Franklin Forum Roundup: Tips to Help Organizations Tread Water in Rough Seas
In the end, Buccino said, the merger has benefited the community in that the organization can now provide better, more comprehensive services and has the opportunity to grow and expand.
Joanne Bursich, director of the Philadelphia program for the Nonprofit Finance Fund, said mergers or co-programming are options small organizations with budgets under $500,000 that are having difficulty managing through these tough times should seriously consider.
She also said organizations need to understand two key things during this economic downturn: 1. it will be a sustained recession lasting at least two years; and 2. once things look like they've gotten better, they won't look the same as they did before.
She encouraged organizations to use this time as an opportunity to proactively restructure themselves, recommending they look at:
- Mission fit of programs.
- Organizational structure. "Restructure so that you can deliver programs and services more efficiently," she said.
- Budget and finance.
She left attendees with three pieces of advice:
- Focus on mission. Why are you in business?
- Be honest about your financial picture, internally and externally.
- Don't start anything new — e.g., a capital campaign — unless you have a really good plan in place. Focus on strengthening existing fundraising sources and programs.
Patricia Wellenbach, president and CEO of Sandcastle Strategy Group, recommended nonprofits find opportunity in the economic challenges. She added that accountability and leadership will be tested in this economy. Bottom line: Don't panic.
Wellenbach also recommended the following tips and best practices:
- Consider the board as your partner in getting through this.
- Determine what your organization's competitive advantage is, think strategically, and be crisp in how you articulate it.
- If something you're doing isn't working, don't keep doing it. "Sunset it respectfully," Wellenbach said. This requires taking a step back and deciding what is mission critical and what isn't.
- Be candid about your financial picture. You have to understand it if you're going to fix it.
- Come up with financial and programmatic contingency plans. As an exercise, ask those in charge of each program within your organization to define their purpose so that you can look at the big picture and determine where purposes overlap. That way your programs will have more impact, and you'll be working smarter and leaner.
- Come to the table with solutions to problems.
- Ramp up fundraising. There is no better time, Wellenbach said. Keep funders in the loop, reach out to past donors and engage new friends. While many may not give, they might become future donors, board members, volunteers, etc.
- See if the board can tighten its belt. Take a look at the compensation structure of the board. "It's not 'how do we cut expenses,' but 'how do we balance our budget,'" Wellenbach said.
- Be a mission guardian. This involves really understanding the "why." Why do you exist? Should you continue to exist? If not, why not? Should you think about a merger?
Organizations that are being bold and asking these questions will be the ones that not only survive, but thrive during this time, attracting the support of leaders who want to be a part of their missions, as well as donors, Wellenbach said.