Geri Stengel

 
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Non Profit Leaders Need to be Nimble and Careful in 2010

It may sound like a platitude, but sometimes those trite sayings your mother always said are true: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. 2010 will be another tough year for nonprofits. Those who help themselves, work smart, and innovate will be ready to grow when funding is available.

innovation, nonprofit executive, nonprofit leaderThere's more than one recipe for lemonade so assess your situation carefully before deciding just what your personal recipe for success will be in 2010.

Based on an unscientific survey, the keys to recovery for nonprofits seem to be technology, people, and collaboration.

Technology
The blogosphere is full of projections that nonprofits, like small businesses, will benefit from the increased speed and lower cost of technology, which will allow a small investment to generate big returns in visibility, donations, and staff productivity.

Nonprofits will need to take their websites to the next level: raising money, training clients and staff, and holding meetings online.

"There are enormous ongoing benefits that are free or low-cost for nonprofits but are rarely taken advantage of, according to Jason Hutchins of Nonprofit Solutions.Network.
 

The ability to upgrade – at low cost – is already here, he says, noting that Google Apps and TechSoup offer free or low-cost software to nonprofits. In fact, Microsoft has donated Windows 7 upgrades and server software to eligible nonprofits through TechSoup.

(Hutchins cautions nonprofits to be careful of their suppliers, particularly when it comes to contracts. Make sure, he says, that there is an escape clause so your agency is not locked-in if the product doesn't work.)

Technology providers – Internet services, hardware manufacturers and software developers – are competing mightily for new business, too. That may help nonprofit leaders streamline their operations at a lower cost.

People
People, their value, and using them appropriately – that is, wisely and well – is detailed by Russell Pomeranz, manager of financial advisory services at Fiscal Management Associates, in his article, The Evolution of Human Resources Directors' Responsiblities for The CPA Journal. Pomeranz points out that funding uncertainties may lead nonprofits to cut staffing beyond the “tipping point,” that is, the point at which cuts can be absorbed without long-term damage to the organization and its mission.

A better strategy, he says, is to analyze all options and trade-offs, as well to use a team approach to decision making. Be creative. Go beyond furloughs and lay-offs.

When getting innovative, nonprofit leaders must:

  • assess the value of the people they have;
  • analyze the costs and benefits to the mission of every program and service;
  • revise the way work is done and, if necessary, by whom so everyone's skills are used and gaps created by cuts are filled in.

Without serious consideration of human resources, “productive staff will leave, less productive staff will remain, and new productive staff will be hard to find,” Pomeranz says. When that happens, the result may be unmet performance targets required by grants and a loss in long-term income.

People count.

Collaboration
The nonprofit sector as a whole may benefit from the economic squeeze, according to some observers. Consolidation/merger/collaboration may reduce overall overhead and redundancies.

Collaboration with for-profits may increase. Scott Osman of Landor, a global branding company, has an interesting take: The financial crisis has so sullied the reputation of “business” as a whole that corporations will see social responsibility as a way to attract customers. The automotive, energy, and financial services sectors really need to improve their images, he says.

They'll be looking for nonprofit projects and partners.

So, too, will out-of-work executives waiting for the economy to rebound. Their wait can be useful to nonprofits through projects such as the New York Economic Development Corporation's JumpStart NYC, which places people formerly employed in financial services in 10-week assignments at nonprofits. Skills offered include IT, marketing, and financial planning.

How is your organization planning to hold on during 2010? Is collaboration on your list of possibilities? What do you think nonprofit executives should focus on in 2010?