Your organization is designed for a specific mission with the goal of having an impact in the world. The world is different in some way because of the work you do. Homeless people are cared for and fed who wouldn’t be otherwise. First generation college students increase their understanding of financial aid so that they can make better decisions about paying for their education. They’d make costly mistakes without you. Emerging leaders in marginalized communities are supported to strengthen their self-awareness and skills so that they can advocate for their community. You undertake the activities and programs with the aim of furthering your mission. Have you taken the time to look at how all the pieces fit together and whether it all adds up?
Creating a picture
When you create an impact map, you create a visual representation of what your organization is doing and how it creates the impact you want to have in the world. It makes clear how you leverage resources and organizational capacities to deliver your core strategies to achieve tangible results. By creating an impact map, you are able to create a model that illustrates your beliefs about the change you are trying to make.
It also can help you uncover the assumptions inherent in your programs and activities. You can also describe what short, medium and long term outcomes you believe result from each program or activity. A good question for identifying assumptions is to ask, “what has to be true for this outcome to happen?” These essentially are the hypotheses embedded in your program design.
Are there gaps in logic?
Once you have created your map and identified the assumptions inherent with each program, you can consider how you might measure whether you are having the impact you are aiming for. An impact map can also uncover gaps in your logic.
Creating shared understanding
Engaging in the process of impact mapping can be a useful exercise for staff and/or your board. Have small groups create an impact map of your organization. Then compare the maps. Do people envision the same organization? Where are the gaps in knowledge and understanding?
Once you have agreement on your organization’s impact map, take it one step further. Have a conversation about the implications of the map. Ask questions such as:
Think this might be helpful for your organization and would like some help? Inquire about a coaching session.
Board development is one of those “sharpen the saw” skills that is too easy to let slip. Yet if your organization makes it a habit and builds it into its regular practices, it will serve to keep your board vital and contributing to the organization’s health.
BoardSource describes a seven step process for building your board.
Identify – The first step is to identify what skills, characteristics and connections are important for your organization. Once you have identified what you need on your board, you can then ask what you have already and what is missing? Where can we find board members to fill identified gaps? Organizations often create a matrix to complete this assessment. Try to go beyond just your current board members networks to recruit board members for greater diversity.
Cultivate - You then need to come up with a list of potential people to cultivate that match your needs. Remember to start building a relationship and getting to know the person before you make the ask. How can you help them get to know your organization and keep them informed of your progress? How can you get to know them, their skills, talents and interests? What ways could they become involved with your organization short of board membership? Having stepping stone roles to leadership gives you greater insight into what people bring and their capacities.
Recruit - When you go to make the pitch be sure to tell them why you want and need them on your board. How can you make this personal? Be clear about your expectations of board members and their responsibilities. Too often people minimize these requirements thinking it is the only way to get people to say yes. If you minimize the expectations, you will likely get folks who then don’t show up the way you really need them to for your organization. It is also helpful to be able to articulate what benefit they will receive by being involved. This could be skills they are able to develop, relationships and networks they will be able to plug into the satisfaction of being involved in something important.
Orient – When new people come on the board, it is key to give them an orientation. This orientation should cover your organization, what it does and how it does things. It also needs to address the key elements of board service. Don’t assume that folks know what being on a board entails. Would a buddy system with a more experienced board member make sense? Beyond just an orientation session, are there ways that you can integrate education into your board meetings? Holding some time for regular education sessions for your whole board will help keep the board’s role front and center with the whole group.
Involve - Once someone has joined your board, how will you go about discovering your board members interests and availability? Do you have committees and task forces that would be supported by their skills and talents? People often volunteer to learn new skills and flex strengths that they do not get to use as much in their day job. Don’t assume because someone does something for a living such as marketing or accounting that that is the role they want to play with your organization. They may want to flex leadership muscles they are not having the opportunity to use at work. How will you solicit feedback on their experience? How will you hold people accountable for what they commit to do? What are additional ways you can express appreciation for what they contribute to your organization?
Evaluate – A well functioning board evaluates its work. A good practice is to conduct an annual assessment of its performance. Many nonprofit support centers have template assessments you can use for self-assessment, such as this one. With this regular practice, it serves to remind board members of all aspects of their responsibilities and can help you catch any problems early.
