The Importance of Nonprofit Strategic Planning

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Of all the items on your to-do list, strategic planning probably ranks low on the list—if it’s there at all. Most nonprofit managers and directors believe they are too busy serving constituents and members, leading teams, and reacting to challenges and demands of the organization to develop a strategic plan.

That’s the key: reactive. Most nonprofits and indeed most companies overall react rather than act with forethought, planning, and insight.

That’s where strategic planning comes into the picture. By creating a strategic plan, you’re taking charge of your nonprofit’s future. While you must still react to changing circumstances and the daily challenges and demands of an active nonprofit, you’ve got an overarching plan in mind to guide the organization through it all.

What Is a Strategic Plan?

Many people confuse strategy with tactics, so it’s essential first to understand what a strategic plan entails. A strategic plan presents a series of coordinated actions and activities that help advance the nonprofit’s mission. After describing the actions and activities, the “how-to” may be added. The “how-to” are the tactics or discrete actions to be taken to achieve the overall strategy.

Think of a strategic plan as a deliberate choice. Rather than react and rely upon your creativity, knowledge, and insight, it helps you to outline a series of intentional and considered steps to advance your organization’s mission.

If your mission is to reduce hunger in your town, your strategic plan may include establishing a pipeline of donations from local restaurants (hot meals) and supermarkets (non-perishable and perishable food) as well as networking with local churches and charities to meet the needs within the community. How you do this may include phone calls to the owners of the restaurants, meeting with corporate representatives of supermarket chains, and local networking. The strategy to reduce hunger will guide your decisions and the overall work of the organization for the year.

Why Bother with Strategic Planning?

Some people view strategic planning as a mere exercise or paperwork. Not so. It’s vital for a healthy nonprofit. If you have a strategic plan in place you can:

  1. Make better decisions: Strategic plans provide a framework against which daily choices can be made. It’s easier to decide whether to do one thing or another if you have a rubric against which you can check the choices.
  2. Clarifies the organization’s mission and values: With a strategic plan in place, it is crystal clear what your organization values and what it intends to do. It clears up where you are headed and makes it easier to describe activities to the public and staff.
  3. Guides the staff: One way to improve employee engagement is to give them clear directions. People generally work better together when they understand what is expected of them and the direction in which they’re heading. When you build a strategic plan, you outline the overall goals and direction for the year, and the staff understands now what they can do to help achieve the plan and support the organization’s mission.
  4. Improves fundraising: A strategic plan may provide the impetus and inspiration for marketing staff to create new campaigns and better align their messaging with the organization’s mission.

As you can see, a strategic plan serves many functions. An annual strategic plan offers you the opportunity for direction-setting and cohesive staff guidance. Perhaps, more importantly, it helps you set and guide the direction of your organization, so you’re no longer tossed about by the winds of chance but have your hand firmly at the wheel to steer where you’re headed.

Welter Consulting

Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.

A Health Checkup for Nonprofit Organizations

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Wouldn’t it be great if our organizations could get a checkup the way we go to the doctor to get a checkup? When you go to the doctor for a checkup, she takes your blood pressure, listens to your heartbeat, and generally checks your vital signs to ensure they’re within normal parameters. Anything that stands out as unusual can be investigated and, if possible, corrected to ensure you stay healthy for a long time to come.

Nonprofit organizations could also benefit from checkups. Their financial health, along with their overall operational health, needs to be in tip-top shape to continue fulfilling their mission for a long time to come.

Here are seven “vital signs” to check on the health of your nonprofit organization. If anything is amiss, it’s time to speak with Welter Consulting, your nonprofit counselor, to correct it before it becomes an emergency.

Seven “Vital Signs” to Check on Your Nonprofit

The ‘vital signs’ in this list fall into three major categories:

  • Financial: dealing with the nonprofit’s funding
  • Operational: dealing with the organization’s corporate infrastructure, culture, or programs
  • Marketing: how the organization appears before the general public and donors

The following are typical signs of a troubled organization. Check these ‘vital signs’ against your organization. If you see any, it’s time to take action.

