One of the major challenges that I have witnessed over my many years working in non-profit organizations is the difficulties leaders face in sustaining their organization. Generally speaking, leaders in small non-profits right up to large corporations tend to equate the organization’s health with covering costs, making sufficient revenues, and keeping employees happy. These things are all necessary, but what are the real elements to keeping your organization healthy and vibrant? So much of the literature focuses on market share, product development, intangible “human resource needs” and building good strategies for “long term growth.” The literature also tends to view health of an organization by how big its market share is, or how well it grows. My view is that “long term growth” does not necessarily equate with a healthy organization. To the contrary, the larger your organization grows, the bigger the threat to sustainability. In other words, the larger something becomes, the larger the burden to keep it going well!
As you consider how you can keep your organization vibrant, effective and dynamic there are several indicators to a sustainable organization.
Assess your mission – is it fulfilling the current need in the environment? You may like your mission as an organization, but it may be falling short, or in need of revamping. My view is that mission statements can be misused, or even ignored. A sustainable organization takes a critical view of their vision. They evaluate whether the current mission, culture, and organizational direction is really matched well with the market, customer base, community need, and revenue streams.
Next, they carefully examine their skill sets or skill base within the organization. Once you know whether you are matching well with the community need etc., the leader must ask: “Do I have the right components in my organization?” This may include expertise, personnel, and knowledge. It is even identifying the organization’s core competency, or what it has special expertise.
Defining the scope of your organization’s focus. It is important to keep your scope of the organization within a well defined direction. The idea that “bigger is better”, or more products or specialties can get organizations in trouble. In their effort to define themselves, they end up being too big and quality suffers. This is where the leader needs to define what the organization will be, will do, and not do. There are always a lot of good ideas, and many appealing options as to what the organization might do with their talents, however defining who you are, will help you create a “signature” of who you are. In other words as you progress in your well defined mission and deliver outside services or products, you begin to be known for a specific quality, or outcome.
Look at capitalizing on cross competency. This is not multi-tasking, it is being able to utilize your current resources across different areas. Helping people in your organization to work across different departments or sections, only strengthens your flexibility to adapt and sustain your organization to different challenges and trends. As a leader, make sure you are breaking down barriers and “silos” in your organization. Each section of your organization should work in harmony and in mutual ways with others.
Developing different revenue streams that will support changes in the market. This is the “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” concept. A sustainable organization creates the capacity to make money or revenue under different circumstances, and different ways. If one area of the market is not doing well, then other revenue streams can pick up the slack. Developing your strategies, and programs in this way is helpful. Using your cross trained staff in this way helps you adapt to different economic challenges.
Making sure you stay relevant. This means keeping up with the trends. Here’s where the common SWOT analysis comes into play. When the leader starts detecting challenges to the organization, then assessing S – STRENGTHS; W-WEAKNESSES; O-OPPORTUNITIES; and – T-THREATS is helpful. Doing this quarterly is likely a good idea. Getting various people from different areas into the meeting, including line staff, students, community members can be beneficial.
Innovate. Be an innovator in your organization. Create new ideas and concepts. A sustainable organization usually has a knack for creating new concepts. While others are just trying to maintain their organization, a healthy sustainable organization designs new ideas and concepts. Tying these ideas into potential needs and special problems in your market is a way to keep other’s interested in your organization. A lot of organizations focus on reacting to changes, or copying their competitors or unfortunately, stealing other’s ideas. Be an original thinker and others will seek to emulate you. Thinking ahead about your organization on an ongoing basis better enables the organization to change when it may need to do so.
Maintain your quality. This would appear to be obvious, and potentially a “no-brainer.” It is neither. A lot of organizations develop cultures that only focus on meeting minimum requirements and not functioning beyond what is necessary. As you develop your organization, quality and consistency in delivery is key. This can even become your signature as discussed above.
It is hoped that this brief article will help you better evaluate your sustainability within your own working unit, organization or community agency.