Monday, November 28, 2011

Are You Over Capacity Already?
(Note: This post comes directly from my new book Smart Stewardship for Nonprofits: Making the Right Decision in Good Times and Bad, to be released in February 2012 by John Wiley and Sons. You can pre-order at Amazon by clicking on the link above.)

In Smart Stewardship, I look at the issues of core competence and capacity in light of making decisions to grow your nonprofit, take on a new service, accept a foundation grant etc: In that context, here are some ways to assess if you’re already over capacity.

Before you even think about growing more, as a Smart Steward you should assess where you are. Is you nonprofit already at the edge of its flight envelope. Many nonprofits are already under-resourced, under-funded, under administered. In addition, most don’t have the cash to expand either. What you don’t want to do is to pile more work (even though it will result in more mission) on to an organization that is already overburdened. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back is a cautionary tale you need to keep in mind.

Current capacity is hard to objectively measure, but not impossible. While the specific metrics will vary organization by organization, here are some things to look at:

Look at Your Management Staff Load
As I said above, most organizations are under-administered. I often tell audiences that their personal Full Time Equivalent (FTE) count has risen: five years ago, they probably only had two FTE living in their bodies, now they may have 3, 4 or 5. While sort of funny, it’s also true. Just because funding goes down, it doesn’t mean that management responsibilities do. To take a look at this, start by looking at your organizational chart 5 years back and comparing it to now. Are there less managers per line staff person? Have some functions (like accounting or IT) had a reduction in staff while the organization has grown? Slow and steady staff burdening often goes unnoticed until it is a crisis, like the frog in the slowly heating pot. You need to be looking out for this, starting now. There is of course, no clear cut measure, but it will get you started.

Some other tell-tales of staff being over capacity include:

Staff Satisfaction
I hope you’re already measuring staff satisfaction regularly. This kind of surveying is crucial to making sure you don’t miss what’s going on at the level of service provision. Of course, comparative data over time is also key--are you doing better or worse than prior years? What about the comments? Do they show an issue you need to drill down into? This survey can be an early window into staff that are overworked

Staff Turnover
Turnover is a tricky thing to use as a metric. Some turnover rates that seem high are really pretty good in context of national numbers, while too low a turnover can hold an organization’s growth back. What you want to look for is spikes over time, as well as spikes in certain programs, or administrative areas.

Use of Sick Days
Sick days can go both ways. If people think they can’t take the time to be sick, they’ll come in sick--and get everyone else sick. On the other hand, if people are miserable at work since they feel overwhelmed, this number may rise steeply. Monitor this closely.

Use of Vacation Days
In most overburdened organizations, the management staff don’t take much if any vacation. This is a bad thing--we all need a break. If this number is low and getting worse, you’re near or at capacity.

Look at Your Quality Indicators
I assume you have a quality assurance program or monitoring system. Take a look at that on a regular basis (perhaps every six months) and compare the results over time. Are you having more problems? Is your accreditation or licensing review turning up more negative findings than in the past? Again, these are issues that need to concern you and get fixed before you consider growing any more.
You don’t want to crash your organization while trying to grow. While these indicators will help, you have to get out of your office and talk to your staff, listen to their input to make sure that growing (for all the right reasons) doesn’t result in serious unintended consequences.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Going to Scale, Part 2

(Note: This post comes directly from my new book Smart Stewardship for Nonprofits: Making the Right Decision in Good Times and Bad, to be released in February 2012 by John Wiley and Sons. You can pre-order at Amazon by clicking on the link above.)

Models for Scaling

In the first post on scaling, we looked at whether or not your service could be duplicated. There are other questions as well:
How much time, talent, and treasure do you want to invest?
What's a reasonable (read, safe) growth curve?
Can I develop a model that people can follow?

Lots of complex issues to decide. But if you choose to proceed, what options do you have? What have other nonprofits done? How have they done it? What are the models, methods and structures they’ve used? There are many options but only really two questions to answer.

The first question  might surprise you: How much control do you want of the scaling? Does your board (or management team) feel that tight control is essential to see that the mission is done properly? That’s fine, but costs more money, time, effort and liability. Or, can you give up some control and put the idea in the hands of others? If so, less time, money and oversight are needed. Or, is your need for control somewhere in between? The choice of level of control comes first. That’s the strategic issue.

The second decision is more tactical. What mechanism will you use to scale?

Are you planning on opening more offices under your current 501(c)(3)?. That would result in complete control; control of staff, budget, office location, decor, branding, etc.

