Nonprofit Programs | Creating & Managing Successful Programs


Align. A program should always align with the Organization’s mission. Honestly, we can’t be everything to everyone. A great example of being out of alignment with an organization’s mission can be described as an organization clearly providing support to one single military branch and/or military unit (i.e. Navy) for a specific reason (i.e. wounded or killed in action) yet they decide to provided financial resources to other military branches and/or units that clearly do not fall under the bylaws and mission of the organization (i.e. Navy org providing financial resources to an Army or Airforce service member because of politics or unhealthy levels of competition). Why is this a problem you ask? It’s a problem because donors are contributing with the idea that they are donating to the Navy to support Navy service members. If they wanted to support the Army or Airforce, they would donate to a different organization. With that being said, there are reasons to collaborate with other organizations to strengthen the participating orgs but there needs to be clear thought, planning, board buy in and strategy involved.


Define. Several factors for any not for profit need defined—program systems (i.e. inputs, processes, outputs & outcomes), resources required to run the program and who will receive or participate in the program (consumer profile & targeted market segment). Defining a clear & measurable objective for the program is imperative. Set realistic goals to include phases (start with a pilot), a realistic timeline and even consider a possible exit strategy.


A clear objective supported by solid goals allows for you to define what success really looks like for your program. This will allow the organization to communicate effectively to all stakeholders with confidence and clarity. Even if the program seems like it may fail, the ability to define what success looks like allows for the org to also know what failure looks like allowing for quick action to control spending and to pivot when necessary. It’s called fiduciary responsibility and donors/investors will be much more likely to stay with the org even if the program fails, if the organization’s leadership is being transparent even about failures or slower than anticipated programs.


Identify. An organization’s compass is grounded in the framework of the program. Define and identify program outcomes, goals, strategies & objectives.


Outcomes should reflect the gap your program or service will fill. An example could be that your program enhances learning experience for South San Antonio children. Improving quality of life in some form or fashion is an outcome.


Your goals should be quantitative such as providing 500 books to underserved children or clothing 500 underserved children or providing 500 children with a home for six months.


Strategies are merely the methods that will help you reach your intended goals. Examples of strategies could be to provide scholarships to deserving and promising dancers that would not otherwise have a chance to attend prestigious dance academies throughout the world.


Program objectives are milestones within your program lifecycle. For instance, meeting the goal established of enrolled students in a new charter school.


Collaborators and competitors also need to be identified. Know who you can collaborate with. This ensures that your donor dollars are stretched as wide as possible (i.e. practicing good stewardship). You will also need to identify your competition. If you do have competition in the market space, you will need to be prepared to explain why your organization is attempting to duplicate a program or service. One big difference with not-for-profits and for-profits is the idea that duplicating services is a very bad use of donor dollars. There may be a very good reason to duplicate the program or service but be ready to professionally and objectively speak to it.


Also of importance, is to identify applicable laws and regulations that impact your program and organization.


Monitor. Understanding and monitoring product/program life cycles is essential and a signal of good stewardship. Establishing a pilot phase is very wise and communicates a strong sense fiduciary responsibility to the overall organization.


Avoid the program that becomes a self-licking ice cream cone. For instance, there are veteran’s house/home programs that were established to support traumatically injured U.S. service members. They promise to utilize the VA grant (i.e. grant provided to service members that are determined to be a certain percentage disabled due to their service to the country) to adapt the home for the service member’s disability and cover the rest of the cost of the home that would be customized for the needs of the service member. We can now easily observe many of these foundations giving or building homes for people that do not meet the original mission, objectives or intent of the foundation and the foundation has not amended their bylaws. We can also see retreats for the same demographic taking the same service members & their families on the same trips year after year. If the same people are “repeat offenders” or there are no participants of the program or service, this is a signal of what we call an “ugly baby” in the for-profit world. Only the creator of the program believes the program is working much like a mother who has an ugly baby but still thinks her baby is beautiful.


Organizations that are clearly working outside of the original intent of the mission and/or not having new participants, it is time to consider “end of lifing” the program or even the organization. What starts to happen is the perpetuating of an entitled and “professional wounded” type of mentality (i.e. people that were once very deserving of the programs, abuse the programs and bounce from foundation to foundation or go on the same retreat etc. year after year not making room for new participants or even abusing donor funds). If the board members do not address these considerations, they are in violation of the bylaws and/or NOT being good stewards of donor dollars which is still a violation of the bylaws.


Measure. Establish how to measure the program’s health and progress. Understand the program’s impact on the community it is intended to serve. Consistently and frequently review the status of the program metrics. Be honest about the results of your metrics. Pull the data and then provide a narrative explaining the data. Focus on program impact. Data that seems negative may not actually be negative. Data always requires a narrative to clearly communicate what the results truly mean. Metric reviews require both quantitative and qualitative analysis and not just by one person (refer back to “ugly baby” syndrome).


Educate. Ensure all stakeholders (i.e. donors/investors, volunteers, board members, ambassadors, advisors and staff members) understand the program & how the program fits with the org’s mission and long-term sustainability. Individual stakeholders and groups of stakeholders require varying levels of program detail; however, they do need to understand the objective of the program and the intended program impact.


Position. It is very important how you want your two consumer groups—program participants & donor/investors—to perceive your program and organization. Once the program position has been established a solid marketing and communication plan can be developed.


Communicate. Communicating effectively with both internal and external stakeholders is imperative.


Internal Stakeholders. Board members, staff members both paid and non-paid, and volunteers need to clearly understand how to speak about the product/program. These folks are essentially your sales team.


External Stakeholders. External stakeholders are who the internal stakeholders are selling to. They are your organization’s consumers. External stakeholders include the two consumer groups that not-for-profits have---program & services recipients and donors/investors. You can’t have one without the other. If you do not have program recipients there is no need for donors & investors and if there are no donors & investors, the organization cannot deliver the programs and services.


Protect. Once you have hit each of the above topics, you will want to legally protect your program and organization. Many times, in the not-for-profit sector, we are expected to operate in a state of good will which is naive. If we do not treat our programs, services and products as if we were running a business (for-profit), we are essentially not being good stewards and breaching our fiduciary responsibilities. Always copyright, trademark and service mark where appropriate. Protect your organization’s assets!