Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Nonprofits as businesses: more effectively connecting mission and vision, strategy and operations 6

Posted in nonprofits, Uncategorized by Timothy Platt on June 11, 2020

This is my 6th installment to a series that I am offering here as a more detailed continuation to a stand-alone posting that I first wrote and posted in 2010 as Nonprofits and Blue Ocean Strategies (see Nonprofits and Social Networking, postings 42 and following for Parts 1-5 of this series.)

I focused on finding, and strategically and operationally developing an effective blend of:

• Best of breed current best practices and
• Potential game changing insights that would offer particular value to your nonprofit

in Part 5, and simply note that both can offer significant and even game changing value to such an enterprise and in both their more routine operational systems and in where they would specifically promote and advance mission and vision goals that are in place.

And I said at the end of Part 5 that I would take its discussion of these issues at least somewhat out of the abstract by offering and discussing a case study example of how that would and would not be done.

I have put some thought into which nonprofit I would turn to for this, from the ones that I have worked with and in some cases explicitly worked for. And I have decided to offer what amounts to a hybrid example, drawing pertinent details from two of them where together they might offer more wide-ranging, hopefully insightful value here.

• Both of those nonprofits seek to offer specific supportive value to particular, mission and vision-specific communities in need, with one focusing on education and the opportunities that can create for people who would otherwise be left out, and the other focusing on healthcare and specific at-risk and suffering communities.
• Both seek to be, and in a fundamental sense both are unique resources and certainly for the specific communities that they reach out to and actively support. So both are at least significantly blue ocean strategy and practice-driven in that sense.
• Both have been around long enough now, and both have garnered enough name recognition for what they seek to do and for what they in fact actually do, to be stable enterprises. (Or at least both were in this position, leading up to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. I will turn from the narrative progression that I have been planning for here in this series, in a next installment to it, to address that challenges that such a disruptive negative can have on any nonprofit, expanding on what I began for that type of discussion with Some Thoughts on Maintaining Funding Support for Nonprofits Through Times of Widely Impactful Crisis.)

But returning to the narrative of this posting from that, both of these nonprofits market to carefully considered and carefully cultivated dual audiences: those who they would reach out to and help through effort to fulfill their respective missions and visions, and those who they would turn to for funding and other support in doing this.

“Other support” is particularly important there, where for example that means the educationally oriented example nonprofit that I write of here, reaching out to businesses that might hire the generally young adults who go through their training program, and who do not have a resume track record to market their employability from. This means developing and carrying through on that training program with the needs of those prospective employers in mind, and it means their offering follow-up support for new hires as they seek to find their way through the novelty of applying what they have just learned in a practical, hands-on business setting and where they do not have all that much prior workplace experience to begin with, of any sort – except perhaps as unskilled or minimally skilled, “disposable because easily replaceable” labor.

Similar dual and more, lines of focus can be found in the marketing and related outreach that the healthcare nonprofit that I cite here has to be engaged in. So both of the specific case nonprofits that I would fit into my hybrid example here, and for all of their other differences, follow the same basic needs and response pattern there. And they are not unique in that.

When I wrote of best of breed approaches in Part 5, and when starting this posting as well, I partitioned them into two buckets: one more oriented towards fulfilling basic business functions with excellence and the other oriented on what makes a nonprofit a functioning nonprofit per se and with a focus on what makes it a unique value creating resource that is worthy of community support for what they do. What I am adding here as I begin putting something of a face to that discussion (or rather parts of two faces to it) is a need to take off any blinders and take a 360 degree perspective on what is done and how. Or take a 720 spherical degree perspective if you want to challenge a flat plane circle perspective there, allowing for a richer, more multi-dimensional perspective in your strategy and planning and in your execution thereof.

Look to the constituencies who you have to reach out to, and think and plan in terms of how best to do so in a coordinated and mutually supportive and reinforcing way. And look for opportunities to make that mutually supportive and reinforcing go two-way. Look for opportunities to create synergies there.

• Who do you seek to help and support?
• Who do you need help from in making that possible and in its widest realistically achievable sense?
• How can you best bring them together with your nonprofit serving as the vital glue that binds and enables there?

I simplified my educational nonprofit side to this hybrid here, only focusing on two of what are in fact many stakeholder constituencies: stakeholder and potential stakeholder communities of importance there. Funding donor communities are obvious additional entries for them but so are businesses that provide used computers and other hardware resources that this nonprofit needs and on a steady ongoing basis. Simply limiting my math metaphor to 720 spherical degrees and pointing in all possible directions in a three dimensional spherical context is not enough.

• A big part of “blue ocean” there means looking in and acting in new and otherwise unconsidered and unaddressed directions.

For the healthcare nonprofit that I would cite here, that has meant actively reaching out to and supporting biomedical research and particularly as that reaches a tipping point of validated impact where it can begin to be translated from the lab in a direction of clinical use.

• This calls for really effective networking into the biomedical research community to even begin to know what might best be supported in that effort, and how and with what project-specific priorities.
• And this means risk taking where a project that is brought into translational research, clinical trials might not work out.
• But one of their efforts in this direction turned what was a death sentence diagnosis into a treatable condition that can be lived with and long-term now.

I m going to continue this discussion in a next series installment, as noted above, by addressing the COVID-19 challenge that nonprofits such as these two now face. Then after that I will consider short-term and long-term as strategic and operational benchmarks. Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at Nonprofits and Social Networking.

Nonprofits as businesses: more effectively connecting mission and vision, strategy and operations 5

Posted in nonprofits by Timothy Platt on April 6, 2020

This is my 5th installment to a series that I am offering here as a more detailed continuation to a stand-alone posting that I first wrote and posted in 2010 as Nonprofits and Blue Ocean Strategies (see Nonprofits and Social Networking, postings 42 and following for Parts 1-4 of this series.)

I have been discussing initial and earliest stage planning and initial follow-through on that in this series, in a nonprofit context. And as a core element of that, I have been conceptually dividing all business activities and processes into two roughly defined but important general categories:

• Basic and even largely generic business activities and functionalities such as bookkeeping and accounting that essentially any business has to carry out whether they operate as a nonprofit, a not for profit or a for profit venture, and
• Business activities that are explicitly mission and vision directed and supportive, and that seek to operationalize the nonprofit’s goals defined realization.

My goal for this series installment is to at least begin a more detailed discussion of that second, nonprofit-defining activities category. Ultimately, it is the activity that arises there, and it is the strategic and operational planning and execution that prioritizes it as representing the core of the enterprise, that makes a nonprofit successful and meaningfully so. And I begin addressing that by posing a question that might at first glance provoke a measure of resistance, and certainly from those who are strongly drawn towards supporting and working for a specific nonprofit:

• What do nonprofits (as in all nonprofits) do?

Why would that question provoke pushback? My answer to that is simple; the people who work with and support specific nonprofits essentially always think of their organization as being unique and for both what it seeks to achieve and how. And there is an element of truth to that. In a fundamental sense, every successful mission and vision driven nonprofit is at least somewhat unique, just as snowflakes are where no two of them ever seem to be exactly the same either and certainly for all of their shape-defining details. So a simple question of that form that would seem to call for a simple standardized response, can easily be seen as being overly simplistic and overtly limited.

• What do nonprofits do, after separating out and discarding from consideration their more strictly supportive, standard business operations and functionalities that any business would enter into, and when you only consider their mission and vision-oriented and supportive activities and their prioritizations for that?

As a general response to that question, most nonprofits provide services that would specifically serve to support, promote and advance the realization of their missions and visions. That said, there are exceptions. And I write that while thinking of nonprofits that serve as sheltered workshops for handicapped individuals who would otherwise be unable to realize independence in their lives – where such a nonprofit provides a place for them to work together as a mutually supportive community, provides training in what they would do there as needed, and that helps them sell what they produce and with as much of what revenue that comes from that as possible going to those artisans. Yes, a nonprofit of this type is also service-centered but from the outside and for anyone who would purchase the fruits of the labor of those supported community members, that same organization can be seen as offering tangible material products too.

