Quick. What three things come to mind when you think GREAT ORGANIZATION? Plenty of communities give out awards to 501 C (nonprofit) organizations. Various publications even highlight “great” organizations and the work they do or some milestone achieved. A few watchdog organizations even rate organizations based on established metrics to give them stars or a letter grade to help guide or influence people to possibly support, volunteer or work with those that make a good grade. I have interacted with a lot of organizations in my lifetime – some tree top and some grass-root. And although the majority of those organizations had many great attributes, programs and of course AMAZING people, I wouldn’t say in a blanket statement, that any of them were great.
My definition of a great organization is one that has a healthy work culture as reflected in minimal turnover because staff are paid fairly and workloads are manageable. A great organization to me also means that there is continuous improvement at all different levels, the phrase “it is not in the budget, or we don’t have the money” is NEVER uttered, much less thought. Great also translates to me as meaning the company is sustainable. Sustainable to the point that allows leadership to actually have a line item in the annual budget for training every employee, for an effective succession plan, capacity building workshops to enhance effectiveness or about acquiring the latest tech tool available. And oh YES, a line item for marketing dollars – as our friend Dan Pallotta has taught us is a good and necessary thing. Reserves are important too.
Even though I have only been in our sector for 16 years – excluding hospitals and universities, I can count the organizations on one hand that thought that they were in a good place financially.
Probably because human tendency leans toward progress. Just as a tree grows up, reaches toward the sky – humans too tend to look onward and upward; especially when it comes to business. So even though our checking and maybe even savings accounts look good and we can plan for another year or two and add that cushion to our reserves, we usually want more.
It takes a lot of planning to make an organization great. A lot. It takes discipline, seeking out wisdom from others, being able to step back and get perspective on a regular basis and frequent course correction. We all have blind-spots. Blind spots are those annoying habits that you may not even realize you do like interrupting someone while they are in mid-sentence. Organizations have blind spots. Trust me on this.
As you work hard and wisely to build a great organization, areas you need to be diligent with include:
Ensuring your board is capable, well organized and that they are in harmony moving the mission and strategic direction forward. Nothing should be hidden from the board. Do not ever carefully select information you share with them. They have a huge responsibility and if you chose your board members properly and trained them well, they can handle moving the organization forward and help you and your staff achieve greatness.
Financial Management – A needs and resources assessment especially as it relates to cash flow must be done at minimal annually. Structure should exist to ensure compliance and long-term financial health.
Programs/ Services- Can you prove the effectiveness of your program? Can your program be better? Are you constantly asking for feedback from those you serve? Do you know what best practice information is out there so you can learn from others?
Community Relationships – Does the community you serve love you? Do those relationships bring you joy? Would your organization be missed if it were to disappear?
Staff – Is turnover low? Do your employees thrive? Is communication free flowing? Do you contract with an outside third party on a regular basis (or at least every so often) to do a 360° assessment and review the results as a team? Is the work culture healthy?
Operations – Are objectives, activities and timelines clear for everyone in the organization?
Greatness is achievable for any and all organizations and takes a plan. Set your standards high, write down your wish list and aim for the moon. Be patient, strategic and never give up – your dreams will come true.
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