Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Nine tough challenges facing nonprofits

Tthe N.C. Center for Nonprofits in Raleigh has done some important work over the years helping the state's nonprofit community deal with a host of issues -- everything from fundraising to staff development to strategic planning. Now it has some suggestions for nonprofit leaders, board members, staffers and supporters to chew over in this era of diminishing resources.

I've worked for a nonprofit and been a board member of a number of nonprofit organizations, and the center's advice is good -- though it will be tough to take for some entrenched nonprofits to implement. It recommends dealing with the fact that this is a new economy, it's here to stay whether you like it or not, you'd better get rid of the deadwood on your board, you're going to have to innovate, and you must find ways to show the public and your donors that you're operating in a transparent and above-board way.

Trisha Lester, vice president of the center, passes them along in a release Tuesday:

1. Accept and welcome the change. Things are not returning to the way they used to be. The faster organizations embrace this, the better off they will be.

2. Reassess board leadership. Resilient nonprofits are using this time to re-tool and build a board of directors that aligns with the organization’s future, not its past. Board members that are not actively engaged in the organization can be thanked for their service and rotated off the board.

3. Enhance collaboration. Nonprofits must revisit their current and prospective partnerships, choosing partners carefully to be sure they enhance their organizations’ impact and efficiency.

4. Plan for short-term strategies and potential scenarios. Remaining nimble and fluid is essential. The strongest nonprofits adapt by experimenting and revising as necessary – and by not holding anything sacred.

5. Seek continued innovation. For more than a century, nonprofits have been our society’s innovators in addressing needs in the community. Continued innovation is vital. Organizations that also apply innovative approaches to their own governance, management, and operations will likely be able to have more impact.

6. Connect and learn. It’s crucial in this environment to avoid working in a silo. Organizations are achieving this through professional networks and resources available to nonprofits.

7. Demonstrate results. Nonprofits must be able to show their communities what is different because of their work. This includes keeping donors informed of the impact of their support.

8. Speak up. Nonprofits have a responsibility to share what they know from their firsthand experience about what works – and does not work – in local communities. They can help policymakers address the root causes of problems. Policymakers cannot ignore a nonprofit sector that provides more than 400,000 jobs in North Carolina and puts $31 billion back into its economy each year.

9. Be accountable. Just following the law can be difficult with constant changes in the federal and state laws that govern nonprofits. As with all sectors of society, a handful of nonprofits doing the wrong things can damage the public’s view of all nonprofits


Anonymous said...

7. Demonstrate results. Nonprofits must be able to show their communities what is different because of their work. This includes keeping donors informed of the impact of their support.
I think this is where my liberal idealism runs aground. Things for the recipient class never seem to improve. It isn't enough to say "because of your dollars, 3 kids had pencils in school today." I want to know how my dollars today enables those kids to complete their education, get a job, be a responsible member of the community.

Not so long ago, the demonstration of results was called for in the San Francisco (where I have lived and spend a good bit of time) nonprofit world. You would have thought the call was for the destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge and the salting of Napa vineyards.

Anonymous said...

Good guidelines and greatly needed.

I recently read that state supported, in full or in part, nonprofits costs the state around $600,000,000 a year.