Merge Strong Traditions with New Vision….Connect the Dots

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    connect the dots 2 13Merge strong traditions and new vision…its the way to go… Once a year, at the end of the year I write a blog article that I post both at Marion Conway-Nonprofit Consultant blog and at my other blog – The Grandma Chronicles. This is my favorite post of the year and it is always a popular post. It is a post in which I reflect on the year coming to an end with examples from my personal and professional life and describe my wish for you for the coming year.

    This year my wish was for merging strong traditions with new vision. I suggested that we use our imagination to make it happen. Imagination is on my agenda for forging a Happy New Year with joy and courage to face what the world brings us. And this is my wish for you. Read my original post to see my personal examples from 2012.

    For the nonprofits I work with, I described 2012 as a year of adapting to the new normal. This has meant adapting programs to new funding realities, new forms of fundraising, getting serious about social media, and new staff finding their sea legs and bringing new perspectives to organizations which – like me – are steeped in tradition. There has been an increased serious interest in strategic planning and desire to discuss vision for the future. It has been a privilege to work with nonprofits as they navigate through these changes. I have been in awe of the leaders of so many organizations I’ve worked with. I have seen difficult situations dealt with and stronger organizations emerge – even if they don’t recognize that yet themselves. It has been inspiring.

    As for 2013, I predict it will beckon more change and need to adapt even more so. And I am hopeful that many nonprofits are up to the challenge. Nonprofits are becoming more nimble and finding their own voice. There is less of this “you should run more like a business” and more of “we need to establish priorities and focus on what we do best.” I see a new energy among Boards and readiness to try new approaches. Like me, many Boards have strong ties to traditions but we both must realize that traditions must find new ways to manifest themselves.

    All this generality is quite nice, but lets get down to a specific.

    Boards – In the last few years there has been a great deal of progress with governance – even for small organizations. Board members are taking this responsibility much more seriously and this is good news. Now what is also happening is that Boards are beginning to wake up to their responsibility for financial management and fundraising. They are connecting the dots…if you approve a budget you also need to ensure that the revenue is there to support that budget. And Behold! That often requires fundraising.

    As Boards ask more questions about the budget and finances they are learning more about what are the gems and millstones around the neck of the organization. Do you know an organization that has this situation? : A longstanding program that serves few people, is poorly funded but is lauded as a shining star of the nonprofit – I know more than one. It frequently is run by someone well respected but the program no longer is the best practice way of serving a need. As Board members ask more questions the sacred cows are being overhauled or put on the chopping block. Sometimes a program can benefit from things like a fresh grant, new marketing, new time frame or new approach. I knew an after school program that ran for four days a week leaving those using it as childcare a day short and those involved with multiple after school programs uninterested. Expanding to five days and offering different “clubs” on each day made the program interesting to more people. Redesign and additional funding rejuvenated the program dear to the heart and mission of this nonprofit.

    When nonprofits find ways to honor the tradition of their programs and infuse new vision into to them they stay healthy. When they let these problem children linger, they can often be on the path to failure – caused by financial issues and harm to reputation among funders, clients and other supporters. This approach – honoring your traditions and infusing new vision can make a difference in the sustainability of a nonprofit.

    Do you have other examples to share? We’d love to hear them – please leave comments.