Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Effective Nonprofit Strategies

This year, Senior Citizen Services was selected to present at the combined conferences of the National Council on Aging and the American Society on Aging. While we were one of more than one hundred presentations over the five day conference for more than 3,500 attendees, one of the highlights for me was a session entitled “Declining Resources: Nonprofits Zero In on Scope and Impact.” James Firman, President and CEO of National Council on Aging focused on five key strategies for aging-related nonprofits during the challenging economy. I would like to share his strategies here:

1. Believe in abundance, not scarcity: wealth = resources x technologyN
Nonprofits need to focus on diverse sources of income, including consumer disposable income, consumer assets, planned giving, Medicare and Medicaid, corporate giving, private foundations, other organizations (eg: collaboration), and older adults (eg: retiree leadership teams).

2. Know your hedgehog concept and live it!
This is based on Jim Collins’ Good To Great, where top performing companies knew what they were best at and focused completely on that core service or product. It is the intersection of what we are deeply passionate about, what drives our resource engine, and what we’re good at.

3. Get out of the business of providing programs and services and get into the business of producing and selling outcomes.

4. To raise funds, focus on the time of stakeholders and the brand—and the money should follow

5. Make surgical cuts, not across-the-board cuts. Stop the underperforming part of the organization, don’t slow everything down. Peter Drucker said that the largest mistake that nonprofit organizations make is their failure to abandon underperforming aspects of their mission.

In addition to James Firman’s key strategies, Serita Cox, Manager of Bridgespan, presented eight insights from experienced nonprofit leaders during the economic downturn:
1. Act quickly, not reactively; plan for contingencies
2. Protect your core competencies
3. Identify key people and keep them strong
4. Stay close to key funders
5. Shape up your organization—fitness time for nonprofits!
6. Involve your board again and again
7. Communicate openly and often
8. Know your cash flow—if you have to dip into reserves, try to restore them quickly

I figured for this month’s blog, these words of wisdom speak for themselves. We will learn from these experts, celebrate where we have already moved in their suggested directions, and push in the areas where needed.

by Jeffrey M. Smythe, Executive Director