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Adapting to a Changing Funding Environment
Applying Business Concepts to Create the Right Products and Services
Building for Growth
So Many Choices - How Do We Decide?
Strategic Assessment: Repositioning to Remain Relevant in a Changing Environment
Strengthening Infrastructure to Support Growth
Turning a Vision into Reality
What to Do When a Key Funder Goes Away


Adapting to a Changing Funding Environment

Shifting from contract-based reimbursement to fee-for-service is difficult for any social services agency. America’s oldest African-American foster care agency was no exception. Pressed by her lead funder and state-mandated regulations, facing resistance from her division heads, and already financially strapped, the executive director wanted help in making this transition so the agency could continue to receive funding and survive.

After meeting with the management team and interviewing each person separately, we worked with the ED to form a series of all-day planning sessions based on the key issues the staff had highlighted. Through their discussions, and using graphs illustrating how well each division was meeting the required outcomes, the team began to unite around a shared commitment to improve their performance. Together they outlined the major changes that needed to be made and identified the steps needed, who would be responsible, and when each step needed to be completed.

Since then, the agency has been able to satisfy the state requirements and its financial situation has improved. The division heads have taken on more responsibility for supervising and training their staffs, freeing up the ED to address other strategic issues.

“The process of engaging each manager around the issue being discussed allowed each time to vent or make a real contribution to the discussion.... They were able to see the agency as a responsibility of each person, not only mine as executive director.”

Executive Director, Women’s Christian Alliance

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Applying Business Concepts to Create the Right Products and Services

A national organization serving aging populations wanted to start a new center that would speed the spread of effective, research-based programs for the elderly. With support from a leading health care foundation, they turned to us to prepare a business plan to achieve financial sustainability for its new initiative.

It soon became apparent that the new center's services were still in the concept and initial testing stages and were not ready to be offered widely. We introduced our client to an established business concept, the product development cycle. It helped the leadership team understand where they were and the work they needed to do before they could formally launch the center and its products.

We conducted market research to assess two critical factors: how potential consumers perceived the proposed services and if they wanted them. We worked with the director to develop a one-page description outlining the new center's purpose, proposed services, and their benefits. We interviewed individuals from organizations that had used the center's early-stage products, current and potential funders, and other experts in the field. Using the concept description, we tested our client?s assumptions about the underlying need for the new center and gauged the interest in other possible services that were still in the concept stage.

The findings helped our client revise its proposed services to make them more attractive, articulate their benefits more clearly, and better target the organizations and funders most likely to use and fund the center.

Respondents also pointed out the importance of testing and validating the center's products as soon as possible, and the leadership team recognized that they could not be successful until they did. Demonstration projects would provide the necessary results so the organization could refine their services and better meet the needs of potential clients. These findings could also help describe the benefits in a more compelling way. Ultimately, our work buttressed the client's proposal to gain funding for this next, crucial testing phase of the center and its products.

“Our work with KrasnePlows really helped us shape our next steps.”

President, National Aging Organization

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Building for Growth

A national lender to community development organizations was at an impasse: it had grown too big to be supported by its financial, reporting, and technology systems, yet the president wanted to take advantage of opportunities for even greater growth.

We worked with the president and senior management to develop an overall game plan for improving the organization’s administration and operations. First came the hiring of new financial staff and instituting a clear, timely budget and monitoring process that involved the program directors. A new human resources manager clarified responsibilities, raised expectations, and reinforced a team culture among the administrative staff. We worked with consultants to expand technology capacity, standardize software and create a way for all locations to access and share common files. And we designed regular reports to monitor performance against goals.

With stronger, more efficient operations in place, the organization could establish a national presence across its locations, serve more clients, and shift resources from administrative matters to its programs.

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So Many Choices - How Do We Decide Our Future Direction?

A local Asian cultural organization was bogged down in a strategic planning process. It had identified a long list of options it could pursue, the culmination of a lengthy series of visioning exercises, interviews and survey work with key stakeholders. There was no consensus among the board members, and now they had just hired a new executive director and new artistic director who both wanted a clear vision that they could begin to implement.

We facilitated a day-long retreat with the board and new executive team. The board wanted to make some realistic decisions about the services the organization wanted to provide, the role it wanted to play in the community, and how those choices would ensure greater sustainability in the next 3 to 5 years, all the while staying true to its mission. To prepare for the retreat, we worked with the executive director and the board’s executive committee to establish the criteria the board would use to evaluate over twenty different ideas that had surfaced. Then we grouped the ideas thematically. Did the board want to focus its efforts on their existing audience or seek new participants? Did it want to expand existing programs or institute new ones? What combination worked best?

Ultimately the board focused on two divergent options, teaching or performing. After exploring the implications of each alternative -- its benefits to the organization, the audiences it could attract, funding possibilities, and the resources and costs required in achieving their goals -- the choice quickly became evident. The board coalesced around a common and now clearer mission. Board members were energized and excited about their decision and the work ahead, and the executive director was relieved that she could communicate a clear course for her staff with the artistic director by her side.

“I really appreciate KrasnePlows’ guidance at our board retreat in focusing and clarifying our wishes and intentions. Now I am very excited, there is so much that we would like to accomplish!”

