Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Run your nonprofit like a business

By Mike Bensi, advisor, FirstPerson 

Most people who give to nonprofit causes want to see results. They want to know that their donations made a difference.

After the recession with limited resources available, nonprofits have been challenged more and more by funders to operate like businesses to further their missions.

But what does that really mean?

This summer, four nonprofits' executives participated in a FirstPerson panel discussion called Fresh Perspectives. The group shared ways to incorporate business practices into their daily operations. Executive directors from Gleaners, Hamilton East Public Library, Day Nursery (now Early Learning Indiana) and Children's Bureau provided attendees with practices they instituted and what resulted.

At the Children's Bureau, Tina Cloer, president and CEO, established goals and expectations for employees that resulted in financial solvency. Simply collecting funds on time for services is one way that allows the agency to operate in the black and know when resources will be available.

Some might argue that the Children's Bureau's mission to offer emergency, temporary shelter for endangered children, runaway and homeless youth in Central Indiana cannot not have the same cadence and outcomes as the business world. Tackling social problems isn't a steady, chartable path. Progress looks and feels different, and it takes time. Lots of time.

But as Cloer revealed, adhering to sound business principles makes a nonprofit more likely to accomplish its mission, not less. In fact, business practices like transparency and public discussions can be safeguards for a nonprofit losing sight of its mission.

Simply said, running like a business means having a disciplined approach and an emphasis toward strategy.

All four panelists said that without a strategic plan, it would be difficult to define their organization's vision. Be aware that developing a solid plan takes time. Be patient.

They all agreed that while strategic plans are not easy to create, and means asking honest and sometimes hard questions, it is one way to get input from front-line employees or volunteers.

Ted Maple, Early Learning Indiana's president and CEO, discussed how important it was to get this input. The place he started was by asking several questions to help assemble a strategic roadmap for the organization:

  • Why do you work here?
  • What's going well?
  • What could be better?
  • What should I, as a leader, focus on?
Engaging others in the changes needed allows the organization to reach its objectives and realize the vision of the nonprofit. You can go fast alone, or go far with others.
And don't be afraid to tackle this effort with your heart and your head.
At the end of the day, running your nonprofit like a business is meant to help increase the effectiveness and clarity and help achieve the mission.

Who wouldn't want that for the organization and its donors?

For continued inspiration, I'd encourage you to download the session recap: http://info.firstpersonadvisors.com/further-your-mission-run-your-nonprofit-like-a-business.

Mike Bensi, advisor, FirstPerson, works alongside nonprofits and small business owners to design strategic plans that enhance the employee experience. His goal is to align an organization's culture with human resources, benefits and wellness.  He has an MBA from IU Kelley School of Business and more than 10 years in progressive human resources management, including serving as the BMV's HR director.

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