1. Identify your strengths and align your responsibilities. In his book, "Let My People Go Surfing," Entrepreneur, climber, and founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard professed this simple truth: "Managers have short-term vision, implement strategic plans, and keep things running as they always have. Leaders take risks, have long-term vision, create the strategic plans, and instigate change."
Most board development resources agree that one of the fundamental responsibilities of a nonprofit board of directors is to set the organization’s mission and overall strategy, and to modify both as needed. Yet, I often see boards placing their attention on tactical issues (like laboring over a new logo) instead of pursuing broad strategies for a sustainable future. In order to make the most of 2013, use Chouinard's common sense observation to your advantage. Get your board to take a step back and focus on the big picture, while you let your staff do their job of handling operations and implementing your strategic plan.
2. Focus on building your "business". Dan Pallotta, the author of “Uncharitable,” exposed the unfair rules imposed upon charitable organizations, including the biased view of overhead (investment in infrastructure) as something sinful. Rather than simply asking, “How much of donations will go to programs?” you should consider expanding to a broader discussion about investment and capacity building to achieve more meaningful outcomes and greater impact.
Every successful business takes risks, they invest in themselves, and leverage their vision by investing in people, capital equipment, advertising, and product development. Your organization would do well to do more than spend on program, but to consider how to better solve problems for those you serve, re-evaluate your outcome measurement infrastructure, examine how you reach out to a greater audience and who that audience may be, and to invest in your people.
3. Renew & widely promote your "Theory of Change". Your "Theory of Change" is that set of building blocks that when all lined up lead to a long term goal, desired outcome, or community impact. When a donor clearly understands your process, it becomes a critical link that works to convert a donation into an investment in your organization. When donors become investors, they are consigned to your mission and their personal fulfillment leads to greater funding.
Recently reported by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, "More than four out of five donors conduct research before they give. And many of those donors are looking at your organization's website for information about how their money will support your mission." In a related Chronicle article: "More nonprofits have shown that data collection and analysis can change the way an organization operates and improve its results in fundraising and carrying out its mission…" Refine your process for greater and greater impact and efficiencies in order to maximize every dollar you earn.
Finally, don't leave the public's understanding of your "Theory of Change" to chance. Test market how you explain your process, first among insiders, and then to a larger and larger audience. When people "get-it" and appreciate your theory, it paves the way to a greater recognition of the importance of your work. This, then becomes the value proposition from which you implement tactical marketing initiatives to grow mission and achieve vision.
All the best in 2013!