Building Capacity with Existing Resources

Bob Cryer

Bob Cryer

I have heard nonprofit managers say that they really need to build their capacity to serve their community’s rising need for services, but can’t raise the funds required to acquire the additional resources needed. Are there any other options?

One approach that is very common in the for-profit world (but rarely mentioned by nonprofits) is to focus on improving productivity. In a services business, which includes most nonprofits, the primary productive resource is people and what they do with their time. Some of each person’s efforts probably deliver great value, some deliver less, and some efforts are probably pretty marginal or even worse.

How does that happen? Organizations continually face new issues and opportunities, and develop new processes and procedures to address those issues and to capitalize on those opportunities. That’s great. But today’s issues and opportunities are different from yesterday’s issues and opportunities. And yet, many of those old processes and procedures may still be operative in an organization. The federal government may be the worst offender, having a reputation of never eliminating any of the programs it has ever funded, regardless of their efficacy in today’s world.

One example in the private sector might be the recently appointed manager who appropriately wants to build a good working relationship with all the people critical to their success. So they set up regular weekly, biweekly and monthly meetings to build those relationships. But after they are built, many managers continue with their meeting schedule, even though much less frequent meetings are all that is required to maintain the working relationships. The original reason for the meeting schedule no longer exists. Could they eliminate some of the meetings and use the time to move the business ahead rather than investing so much time trying to protect themselves from inconsequential things that are unlikely to happen?

One simple way of regularly evaluating any process or reporting requirement is for the person doing the work to ask “If it were not for what basic cause, this process or reporting requirement could be eliminated or reduced?” In highly productive organizations, everyone is expected to know the “basic cause” or operative business justification of everything they do. If they or their manager cannot provide that business justification, then they should seek agreement to stop doing it (or only do it in those situations where it is justified). In this way, the capacity of an organization is continually growing thru the efforts of all the employees to stop investing their time in marginally useful activities, and redeploying it to efforts that move the business ahead or create much greater value.

Author:  Bob Cryer, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org