A bit less control would come from a subsidiary model, where you open or take over another local 501(c)(3) in a remote community. There could be a local board overseeing a local staff. Perhaps the local gets budget approval from your organization, perhaps not. Perhaps your board has representation on the subsidiary board, perhaps not.

A third option would be for you to brand and deliver; developing a  how-to guide on a website, but to copyright the idea and trademark the brand. This might bring you some funds, but more importantly it would give you some control of the way the idea is used in other communities. You could set standards to go along with use of the brand name, offer on-site consulting, etc.

The least control comes from simply floating the idea, with your experience and a set of suggested processes. I call this the open source option, named after the very common software model, where programmers develop code, either in snippits, or in complete programs, and then put them online for others to use and/or improve. Nonprofits already do this for things like policies and procedures, and websites such as have led the way in facilitating the free exchange of documents. In your case, you would not just share a document, but an entire service concept.

Just remember that once a programmer posts open source code online, anyone is free to use it and, more importantly, to modify it. The original programmer loses control, and so would your nonprofit.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Going to Scale, Part 1

(Note: This post comes directly from my new book Smart Stewardship for Nonprofits: Making the Right Decision in Good Times and Bad, to be released in February 2012 by John Wiley and Sons. You can pre-order at Amazon by clicking on the link. )

Can Your Mission Provision Methods Be Duplicated?

Think about nonprofits that are “everywhere:. To do that, think of the high-value nonprofit brands, ones like Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill Industries, Susan G. Komen, the YMCA, Girl Scouts, Ronald McDonald House. Why are they everywhere? Because they’re rich? Because they had unlimited resources?

No. These iconic nonprofits are everywhere because they have a very good, easily understandable core idea, one that motivates people to say “Hey, we should do that here”, COMBINED with a methodology that can be understood and then replicated with local customization, COMBINED with terrific national support and structure.

For example, what’s the core idea of a Goodwill Industries? The business model is to have people donate goods, sell them in an appealing retail location and use the profits to fund other jobs related programs. Formed in 1902 in Boston, Goodwills now work in every part of the United States and Canada as well as fifteen other nations.

How about the YMCA? Originally formed to provide safe, Christian housing for young men moving to large cities, the Y has spread and evolved with the times. Today, the mission is to strengthen the mind, body and spirit of the community. You might argue that the Y focuses mostly on the “body” part of that triad, but over 200 years, they’ve become an institution in the United States.

On a shorter timeline since its founding in 1967, so has Habitat for Humanity, based again, on simple, appealing replicable idea: use volunteers to work alongside the eventual owner to construct housing.
Ronald McDonald House? Let’s provide a place for the families of critically ill children to stay at no cost. Susan Komen? Let’s find a cure for breast cancer, a kind of cancer that affects nearly every family in the United States.

All simple, appealing ideas that are replicable locally.

Now, what about your scaling idea? If you really want to go to scale, if you really want to make a huge regional, national or global mission impact, heck, if you simply want to open four more branches in your local county, you have to have a simple, replicable idea that takes into account local needs, wants and cultures.

If you’re thinking about scaling up, how are you going to teach others how to do what you’ve done?

Will you write it down, put a series of videos on YouTube, develop a training program, how? Choose one or more, because you can’t be everywhere, and your top staff can’t all go off into the field and leave your current service area bereft of expertise.

So, the first question is this: Is our idea, our service truly replicable? Can it be done well by others the way we do it? Just because you can do your mission well, doesn’t mean others can. Just because you “get” what makes your nonprofit special, doesn’t mean the exact same thing will happen the exact same way elsewhere.

In fact, that’s the won’t. In every new community, in every new location, your mission provision, if it’s successful will have to adapt. More precisely, you’ll have to design a mission-replication system that is adaptable, that is flexible enough to accommodate needed modifications on the ground.

In my next post, we'll look at some models for scaling.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Been gone, but don't miss this

I've been missing in action for a few months, and I apologize and appreciate those of you who have contacted me making sure I'm OK. Here's what's been going on....

1. I just finished up a new book that will be released in February. It's titled Smart Stewardship for Nonprofits: Making the Right Decision in Good Times and Bad. You can click on the link to see the Amazon pre-order page.

2. I had a busy family summer with a second wedding in a year; literally our two son's weddings occurred within 12 months. Are there Irish Weddings? Both joyous occasions, but very time consuming.

3. I've been busy re-working a number of major documents for clients, which is good news, but in sum, all these things made me put the blog aside. I hope to be better.

So, first thing back, I wanted to alert you to (and strongly recommend attending) The Center For Leadership Innovation's 2012 National Summit in New Orleans. You can read more about it here. I've done work with TCLI for a number of years and they put together the most awesome learning experiences. It would be well worth your time to go.