The Value of Incremental Change

One of the many purposes of a nonprofit board is to help the nonprofit achieve above average results and outcomes. When that happens, the community and clients are better served, the donors are more generous, and the mission has above average sustainability.

Above average results are both easy and difficult to achieve. One of the reasons it is difficult is because of best practices. Because everyone uses best practices, they become the average. This includes processes, culture, standards, success measures, financial results, outcomes, customer services practices, and many other daily activities that are so common we ignore them. Because they are ordinary and produce average results no one complains, without a complaint why should anyone look for a way to change them?

Achieving above average results is also easy. One of the easy steps is to be responsive to change. Another easy way is to force change. The level of change can be small but any positive change raises your nonprofit to above average. If your board simply set a goal of raising the size of the reserve by 0.5% each year without reducing any other measure, your reserve would have a slightly above average reserve the first year. Several years from now, your nonprofit would have a reserve that was significantly above average.

It is easy to use financial numbers as an example. It is better to use mission-centric numbers if you want to impress donors, clients, and your community.

Now let us shift our thinking to an area that is more meaningful to your clients, community, and donors. If the board applies the same process to client outcomes (0.5% better each year), in a short period of time your community would recognize your nonprofit as above average. As a result, you would find it easier to raise funds, win grants, recruit board members, and address many other challenges facing your nonprofit.

Another easy change comes from recruiting above average board members. It is hard to demand above average performance from your staff, if your board members only demand average performance from themselves in their professional career.

Next Step:

Look for and eliminate the things that promote average performance

Look for small incremental changes that over time will raise your nonprofit to significantly above average performance

Recruit board members who have a track-record of above average performance in their profession and your community

Who, besides your competitors, benefits from your nonprofit being average?

Above average results inspire above average support from staff, volunteers, and donors.

Take It Further:

Discuss with your board and senior management:

What are the 3 – 5 things that are easiest to change that will promote above average results?

What are the 3 – 5 things that would produce the biggest improvement in your nonprofit’s results?

What are the 3 – 5 things that would produce the greatest benefit to your clients if your nonprofit was able to achieve above average results?

Which one thing from each of the three preceding questions, should your staff and board focus on over the next year?

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