Archive

Monthly Archives: September 2012

Strategic planning topics of the Rumohr and Clarke Nonprofit blog have been compiled into the free booklet, Strategic Planning for Small Nonprofits and Emerging Leaders, available for download at the Video and Template Library.

The nineteen page guide is ideal for in-service nonprofit professionals, entrepreneurial start-up founders, or anyone who wants a “crash-course” on the fundamentals of strategic planning.

This free online resource furthers Rumohr and Clarke’s mission to strengthen small nonprofits and emerging leaders through comprehensive consulting services, coaching, and online content.

Post your comments, questions, and discussions on the blog!

Advertisements

by Floyd Rumohr

Here are seven tips for emerging leaders and managers of small nonprofits to consider for a strategic planning process:

#1 Collaborate on the creation of the plan: Jeanne Bell of CompassPoint suggests “Rather than stepping back or working clandestinely behind the scenes, I believe the planning process is best served by executive directors modeling for all on staff and board the qualities that are most likely to lead to transformative decision making: courage, condor, pragmatism about competitive advantage in the marketplace, and financial savvy” (Bell).

#2: Share your plan: write it up, turn it into a living online document, or broadcast your vision through a short film. Elegantly use photos, quotes, and impact data for stakeholders to feel and connect with your work. See “Framework for a Basic Strategic Plan Document for a Nonprofit” by Carter McNamara for frameworks and templates.

#3 Progress report: many strategic plans fail because they’re not managed once they’ve been developed. Report on your progress to internal and external stakeholders in a graphically engaging way using charts, dashboards, and images so it is appealing to the eye. Remember that staff, board, and volunteers are stakeholders, too, and internal reports don’t have to be dull.

#4 Celebrate and share successes: recognize key players who help achieve strategic goals or who grow significantly through the process. These days it doesn’t have to be done at a party. Tweet it or share a photo op on your company’s Facebook page.

#5 Failures can be teachable moments: it’s easy to get discouraged if you don’t reach a strategic goal. Reflect on why you didn’t get there. Be frank and honest. Lead by example. What could you have done differently or what did you learn from the experience? Model for your teams what you want to see in them.

#6 No sacred cows: get rid of them! Successful 21st century nonprofits will let go of old ideas that don’t work or those ideas that have grown immune to analysis. You might have to reconsider how you do what you do and embed resources in the budget for professional development of board and staff in order to remain competitive.

#7 Adaptive change: endow your teams and the plan itself with permission to change, evolve, live, and grow. Have courage to make midcourse corrections based on credible evaluations. That doesn’t mean changing strategic goals just because they’ve grown inconvenient! Reflect on why you didn’t achieve the goal or celebrate when you do but don’t change the goal post until you and your teams have had a hard look at the game plan. Change can be hard but it is going to happen today more rapidly than ever before. Successful strategies embed opportunities for change.

References and recommended reading:

by Floyd Rumohr

Why should organizations take resource cultivation cues from overall organizational strategy instead of the other way around? The reason is simple.

If an organization allows the fundraising process to determine the overall strategic direction then it is implicitly suggesting that funders determine the organization’s course.

While funders and other supporters are important stakeholders, handing over the leadership reins can feed a “chasing money” syndrome in which the organization is tempted to do something they wouldn’t normally do because of an RFP or other resource – not good leadership in my view. In this case, the organization might create projects and programs and find itself up an absent resource river when the money dries up and the organization is left trying to sustain something it should never have started. What if, for example, an organization succeeds in obtaining grant money that is antithetical to its core values and loses several key staff members in the process?

It is different if the impulse to begin a new project or program comes from a thoughtful strategic planning process at the organizational level and it sees an opportunity, such as an RFP, and seizes it. In this case, a strategic planning process would identify resources over which development aces could go to work. Funders can and should be involved in those conversations as responsible citizens of the social enterprise.

