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Because you’re busy and I love to read, in this blog post I identify some thought-provoking articles that I have read in recent weeks and give you a few questions that may apply to your nonprofit.

Here are the questions arising from these articles:

Are we best stewarding the resources of our donors by remaining independent, or should we consider a merger or even winding up our operations to help others pursue that mission more effectively?

Have you mapped out the value streams for your most essential offerings?

Is there something your nonprofit could do in the next quarter that could materially improve your performance without negative systemic consequences?

Do you know what your staff thinks about your culture and working conditions?

 

Nonprofit dying with dignity

A Tale of a Nonprofit’s Life and Its Death with Dignity (Nonprofit Quarterly Jan. 23, 2020). Nonprofits face a challenging business model. One of the hardest decisions a nonprofit ever has to make is whether to close its doors. I have guided one client through this process, and I’ve helped another merge into a larger organization because it could not continue to function independently. I’ve never been prouder of nonprofit boards than the groups who made those choices. I’d elevate that choice to a continuing obligation. Every nonprofit should ask the following question every year: Are we best stewarding the resources of our donors by remaining independent, or should we consider a merger or even winding up our operations to help others pursue that mission more effectively?

 

Looking at your nonprofit from the customer’s perspective

Walk in Your Visitor’s Shoes: How to use the Buyer’s Journey to increase Attendance at your Arts & Cultural Organization (sgEngage Jan. 24, 2020). Don’t let the fact that this article is nominally addressing arts organizations stop you from reading. The author’s point is that it is essential to view one’s services from the standpoint of the user. That principle applies across the sector: you need to know what your customer or client wants, you need to focus like a laser on providing that value, and you need to eliminate everything extraneous to that activity. Lean management advocates call this “value stream mapping,” and it’s a powerful tool for your organization. The best book I know for that is Karen Martin’s Value Stream Mapping. The question is: Have you mapped out the value streams for your most essential offerings?

Of course, some nonprofits don’t want their patrons to return. They want to enable those patrons to function on their own. I get that, but the frame of reference of this article, and the underlying principle, remain sound.

 

The real cost of nonprofit failure

The Real Cost of Nonprofit Failure Is Too Often Visited on Others (Nonprofit Quarterly, Jan. 24, 2020). This article is a cautionary tale about considering the potential adverse effects of innovation in the nonprofit sector — in this case, a nonprofit restaurant opening and then closing in rapid succession. The author’s point is not to discourage innovation, but instead to emphasize that “foresight is morality. And with nonprofit innovation comes this requirement to consider the possible scenarios that may play out, inform all clearly so that they know what part of the risk they carry, and have a little something set aside to reward participants for sharing that load.”

I agree that one must always both predict and measure how the system responds to change. My counterpoint would be the following: Is there something your nonprofit could do in the next quarter that could materially improve your performance without negative systemic consequences?

 

A mind-bender about nonprofit employee satisfaction

The last article is a bit of a mind-bender, but it’s about nonprofit employee satisfaction, so I include it.

Breaking News: 23% of Pulse Survey Respondents Indicate Disinterest in Working for Nonprofits (Nonprofit HR Jan. 24, 2020). More than 1,000 employees in a wide range of social impact organizations were surveyed about their job satisfaction. Almost 1/2 said they would seek new work in the next five years, and 1/4 of those said they did not intend to work in the nonprofit sector.

The numbers here don’t seem to connect with the headline. If my math is right, about 50 percent said that they would get a new job, and then 25 percent of those said they wanted to exit the sector. That would mean about 12-13 percent wanted to leave the sector in the next five years. That’s not what the headline suggests.

Even if my math is better than the author’s (I’m not making that claim—I went to law school in part because of my poor math “skills”), the survey is interesting. It might suggest that all is not entirely well in the nonprofit space. But I’m not even sure about that. What if we asked the same question to those who are not in the sector right now? How many private- and government-sector employees intend to get a new job in the next five years, and how many of those intend to join the nonprofit sector? Without those numbers, we don’t know whether, in the words of the study’s author, these statistics are “alarming.” For all we know, significantly more people intend to enter the sector than leave it. Maybe we’re just fine.

Still, the broader trends do not answer what may be going on in your nonprofit. The question is: Do you know what your staff thinks about your culture and working conditions? For that, I suggest a tool like OfficeVibe, which allows you to gather regular data about your employees’ morale. (There’s a free version of the software available.)