Rotate - Strong boards develop new leadership. This is facilitated by policies on term limits and enforced time off the board. Often times board members can re-up for a second term, but don’t let this become an automatic practice. Before re-electing someone for an additional term, consider your matrix of skills/needs. Does this person still fit your requirements? Do you have policies that enable you to ask a board member to resign if they have been inactive and/or missed a certain number of meetings? How are you developing new leadership? Do you have ways for people to get involved and volunteer other than board service? How are you preparing people for the chair role and other officer positions?
In addition to these seven, I would add “celebrate” and “educate” as two constants to support your board’s service.
Need help with your board, inquire about a free coaching session.
At the American Society for Association Executive (ASAE)’s At Work conference in early October, I facilitated a session on cultivating a healthy organizational culture. When asked what they associated with the term organizational culture, participants had lots of responses. Values, communications, hierarchy and energy were mentioned most frequently. The word cloud to the left summarizes the variety of responses.
Organizational culture, as defined by Edgar Schein, is “a pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way you perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.”
While there are visible parts of culture such as dress code, the organization’s mission, work environment, policies and procedures and strategic statements, most of culture in implicit and not readily visible. It has to be learned. This could be through story and conversation or more powerfully by making mistakes that break unspoken rules and assumptions.
One organizational culture model
Human Synergistics International’s Organizational Culture inventory is a commonly used organizational assessment that uncovers an organization’s cultural style. They group cultures in three styles, including constructive, passive/defensive and aggressive/defensive. A constructive culture, in their model, supports achievement, self-actualization and encourages people within the organization to work cooperatively with each other. A passive/defensive culture encourages people to follow the rules, values dependability, solutions tend to be conventional and conflict is avoided. An aggressive/defensive style values people who vie for status and influence by challenging each other, by taking charge and compete with each other. This style also tends to celebrate perfectionism and long hours. Of these three styles, the constructive style (not surprising considering its name!) is the healthiest culture and is most closely correlated with deeper employee engagement and better organizational results.
What do healthy organizations do differently?
Having used this assessment with many of her nonprofit clients, Dr. Elizabeth Scott researched what nonprofit organizations that have a healthy culture do differently than their peers with less healthy organizational cultures. She found that these organizations take distinctive action in two major areas – people practices and employee wellbeing and empowerment. Some specific actions that they take include infusing fun into their work, focusing on self-care and work-life balance and empowering staff to carry out the mission on their own. In terms of their human resources practices, they see human resources staff as a partner, they engage in careful hiring, onboarding as well as off boarding when needed. They provide ongoing training and regular feedback and place an emphasis on teamwork.
Cultivating a healthy culture
I asked participants in the session what their organization was doing in the areas of people practices and employee wellbeing and empowerment. Some current steps in people practices that people mentioned include new employee welcome and mentoring program, a new idea generation group that meet regularly, every other Friday off, employee engagement surveys and committees, staff retreats and telecommuting options. For encouraging employee well being, people mentioned fun committees, culture committees, book groups, gym reimbursement, movie day and other wellness initiatives.
Intention & leadership support
What I appreciate about most of these ideas is that for the most part they are not costly. What they require is intention and support from leadership. Support for people to take the time to come together and plan fun activities as well as the time and permission within the culture for people to participate.
That permission is key. I have seen organization that have tried some of these things – putting a foosball table and other board games in the lunch room for example. Yet the culture valued quiet and the CEO was known to publically question people when they took a break. So very few people used the foosball table or the games because it went against both unspoken and spoken ‘rules” within the culture. Other examples include organizations that have elaborate telecommuting policies or flexible leave policies that few take advantage of because face time and being seen in the office is highly valued.
What of these ideas could your organization try? And if you do – how will you make sure people know they really have permission to engage! Does your organization’s culture need some attention? Inquire about a coaching call.
Staff turnover is usually described in terms of its costs. The loss of institutional knowledge. The time and energy it takes to find a replacement. The burden on those who are left behind who have to take on urgent tasks while juggling the rest of their responsibilities. Yet when someone leaves creating a vacancy on your team, you can use this moment as an opportunity.
Look before you jump
You may be tempted to hurry into the hiring process, dusting off the old job description and posting to every place you can think of. Instead take a breath and a moment to think about what has changed since the person who had been in the role started.
What’s different now?
