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Sep 9, 2022
Posted Under: President's letter

Workforce shortages. Government contracting shortfalls and unacceptably late payments. Rapid program expansion to meet increasing demands. Financial uncertainty based on the end of pandemic relief and no restart yet of what’s next. These are the most common issues we hear from so many of you every day. For sure, the last two years have created a “new normal” and all our workplaces are scrambling to adapt and continue delivering our missions. Part of that process means dealing with challenges that often feel bigger than us and harder to understand, which is the right next step. Indeed, tackling these issues is a step-by-step adventure rather than just one big leap.

We see you – we hear you. While no perfect tools exist for every challenge you face, we do want to show you a few items in the Foraker toolkit that might help. Of course, we are ready to walk with you through these and many others to help on your journey. Give us a call.

As you explore these tools, help your board, volunteers, and staff be as strategic as possible to avoid simple band-aids, which in the end only exacerbate the challenges. That’s not easy, so when you are making decisions, we invite you to be curious, engage with your team, and ultimately do what’s right for your mission. And remember – don’t just create plans, live them!

Often it’s the lack of a plan that causes false starts or feeling stuck. There is no one-size-fits-all planning tool, but the right plan at the right elevation can help move your organization while engaging and even energizing your team. Many boards became disconnected or overwhelmed during the pandemic and staff are searching for new energy to refill their stores. Engaging in planning is more than simple having a plan at the end – it’s the act of creating it. Make the space. Take the time. You can find ways we can support your planning here with a few highlights below:

  • Create or update your strategic plan. Regardless of mission, the feedback we heard from organizations that navigated the pandemic differently than those who lost their way was the existence and connection to larger ideas often articulated in a strategic plan. To us, this is a process of answering two fundamental questions, who are you (the organization) and where are you going (often thought of as definitions of success, goals, or outcomes). This 30,000-foot elevation document won’t tell you which turn to take on any given Tuesday, but it will remind your team of what is core and unwavering and why it matters to the community you serve. Don’t let the next crisis or this continued crisis distract you. Take the time to ask and answer the bigger questions.
  • Use our Sustainability Roadmap. Foraker’s Nonprofit Sustainability Model is more than a decade old, but it is still as relevant as ever. It is a stabilizing tool in the face of crisis and a grounding tool in the face of the unknown. It is a tool for curiosity and connection with your team. In addition to our book, Focus on Sustainability: A Nonprofit’s Journey, which includes generative questions and action steps for every lens in the model, we offer a service called a Sustainability Roadmap that is a brief but engaging process to help you focus on which next step is right for you.
  • Create or update staff and board succession plans: The “Great Resignation” has led to the “Great Reshuffle” as people reset around their own priorities in the workplace. It requires adapting not just the way we think and talk about the work, but also the environments that attract and retain the people that make missions work every day. Many of you – most of you – don’t have written plans to know what you will do when transition happens. Yet, the only guarantee is that transition WILL happen. No matter how you think about plans for staff or board succession (including officer succession) as tools for prevention, risk management, or stability, the act of having a plan will do all those things and, most importantly, will keep you and your team from rushing to just searching for your next person. Time and again we know that search alone is a strategy certain to fail. Take the time with your team. If you want help with these plans, we offer customized services that match your budget, size, and operational complexity. We also offer two educational series – one for staff and a new series on board succession. Our goal is for you to thrive, not just survive during change. Additionally, if staff change is a factor for you right now, we can help. Our Leadership Transition services as well as our Interim Executive service can help you catch your breath, take a strategic look, and position your right next leader for lasting success.
  • Adjusting to immediate staffing changes: Based on your situation, you might be considering a new staffing plan to adjust to a worker shortage, or you might need to update your compensation plans or employee manual to stay competitive in the marketplace. We have a full suite of HR services to help you with a customized review using your core values as a guide. Having the appropriate policies in place can keep you from making costly mistakes and help in an already unsettling time. If you are on the other end of the spectrum and need to furlough or permanently downsize your staff, check out our sample furlough policyor contact us to create or update other staffing policies or staffing restructure plans that are right for you.

It seems more the norm every day that government is slow to pay on contracts with us as their essential partners, or their expectations of work far exceed any intent to pay at all. This is both an immediate issue and requires a larger strategic response. Or maybe you received federal pandemic relief to retain your staff and save your programs but now you are asking where you go from here. Or perhaps your business model is so different because of program growth, new partnerships, or unforeseen opportunities, it all needs a fresh look.