Nonprofits have an opportunity to lead dialogues that include instructive conversations between funder and nonprofit. It’s a relationship in which some funders don’t know what they don’t know and benefit from thoughtful and discreet teaching and learning about the fields they’re supporting.

The organization is the horse. Not the cart. They need each other to go anywhere but knowing who and what is driving the vision, mission, and everyday operations is essential to identifying, cultivating, and sustaining appropriate resources.

Next up: tips for creating a plan.

by Floyd Rumohr
A partner can help meet strategic goals and advance a nonprofit mission in ways that are not possible when going it alone.

A strategic partner is any person or group that can help meet strategic goals. If your after-school literacy program aims to help 1,000 more students read above grade level within the next twenty-four months, then reading teachers, parents, book publishers, and PBS are examples of possible partners.

Partnerships exist along a continuum from collaboration to group structures and finally merger:

Collaboration → strategic partnerships → joint programming →  administrative consolidation → mergers/acquisitions

Less integration of administration and programs is required along the left and more along the right of the spectrum. The left side is more like dating. The right is like marriage. A strategic partner on this continuum, then, is one that will help achieve a particular goal without having to…get hitched! LaPiana Consulting, a national firm with expertise in strategic restructuring, is a great resource to learn about the different types of alliances and integrations.

The partnership between Stages of Learning, where I was founding executive director for fifteen years, and Queens Theatre in the Park (now Queens Theatre) is a case study along the above continuum:

Fiscal Year Children Served Expenses Cost Per Child
Threat indicators escalate → FY06 1,680 $682,433 $406
Possible strategic partners sought → FY07 2,072 $763,465 $368
Collaboration began → FY08 1,488 $525,299 $353
Administrative consolidation → FY09 2,800 $412,547 $147
Dissolution of Stages of Learning → FY10 2,968 $371,651 $125

The partnership dramatically reduced costs by 70% between FY07 and FY10 without affecting program quality according to the organization’s internal evaluations. The recession earned its “greatness” during the partnership, however, as nonprofits around the country began to feel the effects. Queens Theatre, struggling with challenges unrelated to the acquisition of Stages of Learning, no longer had the capability to sustain an education program and the Stages of Learning board chose to separate and dissolve the organization. We believed that the environment could no longer support the quality services for which Stages of Learning had become known.

Despite the dissolution of an organization that I loved and built, the goals of reaching more students while lowering administrative costs were ultimately achieved because of the partnership.

Stages of Learning is not an isolated case. Thomas A. McLaughlin, founder of Massachusetts-based McLaughlin and Associates, has said that now is the single most intense time in mergers and alliances among charities — a perspective shared by Bob Ottenhoff, outgoing president and CEO of GuideStar in Washington, D.C. who said “We’re on the verge of something happening if the economy doesn’t pick up. We’re going to begin to see…mergers and acquisitions become more prevalent. But it’s on people’s minds like it wasn’t five or ten years ago. The golden age of funding and those days are over” (Hrywna).

Are you going it alone? Maybe it’s time to to look around for friends and collaborators who can advance goals and ultimately the mission of organization(s) with which you work.

Next up: relationship to development and fundraising.

References and recommended reading:

by Floyd Rumohr

Imagine a world without valid judgment: doctors unable to evaluate x-rays. Drinking water deemed safe just by looking at it. Judges drawing conclusions based on how they feel about a case rather than from standards and laws. Sounds like chaos.

Disorder at nonprofits isn’t always imaginary. It can be embedded in one organization’s culture and be a momentary lapse in judgment at another. Regardless of how often it appears, chaos is almost always certain to ensue if decision-making lacks valid reasoning and credibility, which is the degree to which judgments and conclusions are trusted and believed by others. Credibility is undermined when nonprofits make unsubstantiated claims about their work or if outputs alone are considered “impact.” The number of tickets sold at a theater performance is an output, for example, while the degree to which the audience is affected by that same performance is the impact. 

