“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein. We cannot continue to do what we have done in our nonprofit organizations and expect to provide value and relevance to our members. Competition is greater and unmerciful to weaker organizations.
As we move into 2020, what should we start doing now to gain major traction for our members and stop doing so we can focus resources on our core competencies? Let’s explore this.
Strategic Planning – Kick off the new year with a strategic plan. The Malcolm Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, a major national performance excellence program, has developed seven criteria of success, strategic planning is #2 behind a solid leadership structure. The program specifically states,
“The category stresses that your organization’s long‐term organizational success and competitive environment are key strategic issues that need to be integral parts of your overall planning. Making decisions about your organization’s core competencies and work systems is an integral part of ensuring your organization’s success now and in the future, and these decisions are therefore key strategic decisions.”
If you don’t have a planning session scheduled, put one on your organization’s calendar today.
Board and Professional Staff Team Development Session – As was mentioned earlier, the Malcolm Baldrige Performance Excellence Program’s #2 criteria is Strategic Planning. The #1 criteria for performance excellence is strong Leadership. Specifically, the program states,
“Senior leaders play a central role in setting values and directions, creating and reinforcing an organizational culture, communicating, creating and balancing value for all stakeholders, and creating an organizational focus on action, including transformational change in the organization’s structure and culture, when needed. Success requires a strong orientation to the future; an understanding that risk is a part of planning and conducting operations; a commitment to improvement, innovation, and intelligent risk taking; and a focus on organizational sustainability. Increasingly, this requires creating an environment for empowerment, agility, change, and learning.”
Specifically, in this approach, success requires a strong orientation to the future. Conducting a board and professional staff team development sets the stage in understanding the strategic plan, core policies, risk management, roles, and other important considerations. It is recommended that this session take place annually as one team (board governance and management teams).
Gavel to Gavel Approach – Develop a gavel-to-gavel approach in 2020 where the board as a body has the authority to act on behalf of the organization and where no one director has any power in between board meetings. This approach enables the board to make decisions and stick to them in between board meetings without undue influence by one influential board member. This also maintains a high level of staff focus.
Fact-Based, Data Driven Decision Making – Make every decision in your organization with factual information and data to inform. There should never be a statement in the boardroom by a director saying, “I feel like we should (fill in the blank)”. A feeling is not decision making but should be rephrased as, “We should investigate the feasibility of a new meeting by polling our members and determining if there is a need and what is the potential financial and value impact.” This leads to a feasibility study that is well thought out and leaves the emotions and “feelings” out of doing something. Utilizing a fact-based, data-driven decision-making process takes the guesswork out of potential success and losing member dollars on an unfeasible project.
Platforms – Start using technology platforms to advance the organization. From search engine optimization to digital assistants to digital automation to virtual reality, what platform will you be using in 2020 to increase member value and the relevance of your organization? Pick up the book (digital or hard copy), Platform Revolution: How Networked Markets Are Transforming the Economy – and How to Make Them Work for You to learn more about how platforms have disrupted traditional businesses. If you would like me to write about the top 10 platforms to leverage, please leave a comment in the comments section below.
Committee Reports – Stop verbal committee updates at the board table as it typically leads to committee work rather than the strategic work of the board. Consider utilizing a one-page committee report that is submitted to the board and placed in the consent agenda. In that one-page report, board requests are outlined. The requests can either be approved in the consent agenda or pulled out into the regular board meeting. Learn more about consent agendas in this article, Technology Improves the Consent Agenda, by Bob Harris, CAE and Wil Riley, CAE.
Start Governing and Stop Managing – A key tagline should be adopted at the board table, Board Governs, Staff Manages…period. Board sets the strategic plan, policies, and budget. Staff executes on the strategic plan set by the board in compliance with policies and the budget. The line should be very clear for an efficient organization focused on performance excellence.
Lumping – Stop lumping all of your members into one group and start to think of your member types and what they truly want. Across the membership spectrum in your organization, there are very specific needs for new members, senior members, student members, manufacturing members, supplier members, regular members, associate members, etc. You get the point. Consider building a persona for each of your member types and identifying what is most critical for each of them and delivering on the unique value proposition they are seeking. Your competitors are already doing this to stand out and deliver targeted services. Lumping members together and utilizing the shotgun approach to benefits no longer works.
Hoarding – Stop hoarding your reserves. In an article published in Board Forward, a publication of SmithBucklin Corporation, it states this as it relates to reserves and provides an insightful example:
“…a board can also look to invest in new services and products that will increase membership, increase the value of membership or create future financial growth. For example, the National Association of Orthopaedic Nurses (NAON) has consistently been mindful of building strategic financial assets and always keeps more than 50 percent of operating expenses in reserves. In 2011, the association decided to update one of its premier member publications. Because the publication project was not a program in its annual operational budget, NAON chose to use money from its reserves to finance the work. A three-year project plan and budget were developed. Each year for the next three years, expenses related to the project were drawn from reserves. Once the project was completed and the updated publication was offered for sale, the association began to recognize increased annual profits. A portion of the profit was added back into the reserves to be used for the creation of new products. By strategically using reserves, NAON was able to increase its annual operating budget, replenish its reserves and provide members valuable resources.”
Strategically investing your reserves today, should lead to a greater payoff in the future.
Once a Year Performance Reviews – There is a real sense within all companies that an annual evaluation of its professional staff team is enough. Relying on just a once-a-year process is not enough. In the moment feedback is important and regular, informal feedback is critical. It should permeate the organization systemically in order to develop and retain top talent. It is equally important for the board of your organization to evaluate itself annually, after every board meeting as a group, and individually to ensure that the contributions made are meaningful and contribute to the mission of the organization. There should be no compromise in this area as people are the biggest asset of any organization. Neglecting them is neglecting the delivery vehicle for relevance and value to your members.
“As the decade approaches, it is a good time to reassess what is working and what might be hindering the association. Use this list, and that compiled by yourself and officers, to make changes for the better.” – Bob Harris, CAE
Leave a comment below to let us know what you think would be a good start or stop for your organization.
Bill Pawlucy, MPA, CAE, IOM, is founder of Association Options, Inc. a company that focuses on practical strategic planning (corporate and nonprofit), management assessments, Baldrige Award process implementation, AMC search and evaluation, facilitation, and governance modeling. He is also the executive director of the International Association of Interviewers and is an appointee to the U.S. Department of Commerce Board of Examiners for the Baldrige Presidential Award.