by Erin Hedges, founder and president, Hedges
It’s that time of the year again … the time when we get to say, “Let’s circle back on that after the holidays” or “We’ll regroup in the new year.” It’s the time for forecasting and budgeting … for reflecting on what was accomplished and what goals we should set for the future.
Nonprofit leaders constantly balance day-to-day management with long-term strategic thinking, but the end of the year always brings that task to bear in unique and time-sensitive ways. As the page turns from Q4 back to Q1, nonprofit executives are often wondering, “Is my organization on track and how do I know?” At Hedges, our recommendation for answering this question is simple: Like any successful employee, organizations need an annual review to measure their health, effectiveness, and growth. We call this an organizational assessment.
What is an organizational assessment? An organizational assessment is a measurement tool designed to assess your organization’s current standing — both in areas of strength and areas where there are critical gaps. Ultimately, it should capture your organization’s key strengths and challenges across the core functions of a nonprofit.
At Hedges, we call these the Four Pillars of Organizational Health. These pillars are Programs & Impact, Leadership & Culture, Marketing & Communications, and Finance & Development. Using this Four-Pillar framework, Hedges benchmarks organizations against 30 Organizational Indicators aligned with leading industry standards and informed by our experience in partnering with more than 140 nonprofit organizations over the last 20 years.
This 30-indicator assessment includes overarching questions such as:
- Are there systems and processes in place to measure the organization’s impact?
- Do the individuals impacted have opportunities to inform program delivery?
- Does the organization have strong staff satisfaction and retention?
- Is the board of directors high performing?
- Does the organization have a clear brand voice and strong digital media presence?
- Does the organization have diverse revenue streams and partnerships?
Who is involved in an organizational assessment? The most effective organizational assessments include input from multiple directions. We recommend that organizational assessments include input from staff, board members, and the individuals your organization impacts. Staff members can provide input through a simple staff satisfaction survey and board members may complete a self-evaluation of themselves and the entire board.
These results can then be compiled with client feedback that is captured through existing program evaluation methods or through a separate client satisfaction survey. Critically, you should be able to draw a direct line between the questions you ask in a survey or evaluation and the indicators you use to make your organizational assessment.
Organization leaders such as the executive director or the board chair should oversee the organizational assessment process, but they may also tap into contractors and consultants who specialize in nonprofit operations and governance.
What are the benefits of an organizational assessment? Not only does an organizational assessment answer the question: “Is my organization on track?” but it also provides the following three key benefits:
- An organizational assessment can give you helpful data to use for setting measurable goals. For example, you may have a general goal of improving staff satisfaction in 2023. In an assessment process, you may discover that 80 percent of staff feel like the culture at your organization is positive but only 20 percent describe communication as strong. Now, thanks to this assessment data, you can make you 2023 goal much more specific and measurable with concrete baseline data to inform your year-end goal (i.e., from 80 percent to 100 percent) with a clear area for improvement (i.e., communication).
- An organizational assessment can make your funding requests more competitive. Self-awareness is a great character quality in people and in organizations. It shows authenticity, humility, and responsibility — all things that supporters love to see from nonprofit organizations. An organizational assessment is a quick, simple way to demonstrate self-awareness, that you take your mission seriously, and that you want to be honest about where you are excelling and where you have room to grow. The data you glean from an organizational assessment not only strengthens your internal goal setting but should also strengthen your grant requests and donor appeals. For example, in an assessment process, you may learn that 100 percent of the individuals you impact say you make a positive difference in your life, or 80 percent of staff see themselves working at you organization in three years. Those are great data points that will ensure your organization stands out in the crowd.
- An organizational assessment sets the tone for a positive, transparent culture. More and more, employees want to see their employers take accountability for the culture and dynamics that are present in their workplace. An organizational assessment is a tool that says, “We hear you.” By conducting an organizational assessment process, especially with the help of a third-party facilitator, your organization can get a holistic picture of both the pain points that are holding you back and the strengths you didn’t know were there.
If you’re looking ahead to 2023 and wondering what your organization should focus on and where you need to invest your energy, consider starting with an organizational assessment. Having concrete data to describe where you are now is the best way to articulate where you want to be.
Erin Hedges is the founder and president of Hedges, an Indianapolis consulting firm that advances social change by strengthening Indiana’s philanthropic sector. Contact Erin at email@example.com to learn more about Hedges’ 30-Indicator Organizational Assessment.