The Leadership of Change

In the past, leaders worked hard to persuade others to change. Nearly everyone now accepts that change is a given. Today’s leaders must help people determine how to change.

As one of the leaders of your nonprofit, you must teach others how to successfully change. Your nonprofit’s sustainability depends on changing at a speed slightly ahead of the world around your nonprofit. When someone (board member, staff member, donor, volunteer, or other stakeholder) is slow to change, it slows your nonprofit’s change process and threatens your nonprofit’s sustainability.

The starting point is to recast change as evolution. Species must evolve to survive. That means traits must change to better fit with the new world that is emerging. Luckily, humans can evolve by choice as individuals rather than hoping the next generation develops the traits necessary to thrive.

As a leader, you need to be constantly assessing each of your nonprofit’s stakeholders and identifying the new capabilities needed by each individual. In addition, you must be able to communicate the value of those capabilities to the individual, the clients, and the community. When the stakeholders understand the value for themselves and others, they will have a compelling reason to develop the capabilities you recommend. Implied by this process is your willingness to invest in the individual (education, mentoring, training, etc.).

As a leader, you must also be willing to place the development of the stakeholder ahead of the short-term demands of the budget. Evolution is nature’s investment in the sustainability of the species. Just like with nature, when your nonprofit’s evolution is successful, it ensures sustainability and creates the potential to thrive at a new level. Successful evolution pays big dividends.

When your assessment identifies capabilities that are mission-centric, raises program effectiveness, increases client success, and creates additional value for your community, your nonprofit will enjoy increased sustainability and your nonprofit, clients, community, and stakeholders will be able to thrive at a new level.

Next Step:

Determine the new mission-centric capabilities each of your stakeholders must develop

Share with each stakeholder how the new capabilities will create added value for the stakeholder, your clients, and your community

Partner with the stakeholders by investing in the development of their capabilities

Focus on the long-term value created by the new capabilities rather than the short-term impact of the investment

It is hard for many board members to remember that each stakeholder is an asset. It is easy for them to recognize the value of staff members yet nonprofits seldom talk about the value of their volunteers, referral sources, advocates, or others. The value of donors is often assessed based upon their gifts. However, their increasing generosity, retention (loyalty), engagement, and willingness to recruit others are usually more valuable than their financial support. Donors need their capabilities nurtured just as much as anyone else.

Helping each of your stakeholders to grow is one of the best ways to say thank you and demonstrate how much you value them as individuals.

Take It Further:

Remind your board quarterly, with anecdotes and statistics, how valuable each of your stakeholder groups are

Remind your board that any asset worth having is worth investing in to sustain its relevance and increase its value

Work with your board to create a five-year strategy for asset development which includes new capabilities needed by each stakeholder group as well as the capacity of your facilities, the features of your technology, and growth of each stakeholder group



Making Your Nonprofit Stronger

When asked what will make a nonprofit stronger, the answer we hear most often is “Money!”. When asked how the money would be used, the answers are seldom substantive. The speakers are unaware that their answers are the most urgent symptoms of a larger problem that has yet to be articulated.

When there is a scramble to fund payroll at the end of the week, it is hard to remember that making payroll leaves the problem unsolved. The solution is more donor generosity, more donors, better cash management, more efficient use of resources, or a combination of things.

Take a moment to make a list of all of your urgent items.

Now make a list of what is common to all of those items.

Probably one of the items they all have in common is the lack of resources (money). What part of your nonprofit’s infrastructure is responsible for gathering and distributing those resources? Is it funding, fees, planning, effective use, etc.?

Another thing they probably need is talent. What part of your infrastructure is responsible for solving this problem? Is it HR, staff development, workflow management, staff allocation, technology to automate processes, etc.?

You can carry this process further by looking at your business model and deciding which elements of your business model need to be more robust. That will help you decide how to strengthen the infrastructure.