  1. Chronic cash-flow problems: Are you always scrambling to find the cash to pay the bills? How about chasing after receivables and invoices each month? Persistent cash flow problems are a sign that something is amiss in the way you’re running your nonprofit.
  2. Crisis-driven funding: A grant dries up, and there’s a scramble to fill the gap. Or there’s a push for an emergency funding drive because no one realized that the coffers were running low to fund the programs to the end of the year. Anything with the word “crisis” in it should be a red flag that something unhealthy is brewing in the organization.
  3. High staff turnover: High staff turnover in any organization or company is a big warning sign of an unhealthy corporate culture. It usually means high stress and little fulfillment for the employees. At a nonprofit, it may also be a sign of a dysfunctional organization that makes it difficult for people to do their work. High turnover rates are a big warning sign that should be investigated immediately.
  4. Burnout: Burnout goes along with high attrition rates. Burnout means that people no longer care about their work. They may continue to work at the nonprofit or volunteer out of a sense of obligation, but the passion, the drive, the fire to fulfill the mission is no longer there.
  5. Loss of programs: Programs are quietly retired without much ado. Instead of an outcry that it’s needed, such programs fade away for lack of participation.
  6. Adding many new programs at once: The flip side of loss of programs is the frantic push to add more programs. It’s as if the new programs will somehow “make things right” within the organization. The feeling one gets amid all the new programs being added is a feeling of frantic desperation rather than healthy growth.
  7. Bad press or negative mentions from the public: One or two bad mentions may not signify much, but consistent questioning of the organization’s leadership, mission, and funding are red flags that the nonprofit is sending signals that it’s not doing what it’s supposed to be doing to support its mission.

All nonprofits, even the healthiest ones, may pass through one or all seven of these issues at any given time. The point isn’t to check off each one with a sigh of relief – “Whew, glad we don’t do that!” – But to see if it’s a chronic problem. Chronic, long-term issues, such as high turnover or poor cash flow, can sap the energy of an organization to the point where it begins to falter. One quarter of high turnover may be a blip on the radar, but a year of people coming and going can seriously degrade the morale of those left in the organization and leave it leaderless. Look for patterns rather than a checklist of vital signs to spot problems.

Welter Consulting

If you’re not sure how healthy your organization is, then speak with the experts at Welter Consulting. Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information or to schedule a ‘vital sign checkup.’

Outcomes Measurement Is All the Rage, But How Do You Quantify It?

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If you run a nonprofit organization, the chances are good that somewhere along the line, you’ve heard the phrase “outcomes measurement.” You may have read it in an article like this one, in a book, or perhaps attended a workshop or seminar where the term was mentioned.

Many people assume they understand what outcomes measurement means, but when asked to quantify it, they stumble for words. “Well, my program encourages children to read more…read anything, really.” Okay, but how do you measure the impact of your program? By the number of children enrolled, the number of books they’ve read, or another measurement?

Output or Outcome?

The example above of a children’s reading program is an excellent illustration of how many people confuse outputs with outcomes. Outputs typically refer to raw numbers: the number of children enrolled in the program, the number of books they read, the hours spent reading.

Outcomes differ from outputs because they measure change. The outcome of a reading program must measure changes in reading habits to measure the outcome effectively. The stated outcome of the children’s program to encourage children to read more and to love reading. To measure the outcomes, the program’s leadership must find a way to measure the participants’ attitudes towards reading and reading habits before and after completing the program.

Do you see the difference? Outcomes always refer to change—a change in habits, thinking, or behavior. Program outcomes should be considered long before you sit down to measure them. Most nonprofits do this automatically by considering what impact they wish to make before embarking on a new program. The emphasis shifts from activity to change, which is the ultimate goal of most nonprofit programs.

Even if you haven’t considered the ramifications of outcomes versus outputs measurement, it’s never too late to find a way to measure outcomes. The Council of Nonprofits has an excellent page of resources that will help you learn more about outcomes measurement. It includes tools from places such as the Kellogg Foundation, GuideStar, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to name a few, that will help you improve outcomes measurement.

