To Be Successful, Nonprofits and Associations Must Be Forward-Thinking
By: Melissa Lagowski
Founder, CEO and Queen Bee, Big Buzz Idea Group
“Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” ~Albert Einstein
Do you feel like your organization is in a rut? Does it seem like no matter what you do, your budget hasn’t seen growth and programs don’t expand as you had anticipated? Are you still struggling with staffing shortages or failing to fill those seats on the Board with engaged leaders?
It is not uncommon for nonprofit organizations to rollover their same plan from year to year, but the reality is that if you want to achieve bigger and better results than you have achieved in the past, then you have to do something different than what you usually do.
We were fortunate to host Development Consultant, Sherry Quam Taylor, at our recent Breakfast Club Leadership Series, and she said that “you have to create a budget for where you (and your organization) are going” – not where you have been. Typically, an organization will take the current budget and see how they did. And then they’ll use the numbers again with only slight adjustments for the following year in what is a wash, rinse, repeat philosophy.
A forward-thinking organization has to be more intentional with their planning. It is crucial to really think about where your NPO is headed and what it takes to get there so that you can create a budget that shows the true need of your nonprofit. Yes, this means that your expenses might be greater than your revenue, but this process allows you to show your funders the real gaps and limitations of the organization. And when you can more clearly define what is missing in the budget, your development team will be equipped with better information for them to make better asks.
So, if you need more staff, more space and/or more equipment to grow, then a forward-thinking organization must add these items in the budget. If there is a greater need, then you must describe that need to secure the appropriate funding to produce the change. It seems simple, but many organizations don’t plan this way.
The reality is that this doesn’t just apply to funding. We have watched many organizations stretch their staffing to their limits, causing burnout within their teams. Are you still working with the same number of employees that your organization was working with five years ago? Are you still serving the same number of members or clients and offering the same number of programs? Most organizations increase the number of programs they offer and the number of clients/members served, but they don’t adjust for additional staff. If you know that your goal is to serve 500, 1,000 or 5,000, you have to analyze proactively how many team members will be needed to achieve that desired outcome. A forward-thinking organization will identify the number of team members needed so that they can plan appropriately as part of the growth plan.
These same principles apply to leadership. To reach maturity in a nonprofit, you need innovation and creativity. You need to step out of the repetitive methodology of the past to build an engaging Board that will bring fresh ideas and work with the Executive Director and the staff as a team unified by the vision of the organization.
A forward-thinking nonprofit must regularly analyze its Board of Directors, determining what is needed to then be able to find the leaders that have a passion for your organization and can fill that need. Strong boards have a good mix of professions and represent diversity in ethnicity, race and religion. And they often have a personal tie or affiliation to the organization thus creating a passion for the mission.
I once worked with an organization that had 12 board members. The “newest” board member had been on the leadership team for 12 years, and one of the members was a founder who had been on the board for 53 years. We helped the organization instill term limits so that new members were rotating into the leadership team to promise new ideas and fresh perspectives.
To grow your NPO, you must think about where you are going and create a leadership team comprised of board members and staff who can devise a plan to get there. Staff must focus on their highest purpose and not get distracted by lesser tasks that will delay their progress in the long run. You need some visionaries to create the vision, some architects to create the plan, some builders to execute the plan and some taskmasters to foster team accountability.
It is time to realize that what got you here won’t get you there, because you can’t keep doing the same thing year after year and expecting different results. The solution is to craft a vision for where you are headed and then make a plan to get there. This method of forward-thinking will help you reach higher and achieve more at a faster rate, thus creating meaningful growth for your nonprofit rather than inching forward a little bit year after year.