Thinking Strategically in a Not-for-Profit Setting

Not-for-profit management is a complex business…and often with very high stakes. In many ways, these organizations have a more complicated value proposition than their for-profit counterparts. It’s not only about providing service to a client base. These organizations have to constantly be creating value for other key stakeholders–donors, board members, volunteers, government organizations, and so on.

AJ Renold, Executive Director of Voices for Children, our area Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) organization, has keen insights into the complexities of not-for-profit operations and the consequence of success or failure. CASAs serve some of the most vulnerable members of our communities. AJ is using V-REEL™ to break down all the issues and clarify her strategy.

“V-REEL™ really got me thinking about how we are creating value for our donors,” she said.

AJ explained that Voices for Children is part of a nationwide brand of organizations that have been vetted by the court system. Donors are aware of the CASA brand, which has been around since the 1970s. Voices for Children is the local CASA program serving several counties through a small staff and a large team of volunteers; one of AJ’s professional case workers supervises the efforts of 28 volunteers. Each volunteer, however, is laser focused on the needs of a single child or sibling group.

“The most important aspects of our value creation are genuine commitment to our mission, sincerity, and integrity,” she said.

I talk often about intangible resources. Things like trust and reputation are so important for not-for-profits, and as AJ noted, may very well be your distinctive competency. AJ described CASA volunteers as people who are very much inclined to work behind the scenes. As court appointed guardian ad litem for the child they are serving, the CASA is held to strict confidentiality. Many CASAs don’t talk about the work they are doing. They are not motivated by recognition but instead value the ability to have a real impact on the lives of children. By arming CASA volunteers with tools and training, Voices for Children not only enables volunteers, it hits directly on what those volunteers value. That’s good strategy.

But what about donors?

“We’ve been fortunate to have a strong base of very generous donors in the past,” AJ said. “But as we grow, we will need to bring on more donors and realize that the donors we have today won’t always be around.”

This is an issue facing virtually every not-for-profit out there. Baby boomers are a major source of philanthropic giving. Their motivations for giving may be very different than their successors in up-and-coming generations. This is clearly a strategic consideration going forward, one that AJ is looking to her board to help her address.

“V-REEL™ will help us get on the same vocabulary and strategy; that will help prompt a more lively conversation,” she said.

AJ understands that her donor base is going to have to change and expand. She knows she needs to communicate effectively to existing and potential donors about the value and the rareness of the CASA program, and what resources need to be in place as they expand their impact. She’s thinking about eroding factors, prioritizing those, and building up enablers to defend against the most pressing issues. And, she is considering all of this over the long-term. It was a very interesting conversation. There’s much to learn here about key resources and capabilities in a not-for-profit setting and what you can do to protect them over time. Have a listen.