For many nonprofits leaders, today is a challenging time. How do they fund their activities, share their message and decide where to invest their time and resources? For many, it seems like every day brings a new decision or challenge. How do you decide what to do and, just as importantly, what not to do?
For my clients, I recommend a simple process once a year to help them focus on what’s important to their organizations. I’ve learned that organizations that succeed and excel have a strong understanding of their mission. For these leaders and their teams they are connected through a strong mission.
I thought it might be helpful to walk through this process. I recommend it for leaders who may have lost their way or are being overwhelmed by daily challenges and fail to see the bigger picture.
These questions come from my early work with Dr. Deming and my later work with Dr. Drucker. It was one of the areas they both seemed to agree on. They just chose different methods to accomplish their goals.
The first series of questions helps you decide what your organization’s mission is and how well it is understood across the organization. What is your current understanding of the organization’s mission? Why does your organization exist? What are you trying to achieve? Why do you do what you do? What circumstances help create your current organization’s focus? For what do you want your organization to be remembered? As a leader, you must not only be able to answer these questions for your organization, but also for yourself.
Today an organization must know what results they want to achieve if they want to be successful. For many of my nonprofits, this is the most challenging part of defining their mission. They achieve so many things but it is very hard for them to define the results they hope to get. Because many leaders of nonprofits are attracted to their organizations cause, they never fully explore the idea of measurable results. Without a clear view of the results they hope to achieve, they lack a cohesive understanding of what is needed to achieve them. The other challenge I’ve discovered, is that many people consider looking at their cause in terms of the results achieved somehow lessens it by assigning a number to the process and removes the passion that drew them to the cause.
Many entrepreneurs are very focused on the results they want to achieve. This can create a gap between potential partners. These donors want to know what specific results you are hoping to achieve. Are you getting good results for the time invested? How good are you at allocating your funds and resources to get the desired results? Why do you do things the way you do? How effective are you at leading projects to get the desired results?
The third series of questions revolves around your organization’s strengths and weaknesses. Do you understand your organization’s strengths? How have these strengths evolved over time? How do they match to the results you hope to achieve? What are your own weaknesses? How do they impact your organization’s competence? Are you aware of them and have you developed a team of leaders around you who can complement your weakness? One of the largest disconnects I have found between boards and the managing directors is how they look at dealing with an organization’s weaknesses. For many corporate board members, they have learned to build teams to offset their own weaknesses. Many resource-strapped nonprofit leaders try to manage to their weaknesses. This can create significant stress between a leader and her team. Until both sides understand their differing worldview, both remain frustrated within their current situation. In a future blog, I’ll discuss in greater detail this challenge but for today understanding how we handle our organizations’ strengths and weaknesses will be a large contributor to our mission’s success.
The final questions revolve around how relevant our mission is in today’s world. For many founders of nonprofits, this is an extremely sensitive issue. Men and women who have committed to a cause often time have the biggest challenge in letting go of their organizations’ initial mission. Times or society may require a change in direction for their organization. Their last duty as founder may be to help recreate an organization that is more in touch with the needs of their key stakeholders. They may be unwilling to consider a change or may be challenged by an environment that is less forgiving of their inactivity. The increasing development rate of new nonprofits has created a condition where many new organizations may be more connected to your evolving mission than your organization is. What problems are you solving for your stakeholders and how might your mission be evolving? This leads to the question, who is your organization’s customer? I’ve written a blog that will be published on Wednesday, July 11, 2012 at The Market Leadership Journal that discusses this key question for your organization. If you’re interested in you can find the blog at http://www.marketleadership.net