In recent meetings Paul and I have heard that the original projection of the number of nonprofit organizations (NPO) that will fail in 2009 has ballooned from 10,000 to 150,000.
Surviving In Our Challenging Economy
What do you prefer to call today’s NPO challenge – sustainability, survivability, smart business or capacity building? Whatever your choice, the fact is things are tougher today than in the past – it is harder to do good. More than ever, you and your nonprofit should take the opportunity to “think outside the box.” Instead of doing things as you have always done them, you should challenge the status quo. You should use the crisis to seek and inaugurate creative, green and more effective and efficient ways to achieve your mission.
The crisis presents an opportunity to partner with other NPOs that share a similar mission. Together you can achieve your mission(s) with increased efficiency, at a lower cost and with a cleaner, more appealing message. It may mean – cooperate, collaborate or consolidate.
Why Cooperate, Collaborate or Consolidate?
In tough times survival involves reaching out, partnering and employing economies and efficiencies. Good stewardship and visionary leadership requires creativity and risk taking. In our global economic recession, a leader looks for survival opportunities. You look for new ideas and alignments that allow your group both to survive and to thrive. A leader seeks the optimum organizational structure to sustain his/her NPO’s mission.
What Should I Do?
You must first know yourself. Do the mirror test. Consider four internal assessments:
1. Assess the validity of your mission in light of changing community needs.
2. Inventory your resources – budget, database, programs and governance documents.
3. Outline your values, goals, resources and liabilities in a matrix.
4. Compare your mission to other groups serving a similar cause/demographic.
A True Study
Gardner & Associates (G&A) assisted boys and girls clubs in the same city that had competed against each other for a decreasing share of fundraising, staffing and volunteers for nearly a century. G&A challenged them to envision how they might help more children and become a sustainable organization by first cooperating and later collaborating. Over a two-year pilot project old rivals began to work together. They learned their similarities and the significant economy of scale that comes from working together. They first worked together in small ways (single source purchasing and service contracts). That success led to greater cooperation on strategic planning, marketing, combined fundraising and centralized collections, membership processing, bill payment and accounting. They found that they worked smarter, not harder.
As they assessed the collaboration pilot, the former rivals recognized that the money saved by removing duplication meant more funding for programs. They found that their combined board experienced invigorated interest, enhanced fundraising and made more focused decisions. They also saw that they made a more compelling case for community support showing that a greater percentage of sponsorship and donation money went directly to serving “at risk” boys and girls. They saw that a consolidated organization was the best model in this economy.
The new single organization streamlined its operating expenses, increased and enhanced fundraising results and sharpened its marketing/communications message. Today, the staff is stable and motivated, more boys and girls are served with more programs and the community has a clearer understanding of the impact these clubs have on reducing crime and enhancing child welfare and family stability.
How Can Gardner & Associates Help You Change Your Culture?
Gardner & Associates’ role as counsel is to coach you, your board and organization through an inquiry process. An experienced guide reduces conflict during an unflinching self-assessment.
G&A recommends a four-phase inquiry ending in a culminating work session.
1. Inventory organizational resources (governance/corporate/IRS documents, service contracts and insurance policies, policy/operations manuals, operating, database and bookkeeping systems/software and business equipment).
2. Audit organizational communications including reports, newsletters, website, digital communications and marketing and fundraising materials.
3. Interview staff and board leadership to assess the level and range of skills, influence, expertise and commitment to the organization.
4. Assess community perception through confidential interviews with selected community opinion leaders and funders/donors.
From this inquiry process and the concluding work session G&A will recommend a customized strategy, timeline and budget that accurately reflects your situation.
In order to help you change your culture, G&A must first know and understand where you are today and where you anticipate being in the near term and long term.
Walt Eilers, Senior Associate