Last Week: Research on Organizations

Last week, this blog focused on websites, articles and organizations that gather data to determine the health of nonprofits for a number of audiences including: people looking to contribute to organizations; so organizations can know where they stand in relation to their peers; and to increase general information about the nonprofit world. I’m hoping it was helpful.

This Week: Research on Nonprofit Operations and Systems

This blog, and the tweets and LinkedIns (there should be a special name for posts on LinkedIn: LinkedIn-Ins? LinkPosts? Linosts? Maybe we can have a contest) that follow will focus on research on how specific parts of nonprofits do their work, and how they might do it better.

Specifically, we’ll look at finance, human resources and fundraising, with one or two more general nonprofit systems/operations websites. Why? Because finance, human resources and fundraising are some of the most overlooked and underappreciated systems in the nonprofit world and I am very happy that there are people and organizations interested in both understanding how they operate, and wanting to help them function to their best ability.

Who has the Organizational Picture?

You might work for an organization that focuses on a specific program area, like women’s health or potable water. Technical expertise in those areas is critical, to partner with and provide these services to people who need them. This work is the ‘star’ of the organization, and gets the most attention. Now I’d like you to ask yourself:

  • What stories get told about the organization when it comes time for fundraising?
  • What is it in your organization that the general public finds interesting?
  • Who does the telling on CNN? Or to the local paper/radio station?
  • Who runs the big meetings?

I can tell you, for sure, that it’s not stories about the new software in finance. The head or staff of Human Resources is probably not running the staff meeting. A fundraiser might give a presentation, but most of the time the story they tell is about program work—not about the new technique they learned at a recent development seminar.

Then I would ask, Other than people in the executive suite, who in your organization has the most information of the overall running and health of your organization?

Human Resources knows who and how many people are being hired, which departments have high turnover, and keep staff informed of changes in benefits and laws that impact them directly. Finance has an overview of the fiscal health of the organization, knows which departments are being funded, which are losing funds, provides information to all (benefit-to-salary ratios) for calculating grant budgets. People in fundraising develop relationships with donors and have the ability to link those donors with organizational programs in which they have interest. So they have to know the overall picture.

Unexciting? No, underrated. And critically important. It’s a different kind of knowing, a different orientation to the work. These are wide-angle lenses which can provide overviews of the organization for better understanding of how it is functioning to meet the mission, and through that overview, can illuminate and strengthen the relationships between systems.

What’s Coming Next

Next week, we’ll look at measuring/research for program work/thematic areas: how do you know if you have made impact?

In future blogs, I will highlight resources (not necessarily research) on nonprofit leadership, program management, and take a deeper dive into fundraising.