By Nanette R. Fridman and Laura Fish
As the year comes to a close and our thoughts turn to 2017, it is a good opportunity for organizations to take stock. Asking the five questions below can help reveal key information necessary to assess if your nonprofit is operating strategically and positioned for success, whether a service provider, funder, or a combination of both. Once you determine your organization’s starting place, you can chart your course to becoming a highly functioning strategic organization.
- Does the organization have a strategic plan or road map? The board is responsible for setting the strategic direction of the organization. Is there a shared vision and agreement on priorities? Do all partners know the game plan? It is not enough to say ‘”yes, we have a plan.” Instead, the organization’s focus and goals must be recognized and supported by all those involved – senior leaders, board members and volunteer fundraisers. If stakeholders are not all rowing in the same direction, it is just too difficult to move forward.
- Does the staff, both collectively and individually, take responsibility for implementation of the strategic plan? Does the staff internalize and use the strategic plan as a guide for its work? Are they measuring progress? Are they resisting the temptation to devote significant time and energy to work not aligned with the plan? Organizations that are disciplined and can answer “yes” easily set themselves apart from all others.
- Does the Board of Directors understand and accept accountability for its fiduciary duties, both for expenses and revenue? Are they comfortable reading budgets and financial reports? Are they ambassadors and, better yet, champions? Are they friendraisers? Do they fundraise? If the answer to any of these questions is “no” or “not sure,” the organization’s first step forward is clear – working towards a better understanding of the role of a board and providing adequate financial literacy, ambassador and fundraising training.
- Is the organization properly resourced? Does the organization have the expertise, (wo)men power, budget, time and management to get the job done? The need for nonprofits to resource themselves properly has gotten a lot of attention in the past few years thanks to the focus on overhead. Dan Pallotta, entrepreneur and philanthropist, put it best when he said, “Everyone wants charities to spend as little as possible on overhead. That’s backwards. Overhead is what drives growth. If charities can’t grow, they can’t solve problems. So overhead is a good thing … Our generation does not want its epitaph to read, ‘We kept charity overhead low.’ We want it to read that we changed the world.”
- Does the Board take accountability to oversee the plan, monitor progress and the environment in which it is operating, and measure results in a consistent and concrete way? Boards should regularly discuss changes in the external environment and their impact on the relevancy and implementation of their strategic priorities. Are there key performance indicators and benchmarks in place? It is often difficult to distill social impact into objective indicators, but that does not mean that it can’t be done, or that we can simply ignore the need for measurement.
Organizations that take accountability and responsibility in these areas are foundationally ready for success and able to operate in an effective and impactful way. As you consider the answers to these five questions, formulate your steps to train, align and elevate your team to succeed.
Laura Fish, LL.B./B.C.L., is the Chief Strategy and Planning Officer at Federation CJA in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Laura can be reached at Laura.Fish@FederationCJA.org
Nanette Fridman, MPP, JD, is founder and principal of Fridman Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, financial resource development, governance and leadership coaching nonprofits. She is the author of On Board: What Current and Aspiring Board Members Must Know About Nonprofits & Board Service. Nanette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.