Look Inside Your Organization Before Looking Outside It
Recently, a United Way agency asked our organization to participate in a several-hour-long audit session. Internal participants included key leaders of various programs and leadership from our organization, as well as United Way staff members, and volunteers from various nonprofit organizations with specific talents and abilities representative of United Way.
Our organization receives funds from United Way, which has rules and regulations to verify if an organization is serving communities in a proper fashion. While the event was very structured, it also was conversational in approach. It provided a wonderful forum for our organizational members to evaluate how an outside organization perceives us, and for us to test our systems and processes.
We discussed key focus area questions related to standards of performance, including:
- Responsive to community needs. How did our organization demonstrate a variety of services in a collaborative fashion that made an impact in the community? What made our organization unique, and did we adjust to community changes? What outcomes did our organization achieve? Did we meet organizational goals and objectives that we created?
- Results driven. Can we explain how our programs and services support our mission? Does our organization have effective metrics for success? Are there policies and procedures, and are they followed? Is there factual evidence that our organization is making a difference in the lives of those we serve?
- Diversity and inclusion. Is our organization intentional about diversity and inclusion? Do we have goals and a timeline to achieve them? Can our organization define the communities we serve? Does our organization demonstrate a focus on diversity and inclusion? Do we have measurable benchmarks?
- Governance. Does our organization have a board, and do we have board minutes? Do board members take responsibility for their roles in leading the organization? Does the board have a strong relationship with the CEO? Is the board clear on its organizational mission?
- Management. Does the staff show evidence of creating and following a strategic plan? Is there an organizational plan with focused priorities? Is there a system in place for monitoring goals and objectives? Is there low staff turnover and positive morale?
- Finances. Is each staff and board member held accountable for financial goals? Does the board prepare and approve the organizational budget? Is there a realistic fundraising plan? Does 100 percent of the board contribute to the organization and help open doors to prospects? Are the major financial issues anticipated and addressed by all concerned?
The United Way session provided a monitor of performance for us to consider. The discussion helped our leaders think about areas of strength, weakness, opportunity and threat. It also gave us the opportunity to talk to each other about programs already in place and how they are functioning. When you are constantly in operational mode, you do not have the time to stop and reflect on the big picture. This meeting gave us the opportunity to reflect. It showed us that we, as an organization, have to look internally before we can look externally for funding. It also emphasized that we always need to be accountable for the products and services we produce.
Another method of looking inward before looking outward is through a planning study. At times, outside agencies, such as United Way, do these studies, or they are done through the utilization of special consultants your organization hires. According to The Compass Group, effective implementation of a planning study will provide answers to questions such as:
- “How do your donors feel about your organization?”
- “Can you generate the funding needed within a reasonable timeline?”
- “Is your case for support urgent, compelling and marketable?”
- “Does your constituency have confidence in the organization and its goals and objectives?”
- “Will your donors give to you in support of the objectives stated in your case?”
- “Can you generate the funding you need within a reasonable timeline?”
- “Are there any internal or external issues that will negatively affect your campaign?”
I love planning studies because outside thought leaders are telling you what services are important in the community you serve and if your services are worthy of continued financial support. Your organization is in constant competition for dollars with other organizations. Your ongoing internal analysis and mission-focused planning, along with a proactive community-endorsed service model, will mean everything when potential funders look your way.
Be sure to look within your organization before you look outside the organization for external support, and, by all means, constantly look both ways.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.