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Working Smarter, Not Harder: A Nonprofit Case Study (Part 2)

This post continues the case study on how small nonprofits can effectively balance growing demands and limited resources by working smarter, not harder.

The first step is to stay mission-focused, but that can also present a challenge. Many nonprofits have broad mission statements that let them justify responding to even remotely-related requests. Staff who are truly passionate about the mission find it difficult to turn down such requests or discontinue programs that are no longer worthwhile. (“But we helped the three people who came to our educational seminar!”)

Recognizing this situation, one ABC Healthcare affiliate took the next step to address the question: Where can we, with our limited resources, really make a difference?

Step 2. Inventory your program offerings

To answer this question, the affiliate conducted a detailed inventory of its educational programs and activities. This was a multi-step process in which staff completed program descriptions and developed a profile for each educational offering. First they reviewed the following key questions (several adapted from the Drucker Foundation’s nonprofit self-assessment tool: The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask about Your Nonprofit Organization) for each of their programs:

  • Who is the target audience for the program?
  • What does the target audience value about the program (based on evaluations and other feedback)?
  • Could this audience get the same program elsewhere?
  • What is the estimated return on investment for the organization (based on mission-fit, resource input, and resulting output)?
  • Will this offering advance our capacity to carry out our mission?
  • If we weren’t already presenting this program would we start now?

Answering these questions allowed staff to sort the educational programs into three categories:

  1. “Need to have” (programs that should be kept)
  2. “Nice to have” (those that might be expendable) and
  3. “Not sure.”

They further assessed each program in the “nice to have” and “not sure” categories by considering: Is what we’re doing precluding other opportunities? Can (or should) we invest our time and energy more effectively elsewhere? What would be the greatest consequence if we didn’t offer this program for a few more years?

Their answers to this second set of questions helped determine which programs to keep, which to phase out, and which to eliminate. Staff also revisited programs in the “Need to have” category to see if they should be kept “as is” or if there might be opportunities to enhance or expand them.

The inventory exercise was a valuable way for employees to prioritize and streamline their programs and activities. While initially reluctant to let go of a number of programs, they recognized that doing so would free them to explore new initiatives as well as improve current ones.

The next (and final) post in this series explores the 3rd critical step involving communication.

One reply on “Working Smarter, Not Harder: A Nonprofit Case Study (Part 2)”

An excellent blueprint for our next few Board meetings. Thanks again, Sybil, for this series of articles.

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