Monday, March 8, 2010

What Schools and Non-Profits Can Learn from Business About Achieving Goals

I met with the executive director of a local non-profit organization last week. His organization has been grant dependent for years and has a very, very small private donor base. He knows they need to increase communications with the community and build the donor base, but there just isn't time.  The staff is busy providing services. There is no fund development plan, and every time he starts to move forward with private fund development, he makes progress for a while, and then gets distracted by another grant deadline or yet another administrative fire to put out.

I've hear this story so many times that I wish I had a dollar for each time I heard it.  I'd have a nice retirement account built up. I've heard the flip side, too....folks are so busy with private fundraising, donor courting, and program services that they have no time to write grants.

Running several businesses has taught me a few things (often as a result of mistakes I've made, but learning is learning, right?), and one of those things is that there is truth in the phrase, "Failing to plan is planning to fail."

Here's the lesson for schools and non-profits that successful businesses do automatically:

  • Set a measurable performance target.  What do you want to accomplish? Increase your donor base?  By how much?  By when? Raise funds through multiple sources to support a youth program?  How much? By when?  You get the point. You may need to set multiple targets, but don't set too many. You won't be able to maintain focus if you have more than 3-5 goals. If there is one target that is really important, stick to that one.
  • Devise a strategy to meet your target. The problem with most schools and non-profits is that they have been able to continue functioning for years regardless of not meeting outcome targets, so they are not very good at devising realistic and effective strategies for meeting outcomes. Businesses close down if they consistently fail to meet performance targets.  So, devise your strategy as if your job and/or your agency depended on it.  Get some expert advice. Enlist your entire staff.
  • Develop short term and long term action plans to implement your strategy. Assign responsibilities and timelines. This is the list of activities that must be completed to fully implement your strategy. Be very specific.
  • Develop short term benchmarks to make sure you stay on track. Don't just set an annual goal and wait until the end of the year to see if you met it or not. You simply must set interim benchmarks to determine if you're making progress so you can modify your strategy, if necessary.
  • Use your action plans to drive your monthly, weekly, and daily activities. This is the action part.  Make no mistake - if you are not doing something just about every day to get you closer to your goal, you probably won't meet it, and you'll be scratching your head at the end of the year as you make more excuses.
  • Stay focused. Not only do you have to stay focused, but you have to keep your staff focused.  You need to monitor your part of the action plan, as well as the components of the plan for which your staff are responsible.
  • Review your progress frequently. Take time at least monthly to see where you are with the implementation of the plan. Progress updates on the plan should be a standing item on every staff meeting agenda.  It's your job as a leader to keep the staff focused and to demonstrate the importance of assessing progress and changing course, if necessary. If you never talk about the target and the plan, don't be surprised when they quit working toward it.
 This really is how successful folks get from point A (the current situation) to point B (wherever they want to go).  Learn from this and jump on the success bandwagon.

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About Creative Resources & Research

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Woodland, CA, United States
Creative Resources and Research is a consulting firm specializing in grant writing, grant seeking, program evaluation and professional development training. We have worked with hundreds of clients including public and private schools, school districts, universities, non-profit organizations, and social service agencies throughout California, securing over $155 million from federal, state and private foundation funding sources over the past decade. Our primary grant writers and program evaluators have over 50 years of combined experience in the education and social services fields. At CRR we prefer a personal approach to the clients we work with; by developing long term relationships, we are better suited to match client’s needs with available funding sources. We provide a variety of services to help assist you, including grant writing, evaluation consulting, professional development opportunities, and workshops.