... to paraphrase the U.S. Air Force
I didn’t mean to misquote the Air Force, but perhaps simply to get your attention. And this is a topic that cries for attention. Nobody wants to do it. Most organizations don’t want to stop their forward momentum to figure out where the heck they’re going.
Maybe repeating that last phrase would be a good idea: “…stop their forward momentum to figure out where the heck they’re going.” So often small businesses and nonprofits simply continue to move forward, to keep on keeping on, turning the wheels and taking care of business, without taking the time to regroup and reconsider the destination and the resources needed to get there. And, most important, how they’ll measure their progress to the goal.
One of the most common problems I see every week with nonprofits and small businesses is inability to measure performance because no one ever articulated the desired results. How can you measure your “success” when you never described “success”? It’s easy to skip that step, maybe even just “human nature.” I submit, however, that your “organizational nature” will be much improved – and its success measurable – if you will pause to set goals. Specific goals allow for measurement of success, which allows for course correction leading to greater success.
My two spheres of influence in business and nonprofit operations are in marketing and fund development. And I admit my influence is not great. But, for my clients, it’s significant. They’re paying me to improve their operations financially, either by bringing in sponsorship dollars or by helping them convert prospects to customers through effective messaging. But rarely can anyone ever tell me exactly what they hope to accomplish.
These are some of the questions I’d like answers to when I start with a new client:
• Small business goals: (and they certainly apply to nonprofits also)
o Do you wish to grow the business? What do you want more of? How much more? Where would you like to focus that growth?
o Do you wish to grow your business with your current customers? How would that look?
o Do you wish to change direction - perhaps grow in a new way - or maintain your traditional direction?
• Nonprofit fund development goals: (and they relate to for-profit goals too)
o Why do you need more financial support?
o How much do you think you need over the next year?
o What will you do with the money?
o How will mission fulfillment improve if you have that amount of new funding?
I guess it all boils down to this: What would you do if you had $XX.00 more in your collective pocket? Would more business – or, in the nonprofit world, more financial support - change your trajectory and/or change your level of success? Ah, there again, that word: “success.” If we can describe our imagined success we can set goals and then, at the end of the year, measure our effectiveness.
Well, we’re nigh unto the end of another year, so now would be a good time for all my clients and all those nonprofits and small businesses that are not clients of Tamarack Communication to schedule a time to describe success and set simple goals for moving toward it. “Success” might not be fully achievable; it might be a “stretch.” But so what? (I’ve found that question, “so what?” to be awfully powerful. My little granddaughter plays the fiddle. Once each year I get to attend a lesson with her. Sometimes she plays a wrong note, and do you know what her brilliant and highly successful fiddle teacher says? “So what?” Sometimes it’s a good thing to excuse imperfection and allow ourselves and others to keep trying.)
Let’s begin, though, with a definition of our “perfection.” Let’s set some goals, admit we might not fully achieve them, and chart a simple, realistic course toward reaching our destination. I believe most organizations could do this in a well-planned, well-facilitated three-hour meeting, if everyone in the room a) Has enough history with the organization to comprehend its trajectory; b) Has a sincere interest in helping the organization succeed; c) Accepts some personal responsibility for nurturing that success; and d) Knows in advance how the meeting will go down and has mentally prepared for it. You can do this.
Allowing for some tweaks to make the structure more useful for your organization specifically, I would suggest those three hours, divided into 15-minute segments, might be spent like this:
First Hour: What we need or want – 4 15-minute increments
“Please put your phones and devices in another room. All you need here is yourself.”
1. Looking at our mission statement, what are the 3 or 4 main things we do to achieve that? (Note: “Make a profit” is a fine mission statement for a business.)
2. If we had more money, how would we behave differently?
3. Which of those improved behaviors would be our top priority, and how would the others fall in line behind it?
4. How much more money would it take to achieve that?
Second Hour: Our route and our destination - 4 15-minute increments
1. Now we’ll have 15 minutes of silence. You may use the restroom or get a snack, but you may not go near a device or speak out loud. Please spend this entire time, as you go about your business, reflecting on this question: “If I were responsible for raising the extra funds we just identified, how might I go about it?” You may feel free to jot notes.
2. Let’s prioritize your lists and brainstorm, focusing on our top two priorities as we go.
3. We seem to know now how we want to behave differently next year, how much it will cost to do that, and the most likely ways we’ll get there. Now let’s describe “success.”
