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Effective organizations create results, and to be fully effective, nonprofits must exhibit strengths in five core organizational areas—leadership, decision making and structure, people, work processes and systems, and culture.
The key to becoming more effective, then, is to invest in management capabilities—in short, to move to a place where the nonprofit is not only strongly led, but also strongly managed. As noted, our research suggests that nonprofits need to take a holistic approach towards improving effectiveness, shoring up management capabilities across the board. A good place to start is with the areas our research has shown to be most prone to weakness.
The following five sets of questions can help an organization's leadership team assess those areas and set a purposeful course towards improvement:
1. Are we clear on the strategic priorities that will enable our organization to achieve our desired impact over the next several years?
Clear priorities are the "north star" against which an organization can align its people, structure, and processes, and build its culture.
2. Given the organization's priorities, what decisions are truly critical? Is it clear who is responsible (and who has the authority) to make those decisions?
With clearly communicated priorities come more consistent decisions, given that decision makers throughout the organization are guiding their choices with the same compass.
3. Who in our organization must work closely together to achieve these priorities, and does our structure enable them to do so?
Identifying the work that's critical to achieving the organization's priorities, who does that work, and how it delivers the desired outcomes helps reveal which people need to work together and, ultimately, whether the current structure facilitates their work.
4. Do we have the right people and capabilities to achieve our priorities, and do our people feel that their goals and measures align with these priorities?
One way to assess and improve the effectiveness of your people is to determine how they are aligned against the organization's priorities. For each priority, identify who is working on it and compare it to items that are of lower priority. It's also important to maintain the connection to the organization's high-level priorities when setting individual performance goals and assessing staff performance.
5. Have we defined the work processes and tools to enable our people to be effective as they address our top priorities?
Time spent clarifying and honing work processes, and making them explicit and accessible to employees can reduce rework and reinvention. The effort can also contribute to consistency and improving levels of quality.
In addition to getting the processes right, deploying tools and technology can also increase organizational effectiveness. With limited funds available, many nonprofits are hesitant to make these kinds of investments, but they can have a huge payoff.