Environmental Scan – Part 1 of Strategic Planning Series

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Nonprofit Strategic Planning

 

Why Strategic Planning ?

As a nonprofit leader it is important to periodically check in on where your organization is headed, why your services matter and whether you have the right operations and processes in place. Often, the answer to these questions become somewhat vague over the years. Shifts are occurring more rapidly with massive societal change. For instance the global pandemic, climate change, a new spotlight on racial discrimination and economic inequality are rapidly shifting client needs, donor interests and public policy. Luckily, strategic planning can help leaders and teams affirm their roles, make sound decisions about their trajectory and get them on track to that destination.

Data on Nonprofit Strategic Planning and Shared Vision Across Stakeholders

Likelihood of Nonprofit Having a Formal Process for Measuring Leadership Performance Due to Having Recent Strategic Plan

Research on nonprofit leadership conducted by the Concord Leadership Group, LLC revealed: 

77% of nonprofits with a written strategic plan agreed their nonprofit had a vision understood and shared across stakeholders, only 47% of nonprofits without a plan agreed a unifying vision existed. 

Nonprofits with a strategic plan more likely to have a formal process for measuring leadership effectiveness (75% vs. 50%).

Source:  The Concord Leadership Group LLC. (2016). Home | The Concord Leadership Group. https://concordleadershipgroup.com

The strategic plan explores basic questions such as: 

Why do we exist?

What do we do (day to day)?

How do we do it ?

Are we doing it well? 

How much does it cost and how do we fund it?

Who do we engage in implementing the strategic plan and how?

In a series of upcoming posts we will provide a snap shot of our approach to strategic planning at ILE Strategies from beginning with our data-driven environmental scan and wrapping up with a a documented implementation strategy. 

Contact us to learn more about our work with nonprofit organizations and mission-based businesses. We would love to hear from you. 

Part 1: The Environmental Scan: Gathering context, internal and external

We begin the strategy planning process by conducting initial meetings with executives, board and key staff to learn about the organization and what they hope to get out of the strategic planning process. We then begin diving into the environmental scan.  Environmental scans are instrumental in planning an organization or program’s future priorities and helps us project out in to the future with the following two basic questions in mind: What does the future hold and how prepared are we? 

There are several frameworks that are often used to help with this task. One of the most well-known is the SWOT analysis which stands for Strengths and Weaknesses (internal to your organization), and Opportunities and Threats (external to your organization). A twist on SWOT is SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results) which focuses on leveraging organizational strengths . A third framework for environmental scanning is PESTLE, which stands for trends in the Political, Economic, Social, and Technology, Legal and Environmental spheres. 

We use a combination of these and other frameworks depending on the organization and their needs. 

Major questions we investigate during the environmental scan include:

  • What’s going on in your sector. How are best practices changing? What are the new benchmarks? What technological changes should we be aware of? 
  • What data is available and what is it telling us? What are the trends (over 3-5 years)? Are you producing the outcomes we want to achieve? Where are your clients coming from? How well are you performing in the areas of fundraising and donor retention? 
  • Demographic, economic, and social changes. What are the impacts of rapidly evolving issues such as pandemics, climate change, racial injustice and gentrification impacting the communities you serve? What demographics are most vulnerable? What is the impact on your donors and strategic partners? 
  • Opportunities. Are there unmet needs we can address? Are there new funding streams or Partnerships we can tap? Are there policy changes coming down the pike that will benefit organizations you can take advantage of?
  • Threats.  How will cuts public funding impact your work? How will problems with public infrastructure make it harder to serve  your clients? 
  • Is there overlap between your program and other similar programs? Does this create competition for donors and clients?. Is there an opportunity to partner and offer complimentary services? How will rapidly evolving client needs challenge already strained resources?  
  • Impact. What kind of change do you want to make?  Do your beneficiaries and stakeholders share this vision? To what extent have you been successful? 
  • Capacity and resources. What do you need to improve your operations, in terms of competencies and experience, technology, and processes?

Use these questions to guide your approach for conducting interviewing  beneficiaries, board, staff, donors, volunteers, partners and other stakeholders. gathering data and establishing benchmarks. 

