It's this passion for understanding what makes things tick that led me to the field of organizational development. That, and working for nonprofits for most of my life. Nonprofits fulfill a vital place in our society – by providing services, educating the public, or being a voice for others. But like other types of organizations, sometimes nonprofits are inefficient, and I wanted to understand not only why this was happening, but how to change it. When nonprofits are overwhelmingly underfunded and understaffed and very mission driven, how do you convince them that spending time on self-reflection and planning now will increase efficiency in the long run? How to make them understand that good intentions do not exempt them from being a sound organization - having structures, policies, and processes?
I find its best to focus on the long-term gains of an organizational assessment and strategic planning process. What future pain will disappear by making an adjustment now? What problems reoccur that the organization should be able to anticipate? With smaller staff, polices and processes become more important because nonprofits have high turn-over rates that result in inefficiencies if the organization isn't structured to deal with this. In addition, tighter budgets mean nonprofits have less wiggle room for mistakes and a greater need to maximize limited resources. In the worst-case scenario, lack of clear policies can result in scandal. Nonprofits need to take the time to ask themselves the following types of questions:
- Who decides which grants to bid on? The Executive Director? The Board? The Program Team?
- Does everyone in the organization understand the mission and how their job contributes to fulfilling that mission?
- What is the procedure for contracting a venue for an event or even buying office supplies? Who authorizes such transactions?
- Are staff promoted out of loyalty? Or because someone has just been around long enough?
- Do the same issues keep reoccurring, even when the staff changes?
By taking the time to think through these questions and undertake a thorough organizational assessment, a nonprofit can begin to determine where it excels in meeting its mission – and where it can improve. Yes, it takes time to time examine the “why” in the short-run in order to identify gaps and develop structures, processes, and policies and develop a strategic plan. But in the long-run, this extra time will result in increased efficiencies for the nonprofit, which translates to better services to its stakeholders. And that is the "why" we all work for nonprofits, isn't it?