Re-think, reorganize and connect: These themes emerged when funders, members of nonprofit boards, and consultants discussed "Managing During Difficult Times" at the Governance Matters Roundtable on January 15. Suggestions were many but often came back to the idea of new relationships.
For service providers
Any crisis can be an opportunity, whether it's a chance to change relationships or to slough off moribund programs. More effective and efficient operations can be the outcome. But finding a way through crisis is not a task for the executive director alone. The board, funders, and other stakeholders must all be involved.
Among the possibilities mentioned were:
- Consider collaborations and partnerships, whether a full-scale merger or a limited scope, temporary mutual aid agreement.
- Not all organizations will survive in their present form. Re-envision yourself as something smaller. Re-evaluate your programs:
- Are they all in line with your mission?
- What is essential to the service your provide?
- Which programs can be cut? Prepare budgets for best-, moderate- and worst-case scenarios, spelling out what cuts will be made in each case.
- Consider banding together with similar organizations to share administrative resources, space, technology or ...
- Creative options may come from any stakeholder so involve them all. Staff members may have great suggestions for combining programs or using skills more effectively. Funders may provide consultants or new connections. Clients can rally to raise money or suggest better ways to deliver services.
- Funders, one funder said, would rather help than watch their grantees fail. Avail yourself of funders' expertise, ideas and connections to other agencies with whom you might be able to partner. Renegotiate the terms of your grant. Don't hide your problems.
- Be prepared to prove your worth. Are you making a difference in people's lives? How can you prove that?
- Create or join a group of agencies in your field. You may be able to find resources jointly that you couldn't find separately.
- Solicit many small donors rather than focusing on a few big donors. A grassroots base is valuable in many situations.
- Be open to new ideas.
- Can you sell what you produce? A curriculum, for example, could generate revenue. It may be time to find a marketing consultant.
- Out-of-work professionals, such as financial experts or marketing consultants, may be willing to volunteer their services, just to keep their resumes current. Check out resources, such as the Arts & Business Council, the Taproot Foundation, or ReServe.
For funders, umbrella agencies and consultants
It's time to reach out: funders, umbrella organizations, and agencies that assist nonprofits must make sure that organizations of all sizes and affiliations know where to find help.
Umbrella organizations can guide their members in assessing what they offer and how effectively they offer it. More importantly they, and funders, can start conversations about collaboration, partnerships or mergers that individual organizations may not be able to initiate on their own.
Collaborative opportunities may not be apparent to an individual organization but an entity with a more global view may see new options and facilitate cooperation.
The size of an organization is not an indication of its value but size may limit its ability to help itself. Small agencies provide service in communities that larger organizations are not willing to serve. And those smaller agencies may not have the infrastructure to both serve their clients and seek solutions to funding losses.
For this reason, organizations and funders that provide capacity building, consulting and, especially, strategic assessment, need to expand their outreach efforts. Make sure everyone knows that resources are available to guide and support.
Collaboration and mergers can save the day but beware of the pitfalls.
Merge from a position of strength and mutual benefit. If expenses exceed revenue, put egos aside. Don't wait until the agency has "bled out of existence." Merge when your agency still has value and your board, executives, and staff be welcome in the new organization. If your board and executive director hang on to their titles and power until a merger is forced upon them, no one will have a place in the new entity.
And not all collaborations or partnerships are beneficial: look before you leap. Small agencies are sometimes used as window dressing by larger ones, in paper partnerships that generate little benefit and lots of headaches for the smaller agency. Be sure the board and the executive director understand the fine print of any partnership or collaboration.
For more information, check out Surviving a Difficult Economy or Board Responsibility in Crisis.