Interviewees for Environmental Scan 

Interviewee 

Perspective 

Beneficiaries 

Impact of your organization on their lives, services provided by other programs and unmet needs. 

Quality of client engagement and communication at your organization. 

Stories of engagement with your organization that can provide insight on impact, strengths and weakness in service delivery.

Personal experience changes in access to public subsidies, rising costs of food, medicine or housing – insights on demographic, policy and social trends. 

Board 

Level of board engagement and competencies.

Insight on organizational leadership, fiscal health, and overall capacity.

Staff

Insight on strengths and weaknesses in operations and process. 

Insight on demographic and social trends, knowledge of emerging regulatory issues.

Access to data on client intake and outcomes, donor engagement and costs.

Donors 

Organization’s readiness / capacity to adapt to trends in the sector, changes in funding and policy coming down the pike. 

Partners 

Knowledge of trends in your sector and concomitant sectors  that could indirectly impact your organization’s operations.

Volunteers

Insight on the quality of volunteer engagement at your organization and untapped social capital.  

After conducting interviews we work with organizational leaders to prioritize some of the issues raised and generate a list of additional research questions and types of data we want to explore. This information is synthesized into a report and presented to leadership and board. This report will help set the stage for the next step in the strategic planning process – the planning retreat. 

In our  next post, Strategic Planning part 2 we dive into ILE’s approach to preparing for and facilitating the planning retreat. 

In the meantime, take a look at our other posts and please send your comments. We would love to hear from you. 

If you’re interested in discussing opportunities to work with us, contact us today! ##

6 Attributes of High Performing Teams

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Image: Forming, Storming, Performing, Norming

Leaders assemble teams to complete essential functions such as program administration, human resources, accounting and facilities maintenance. 

For the purposes of this post: teams are multiple employees (and external stakeholders) who work together on distinct high performing teams is essential in successfully serving communities. Mission-based programs with low performing teams will not yield intended social outcomes and can tarnish the organization’s relationship with their clients, funders, and other stakeholders. 

After many years of consulting and teaching project-based courses, we here at ILE Consulting Group have seen a fair share of team successes and breakdowns. Team breakdowns do not have to be permanent, however. In fact, with the right attitude, tools, and support teams can overcome failure and become to highly functioning teams. 

Building teams poised for success requires establishing clear measurable goals, values and direction upfront. Friction is to be expected during the formation of teams as individuals on the team work to get on the same page, adjust in their role on the team and learn how to interact with their fellow teammates.

There are numerous issues – internal and external- that impact team success. The six most common factors that can make or break a team, in no particular order, include:

1. Values. Being on the same page about why this work matters, how you’ll get it done, how you’ll treat each other. Having a values system ensures team cohesion when things get tough. To establish values leadership and team members should generate a list of values. Continuously checking and reflecting on the team’s adherence to its values is essential. Teams should use a scorecard to measure performance. When the team scores low on a particular value, address this problem immediately before it escalates and causes further damage to the team psyche and productivity. 

2. Mindset. Researcher Carol Dweck coined the term “Growth Mindset”, which describes underlying beliefs about the potential for success. Teams that emphasize a growth mindset share the belief that no matter the odds, success is possible. A growth mindset keeps team members enrolled and invested in the project despite the challenges that will inevitably arise. In addition, particularly on teams in nonprofit organizations, growth mindset places a high value on the latent talents and assets within the communities they serve (i.e., the belief that all children in our community can and will succeed when adequately supported).

The opposite of Growth Mindset, according to Dweck is a “Fixed Mindset”, which describes a set of negatively underlying beliefs. Negative thinking is to be expected from time to time, especially when teams are overwhelmed or in conflict and cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. Leaders can aid their teams in adopting a consistent growth mindset with continuous coaching and regular reflection. 

