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Is it time to face a new reality?

Posted January 21, 2009 9:23 AM by Ted Jackson

Okay, so now we have a new President, and the stock market is down about 9% this year already. This is after about a 35-40% drop last year. The market is a good proxy for the economy. Not only did the economy crash last year, but it is still not looking good this year, even with Hope and Change in the highest office of the country. The President yesterday said that is it is time to rebuild what America stands for and time to recommit to our values (more or less). What I heard, was that is it time for a new strategy. This also applies to your organization.

In 2007 and early 2008, most nonprofits I spoke with had ambitious strategies. I heard phrases like "dramatically increase fundraising" and "increase programs significantly." It was not uncommon to hear phrases like "take this to scale." It was this opportunity and excitement that drove me to see the nonprofit sector as an agent for change. Now, however, in today's climate, the most common phrase I hear is "let's wait and see." Organizations are extremely uncertain about their future, and they want to wait and see what happens.

Wait and see is not a strategy. It causes anxiety among employees, and it causes internal projects and constituent based programs to drift aimlessly. Wait and see has the opportunity to cause real damage in your organization. The damage can range from financial to programmatic effectiveness. It is pretty clear right now that donor behavior has changed as a result of the damaged economy. Foundations have a smaller asset base, and individuals are saving more (and donating less) to prepare themselves for the uncertain future that lies ahead.

As a nonprofit, it is time to take action. If you have a strategy map, it is time to revisit the objectives. If you are using a different performance management system, it is time to address current targets and make adjustments to expectations. This is a time to reassure your employees that you are prepared for today's economic climate. It is time to communicate to donors that your core business creates a meaningful impact for its constituents. Measuring and demonstrating impact is more important than ever. Most organizations will not need a 2-day offsite to determine that their strategy needs to change. Take action today and assure your employees, donors and constituents that your organization is still making a meaningful impact. Your actions could be as simple as a lunch meeting or Q and A session about your objectives and targets. Let your board members, employees and donors help you adjust to the new climate.

You cannot keep operating like it is 2007, but you do have to keep operating. Wait and see is a bad strategy.