Are you looking for ways to improve your program performance? Maybe it's because a major funder requires accountability to a set of outcome measures, or the Board of Directors is asking why goals aren’t being met, or team morale is at an all-time low. Or you haven’t yet begun, and feel it’s time to get started. Whatever your situation and whatever your mission -- whether it be direct service, advocacy, educational, or cultural -- you can enhance your organization's ability to deliver its mission.
Here are a few ways to do it:
1) Intervene Directly -- The first and most obvious way is to figure out what’s not working and fix it. Often easier said than done, right? Nonprofits get work done through a complex web of stakeholders -- boards, volunteers, paid staff, community partners, etc. -- and it’s a challenge to identify the core problem.
Take Time for Analysis -- One way to do this is to create an affinity diagram in order to systematically analyze the cause and effect relationships at play. Although this process can be time consuming, ultimately you’ll find the root cause of the problem and not waste your time with “pet solutions” that will not fix things in the end (and will likely frustrate you even further).
2) Start Tracking -- If you don’t know where you’re going, chances are you won’t get there. If you set some simple goals you follow monthly or quarterly, you’ll be able to pinpoint where your performance is lagging. Keep these simple, and don’t wait until the end of the year to check how you are doing. You can't nip things in the bud if you wait until the bitter end.
Keep it Simple -- Start by tracking three quantitative goals and see how it goes. If you already have performance measures (check these examples out), or there are ones you funder expects you to adhere to, pick the three most heavily weighted or that will have the most impact. Develop a quick one-page report that shows your progress visually. Make sure you share it with everyone -- yes, even your volunteers. Then, don’t forget to ask questions. Why does the data look the way it does? Is there something we can do to “move the needle”?
3) Develop Tools -- Your team simply may not have the tools they need to get the job done. If you are trying to reach more people, for example, they may need a set of templates they can use to reach out to the media, they may need permission from your organization to begin a foray into social media, or they may need another projector and laptop to make community presentations. IdeaEncore has tons of free and low-cost templates you can download, so you don't have to reinvent the wheel.
Stay Focused -- Focus your resources, with laser-like precision on providing tools that can actually have an impact -- either in the short- or long-term. Resist providing what’s merely popular. If you’re unsure, ask your team to assess the value and quantify the estimated improvement(s) each proposed resource will make to your operation and how it relates to your mission.
4) Offer Training -- If you’re providing tools, give instructions on how, when and why they can be used. Don’t assume everyone knows what to do with that fancy Toolkit. Give them an orientation and some good ideas to get going. And then check back. To identify other training needs, conduct a needs assessment either at a team meeting, via and online survey (Survey Monkey is a great, free tool), or through phone interviews. Tailor your training to meet the specific needs identified.
But, Beware -- Sometimes people don’t know what they don’t know and, therefore, can’t identify what they need. If that’s the case, use or create a standard self-assessment tool that can check for baseline skills for a particular job (i.e. volunteer management competencies). This will help unearth what’s missing from the feedback you're getting.
5) Recognize and Reward -- As we focus on what’s going wrong, we sometimes have a tough time acknowledging what is actually working -- even if the progress is incremental or learning is all that's happened. It’s obvious that achievement should be rewarded. Why not celebrate “aha moments,” too? After all, they mean we are one step closer to solving a key barrier to progress.
Share What Works -- Collect best practices. Make sure they are 1) innovative, 2) sustainable, 3) able to be replicated, and 4) have truly made a difference. If they cover all four bases, share them with your team. Best practices can be found outside your organization, and even outside the nonprofit community. They are the most motivational, however, when they are discovered and promoted from within. If you start by looking for people on your team who have a certain “knack” for something, you’ll find they're probably using a procedure or tactic that works. And, they probably don't even recognize it as a best practice.
Start improving your performance by trying a few of these. If they work, just grow it from there, and let us know how it went!