I have a specific, very remarkable organization in mind as I write that, that I have visited in Tanzania and seen in action: the Shanga Foundation. (Note: shanga is the Kiswahili word for bead and many of the blind and deaf artisans who work there create beadwork and other glass items – all from recycled materials.)

Now what specifically would your nonprofit do that would as directly and effectively as possible address your specific mission and vision?

• Some of that would be relatively standardized and even for a nonprofit that can best be thought of as being creative and cutting edge. Consider fundraising, and particularly the back-office and information management support systems that feed into it and help sustain it. That means developing and implementing fine honed, tremendously effective tools and systems of them that have been developed across the whole range of nonprofit, not for profit and for profit ventures as arise in what is essentially the entire sweep of industries that serve consumer markets, and in any way. But let’s focus on what makes specific nonprofits stand out, and on their missions and visions that they would accomplish this through.
• I wrote my above-cited blue ocean strategy posting about uniqueness in mission and vision and about building and developing your nonprofit to be unique.
• While there are at least some general categorical considerations that enter into what any given nonprofit does as a nonprofit, each should strive to be unique too; my above-suggested pushback to any suggestion of simple conformity can in fact be justified and good here, and certainly if it means not overlooking or glossing over that fact.
• Now what specific activities and business processes would best define and delineate and support those value creating and defining differences? Focus on them and on making them more cost effective and value creating, and both for your organization itself so as to keep it robustly viable as such, and for the benefit of the target audiences of your mission and vision so you can best fulfill their organizationally supported needs.

And this brings me to the core issues of this posting, and to an adage that I probably use way too often in this blog: the devil is, or at least can be in the details. And as a source of possible case in point examples there, I would cite how this adage can play out when hiring a new senior manager or executive officer, as for example might become necessary with a retirement or if a current high level employee were to leave to take work elsewhere (and most probably with another nonprofit.) Who should you look for? What should you look for in them and from them?

• Hiring success here is not just about finding someone who can offer comfort-level supportive experience from having worked with other nonprofits, or with other types of businesses or organizations.
• Ongoing success that they would be expected to contribute to, should be about finding a best path forward for the specific nonprofit that you are working with and that you are actively trying to support now, and that they will work with too if hired.
• And if you genuinely have a blue ocean strategy and a blue ocean mission and vision oriented nonprofit, it is going to be certain that at least some of the core processes and activities that you (and they) would carry out there, and on an ongoing basis are going to be equally novel too and certainly to any new prospective hire who you might be considering.
• Do not limit yourself to what you would see as the routine and reliable if you are trying to achieve the extraordinary and novel.
• And do not just look for new ideas from experienced professionals who have in-depth experience in other nonprofits and who are perhaps quite justifiably seeking advancement through a move to a new employer (because their now former one, like most nonprofits, has as lean a headcount as possible so there cannot be opportunity for advancement there, no matter how deserved.)
• New ideas from these people might in fact be game changing and particularly if a new hire employee, managerial or hands-on has been dreaming of an opportunity to actually make use of insights that they have never been given a chance at making use of elsewhere. But all too often, they are more variation on standardized ideas and approaches even if they are newer to you and your organization.
• That said, standardized can be good too – and certainly when addressing the needs of the basic, more standardized and even generic parts of the business; consider for example, who you would want as far as skills and experience and basic orientation are concerned when looking for a new Chief Financial Officer.
• Both types of insight and knowledge are important and should be brought in and developed: best of breed current best practices and any potential game changing insights that you might be able to bring into your organization included in that too.
• And for more on this complex of issues, see a concurrently running series that I have been developing and posting here for five and a half years now: Don’t Invest in Ideas, Invest in People with Ideas (as can be found at HR and Personnel – 2.

I am going to continue this line of discussion in a next series installment, where I will take this narrative at least somewhat out of the abstract by way of a case study example. Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at Nonprofits and Social Networking.

Some thoughts on maintaining funding support for nonprofits through times of widely impactful crisis

Posted in nonprofits by Timothy Platt on April 1, 2020

I have been writing about nonprofits in this blog, for essentially as long as I have written about anything here. And I have always considered them as holding a special place for me and in both my professional career and for how I see value in their missions and visions. I have worked with several that I have found inspiring for their goals and dedication, and both in-house and as an outside consultant. And I continue to respect and value them for what they seek to do and for their dedication in making their goals a reality.

So I add this posting to my all too sparse a coverage of this important topic area, out of concern for how so many of them are now faring and for how they will fare moving forward, in the face of a global crisis that we are all now facing. I have also begun writing about that crisis: the global COVID-19 pandemic here. And in a way, this posting seeks to make note of how these two narratives have come to interconnect and for many. See my directory: Nonprofits and Social Networking for links to my other nonprofits-related offerings here. And see Macroeconomics and Business 2, and its postings 365 and following in particular if you would like to review my now-ongoing coverage of this pandemic itself.

My goal for this posting is to discuss funding and the particular challenge that our current pandemic creates for essentially every single mission and vision driven nonprofit organization.

• Nonprofits in general, have to devote at least a specified and generally very large minimum percentage of their overall incoming revenue toward fulfilling their mission and vision, if they are to gain and retain their nonprofit status for tax purposes. This might not be universally true but it certainly is in the United States and in a great many other nations.
• This, among other things, means they have to operate as lean and agile enterprises and for staff size and for what resources they can maintain and have available for use.
• And it can be difficult at best for most nonprofits, and certainly for most smaller or mid-sized ones, to develop or maintain anything significant in the way of cash reserves, or of reserves that can readily be turned liquid.
• Any real interruption in their incoming revenue streams can only be expected to create challenge and even overt crisis under those circumstances. And I add that in a COVID-19 type of situation where social distancing might curtail or even shut down areas of their usual efforts made towards fulfilling their mission and vision, this can mean their being thwarted in fulfilling their mission and vision-directed requirements themselves, even as their funding dries up.
• If the two drop the same way they might still be able to maintain that critical percentage of goals-oriented funds usage to meet the tax law requirements that they face. But that can only be considered a Pyrrhic victory.

And this is a context that nonprofits are increasingly facing as the COVID-19 pandemic that we are all facing, continues to expand outward. What if anything can a nonprofit do to address this challenge and in a way that would hopefully at least lessen its blow for them? How can nonprofits best survive this challenge?

I would begin addressing that by more specifically discussing crises per se. And I do so by characterizing them for how they fit along what amounts to a spectrum of impact.

• Most crises are highly localized and time-limited too. An apartment building catches fire and becomes uninhabitable and with essentially every resident there losing everything that they own beyond the cloths on their backs and whatever few possessions they can take with them as they are rushed out of the building. Or on a somewhat larger scale, a small town in the Midwest is very heavily damaged by a tornado. These can be and generally are devastating to those directly affected, and heart wrenching to their friends and families and regardless of where they are. But they are still small scale when compared to some of the alternatives that might arise and they are time limited and certainly for the damaging events themselves that cause them. After they end, those crises become recovery efforts and nonprofits that would carry out work related to that might even see increased funding and particularly if they actively and open reach out to help and to be part of the solution there.
• Larger crises can also be time limited in this way. And I cite regional flooding along the overflowing banks of larger rivers as an example there. But even events that extend out in time, and with droughts held out as an example there, can have more localized impact on the nonprofit organization community as a whole, only directly impacting on those with missions and visions that would connect to them.
• Then there are those few crises that cross all apparent borders and that would at least seem to directly impact on the many and even on all of us.

