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Major Challenges Facing Nonprofits
Information abstracted from regional and national studies of the challenges facing nonprofits indicates that some issues are shared as concerns for nonprofit leaders. Board development and fundraising and is a major issue for nonprofits with a secondary emphasis on the difficulties associated with improving operations and more effective management of resources.
Several underlying concerns are commonly identified in the study, which surveyed nonprofit executive directors and board members. Five broad themes clearly emerge from the various reports’ inventory of issues. It suggests the most urgent areas of need as indicated by nonprofit leaders:
1. Board Development – Building an active and strategically oriented board of directors is the most frequent concern. The specific issues identified are:
· Recruit high-impact board members
· Fostering a dynamic and effective culture among board members
· Fostering a strategic orientation for the board
2. Marketing/Fundraising – Developing an effective marketing program to recruit and retain donors is also a high priority. In particular, respondents were concerned about:
· Apply marketing/communication techniques to donor contact activities
· Expand their current donor base
· Increase donations from current donors and increase donor loyalty and retention
3. Information Management – Utilizing effective management information to measure and evaluate operations and programs is also very important.
· Define a clear set of quality benchmarks to assess services
· Use IT to reduce costs and create value
· Evaluate programs/services against key performance measures
· Define better models to measure and report results
· Measure the tangible benefits of development and marketing investments
· Designing a consistent approach to measuring organizational performance and impact
4. Human Resources – Attracting, developing and retaining productive staff and volunteers is an important concern:
· Attract and retain skilled staff
· Attract skilled and motivated volunteers
· Develop leadership transition and succession plans
· Improving workforce performance
· Provide ongoing training and skills development
5. Collaboration – Pursuing constructive alliances, partnerships and mergers is also a significant issue.
· Develop collaborative partnerships with public sector agencies, including government
· Forge collaborative partnerships with the private sector
· Performing mergers with overlapping services/institutions
Extrapolating from this topic, a sixth theme is implied as an additional concern:
6. Business Proficiency – the need to embrace the skills and business processes essential to effectively address the needs identified in these five key themes.
Several changes in the operating environment of the nonprofit sector impacted leaders’ perceptions of the problems they faced.
Funding Challenges – Many nonprofits are simultaneously facing a rapidly changing funding environment and a growing need for the services of the communities they serve. Reduced or tightly focused government funding is putting enormous pressure on the sector, which has also seen a proliferation of new not-for-profit organizations over the past decade, increasing competition for smaller pools of funds. Countless nonprofits are feeling the impact of federal cuts to their core funding streams at the same time endowments and foundation giving are down and many state and city governments are running deficits which are reflected in reduced spending on social programs.
Accountability Pressures – As a result of several high profile cases, nonprofits face intense accountability pressures to provide measurable evidence that the services they provide are impacting the communities and populations they target. Funders and the public want to know in detail whether the organization being funded is effective in doing what it sets out to do and whether it is efficient in what it does. While earning and maintaining public trust is critical, calls for accountability can result in nonprofits spending more time seeking financial support and accounting for the performance of the tasks they fund in order to continue receiving funds from the source. This can cause nonprofits to become more business-like but can also call attention to responding in innovative or different ways to community and/or client needs.
The Attraction of Collaboration – Governments and foundation funders increasingly need to use inter-organizational relationships such as collaborations, partnerships, and alliances as elements of the projects they fund. However, despite increasing knowledge about the factors that support effective negotiation and integration of strategic partnerships, less is known about the actual results that non-profit organizations experience and how these compare to expected results. Many nonprofits spend large amounts of organizational energy for questionable returns while pursuing interorganizational relationships. Not-for-profit organizations often face major barriers to collaboration, such as issues of autonomy and “turfism”, conflicting organizational cultures, and the building of trust between organizations.
Responding to these difficult circumstances requires adaptation that involves more than developing additional financial support.
Leadership Challenge – The health of the nonprofit sector depends on the quality of its executive leadership. Institutional leaders, including board members, must be able to ask basic questions related to strategy, mission, and accountability, as well as their organization’s role in their community. For many not-for-profit organizations, responsiveness to environmental change means a higher need to:
· Determine the most effective way to serve the client population that may grow or change;
· Develop strategies and processes to access and manage new funding streams;
· Deciding where and how to make budget cuts;
· Develop technology to capture information for reporting and billing;
· Manage cash flow challenges;
· Consider new partnerships, explore collaboration possibilities, and consider mergers or acquisitions.
Given the challenging changes in the typical nonprofit task environment, effective board leadership is critical. The problems facing the non-profit sector underscore the need for responsive, skilled, and effective board leadership in maintaining and enhancing the quality of organizational performance. It is appropriate that the nonprofit board assumes a leadership role in assisting the agency’s management on critical issues such as mission definition and strategic planning, legal compliance and conflicts of interest, oversight of the agency’s financial management, resource development, building interorganizational collaboration, fostering community relations, and opportunities for training. capacity building.
Management Challenge – Nonprofit managers are challenged to perform a variety of functions and roles as they guide their organizations through today’s complex environment. They must be highly skilled not only in the technical aspects of their organization’s mission, but also in management areas such as finance, human resources, information technology, program evaluation, human resource development, and many other management responsibilities. Also, an organization’s human resources represent the collective abilities and experiences of its people. Unfortunately, nonprofits are often challenged to actively manage staff talent. Attracting and retaining skilled staff and high accountability and competition create the need to develop the specific skills and business processes that nonprofits require. Consequently, like their counterparts in the business world, nonprofit managers need to continually seek out and utilize the latest in organizational management and leadership methods and techniques.
IMPLICATIONS FOR SUCCESS
Restating the six needs identified as positive attributes demonstrating that a resilient nonprofit will have:
1. Strong governance structure and visionary board members with the right skills and access to resources.
2. Adequate and flexible funding.
3. Established a set of best practices in the service and management functions and an effective way to measure performance against these benchmarks.
4. A skilled workforce operating in a culture that facilitates opportunities for innovation and growth.
5. Effective community relations that include collaborative partnerships with other providers, funders, and other organizations and systems.
6. Management capacity to support services, including accounting, human resources, technology and marketing/development functions.
SEVEN STEPS RECIPE
Viewed from this perspective, there are seven actions that nonprofits can take to achieve these characteristics and address the challenges they face:
1. Conduct an organizational assessment and develop a strategic plan to address capacity shortfalls.
2. Engage board members to ensure quality governance structures, practices and oversight.
3. Embracing and implementing good marketing and communication strategies.
4. Build business expertise and integrate basic business practices and tools.
5. Identify and apply appropriate metrics and better leverage technology to enable evaluation of the success and impact of service delivery and programs and internal operations.
6. Institute a progressive human resources practice focused on skills and team building.
7. Explore and adopt new collaborative business models with complementary organizations.
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