Failing at anything is not fun, much less failing at building an organization that thrives and changes people’s lives. Challenges as life itself are, unfortunately, an unavoidable part of the nonprofit world.
The good news though is that from each failing experience, we learn two valuable lessons: a) the reason we failed and b) how not to fail at the same thing again.
So, if you’re finding that your organization is struggling a little more often than you would like, here are the five common reasons nonprofits fail and what you can do to course-correct:
1. They do not know what success looks like.
Take a moment to ask yourself… What should success for my organization look like? In other words, what is the vision of your organization? If you find yourself rumbling, not trusting your gut, or taking a moment to double-check with Google, you probably aren’t there yet – and this is one reason your organization, team, or program may be struggling.
“If you don’t know where you are going, you are certain to end up somewhere else.”
– Yogi Berra
Clarity about your vision is key. You’ll need a well-articulated vision for your organization, your team, or your program. Your vision should be clear and succinctly stated so that a client can reiterate it easily, or an funder can pick it up and run with it. When your vision is clear, anyone can understand it and connect with it – by just reading or hearing it stated.
2. They are traveling on the wrong route.
How many times have you lost your way when driving? You can agree that there are only two reasons why people lose their way – they are not sure about which route to take, or they decided not to take the route they should take.
Beyond a vision, you need to have very clear milestones, which I like to call goals. Goals help people keep tabs on progress towards their vision, just like mile markers on a route.
Getting your organization or program to succeed is like going on a journey. Many routes can lead to a destination; so can many activities and priorities. But like most journeys, you only stand a chance at arriving at your destination (that is, accomplishing your goals and seeing the vision of your organization come alive) – when you know exactly what to do right now to get to where you need to be tomorrow.
Give priority to what will move you towards your goals when you should. That means the “what” and the “when” are equally important.
“Organizations that succeed understand that they need to identify trade-offs: choosing what not to do as much as what to do, and when to do. Grading the importance of various initiatives in an environment of finite resources is a primary test of organizational success”
When you know what you should focus on, and when you should focus on it, you’ll more likely to be intentional about establishing boundaries for efficient decision-making to focus on priorities that are important.
3. They are not putting the best foot forward.
But how can you, when you don’t know what your best foot is? How can you protect your organization from the harsh realities in the nonprofit industry?
In this context, your best foot are your organization’s strengths and opportunities, which can be easily minimized by its weakness and threats.
I get it, it’s pretty tough out there. Getting a nonprofit to stay afloat and accomplish its goals is not exactly a piece of cake. But it can become a piece of cake- if you do what works.
You need to pause and look into your organization’s current position in order to understand your organization’s strengths, its opportunities and its weaknesses. You also need to project your possibilities going forward, and plan for possible challenges in order to insulate yourself from them.
When you become aware of your organization’s weaknesses, you can choose to seek to improve on them – especially if they prevent you from implementing your strategies and achieving your objectives – or you can simply view them as a part of the overall strategic approach and try to downplay them.
With an all-around view of your organization’s current and forward-looking situation, you and your team will be able to put your best foot forward to accomplish your goals and to quit failing at them.
4. The people on board their flight are not actually on board.
In other words, your organization is not exactly aligned. An aligned organization is one that optimally syncs the work, structure, metrics, people, rewards, culture and leadership to strategy.
Leaders, staff, and stakeholders of aligned organizations have seen the vision, have made the vision their own, have agreed with the route your organization is taking, and are willing to put their best foot forward to make the vision a reality.
Because your organization is lacking in alignment and stakeholder (internal) buy-in, you experience: decreased speed in decision making; poor employee engagement; wasted resources; poor self-governance; and less-optimized talents and skills, among a host of other time and resources wasters.
Yes, alignment work can be time consuming, and sometimes politically charged, but it is definitely exhilarating and fulfilling – and worth the effort. If your organization is stalling, you should consider investing in getting everyone on the same page.
5. They know what to do, but don’t do it.
Here’s the scenario:
Your vision and short-terms goals are clearly articulated. In fact, you can literally spit them out if someone wakes you up from sleep and asks you what they are. You know what strategies to employ in order to accomplish your goals. You understand your strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats. You have the most talented and dedicated team in the world –ready to take action when you say the word. In short, your organizational strategy is all spelled out, excellently crafted and vetted by the best consultants there are.
But the document is having a jolly good time sitting on the shelf.
You are not alone. Everyone talks about strategy, but we know a lot less about translating a strategy into results. Books and articles on strategy outnumber those on execution significantly. We know that it matters. A Harvard Business Review publication referenced a recent survey of more than 400 global CEOs that found that executional excellence was the number one challenge facing corporate leaders in Asia, Europe, and the United States. We also know that execution is difficult. Studies have found that two-thirds to three-quarters of large organizations struggle to implement their strategies.
You can bet that this is a strong reason your organization or program is failing. Getting your organization, team or programs to work means doing what it takes to get it to work.
Now that you know why your organization is failing, you need solutions that will lead to success. In the coming weeks, I’ll show you how not to fail at each of these five areas and how to get results.
But before then, tell us… Which of these reasons do you struggle with the most.
Drop your thoughts or questions in the comments box below.
To Working Strategies & Authentic Results!
It’s Chinnie Nnorom, DPH