3. Communication and Information Exchange. Sharing information is two-fold in the following ways: 1. Ensuring that all members of the team have access to files, data, reports, and other organizational assets are crucial to team success. Lack of information or organizational artifacts can result in unnecessary delays, and often results in duplicating work that has already been done, which wastes time and money. 2. In addition, transparency is becoming increasingly important in the mission-based and public service sectors. More and more constituents, community stakeholders, and employees and demanding openness past and current challenges. No matter how bad the news, keeping team members informed, builds trust, agency, or sense of empowerment keep them committed long-term despite the obstacles along the way. 

4. Vision and Direction. Having clear direction on what needs to be done and how to go about it is a must for team success. Having clear vision and direction reduces conflicts about how to get things done. Conflict slows the team down and hinders productivity. Having a picture or vision of the future is key in keeping the team enrolled in the mission and drive motivation and productivity from day- to- day. 

5. Resources. While mission-based organizations are often resource-strapped, operating successful social programs require money and talent. Employees of nonprofit organizations experience burnout as a result of “having to do more with less” with no additional insight. One way to address this is through strategic partnerships and resource pooling with other organizations. This may include sharing space and admin staff to eliminate or reduce overhead, or outsourcing certain functions that can be managed by other agencies. 

6. Team Size. The size of the team can pose challenges as well. Teams of three to five are often preferred due to ease of decision making, as it is often difficult to get larger teams on the same page. Smaller teams allow for better efficiency in distributing work and holding members accountable.

If a program or project requires more than five team members to accomplish tasks the team should be broken up into smaller ‘sub-teams’ based on the tasks.

What Individual Team Members Believe They Need to Be Successful

At ILE, our team has had countless conversations with employees of various organizations and companies about their experiences in the workplace. Leaders and employees prioritize these three needs:

Agency. Employees want to feel as if their talents and efforts matter. As a team member, they want to be understood by their fellow team members. Being heard and having their ideas and contributions acknowledged is also important. They want to feel as if their work has meaning and contributes to a high-level mission. Team members need to feel as if they have a part to play in bringing this mission to fruition. 

Emphasis on self-care and personal development. Many employees we have spoken with report enjoying work settings that emphasize self-care and personal growth. Having bosses that allow for flexibility in work schedules to address individual or family needs, having access to professional training and education, and a boss that checks in on them were all highly valued. 

Coaching and mentoring. Beyond their role as a team member, employees also want specific direction and coaching regarding their responsibilities to the team, the organization and the community. Having one on one time with leadership or personnel that can support individual team members in mapping out both team goals and individual professional goals, reflecting on their achievements and working through challenges are all highly valued. 

The image above illustrates a commonly referenced concept of team evolution: Forming, Storming, Performing, Norming. This concept is commonly applied to new teams, in a linear manner. However, in reality, this process often repeats itself over the course of team work, and resembles something closer to this: 

Image: Team Cycles. Norming, Storming, Re-forming, Reflection, Performing.

Team cohesion and productivity can suffer due to various challenges prompting a need for the team to reflect regroup, air out frustrations and challenges and get back on track. 

In mission-based work, teamwork can be especially challenging due to limited resources relative to community needs. All teams experience cycles of highs and lows. However, there are many ways of supporting teams and each member to ensure success despite the challenges. 

Read our related posted on the 5 Pillars of Capacity Building.

ILE Consulting Group, LLC
Anasa Laude, Managing Director
Franky Laude, Director of Policy and Media 

5 Pillars of Capacity Building

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Capacity-building strategies facilitate the development of organizational infrastructure and assets needed to efficiently and effectively advance an organization’s mission long-term. Capacity building is not a short-term process. It is future-focused and ensures the organization can continue to generate social value and produce positive community outcomes well into the future. 

Capacity-building efforts can include the following five focus areas: 

Personnel development which equips all members of the team with the training and resources needed to complete their tasks. Building team capacity also includes leadership succession planning to explore the organization’s future needs and begin mapping out a strategy to prepare current staff or recruit new staff to fulfill these roles. 

Technological development ensures that the organization has access to the hardware and software available to serve their community, measure program impact, and report the results through multiple channels of communication. 