These factors, along with just good financial maintenance, may indicate it’s the right time to focus on your triple bottom line (mission, money, community impact). To engage in any of the tools listed below, we recommend gathering a small team of advisors to look closely at your financial and core practices as you confront the truth of your new reality. If you suspect your organization is approaching crisis, or is in it, you can use the results to gain clarity and spring into action. If, on the other hand, all is well, you can use these tools to help generate peace of mind and consider what comes next.

  • Gauge your financial stability: Our Indicators of Financial Crisis can help you spot potential financial problems before it is too late to fix them. This tool is also a great resource for engaging the board, finance committee, and staff in a conversation on your financial stability.
  • Engage in scenario planning: While much of this work often is touted as strictly a financial calculation, we strongly encourage you to use the Foraker Nonprofit Sustainability Model to gain a full picture. We are available for consultations to help you think this through. For a resource that focuses solely on a financial framework, we’ve created a financial scenario spreadsheet template. We can also review your financial performance and position with you to better understand how the last two years may have shifted your business model and what you can do next.

It has always been and still is true that our missions are bigger than any one organization. The last two years have solidified for so many that the challenges we face can only be solved when we work together. Perhaps that is the gift of this time – there is more interest and readiness to work collaboratively to address the persistent and systemic issues we face in our communities. We encourage you to embrace the philosophy of “nothing about us without us” as you form and strengthen your relationships. If we truly want to get to the heart of the issues, decisions about mission delivery should include those that are impacted the most. This is a new way of thinking for some of you and standard practice for others – for all of us there is room for improvement and next steps. We are better when we use our voices and our actions together.

  • Consider new strategic alliances: Is the timing right to think about delivering mission in a new format? Is the current framework for financial stability viable anymore? Is the structure holding you back from greater solutions? If even your answers are “maybe,” it can be a good time to look at your strategic alliances and the options that are most viable to do the most good.
  • Step up your organization’s advocacy game to stand for mission: Are you ready to make your advocacy voice part of your organization’s DNA, or are you finding that the issues holding you back are structural or systemic and only engaging in strategic public policy will create lasting change? If so, you are not alone. Taking a stand for your mission is part of the job for board and staff – having a plan is key to that effort. We are tracking many issues and we have tools you can use to craft your message including our Nonprofit Economic Report. We are ready to help you build a plan that can guide your work. Let’s get started.
  • Be ready to make the best use of federal infrastructure and relief funding: We encourage you to sign-up for regular updates on federal infrastructure funding coming to Alaska over the next several years. Beyond accessing the funds directly, nonprofits need to be at the table alongside local governments and tribes and the State of Alaska to ensure we make the best use of these one-time funds. Don’t forget to do all your homework before engaging in any major capital project. Our Pre-Development Toolkit is built to guide you along your journey. Bookmark the sites and stay informed.  

No Foraker list of services would be complete without doing what we think is most important – support. We know that supported leaders are successful leaders. No matter your title or role, you are a leader in your work and support is a sign of strength. Support looks different for everyone so the key is to find the right fit for you. We offer many types of support from our cohort-based learning environments to one-one options that last a career or a few short visits. Here are just a few highlights and a story in this newsletter about our mentoring options. Know that we are ready to meet you where you are.

  • Meet with other nonprofit leaders: After so much isolation, finding your connection points is not just nice but essential to boost your energy and inspire your thinking. We have a number of cohort-based programs to meet you where you are in your leadership trajectory. Lead Up, Executive Leadership Intensive, Catalyst for Nonprofit Excellence, Certificate in Nonprofit Management, Fundraising Action Plan – there are just so many ways to learn and grow together. Don’t forget about three other regularly scheduled connection points: CEO Connect, Advocacy in Action, and BIPOC Nonprofit Affinity Group. Choose one or choose them all throughout your career – the goal is to find the space that matters the most to you. Watch our website for additional ways to connect or ask us to help by convening a group on a specific topic. As a neutral convener, we are happy to hold the space for conversation, connection, and comradery. Let’s practice abundance thinking and action together.

Whew! So many paths to choose from and this is just a few of the many options. Bottom line is you are not alone. We are ready to meet you where you are to move your mission forward. Not sure where to start? No problem, we are ready for that question, too. Call us at 907-743-1200. We have an experienced team that can discuss ideas with you in a confidential and judgment-free environment.

The way through is forward together. Let’s go.