Start by asking yourself and your team a few questions. How has the role morphed to fit the departing person’s particular skills and talents? Are there aspects of the role that someone on your team would be excited to take over? What would they trade for these new responsibilities? What else has changed? Within your organization? With the constituents you serve? The wider political, economic or social environment?
Get the team involved
Use it as an opportunity to even reimagine everyone’s role on your team. Rather than simply doing this reorganization yourself, involve your team in the discussion. This will make it more likely that they will embrace any new role that is created. One way to do this is to have a conversation with each team member. Find out what skills and talents they want to develop and what new responsibilities they see themselves taking on, as well as what responsibilities they feel like they have outgrown.
Create a responsibility wall
This type of reshuffle will likely create a bit of a domino effect. Each person on your team will likely be impacted in some way. Another way to involve the team in reimagining the distribution of responsibilities is to create a map of your team’s work. Ask each team member to write their major tasks on post its (using the one task per post it rule). Consider assigning each team member a color. Put them up on a wall. You will likely notice that team members are doing similar work that they may not have realized. How could the tasks be clustered differently than you are doing now? Are there natural groupings that you did not realize before? Do you have good alignment with each team member’s strengths? Before diving in, decide whether there are any non-negotiables that should not be put on the table – or the wall in this case. Set your ground rules of what is in bounds and what is not up for grabs.
Want to be in the conversation that results in this reimagining instead of facilitating it? Inquire about a coaching session and we can talk about how I can help.
Sustainable nonprofit organizations stay strong by paying attention to five key areas – vision, mission and strategy, leadership, communicating value, revenue generation, and engaging stakeholders.
Organizations that fail often are tripped up by trouble in one or more of these areas. They allow mission-creep. They fail to generate sufficient unrestricted income to support the on going operation of the organization as well as new initiatives. They fail to tell a compelling story of the work they are doing and the impact it is having. Their leadership becomes insular and stops engaging with stakeholders, often assuming they already have a good sense of their needs and wants.
Vision, mission and strategy
A compelling vision of how the world will be different because of your work is not enough if you do not couple it with specific strategies to achieve that vision. Organizations are stronger when they invest the time and energy into periodic strategic planning – taking a step back to assess their current state and set a limited set of goals for a three or five year period. But this is also not sufficient. Those larger goals then need to be translated into the organization’s annual work plan. Both volunteer and staff work needs to be tied to achieving those larger goals. Those work plan goals are ideally “SMART” – specific, measurable, assignable, relevant and time bound.
The organization’s long-term health is best served when there is shared leadership between the staff leadership and board. An organizational leadership who discusses strategic issues, has clear goals that they are aiming for and makes sure that they have access to good information and data when making decisions positions the organization for success. A key role of leadership is also to ensure that staff has access to the tools and resources they need to effectively do their jobs.
Becoming internally focused is a mistake that is very easy for organizations to slip into when confronted by the rush of the urgent. There is a creative tension between your leadership holding your vision and setting strategic direction and ensuring that you are also engaging with the constituents you serve. Taking the time to see the world from their vantage point and understanding their needs and their pain points. Without this, the organization may waste time and resources creating programs and services that are not relevant to the constituents they aim to serve.
A truism in the nonprofit sector is “no money, no mission.” This saying reminds organizations that they will not be able to pursue their mission for long with no resources. While a nonprofit does not pay dividends to share holders, it can have programs that are profitable. It can – and should -- be profitable – or have net assets in nonprofit accounting language at the end of the year. An organization with a break-even will constantly struggle to remain financially viable. Leadership needs to understand the organization’s business model, including its revenue engine. What is the mix of revenue sources – both traditional fundraising and earned income that build the organization’s capacity over time? Relying solely on grants endangers organizations because most often those funds are restricted to a specific purpose. They support (and create) work but do not necessarily support the organization overall.
To raise funds from individuals and from organizations, organizational leaders need to be able to effectively communicate the value that the organization produces. What are the compelling stories that demonstrate your impact? Have you defined how you achieve your impact, including the outcomes of your work? Are you measuring that impact so that you can demonstrate the change you are affecting?
Use this Organizational Sustainability Assessment tool to see where your organization is strong and what needs attention.
Would you like to talk more about how this applies to your organization? Inquire about a free coaching session.
My passion is helping nonprofit organizations and associations have a greater mission impact.