Sean Stannard-Stockton defines outcomes as “observed effects of the outputs on the beneficiaries of the nonprofit.” Impact is “the degree to which the outcomes observed are attributable to its activities.” Knowing how inputs and activities are causally connected to organizational impact is essential if nonprofits want to understand what’s working and what’s not, improve performance, and back-up claims. That’s where evaluation comes in.

Two basic kinds of evaluation are described by Dr. Jens J. Hansen of the Woodhill Park Research Retreat:

  • Formative evaluation is a kind of “stock-taking.” It can and should be done at regular intervals and provides vital information from which midcourse corrections will be made. Assessment and research play a big role here. Teachers often use formative evaluation and assessment methods to monitor how well students are learning and to make changes to the instructional methods and content depending on how those assessments come out. Focus is on the process.
  • Summative evaluation is the “final test” and demonstrates what has or has not been achieved in the strategic plan. “Here evaluation rigorously interrogates organizational performance with respect to whatever goals and objectives are nominated in the strategic plan.” A standardized reading test for fourth grade students is an example of summative evaluation. Focus is on outcomes.

Both approaches play a role in strategic planning because one provides information during which course corrections at the program level are made (formative) and the other generates credible information for broader organizational decisions (summative). Both reflect evidence-mining processes that characterize learning cultures and help to connect an organization’s inputs (causes) to its outcomes/impact (effect) — otherwise known as the logic model.

The logic model is not about simple math. You can’t “prove” it no matter how sensible it is. “The term ‘scientific proof’ is a misnomer: proof is a concept germane to mathematics, not science…Scientists, including social scientists, develop hypotheses about how the world works and then gather evidence to support or undermine those hypotheses. Whereas proof is black-and-white, evidence has shades of gray: it can be strong or weak, circumstantial or conclusive” (Moss).

Put more simply, there are degrees of evidence for claims about impact but not proof of those claims. For a small nonprofit, this process of evidence gathering is a significant investment especially if outside researchers are involved. Research grants from funders can be so highly competitive as to put them out of reach. So how does a small nonprofit with limited resources credibly gather such evidence?

Start with the organization’s logic model. What are the inputs and activities? What are the outcomes and impact of those activities? How do you know the impact is a result of organizational activities? If the organization has several outcomes described in its impact statement, it’s probable only one of them can be tackled at a time. Don’t try to do everything at once. Credible evidence in support of one outcome or strategic goal can be a good road to take when resources are limited. Independent researchers and evaluators are a helpful “outside eye” and more financially accessible to small nonprofits when evaluative activities are focused.

Like it or not, persuasive impact statements are here to stay. Emerging philanthropists with voracious data appetites will be looking more and more for credibility behind claims in public presentations on Guidestar, in grant proposals, and web sites.

If your organization relies more on fiction than on fact to describe its impact, it might be time for some research, evaluation, or assessment.

Next up: alliances and partners.

References and recommended reading:

  • A Strategic Planning Template for Dummies” by Dr. Jens J. Hansen, Woodhill Park Research Retreat: a helpful guide for nonprofit organizations with a comprehensible summation of evaluation in the context of strategic planning.
  • In Defense of Logic Models” by Ian David Moss, Huffpost Arts & Culture Blog: unpacks logic models and explains theory of change/program theory from arts organizations’ perspectives.
  • Getting Results: Outputs, Outcomes and Impact,” Stanford Social Innovation Review by Sean Stannard-Stockton.
  • Charting Impact: BBB Wise Giving AllianceGuideStar USA, and Independent Sector developed Charting Impact as a common presentation that allows staff, boards, stakeholders, donors, volunteers, and others to work with and learn from each other.
  • Stages of Learning Research Study” by Jane Remer and Floyd Rumohr: this four-year study at PS 145, Brooklyn, postulated research questions that provided an evidentiary basis for subsequent organization-wide summative evaluation.