Changing a nonprofit’s infrastructure is seldom easy or quick. Like all changes it will cost something but the cost is usually low and after the first few changes the process becomes almost self-funding (the saving from this month’s change will fund most of the expenses for next month’s changes and so on). It is usually possible to find a donor who is willing to start the process. Over time, you will have proof that your infrastructure changes are making your programing more effective, your nonprofit more efficient, your mission more effective, your clients more successful, and your mission more valuable to your community. With that evidence, you can make a strong case for your donors to increase their generosity, and recruit more support from your community. In short, as your infrastructure becomes more robust, your nonprofit’s sustainability will grow.

Next Step:

Look behind the urgent symptom to discover the problem

Create a plan to solve the problem including fortifying your infrastructure

Find donors who will fund the plan

Review your business plan every six months to determine how to strengthen or evolve your business model and strengthen your infrastructure

Every six months gather your senior staff, board committee chairs, board chair, key supporters, and select clients to discuss your business model and how to evolve its key elements to be more effective. Six months may seem like too often. However, the current rate of change demands that we frequently review all that we are doing. Frequent reviews will result in minor changes to just a few elements which will be less expensive and less disruptive. Frequent reviews also makes it easier to manage a nonprofit because there are fewer urgent interruptions.

Your donors want your mission to be effective, your services to be excellent, your clients to be more successful, and your sustainability to be high. Constantly evolving your infrastructure will increase donor generosity and loyalty as well as attract new donors.

Take It Further:

Set operational standards for each of the elements of your business model

Use the semi-annual meetings to raise the expectations for each element (pursue excellence – make the evolution of your infrastructure purpose driven)


Co-Create Success

The old ways are unlikely to work much longer if at all. That is easily said and universally accepted. However, the way forward is less clear.

Moving to a new model is difficult. There is risk because the new path is uncharted and unproven. Waiting until it is clear means following other nonprofits, which implies a loss of sustainability, a competitive disadvantage, and lower mission relevance. The new path may mean abandoning some of the current activities. If so, that will be hard to sell to long-time donors, some staff members, and other supporters. It is easy to say the new path will mean new skills, new ideas, a new business model, and new technology but giving up part of the past is painful.

No one has all of the wisdom needed to optimize the decisions about the path forward. It is time to co-create. Convene one or more meetings. Invite forward-thinking donors, clients who have unmet or undermet needs, creative and engaged staff members, knowledgeable community leaders, board members, and others to explore the issues and identify options. Nonprofits, government, and for-profits generally move in the same direction. Individuals with limited or no understanding of the nonprofit sector can see things with fresh eyes and explain how other sectors are responding. The meetings also opens doors for connections and integration of activities.

Historically, organizations could be internally focused. Thinking about what is best for an organization is hard to displace since all of the internal stakeholders are practically and emotionally vested in the organization and its mission. However, the new paradigm requires every organization to be client centric. Client centric now means fulfilling mission-centric client needs and finding collaborators willing to help provide clients with robust solutions beyond what your mission is able to offer. The sustainability, relevance, and strength of your nonprofit depends on the successful integration of your services with others and the sustainability of your relationships and partners.

Satisfying the needs of clients is becoming more complex and requiring a broader and deeper range of services. There must be partnerships and partners must be carefully screened. In addition, your partners have a right to expect your nonprofit to meet the same exacting standards as you apply to them. While each partner is autonomous, they must be willing to surrender some of their independence. That is a major cultural change for most nonprofits and especially for their boards. The greater good of the community and clients must be the focal point for the partnership’s decision making.

The partnership must also be agile. It is hard for any organization to be agile. It is harder still for partnerships where there are conflicting priorities among the partners. Without agility the partnership will miss out on opportunities, which will lower the sustainability and relevance of the partnership and its members. The cost and effort to repair the partnership or replace a partner will be significant.

Next Step:

Convene stakeholders and synthesize their view of the future, your clients’ future needs, and an understanding of your nonprofit’s role in serving the clients

Establish the profile and standards for each partner and their role in the partnership

Recruit partners who can help you create a complete solutions for your clients

Establish a method for holding the partnership and its members accountable

Ensure your supporters embrace the partnership before you finalize it

Ideally each partner will bring all of their stakeholders into the partnership. However, usually one or more partners will loose stakeholders. Before the partnership is formalized, it is important to assess the impact the loss of stakeholders will have on the partnership.

