Pursuing Ambitious Programs

Ann Fitzgerald President AC Fitzgerald author

Ann C. Fitzgerald, President

Is it the right time for ambitious programs?

In these troubled economic times, many nonprofits are hunkering down, cutting costs, and scaling back programs.

While it’s wise to evaluate expenses to meet shrinking contributions income, we should not let economic concerns lead us to water down our best and most effective programs. After all, one day this crisis will be over and the nonprofits that emerge the strongest will be the ones that remained focused on their core competencies and established visionary programs.

This is an opportune time to think strategically about your programs and assess their value vis-à-vis your overall mission. In doing so, you may reposition, eliminate, or even ambitiously, expand some of them.

Step 1: Evaluate honestly.

  1. Conduct a review of your program. Strategic planners often recommend SWOT analyses, in which you evaluate Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
  • Strengths and Weaknesses are internal to your organization: Consider each program and how it is implemented: What do you do well and not so well? How is this program advancing your mission? As part of this process, take a comprehensive look at your board, management, staff, and resources.
  • Opportunities and Threats are external to your organization. What opportunities do you see in the market place for your program? Is this a program that is in the right place at the right time or a program that has passed its prime? What are the threats or competition to achieving your goals? For example, a think tank may consider the stimulus package as an opportunity to engage new donors in its finance work. Meanwhile, the weak economy may pose a serious threat to raising funds from certain sources this year.
  1. Evaluate your answers. If a program has a lot of strengths and you foresee a number of opportunities, then you should probably devote more time and resources to it. On the other hand, if a program has numerous weaknesses and faces threats or competition, then you may want to reduce or eliminate it.

Step 2: Plan for the Future (“Dream no little dreams.”)

Most donors give to nonprofits because they believe in the cause. They have bought into a vision that we have described (to cure cancer, promote individual freedom, improve education, etc.) and they are motivated to give because we are striving to accomplish something great. Let’s not lose sight of our big dreams.

  1.  State the vision for your program. If your program were successful, what would the world look like? Make your vision motivational and far-reaching but grounded in reality.
  2.  Establish your overall objectives. What do you want to accomplish? If your vision is to reform your state’s education system to encourage choice, performance and accountability, then one of your objectives may be to involve more parents in the debate.
  3.  Determine your 2009 objectives. What do you want to accomplish this year? Maybe you want to have 1,000 parents sign a petition promoting education reform initiatives.
  4.  Identify your tactics for meeting your objectives. What are the key steps? Who is responsible? What is the timetable?
  5.  Evaluate your resources. What is your current budget for this project? What new opportunities could you pursue if you had additional resources?

Ideally, we should reevaluate and reposition our programs regularly. But the economy is giving this process a new sense of urgency. Use this time wisely to build a stronger and more effective organization for the future.

Ann C. Fitzgerald is Founder and President of AC Fitzgerald, using her decades of experience in fundraising, management, leadership, and sales to help nonprofits build their capacity and achieve success. She is a sought-after speaker, writer, and advisor.

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