Community engagement can be a powerful, multi-faceted capacity-building tool to ensure that the organization maximizes social and human capital. Often nonprofit leaders overlook untapped talent in our communities such as senior residents with valuable knowledge and life experience or professionals that offer quality pro bono services. Community engagement can also create a future board or workforce pipeline and create opportunities for grooming future leaders and team members of the organization.

Board development can ensure that each board member has a specific role that is clearly defined and aligned with their talent, resources, and interests. Each board member should have a performance rubric for tracking and progress reports. 

Finally, as the pandemic and other recent crises have demonstrated, capacity building strategies must include disaster resilience.  Any organization serving vulnerable populations such as low-income families, seniors, or special needs communities should assess organizations capacity scenarios during pandemics, cyberattacks and natural disaster emergency operations. This preparation might include using your facilities as a shelter or staging area for emergency personnel, preparing non-perishable foods for distribution or purchasing generators or solar panels as back up during power failures. Obtain access to multiple buildings and vehicles across a wide radius in case your main facilities are inundated or compromised during a significant storm event or other natural disaster. Coordinate with other organizations, businesses, and building owners in the area to ensure access to multiple locations for sheltering displaced populations and for, storing and staging food.

Based on our experience, these are five of the essential capacity building focus areas that organizations must consider. Depending on your organization -the people you, serve as well as emerging trends in politics and demographics – there may be variations on the strategies presented here. 

Capacity building efforts should begin with a meeting with your team, your core constituency and key stakeholders to discuss concerns about the present and future needs of your community.

 

Entrepreneurs and Local Economies

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Entrepreneurs and Local Economies 

Several years ago, one of our co-founders, Anasa Laude, had the unique opportunity of collaborating on a project with Professor and Entrepreneur, Ray Garcia, and his colleagues at the University of Pisa focused on promoting entrepreneurship among students in Italy. The project resulted in a publication of articles written by educators and entrepreneurs, including myself, as well as video lectures and case studies.

Entrepreneurship can be a viable vehicle for social and economic mobility for traditionally marginalized groups. Often, when we hear the term entrepreneurship, we tend to think of the Zuckerbergs and Gates of the world. However, entrepreneurs come in many shapes and sizes. Beyond the titans of the social media industry, there are everyday men and women providing goods and services in our neighborhoods – the hair braiding shop, the restaurant, the tailor, and the corner store.

These enterprising individuals help create viable local economies. They provide local jobs, creating opportunities for groups who often struggle to find work such as ex-convicts and new immigrants. In addition, business owners contribute to local tax revenue and add to the vibrancy and safety of their blocks.

They are neighborhood anchors upon which culture and traditions are created – the safe, fun pizzeria for kids to gather after school, the buffet where families celebrate birthdays, the food truck line where colleagues catch up, or the bodega that serves as a rallying point during emergencies.

Launching and running a small business is not without its challenges. The hours can be grueling, capital for start-up costs, and ongoing operations are not always readily available. Also, ebbs in the external economy impact disposable income and consumer spending. These issues create a situation wherein businesses are often unable to predict revenue and cash flow – money needed to pay employees, purchase supplies, and inventory while keeping food on their tables.

Mitigating the vulnerabilities of small businesses requires continued public support in addition to deeper tax breaks for lower-income entrepreneurs. In the USA, though limited, there are grants and low-cost loans for small businesses administered through philanthropic institutions and government agencies. When and where they occur, these public investments have tremendous social and economic returns for neighborhoods as a whole.

In Fall 2018, ILE Consulting Group launched an economic initiative in Harlem. We facilitated a series of focus groups and workshops with residents, business owners, nonprofit organizations, and elected officials. Participants shared their concerns, their dreams for their neighborhoods, and the role they want to play in expanding economic opportunities for future generations. Drawing from these discussions, ILE Consulting Group designed an economic initiative. We will be sharing more about this work in the coming months.

Below is a link to the book I referenced earlier, entitled Startup Social Dynamics. To make it widely accessible for educators and NGOs, it is available free as a PDF. Take a look, let us know what you think. #

 

 

A Recruitment Plan for Uncertain Times

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For most organizations, recruiting the right leader is a grueling process. A poorly designed recruitment process will yield applicants that aren’t the right fit and prone to turnover if hired. Making the wrong choices can be very expensive and time consuming. Not to mention the headache and stress of having to manage the termination process. 

