The other day, John Baker and I met with an economic development firm interested in exploring new ways for Delaware to grow. Given that many nonprofits are an engine for economic growth (cultural tourism, work development programs, urban revitalization, etc.) we were invited to offer our thoughts. At the end of the conversation, one of the associates of the firm mentioned how incredible it is that Delaware has so many resources to offer. It took me by surprise, and gave me pause for reflection. In the past few weeks, I have listened to nonprofit and community leaders share their concern that there are not enough resources.
So which is it?
I think it begins with how you define a resource. In the nonprofit world, there are four resources that I see as critical for nonprofit sustainability – strategy, people, infrastructure, and cash.
Strategy – a nonprofit organization must have a mission, but it also it needs to be clear on how it will deliver its mission efficiently and effectively. Efficiency is important because the public wants nonprofits to apply resources towards service delivery and minimize unproductive energy and time. Effectiveness is important because the community wishes to understand the result of the nonprofit’s work towards the outcomes it seeks. Good strategy will make sure a nonprofit remains focused on the elements that provide efficient and effective mission delivery toward desired outcomes.
People – DANA’s focus on board excellence and leadership development is a testimony as to how important we believe people are to a strong and healthy nonprofit sector. People deliver the services. But they also are the thought-leaders behind developing strategies that guide an organization to determine how many people are needed, what skills are required, and in what way they need to do their work to be efficient and effective. The people on the Board are very important – they ensure the nonprofit is following its mission in a legal and sustainable manner. They hire the CEO/Executive Director and together provide the critical thought-leadership to create the strategy. Volunteers and staff then become an important resource to help implement the activities needed to engage and impact the lives of the people (or animals, or the environment) they touch. The people in the community are important, too. They help to support the nonprofit through donations, connect nonprofit leaders to others, and advocate for the nonprofit’s value.
Infrastructure – this is not only the technology, office space, or program venue, it is also the systems and processes that a nonprofit uses to efficiently and effectively deliver its mission. The systems and processes help connect nonprofits to prospective clients and customers, as well as promote its value to the community. Infrastructure is needed to deliver quality products, and enables a nonprofit’s leader to monitor and evaluate its financial and mission results.
Cash – obvious of course, but it is actually not one type. It is a diversified set of cash comprised of long-term funds that can help a nonprofit deliver its services in good times and bad (aka: an endowment), as well as unrestricted funds so that nonprofit leaders can apply cash resources to what they believe will result in efficient and effective mission delivery. Some cash comes in as it goes out, while other cash is brought in and held until the project or program for which it was designated is implemented. The amount of cash received depends on the previous three resource elements. For example, if an organization is blessed with many volunteers, they will need much less cash for payroll than a nonprofit that requires skilled professionals for service delivery (such as psychologists or surgeons).
Did you know: DANA provides strategic planning consulting to interested organizations and their Board of Directors.
Reach out to Paul Stock (firstname.lastname@example.org) to learn more.
In Delaware, the opportunities for strategy development, the number of people interested in being involved with nonprofits, the amount of infrastructure, and funding resources available collectively point to a lot of resources. However, it all comes down to how the collective resources are applied together that make the difference. Nonprofit leaders should assess the right balance of that mix in light of what they wish to achieve in desired mission outcomes.
Before assuming there is not enough cash, has your organization looked to see if it is focused only on those activities that deliver on the mission, or are there initiatives that are interesting, yet not mission focused? Can volunteers help take some of the workload off of staff to help them direct their work hours on program delivery vs. administration or facility repairs? Are there partnership opportunities a nonprofit can seek that will permit mission delivery to go farther? In what ways can the infrastructure be improved to promote efficiency and measure effectiveness?
Answering these questions will inform the cash resources needed, both in the short and long term. Yes, there are limited cash resources for all the activities that nonprofits in Delaware want to do. However, I wonder with all that we have to access – strategy, people, and infrastructure – would we be able to do more if we focused on these resources too?