I was serving as webmaster for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society on September 11, 2001 when terrorists, operating under the guidance and direction of al Qaida destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City, caused significantly massive damage to the Pentagon in the Washington, DC area and attempted to destroy the White House as well. And that third part of that attack was only thwarted because the passengers of one of those hijacked planes fought back against their terrorist captors and forced them to crash their plane into a field in Pennsylvania.

The world was flooded with repeatedly broadcast images of those two towers going down at the World Trade Center, and with images of chaos and need that resulted. And no one knew if this was simply a first step to a longer and more ongoing assault too.

An incredible wave of concern and support sprang into being out of this, as friends and family members desperately sought word of surviving relatives who would normally be in a World Trade Center building at the time of this attack, and particularly for the many who would be in one of the two towers. Many of us still remember those heart wrenching walls of notes with photos of loved ones that sprang up in so many public places, all asking in their various ways “have you seen …? Is … safe somewhere?” And money flowed in toward recovery efforts and in support of the families that had been devastated by this. And essentially every single nonprofit in the entire United States that did not have an active and directly visible role in that effort, saw its outside funding vaporize and essentially overnight. It did not matter how important their mission or vision or their efforts to address them were on September 10; if they were not visibly part of this solution now, their funding was put on hold as the discretionary income and savings that would have otherwise gone to them, were suddenly redirected.

This attack was an attack on some specific buildings and on the people and organizations located in them, and on their families and communities. But even more compellingly, this was an attack on everyone. And the world responded as such and not only in the United States. Support came in from all over the world in response to that. And a great many nonprofits became collateral damage to those attacks as a result.

The COVID-19 pandemic that we are now facing and with increasing levels of impact hitting us from it every single day, is much worse for how it is impacting on nonprofits in general and for how it will continue to do so. As of now at least, this is an open-ended crisis of massive and still growing scale and reach and with the worst still to come. It is not possible to predict the precise epidemiological details of this crisis going forward, with a variety of competing epidemiological disease progression models competing for our attention. But even the least bad of them still predict devastation.

But one detail that we can be certain of, and that we can predict in all of that, is that this COVID-19 pandemic that we are now facing will cut off nonprofit funding and for most such organizations. It will do so because of its overall economic impact and from how it has evaporated essentially all of the discretionary funds everywhere and for so many, that they could and would otherwise donate. And it will do so as public response to this crisis brings those who can still donate, to redirect what lessened funds they still can give towards addressing the pandemic itself and its immediate consequential challenges.

COVID-19, as such, might very well represent an existential threat to large and even vast numbers of nonprofits everywhere, and certainly as its timeline stretches out and more and more people come to face dire threat to their own finances from it, as well as dire threats to their own health and to the health of their families.

That is the basic problem that I would address here. But my reason for writing and sharing this was not just to outline a challenge that every nonprofit that can be affected here, will be affected by – and that most should already be aware of by now. My goal here is to offer at least a few thoughts as to how nonprofits might re-strategize and re-plan and how they might change their processes and message, so as to become a visible part of the solution to this crisis – where that might prove essential to their survival.

I begin addressing that, the same way I began addressing challenges per se as they might come to threaten nonprofits as collateral damage and on a large scale: with my experience at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

When I first arrived there as a new employee, the Society was trying to find its way out from under a first generation website and online presence that was difficult to navigate, offered very little useful content, did not support donations or fundraising and that centrally broadcast only: not allowing any communications back from the people it sought to help or from their cancer-affected communities. And my first task there, handed to me before I could sit down at my desk there for the first time, was to develop:

• A prioritized list of what was needed in a next generation web site, or at least what was wanted and by as many reachable stakeholders in that as possible, and
• A matching prioritized list of the types of technically-supported resources that would be required to support all of that, and with this and its opportunities and its at-least potential synergies and its challenges helping to set realistic priorities for everything on that first list.

I make note of that because two-way connectedness with social media inclusion and online community building prominently entered into almost everything on that first list, and in ways that could be synergistically implemented for whole sets of those functional goals at the technical level of that second list. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society developed an active online community and an active and agile online donations and fundraising capability to match from this. And the many professionals who supported this resource there, were able to make use of it to maintain very close to pre-9/11 funding levels after that attack, and even during the darkest months right after it as many smaller nonprofits certainly, failed and went under.

• How did we do that? The Society was there to aid and support communities in critical need during those uncertain times. The Society made itself a part of the solution to that larger challenge, even if just a specialized part of it. It kept itself relevant and even vitally so.

Online social media and related resources that the Society made use of then, were still largely new to most nonprofits, as difficult as that might seem to believe now given their current commonality and ubiquity. But they were new or at a lot least newer then and certainly in a nonprofit context. So effective use of them per se could and did make a real difference. But those technologies and the marketing and communications-based processes that make use of them have become so mature as sources of value and use in general, and as sources of fundraising and related marketing value in particular now, that it has become all but impossible for any given nonprofit to make itself stand out as still being worthy of special support, at least on the basis of using Web 2.0 interactive approaches per se – the way that approach could be made to work in 2001 and 2002:

• … unless it is very effectively focused and targeted,
• And unless a given nonprofit using that type of targeted approach can present itself as seeking to offer at least part of the solution to the overall COVID-19 problem, and a meaningful, genuine, significant part of it and for at least one defined community.

What can a nonprofit do that would make it fundable in this way? It needs to at least rethink what it stands for and how to make that relevant in this context and for a specific community that might still be willing to do its part in the face of this crisis, by still offering funding support to it in return.

• I have written of blue ocean strategies here in this blog but that is not what I am referring to here. A most compelling message here might very well mean helping affected people and their communities to restore at least some aspect of their normal lives and with a greater sense of security and stability included for that. If you manage, or at least work at a nonprofit, how could you and your organization reframe its basic message, in ways that are true to what your organization does and has done, but in ways that make it particularly relevant in our current here-and-now reality?

As a final thought here, I add that it is important that you look to your current members and supporters, and that you ask yourself what types of messages might help you to convey this to them. If you cannot find a way to reach out successfully to the people who have already shown that they value what you do, how can you expect to reach out further to new potential funding source audiences? And take the risk of asking. Reach out to your current base and its members and ask how you can be of help to them through all of this. Ask them how you can best be that positive part of the solution to this COVID-19 challenge. And mirror what they share back to you in response, and even with their more commonly repeated wording included as appropriate, where that would help you to make your message address their concerns and their needs, in what you send out in response.

And remember your board of directors members. Most nonprofits have large boards and certainly for their overall organizational size. And most cultivate and include higher level donors into their boards too. Reach out to them with those same questions and both to keep them actively engaged and to gain real insight from them too – as well as possible networking leads.

I am absolutely certain to continue to write about nonprofits here in this blog, and about the COVID-19 pandemic too. Meanwhile, see the above-cited directories for this and for other related postings and series of them that I have offered here.

Nonprofits as businesses: more effectively connecting mission and vision, strategy and operations 4

Posted in nonprofits by Timothy Platt on February 3, 2020

This is my 4th installment to a series that I am offering here as a more detailed continuation to a stand-alone posting that I first wrote and posted in 2010 as Nonprofits and Blue Ocean Strategies (see Nonprofits and Social Networking, postings 42 and following for Parts 1-3.)

I began this series with a focus on mission and vision statements in Part 1. And I then began outlining an initial new nonprofit oriented organizational and development plan from that, in Part 2 and Part 3, by outlining two possible early iterations for how such an organization might be brought from intention into at least initial and early action. And my goal here is to continue to outline and analytically discuss that initial business development process for such an enterprise, and with the same ongoing goal of helping nonprofit founders to operationalize their missions and visions, so as to help make their new organizations succeed and thrive.

I said at the end of Part 3 that I would continue this overall discussion here by at least beginning to delve into the issues of how basic business processes and nonprofit-specific ones, can be more effectively planned out and coordinated. And I noted that that of necessity will mean considering the tasks and goals that they would address, and how they would be prioritized and carried out, and performance reviewed as well. And timing, of necessity enters into all of this, as briefly touched upon in the last working example offered in Part 3 of this series.

