Can A Nonprofit Find Strategic Ways To Grow in Difficult Times?
By: Eugene Fram
Nonprofits have always had to struggle to meet their client needs, even when economic conditions and social turmoil were much less constraining than today. How can mid-level nonprofits uncover growth opportunities in the present environment?
Plan Strategically: Any nonprofit board needs a core of directors and managers who are capable of identifying potential new strategic directions. The CEO must be highly conversant with changes in the mission field. He/s then needs a core of directors to assist in realistically reviewing his/h long-term insights for growth, as well as board insights developed from generative discussions. The CEO, supported by several board members, can then be the keystone for board discussions about implementing change. Should the CEO not have the requisite forward-looking knowledge, the only alternative is to try to replace the CEO, a difficult change even under the best of circumstances.
Capacity Investment: As expected, nonprofits invest their assets in maintaining and improving programs. It seems that client needs will always be there to operate and expand existing programs. But success in nonprofits and elsewhere also involves beginning to solve tomorrow’s problem today. Example: The challenges for serving the aging cohort of baby boomers is clearly on the horizons. Those in the field or allied fields need to be concerned with finding new modalities to assist the baby boomers in an efficient, effective and humane manner. Where funding is a barrier to participate in such an effort, foundations and governmental agencies can assist with small-scale projects, if the foundation can partner with the nonprofit.
Impact & Evaluation: Midsized nonprofits should have the capacity to conduct a few small-scale studies every five years, if growth and development are cultural values for the organizations. Resources might come from within the nonprofit and/or from outside sources. Once a small-scale study provides evidence of impact; the nonprofit can find interest for more small-scale improvement, additional evaluation and possibly some outside support.
Obviously a project costing $5,000 won’t be able to have an extensive evaluation component. However, if imperfect metrics are used in the process, the impact findings can be useful in seeking an interest from other sources. (These are metrics that are anecdotal, subjective, interpretive or qualitative. For more details see:http://bit.ly/OvF4ri)
Importance Of the Board & Management: Growth opportunities will be initiated in nonprofits, only if the board constantly asks for them. The board, overtly or indirectly, has to ask management about innovations that are taking place or can take place within the organization. Annual questions to management such as “ What do you want to do innovatively or creatively this year?” are mandated. When it appears an innovation can be scaled a little or an innovative person has potential to be creative, the board has to support the learning culture for testing.