Three Ways to Tell If Your Nonprofit Alignment is Inside Out

Organizational Alignemnet Is Backwards Photo Nonprofit Alignment
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How Can You Know if Your Nonprofit Alignment is Inside Out?

Eighty percent of executives say creating an “outside-in” culture is a high priority for the future. Outside is where the good stuff happens. Buyers buy. Inventors invent. Competitors compete. An outward-focused organization has its eyes on the action. They see what’s happening now and what’s coming down the pipe. But, equally important, it sees itself the way it is, how it stacks up, and what futures are possible.

Most organizations are unconsciously designed not to do that. I say “unconsciously” because no leader would intentionally blinker their organization. I say “designed” because layers of decisions stack up to create a nonprofit alignment built to spend most of the time thinking about itself—decisions about how to communicate, what gets rewarded, and what information is essential.

What do people say are the three most important things to do for the future?

If all three are process, organization, or cultural changes, you might be inwardly focused.

What data do people bring to meetings?

If almost all of it is about your performance, you might be inwardly focused.

Who do you focus your research on?

If your research primarily includes your own members, you might be inwardly focused.

Ben Franklin once said: “three things are extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” Once an organization has turned inward, it often clings to that for dear life. In one extreme example, a prominent membership organization had seen a start-up insurgent out-innovate them. It grew to three times its size in a few years. Alarmed, one leader commissioned a detailed study of their new competitor. They wanted to know how they had built a new digital model that had undermined the way they did business. The rest of the leadership not only dismissed it but denied it. They refused to believe it was happening. External perspective becomes threatening if it challenges the status quo.

Another client, a large membership organization, was long mired in old ways. We helped them take a radically inclusive and transparent approach to making external perspectives a lever for real change. The process was exhaustive. It encompassed their entire profession, members and non-members alike. They held in-depth conversations with admired and like-minded organizations outside their own space. A profound reflection on their competitors and similar, more successful organizations ensued. As a result, they came to an entirely new vision of who they needed to be and where they needed to focus. With great fear, the leadership opened themselves up to an outside view, only to be pleasantly surprised at the clarity it brought them.

You can’t read the label while you’re sitting in the jar. So becoming intentional about turning your nonprofit alignment outward could be the most strategic move you could make.

Nonprofit Integration: 4 Signs You’ve Overdone It

Nonprofit Integration
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For over a decade, nonprofit integration has been the holy grail of organization success

Integration means many things: Coordinating multiple channels, cooperating as teams, disciplines, and coherent communications around shared ideas. But ultimately, it means a unified member experience. Nonprofit organization leaders have tried long and hard to deliver on nonprofit integration in their organizations. They have revised processes, workflow, and organizational charts. Created positions dedicated to facilitating integration. Invested time, energy, and money into the quest. Too often results in thoroughly produced and documented yet ineffective nonprofit integration processes. Integration is one of the chief concerns leaders bring to nonprofit organization performance consultants. They are struggling to achieve intelligent, efficient, and effective integration. Many are overwhelmed and fear they are doing too little. Unfortunately, it’s just as likely that they are doing too much. Yes, there is such a thing as over-integration. Here is what it looks like:

Over-engineered process

A common pitfall is trying to employ a unified, well-structured, thoroughly documented process that looks great on paper but never works in practice. It is not how the work gets done that needs to be super-structured. It is how people work together. A framework defining how independent processes come together can be simple yet profound.

One team in name only

Some leaders create a new nonprofit organization structure by collapsing many different groups with a new name but the same old ways. Consolidation is not integration. Teams that share space on the organizational chart do not always work well together. Groups that share principles and priorities do.

Technology as panacea

Implementing a software solution that forces everyone to share one system is not a fix for poor collaboration. Automation may help drive structure and standardization. You most need agility and adaptability to integrate well.

Nonprofit integration for its own sake

Integration is not an end in itself—too much focus on how the team works can be a fatal distraction from how teamwork happens. Internal alignment is essential. Yet fixating on the logistics of how a team functions should not take precedence over enhancing the member experience. Effective integration will remain the goal for non-profits. Nonprofit organizations that are most successful at integration have a philosophy and checklist. They don’t focus on designing time-consuming, exhaustive processes with multiple steps. Influential leaders and innovators work against a framework rather than a rigid process. For example, Apple has a laser focus on humanity-driven and intuitive design. GE strives to make life easier. These mantras color everything they do, from the way they work to the output they produce. And it works. The key is to integrate what matters and only what matters — the defining ideas and the member’s experience.

For more insights and ideas on nonprofit organization integration, see “Three Sure-Fire Ways to Tell If Your Organizational Alignment Is Backwards” and “What Does Integration Mean Anyway?

Non Profit Strategy: 3 Signs Your Non Profit Needs to Start Stopping

Non Profit Strategy
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Get Your Non Profit Strategy Focused

There is a saying called Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands to consume the available resources.” Which is to say, your entire team will always be busy, and your total budget spent. This is especially true of non profit strategy. 

So the question is, how do you ever do something new? Starting anything means stopping something, which is often harder than it sounds.

In our non profit strategy work, we often hear leaders lament the difficulty of freeing up resources or concentrating on fewer but more important things. The status quo has a healthy immune system. The “corporate antibodies” swiftly move in on attempts to make way for the new.

Do You Need To Start Stopping?

If you don’t recognize this dynamic in your organization, ask yourself if the following are true:

  • No one knows when, by whom, or why some of your programs were started in the first place. Many non profit programs take on a life of their own, to the point that no one remembers how they started.
  • None of your programs have ever missed their goals (because they can’t be measured). Often the goals of non profit strategy are vague and subjective. It can be impossible to measure results genuinely, so no one ever misses a “goal.”
  • “But we’ve always done it that way” is often a winning argument. Non profits can be slow to change and often fall back on the way things have always been done, even if it is not the best way.

If you answered yes to any of the above, it might be time for you to start stopping.

But how?

Focus on the Bottom Lines

Jazz great John Coltrane was known for his long-winded saxophone solos. When Miles Davis complained, Coltrane said: “I just don’t know how to stop!” Miles replied, “Try taking the horn out of your mouth!”

It’s a funny quote but an insightful one. It reframes the problem as something (in Coltrane’s case, pretty quickly) solvable. Organizations that succeed with non profit strategy do the same. They refocus from activities to outcomes

In other words, asking not “why are we doing X, Y, or Z?” but “how do X, Y, and Z create the outcomes we want?” You don’t measure strategic outcomes by work done but by a change in the business or world that moves the strategy forward.

Non Profit Strategy

“The key to non profit strategy success is to agree on the bottom lines before you make resource decisions”

We encourage clients to look at outcomes on a “triple bottom line.” The first is Impact – how big of a splash does something in the market, the community, etc. make. The second is Alignment — how closely is something tied to the top-level strategies of the organization. The third is Value – how much does it deliver in revenue or other quantifiable contributions.

Agree On Outcomes First

In the words of the great philosopher Meghan Trainor: “Thank you in advance, I don’t want to dance. ” Successful organizations focus their strategic planning on the outcomes they want and how they will measure them instead of what they want to do. As a result, they have a clearer view of things that are not delivering for them and an easier time saying no to them.

One large organization we worked with reduced its dashboard goals from more than thirty to six. By linking the budget process to the six top-level goals, things without impact or value were not resourced. This happened as a matter of principles established in advance, not on a case-by-case basis.

It is not easy. The example above profited from solid leadership, board partnership, and sustained planning discipline. The fruits of this effort are a strong focus on things that matter, the ability to shift resources among them as things change, and a level of organizational clarity that keeps everyone aligned when change happens.