Foundations and other granting sources are becoming more enthusiastic about partnerships, especially when they have a formal operating agreement that creates mutual accountability. The accountability increases the funders’ confidence that plans will be executed and success will be achieved. They also often see the partnership as a more efficient and effective way to significantly impact the community.

Take It Further:

Expect it to take three to five years to form the partnership (this will provide you with the time to lay a solid foundation and carefully screen and engage the optimal partners)

Consider operating the partnership informally for 12 – 18 months before fully committing

Search for a funder who is enthusiastic enough about your plans to fund the partnership formation expenses

Seek help from a consultant with a success ratio greater than 60% and talk with several of the clients that were unsuccessful to better understand the risks and pitfalls


The Dynamic Nonprofit

Many nonprofits look like their organizational models were copied from an assembly line. Clients come in through one door, are serviced by a staff member, move on to another staff member, and so on until they complete the program. The nonprofit’s goal is to take the least time possible to serve each client and to serve as many clients as possible. Some clients will achieve everything the mission promises and others will fall short.

For many years it has been a good model. It allows staff members to specialize and become highly efficient. It keeps costs to a minimum. It is easy to understand and explain. It is how many of the organizations represented by the nonprofit’s board members are structured.

However, machines and assembly lines are unable to dynamically change. All of the things that make them highly efficient restrain them from being highly effective when there is variability. The nonprofit that is organized like a machine usually gives the average client what the average client needs and gives the atypical clients what the average client needs. It is optimized for the benefit of the average client and the operation of the nonprofit. Atypical clients are almost guaranteed to receive less than they need.

Unfortunately, the atypical client probably needs to be successful more than the average client. Those who are atypical face more challenges and have a harder time being successful than most.

We live in a time of near-infinite customization of consumer services, which is just what the atypical client needs. However, most nonprofit are structured in ways that prevent them from being adaptive, agile, and flexible. When your nonprofit commits to being adaptive, agile, and flexible, it creates a competitive advantage and reaches a higher level of sustainability. It also positions your nonprofit to significantly increase its value to your community. When it has a more adaptive, agile, and flexible culture, it is also able to respond quickly to any changes (adverse or advantageous) in the market, new threats from competitors, and changes in societal attitudes or priorities. When nonprofits are unable to be dynamic, donors and the community see the nonprofit as less relevant.

Next Step;

Restructure your nonprofit to be dynamic and self-organizing around the need to be highly effective for each client

Give your staff the freedom to be adaptive and experimental

Use the growing success of your atypical clients as the benchmark for your commitment to being adaptive, agile, and flexible

Your donors will embrace your efforts to be more dynamic. They want your atypical clients to be as well served as the average. They understand that it will cost something to change your processes and that the ongoing operations of a dynamic organization are more expensive. However, nonprofits with services that are tailored to each client’s needs are also more effective and provide more value for their clients and community. It is the effectiveness of your nonprofit that your donors care most about.

The increased satisfaction of your donors and clients will attract additional supporters and increase the perception of your mission’s relevance. It will also help increase your nonprofit’s sustainability.

Take It Further:

Ask your fundraising team to become more adaptive, agile, and flexible so that your mission will appeal to a broader group of supporters

Ask your board to help you create a more dynamic organization that is focused first on results rather than on processes, procedures, rules, or financial outcomes (let finance and fundraising worry about the financial results so the rest of your nonprofit can concentrate on mission effectiveness)


Learn about Something Better

This is a follow-on article for Listen to Clients, Hear New Ideas.

After a client has completed your program, you can learn from the client’s experience. What you learn will provide your nonprofit with a competitive advantage, help your nonprofit become a high-performing service provider, attract more clients and donors, raise your nonprofit’s sustainability, and increase the effectiveness of your mission.

