We guide our clients to effective program management techniques. There are at least four different common approaches to developing a new nonprofit program. Some approaches seem to start out slow and soon stop altogether. Other approaches start out fast and then end in a flurry of confusion. Still, other approaches start out carefully and go on to make a huge difference for their clients. The approach an organization uses depends on various factors.
The nature and complexity of the organizations programs and services. For example, the process to develop a program that provides mental health services would probably be more complex than the process to develop a program that provides a food shelf to low-income families.
The resources and stability of the overall organization. For example, if the organization has been in operation for several years and its current programs have been using the same processes and procedures over those years, the organization probably has more accurate and reliable processes from which to design new or related programs. On the other hand, if the organization is relatively new, it likely has limited expertise and resources from which to design programs.
The extent of program development expertise in the organization. It is not surprising to find that many nonprofit leaders have little, if any, formal training in developing programs. There have been few comprehensive resources in this regard. Many nonprofits have resorted simply to doing whatever seems reasonable for the day, while collecting as many resources as possible and hoping that they will be useful.
Following are descriptions of four common approaches to developing nonprofit programs:
Build It and They Will Come Approach : This approach is common to new nonprofit organizations, especially if their founder is rather inexperienced in program development, in conducting marketing analysis, and/or has a strong passion even an obsession about meeting a perceived need in the community. In these situations, the founder believes that there is an unmet need in the community. He bases his belief almost entirely on his own perception, even though there is sometimes no verified evidence of a strong unmet need.
Seat-of-the-Pants Approach : This approach is common to many new nonprofit organizations, especially if their founders are rather inexperienced in organizational development and management. In these situations, the nonprofit organization and its primary program are so highly integrated that it is difficult to discern what resources go directly into providing services to clients versus those resources needed to run the entire organization. The seat-of-the-pants program development process usually parallels the development of the organization itself.
Business Planning Approach : There are a variety of views, formats and content regarding business plans. Usually, a business plan includes careful analysis of: a) a major unmet need in the community, b) program method(s) to meet the need, c) how the community and nonprofit can engage in a productive, ongoing relationship where the nonprofit program continues to meet the community need and the community, in turn, returns sufficient value to the nonprofit. d) how the program methods can be implemented and managed and, e) what the costs are to build and implement the program methods.Business plans are essentially the same as a well-written fundraising proposal; thus, it might be said that the more you use a business-planning approach in your program development, the more probable it is that you will get funds from donors. Particularly in the for-profit world, bankers and other investors often require a business plan because the plan includes a careful look at all aspects of a project.
Business Development Approach : A new trend in nonprofit program planning is focus on nonprofit business development, which might take program planning to an even higher level of quality than that done in business planning. Note that nonprofit business development includes the business planning process so, technically, it is not a completely different alternative to business planning. However, business development usually includes more upfront, rigorous examination for numerous opportunities to provide products and services among a variety of stakeholders to generate revenue and still work toward the mission of the organization. Business development often helps groups of clients identify new needs that they did not even realize, whereas processes that start right away with business planning are based on one currently known, particular need among clients without rigorous analysis for many other opportunities. Norwood Consulting's clients are guided towards the Business Development Approach. This model yields the best results and it positions organizations for sustainability.
Community partnerships are important components to any public service organization or agency. We create strategic partnerships for our clients to further organizational goals.
At their core, community partnerships are about the tremendous power created when organizations and individuals come together to act proactively on important issues in their towns, schools, or neighborhoods. Almost all long-term, sustainable community solutions from building healthy neighborhoods to expanding the scope and efficiency of public services demand dynamic partnerships among a variety of governmental agencies, faith-based groups, and civic organizations. It is not a function of government alone. While local agencies may have the resources and the authority for delivering services broadly, public service organizations are uniquely suited to assess community needs and to identify potential solutions.
Being able to communicate and collaborate with a broad range of organizations, agencies, and individuals in a community creates shared understanding, allows for the identification and realization of common goals, opens new avenues for collaborative partnerships, and expands community decision-making from a handful of central authorities to a broad number of stakeholders.
This idea is by no means new. Numerous communities across the country have launched collaborative initiatives to address needs within their cities, regions, and neighborhoods. In the process, they have torn down outmoded structures and redefined the relationships between community-service organizations, churches, governmental agencies, and the private sector to strengthen neighborhoods or address important civic issues.
In most cases, these campaigns grew out of a realization by nonprofit organizations that they had become too consumed by day-to-day priorities to take notice of the broader, longterm issues facing their communities. Many complained of feeling as if they were operating in their own separate universe, devoid of interaction with other organizations, groups, or government agencies that may have shared their concerns and ambitions.
As a result, few engaged in the long-term planning or strategic thinking necessary to improve public services and meet future needs. On a more specific level, organizations also began to recognize that communicating with like-minded organizations had the additional benefits of extending their own projects reach and promoting greater public understanding of their missions and goals.
Communities rely on organizations to provide a powerful collective voice to influence government policies to realize a shared vision of a better future for all.
Norwood Consulting specializes in Policy Analysis to encourage organizations to create change through policy advocacy. Our team includes legally trained human service professionals. Christopher Norwood (Juris Doctor) has designed legislation and advocated successfully for private companies, educational reform, reforms in foster care, early learning programs, voting rights issues, prevention programs, gun control, and anti-bullying policies.
Dr. James Peterson, Director of Education for Norwood Consulting and Professor of English and Director of Africana Studies at Lehigh University is a Huffington Post blogger and frequent commentator on policy issues on MSNBC, FOX, CNN and other news networks. His commentary is highly sought and can view: www.youtube.com/user/DrJamesPeterson.
All organizations including nonprofits have a vital role to play in our democracy. For 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations that role includes lobbying. Nonprofits have every right to advocate on behalf of policies they believe in. It is only when this advocacy deals with specific legislation that limits come into play.
Although most people use the words interchangeably, there is a distinction between advocacy and lobbying that is helpful to understand. When nonprofit organizations advocate on their own behalf, they seek to affect some aspect of society, whether they appeal to individuals about their behavior, employers about their rules, or the government about its laws.
Lobbying refers specifically to advocacy efforts that attempt to influence legislation. This distinction is helpful to keep in mind because it means that laws limiting the lobbying done by nonprofit organizations do not govern other advocacy activities.