for fulfillment of the brand promise.

A Diversified Income Strategy
Organizations that have diversified income streams are positioned for long term success. A balanced funding strategy simply means not putting all of your eggs in one basket. Just as an individual should create a balanced portfolio for investments, an organization should examine if their funding is too dependent on a single funding source. Diversified funding sources allow organizations to better weather economic downturns and political whims.

Building organizational capacity for long term success requires that these fundamentals be accomplished in a natural order without regard to budget size or client type. Each task builds upon the other and challenges arise when organizations try to take on activities before they have built a strong foundation for achievement. Weakness in one area will be reflected as weakness in another. For example, if your organization does not have policies and procedures in place, future board members will have difficulty making consistent and value driven decisions. If you do not have a strong board and well trained staff, your ability to raise money will be severely impacted. This will in turn impact your organization�s ability to fulfill its mission.

For the New Year, think about which areas identified here could use a boost in your organization. As you create goals and objectives to accomplish this task, be confident that the work you are doing will really pay off for years to come.

Janelle Barker Gibson, MSW is an Adjunct Professor at Washington University Brown School of Social Work and President at Change Makers Consulting, LLC, a St. Louis nonprofit consulting firm.

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