From Strategic Thinking

Some musings about nonprofit governance

In a room filled with governance gurus and nonprofit capacity builders, the overwhelming consensus was that our current board model is stuck in the industrial past. We need to constantly evolve – or totally transform — governance structures to be smart, nimble, responsive and adaptive to the new world order of uncertainty and rapid change.

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Nonprofit survey: expect to do more with less

Nonprofits expect to serve more people in 2012, yet they also anticipate reduced revenues from major funders, particularly state and federal grants and contracts, according to the 2012 State of the Sector survey from Nonprofit Finance Fund. The 2012 report extends a dramatic three-year trend of  steeply rising demand for services in the face of declining revenues. Sixty percent of those surveyed don’t believe they can meet the anticipated need for their services this year.

The survey is the latest of five conducted in two-year intervals by Nonprofit Finance Fund. While the survey does not represent a statistically valid sample of all U.S. nonprofits, the number  and diversity of respondents (4,500 nonprofit managers from representing all major nonprofit fields and a range of annual budgets) does create a revealing cross-section of American nonprofits.

The financial squeeze has been particularly tough for nonprofits addressing child poverty, housing insecurity and homelessness, hunger and other human needs that have exploded during the last four years of economic decline and dislocation. These service providers take the brunt of state and federal disinvestment in social services and penny-pinching tactics such as delayed reimbursements.

More than three quarters of nonprofits said that state and federal funding did not cover the full cost of services provided. Sixty-six percent of respondents affected by government cutbacks and shortfalls dipped into reserves to meet the excess cost of services. Among all nonprofits responding, 57 percent said they had only enough cash on hand to meet operating costs for three months or less.

Strategic planning tips I gleaned from the inventor of the granola bar

Mason says

“It’s really not that complicated. The creative process is trying really hard to solve a problem.”

Isn’t that the essence of strategic planning?

While our missions aren’t necessarily problems, the goal of getting from where we are today to realizing our mission can be seen as a big puzzle that we are trying to solve. (Puzzle = problem). Whether we’re ending homelessness, or ensuring our kids graduate from school ready for success in life, or challenging and inspiring others through art – we are all seeking the best path to achieve our mission.

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Questions to jumpstart your SWOT

The SWOT analysis is a common start to strategic planning. (The letters stand for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats.)

Because I think about SWOTs as a systems scan, I like to start strategic planning by getting out and onto the table all of the issues that my client has been thinking about. A grand purging of ideas, if you will. To get the ball rolling, I often ask the board members and staff, and sometimes informed volunteers or recently departed (off the board that is) board members, to complete an online questionnaire.

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Ground rules for effective strategic planning

As the strategic planning committee, we are tasked with developing and recommending a strategic plan to the Board. In order to make our work together effective and meaningful, we agree to: 1) Keep a razor-sharp focus on articulating a vision of the impact we wish to have on our community. 2) Remember the answer to “how” is “yes”* (GG: No matter how amazing the plan, it can’t be success without your commitment) 3)…

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From one moment to the next one

But in the midst of all this interesting analysis, tucked away under a box four pages into the study, was the sentence that left me speechless:

“Financial vibrancy is the capacity of an organization to make the transition from one sustainable moment to the next.” I experienced a moment of ultimate clarity, marveling at the purity, the honesty of that statement.

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Nonprofits need to hang out together more often

The buzz is all around about the need for more collaboration and joint ventures in our sector. But most successful collaborations require trust and good faith in addition to mutual benefit. Collaborations don’t jump all the way to trust, they build up to it. What better way to get to know each other than by coming together in unstructured, no pressure places to share ideas, see new things, make connections and maybe get some feedback from a colleague.

It’s time for more organizations to open their doors and treat their colleagues as friends they’d like to know better, rather than competitors. I’m convinced there are great opportunities in the making.

So how about inviting new people to your office to hang out with you for a while.

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