Imagine a short while ago a client completed your program. As a result, in a few months or years your client will experience the outcomes promised. Now would be a good time to interview the client and ask questions like:

What challenges (expected and unexpected) did you face when in our program?

Now that you have completed the program what could we have done to enhance your success since leaving our program?

What are the challenges (expected and unexpected) you currently face?

Let us assume that all of the responses are mission centric. The first two questions will tell you how to enhance your program, extend the value of your mission, increase your clients’ potential to successfully complete your program, and raise the probability that your clients will enjoy the outcomes predicted by your mission’s promises. The third question will tell you how to add breadth and depth to your programing, which will also extend the value of your programing and increase the probability that clients will enjoy the outcomes.

The answers to the preceding three questions will provide you with information your competitors are lacking. You will have practical and actionable ideas to help your clients and to help you create one or more competitive advantages. You can use your clients’ words to help your donors visualize how your enhancements, and their next gift to fund those enhancements, will change lives and increase your clients’ success. Your past clients will enable you to build your nonprofit’s future and increase its sustainability.

Next Step:

Use the three questions above with other questions based upon your mission and competitors’ programing to uncover opportunities

Share what your clients say with your donors

Make the enhancements the donors are most willing to fund

Report the results of your enhancements and your clients’ satisfaction to your donors

Nonprofit funds are limited. Therefore, you will need to limit your enhancements to the ones that will change the most lives and attract the most donor support. Increasing the value of your enhancements will make funding the next set of enhancements easier and allow you to undertake larger and more challenging enhancements.

When your donors, alumni, and staff collaborate, your current clients will achieve greater success.

Take It Further:

Talk to your clients’ families for additional ideas

Invite a past client to a board meeting to answer the three questions in front of your board (hearing it directly from a client will have a deeper impact on your board than reading your report)

Follow up regularly with clients who have the best insights and those who are struggling the most


Reflective Thinking

Board members should receive a board packet about a week in advance of board meetings. In the packet are the financial figures, reports from the various committees and staff, the agenda for the meeting, and a summary of the key issues to be discussed. The details important to the key issues can be found in the various reports. Hopefully, one committee has provided its perspective on an issue in its report and other committees and staff have provided other perspectives. If all of that is true, the board members will have had time to reflect on the key issues, formulate thoughtful questions, effectively deliberate, and cast an informed vote during the meeting. As a result, the board will make high-quality decisions and be able to complete their business in the time allotted.

The preceding may seem unrealistic. However, it is what effective boards do.

Most board chairs inherit the leadership role from someone else. If your board chairs failed to encourage the board to be reflective, your current board chair may assume that it is unnecessary to be reflective. In other words, the culture of your board may be the reason your board is less effective than it could be.

Sometimes all it takes is for one person leading by example to empower others to do the right thing. Be an example of a reflective thinker: Create opportunities to look back on events, decide what worked, and determine how you can optimize the next decision. Postpone making decisions during the meetings until you have had a chance to consult with your staff. That will give you time to reflect and to tap into the wisdom, knowledge, experience, and insights your staff has developed over the years. It is important to remember that very few decisions need to be made immediately. The ones that do require immediate attention are usually handled in special meetings called specifically for the urgent matters.

Executives should help the board chair set the meeting agenda. Executives can use their influence to lobby for changes in the gravity and timeliness of the items on the agenda. Minor issues should be handled by the staff or a committee. Only the most important (strategic, policy decisions, or mission related) should be made by the entire board. With a little planning, there will be plenty of time to research, analyze, and deliberate before making a decision.

It should never be a surprise that a lease is up for renewal. Therefore, there is plenty of time to ask for options during one month, pare the list the next month, and bring the two or three best options back to the board in the third month for their decision. Better still, ask the finance committee, fundraising committee, and programing committee to develop the best-options list and bring it to the board with the pros and cons for the board’s deliberation.

