We live in unprecedented times. The world we live in is changing rapidly, both through massive cultural changes and through environmental crises of a kind not witnessed by previous generations. If you lead a non-profit, how do you help your organization respond to these changing times? One way to get there is by using the checklist below to keep your organization nimble and responsive to change, while maximizing readily-available strategies. I call it the Mission Switch Kit.I have worked with and for non-profits for nearly twenty-years. I have also worked in the for-profit sector during the same period of time. What is the key difference between the two sectors? Agility. The for-profit sector is amazingly capable of being agile. In fact, agility is necessary for a businesses’ survival. The ability to adjust and adapt to an ever-changing market means a business must constantly review how it operates. The hallmark of a successful business is one that can harness innovation, best-practices and new technology to stay ahead of the competition.In the non-profit sector, this is more challenging. While non-profits must constantly adjust to meet the requirements of their funding sources, this isn’t necessarily done using the best-practices or innovations. It can be a reactive change, instead of a proactive one. While the burden of reporting and audits are a significant challenge to non-profit organizations, I still believe that non-profits are very capable of being agile to best meet the needs of the community it serves or the issue it targets. Mission SwitchAsk yourself- Is my organization (a) responding to shifting demographics and needs in a way that ensures the efficacy of our programs, and (b) are we using the best tools to do so? If you answered “no” to either of these, you may want to consider a change to your organization’s mission statement.
- Dust off those bylaws- Your bylaws are the governing document of your organization. In order to change your mission statement you will need to amend your bylaws. The bylaws outline how to do this, but it usually involves drafting an “Amendment to the Bylaws of X Organization” by listing the section of the bylaws you wish to change and then drafting the new language. Once drafted, the amendment needs to be formally adopted by the board, and sometimes also the members, if your organization is membership-based. The bylaws will tell you how to do this as well. For now, just review the process and the steps that you will need to take.
- Do your research. Do a quick internet search and take notes on anything that seems exciting to you. Interview staff about the last conference they attended to learn what the new trends are in your organization’s field. Find out what the researchers are saying, if you don’t already know.
- Get the board, on board- Let the board of directors know what you are up to. Or, if you are on the board, start providing information on why you think a mission switch is necessary.
- Consider hiring a consultant who works specifically with organizations whose mission is similar to yours. A consultant has the advantage of an outside perspective to your organization, coupled with the inside knowledge of other organizations. This perspective and knowledge can be immeasurably valuable in providing long-view recommendations to your organization. Engaging the right consultant for even a couple of days can be very useful.
- Survey staff, quickly. Avoid thinking you need a two-day retreat. While lovely and helpful, the logistics make such retreats a slower process. Instead, do a 30-minute mini retreat at a staff meeting. Ask your staff to do a quick brainstorming session and solo writing exercise. Ask them, “Imagine yourself two years into the future, and someone asks you ‘what do you do for your organization?’, what would you say?” Ask the staff to think about who they are working with, what people are being served or issues that are being addressed, the geographic location of their work, and their physical space. Have them write down their answer while imagining that there are absolutely no constraints to this future vision- financial, political, geographical or otherwise. Then, take a minute to have each person read their response. Use their responses to inform your proposed mission change.
- Work with funders to make sure they understand the proposed mission statement change and why it is necessary for the organization’s effectiveness. Make sure they are in agreement with the change, as appropriate. In some cases, it may be advisable to get it in writing.
- Draft up the amendment to the bylaws and get it adopted by the board.
- After adopting new bylaws, be sure to keep the staff involved. Support staff by encouraging them to spend at least one or two hours a week researching other models and strategies that will help the organization be even more effective and adjust to the new mission. Then ask them what they think should be changed. Those who are “on the ground” are the best resource for what is, and is not working in your organization.
I hope you have found this information helpful. Contact us for more on this topic.Other great resources: CalNonprofits, Council on Foundations, and the Nonprofit Resource Center. Locally, on the Monterey Peninsula, there is the Center for Non-profit Excellence. There are many others! Please feel free to contact me to share information on other non-profits resources you have found helpful.