The expectations we have of people are seldom (never) expressed in their job descriptions and what is expressed in the job descriptions has very little (nothing) to do with mission fulfillment.

Typically, nonprofit job descriptions define the responsibilities, role, and success measures for a position.  Most of those job descriptions are patterned after similar positions at for-profits and government agencies.  While they meet the expectations of the labor lawyers and personnel committees, they rarely meet the needs of a nonprofit.

Nonprofits are driven by their missions, which means everything the nonprofit does and every policy it has should be mission centric.  When the job description is performance centric and the metrics are unrelated to the mission, the staff member must decide which is more important: the mission or the written expectations.  Harmonizing the mission and the job description will produce better client outcomes, raise mission effectiveness, and reduce confusion.  Better job descriptions have the potential to increase your nonprofit’s sustainability and your community’s perception of your mission’s relevance.

In broad terms there are only three expectations of any nonprofit and therefore its staff.  They are to drive client achievement, create value, and produce results.   While those are the same expectations we have of every organization, it is rare for the expectations to be aligned with the requirements in any job description.  In addition, the definitions of the three expectations differs greatly between for-profits and nonprofits.

Nonprofits define client achievements as program completion (immediate achievement) and client outcomes (long-term achievement).  The outcomes are the meaningful, measurable, and durable changes that take place in the clients’ lives.  The depth and breadth of those changes are the primary source of value in nonprofit work.  The outcomes create value for the clients, community, and the clients’ families.  The value for a nonprofit’s donors, volunteers, referral sources, and advocates is created by the changes that take place in the community.  The results might be peace (less criminal activity), economic growth (high employment rates in some demographic segments), etc.  The value the nonprofit receives is increased community support, donor generosity, donor loyalty, and sustainability.

Next Step:

Create measurable definitions for your expectations (client achievement, value creation, and results that prove the promises of your mission are being effectively kept)

Create your job descriptions (board and staff) from your expectations

Set performance goals that use the same measures for the job description as are used for the expectations

Hold board and staff members equally accountable for fulfilling the expectations

The operational measures (income, expenses, number of clients served, etc.) are important.  They tell the senior staff and the board committees that your nonprofit is healthy and efficient.  The link between those numbers and the expectation measures is limited.

Meeting the expectations will ensure ongoing community and donor support, higher client satisfaction, more referrals, stronger advocacy by others, greater mission effectiveness, (better client outcomes), and increased sustainability.  As a nonprofit’s ability to fulfill the community expectations improves, the number of donors and donor engagement will improve.

Take It Further:

Ensure how you measure and report the health and success of your nonprofit resonates with all of your stakeholders


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