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nonprofit case studies

Building a Sustainable Nonprofit: A Case Study

nonprofit strategyI consider myself incredibly lucky because I get to work one-on-one with some amazing social change leaders.

One of the clients I’m working with right now is the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). This is a group of incredibly smart and passionate people who are committed to improving public understanding and policies that impact American Muslims by engaging the government, media, and communities.

The challenges they face as a nonprofit organization are not unique. So I’d like to share their story as a case study.

I met MPAC in 2013. While they had been around for 25 years and aspired to be a truly national organization, MPAC struggled to build a diversified financial model and a donor base beyond southern California. At the same time the organization lacked a coherent strategy for their future work. They wanted to expand their national presence, grow their networks and influence, strengthen and diversify their funding sources, and ultimately increase their impact on a vibrant American Muslim community, but they didn’t know how to get there.

MPAC hired Social Velocity to conduct a Financial Model Assessment to determine what was holding the organization back from growing their revenue and diversifying their funding sources. I interviewed board and staff members and some external constituents to uncover what was holding MPAC back. I also analyzed MPAC’s past financial history, board and staff structure, marketing materials, fundraising activities and more to understand what was working and what was not. I delivered to board and staff a 30+ page assessment that described how MPAC could strengthen their financial sustainability.

One of the biggest things holding MPAC back financially was the lack of a future organizational strategy around which they could rally donors. Upon hearing my findings, the board voted unanimously to undertake a strategic planning process to chart a focused future direction. We then worked over the next 6+ months to develop a 3-year strategic plan to increase MPAC’s impact and financial sustainability.

Because of the new strategic plan we created, MPAC has focused their efforts and resources and are now working to implement the strategic plan and financial model recommendations. They are working to identify outside investors to help fund a growth campaign, expand the board, hire a Development Director, and streamline operations. Board and staff are excited about the new direction and are actively working to bring it to fruition. And to help MPAC in this critical change and growth phase I am coaching staff and board on how to implement the plan and set the organization up for success.

Outside guidance is sometimes critical to moving an organization forward. As Salam Al-Marayati, MPAC’s President and CEO put it:

Nell’s assessment illustrated how we were wasting resources and not connecting prospective donors with a clear message. After the board and staff read the report, we all decided to proceed with a strategic planning process. That exercise, which spanned over 6 months, opened everyone’s eyes. We now have buy-in from our most important stakeholders in the organization – the board – for change. We realized that in order to achieve growth, we have to change internally. Nell helped us to navigate the road to becoming a national organization by changing how we operate internally. Nell’s experience in nonprofit management and fundraising proved to be invaluable in our planning process. We are now beginning to implement the strategic plan are excited about this new era for the organization.

It doesn’t have to be so hard. The mission your board and staff are so passionate about can be achieved in a sustainable way.

You can learn more about how I work with nonprofits on my Consulting page, and you can read more case studies on the Clients page. If you’d like to discuss how I might work with your nonprofit, let me know.

Photo Credit: Evelyn Simak

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4 Times When A Nonprofit Needs a Strategic Plan

Call me biased, but I think most nonprofits should have a strategic plan, and I mean a good strategic plan, not a bad one. But many don’t. And I get it, sometimes a nonprofit simply doesn’t have the time, energy or resources to devote to a good strategic planning process. But there are some particular times when a nonprofit simply will not be successful without one.

Let me give you an example, Forte Foundation, a national nonprofit focused on getting more women into business careers, wanted to double their reach and impact but didn’t know how to grow or create a sustainable financial model to sustain that kind of growth. At the same time, the organization was trying to be too many things resulting in their small staff being pulled in too many directions. The organization needed to figure out how to focus their resources in order to grow and become more financially sustainable.

Elissa Sangster, Executive Director of Forte Foundation, hired me to lead a strategic planning effort to result in a 4-year strategic plan. I led a strategy committee comprised of school, corporate, and organization board members to conduct market research on trends in the marketplace, analyze key strategic decisions, revise the organization’s vision and mission statements, develop a 4-year budget, and create measurable, executable 4-year goals and objectives. The resulting plan allowed Forte to dramatically increase their impact, while focusing their resources. Once the plan was adopted by the board of directors, I then worked with Elissa to create an annual diversified financial plan to fully fund the costs of the strategic plan.

With a new strategic plan and financial plan in place, Forte is moving forward on growth. Their staff and board now have a much clearer idea of the organization’s value and focus. And they are committed to growing the organization and the revenue to fund it. Forte plans to hire a new Development Director and launch their first ever major donor campaign in the coming months, setting them up for the growth they have envisioned.

So when does a strategic plan really make sense for a nonprofit? Here are the top 4 times:

  1. You Want to Grow. As Forte, and many of my other clients,  discovered, you cannot double, triple or more the work you do in the community without a comprehensive plan for how you will grow operations, staffing, and funding, and make that growth sustainable.

  2. You Want to Raise More Money. It is simply a fact that you will attract more and bigger dollars if you have a clear strategy for the future and a plan that ensures that strategy will actually come to fruition. Without a strategic plan, you are simply asking people to give to your “cause”. That will only get you so far.

  3. You Want to Wake Up Your Board. Board engagement does not come from some magic pill you secretly feed to your board at a meeting. An engaged, excited, invested board is what happens when you give your board the opportunity to come up with a future direction for the organization and determine how they as individuals and as a group fit into it.

  4. You Want to Change Your Program Model. Sometimes because of changing client needs, increasing competition from other providers, changes to government regulations, or other internal or external factors, a nonprofit needs to shift their operating model. But you can’t make a significant change without a plan.

It cannot be denied, there are key times when flying without a plan will get you nowhere. If you are serious about changing business as usual, then you need a strategic plan to get you there. If you’d like to learn more about how I help nonprofits develop a comprehensive strategic plan, check out my Strategic Planning Consulting Service.

Photo Credit: Lauren Tucker Photography

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