Better Board and Staff Decision Making
Your board and staff need to make many important decisions. What's the best method to do that?
Better Board and Staff Decision-Making
Since boards make policy, they have to make many decisions, and those decisions will guide the organization's ability to provide high quality mission. The process of making both mundane and high impact decisions can be tedious, or easy. My new book Smart Stewardship for Nonprofits: Making the Right Decision in Good Times and Bad is all about decision making. It includes a decision tree to help you and your board get on the same decsion-making page.
In this issue, I'll show you some keys to better decision making and some mistakes organizations make.
First, always start with your nonprofit's mission and values
How does this decision impact your mission? is it inside or outside the mission in terms of impact, geography (where you provide service), demography (who your mission says you serve)? Does the decision have values impact? Talk about these things first--and in depth. Mission first.
Second, look at capability and capacity
Nonprofits need to do what they do well---and as much of it as possible. Don't let mission creep (by chasing money) draw you away from what you do well. In addition, a decision to add a service, increase your hours, or open a new location will have impact on your cash flow, the quality of exisiting services, your HR, IT, space, etc. Make sure you have the capacity to do whatever you are considering.
Third, do your homework
For large decisions, someone (or a Board/Staff Committee) needs to do a business analysis, either a feasibility study or a full business plan. Smaller decisions will often require less analysis, but every decision point should come with some background material for board review.
Fourth, embrace diversity of opinion
Most nonprofits don't ask enough people enough times, particularly when making signficant decisions. The more perspectives you can gather at this stage the better. Technology can help, as noted in the Tech Tip below. Then, your (hopefully) diverse board can make a better, more savvy decision, ensured that all perspectives have been considered.
Two mantras to remember as you make your decision:
“No one of us is as smart as all of us.”
“Every idea is a good idea, until we come up with the best idea. And the best idea does not have to be my idea.”
After a few weeks or months, look back on your decisions, your analysis, and your nonprofit's. Did the decision go as planned? Why or why not? How can you improve all phases of your decisions down the road? What can you learn from your most recent experiences?
Decisions can be simple, or very hard. The impact of some decisions is minor, but others can affect your organization's mission-capability for years to come. Look at the resources and ideas below to help make the best decision every time.
In the next few months, we'll be drilling down into some of these issues in more depth.
Smart Stewardship for Nonprofits: Making the Right Decision in Good Times and Bad, by Peter Brinckerhoff, 2012, John Wiley & Sons
Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions, by Ralph Keeney and Howard Raiffa, 2002, Crown Business
Bridgespan article on RAPID Decision Making--really good and insightful.
"Getting To Yes" : A good research article from Canada on nonprofits making decisions to merge or re-organize.
Decision making is another area where we can be better if we ask people what they want....and regular readers know that's what marketing is all about.
Which people? In this case, we start with the decision-makers. If it's a group (and the Management Tip above urges you to ask more people) how can we get the best decision in the least time-consuming or expensive manner? How do your deciders like to decide? In person, or on their own after considering the data? In a large group or a small one? Ask, ask, ask, even before you start.
If the decision is a large one, you'll probably need to do some research and some of that may well require you delve into your marketing plan. Who are your target markets? What have they told you in the recent past about their wants, needs, plans and feelings? Can this information help the decision team? Is it, in fact, recent enough to be valid, or do you need to go out and get updated information?
Remember that many of your target markets will think better of you simply because you're asking their opinion. This is an often under-appreciated win-win. You get information while at the same time improving customer satisfaction! What a deal.
Technology can really help expedite and improve your decision making. Whether it's the use of wireless voting systems to allow large groups to vote instantly, document sharing sites such as Google Docs or Dropbox, online surveying tools like SurveyMonkey, or social media feeds through Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, there are a lot of tools for you to use.
Here are some questions to consider as you decide which technology to use? Will our decision-making all be done in person? How big with the group be? Will documents be shared between in-person meetings? How tech-savvy are the decision makers? Do we have enough information to make our decision or should we survey specific groups? Can those surveys be effective if they are online versus in-person?
Since most of the technologies listed above are free, make sure you think through how to use them and what works in your particular situation.
JULY, 2012: Going to Scale
SEPTEMBER, 2012: Core Competency or Core Adequacy?
NOVEMBER, 2012: Are Capacity and Capability the Same?