Is this Pandemic the Best Time to Plan for a Nonprofit?
Today’s Guest: Jay Vogt from Peoplesworth
Today, I am excited to be speaking with Jay Vogt. He is an organizational development consultant with a core competency in facilitation and specialization in facilitating large groups. He has over 35 years of experience working with entrepreneurial nonprofits and mission-driven businesses. Jay founded People’s Worth, a private practice in consulting training and counseling in 1982. He holds a master’s degree in counseling and an MBA from Hampshire College. He now lives in Concord, Massachusetts, and in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Jay is an accomplished facilitator, mediator, trainer, management consultant, and coach. He has led hundreds of events, averaging more than a hundred participants. Jay’s Tedx talk on ‘The Art of Facilitation: Changing the Way the World Meets’ has received over 100,000 views. Jay is also a published author of many books and articles. Today, I would like to welcome Jay to the Nonprofit MBA podcast.
Today’s topic: Is this Pandemic the Best Time to Plan for Nonprofits?
Many organizations feel like they are in a planless state in which they cannot make commitments because they do not know what the future holds. Unlike in previous years, we are currently in uncertain times. Jay has brainstormed with his colleagues to figure out how to respond to the needs of their clients, both in nonprofit and for-profit organizations, during this time of crisis.
Jay has come up with three stages of how a nonprofit can get through these tough times. He calls them the “3 T’s”. The first stage is triage, next is the trajectory, and the third is transformation.
The 3 “T'” of Planning
Jay’s clients that are currently in triage mode are really hurting and their organizations are struggling to stay in business. Jay has seen both small businesses and nonprofit organizations who have built up equity, goodwill, and financial strength over the years, break down very quickly in a short period of time. At this point, they are required to use additional resources to stop the depletion of their business plan.
Due to complications from the external environment, many organizations only focus on the next 6 to 12 months. Some short-term questions to consider are: How do we dramatically increase the value to our members in a very short period of time? How can we stop doing what doesn’t add value? Although these answers do not reflect a strategic planning process, they are focused enough to enrich the nonprofit mission and core assumptions in the short run. Planning for a short time frame is an urgent discussion that must occur in order for a nonprofit to survive after the next 6-12 months.
Since the organization is not able to perform its strategic thinking for the next 3 to 5 years due to the pressing circumstances, the board of directors, executive director, and other nonprofit leaders must assess their planning efforts. They must find answers to the urgent questions while also focusing on the attainment of the organization’s mission. The leaders of the nonprofit need to try different approaches to obtain feedback from trial and error to see what works best for the nonprofit. The most supportive approach will make your organization much more dynamic and fluid.
Being in the trajectory stage includes the more fortunate organizations that are not desperately worried about their survival. These organizations have a bit more room to establish a strategic planning process that solves concerning issues.
Jay is currently working with a residential home for developmentally disabled adults. This residential area is fortunate enough to have a big campus, allowing a pretty healthy endowment. Most of the members that live with them have state contracts, so there is a degree of stability with their living arrangements even through the changing environment. Although this residential home has a strategic direction of a source of funding during this pandemic, they are forced to also adapt their daily protocols and work plans for social distancing and safety.
In all, their sense of the organization’s future isn’t being dramatically shifted by this COVID-19 challenge, instead, they just have to adopt new programs that ensure safety into their facilities. They still face their ordinary issues independent of the virus, such as changes in contracts with state funding, new relationships, and finding new ways to serve their clients. However, their organization is still able to function knowing their business is likely to make it through the pandemic.
The transformation stage is when your nonprofit has an opportunity to transform their organization in some way. Organizations in this stage aspire to come out of this difficult period stronger than they are now.
Jay is working with a private school for grades K-8, who also had to undergo difficult decision making quickly due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This organization had to shift from in-person to remote in the short time frame of a weekend. After making this switch successfully, the parents of the students reported being very pleased with the experience. This alteration was enlivening for the private school. They are now able to actively consider a strategic plan to offer a new business model that is 100% remote. Before the real-time COVID-19 pandemic, they would have never considered this specific goal. However, they are now able to better understand the capability of a growth opportunity for international students’, bringing in more revenue.
Working into the Next Stage
Determine the Stage of Your Organization
When conducting your nonprofit strategic planning you must recognize where your organization stands. Is your organization struggling in the triage stage, adapting to circumstances in the trajectory stage, or remodeling in the transformation stage? Once this is identified, your organization may require frequent board meetings to brainstorm different options to accommodate the pandemic. Once a theory of change is decided upon by the board members, the organization will need to work with their team members and staff members to make the change happen.
In all, to get out of the less favorable stage you must work through problems, find opportunities, get to the planning phase, and transform your organization. Depending on what stage your organization is in, this nonprofit strategy may not usually be chronological. Some groups may be in triage mode, in which their only job is to get out of it. Other organizations are more comfortable and are starting at the trajectory level, soon to be at the point of transformation. The most fortunate organizations are right at the point of transformation, ready to welcome opportunities.
