• Amy Clark

Preparing for Storms

Updated: Nov 8, 2019

It can be easy for nonprofit stakeholders to get excited about concepts like "innovation and technology" or "cutting-edge services", but it is up to the leadership team to also illuminate important concepts like "organizational sustainability" and "contingency plans" for when the external environment brings about the proverbial storm.

Day to day demands to keep the doors open and programs running can leave little time for proactive planning. The stress of securing the needed funding, meeting the complex demands of the board, staff, volunteers and constituents, can cause executive directors to get tangled in the day to day needs of their organization. And let's not forget the concept of having a personal life in-between all that care and keeping of the mission.

Planning ahead for tough times may simply feel like a luxury to a busy nonprofit executive.

So what can we do as leaders to model a proactive approach to strengthening our organizations for impending uncertainty? We must be intentional to have the hard conversations and to build an organization that thinks strategically. Rooting strategy and preparedness in a mindset of stewardship.

The Bridgespan Group recommends 8 steps for managing through tough times.

1. Act quickly, but not reflexively, and plan contingencies.

2. Protect the core.

3. Identify the people who matter most and keep that group strong.

4. Stay very close to your key funders.

5. Shape up your organization.

6. Collaborate to reduce costs and expand impact.

7. Involve your board.

8. Communicate openly and often.

Are you thinking “how can I fit this into my already full plate where the peas are already rolling onto the floor”?

Here are a few suggestions of how to integrate these concepts into your visionary work that is already in motion; the stuff that gets you excited rather than causes you to break out in a sweat.

Make it a priority.

  • This is a topic that should be occurring regularly at the board and executive leadership level. Consider your board composition, and how you might integrate this type of conversation to foster understanding and engagement around it. If you have a regular calendar of review activities, you may want to add this discussion as an annual topic.

Align and integrate into your strategic and business plans.

  • Planning for tough times does not mean you have to create separate work, but it may mean you have to think leaner and more creatively when decisions get tough. Building infrastructure strengtheners and thoughtful contingencies into your planning can create measurable wins down the road.

Identify point in time resources to assist with the work.

  • You can look ahead and identify capacity building funds that will support temporary talent to help assess your current state and potential future strategies. This can look like small local grants, a special request to your board or ear-marking budget dollars towards this important element of strategy work over a period of time.

People often think of strategic initiatives as new things, those shiny exciting and innovative levers for propelling the mission forward. I encourage you to challenge your leadership team to also look ahead at the strategic initiatives needed to keep the main work in motion. Then identify what's most crucial to prepare the organization for surviving the storms that might come in an ever-changing environment.

I would welcome the opportunity to partner with you and awaken your organization’s potential to be strong during changing times.


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