There are numerous opportunities for management to improve their processes.
Canada has one of the largest not-for-profit sectors in the world. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has identified about 30,000 organizations claiming a tax-exemption as not-for-profit organizations filing a tax return. However, the Act does not require all organizations to file a tax return, or even to register with the CRA. Therefore estimates of the size of the Canadian not-for-profit sector can vary widely.1
A national survey2 in 2004 estimates that there are over 170,000 not-for-profit organizations, which provide a vast array of services that affect the quality of life of almost every Canadian. As the number of organizations in the sector continues to increase, so does the intensity of pressure on organizations to change and evolve in order to stay relevant. Managers of not-for-profit organizations face unique, ever-growing challenges within their sector but it’s important that they don’t ignore standard measures, and traditional means of evaluating the organization’s operations. Organizations sometimes forget to implement these measures, or fail to act on them by incorporating them into an action plan.
A recent article3 in “The NonProfit Times”, an online publication for not-for-profit management, discussed this issue and shone a spotlight on Mary C. McQueen, executive director of development at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas, who spoke during an Association of Fundraising Professionals international conference. She offered an example of how a restructuring of the development office provided necessary evaluation of operations and brought positive results.
The plan overview was as follows:
- Task review: who does what?
- Talent review: what skills are available in-house and what skills are needed?
- Efficiencies research.
- Strategic plan alignment.
- Allocation of resources. Not only who should do what, but also looking at who it could partner or combine with, and what were the technology implications and applications.
- Action plan.
- Use of fresh eyes.
- Fighting the alligators: politics, power, policies and more politics.
- There was no change in the number of full-time employees, nine.
- A saving of $15,000 in the budget.
- Better task alignment.
- Higher staff competency.
- Record levels of funds raised, for multiple events and programs.
- The highest annual total amount raised in the department’s 10-year history.
The article highlights a number of relevant points and opportunities for management to improve their evaluation process. It’s important for an organization to know who’s doing what, and how what they’re doing relates to the achievement of the organization’s goals. An effective evaluation of operations will look for opportunities to remove the duplication of effort, focus on the core deliverables of the organization, and ensure that the organization is leveraging efficiencies based on the skill set of its workers. For instance, it probably doesn’t make sense that the bookkeeper is also the IT and network administrator, since they likely wouldn’t have the right skill set to be effective at both positions. This is why it’s important for organizations to know the skill set of their employees, and to consider looking for help externally, or investing in training of workers to produce the required skills. It’s still important to focus on your core deliverables, though it’s not always a bad thing that the organization needs third-party support in operational functions, like IT or payroll. It’s often cheaper and more efficient for a small organization to use a third-party than having this skill set available in-house.
Efficiencies research is another critical step in effectively dealing with changes in the environment. What are other organizations in the area doing to address the same issues that the organization is also facing? Are there opportunities to share benchmarks or processes with similar organizations, to mutually learn from one another? Improving the communication within and without the organization increases the ability of the organization to not just implement change, but also to make them in an efficient and effective way. Even organizations which are sector leaders should not rest on the laurels of their past achievement; remember Blockbuster? When an organization is faced with pressure to change, it’s important that they develop a strategic plan. Not only is a strategic plan critical for the implementation of change, but it’s important for aligning that change and the activities of the organizations with its goals, and to focus back on the deliverables.
When the operations of an organization are not aligned with its strategic plan then the organization is either not operating effectively or it’s not using its resources in the best manner possible. As a cautionary tale, I remember working with a not-for-profit that decided to develop a custom software application for their organization. They realized that they did not possess the internal capabilities to design the software, so they appropriately hired an external third-party designer and the third-party did a great job for them. However, the organization was so impressed with the third-party designer that they decided to hire him internally and began to produce software applications (for profit) to sell to other organizations. It was my opinion that the organization was using resources on tasks that were inconsistent with their mission and failed to deliver on the goals of the organization.
So, the organization has adopted a mission statement, has a vision, and has even adopted goals to ensure that its operations are congruent to its strategy. All done, right? Of course not. It’s important for organizations to develop an action plan to implement their goals and to implement change. This process should not be static; instead the action plan should be changing and revised in the light of prevailing circumstances at the time. The top of the organization sets the tone, but its management does the heavy lifting. Management’s job is to develop and implement the action plan to ensure that the organization is meeting its objectives. If the action plan is not congruent with the objectives of the organization, then there’s no surer way to fail to enact the desired changes.
Sometimes it’s also important to use a fresh set of eyes and engage your workers in the implementation of the action plan. It’s often easy for management to have a grandiose action plan but they fail because the plan ignored the technical limitations of the organization, the plan was not feasible or effectively implemented, or the workers were resistant to the change creating delays and resulting in the eventual scrapping of the project. Hopefully this does not sound too familiar. When I was a high school student I worked at the head office for a large distributor. The organization decided to change the paint colour on the walls of the office and they asked everyone who worked in the office for their input, and vote on what the next colour should be. The morale of the office was instantly boosted because management was engaging them in the decision making process. Our office voted, nearly unanimously, for one specific colour and we were looking forward to seeing the result of our vote on the walls next week. Unfortunately we came in on Monday and the walls were painted the wrong colour, the one that everyone hated! The workers were confused and felt that their trust in management was betrayed and that they were not actually involved in the decision making process. After consultation with Human Resources, we discovered that the wrong colour of paint went on sale that weekend, so management decided to buy it and save the money!
The idea of fighting the alligators is a euphemism for avoiding the internal pitfalls of an organization and areas of resistance for implementing your action plan. It’s important to engage the right people at the right time, and that’s often early in the process. If the organization is planning to upgrade the operating system of the computers, it’s important to get IT to assess whether the current hardware is capable of efficiently running the new operating system. Maybe their recommendation would be to not make the upgrade and instead to wait for the next and improved upgrade that will correct many of the earlier issues present in both operating systems.
Going back to the original article, Mary realized cost efficiencies without changing the number of staff employed by her organization. It also resulted in a change in the processes that led to better task alignment with the organization’s objectives and higher staff competency, with workers feeling more empowered as agents for change. Sometimes, the proof is in the pudding, and her evaluation of the organization’s operations led to significant improvements in the bottom line.
1 Non-Profit Organization Risk Identification Project – Questions and answers. http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tx/nnprft/qa-eng.html
3 ROI: Setting performance benchmarks , by The NonProfit Times – October 10, 2014. http://www.thenonprofittimes.com/management-tips/roi-setting-performance-benchmarks/