The average cost of firing and replacing nonprofit executives is 10%-20% of the annual salary or the position or $10,000 -$50,000. Yikes! This cost includes losses in productivity, loss of contracts, staff time, hiring expensive consultants to fill gaps and recruitment, hiring and onboarding costs. If you run a small to midsize nonprofit organizations this cost represents a large portion of the operations budget. Having to repeat this process within a short time frame can deal a huge blow to your budget. 

Beyond finding the right fit in this moment, our team at ILE urges leaders to recruit with the future in mind. This includes hiring candidates that will expand organization capacity long-term by bringing new competencies, skills and industry connections, while demonstrating potential for future leadership succession -you also want to ensure that the candidate will stick around long enough to see all of this to fruition. 

To ease the process for leaders immersed in recruitment, ILE has created a series of worksheets that can be used to design effective and efficient recruitment strategy and processes.

Below, we’ve shared one of our worksheet that outlines competencies and corresponding behaviors. 

We suggest selection committees focus on specific behaviors and outcomes when evaluating candidates’ stated competencies. For instance have candidates describe examples of how they have demonstrated any competence or skill listed on their resume and the specific successes and outcomes yielded as a result of their actions.

Selection committees can use this worksheet to rank the top competencies required for short- and long-term goals; develop job postings, generate interview questions and questions for references. 

Our list of competencies is not exhaustive nor ordered. So use this worksheet as a reference. Share it with your team, constituents and stakeholders. Add additional rows and rank  competencies and behaviors based on order of importance for your organization and your community. Use the last column to evaluate the candidate on each competency and relevant behavior. You may decide to edit a few sections to suit your organization’s needs. 

Competencies

Behaviors

Rank Top Skills & Explanation

(Complete this section for each candidate) 

Critical Thinking

Connecting the dots, consistent reflection, applies data and knowledge in the right context.

 

Talent Management and Development

Efforts result in good hiring and retention outcomes.Onboard, train and directly coach and mentor personnel or effectively assigns mentorship. 

Keep inventory of expertise and skills, effectively and efficiently delegates responsibilities, able to evaluate personnel performance and provide guidance on professional development.

 

Communication

Manage the production of internal reports for staff and stakeholders. Can produce publications and presentations for diverse audiences (clients, stakeholders, general public, founders).Communication promotes/reinforces organization brand and vision.

 

Organizational Skills

Plan, prepare and prioritize day to day operations and special projects. Anticipate problems and preemptively develop solutions.

 

Quantitative skills

Benchmark and quantify operations and program issues. Can balance the use of qualitative and quantitative data.

 

Technology

Direct or train staff on technology needs. Establish policies on the appropriate use of software applications. Proficient in three or more software applications commonly used by nonprofits for productivity, project management, database management, web content management or social media.

 

Regulatory processes/compliance

Direct and manage staff and consultants in completing reports for fund and contract compliance, state and federal reporting and filings.

 

Information Management

Direct and establish procedures for compiling and safeguarding, distributing and deleting organization information, files and artifacts.

 

Creativity

Marshall resources toward their most productive use. Foresee and plan for the future. Effectively communicates vision and successfully oversees its implementation. Demonstrates agility, converts challenges to opportunities.

 

Growth Mindset

Embraces challenges. Focuses on amplifying assets within a community or organization to overshadow and mitigate deficiencies.

 

Systems Thinking

Maps internal and external systems and the interplay between the two. Maps systems interaction and impact on organizational practices, people, policies and vice versa.

 

Change management

Manage culture shift (behaviors, practices, rewards and repercussions) required to facilitate change. Establish benchmarks and metrics to track progress and impact.

 

Collaboration

Practices shared leadership, shares decision making with others. Values diverse voices. Seeks consensus and compromise wherever possible.

 

Personal Growth

Practices reflection and personal goal setting, constantly pursues formal and informal professional development. Pursues coaching and mentoring. Effective at work-life balance.