Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Thoughts on non-profits

Having worked closely with a social service organization called TMAD (To Make A Difference) in the past, I gained some insights and had a few thoughts on the management of small non-profits. It all boils down to some simple questions. Here are some of those questions

Note: These are more applicable to small and budding social service orgs and not to big names like Red Cross.

The question of collaboration:

The other day, along with a group of friends, I met the famous Telugu lyricist “Sirivennela” who has some very interesting and valid views on society and volunteer organizations. Just before us, representatives from a social service org met him. He was referring to them and thinking aloud asked us – “Do you think that social service is new and people before you never thought about it? Why can’t you guys collaborate with the already established non-profits and collectively do better work?”. This is an important question. Many small social service orgs do not make attempts to find and leverage on the work already done by a similar org. Some social service organizations meet, share their work, participate in some common events but somehow fail to really collaborate and be mutually beneficial. Is this because of the differences? Or is it because everyone wants to work for “his/her” organization? It is important to understand and bridge this gap because otherwise we will be like the political parties who share the common goal of national development and yet never really work together.

The question of management:

I personally feel that many small social service orgs are ineffectively managed. Part of the inefficiency comes from the lack of clarity on the organization’s mission. Often orgs are started with good intentions to “do something” and to “make a difference”. So far so good. But in elaborating on what that “something” is and in forming an action plan to fulfill the mission lies the efficiency, contribution and success of the organization. Many small orgs fail in this step. Secondly, there is often a poor utilization of human resources. Much time is lost in discussions, arguments and planning without any real work. So the second question is how to effectively manage the org?

The real test – results:

Organizations, whether profit or non-profit, are defined by their results. There are always results but the key question is whether the results are on par with the efforts. And if not, to analyze why it is so and correct any short comings. The organization TMAD, which I mentioned earlier, had around 200+ volunteers of which 30 were active and it seemed that we could do a lot. But the results indicated that there is a lot more to improve and aspire for. And results, as the management guru Peter Drucker often reminded us, are always on the “outside”. We can not be satisfied by our good intentions and hard work and ignore the outside results. We are defined by our efforts but we are distinguished by our results. So the third question is – “How to perform and be effective?

P.S: Peter Drucker’s book “Managing the non-profit organization – principles and practices”, is a must read for all those involved in non-profits.

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