One of the keys to having a successful nonprofit is to ask pointed questions about your organization and to respond with truthful answers. In so doing, your nonprofit can identify what is working and what isn't, and what tactics to use to improve and move forward.
Revealing flaws is the only way to tackle them, and the only way to reveal them in the first place is to look for them by asking the right questions. There may not necessarily be a flaw in a nonprofit's workings, but there is likely to be a better, more efficient way to use resources—or a problem in need of an inventive solution.
The main takeaway is this: It's better to see the problems and fix them than to bury your head in the sand and to fail permanently. And, of course, the only way to see the problems is to take a cold hard look by asking questions that serve as prompts.
Here are three such questions a nonprofit might ask.
1. Are we getting anywhere?
Profit and loss statements notwithstanding, it can be hard to see whether a nonprofit is realizing its aims. Let's say your nonprofit helps rescue abused pets. You may be raising a lot of money from donors, but how many pets are you actually rescuing? How much of the money you raise is going to your organization's real goals? What are your specific goals within a specific time frame? The only way to know the answers to these questions is to set it all out in writing.
Sticking to the same example: Is your goal only to rescue pets or to also find good homes for them for the long term? Do you want to provide a temporary dwelling for the pets on site, or would you rather develop a list of temporary pet foster homes? Would it be better to have volunteer veterinarians serving the animals in shifts or to have a fulltime vet on staff?
Keep track of your organization's work and revisit your game plan to see whether you're meeting your specs. If not, you may have to change your strategy or, possibly, your goals. Be realistic about your limitations, but be open to new possibilities and even to the option of moving the goalpost forward.
2. Are we flexible enough to move with the times?
Once upon a time, a nonprofit could depend on a core group of donors who responded to snail mail requests with sizeable checks. But the entire landscape of nonprofit organizations has changed. Today, there is the Internet and dozens of social media networks just waiting to be plumbed. For instance, car-donation program Kars4Kids, which I blog, was one of the first nonprofits to exploit the world of social media. It now has some 10 active and successful social media profiles.
If you haven't yet hired a social media director, get yourself one. If you can afford it, hire a blogger as well. There can be a symbiotic relationship between the various social media outlets if you use them as you should. Has your blogger posted a new post on your nonprofit blog? Your social media person will want to share and tweet the post wherever possible. Kars4Kids, for instance, sponsors summer camp tuition for many needy children and makes sure to pin photos of campers to its Pinterest bulletin board.
Watch your metrics to see which blog posts attract the target audience of your nonprofit, and refine blog topics and blog category and verticals as needed. Be on the lookout for new audiences, too. Keep abreast of trends to keep current the content you share.
The technological boom and the way it has affected our lives cannot be ignored. These communities represent new ways to engage the public, generate new donors, and tell the story of your nonprofit. Donations can be made with the click of a mouse. Snail mail is so yesterday, and so not environmentally sound.
3. Are we using our resources to best effect?
Resources may refer to money or manpower. In any case, it's all about removing the chaff from the wheat. Are you funding a program that just isn't doing what it's meant to do? Is the staff inefficient? Is there excess spending? Is there a way to change that program and make it more efficient? Don't be afraid to use any and all tools at your disposal. And don't shy away from talk about money—budget reviews, for instance. Do you hear those two words and go, "ugh!"
You shouldn't. Your only concern should be building your nonprofit as best you can.
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Moving forward means losing the fear, whatever that may be. Don't keep it safe. Don't avoid the hard questions that can make your organization more efficient. Keeping a finger on the pulse of your nonprofit means you are one step ahead of the competition.