Maximizing Your Social Impact: Keys To Success For Nonprofit Leaders Part 2.

Develop partnerships and community support

Partnership is not a posture, but a process – a continuous process that grows stronger each year as we devote ourselves to common tasks – John F. Kennedy

Cultivating connections between a program and community stakeholders is key to success. A nonprofit cannot exist on an island by itself. Partnerships build synergy. Synergistic outcomes result from the effectiveness of leadership, administration, and management, the efficiency of the alliance, and the sufficiency of resources. A synergistic collaboration involves:

  • recruiting a broad range of stakeholders to the group;
  • motivating participants to work together by articulating common goals;
  • empowering the group with a collaborative process to address problems; and
  • encouraging group members to develop relationships with one another and engage in an ongoing discourse (Lasker & Weiss, 2003).

Partners play an important role in sustainability and success in several ways:

  1. They can connect an organization to more significant resources or expertise. They can also complement an organization’s services and serve as an advocate.
  2. Partners can help rally the community around an initiative and its desired outcomes.
  3. Partners can be an organization’s champions and help to tell its story. 

I recommend developing a strategic partnership approach with partners across sectors, including alliances among private, public, and philanthropic organizations, not when you need them for a funding proposal but as you design your program. For example, one of the most extensive nonprofit programs I ran was a responsible fatherhood program. Our partners included: Federal funding agency; State Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation; State Workforce Offices; State Child Support Enforcement Offices; Churches; 2-year and 4-year Colleges and Universities; Career and Technical Colleges; and Employers.

Evaluate your efforts.

Everything that can be counted doesn’t necessary count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted – Albert Einstein

Simply put, program evaluation is assessing program operations and results to determine effectiveness and impact. If you aren’t achieving the results you expect based on your program design, changes may be necessary. Program evaluation helps keep a program on track with desired outputs and outcomes. 

The National Council of Nonprofits and its state association network encourage nonprofits to embrace a culture that supports evaluating the difference your nonprofit is making. This requires first identifying “what does success look like?” Then making a plan that will get you there and collecting information along the way to evaluate whether your nonprofit’s progress is actually getting you closer to success. Finally, it’s important also to communicate what you are discovering, and use those lessons to continuously improve performance. All of this is referred to variously as, “outcomes measurement,” or “performance management,” or simply, “evaluation.”

I highly recommend using a logic model to guide your program design and evaluation. Click here for a logic model I created for the nonprofit I ran for 18 years. A logic model is a systematic and visual way to present and share your understanding of the relationships among the resources you have to operate your program, the activities you plan, and the changes or results you hope to achieve. The term logic model is frequently used interchangeably with program theory in the evaluation field. Logic models can alternatively be referred to as theory because they describe how a program works and to what end. Click here for the logic model design guide from the Kellogg Foundation.

Stay current on sector developments

Nonprofit leaders should always have an annual professional development budget. Attending conferences, reading sector publications and relevant books, joining online peer groups, etc., allow you to network with your peers and learn about best practices and developments in your sector. I believe in being a life-long learner. Aspects of your work are constantly changing, and you want to ensure that you are on the cutting edge.

Keep your word

When you make a commitment, you build hope. When you keep it, you build trust.

Although following through on your commitments sounds simple, it’s a habit that can make or break your credibility as a nonprofit leader. I started as a new, Black nonprofit leader with limited sector experience, working in a poor neighborhood at an organization started by a small church. I earned respect and built trust by keeping my word and following through when I committed. Even though I felt scrutinized by people with power, I used the challenge as an opportunity to show naysayers what I could achieve.

Make continuous improvement a core value

Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection – Mark Twain

Continuous improvement is an ongoing effort to improve all aspects of your organization. These aspects could include your operational processes, services, and products. Regularly reviewing how you work and your purpose will keep you on the cutting edge. Don’t just go through the motions year after year without considering ways to improve and refine. Take a pulse of your organization and be willing to add or subtract as needed. Getting feedback from internal and external stakeholders is one way of gathering information. The feedback process could be formal, for example, an anonymous survey administered by a third party or a series of conversations.

Develop and implement a strategic plan

All activities your nonprofit is engaged in should align with an overarching strategic plan. Strategic planning is the glue that holds program operations and sustainability efforts together. Without a strategic direction and long-term desired outcomes, nonprofits find themselves only reacting to day-to-day demands. 

Strategic plans come in various formats. I have even been a part of a strategic planning process based on a logic model design. In general, strategic planning is an organization’s process of defining its purpose and making decisions on allocating its resources accordingly. Critical components of a strategic plan are vision, mission, desired outcomes (or goals and objectives), and an action plan.

I recommend retaining a third party to facilitate your strategic planning process and secure funding from a funding partner to pay for it.

End of Part 2

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