Assessing where the pandemic has left your organization in the nonprofit sector is important. Identify whether your window of opportunity has opened or closed and respond to the situation while also keeping your vision statement and mission statement in mind. It is important to note that many organizations have done everything right prior to the pandemic. These organizations have built great relationships with their stakeholders, are greatly mission-focused, and run a financially tight ship in order to build surpluses. However, sometimes, this is simply not enough.
Explore Functional Technological Options
For consultants like Jay, it is tough to see failing nonprofits, especially knowing you will not be able to work with them anymore. If nonprofits conduct an internal scan to determine the adjustments that are needed, they will still have hope for a bright future post-COVID-19.
With strict social distancing measures in place, many organizations had to coordinate virtual meeting sessions, such as Zoom meetings, to discuss the issues at hand, brainstorm ideas to resolve the issue, and further work to conclude the problem. Using a collaboration platform may be easier for small group use. The size of a meeting should always be large enough to be representative, but small enough to be efficient, averaging about 5-8 people. This especially works when you are talking to a planning committee in a less engaging way, such as reviewing an executive summary, and not much collaboration is needed. Some possible platforms to consider for this type and more interactive use are MeetingSphere, Mural, and Powernoodle.
These different software platforms teach you the best practices for facilitating meetings and collaboration. They help nonprofits become more effective at brainstorming to get more opinions into consideration. Collaboration platforms take the process of brainstorming and decision making then break it down into little parts. Although in-person meetings allow dynamic conversations, the platforms offer a user-friendly experience for your organization to continue functioning despite social distancing measures.
Using software decreases the need to travel across the country, state, or even town. Each software offers different benefits. A software Jay particularly enjoys to use is Powernoodle. It offers the opportunity for team members to work asynchronously, or at their own pace, and anonymously, allowing you to vote or enter in open-ended answers without receiving negative responses from others. Softwares take the minds of humans to establish what is needed for discussion and then mimics this process electronically.
Executing Your Plans
The planning dynamic that Jay tries to replicate is a diamond, viewing its shape from left to right. On the left, you start with a diverging of ideas and views, offering broad opportunity ideas before you go into detail. Once you have diverged enough, you will want to narrow down your best option(s). This occurs during a meeting when you cycle through many open-ended questions stimulating ideas and focus, over and over again. You should discuss the organization’s SWOT analysis and determine critical strategic issues so that you have a platform to discuss your organization’s opportunity. Once you are on the right side of the diamond, you take your best option(s) and dive deep into its plan and analysis.
Smaller nonprofits are better at executing their plans since they are able to attain immediate feedback from their stakeholders and beneficiaries. The more complex an organization is, the harder it is to get everyone on the same path. A lot of nonprofits are on the smaller side allowing them to be more personal with their funders since they are focused on their community. The smaller organizations are more entrepreneurial and resourceful, making any opportunity go a long way. When your organization is larger, you have a more sophisticated planning system, you operate with higher revenues, and you can afford to hire consultants to help you through the execution of your plan.
An organization’s need for a consultant can vary depending on the needs of the nonprofit. Jay’s clients usually already have dynamic leadership, they just need help in bringing everyone together to a shared road map, facilitating their goals into one great goal. An organization’s planning process needs to analyze what position the nonprofit is in and set goals and objectives that are best centered around addressing the identified issues. It is always better to have a less sophisticated plan than no plan at all!
3 Key Items Jay Recommends Based on His Experience:
- Understand that the pandemic will be with us for a bit of time, you should not wait too long to implement new strategies into your organization. Plan today!
- There are ways to convene virtually and remotely by the use of different software platforms. Use them to communicate frequently about the organization’s issues and actions. This will boost your organization’s chances of surviving the pandemic.
- Organizations are being resilient with the change, so try to find ways to keep adapting to these changes too. Don’t fall behind with accommodating to your client’s needs, or other organizations will surpass you.
In all, consultants open channels to growth. Many times, there is a need for a third party to help mediate and facilitate the control of an organization. When your organization is in triage mode, cutting expenses is not the only solution. You can also consider purchasing software platforms and hire consultants like Jay to help save the nonprofit.
Each recession is different, but for every recession, you must adjust your focus to the future of the nonprofit. Think about what you want the organization to look like 6 to 12 months from now, and then 3 to 5 years. While you are working through the triage stage, focus the team and energy into the organization’s future. At some point, the recession will be over, so the organizations that have planned the whole time are going to thrive the most.
This pandemic is a great accelerator of trends that can drive change. Recently our society has been working remotely and virtually. Furthermore, it has introduced many important organizational decisions that otherwise would have taken a very long time to consider. Many organizations will thrive as a result of their adaptability during this novelty.
Contacting Jay Vogt
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