Saturday, August 31, 2013

Tips for new initiatives

Nonprofit staffs and boards are mission-driven. It can be tempting, when encountering a compelling issue related to your cause, to take on a new program or service, demographic, geographic area, or approach (e.g., research, education, advocacy, direct service). How can you make the right decision in any given situation? Here are some questions to ask:

  1. Does it really fit within your mission? “Mission creep” is a common problem among nonprofits. The new initiative may be very appealing, but does it further your core mission or diffuse your attention, energy and resources at the expense of more mission-critical activities? A clear mission statement (see Critical Issues #7: On Mission) and a well-articulated brand identity (see CI#9: Brand Identity for Nonprofits) should offer some guidance. Beyond that, a well-developed and structured organizational strategy will provide the best support for good decisions (see CI #1: Why Plan?, CI #5: The Structure of Planning, CI #11: The Case for Integrated Planning and CI #17: Fear & Loathing of Strategic Planning).
  2. Has your board brought their experience to bear on a rigorous review of the initiative? An experienced board, well versed in the operations, aspirations, and capabilities of the organization, can be enormously valuable in this role. (See CI #4: On Boards CI#4: On Boards) If you don't see your board as being up to that task, it is time to develop the understanding of current board members and/or develop the identification, recruitment, and orientation of new members. (see blog post)

  3. Do you have a well-developed business plan? It has been noted that “nonprofit” is a tax status, not a business model. If you have determined that there is an unmet need that you are in the best position to address, can you can get the financial support required to provide the program or service? If so, the next step is to develop the details of how you propose to do that—business strategy, operations, structure. (See CI #12: Business Planning)

  4. If substantial resources are required for the new initiative, you may be well advised to construct a financial model (CI #6: Financial Modeling) to orchestrate and fine-tune the relationships between streams of revenue and expense.

  5. If you will need new expertise to develop, launch or operate the new initiative, do you have the capability (on board or staff, or through an independent consultant) to define, acquire and oversee this new area of expertise? (CI#10: Mind Your RFPs & Qs).

  6. Both to facilitate success and to appeal to funders, you’ll need to establish quantitative milestones to reach as the initiative unfolds. The initial focus will likely have to be on outputs, but these should translate, as quickly as possible, to outcomes. (See CI#8: The Measure of Success).

  7. New initiatives change the dynamic of the existing organization, and may require further modifications of how you operate. Make sure that you are prepared to manage that change (CI #14: Managing Change).