After more than 20 years working alongside the not-for-profit (NFP) sector, I’ve observed that while the sector is varied, there are common traits affecting NFP organisations that can stifle progress and work against the achievement of strategic goals.
NFPs are generally governed by elected committees - usually volunteers - from within their membership. This governance role is often in addition to holding down a day job. Boards meet infrequently and have sporadic communication in-between meetings.
Time constraints of board members can impact progress. It can be hard to get traction towards goals and resolution of issues. This in turn can lead to frustration and lack of engagement of both board members and membership. There can be a perception that nothing is happening.
Meetings are often taken up rehashing old information and catching people up on where they got to at the last meeting. Depending on the organisation’s constitution, some do not allow for decision-making outside of meetings, so without a delegated authority to act, there is a long wait between decisions.
Many boards get caught up in the detail of the day-to-day issues instead of focusing on strategy. Without a strategic direction there can be a lack of focus and inability to prioritise goals and actions. Day to day operations are the responsibility of management and should not be part of board meetings.
The lack of progress can lead to disillusionment. Board members can feel ineffective, lose motivation and burn out. Members make demands and have expectations of their boards, not understanding the realities of running an organisation from a volunteer base.
Glacial decision-making leads to disillusioned management. The management and administration teams will often feel frustrated and unable to deliver on their goals and targets without the board rubber stamping decisions along the way. This leads to a high staff turnover and perpetuates the already slow progress. In my observation many CEOs and General Managers only last a couple of years, barely getting up to speed, leading to a perpetual cycle of onboarding and under-performance.
It doesn’t have to be this way! Imagine what could be achieved if everybody stayed in their lane and there were clear lines of authority and expectations? Boards should empower their CEO to get on with it and then get out of the way.
There are a number of things boards can do to streamline and improve decision making performance, and gain traction that much quicker. Once a strategic direction is decided and budgets are formulated then the board should delegate authority to their executive officer (if they have one) or specific members of the board to act on the organisation’s behalf to achieve their goals. In my experience, organisations that do this and provided a budget limit for software, have better and faster onboarding, and the organisation is up and running much quicker than those that don’t.
The right technology can make a huge difference to empower a NFP to thrive and grow. For example, our Gecco software has tools for boards to keep track of the history with a quick and easily searchable decisions register, areas accessible to the board to store relevant documents and carry out online discussions between meetings. Gecco provides a range of reports on your membership to help see how well you are tracking against your goals.
Gecco also empowers your management and administration team to work on your strategic goals by automating many of the day-to-day processes. Things like membership renewals and invoicing happen automatically.
If you’d like to find out how Gecco can help invigorate your organisation, contact us for a demo. We’d love to help.