Three simple consulting questions that can transform your nonprofit

    1. What’s working?
    2. What isn’t?
    3. What are your recommendations for change?

    I’ll be forever grateful to my graduate program in organization and management at Antioch University New England for revealing these three simple questions. I don’t remember whether it was faculty member Peter Smith or Marsha Greenberg who shared these organization development gems with us, but thank you to both of you. The questions have remained with me and they are at the core of my own work today.

    What I like about these questions is that you don’t have to hold a master’s degree in organization development or anything else to use them within your organization to help solve problems, improve programming,  or make operations more effective.

    Of course, the answers will be different depending on whom you ask. Each person has a different experience of an issue and a different level of knowledge and expertise. That’s why we consultants gather and synthesize input from many perspectives as it helps us get a well-rounded view of your situation.

    In asking, it is critical to be a neutral listener, someone who is willing to put aside their own assumptions and really listen to what is being said. After you’ve synthesized what you think you’ve heard, share your analysis with the people you’ve spoken to and ask them if you understood the situation correctly. You want to reach agreement on your understanding of what is working and what isn’t.

    Hopefully you will have many recommendations for improvement. Do some additional study before you jump into making changes, however. You’ll want to explore more fully which recommendations might work best for you. And you’d also be wise to seek out possible solutions that no one raised simply because they didn’t have the knowledge of other approaches.

    What questions do you use in your organization to help you solve problems or challenges that you are facing? I’d love to hear from you.

    5 responses to Three simple consulting questions that can transform your nonprofit

    1. Bonnie Koenig

      Thanks, Gayle, for the reminder that sometimes keeping it simple is the best approach. I often refer to the “Journalism 101” questions which can be quite helpful as well: 1) What (do you want to accomplish?) 2) How (will you do it?) 3) Who (will do it?) 4) When (will they do it by?), etc…

    2. Kirsten Bullock

      And, like you say, really listening is key. Without a real understanding of the issues, challenges and perceptions of the client, we won’t be able to address the root causes lingering just underneath the surface.

    3. Lori L. Jacobwith

      What’s working is my all time favorite question to ask at the start of any meeting or coaching session. Too often organizations focus on what’s not working and stay stuck there. I’ve found, spending a few minutes focusing on what IS working can re-energize even the most weary staff, board and community.

    4. Sandy Rees

      Love it! I use “what are your goals?” and “what’s keeping you from reaching them?” which are just variations on the 3 questions you shared.

      Anytime we start digging into what’s keeping us from success, it’s a good thing.

      Sandy Rees

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