Reflections from 2015: The Year of Sustainability

Happy New Year from Brighter Strategies!

The beginning of 2016 is upon us, and with a new year comes the opportunity to reflect on the year that has come to a close. If you haven’t already, take the time now to contemplate the highlights – and lowlights – of 2015, in the context of your organization. Use the following questions to guide your thinking. Feel free to share your musings in the comment box below the blog article – we’d love to read about your 2015 experiences!

  • What goals did you set for 2015? Did you achieve those goals? If not, what kept you from your intended performance? See our December series on performance management for more information on this topic.
  • What lessons did you learn in 2015? Whether by choice (the achievement of an aforementioned goal) or by accident (an organizational mishap), daily life can impart profound insight if we choose to pay attention to it.
  • What were the major themes from 2015? What topics kept cropping up throughout the past 12 months? What does this say about the growth of your organization last year, and its current state today?

At Brighter Strategies, we observe that nonprofit agencies tend to embody a shared theme with each passing year. In 2015, we saw “sustainability” emerge as the most popular buzzword in nonprofit management. Does this ring true for your organization? Let’s examine this theme in more detail.

First, what is sustainability, and what does it mean? At the most foundational level, sustainability is the ability to be sustained, supported, upheld, or confirmed. Often the concept is used to describe society’s long-term plans for the environment, for the benefit of future generations. Along that same vein, sustainability in nonprofits is about adopting a future-focused management mindset so that the organization is at the least stable, and at the best thriving for years to come.

In our experience, there are three components to sustainability:

  • long-term financial stability
  • internal capacity (people, planning, process, performance)
  • value of the impact your organization has on your community
  1. Financial sustainability. If your organization is going to be successful, its fiscal operations must be solid. Before you can consider how engaged your employees are or to what extent your organization is achieving its mission, you must ensure your finances are in order. For your organization to be considered sustainable, your leaders and you need to know exactly how much it costs to deliver your programs and services.

How is your organization’s long-term financial outlook? Can you forecast profitability next month? How about in 12 months or three years? Take some time this month, as you begin to make new goals for 2016, to ensure your organization is on track for financial sustainability.

  1. Internal capacity. Brighter Strategies believes that nonprofit success is holistic, the sum of the people, planning, process, and performance systems in an organization. Last year we described four capacity building practices, one for each major system: competency modeling, strategic planning, change management, and outcome measurement. Check out these blog series for an in-depth look at internal capacity, complete with case study examples.

What does your organization’s internal capacity look like at the start of the New Year? Are you primed for sustainability through 2016 and beyond? Just as a body’s internal systems (cardiovascular, nervous, respiratory, and so forth) must be strong to ensure one’s long-term health, your nonprofit must be healthy and sustainable from the inside-out.

  1. Impact. Describe your organization’s reputation in the community. Are you successfully accomplishing your mission? What value are you bringing to the community through your programs and services? Most of us are in nonprofit work because we care – about our organization’s services, about the values we seek to embody, and about the vision set before us. For your nonprofit to be sustainable, you must ensure your impact is real – and not from your perspective alone, but as experienced by your stakeholders.

One way to check in on your current level of impact is to ask. Take time during these first weeks of 2016 to survey your employees, program participants, Board members, and community stakeholders about their perceived value of your organization’s work.

We look forward to working alongside you in this New Year by enabling greater sustainability in nonprofit management.

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