What is your sustainability IQ?

Do you know your sustainability IQ? How sustainable is your organization? Do you know where you have your greatest strengths and organizational assets? Do you know your risks and how to minimize them? And, do you have a roadmap to build your sustainability?

Building sustainability is critical in today’s challenging fiscal, programmatic, and public policy environment. This article will provide you with an overview of the key areas of sustainability and how to develop a more sustainable organization. My company has developed a Sustainability Profile, used in consulting and training, which identifies five key organizational areas to consider: (1) Mission, Programs, Planning and Evaluation; (2) Finance, Fundraising and Marketing; (3) Human Resources; (4) System; and (5) Culture.

A. Mission, Programs, Planning and Evaluation. Most of the non-profit organizations and local governments excel here. It has developed programs and services that address needs and relate to the core mission. Sometimes, however, one finds “mission creep,” where programs are added that are not so closely related to the main mission. Has your organization added programs in recent years that were originally well funded, that are now less well funded? And this takes resources away from core mission programs? Do your programs make a difference? How do you know? Can you demonstrate significant results and impact? Are the programs a model, or are they based on models and effective practices? Another area you might want to look at is planning. Although most organizations carry out an annual strategic plan, few are able to implement the plan in such a way that it becomes a living part of the job. There are strategies that can help bring planning to life, such as incorporating goal reports into meetings, developing a plan template that is used for quarterly tracking, and celebrating milestones.

B. Finance, fundraising and marketing. According to national research, a large percentage of nonprofits are still struggling with budget cuts and hiring challenges. So this is an area of ​​concern for many. Although the budget of the average organization has received multiple impacts, it is possible to reduce the risk: develop a conservative budget; identify ways to expand and diversify revenue; cost overrun analysis; create strategies and incentives for cost reduction; and involve staff in these efforts. Have you analyzed what works and what doesn’t with your fund development? Identify some fundraising strategies that will allow the organization to expand and diversify income. Nonprofits can often find ways to strengthen donor donations with good database analysis. Board involvement in fundraising can bring many more gifts, especially once this becomes a regular part of the board’s work. Profitably market and leverage your organization’s reputation through social media, traditional press, community outreach, and meetings/events. Have financial policies and a financial plan to handle cutbacks; a fundraising plan and a marketing plan. These can be short bulleted documents. However, having them will improve everyone’s ability to focus on priorities and stay focused. Staff are often in short supply, so look for trusted volunteers and interns to do some of the work.

C. Human resources. In nonprofit organizations and local government, people are the primary asset. Review any budget to see that the largest percentage of revenue goes to staffing, which drives programs and services. Analyze the board and other volunteer jobs to determine the value of volunteer time and you will find that it is substantial. Make sure you have a human resources plan and policies that cover staff, board and volunteers. Typically these will be found in different documents, human resources policies, board bylaws and policies, and volunteer policies and procedures. Make sure the CEO and chairperson of the board provide a role model for the board and staff. Make sure people know what is expected of them, that they receive feedback, support and praise for a job well done. Offer training and evaluation, and involve people in making plans that affect their work.

D.System. The agency’s infrastructure often lags behind in development and may be the first to be cut back. That can really put a drag on your organization’s effectiveness over time. When funds are tight, look for ways that staff and volunteers can participate in evaluating and improving the organization’s system, administration, internal communications, and technology. Look for retired managers and retired consultants who can provide targeted free services to help you keep your organization’s system and processes up and running. Consider partnering with youth organizations to have young tech gurus work with you if you need a specific video or tech project. Develop priorities for updates and changes, and see the return on investment they will provide.

E. Culture. The Sustainability Profile has identified a number of elements that are an important part of the culture of a growing organization and reflect the capacity of that organization. These are diversity, collaboration, innovation and mindfulness. When an organization pays attention to these areas, investing organizational energy and resources, the organization builds its resilience. You become more focused and effective; more proactive and responsive; better able to target and harness resources; stronger and more able to defy weather and change.

Develop your sustainability IQ and the sustainability of your organization by following these steps:

  1. Analyze your organization’s strengths and weaknesses in each of the five key areas identified above.
  2. Point to your greatest strengths and outline strategies to build on those strengths.
  3. Identify your biggest weaknesses or risk areas, and create steps to build on those areas and minimize risk.
  4. Implement your sustainability roadmap.

For more information about your Sustainability IQ, including articles and a summary, check out our website.

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