I begin delving into all of these issues here, by reiterating a point of detail that I offered towards the end of Part 3, that in fact imposes what might be the most important source of constraints that essentially any nonprofit would face as it is developed and as it pursues its basic strategies and operations and as it seeks to fulfill its mission and vision:

• Legally mandated and defined incoming revenue allocation and usage requirements that tax systems and their underlying laws require be met in order for an organization to be able to claim nonprofit status.

I wrote in Part 3 of at least roughly dividing all operations and supported functions and activities in place in a nonprofit into two at least broadly conceptually distinct categories:

• Basic and even more fundamentally generic business processes and the tasks that enter into them,
• And nonprofit-specific activities that it would support and carry out and on an ongoing basis, that would actually, explicitly serve to fulfill its particular mission and vision, or at least work towards doing so.

The pressures of meeting legal requirements for gaining and retaining nonprofit status play out as these two sources of strategic and operational demand are planned out and executed and as they are performance reviewed and course corrected too. And they play a key role in setting realistic priorities, and on all fronts for what the organization does and how and when it does that.

• I begin this phase of this discussion, as a perhaps loosely organized step three iteration to the business development process that I have been proposing up to here, with the more basic and fundamental business processes of that organizational dichotomy.
• And I assume here that the founders of this organization, working with functional area experts who they bring into their effort, have arrived at a list of which standardized business functions and services they need, and with at least an initial take on what levels and complexities of such activity would be needed and early on in particular there.
• And looking forward for a moment they would also most probably at least begun to consider what of that they would want to at least eventually keep in-house and what they would at least ideally outsource for better cost-effectiveness. This raises a crucially important point:
• A need to simultaneously begin planning for a beginning here-and-now with all of its uncertainties while also thinking and planning, and preparing for what will come next.
• As a newly forming business, and nonprofits are always businesses, the people who collectively frame these discussions and arrive at agreed to business development plans and benchmarked performance steps, will have to plan and prepare for sufficient levels of capability and performance and in all of the areas of activity that they see as essential and from the beginning, in order for their new enterprise to function.
• The good news is that newly forming businesses with their minimal headcounts and a capacity for everyone there to work together coordinately, can succeed and even thrive on the basis of minimally bare bones operations and therefore at minimal operational costs. And personnel and related costs will be minimal at most too, and certainly this early on.
• The bad news is that when such an organization is just getting started they have to do all of this with very little if anything in the way of reserves and with no already realized incoming revenue – besides whatever initial funding that those founders and any enlisted early donors if any, might provide. And any such initial funding has to be considered as one time only, non-recurring income as a conservative point of consideration.
• And once again, I raise the specter of that nonprofit defining cash flow to mission and vision requirement that I made repeated note of above here. This compels nonprofits to develop and run as lean enterprises with no room for any “excess” beyond the essential for their business operations or their supporting facilities allowed. That, of necessity means lean for everything from physical facilities such as office space and their expenses, to equipment and other physical resources, to personnel with a need to maintain as small an employee headcount as possible and at all levels of the table of organization. And as this organization develops and grows and begins to face a need to acquire informational and other nonphysical resources too, and to maintain them, this lean as a necessary requirement will affect them there too. But that last detail would not likely become significant at first and only emerge as a major factor as this nonprofit grows as a working venture.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will turn to and consider nonprofit-specific activities and their functional support and fulfillment in this type of context. And I will of course also at least begin to discuss how these two categories of need and its fulfillment would be coordinated and balanced too, and how that would be benchmarked and performance reviewed. Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at Nonprofits and Social Networking.

Nonprofits as businesses: more effectively connecting mission and vision, strategy and operations 3

Posted in nonprofits by Timothy Platt on November 26, 2019

This is my 3rd installment to a series that I am offering here as a more detailed continuation to a stand-alone posting that I first wrote and posted in 2010: Nonprofits and Blue Ocean Strategies. See Nonprofits and Social Networking for links to that earlier posting and topically related ones, and to this series’ Part 1 and Part 2, for relevant background material for what is to follow here.

I began this series with a focus on mission and vision statements, and began addressing the issues of building a nonprofit around them, and in support of them in Part 2. And as a part of that, I offered a briefly sketched outline of how the first steps of that business development effort might be organized and carried out, as a step by step progressively, iteratively refined process. And for smoother continuity of narrative, I offer an edited and expanded version of that initial draft business development punch list here, as my goal for this posting is to at least begin to build from it as a starting point for actually launching and beginning to run a new nonprofit:

• An initial perception of significant need is brought into a goals-defined focus through the drafting and sharing of an explicit mission statement and its corresponding vision statement, and at least as first draft efforts. They come from one or more people who serve as the founding drivers and motivators of what they would hope to become a successful nonprofit enterprise. And for most such nonprofit founders, these defining statements would seek to encapsulate the core goals and the core sources of impetus for striving to fulfill them, that would personally motivate those founders to try and build such an enterprise in the first place.
• As a next and still largely conceptual step, the initial founders of this now-emerging organization, working with others as needed and as enlisted into this venture, begin to build a strategy oriented map for their organization for how to work towards achieving its now-defined goals.
• These steps would overlap in their development and execution and from very early on, and both with each other and with a beginning to actual organization-building where at least high level operational considerations would start to be addressed – and as I stress, while the issues of the first two bullet points here are still being worked upon.
• Reality checks and iterative co-development of necessary steps in all of this, is a key to realizing what could become longer-term success and for making that possible.
• Mission and vision and their precise details and wording, and organizational strategy and its operational development as both might be executed upon, should all still be in flux here, with the real-world constraints of what is and is not possible, at least for now, helping to bring them into practical focus, and with an initial-take at mapping out short and longer-term prioritizations and step-by-step goals started here too.
• Here, idealism and practicality have to be brought into a sufficiently close enough working alignment, so as to allow this venture to actually launch, with longer-term more idealized and aspirational aspects of the overall goals desired, set aside – for now, but with them always kept in mind nevertheless. Practicality and the possible have to guide here.
• Look for smaller pieces of the overall puzzle of your nonprofit’s intended mission and vision statement, that you can work towards now and from early on, and even when you still have a very limited resource base, limited pre-established name recognition definitely included. And cultivate the success that you can achieve in your work towards such an initial smaller-task goals list, to both garner name recognition for what you do, and for what you can do and seek to do, and to validate your capability of success going forward.
• Start small and focused, and strategically so, and with a goal of making a name for your organization that you can build to justify from.

The above-stated second draft version of this earliest business planning and development stage, to-do punch list addresses mission and vision statements and strategy and operations as they would be coordinately developed and iteratively brought into coordinated focus and from day one on. I began this series, and offered the blue ocean strategy posting that has served as a source of inspiration for it, with a focus on mission and vision statements, so my goal here is to develop and elaborate upon the issues raised in the above list, with a focus on emerging and developing strategy and operations (and how they feed back into and support and help refine larger mission and vision goals too.)

Most of the time, I would start with strategy as a fundamental organizer of effective operational execution, and as an essential framework for its development and execution. But for purposes of this series and its developing narrative, I would begin with operations instead, and with a goal of clarifying what an effective strategy would have to address here and in this type of new-venture, nonprofit context. And I begin that by roughly dividing all operational considerations that would with time be developed as working business processes and systems of them, into two broadly defined categories:

• Basic and even more fundamentally generic business processes and the tasks that enter into them, that essentially any working business is going to have to carry out and effectively, if it is to succeed, and
• The nonprofit-specific activities that it would support and carry out and on an ongoing basis, that would actually, explicitly serve to fulfill its particular mission and vision, or at least work towards doing so.