If it is just one committee creating the options, the options will be narrowed by the bias of the committee. In addition, the wisdom, knowledge, experience, and insights of the other committees will be given limited consideration. When committees collaborate, your staff representatives supporting each committee will have more opportunities to influence the options and develop a broader perspective. Using multiple committees to formulate choices will help to bring your board and staff closer together, make better use of the intellectual capital you have available to your nonprofit, and create a more intentionally reflective-thinking organization. Encouraging collaboration between committees slows the process but creates greater value for your nonprofit, clients, and community as well as increases your nonprofit’s sustainability.

While controlling costs is important, it is much more important to make decisions that are good for the clients and mission, increase the impact of your services on your community, and increase sustainability. Making decisions that affect clients, mission, impact, value, and sustainability should be handled thoughtfully by the board with adequate time for research, considering options, and deliberating before making a decision.

Next Step:

Model reflective thinking for your board and staff

Help your board chair create agendas that encourage reflective thinking

Ensure your board committees collaborate on issues before the issues appear on the agendas

Ensure that every issue under consideration has two or more options

If there is only one option to consider, it is impossible to engage in reflective thinking. For example, if the boiler fails, it is silly to ask the board if the boiler should be replaced. If you do ask the board, you risk disengaging the board members. No one wants to give of their time to make an obvious decision. When that happens regularly you are sending a message to the board that their vote and attendance is perfunctory. In addition, you recruited board members for their wisdom, knowledge, experience, and insights. They want you to challenge them. When they are challenged, they feel necessary and will find helping you to make an optimal decision rewarding. When you challenge your board members, they know they are in the right place doing something meaningful which will have an impact on your clients and community, increase your nonprofit’s sustainability, and help to increase the effectiveness of your mission.

Take It Further:

Think about your board’s suboptimal habits and practices and determine if they lack the skills, will, or understanding (because of modeling by recent leaders or culture) to be highly effective

Provide your board with all of the materials they need to prepare for board meetings

Ask your board development committee to hold board members accountable for coming to the board prepared to discuss topics on the agenda

Ask your board development committee to recruit candidates who are reflective thinkers

Ask your board development committee to collaborate with the other committees on the skills and abilities they want new members to have


Don’t Cut that Cost

Cost cutting, like most good things, can be taken too far.

Cost cutting and cost savings are two different things. Cost savings reduce costs. One simple example is printing on both sides of a piece of paper. Most of the time that saves money without affecting performance, efficiency, or service to the clients.

Cost cutting is eliminating a cost. It is usually an idea that originates in the accounting office. It is designed to save money and often helps to balance the budget. However, it rarely increases efficiency, effectiveness, adds value to the community, benefits the clients, etc. In other words, it is done primarily (solely?) for the financial benefit. While it provides an immediate benefit, its long-term effect is to reduce sustainability.

It is much better to allocate more funds to fundraising and increase income enough to balance the budget. Better still is to identify an initiative that will benefit the clients, raise efficiency, create added value for your community, etc. Then ask the donors to fund the initiative. In short, work your way out of the financial challenge rather than trying to save your way out.

When the deficit is 10% and cutting costs balances the budget, there is nothing left for growth. As a result, next year will be a more difficult problem to solve. Inflation will increase expenses but nothing was done this year to increase income or enable growth. Next year it will be necessary to cut costs again, sustainability declines, the mission is handicapped, and there is nothing new to attract new donors or increased donor loyalty, engagement, and generosity.

It is rare that an organization is able to cut its way to good health. Sometimes it appears as if that happens but if you look closely it is usually a different strategy at work. Let us assume a nonprofit has a 10% budget deficit. Cutting expense by 10% is one option. Another option is to cut expenses by 15% – 20% and use the surplus (5% or 10%) to fund an initiative that will increase donor generosity, client enrollment, community support, etc. In this case, the cost cutting wil fund growth, which will allow the cost cuts to be restored. Without growth it is impossible to restore any costs that were cut.

An alternative strategy is to use some of the surplus to fund new technology or processes to increase productivity. However, there must be growth. Without growth, the increase in productivity looks good on paper but fails to create value for the clients or community.

