Quick Shot: Ask These 3 Questions to Make Your Nonprofit Even Better

Use these performance management questions to see if your nonprofit is on track or needs improvement!

By Shellie Speer, Senior VP, BDI Academy

Though some days it doesn’t seem possible, I’ve worked with nonprofit organizations for nearly 30 years now. And while I get asked a lot of questions over and over, one question I wish more nonprofits asked me – and themselves – is about improving their performance management. More specifically, how do you make your nonprofit organization better?

What do I mean by performance management? I don’t mean just fundraising and advancement. Of course, no organization can succeed without an effective fundraising strategy or the financial development that enables them to reach their goals. 

But there are a couple of questions you can ask yourself about your organization to determine if your organization is where you want – and need – to be.

Performance Management: Getting Started

Assessing your own performance is key to understanding if your nonprofit organization inspires your community to release generosity in terms of their material, volunteer and financial support. 

The goal of the process is to help you consider:

  • How your organization meets its goals.
  • How your work impacts your community.
  • How you share that impact.
  • How efficiently and effectively your internal processes work. 

As Harry Hertz, director of Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, explains, performance management focuses on helping organizations think about these 3 simple, yet important, questions: 

  1. Is your organization any good? 
  2. Is it getting better? 
  3. How do you know? 

Let’s break that down just a little bit more…

Question 1: Is your organization any good? 

This is a holistic look into every area of your organization to see if your vision of what you do matches up with reality. Your programs need to reflect why your organization exists. 

  • Does your community understand and value the services you provide? 
  • Are you providing unique programs in your community, thus setting yourself apart in your area? 
  • And are your programs meeting the need successfully? 

If you can confidently answer, “Yes!” to all 3 of these questions, then consider your organization good.  

Question 2: Is it getting better? 

I know you’ll be shocked to hear that no organization is perfect… not even yours! There’s always room for improvement – whether it’s with your team members, your clients, your donors, your programs and service offerings, or your outreach to and relationships with your community. 

It’s easy to focus on what you already do well. But performance management consists of assessing your whole nonprofit organization’s health to learn whether your strengths are limited to specific areas and where some extra work could make you even better. 

While this assessment is often handled by Development or Advancement Teams, ideally it should be an effort by your entire organization to realize its maximum potential by:

  • Continuously analyzing the organization’s mission, programs and services.
  • Establishing strategic short-term and long-term goals and objectives for the future.
  • Defining and taking the necessary actions to achieve those goals and objectives.

Question 3: How do you know? 

The best way to gauge your performance is to keep an ongoing, unbiased record for your reference. Data is important, but it’s not always the whole picture. When you’ve performed a service, many organizations assess it as only “successful” or “unsuccessful,” based on quantifiable numbers. But it’s important to also look at qualitative elements to determine success, too. 

For instance, your tutoring program for youth has a goal of 15 students per afternoon… but you’ve only got 10 students right now. Those 10 students, though, have all gone from failing to passing grades at school. So make sure that you measure positive changes in skills and behaviors, as well as just the numbers. 

Once you start assessing your performance holistically, you’ll begin seeing opportunities for improvements in a variety of areas in your nonprofit. And you won’t stop seeing them either! 

The goal is to create a continuous cycle with no ending point. Once you adopt this approach, you’ll constantly see new opportunities, develop a plan to utilize them, and then monitor and improve them… before starting the process all over again to achieve even greater successes.  

As you dive deeper into your organization’s inner workings, you can begin to get a better grasp on how your organization is performing at this exact moment in time, such as:

  • Does your community look to you for information and ideas about your cause? 
  • Do you have a good reputation in your community? 
  • Are you leading your donors – individuals, churches, businesses and foundations – through the “Cycle of Giving”?

Eager to get started? 

Though it can seem like a daunting task, the rewards of performance management can have a far-reaching and long-lasting impact on the work you do. That’s why I urge you to take the time to get started today.

The ultimate goal of performance management is to identify areas of improvement and opportunities for your organization to grow more efficiently and effectively. The more you do it, the more integrated it becomes into your development process and the more integral it becomes to all your stakeholders in making your organization better. 

I firmly believe that by involving everyone in this process – your staff, donors, volunteers, Board and community partners – you’ll also be inspiring them to release their own generosity with confidence. And I can’t wait to hear all about the efficiencies you’ll gain, the incredible impact you’ll make and the lives that will be transformed once you take this process to heart and make your nonprofit organization even better!

Check out last week’s Quick Shot – “Is it time to rebuild your website?”>>

  • Shellie Speer

    Shellie Speer-Burnett, Senior Vice President, BDI Academy

    With over 30 years of partnership in Rescue Missions and nonprofit organizations, Shellie Speer-Burnett brings her expertise, counsel and philanthropic-centered passion to assist in furthering the work of BDI’s Rescue Mission clients. For 22 years of her career, she served as the Founder and President/CEO of her own agency, ENEX Group, which helped her clients capture hearts and donor loyalty in their communities.

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