Basic business processes as envisioned here include essentially everything that is categorically carried out by a business organization in general, and regardless of whether it is run as a for-profit, a nonprofit or a not-for-profit venture. And that includes among other functional areas, finances and accounting, information technology, human resources and personnel services, basic marketing functions, building and facilities maintenance, supplies acquisition and management and more. And it can even include functional services such as sales and even in a nonprofit context, if for example a particular nonprofit seeks to support members of an underserved special needs community and in ways that would help its members to live more independently, through the sale of their arts and crafts, or their fine arts productions. (Yes, that is a very specific and specialized case in point example, but I chose it at least in part because it is. Look for special case or unusual approaches that your nonprofit venture could pursue that would set it apart, as proposed from my initial blue ocean strategy posting in this progression of them on.)

Reconsidering that from a second prospective, I offered that final “business generic” categorical, sales department example to illustrate how the two basic categories that I just offered above: basic and nonprofit-specific can overlap in practice, even as they can legitimately be considered at least as being categorically distinct from each other too. And this brings me to a crucially important point that I will build from as I continue this series:

• Basic and even generic business processes and their effective design and execution are essential if any organization is to succeed and thrive, nonprofit or not. But the nonprofit-specific activities carried out, functionally define the organization and serve to benchmark its success as a nonprofit as it seeks to present itself as working toward achieving its overall mission and vision goals and to their inspirational and aspirational fullest.
• And this means that these two sides to a nonprofit have to be closely coordinated and fully supportive of each other, and even when that means their fundamentally shaping each other and helping to set each other’s priorities in any given here-and-now.

To take that out of the abstract, tax laws as enacted and enforced in a wide range of legal jurisdictions, the United States definitely included, require that at least some fixed minimum percentage of all incoming revenue received, specifically go towards fulfilling that organization’s declared mission and vision if it is to qualify as a nonprofit for tax liability purposes. And that minimum is always set as a large and significant percentage of all overall revenue received and from all sources.

The implications inherent to that example are profound and far reaching, in and of themselves, for how this type of fiscal requirement would shape everything from overall possible staffing headcount and hiring policy, to the priorities and timing possible for any cost-center activity, or any profit center-oriented activities for that matter, In that regard, consider acquisitions that would have to be made to build out or develop what would become a true “profit center”, or at least positive cash flow center for a nonprofit, and certainly where delays would be involved between when those necessary resources would be acquired and paid for and when they would begin to effectively pay for themselves and generate positive cash flows. (Here, think of positive cash flow and profits as revenue generated that can be expended towards fulfilling mission and vision goals. And in that, I argue a case for thinking of even the most idealistic nonprofits as businesses and in the true sense of that word, and just as their for-profit counterparts are.)

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series where I will at least begin to delve into the issues of how basic business processes and nonprofit-specific ones, can be more effectively planned out and coordinated. And that of necessity will mean considering the tasks and goals that they would address, and how they would be prioritized and carried out, and performance reviewed as well. And timing, of necessity enters into all of this, as briefly touched upon in that last working example. Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at Nonprofits and Social Networking.

Nonprofits as businesses: more effectively connecting mission and vision, strategy and operations 2

Posted in nonprofits by Timothy Platt on September 18, 2019

This is my second installment to a series that I am offering here as a more detailed continuation to a stand-alone posting that I first wrote and posted in 2010, that has recently been garnering a significant amount of attention: Nonprofits and Blue Ocean Strategies. See Nonprofits and Social Networking for links to that earlier posting and topically related ones, and to this series’ Part 1, for relevant background material for what is to follow here.

My above-cited blue ocean strategy posting was about carving out a defining niche in the nonprofit world: as working towards a mission and vision that a significant share of an overall community would find compellingly important to support, while addressing what might legitimately be seen as unmet and unaddressed needs. It was, and is about finding and presenting mission and vision statement goals that a potentially supportive community could see as both important to them, and fresh.

Part 1 of this series, in turn, raised a challenge, there posed independently of any consideration of newness or freshness in what those mission and vision statements would seek to fulfilled, that nevertheless enters into fulfilling the goals of that earlier posting. Shifting its initial line of discussion to a more explicitly better-nonprofit perspective:

• How can you best develop and draft these organizing statements as practical goals and as goals that might realistically be addressed and worked towards, and by you and your nonprofit in particular?

I raised a perhaps more mundane retail store example in Part 1, as a simplified role model example of how an operationally oriented mission and vision statement might be framed, in order to more clearly state my intentions there and for here. And I ended that posting by posing an at least simple sounding question:

• How can the leaders and the employees and the volunteers as well, who contribute so much to their nonprofits, make them more strategically clear-cut and operationally focused too, and in ways that are more effective in working towards fulfilling their missions and visions as a result – like my above-noted retail business shoe store example, but without sacrificing any of the inspirational qualities or values of their overall nonprofit-oriented mission and vision goals and aspirations?
• And matching that question and expanding upon it, how can they do this in ways that would make their efforts more compelling as being worthy of support, to an outside community audience?

I began this series with a focus on the mission and vision statements in place, that would serve as both goal and road map for a business in general and for a nonprofit in particular, or that at the very least would help keep any road map followed, leading in a right direction for them. And my goal here in this Part 2 installment is to step back from the mission and vision statement of Part 1 itself, to at least begin to strategically and operationally map out how to do this, at least in general terms. And I begin this by openly acknowledging a crucially important point, that probably ultimately applies to essentially any nonprofit that seeks to achieve genuinely significant societal goals, and that is not set up as a short-term, here-and-now only, focused venture. And yes, significant societal goals are rarely here-and-now short term focused or limited so that was repetitive.

Bottom line, this means that essentially any nonprofit that is really worth supporting and certainly long-term, is going to have a largely, if not entirely aspirational mission and vision statement-framed, ultimate goal and in spite of what I offered in Part 1. That said, making those statements and all that support them, functionally better organized and both strategically and operationally, can be realistic and achievable goals, even if ongoing process-defining ones.

Let’s at least start that discussion and begin fleshing out the points made up to here in this posting, by taking a more cause-and-effect approach to the challenge that I am raising and discussing here, which I would organize and present in at least loosely time frame terms:

• An initial perception of significant need is brought into a goals-defined focus through the drafting and sharing of an explicit mission statement and its corresponding vision statement, and at least as first draft efforts.
• As a next step, the initial visionary driver, or drivers of this now-emerging imperative, working with others as needed with for example, organizational skills and experience, and initial financial backing, begin to build a strategy oriented map for how to work towards achieving this.
• These steps overlap and from very early on, with a beginning to organization building efforts made and with at least high level operational considerations starting to be addressed as the issues of the first two bullet points here are still being worked upon.
• Iterative co-development of necessary steps here, is a key to what could become longer-term success.
• Mission and vision and their precise details and wording, and organizational strategy and its operational development as both might be executed upon, should all still be in flux here, with the real world constraints of what is and is not possible, at least for now, helping to bring them into practical focus, and with an initial take at mapping out short and longer-term prioritizations started here too.
• Here, idealism and practicality have to be brought into a sufficiently close enough working alignment, so as to allow this venture to actually launch, with longer-term, more idealized and aspirational aspects of the overall goal set aside – for now, but with them always kept in mind nevertheless.
• I always tell people who are starting a new job, to look for and work to achieve early successes and from as early on in their initial new hire probationary period as possible, in order to set themselves up for longer-term success there. That same basic principle applies here too. Look for smaller pieces of the overall puzzle of your nonprofit’s intended mission and vision statement, that you can work towards now and early, and even when you still have a very limited resource base, limited pre-established name recognition definitely included. And cultivate the success that you can achieve in your work towards such an initial smaller-task goal, to both garner name recognition for what you do, can do and seek to do, and to validate your capability of success going forward.
• Start small and focused, and strategically so, and with a goal of making a name for your organization that you can build to justify from.

