Strengthening Nonprofit Operations Planning through External Feedback

Impactful nonprofit organizations require strong accounting, human resources, information technology, database management, and operational services to ensure that resources are deployed effectively, potential risks are reduced, and legal compliance is achieved. Effective operations also support organizations to be responsive and resilient in the face of unexpected challenges.

In previous articles, we discussed why operational planning should be included in strategic planning and the importance of self-assessment. To further understand operational strengths and weaknesses, feedback can also be gathered from stakeholders who are external to the organization, including clients, board members, funders, and partner organizations. 

In practice we see organizations gain feedback from these external stakeholders through service feedback forms, program evaluations, and annual surveys. However, typically, the feedback only addresses programs, services, and other offerings and not the operations, the back-office processes that make the offerings possible. 

This is a missed opportunity. 

Clients, community members, and end users can provide feedback from the customer’s point of view about 

  • Human resources – Are staff retained, accessible, trained, and supported to offer high quality programs, services, and administration? 
  • Communications – How do online, print, and social media communications promote activities and engage audiences?
  • Accounting, billing, and payment procedures – Do these procedures increase access to services? Or create barriers?
  • Customer/client relationship systems – Do staff have the information needed to for effective intake, registration, and referrals? 

Board members can discuss how operational systems impact governance and strategic decision-making, including

  • Compliance systems – Are management and reporting systems sufficient for ensuring compliance?
  • Accounting and financial systems – Do accounting and financial procedures allow for accuracy and timeliness with investments, transactions, and reporting? 
  • Human resources – Are compensation, benefits, training, and other personnel policies reducing turnover and supporting high quality staffing and leadership?

Funders and donors can provide their perspective about:

  • Grant writing and reporting/donation requests – Are proposals and requests written clearly and succinctly? Are reporting requirements fulfilled?
  • Funding/donor management systems – Are grants and donations received and acknowledged in a timely way?

Partner organizations can discuss how information sharing and referrals are working from their point of view, including:

  • Customer/client relationship systems – Are staff accessing the data required to make appropriate referrals and requests for services?
  • Accounting, billing, and payment procedures – If partners are contracting together, are these procedures reliable and consistent?

This feedback encourages stakeholders to recognize the nonprofit for not only the public-facing offerings, but also for the back-office processes that make the programs and services possible. This elevates everyone’s understanding of capacity.  

This feedback also allows nonprofit organizations to have a different perspective about what operational services are working well and where there are needs for improvement, the basis for developing more effective strategic goals and key performance indicators. 

This article is part of a series, based on conversations between Jackie Cefola and Debra Box about nonprofit shared services and related topics. 

Jackie Cefola, principal of Jackie Cefola Consulting, is a trusted advisor to nonprofit leaders who are starting up new collaborations, often related to shared services. Debra Box, principal of In the Box Consulting and former President and CEO of Support KC, where she helped nonprofit organizations to focus on their missions by providing integrated expertise in financial management and support services.

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