4. I’d like you to take five minutes of silence now to reflect on all of this. Then, working in small groups, you’ll formulate ideas on how success might be measured.
Third hour: Our goals and how we’ll measure them - 4 15-minute increments
1. Each group will now present your suggestions for measuring success.
2. Now we’ll take an actual break. Use the restroom, get a snack, and feel free to talk as much as you’d like. But don’t go near your devices.
3. How measurable are our criteria for success? What can we actually accomplish?
4. Let’s articulate our top 3 or 4 measurable goals for next year.
It’s always good to walk ourselves through a hypothetical example first, isn’t it? This is a nonprofit that seeks to encourage literacy among all the children in the community. Here’s how these dedicated folks might work through their three-hour goal-setting activity:
• Our mission is to give the gift of reading to every child in our community. We do that by: placing volunteers in schools and homes; raising funds to buy reading materials for needy families; sponsoring events that promote the joy of reading; hosting inspirational and informative “children’s literacy” events for parents and teachers.
• If we had more money, we’d: get more volunteers into homes and schools; make our joy-of-reading events more exciting and high-profile for better participation; test the efficacy of our children’s literacy events for adults; provide more reading materials to needy households.
• Our top priority would be the joy-of-reading events because they would not require more recruiting or managing of human resources but simply more money. Next would be evaluation of our adult events to correct course and make them truly effective. Then we’d try to purchase more books and e-readers for children. Money probably wouldn’t help us recruit more volunteers, so we won’t focus on that.
• We probably need an additional $50K to make our joy-of-reading events spectacular and accessible to all, and another $25K to hire a consultant to help us evaluate our adult events and chart a new course. Therefore we need an infusion of an additional $75K in the next year.
• [First the quiet reflection break takes place]
• We’ve identified these three methods as our most likely paths toward that $75K: Develop a few generous, long-term funders that share our mission and can afford to provide ongoing support; cultivate support among local media to raise our events’ profile with our target audience; identify a likely grant source and secure a grant.
• If we succeed in getting the $75K, our joy-of-reading events will feature popular personalities and/or cutting edge technology, and attendance will grow by 40%. Our adult events will have been thoroughly assessed, concluding with an honest report and a realistic plan for making them truly impactful to the community.
• [15 minutes of small group work now takes place]
• We seem to agree that we can measure success in our community joy-of-reading events in these ways: 75% positive after-event survey results; happy sponsors who are willing to consider sponsoring again; anecdotal reporting of children fully engaged; an attendance count that results in an overall 40% increase in participation by year’s end. We seem to agree that we can measure success in our efforts to assess our adult learning events by: securing the $25K grant by year’s end; identifying two consultants we might hire.
• [Now an actual break takes place, during which people can’t help but talk with each other about these measures and their likelihood of success, which is good.]
• We’ve agreed that securing the grant and identifying the two possible consultants is 100% measurable and very likely to succeed. We now think that, if we could get one good sponsor to demonstrate satisfaction with the relationship and a willingness to continue, that would be possible and measurable; we’d like to try for two! We know we can conduct a survey, but it will be hard to capture a good representation at such an event; still, we can hope for 50% representation and, of that group, get a 75% positive response. We can definitely measure participation in our community-wide events, but we now think 40% might be a little too optimistic; we’re thinking more like 25%.
• So here are our goals and measures of success for next year:
1. Secure a $25K grant to assess our adult event series – Success will be strong positive feedback and knowledge gained even if we fail to get the grant this time.
2. Establish a promising relationship with two new funders – Success will be letters of general commitment for future support.
3. Survey attendee satisfaction at two major community events – Success will be 50% survey participation with a 75% positive response rate.
4. Attendance at our community events will grow by 25% over this year’s attendance, measured by an accurate count of participants entering the venue.
And there we have it. When I first described this nonprofit as a group that “seeks to encourage literacy among all the children in the community,” did you have any idea what their measurable goals for success would be by the end of a three-hour meeting? I confess: Neither did I until I had mentally worked my way through the process, step by step, considering likely outcomes. But what an inspiration for an actual organization! To know that you could start with “mush” and three hours later emerge with a handful of clear, measurable goals defined by the most dedicated of your ranks and having earned their commitment! I suspect bringing in an affordable, well-prepared consultant who has no entanglements with your inner politics or institutionalized habits would make the effort more likely to succeed, but a strong CEO or president or his/her designee could probably carry it off too.
All that remains now is to schedule the meeting, choose the facilitator, and invite the right participants. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!