This is where the approach that I offered in Part 1 becomes important, and for several reasons:

• Well drafted mission and vision statements can in fact serve as the seeds to strategically and operationally expandable, functionally viable organizations, where vague and undirected ones rarely do and certainly on their own.
• And at the same time that such organizing statements can do this in helping to develop a nonprofit for what it does and how, as viewed perhaps from within, well drafted mission and vision statements can serve as effective marketing and outreach tools too, for cultivating and developing community support.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will begin to flesh out the development outline that I have just offered here as a bullet pointed list. Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at Nonprofits and Social Networking.

Nonprofits as businesses: more effectively connecting mission and vision, strategy and operations 1

Posted in nonprofits by Timothy Platt on July 11, 2019

I have written over 2,600 postings to this blog as a whole as I write this one, but I have only added 41 of them up until here, to my specifically nonprofit-oriented directory: Nonprofits and Social Networking. And looking back at this ongoing flow of new content here, that strikes me as being at least somewhat of an anomaly. I make note of that here and in that way, because working with nonprofits has been so critically important to me in my work life and professional career path. I am drawn to working with businesses that have good people, and that strive to fulfill positive missions and visions. And good nonprofits tend to develop around both.

Much of what I write in my Business Strategy and Operations directory (in its Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4 and Page 5 listings), applies equally fully to for-profit, not for profit and nonprofit businesses, and certainly as I address all of them as they would more effectively follow business model approaches per se. But I have not added as much as I could have and not as much as I probably should have, that would focus on nonprofits in particular in all of this. Then something I did not expect began to happen. All of a sudden I began seeing visitors to this blog, clicking to view the admittedly sparse, explicitly nonprofit content that I have included here, and one posting in particular as an apparent emerging favorite, and with readers of it coming from North and South America, Africa, Europe and Asia: Nonprofits and Blue Ocean Strategies.

I have been thinking a lot recently, about adding a new series to this directory that would build from that and related postings already available here, as I think back over my nonprofit work experience and about how these organizations do and do not effectively succeed as businesses per se, and in addressing their missions and visions as a consequence. And this more recent readership interest in my blue ocean strategies posting in particular, has given me the impetus to begin this new series now, rather than wait on it as I continue working my way through the ongoing collection of more business model-agnostic series, that I am already developing and offering here. So with this posting, I increase my actively under-development list of posting series by one again.

And I begin this first posting to it proper, and this series as a whole by stating the obvious: nonprofits, if coherently functionally organized and viable at all as potential ongoing enterprises, are always mission and vision driven. They are set up and run with a long term goal in mind that is defined by the terms of their particular mission and vision statements and those statements form their hearts and souls. And it is almost a truism that a nonprofit mission and vision are going to be long-term and even fundamentally open-ended in nature, as end goals. They can in fact be fundamentally unachievable, at least as absolute goals and more properly serve as aspirational direction pointers, in intent and in practice.

• “End world hunger.”

That overarching absolute goal might be the core message of a nonprofit’s mission and vision. But realistically that organization’s ongoing actionable goal is going to be to help feed the hungry who it can effectively reach out to and connect with, and in ways that at least ideally are self-sustaining for them.

• “Cure cancer” (as in all cancer.)

This may in fact be an attainable goal, some day and even in the world’s least served communities and among its most marginalized people. But realistically, this is a multi-generational goal as are others like it, for their far-reaching and open-ended scope of intent and of proposed action. Any nonprofit that sets out to fully realize this lofty goal is going to, of necessity, plan and work towards fulfilling step by step parts of this seemingly endlessly large and endlessly complex puzzle.

For-profit and not for profit businesses often have missions and visions too, and in principle at least virtually all of them do, at least as roughly considered points of intention. But these mission and vision statements tend to be very different in nature, and certainly when for-profits are considered there, and certainly when they are more formally thought through and written out. Consider the following:

• “Build and run the best shoe store on the planet: the very best shoe store possible.”

The How of curing all cancers or of definitively ending world hunger are still works in progress for even mapping out categorically what should be: what would absolutely need to be done in order to genuinely, completely fulfill them. For the world hunger example, how much of that effort (and at what stages of its fulfillment) should center on developing new crops that can grow in what are currently marginalized environments for agricultural production? And even just considering food production per se here, and setting aside the issues of wider food access and distribution among others, how much of this effort should go towards preserving the environment, through efforts to preserve or even improve soil quality, and water supply and with better buffering in place to protect against the extremes of drought or flood?

Ending world hunger is an aspirational mission goal. And any simple-to-state mission or vision statement like it is in most cases more likely to reflect overall long-term intent, more than it does any more here-and-now operationally specified goal, as could be explicitly encompassed in some timeframe-specified strategic plan or its more here-and-now execution. My shoe store example, on the other hand is more readily applicable as an explicit operational goal; it is more of a briefly stated functional road map, or at least more of an explicit pointer to one. And in this, effective strategy and the operational and other business practices that are developed out of it, can be seen as fleshing out that business’ (admittedly very ambitious) overall long-term goal.

Let’s consider that shoe store in a bit more detail, starting with a simple question, at least for its asking, that the above retail mission statement all but compels. What would the owners and employees of a shoe store need to do, and how would they best do that, in order to make their store really good and even great, and even an at least possible best of the best that they could achieve?

• Obviously, a great retail store needs great merchandise to sell. This in turn means good product design and selection, and high production quality. And it is not going to matter if this store sells the best when it has that in stock, if it cannot reliably have the items their customers would want, in stock. So good, great and best here call for effective supply chain systems and access to the best manufacturers through them, and on an ongoing, reliable basis.
• Price is important here too, so developing and maintaining good contractual relationships with suppliers, for price points and other terms of sale issues enters into this.
• But having the right products and even having them at the right prices is still only part of this puzzle as compacted into that brief above-offered shoe store mission statement. The physical location and the store size and layout are important too. A potentially great store that few can actually get to, posing this in bricks and mortar storefront terms, is not going to succeed very well and even if it has everything else working for it. Location can be king here.
• And the storefront itself, once reached, has to be open and easy for a customer to navigate in, and comfortable to shop in and as stress free for its customers as possible. I distinctly remember walking into a large sporting goods store once just to turn away and leave, and almost immediately – because the volume of the teen consumer-oriented music was so loud that it was literally physically painful! And looking around before leaving, I did not exactly see all that many actively engaged teen shoppers there anyway.
• And this brings me to the sales managers and the sales personnel and others who work with them there and who their customers would actually see and interact with, and both in finding the products that would best meet their needs, and in making purchases there. Training and support need to be great for them if that store is going to be great for their customers. And this brings me to the back-office support staff that this business would need and have too, and their training and support, and with effective communications systems available throughout the store and with all in-house stakeholders there, connected in.

My goal here has not been to exhaustively outline the operational details or functioning of a retail store. It has been to point out how, unlike ending world hunger or curing all cancer, it is known and in detail, how to build and run an effective retail business. So an effective mission statement for that type of enterprise can in fact be a fairly direct call to action, and with a large and complex set of what are at least in principle, achievable strategic and operational goals built into it.

Now, how can a nonprofit, with its more intrinsically open-ended, aspirational mission and vision statements, frame them and itself as an organization too, so as to be more directly achievable? At the risk of offending those who aspire to mission and vision greatness, as offered in my cancer and hunger examples, how can the leaders and the employees and the volunteers as well, who contribute so much to their nonprofits, make them more strategically clear-cut and operationally focused too, and in ways that are more effective in working towards fulfilling their missions and visions as a result – like that shoe store, and without sacrificing their overall mission and vision goals and aspirations?

My goal for this series is to at least shed some light on how that question can be better answered. Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at Nonprofits and Social Networking.

