Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Nonprofit Lifecycles and Assessment

Thank you to all who participated in yesterday’s AEA meeting at the Greater Oneonta Historical Society! The 27 attendees represented 20 local nonprofits. Heidi Holtz, Program Director of The Gifford Foundation presented on how the foundation tries to support nonprofits in capacity building efforts using Susan Kenny Stevens’s “Lifecycles” approach. This “Lifecycle” model encourages assessment that results in an organization determining the stage of development that they are at. Heidi highlighted the value of pinpointing where an organization is at by emphasizing that assessment “establishes a diagnostic starting point”, which is beneficial because it’s difficult to realistically plan for the future if the current situation is not known or understood.

Susan Kenny Stevens offers one helpful model for assessing your nonprofit. Although some nonprofits choose to look to outside consultants to help with assessment and diagnosis, it’s possible to do an assessment in-house if those involved (staff and board members) are committed to the project. The value of self-assessment is that it will, ideally, lead to honest and realistic understandings of the organization both internally and in funding relationships. Traditionally, nonprofits present themselves as favorably as possible while interacting with funders, but Heidi talked about how her funding organization values the effort and honesty shown by thorough review.

Whether you’re hiring an outside consultant, or having your board read up on a lifecycles theory and performing a self assessment, the value of knowing and understanding the state of your organization is clear. With comprehensive visuals and examples, Heidi pointed out that many times excellent programming can mask problems with finances and governance, or that organizations that are adequately funded and well-staffed may not have sufficient board governance. Each part of an organization can be in a different developmental phase; determining where the strengths and weaknesses are allows time and money to be more effectively allocated.

Thanks to Heidi Holtz and The Gifford Foundation for such a timely and useful presentation!

At the meeting Andrew reminded us that AEA’s next meeting will be in September and will focus on nonprofit-media relationships. He also talked about the Events and Training Calendar that will soon be up and running on this site. The calendar will feature your biggest fundraising events as well as any trainings you’d like to open up to your fellow nonprofits. As those in attendance introduced themselves yesterday, many shared exciting events taking place in the near future; the calendar will be a great place to keep each other updated about these types of happenings.

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