Winter has come quickly it seems this year! As the cold weather hits for most in the United States, people turn their attention to relaxing by a fire, building snowmen and getting some long-ignored projects done inside the house.
Isn’t it the same in nonprofit organizations this time of year? Leaders’ attentions turn to showing their appreciation to board members, clients and employees by buying gifts or dinners. The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, for many organizations, is a time for catching up on reports that have long been ignored (and have a January 1 deadline), sharing holiday cheer, and making those end-of-the-year calls thanking funders and delivery partners.
I was reading an article one day, written by an avid gardener. She spoke about how she loves to spend winter nights reading her seed books and planning next year’s garden. At a time when the ground is the least fertile, gardeners passionate about their craft are thinking about the next bountiful harvest!
I think leaders of nonprofit organizations can take a cue from gardeners. Many times, we spend so much time focused on our clients’ needs and celebrating our programs’ successes, we don’t take the time to plan for the future. January is a perfect time to not only consider what went right and wrong about the previous year, it is a great time to map out the road ahead and look forward to the good things in the coming year!
Our gardening friends do four things that I believe can make a huge difference for your organization in 2014 (and beyond):
Gardeners study their 2013 garden notes
Many gardeners make notes on their computer or in a notebook. They document when they planted, which plants produced well and which did not, and how they laid out their garden. Similarly, nonprofit leaders can look at the services they offered in 2013 and analyze which were successful and which were not. Identify what changes need to be made to improve the quality and effectiveness of your programs in the year ahead.
Gardeners peruse the seed catalogs
What could be more fun than looking at beautiful summer flowers and healthy vegetable plants when the snow is falling outside? Gardeners explore the possibilities for next year’s garden. Nonprofits can do the same by researching best practices and consulting with nonprofit enterprises offering similar services. What are their primary funding sources? What collaborations have helped them enhance their capacity to serve? What mistakes have they made? This information can be gleaned either by doing Internet research, attending association meetings or by using online resources such as the (soon to relaunch) CharityChannel forums. Take this information and use it to find new funding sources, expand your capacity to serve and avoid making mistakes that can cost you time and money.
Gardeners plan next year’s garden
Most avid gardeners and farmers don’t wait until winter breaks to plan next year’s crop. This is often done while the crop is growing and right after it is harvested. This is due to the fact that it is typically better financially to order seed in the off-season. Nonprofits can’t wait either. If you wait for problems to occur or recur, you will be unprepared and will experience stress and a lack of productivity while fixing the problem. Use a strong planning process instead to proactively identify potential issues in program design and delivery. I read in a recent article that the best approach for organizations to plan is to find a relaxing place to meet with your key team members (offsite if that works best), and spend a day or two focusing on the planning activity. However you choose to conduct your planning, create an agenda, stick to it, and focus on the future in order to avoid future issues.
Gardeners enjoy the fruits of their labors
I had a bumper crop of tomatoes and sweet potatoes in my garden this past year. It is so satisfying to know, when I eat chili or a baked sweet potato, that the meal is possible because of my watering, weeding and harvesting. Leaders, enjoy the fruit of your labors. Share your joy in your successes with your employees, and be grateful for the clients and funders that make your existence possible.
I hope this winter is a time of preparation and reflection. I wish you your nonprofit organization a garden basket full of great success stories in 2014!