Money’s only purpose is to make your mission more valuable to your clients and community. When it does, it increases your nonprofit’s sustainability. When money is used for any other purpose, it lowers sustainability.

Next Step:

Add a new initiative to every budget (growth is critical to sustainability, remaining competitive, and keeping your mission relevant)

Identify cost savings before starting to create next year’s budget

Cut costs only as a last resort and cut more than enough to fund an initiative that will drive growth

Engage donors in the funding of new initiatives (never use the reserve to fund an initiative)

A new initiative each year ensures your nonprofit is always growing and serving more clients (remaining relevant). New initiatives provide donors with new ways to help your clients. New initiatives provide new challenges for your staff. New initiatives create additional value for your community, which attracts new supporters. New initiatives help drive sustainability.

Take It Further:

Ask your board to be courageous and trust donors to fund initiatives rather than look for ways to cut costs

Create budgets that create surpluses so you have a reserve and rarely need to cut costs

Ask you board to use the increased support your new initiatives create, rather than year-end budget numbers, to determine the success of your budgeting process


Understated Value

Nonprofits are constantly developing new products and services. The development cycle goes something like this: New idea is conceived, the idea is proposed, the budget is created, the development occurs, implementation takes place, and the world is informed.

During the ideation, proposal, and budgeting processes there is usually an emphasis on the value to the clients and mission. Once approval is received, the emphasis shifts to the work, features, timeframe, and budget. By the time implantation occurs, the discussion is focused on the new features, the hard work, and how much faster, cheaper, or easier things will be as a result. The focus shifts from the clients and mission to the staff and the benefits the nonprofit will receive (cost saving, competitive advantage, increased number of clients served, etc.).

Instead of being seen as a great nonprofit committed to the betterment of the community and clients, it is seen as another nonprofit formed and operated solely for its own benefit. The sustainability of a self-serving nonprofit is of very little interest to most communities, donors, clients, and other stakeholders.

What could have been a boost to sustainability and support has become a footnote in the development plan. At each of the key points in the process take the opportunity to:

Excite clients about what is instore for them

Show donors how they are making life better for the clients

Share the ways your nonprofit is increasing its relevance and value to your community

Ensure that everyone knows how committed your nonprofit is to being client centric and driven by the evolving needs of your clients

Next Step:

Ensure that the reasons for innovating are also the reasons for celebrating the implementation

Ensure that the clients understand they and the mission are the sole reasons for the innovation

Ensure that the donors understand that they enabled the value creation and the enhancement of the clients’ lives

It is tempting to think that the donors want the project completed on time and within budget. However, they care more about mission effectiveness, client impact, and community value. If there is a cost overrun, the donors will support it because the value to the clients, mission, and community are worth more to the donors than money. It is reasonable for the donors to expect the budgeting and estimating to be better next time but none of the donors want any of the clients to receive less than the full value promised this time.

Innovations are implemented for the right reasons. Ensure that they are also promoted and celebrated for the right reasons.

Take It Further:

Remind your board to focus on the value created rather than the cost and time needed to create the value

Ask your board to measure the success of your innovations based upon the value created and the willingness of the donors to support the next innovation (a series of high-value innovations will increase donor generosity and engagement)


The Dimensions of Value

Nonprofit relevance has many dimensions. At its heart is the value the nonprofit provides for all those it touches. In our society we often think of value as being limited to the economic benefit something or someone provides. That is a reasonable first reaction since our for-profit activities usually dominate our conversations, news, and decisions. However, one of the reasons nonprofits exist is to bring value to our communities in ways that the for-profit and government agencies can’t or won’t. Therefore, it makes sense for us to take a moment and think about all of the ways a nonprofit could provide value for its community.

There are five dimensions of value. Few nonprofits are able to add value to their communities in all areas. In addition, nonprofits need to do more to communicate the value they do provide. When they do talk about their value, they usually talk about the nonprofit’s immediate value and neglect to mention intermediate or long-term (durable) value. It is the durable value that is most compelling when trying to attract support. Durable value also contributes the most to a nonprofit’s sustainability.

