“The art and science of measuring, managing, and modifying both is the most challenging yet essential part of our work as volunteer and professional staff leadership.”
–Michael Bennett, Executive Director, Daughters of Charity
As we open a new year destined to be filled with challenges and exciting opportunities, we reached out to 20 nonprofit Executive Directors to find out what were the most pervasive issues enlivening their days and possibly causing sleepless nights.
We are very grateful for the excellent response to our request for information, with 18 of 20 Executive Directors responding to our survey questions. They represent nonprofit organizations from Corpus Christi to Dallas, and College Station to Midland. 50% of the Executive Directors represent human service organizations whose missions primarily focus on children, 30% were human service/health organizations with constituencies including adults, the elderly and children, 10% represented arts and cultural organizations and 10% focus primarily on education for young adults. Their organizational annual budgets range from $300,000 to $6 million and professional experience in the nonprofit field ranged from five years to 25 years.
Now that you know a little about them, let’s see what is on their minds for 2016:
100% of the Executive Directors expressed deep concern for the overall sustainability of their organizations’ current programs and services.
90% mentioned their concern at a lack of a succession plan for key staff.
80% stated that overall demand for services were rising, as the margins were decreasing. These Executive Directors represent organizations that receive funding from local, state or federal government sources. In many cases, these funds, per head/per bed are diminishing.
· 70% expressed their desire to expand and grow their programs but are worried that funding will be difficult to find.
· 75% noted that their Board of Directors lack ownership in the organization’s mission.
· 75% also expressed concern at a lack of Board leadership and Board member succession.
These nonprofit executives said that succession planning, sustainability and engagement are the recurring challenges on the local and state level as well as on the national level. When times are good, they said, it is easy to put board orientation, succession planning and fundraising expectations on the back burner, but when the margins tighten, they wish they had made those basic processes more important.
So, how do we turn the tide before we get behind the wave?
We at Bacon Lee & Associates think the solution is two-fold – invest in the organization’s non-programmatic infrastructure and follow best practices in board governance. Investment means ensuring that Boards of Directors have been given clear, consistent expectations—from attendance at meetings to gift getting and giving–and that they receive adequate orientation and training for their role. Investment also means committing to strategic planning, succession planning, and board development.
Nonprofit Executive Directors said that they know that building strong and engaged boards will lead to greater engagement and an increased likelihood for fundraising success, but they also agree that frequently they are so focused on program delivery, that they do not invest in the board processes until their overhead situation begins to get tight.
Resounding in all of the feedback from these strong, wonderful Executive Directors was a deep and sincere commitment to their missions, their service groups, their staffs and to the betterment of their communities.