Do you know your sustainability IQ? How sustainable is your organization? Do you know where you have your greatest strengths and organizational assets? Do you know your risks and how to minimize them? And do you have a roadmap to build your sustainability?
Building sustainability is critical in today’s challenging fiscal, programmatic, and public policy environment. This article will provide you with an overview of the key areas of sustainability and how to develop a more sustainable organization. My company has developed a Sustainability profile, used in consulting and training, which identifies five key organizational areas to consider: (1) Mission, Programs, Planning, and Evaluation; (2) Finance, Fundraising and Marketing; (3) Human resources; (4) System; and (5) Culture.
A. Mission, programs, planning and evaluation. Most nonprofits and local governments excel here. It has developed programs and services that address the needs and relate to the core mission. Sometimes, however, one finds “slow mission”, where programs are added that are not so closely related to the main mission. Has your organization added programs in recent years that were originally well funded, but are now less well funded? And do they draw resources from the mission’s core programs? Do your shows make a difference and how do you know? Can you demonstrate significant results and impact? Are the programs a model or are they based on models and effective practices? Another area you may want to look at is planning. Although most organizations carry out an annual strategic plan, few are able to implement the plan in such a way that it is a living part of the job. There are strategies that can help your planning come to life, such as incorporating goal reports into meetings, developing a plan template that is used for quarterly monitoring, and celebrating benchmarks.
B. Finance, fundraising and marketing. According to national research, a large percentage of nonprofits are still struggling with budget cuts and hiring challenges. So this is an area of concern for many. Although the budget of an average organization has taken multiple hits, it is possible to reduce risk: develop a conservative budget; identify ways to expand and diversify income; analyze cost overruns; create strategies and incentives for cost reduction; and involve staff in these efforts. Have you analyzed what works and what doesn’t with the development of your fund? Identify some fundraising strategies that allow the organization to expand and diversify revenue. Nonprofits can often find ways to strengthen donor giving, with good database analysis. Board participation in fundraising can lead to many more gifts, especially once it becomes a regular part of the board’s work. Build profitable marketing and leverage your organization’s reputation through social media, traditional press, community outreach, and meetings or events. Have financial policies and a financial plan to handle cuts; a fundraising plan and a marketing plan. They can be short bulleted documents. However, having them will improve everyone’s ability to focus on priorities and stay focused. Staffing is often low, so look for trusted volunteers and interns to do some of the work.
C. Human resources. In non-profit organizations and local government, people are the main asset. Review any budget to see that the largest percentage of revenue goes to staffing, which drives programs and services. Look at the board and other volunteer work to determine the value of volunteer time, and you will find that it is substantial. Make sure you have a human resources plan and policies that cover staff, the board, and volunteers. These will typically be found in different documents, human resource policies, board bylaws and policies, and volunteer policies and procedures. Make sure the CEO and chairman of the board provide a model for the board and staff. Make sure people know what is expected of them, that they receive feedback, support, and praise for a job well done. Offer training and evaluation, and involve people in making plans that affect their work.
D. System. Agency infrastructure is often lagging behind in development and may be the first to fall for cuts. That can really affect organizational effectiveness over time. When funds are limited, look for ways that staff and volunteers can participate in evaluating and improving the organization’s system, administration, internal communications, and technology. Look for retired managers and retired consultants who can provide specific pro-bono services to help you keep your organization’s system and processes on track. Consider partnering with youth organizations for young tech gurus to work with you if you need a video or specific tech project. Develop priorities for updates and changes, and look at the return on investment they will provide.
E. Culture. The Sustainability Profile has identified a number of elements that are an important part of the culture of a growing organization and reflect the capacity of that organization. These are diversity, collaboration, innovation, and mindfulness. When an organization pays attention to these areas, investing energy and organizational resources, the organization builds its resilience. It becomes more focused and effective; more proactive and responsive; better able to direct and take advantage of resources; stronger and better able to withstand challenge and change.
Develop your sustainability IQ and the sustainability of your organization by following these steps:
- Analyze your organization’s strengths and weaknesses in each of the five key areas identified above.
- Point to your greatest strengths and describe strategies to build on those strengths.
- Identify your greatest weaknesses or risk areas and create steps to develop those areas and minimize risks.
- Implement your sustainability roadmap.
For more information on your sustainability IQ, including articles and an outline, see our website.