Jane describes the critical knowledge and skills that nonprofit leaders should pursue to enact effective coping strategies in hostile environments. Read More
A recent project to help an Executive Director whose agency has had to downsize infrastructure to match a reduced program portfolio led to some interesting learning that I thought I would share. It is not difficult to determine the relative efficiency of a finance office. The use of comparables can help a decision maker determine whether seeking further efficiency is likely to be fruitful. Read More
planning for the coming year. As we reflected, we were excited about
how FIO Partners has grown over the year. From the breadth and depth
of our work with our clients, to establishing our office in
Connecticut, to our website being up for a full year, to blogging, to
offering training …it was an important growth year for our firm. And
we would like to thank you for being a part of that. Thank you for
your interest in our work, for reaching out to discuss the challenges
you are facing, and for allowing us to support you in moving through
this challenging time for the sector and our nation.
In planning for the coming year, we discussed what we see as the two
major trends that will drive the sector - retrenchment and
consolidation. For the first time in the history of the nonprofit
sector, we believe that the sector will be forced to contract and that
organizations, of all sizes and across all industries, will be forced
to make difficult decisions about shrinking and/or giving up autonomy
. What does this mean? This means that healthy group process and
evidence-based decision-making are both crucial. In difficult times,
our ability to successfully communicate with our key stakeholders can
go out the window - when, in fact, that communication is critical. It
also means tremendous change for your clients, your staff, your board
members - figuring out how to lead through challenging changes in a
proactive way is another critical success factor. We will be
developing a series of blog entries and digital articles to explore
these challenges and to provide you practical, useful advice. We would
also like to hear from you - what information would be most helpful to
you? What are you facing? What topics are you most interested in?
Please post your comments here, connect with us on LinkedIn or Twitter,
send us an email - we want to hear from you.
So bring on 2009! You are not alone in navigating these times…we are
here to help. Reach out and let us know how we can support you.
Photo Credit: Jin TRead More
What a month it has been…for everyone. The economic downturn has many of our clients anxious, rattled, and concerned - and rightly so. This post is inspired by this week's Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants, being hosted by Michelle Murrain, over at Zen and the Art of Technology, on Monday, November, 3rd. She asks: Is the economy changing the way you work, or the way you think about your work? In what ways?
In terms of how we think about our work, there is a sense of urgency and priority that we, as consultants, are delivering high-value, high impact services. This is true in good times as well, but even more so right now.
For all of our clients, there is a choice around how to spend funds -- choosing a third party consultant to support a process or to facilitate a session - or even deliver a training - is a significant decision, even for larger agencies. Given the downturn, this has only deepened our focus and attention on delivering value. What does mean? It means that we will work more efficiently by integrating the use of on-line project management software (we use Basecamp) to continue conversations in between in-person meetings. It means we will ask for feedback on a consistent basis on the progress of an engagement or the effectiveness of a training session. It means that we will do everything in our power to communicate effectively and frequently to avoid missteps or miscommunication that will incur additional cost or confusion. It means that we are offering clients menus of services to select from - realizing that not every agency has the funds to invest in a significant 3-4 month strategic planning process, but a shorter, more nimble process will do the trick. We realize that and support our clients through prioritizing the sets of possible activities - and help them choose the most helpful, most informative, or most impactful.
The economic uncertainty means that we are working everyday with clients to teach them to manage their organizations through uncertain times. From retrenchment planning to building networks with peer agencies, we are helping organizations see that each one of them has a future that they can CHOOSE to define. Instead of running amok and being overwhelmed, we are helping our clients to take stock and to act decisively. It is our hope that through hiring FIO Partners to support them in some way, our clients will ride through the downturn and come out better and stronger on the other side.
In the meantime, it is the mission of FIO Partners to provide each of our clients guidance and support to make them healthier organizations and more able to enact the change they wish to see in the world.
I have been having so many discussions about retrenchment lately. The fiscal situation in Rhode Island is so scary and there are so many deep cuts in human service supports under consideration. I am hearing from clients that I haven’t spoken to in years, asking for help with mergers, management service organizations, and networks capable of managed care contracting.
While I certainly know the mechanics of creating these entities and have preached for years that they are necessary for the survival of the sector, it is still tough to outline what organizations have to undo, give up, shift away. It is hard to interact with people who have only known how to build and expand, whose entire careers have been about expanding access, adding services, pushing out to wider geographic areas, inventing new ways to help, building teams of staff that have taken years to assemble and refine, when your message is about undoing, pulling back, shrinking, eliminating services, crafting a smaller, tighter, more nimble organization, letting people go. Too often the people who are adversely affected are not just employees, not just colleagues, but have, through a career of shared proximity, become friends. This is just painful to watch.
So I have been working to craft a set of experiences and processes, and a message strategy that helps with the transition, that envisions what could be on the other side of this great divide full of potential loss. The message is about fighting back of course (who would we be if we did not advocate for those we serve?), but it is also about finding what is essential in what you have already built. I draw on analogies from psychology and medicine. When the body is stressed, when the mind is stressed, you focus very clearly on survival. But when you are very ill, it can be helpful to envision yourself well and whole again, rather than give in to the deer in the headlights syndrome of utter paralysis. Part of that envisioning, is to understand who you are, what makes you, you. The process also involves stretching notions of possibility. When we are stressed we do focus, but often too much, inadvertently narrowing our options.
One ED asked me point blank, “How can we plan now? We don’t know what will actually happen?” While it may seem counterintuitive, this is when planning will count the most. So I start by asking my clients to focus on the core of what they have built. There are a variety of ways to get at the core and it takes an iterative process to find that set of values, or competencies or programs that express, for the leadership, the essential core of this particular nonprofit. For some it is the whole agency and they envision all of what they do but in a smaller sized package. For others, there is a paring away of the not so essential programs, to find the heart of what they do. For others it is a primary relationship that must be enacted in a certain way to have value: a particular model between service provider and consumer. Others choose a group of people as the core, the group of people who have the most creative minds, who are the most likely to be able to reposition and reinvent.
Once the core is identified, we engage in a process of envisioning the organization with an intact core and craft a strategy to ensure that happens. This is enormously useful when planning for layoffs. It is so helpful to know, quite clearly, who you can let go and who you must convince to stay. Once this picture becomes clear, it becomes possible to go back to environmental scanning that looks at new possibilities or to talk about mergers. It is much easier to enter into merger discussions if leadership knows quite clearly what must survive for the organization’s history of service to have ongoing meaning and worth.
It does occur to me as I write this, that this mental exercise might be healthy for any organization in any environment. If you are facing these types of challenges, what types of planning activities are you undertaking?Read More