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Tools for nonprofit leaders: Conducting an organization review

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Many high performing not-for-profit organizations engage an objective third party - with the required expertise - to conduct an organization review. This involves a rigorous evaluation of how effectively resources are being applied to serve an organization’s vision, mission, and strategic priorities as expressed in their strategic plan.

Many not-for-profit organizations do not have a budget for such a review, and this article offers some tips on how to conduct one in-house. A key component is that the organization review should be conducted by an objective third party, therefore you will need to find a willing and able volunteer. Here are the steps that person can follow:

1. Become familiar with the organization’s vision, mission, and strategic plan. If these tools do not exist, it is highly recommended that they be developed, as they serve as the platform against which the usage of resources is being measured.

2. Conduct individual interviews with board/council members to assess their skills and contributions, as well as their understanding of how best to serve the organization’s strategic priorities.

3. Conduct individual staff interviews to ascertain if each individual has the necessary skills and supporting resources to do his or her job effectively and serve the strategic priorities of the organization.

4. Conduct a series of performance measurement exercises that could include the following information:

  • Are the bylaws up-to-date and being followed?
  • Are the annual general meeting files up-to-date, and are the procedures recapped in the minutes in accordance with the bylaws?
  • Are risk management procedures in place (e.g. adequate insurance, a crisis management plan and a risk management plan)?
  • Does a code of conduct and/or ethics exist and is it being enforced?
  • Are meeting agendas and minutes appropriate and supporting strategic priorities?
  • Is the budget being adhered to and does it support the strategic priorities of the organization?
  • Is an annual audit being conducted and are the management suggestions being considered and applied?
  • Do staff and key volunteer leaders have job descriptions and is their performance being evaluated annually?
  • Are policies and procedures for staff and volunteers being followed and regularly updated?
  • Is the organization in touch with what members want and need (two separate issues)?
  • Is the organization’s “brand” being rigorously applied (e.g. logos, fonts, style guide)?
  • Is the organization’s intellectual property protected (e.g. trademarks)?
  • Are the organization’s positions on key issues documented and published (e.g. position statements)?
  • Is the website responsive to the needs of its visitors (members, government, media, the public)?
  • Does the organization have a strategic communications strategy and plan, and is it being followed and evaluated?
  • Does the organization benchmark its operating ratios against comparable organizations and use that information to improve?

5. Armed with the above information, prepare a series of recommendations for the board to consider and, where appropriate, implement. Schedule an evaluation of the exercise.

An organization review should be a constructive examination of how effective and efficient the organization is functioning (measured against its strategic priorities and plans). It should be conducted in a sensitive way, respecting the sense of ownership the individuals attached to different functions take pride in. That said, the organization has been entrusted to the board of directors to manage (not the paid staff or enthusiastic volunteers), which is why it is important to engage an experienced individual to lead the organization review.

Paulette in President of Solution Studio Inc., a consulting practice that serves the not-for-profit association community. Paulette co-authored two manuscripts on risk management & not-for-profit organizations and regularly conducts risk management, strategic planning and board development workshops. She can be reached at 1-877-787-7714 or Paulette@solutionstudioinc.com.

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