Offering a unique value proposition as an employee 27: nonprofits, not for profits and for profits 2

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development, nonprofits by Timothy Platt on October 3, 2013

This is my twenty seventh posting to a series on offering defining value as an employee, and on presenting yourself as the answer to problems faced while doing so (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 311-336 for Parts 1-26.)

I began explicitly discussing working at nonprofits, not for profits and for profits in the context of this series in Part 26. My focus there was on how businesses hire, selecting employees to meet their perceived needs. And as a part of that, I at least began a discussion of a set of issues that would go into widening your career options across business types and industries so that you can be a good candidate for a wider range of work opportunities. This is particularly important in a tight job market and in a time of workplace and economic transition:

• That any candidate looking for work
• Or looking for advancement opportunities,
• Or simply looking to retain ongoing employment,
• Know how to better present themselves for the flexibility and general utility and value of what they can do, and for where they can offer significant value as an employee.

I said at the end of Part 26 that I would continue its narrative here, by more fully discussing for profit, not for profit, and nonprofit workplaces and working in them. And I begin that by repeating that businesses and organizations hold a great deal in common as to basic needs and processes and regardless of industry or business-type specializations. Every business, or at least every one that offers at least something unique as a product or service, or that pursues a customized process or work flow methodology, can be said to have its specializations and even its unique qualities. This applies much more widely than just to companies that happen to hold and maintain explicit trade secrets. But businesses and organizations, and even those businesses hold much in common too, that go way beyond simply following a same set of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) for their accounting and bookkeeping. And that is where opportunity becomes available for careers that span industries and other specialization barriers.

I begin here with consideration of points and areas held in common, and then consider differences and how to better address them in job search and career planning and execution.

• One of the points that I have repeatedly raised in the context of nonprofits and working for them is that they face fiscal and cash flow constraints,
• That force them to limit payroll and headcount as much as possible, and still get all essential tasks completed, while still keeping all essential ongoing operations running.
• This means that everyone who works at a nonprofit has to be prepared to take on a very wide range of responsibilities, and certainly when compared to corresponding job descriptions at a for profit that is operating in a more normal competitive environment.
• But “normal” in that last bullet point should probably be seen more as the “old normal” where for profit businesses of all types are also increasingly pressed to be as organizationally lean and agile as possible now. So where this might have once been more a defining quality of nonprofits, it is increasingly just a defining quality of “competitive” per se and for any type of business organization.
• Every employee and every job candidate seeking to become one, should present themselves as being flexibly capable of doing more and taking on wider ranges of responsibility than their peers would, who they are competing against.

Picking up on one of the key words that I have been using here, as of this writing we are facing an inconsistently growing and rebounding economy with hiring still lagging behind the rebounds and improvements that have been achieved in productivity and profits. As I have discussed in addendum postings to my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development and its Part 2 continuation page:

• Some of this discrepancy comes from outsourcing within the same country with specific tasks going to specialty businesses,
• Some might be going to countries where labor costs are lower, and with a primary goal of capturing savings from that,
• Some of this work is disappearing from human hands entirely and into automated systems, and
• Some is simply disappearing as no longer needed at all, except perhaps occasionally or at very low headcount requirements – with that largely outsourced and on its way to being automated away.
• Work that is outsourced, or where third party consultants or contract workers are brought in to do it rather than having it done by in-house employees, is increasingly going to consist of tasks and responsibilities that may be required by the hiring business, but that fall outside of its immediate areas of functionality that are focused on maintaining its competitive position.
• Work that would more explicitly define and support their sources of direct marketplace value and certainly work that would maintain unique sources of such value that they can offer – work that would fit into and directly sustain a business’ core capabilities should remain in-house.
• For professionals who seek to develop ongoing career paths, understanding and addressing these issues means knowing whether the tasks that you would primarily do are central and in-house for a business that you might work for, or more peripheral and either subject to being outsourced completely or turned over to consultants – or likely to be moved out of in-house by one of these routes.
• So when I wrote my first set of bullet points for this posting, above, I was not simply writing about doing lots of things and more indiscriminately as to range of tasks and skills addressed. I was writing about selecting and cultivating a coordinated suite of skills and experience that businesses would need to hire for, and either in-house and full-time, or consistently and reliably through these other (non-automated) channels such as consultants.
• And I would think through whether your work and skills and experience progression would lead you more towards in-house or consulting or outsourcing firm employment. And I would recommend here, that you keep your wider range of options open even if you do preferentially prefer as of now to pursue one of them (e.g. working in-house for stable mid-sized for profits in your general area of skills specialization and with a suite of skills that would help you get and stay employed in that.)

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will look into specialist and generalist roles, and into parsing the overall job requirement into general and specialty-knowledge and skills. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2 and at its first Guide directory page.

Offering a unique value proposition as an employee 26: nonprofits, not for profits and for profits 1

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development, nonprofits by Timothy Platt on September 28, 2013

This is my twenty sixth posting to a series on offering defining value as an employee, and on presenting yourself as the answer to problems faced while doing so (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 311-335 for Parts 1-25.)

I have been writing consistently and repeatedly in this blog about working for and leading businesses. And I have distinguished between for profits, and nonprofits and not for profits throughout that, though I add that I do tend to group businesses that do not explicitly seek to create overall profit together, as much of what I have been writing that would apply to one of them (e.g. nonprofits or not for profits) applies to the other as well. This is at least in part from the way that the two both tend to attract very idealistic and mission-driven people, and both as employees and as outside supporters, and for the way that they tend to follow similar overall business model patterns. For references related to all three basic workplace and business model categories see Business Strategy and Operations and its second page and third page listings for that directory, and Nonprofits and Social Networking.

• When I write about offering unique value as an employee, at whatever level on a table of organization, I often write about what a person explicitly brings to the table.
• But it is exactly as important to consider where they would do this – what table they would bring their skills, experience, drive and enthusiasm to.
• It is at the very least a great deal easier to find and develop a meaningful and satisfying career path if you always, at least wherever possible, seek to find opportunities where the two: what you would offer and where you would offer that, mesh together smoothly.
• That is the topic for this posting, and seeking out good and even best fits that would enable you to be the best that you can be on the job, and for every position that you hold along your career path.

I am going to at least start this discussion from what might be considered the hiring practice fundamentals of businesses and organizations of all three basic categorical types:

1. Businesses and professional organizations hire and take on the responsibilities, expenses and risk of bringing in new employees in order to meet pressing needs that they cannot adequately address with their employees already in place, and where they do not see it as being cost-effective to either outsource or do this work through hired consultants or do without it.
2. So when a business hires and brings a new employee in-house, one of its chief goals is going to be to bring in someone from within their industry, and with all of the required, and even all of the wish-list desired skills and experience – so they can be brought up to speed and cost-effectively contributing their effort as quickly and smoothly as possible.
3. But many skills, and even many of the most crucially important for any given industry, company and position opening, have counterparts in other businesses and even in very different industries, and the core skills requirements for effectively exercising specialty skills are in many cases transferable too.
4. A great deal of value can accrue to a business from hiring more widely than just from within its own industry and its own precise types of business within that. This is particularly true when a hiring company is faced with change and needs fresh eyes and perspectives, and not simply its own familiar tried-and-true as coming in with a fresh face.
5. But there is a pronounced conflict between the requirements of Points 2 and 4 here. A hiring business may need new and fresh ideas and perspectives and it might benefit best from looking further afield than its own pool of successful employees for role models when hiring. But the rapid returns-at-minimal-risk requirements of Point 2 can and usually do dictate not finding and recruiting and bringing in new hires who in fact could bring in those fresh ideas and perspectives needed as that would require hiring less familiar types of employees, with the increased risks that this entails.

I have worked with for profits, not for profits and nonprofits and I have worked with others who have successfully made these transitions. It is possible to do this and to build a fruitful and satisfying career path that bridges these business-type distinctions and barriers. I have also worked with people who have made long and successful careers working entirely within one of these categories, and either with one employer or with a succession of them.