Why Measure Outcomes?

More and more, nonprofits must provide outcomes measurement data to foundations and other sources of funding. Grantors and foundations prefer to put their money behind programs that make a difference in the world, and the measurement of that difference or change is what outcomes measurement is all about. Without this data, they may wonder whether or not your program actually does what it says it will do.

Outcomes measurement is also critical to cultivate public trust. The public needs to know that they’re donating money towards programs that work. They want to see that their hard-earned money goes towards something that inspires the change they wish to see in the world. With outcomes measurement data, you can easily and quickly show even the most skeptical donor or foundation that yes, your program works, and here’s the proof.

Measuring the impact of programs takes time and effort, but it is worth it. The data generated from outcomes measurement can go a long way towards helping your nonprofit gain public trust and receive more funding.

Welter Consulting

Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.

What You Can Do to Save the Earth, Nonprofit Style

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You don’t need to be a superhero to save the planet. NASA states that global temperature is 1.9 degrees F higher today than in 1880; 12.8% of arctic ice is lost each year. While some believe this is the result of natural, unavoidable cycles, no one denies that the activities of modern society have contributed pollution and carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

There’s plenty that individuals and organizations can do to reduce their carbon footprint and reduce their impact on the environment. Nonprofits can be at the forefront of the conversation to reduce their environmental impact and lead by actions in the fight against climate change.

10 Steps to Take to Reduce Pollution and Waste

  1. Green your commute: The EPA states that the transportation industry, which includes personal automobile usage and other vehicles, is a substantial contributor to smog, soot, and poor air quality. Encourage workers to walk, cycle, or take public transportation to work.
  2. Allow telecommuting: Telecommuting could potentially save a lot of fossil fuels and reduce pollution emissions by allowing workers to remain at home and contribute their talents via technology. With so many excellent technology solutions including cloud-based programs, video conferencing, and more, there’s no reason why many jobs cannot be completed by home-based workers. If 32 million Americans worked from home, they would save over 74 million gallons of gas and the pollution created by producing gasoline from crude oil, transporting it to gas stations, and burning it during driving!
  3. Use energy-efficient lights: Change out older light fixtures for energy-efficient LEDs. Consider adding motion-detected sensor lights in areas that may go unused for hours each day, such as a lunchroom or storeroom.
  4. Change the thermostat: Install a programmable thermostat in your office and drop the temperatures during non-work hours to a low setting in winter and a higher setting in summer to save heating and cooling costs.
  5. Have HVAC systems serviced: If you own the building you work in or are responsible for the HVAC system, schedule regular maintenance, including changing filters and cleaning the system. This can improve the efficiency of the system and save on energy costs. Talk to building maintenance about your concerns if you aren’t responsible for HVAC maintenance and share with them information on how a clean system is an energy-efficient one.
  6. Reduce paper waste: Ask employees to scan and share documents rather than print them out. Use recycled paper and recycle wastepaper after shredding sensitive documents.
  7. Unplug electronic devices: Unplug computers, printers, and copiers when not in use. Make it a point to unplug everything on Friday evenings or before long weekends.
  8. Ditch the single-serve coffee: Coffee machines that use individual pods are convenient and give workers a choice, but also create a lot of waste. It might be time to return to the communal coffee pot.
  9. Eat local: Although not an office-wide initiative, encourage employees to choose locally grown foods and try to order lunches from places near the office to reduce the travel time and energy used to move food from one place to another.
  10. Consider a weekly potluck: A weekly potluck lunch would encourage employees to dine in and not use their cars to go to buy lunch. It’s a fun way to save energy from automobile use while promoting social time—and sharing good food!

Whether you’re a climate change supporter or skeptic, everyone can agree to reduce pollution and waste. What’s good for the environment is good for the human race and all who live on planet Earth. You don’t need to be a superhero to save the world. All you need are new ideas to take to save energy and reduce waste.

Welter Consulting

Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.