Executive Director, New York Chinese Cultural Center

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Strategic Assessment: Repositioning to Remain Relevant in a Changing Environment

"We'd like your help," commented the new board chair of a leading national nonpartisan advocacy organization. "Our executive is leaving -- the second in six years. We're having cash flow problems and the board is only beginning to understand our financial situation. I'm assembling a team to undertake a SWOT analysis for us. Will you join us??

We teamed with three other consulting firms to assess the organization's situation over an intense five-month period, with each firm bringing specific expertise to the engagement. Like many similar nonprofits begun in the 1970's, its early successes bred a complacency that made it less able to adapt to a changing environment. The impact of the Internet and new grass roots movements led by a younger generation made the organization seem irrelevant to some.

The consulting team identified three key challenges: to have the board and its national and state staff around a clear, focused and shared purpose; to rebuild its communications, direct marketing, and major gifts development effort; and to develop a sustainable financial plan that built on its core strengths and reflected a more focused, disciplined and leaner organization.

Our findings and their implications prompted much and sometimes heated discussion as board and staff considered the degree of change required, the uncertainties ahead, and whether they wanted to take up the challenge. Some board members stepped up, one trustee serving as interim executive, and another ultimately selected as the next CEO. Others became less engaged and left. So, too, with the staff: some left to pursue different options, while others came together in shared purpose under the clear, capable guidance of the organization's new leader. Within months, the board and staff together were embarking on a new direction, repositioning itself to be an important, relevant voice for democracy.

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Strengthening Infrastructure to Support Growth

A leading social services agency with multiple locations found itself in an uncomfortable position: its very successes had led to rapid growth over the past few years. The long-standing, highly respected executive director was concerned that the agency could not continue on its present course without shoring up its infrastructure and giving the staff some relief, all of which would cost money.

We spent considerable time interviewing staff, board members, key funders, and other experts to understand the current organization, its broad service array, strength and reputation, and the challenges it faced. We also interviewed heads of similar and larger size organizations to identify best practices that our client could apply to its situation. The consistent findings from our extensive interviews helped the leadership understand the critical issues the organization faced.

At our recommendation, the board chair and executive director decided to form small work groups of board and staff to address specific, critical issues. As the groups became more engaged and took more ownership of the planning process, we stepped back into more of a facilitative role. The groups presented the results of their work at a board and staff retreat. It became clear that the board, although engaged, still did not feel informed enough about the many program areas to make decisions about the agency's future programmatic direction. A consensus emerged: develop and test criteria to be used in starting, continuing, expanding or ending programs; gain a greater understanding of program profitability and the resources needed for quality delivery; and begin work to expand and diversify funding to invest in and sustain the agency over the long term. The board also approved additional staff to add support in areas that needed it most.

The work groups continued their efforts while we analyzed each program area's profitability to aid the board and staff further in focusing on key programs and managing their growth. Ultimately, the board and staff had a new, shared set of tools to understand the agency's programs separately and together, their contribution to the organization and the clients they served that could be used over time. Board and staff understood more fully the need to invest in resource development and how they could each support that effort long term.

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Turning a Vision into Reality

The board chair of a new foundation turned to his charismatic colleague: “You have a terrific vision for a university to educate talented women in Asia. But we need someone who can manage the effort to make it happen.”

We worked with the founder, board, and a worldwide network of consultants and volunteers to identify the areas the foundation needed to address to achieve the goal of creating a university in Bangladesh. We established a realistic project plan that identified, prioritized, sequenced, and coordinated the critical activities, and prepared a multi-year budget.

Using the action plan and budget as a roadmap, we worked closely with consultants and board members to set market research parameters, oversee the design of the undergraduate curriculum model and develop and execute a fund-raising strategy for the initial planning monies. Armed with an articulate case for support and a coherent implementation plan, we helped raise additional funds to continue the planning effort, sometimes receiving more funding than originally requested from key foundations.

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What to Do When a Key Funder Goes Away

"We've been told by our major funder that they won't renew our grant after next year," remarked the director of a national health care organization. Supported fully for the first five years of its existence, our client now needed to develop a business plan for the coming five years that would further its mission and enable it to sustain itself. We joined forces with a resource development firm to work with the nonprofit's leadership to set the entity's strategic direction and develop a business plan to implement and fund it.

Besides attending their annual training conference, we conducted a series of interviews with the leadership team, consultants and partners, key funders and experts in the field to learn how its programs were perceived, clients' needs, and changing trends in the field.

We also interviewed the heads of other organizations that had made the transition from a start-up to become a leading force in their field. We identified the key factors critical to making that shift successful, including different governance, management and legal structures. The results of these interviews provided our client with tested models to consider in moving forward. Based on our findings, the leadership team chose the most pragmatic option that would allow them to achieve their long term strategy.

We turned our attention to developing the business plan to achieve the organization's stated goals within a five-year strategy. We researched options to broaden its reach to new audiences and strengthen its resource development effort, discussing alternatives with the leadership team. We incorporated our results into a cohesive business plan that described how the organization could leverage what it had already established: grow its existing programs and services, organize itself to support its activities and the leader's expanding role as advocate and external spokesperson, and raise the funds necessary to support itself. We worked with the nonprofit to prepare a five-year business plan and developed a timeline for executing the plan, including a multi-year budget, major milestones, key individuals to be hired, and responsibilities and deliverables.

As a result, the executive and leadership team got a clear roadmap for moving forward, including next steps in exploring and testing potential funding and public relations opportunities. They had a cohesive, realistic business plan that they embraced and could take to potential funders to garner additional support.

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