In each of the following area, how does your nonprofit create value that your community will recognize and appreciate?

Community – How does your nonprofit contribute to the wellbeing of your community? Examples: Public safety, reduce crime and violence, ecology, beautification, accessibility, and recreation.

Emotional – How does your nonprofit contributes to your community’s emotional health? Examples: Increased pride in the community, greater peace, increased optimism, and more harmonious relations between groups.

Financial – How does your nonprofit increase the financial well-being of your community? Examples: Increase employment, better waste management, stable employment, and more self-sufficient families.

Health – How does your nonprofit improve the health of your community’s residence? Examples: Better healthcare, better fitness, less pollution, and better nutrition.

Intellectual – How does your nonprofit improve the intellectual development of your community’s residents? Examples: Increase high school graduation, educate children, enable individuals to pursue higher education, and keep citizens informed about issues.

The value your nonprofit creates occurs in two ways. One is through your client services. The other is as collateral benefit of your services. Both can be measured. The value of each should be reported to your community and supporters. Whether you report the value as an aggregate or as components depends on your audience.

Next Step:

Identify your nonprofit’s unheralded values

Survey your supporters to determine which of your unheralded values are most important to them and how they would like you to report your value

Determine how to increase your nonprofit’s value and the durability of its value

One of the dominant themes in management is to be results driven. Mission Enablers agrees that being results driven is important. In addition, we feel that the value to the community is more important than the results themselves. For example, helping individuals start their own businesses is a good result. Helping them start businesses that strengthen your community creates significantly more value. The increase in value raises support and sustainability. The increase in value also reinforces the relevance of your mission and attracts more clients, donors, high-quality board members, and other supporter.

Take It Further:

Look for programing changes that can extend the value of your nonprofit without diluting or redefining your mission



Setting Realistic Goals

Each year in January many people make a New Year’s resolution or two. The rule of thumb is to make it hard enough that it will require resolve to be successful. However, if it is too hard, only a miracle will produce success. The same is true for the goals your executive and staff set.

If the goals are too easy, no one is inspired by them. If they are too hard, there is a risk that people will find them unrealistic and feel defeated before they start. Since donors want a big return on their investments, a too-small goal is unlikely to increase donor generosity or engagement. A too-big goal is likely to end up only partially fulfilled, which implies providing supports was a waste of money.

If you are confident a too-big goal can be attained, set a milestone that others will find realistically challenging. When a few of the milestones have been reached, you can reveal the too-big goals and how the milestones have laid the foundation that will assure success. The bigger the step forward (goal) the more it contributes to the sustainability of your nonprofit.

Next Step:

Set goals that are inspirational, neither too big nor too small

Reveal audacious goals only after the milestones in the plan have laid a foundation for success

Ensure everyone is committed to achieving the goals

Many goals are missed because someone (donors, staff, board, volunteers, etc.) loses interest. A stakeholder with a weak commitment to a goal can be spirited away by a disappointment in progress or results, a new opportunity that seems better, cheaper, or easier, or an external event. When that happens, support declines. The defection may also cause others to question their commitments. Ensure that you monitor stakeholder commitment and bolster it whenever possible.

Besides having a goal that inspires others, talking about the value of success is the best way to sustain commitment. Stakeholders need to know what the immediate value of pursuing the goal is and the value of attaining the goal. The uniqueness of each stakeholder means that they each perceive value differently but all expect the value to be meaningful, measurable, and durable.

Goals that are mission centric have the best chance of being inspirational. The more value the goals have for clients and your mission, the more commitment you can expect from stakeholders. The level of inspiration and commitment determines how easy it is sustain their interest. When your goals increase the value of your mission and client services, they also increase your nonprofit’s sustainability.

Take It Further:

Preview your goals with a cross section of stakeholders before adopting them

Work with your board to establish a minimum standard for the value a project must produce before it can be approved

Ask your board to measure the success of a project based upon the value it produces rather than the timeliness of its completion or its completion within budget