A Crucible for Non-Profits – Professional Growth Systems

A Crucible for Non-Profits

By Bill Dann, PGS Founder

Def. Crucible:  a situation or severe trial in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new

Often, non-profit organizations lack the apprehension about the future and a sense of urgency typically found in for-profits.  There are exceptions, such as non-profit healthcare organizations whose customers have multiple choices in the marketplace.  But, those that are grant-funded, although needing to compete for grants, typically enter every workday with their revenue known and simply need to manage within their budgets. 

Contrast that with a for-profit I consulted with years ago.  This online retailer was dominant in the world of running, e.g. shoes and clothing.  I noticed that on every break, they were all working on their mobile devices and then meeting in small groups rather than just jawing over coffee. What were they doing?  Checking their sales numbers every hour and determining whether they were hitting their sales targets.  That’s right; every hour.  If their numbers fell short, they conferred on how to adjust their sales promotion, chatted with their web resources, and adjusted their sale prices accordingly to be sure they hit their number.  Customer behavior and choices were literally driving change in their business on an hourly basis.  I have never experienced a non-profit enterprise with similar responsiveness to customer behavior. 

This lack of mandatory response to the market leads to less rigor in managing non-profit or governmental organizations.  There is more tolerance for sub-standard or below-target performance.  It is tolerated as long as there is a “good reason” for not hitting goals or meeting commitments.  And yet, non-profits profoundly impact the quality of our lives and society.  They are vital to societal well-being.  

So what is missing and how can it be fixed?  What is missing is a greater urgency regarding the level of organizational performance.  And a primary way to create that urgency is with better client or customer data. Data that tells the story of how well you are doing and draws attention to the needs and wants of those you serve. In the non-profit arena, where you don’t have instant market feedback on how well you are doing, a customer or client survey can drive better performance. Moreover, this type of survey can be applied to funders or partners of the non-profit as well as to the end user of services.  Any of them can prove to be enlightening and motivating. 

At PGS we have added a customer survey to our new Discovery process. Questions are customized for each unique organization, but generally seek to know the following:

  • How well are customer needs understood?
  • How well are they met?
  • What is the quality of service/interaction/responsiveness?
  • How are problems resolved?
  • What are needs/wants that are going unmet?

Interesting to note is that individuals being surveyed typically compare their experience with a non-profit to that which they receive in other areas of commerce.  They compare that organization with their best interactions with other businesses because in their mind, a customer interaction is a customer interaction.  So for example, while it is often the case that patients have to wait to be seen for medical appointments and the healthcare industry has convinced itself that that is OK, for the customer, it is not.  They expect to be treated as if they showed up for a dinner reservation.  They expect their time to be respected.  That is why you now see competition among emergency rooms for who has the shortest waiting time.  This was unheard of only a few years ago.

To sum up with a question: non-profit executives, do you have a crucible in place to drive better performance?  If not, consider a rigorous study of your customers as a means to that end.  PGS would be happy to discuss our Discovery process with you as the jumping off point for better performance. Discovery employs surveys and interviews to reveal the organization’s current condition, specifically, how close it is to its true potential.  Organizations typically approach us with a need and solution in mind.  Discovery tells us whether that need is the most urgent, whether there are the preconditions for success in implementing a solution, as well as the general culture we are dealing with.  We find that Discovery both shortens the time required for us to make a positive impact in an organization and, most importantly, that the results from Discovery serve as the crucible driving greater urgency within the organization to improve.