November 6, 2015

Making Things Better, One Step at a Time

Your organization is successful and growing day by day. Yeah! That’s the good news. The bad news is that the overhead needed to support more volume is stretching your resources to the limits. You know you need to do something to support the organization’s changing needs, but what exactly?

The Way It Is Now

This is the situation at most small, nonprofit organizations I have worked with. Files are scattered from here to eternity. The shared file drive resembles the Wild West. Content is hidden from view in departmental silo-folders. There is no intranet, so it’s difficult to know what other staff members have written or created. The primary method of communication between departments is email; consequently your email inbox is overflowing and has to be archived on a regular basis, which is a huge time waster. Yuck.

Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so.

What to do? It takes some work, but you can move your company forward with steps that are well-defined. You are not the first to make this journey. And guess what? There is no technology in the first part of the process.

Take Some Time To Think About It

Discuss the following with your staff. Creating a common vision is one of the most important things you can do. If everyone is on the same page, a unified effort can accomplish wonders.

Here are some points to crystallize and document:

  • What is your mission statement? Why does your particular organization exist and in its most basic sense, what do you do?
  • What is your vision? What impact do you want to have on society? What are your values and principles? What do you believe in?
  • What is the state of your organization? Are you just starting out, or have you been around for a while?
  • How many physical spaces are you dealing with? Are you a museum that shows works of fine art, a theatre company with performing stages, a charitable institution with offices, or perhaps a library with books to house and lend?
  • Do you create any products, manufacture artifacts, or offer services? If so, what processes are employed and are they written down?
  • What type of marketing is important to you? What kind of IT department or resources do you have now? Is there a document library you wish to support or start? Do you want to be able to reuse strategic assets or content across departments?
  • How many employees do you have? Are you growing, shrinking, or in a steady state?
  • How often do you publish patron communications, web pages, e-mail blasts, marketing content, photos, or images? What kind of graphics do you use for your content? Are they systematically stored somewhere for reuse?
  • Do you sell tickets? What kind of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) are you currently using? Are you happy with it? Do you wish it did more for your projects? Are you getting the patron data out of it that’s helping to build your following?

This is a start. After consolidating your vision and mission statement, you may wish to tailor your focus to any particular areas you think need special attention.

Prioritize

Write the answers down and store them somewhere that is accessible to your staff members. Nobody has unlimited time and money. What is most important to your staff, your management, your board, and your audiences?

Decide what you want to tackle now and what can wait. Consider the income picture for this year and the next two or three. Of course, you can’t tell exactly what will happen, but make some educated guesses and reasonable estimates. The point is to consider your world and how you will proceed in it. You can always adjust course later when you revisit the plan. But if you have no initial course of action, then you are always reacting to the present instead of taking meaningful steps towards a successful future. You want to be proactive, not reactive.

Planning

The next step is to make a plan. First, define several business goals for five years out. Then identify shorter-term, associated goals that will set your organization on the path to achieve the long-term goals. Finally, decide on objectives and specific actions for each goal.

It’s useful to assign a primary owner to each goal. Most times, one department will not be able to achieve the goal alone. Staff members will need help from partnering departments with complementary skill sets. Explicitly nurturing partnerships, synergies and teaming opportunities is one of the ways to make your organization stand out in the marketplace. For example, if Marketing understands how IT can assist its digital content strategy program, staff members working together to identify the software requirements and implementation strategies can make the best use of limited budgets. IT may be able to point out shortcuts to success or gaps in technical assumptions. Marketing may be able to articulate requirements that IT is not aware of.

Be sure the plan’s goals and objectives are as clear as possible. The actions should have measurable steps to them. The key is to produce metrics on a regular basis so that you can check progress and recalibrate if necessary.

It helps to have an outline like the sample below.

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Execute

Now, put your plan into action. Most businesses do this annually and revisit their achievements quarterly. Be sure your efforts are included in the budget process so that resources are allocated for the projects and initiatives that make up the actions needed to reach your goals.

Measure

Ideally, you will identify actions that have measurable outcomes. For example, if your annual goal is to raise online traffic by 25%, perhaps the quarterly goal is to see an increase of at least 5-6% each quarter. If you miss your actionable outcome, then backtrack and reconsider the plan. Are there additional actions you can take to realize the results you’re looking for? Do you need to apply additional resources? Were your initial assumptions off in some way? Was your target too optimistic to be realistic?

Even though you may not reach your goals right away, these self-evaluation processes are extremely valuable. The better you can pinpoint your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, the more effective steps you can take towards improvement.

Reassess Periodically

Check your strategic plan every year. New conditions, personnel, and offerings may change the direction you want the organization to take. Every situation is different, and yours will most likely be unique to your history, location, and internal culture.

Many times, we get wrapped up in the crisis of the day or go about daily routines without taking a break to consider how we can improve our business environment. By considering the mission, prioritizing goals, making a plan, executing a strategy, and evaluating the results, an organization can make giant strides towards becoming successful and effective. Start your plan today!

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Jayne Dutra
Jayne Dutra is passionate about information architecture, metadata and knowledge management. She worked for 13 years at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA developing solutions for knowledge navigation and information retrieval. She held the position of KM Process Owner at JPL and also served as the Lab's Lead Enterprise Information Architect. She has extensive experience with data architecture, taxonomy development and enterprise search. After JPL, Jayne worked at LexisNexis as the Data Governance Manager for Content Architecture. In 2012, Jayne decided to change her career field and entered the graduate program at Cal State Fullerton where she recently earned her MFA in Theatre Design. Jayne would like to see more performing arts organizations modernize their approach to information management and developed the Core Arts and Theatre Taxonomy (CATT) in response to their needs and requirements. She writes a blog on Knowledge Management for Arts Professionals, which is published here: http://www.jaynedutra.com/#!km-for-arts/c2p0