• I see it as important that people in general, understand the dynamics of these options and what would go into transferring between them, if for no other reason than because this affords greater insight into these three options in their own right.

And my explicit goal for the balance of this posting is to offer tools for better and more fully understanding industry and business-specific skills, and general transferable skills, and how to better present what you do more successfully to most effectively serve your needs and regardless of audience.

• Know what you can do, and know that what you most enjoy doing and what you do best.

This is not always obvious to us and particularly when we so often find ourselves focusing on specific hands-on and technical skills, and find ourselves overlooking more general interpersonal and communications, and other perhaps softer skills.

• Even if you start out listing your hard skills, and I do recommend writing this down as a list that you develop over a period of time, be sure to include the soft, people skills that you have too.
• Now think about what goes into each of them, and where you have listed indivisible single skills and where you have in fact listed complex work and experience areas that in fact represent sets of distinct skills. The goal here is to more fully think through and understand who you are professionally and what you can and do bring to the table with you. Job candidates and employees who understand themselves more fully are in a much better position when looking for new job opportunities, working with a business at a position there, or seeking out opportunity for career advancement with a move that for them, would be to their next best work position.
• And if you do find yourself looking for opportunity to cross a divide, for example between for profit and nonprofit, really understanding what you can do and what you do best and enjoy doing best. Really understanding the requirements of the position that you seek out, and knowing how to best present what you can do in terms of transferable skills – in terms that this prospective employer would see as valuable to them, can make the difference in making you their best candidate. With this point, I specifically cite my series: Finding Your Best Practices Plan B when Your Job Search isn’t Working (in my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, postings 56-72 for Parts 1-17) and I specifically recommend doing the series of exercises presented in its postings as they collectively comprise a complete strategically planned job search campaign.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will more specifically discuss for profit, nonprofit and not for profit workplaces and finding a best fit to match your skills and experience, your personality and your long-term needs and goals. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2 and at its first Guide directory page.

Offering a unique value proposition as an employee 24: in-house advancement along a career path versus advancement through moving on

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development, nonprofits by Timothy Platt on September 18, 2013

This is my twenty fourth posting to a series on offering defining value as an employee, and on presenting yourself as the answer to problems faced while doing so (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 311-333 for Parts 1-23.)

I have discussed a fairly wide range of issues and challenges, and learning opportunities as well in this series and throughout my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development and its continuation page. When I address the issues of this posting, I take on the task of clarifying and offering insight as to one of the most challenging and difficult topic areas that any of us is likely to face in our career path, to the extent that we explicitly acknowledge and face this at all:

• Pursuing in-house career advancement where we are working in our here-and-now, or looking elsewhere for advancement and pursuing it as part of a job change,
• And understanding the pros and cons of these two alternative paths, for us as we are positioned now and as we think and plan ahead.

One of the primary reasons why this is so difficult a set of issues is that we slip so easily into work and workplace ruts, and we grow complacent there. Experience shows that this is more the usual pattern even when a business that employs us is slipping and running into problems. Experience shows that even when the warning evidence was clear, in retrospect, many of us even fail to see a downsizing coming – until we arrive at work and find our computer login doesn’t work and there is a note on our desk asking us to report as soon as we arrive to someone in HR. I am very intentionally putting this in stark terms; most of us, most of the time come to take our current work and our current job for granted. And this, long term, is always a mistake. If this form of blindness does not literally put us out on the street without an immediate Plan B for getting back into the workforce again, it is at the very least quite likely to limit our career planning and development capabilities and stunt our long-term professional and career development.

So I begin here by stating flatly that this posting is very largely about looking directly and clearly in what for many if not most of us, would qualify as uncomfortable directions. Changing jobs is scary. But if we do not think and plan at least in part for the possibility of having to do that, it is certain that any job change that we do have to go through will arrive with us unprepared and in terms that we cannot negotiate or shape to meet our needs – at least with anything like the ease or flexibility that we would have if we saw this coming, or if we ourselves planned for it. And this brings me directly to the topic of this posting, and to my first working example: working for a nonprofit.

• Nonprofits, by legal definition and as a requirement to secure and keep a tax exempt status, are required to devote the vast majority of their incoming revenue towards fulfilling their expressed mission and vision. Legal guidelines generally set a large, explicitly stated minimum percentage of gross income that has to be expended in this way.
• That leaves a lean and even minimal amount left over that has to cover fixed operating expenses in general and for purposes of this discussion payroll, and marketing and fundraising expenditures and so on – funding that does not directly address mission and vision goals.
• This means headcounts have to be kept very lean with everyone there wearing multiple hats and carrying out more complex and diverse jobs – in order that everything essential get done.
• And this means that it is rare for a position to open up in a nonprofit that would be a good next career step for anyone who was looking for advancement opportunity. And that means that when someone who preferentially works in the nonprofit sector seeks to make a career advancement move, their best and even only path forward might very well require looking elsewhere, and at the pool of all nonprofits that they would find acceptable for quality of life issues such as location.
• Real, steady advancement up the table of organization in a nonprofit system generally means finding that best next step up at a new nonprofit organization and even repeatedly.
• And for higher level positions that can often mean relocation too, and even repeated long distance relocation.

By contrast, and as a perhaps opposite point on a spectrum from that of the nonprofit, I would cite a high-tech company in a rapidly developing and expanding industry, where new skills are called for on an ongoing basis and where new teams that use them for addressing current high priority projects and tasks are repeatedly being formed. Here, advancement might be quite possible in-house and with a same employer, but:

• Achieving that in-house promotion is going to call for demonstrating both the right new skills, and effective communications and management skills.
• And this should be balanced against presenting yourself as an insider for that business who would not have to be brought up to speed as to what it does or how it functions or who does what, or where necessary resources can be found and secured and most cost-effectively.
• The goal here is to advance in-house by simultaneously showing that you represent a safe and secure career advancement investment who can be offering more value than you cost, as quickly as possible,
• While offering the new and cutting edge skills and capabilities that this business needs and across the board if it is remain strongly competitive.
• And the downside to this is that as new technologies are brought in and become prominent for their high priority value, and as teams form to carry out current and new high priority tasks and projects, old ones drop away – and people are let go.

Nonprofits also find themselves in situations where they have to lay off and downsize too. One of the consequence of their legally mandated budget constraints is that few nonprofits can ever develop anything in the way of significant cash reserves. Ideally, a working nonprofit will have sufficient available liquidity to maintain operations, payroll and marketing and all, for at least six months even absent incoming revenue. But even if the numbers in their books indicate reserves of that six month scale, in practice, a nonprofit that was facing significant revenue shortfalls could not go anywhere near that long before taking protective measures, to keep from running out of funds and having to close down. And concern of possible insolvency would be expected to adversely impact on all ongoing cash flow processes with for example, suppliers no longer honoring 60 days receivable payment terms if they did before, or even 30 days receivable. My point here is that job openings and their potential arise but jobs disappear and people are let go too. So if you want to develop an active and successful long-term career and face as few real disruptions in it as possible, you have to look both in-house and outside for possible next opportunities and even just for ongoing here and now employment security.

• This means knowing your industry, and your current employer, but not just for what they produce and provide as products and services – but also for how their employees fare and how people advance in their systems, or fail to.
• And this means making a clear and objective assessment of yourself and of what you offer and as weaknesses as well as for your strengths, and how best to address the former and augment the later.
• And this also means thinking through how you could best market yourself too. I would recommend at least perusing my postings and series on job search, and particularly in my first Guide directory page, and for insights into the HR and hiring-business side of this, I would recommend a review of at least select postings and series from my HR and Personnel directory too.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will at least begin to focus on change management and other specialty work situations and contexts. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2 and at its first Guide directory page. I am also listing this posting in Nonprofits and Social Networking.

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