What are the biggest challenges that some of our largest nonprofit customers experience?
This was the primary focus of a recent panel discussion I led with technology leaders from across national and international nonprofit ministries. Leading up to the panel, I took inventory of the prominent and most crucial areas of concern that I hear in my role as business analyst at Candoris. Discussing these pain points and solutions live with panel guests offered a glimpse into how they’ve led their organization through change to be stronger and set up for success.
Top Nonprofit Challenge: Aligning Technology Spend to Missional Priorities
Aligning technology spend to missional priorities would appear to be straightforward:
- Determine the high-level strategy your organization is employing
- Budget for those priorities identified
Yet the reality is much more complex. At the center of this issue is a critical tension between supporting the long-standing programs and/or ministry activities from which the organization is defined and looking towards the future.
There is a long-standing metaphor applied to organizational change regarding the difficulty of turning massive ships. Momentum drives each organization in intentional and unintentional directions. Once underway, that momentum is extremely difficult to break. While I believe there is a lot of truth to this metaphor, I believe there is another factor that is equally impactful.
A similar metaphor – also nautical in nature – involves breaking free of our mooring lines. No matter what we do in organizations to move them forward, we are frequently bound by our existing programs, products, and commitments. Every new initiative also has an element of long-standing impact…. a tail of sorts. This tail can be in the form of staffing commitments, financial obligations, or in the most impactful situations, directly tied to constituents themselves (I am not advocating for cutting all ties to the past, but there is simply too much value in our past work to completely leave it all behind).
What is needed is thoughtful evaluation.
Plans are Good, Frameworks are Better
If you are in any sort of leadership role, you have been asked to create strategic plans. Every organization wants to have an idea of where they are headed; more importantly, they want to intentionally shape the future. Planning is intended to document our goals and operationalize our ideas, yet often, our plans are too far into the future to realize or too fixed to divert from. An unexpected consequence is that we can get so attached to our plans we are unwilling to make needed shifts.
Frameworks, specifically decision-making frameworks, are envisioned in similar ways to plans. However, there are many differences in how they are implemented. Decision-making frameworks are, by their nature, flexible. They recognize our inability to accurately predict the future. They address failure as a necessity and define a process for course correction.
Establishing a Decision-Making Framework
Below are eight concepts to address in establishing a decision-making framework:
- Define guiding principles (non-negotiables)
- Establish short-term outcomes (90-day key accomplishments), what you hope to gain/learn, and who will own them
- Define filters for taking the next step (milestones and gates)
- Inventory organizational resources (staffing, financial, other assets, etc.)
- Determine key customers and partners and when to engage with them
- Establish a list of threats to progress and opportunities for acceleration
- Evaluate progress against short-term outcomes and guiding principles, and
- Repeat the process every 90 days.
External Factors Facing Organizations
In the past few years, we have been introduced to a new set of challenges which are having a much greater effect on the way we conduct business than ever before. Nonprofit leaders are being asked to prepare for these external factors at a pace we haven’t seen previously. Each of them requires significant investment.
Constituent Expectations. The major commerce and communication platforms have become ubiquitous in our society. As a result, every nonprofit organization is competing with major brands with seemingly unlimited resources.
Security Threats. What is a distraction in the best cases and multimillion-dollar losses in the worst cases has become a huge drain on businesses and nonprofits alike. Getting ahead of security threats in this age of phishing and ransomware requires significant investment, stretching already-thin IT resources.
Compliancy. Recent legislation and financial partnerships are creating new challenges for nonprofits often strapped for the resources to staff teams dedicated to maintaining compliancy efforts.
Staffing and Human Capital. Staffing shortages, increasingly mobile workforces, and the uptick of workers leaving their jobs are stretching organizations to reevaluate their own staffing approaches.
If you are interested in hearing more about these topics or would like to offer your insights, the team at Candoris would love to hear your story. Let us know here!