Today we enjoy advances in science that allow us to live longer, healthier lives than our predecessors. We get vaccinated, eat right and visit our doctor at the first sign that something in our body is off-kilter. Pain and reduced capacity to maintain our normal activity signal to us that something is not quite right. In many ways, social sector organizations can experience these same kinds of symptoms, and when they become chronic or are unexplained by reasonable events, they may be signs that the agency is in decline or crisis. Here are a few preventive health tips to keep your social sector agencies in tip-top shape.

Lifecycle - Declineclick image to enlarge

Check Your Vital Signs
Whether you are the CEO, senior manager or a board member, it is important for you to know the organization’s vital signs. Using a dashboard of key indicators can be helpful in staying attuned to the organization’s health on a regular basis. These indicators should include the major revenue and cost drivers for the organization, and should answer questions like, are we hitting major fundraising milestones? Are we expending cash at a normal rate? Are we serving an appropriate number of clients? If you know what is typical for your organization, you will be more alert when anomalies arise and can respond quickly.

Diagnose Chronic Pain
As you can see in the nonprofit lifecycle graphic above, the prominent theme of the decline and crisis phases is pain. When your organization is in one of these phases, you and your staff will feel stress through the continual loss of employees or inability to enroll clients in services. While healthy organizations also experience this type of pain, the differences between the two are the duration and intensity of that pain. Here are a few simple diagnostic tools: compare the organization’s current strategic plan with the plan from five years ago to check for progress; benchmark your organization against similar agencies to calibrate your current metrics or compare where the organization stands now to where it was at its peak. The purpose of these tests is to calibrate your pains to what is acceptable in the industry and current environment.

Work on a Treatment Plan
It is critical to diagnose your organization’s pain before it is in crisis. By recognizing that the organization is in or headed toward decline, leadership has time to develop a turnaround or strategic plan. While it can hurt to admit failure, waiting for a crisis to address chronic pain leaves leaders with fewer options and less time. To assess the severity of the organization’s problems, talk to internal and external stakeholders and conduct research to ensure the organization is still relevant, serving current needs and following best practices.

The symptoms of decline can sometimes come on so gradually that it can be easy to miss the warning signs. But. we encourage all social sector leaders to know their organizations and be courageous in recognizing when dramatic changes needs to be made so the agencies can continue to serve our communities. Tell us about courageous, difficult decisions you’ve made, and join us next week for our blog on customer engagement.

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