November 2, 2011

Good Groundwork, Finding Balance – Part 2: Documents to Improve Your Organization’s Overall Success

The use of a good plan in building your organizations’ business documentation will greatly improve your overall success, both in providing services to your community and in seeking funding to make your organization sustainable. Beyond your Articles of Incorporation & Bylaws, good organization documentation includes the items listed in the model below.

This short model combines three approaches to strategic planning – goals, issues, and organic methods. Once you create the most basic pieces in the list, the others begin to come together more easily and with greater coherence to the plan as a whole. For instance, your Summary of Activities can form the basis for your marketing and case statement brochures as you move forward.

This means that as you move from the planning phases into the funding and implementation phases, your groundwork will provide you with a firm footing for your funding documents and even better footing for your daily operations and capacity building activities.

  • Summary of Activities – An executive summary with brief organizational history, goals, and programs. That should be two pages or less and preferably has some color and design with salient photos. In two pages, you should be able to summarize your goals, objectives, and benchmarks. You might start with a simple pile of index cards (physical or electronic) and make notes on each topic until you have enough to build an organized document.
  • Organizational Chart – Be as organic or linear as you like. This is the beginning of your Logic Model process diagram that funders love to see.
  • Logic Model – If you can show it in one picture, you are getting a good handle on your organization’s requirements and mechanics. Lots of samples exist that you can edit and shape to your own needs.
  • Business Plan & Feasibility Study – This incorporates organization-wide Strategic Plan, Project Design, Target Populations and relevant resources, Operations Plan, Market Analysis, Key Personnel, Budgets, Financial Plan (short and long term), Risk Assessment, Quality Control, Evaluation, and Capacity Building Plan. The complete Business Plan document emerges over time through your preparation of each of its constituent parts. Give yourself a decent outline and build from it. Otherwise this document is almost always overwhelming even for seasoned business professionals.
  • Policy & Procedures Handbook – This is comprised of Board Policy Statements that include Non-Discrimination, Ethics, Conflict of Interest, Staff Compensation, Service Provision Philosophy, Privacy Protection, Document Review Guidelines, Data Security, Fund Raising, Vetting Procedures, and Board Development.
  • Financial Procedures Manual – Seems a bit premature, right up until you should already have it on hand. Good, free, non-profit oriented templates are available.
  • Employee Manual –Just like the Financial Procedures Manual, you will not need one until that instant where it is imperative to have it on hand. So, start a small one right from the beginning and then add what you need as you go along. Board Policy Statements can be referenced to give it weight.
  • Job Descriptions – These can be sparse at first and be fleshed out as you go along. Start with a title, basic duties, expected hours of service, and required training.

Templates and guidelines on how to build serviceable documents such as these are widely available. You can easily find them tailored to your industry. You can use what is valuable in your situation, and discard the rest. Utilizing template resources can help you find ideas that you would not have otherwise included in part of your plan. They can also help you find information quickly, which will assist you in determining solutions specific to the services your organization will provide, rather than just for your industry as a whole. For instance, determining solid estimates of dollar figures for volunteer time in your financial assessments can be valuable information to provide to funders. Two organizations that offer this information in user-friendly formats are found at Independent Sector and Hands On Network. Calculating the Social Return on Investment (SROI) is also a valuable piece of information that helps wow your funder prospects. This is another topic on which lots of information is available in both hard copy print and online.

Once you have your Summary of Activities, Organizational Chart, and Logic Model you are well on your way. Pull together as much of the Business Plan as you can based on these three items, so that you can reference language from it that your organization’s staff and board have agreed upon whenever you need it. You can flesh out the Business Plan by adding market analysis information from your community planning inquiries. Look for documented best practices to cite in your plan for related program practices, quality control, and evaluation, and determine what works best in your setting. Build Case Statements that you can return to and tailor to specific audiences whenever you need them. Determine your vetting protocol for sponsors and partners to ensure that your organization maintains a socially responsible path. Your funders always ask who else contributes to your projects. Be able to say so with confidence.

All of the documents listed are living works. If your organization is already underway and you have these documents on hand, revisit your documentation annually and update anything that has become antiquated. Compile letters of endorsement and support for future use. Keep your publications and awards listings up to date.

Then you can get on with your work, which has you passionately engaged, with greater confidence and success.


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