Four Ways to Improve Community Foundation Processes and Impact

Author: regginton

Four Ways to Improve Community Foundation Processes and Impact

May 14, 2018 | 8:32 pm

Philanthropic organizations, including community and private foundations, are working hard to increase their impact in their community. As resources are tight, some foundations use process improvement to recapture and reinvest their time. Others use process improvement to deliver more, better or faster in their community.

Most foundation employees have done process improvement. Perhaps you have questioned if and how work should be done. Perhaps you have been part of a team that changed grantmaking steps.

Yet did the changes make a big impact? Did they save time or deliver to grantees faster? Did the changes get done on time? Or did discussions go on and on without implementation?

These results happen often. ProSci, the national change management researcher, surveyed 150 process improvement projects. They found the majority of process improvement projects failed. These projects failed to get the expected results or failed to complete on time or at all.

Only the minority of surveyed process improvement projects succeeded. These successful projects used proven process improvement steps to get the results they needed on time and on budget. You can too.

Process improvement proven at community and private foundations

Process improvement success starts with understanding some core process improvement concepts:

The first concept is that we each use steps to get work done. For example, most people have steps to get that first great cup of coffee in the morning. Perhaps the first step is getting the ground coffee beans out of the cupboard. Then putting them into the coffee maker and so forth.

Whether it is a great cup of coffee or any other desired outcome, the logic is the same. We take steps to get desired outcomes.

Concept 1: Work has steps to accomplish a needed outcome. These steps are a process.

Steps 1 + Step 2 + Step 3 = Outcome

Every foundation has processes. And each process has steps to accomplish an outcome. Here is a simplified foundation grants process:

Approve grant + Enter + Issue check  = Accurate, timely grant payment

Concept 2: The steps of a process determine the outcome.

Is that first cup of coffee dependent on the steps you took to make it happen? The type and amount of coffee used? The brewing time? What is added? We get to be experts at good coffee by taking the steps to achieve the outcome we need.

The same concept is true with community foundation processes. The steps of work determine how fast, accurate, complete that work is done. That relationship between the steps (your processes) and your outcomes is important. Dr. Edward Deming, the father of quality systems, thought about processes as systems to do work. Dr. Deming said: “Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting.”

Concept 3: Improve the process to improve the outcome.

Sometimes we want to get a different outcome or results. Perhaps stronger coffee for Monday morning. To get that different outcome on Monday, we change the steps or the process we do to get the coffee. Perhaps different beans, longer brewing time or less creamer. We change or improve the coffeemaking process to get a different or better outcome.

The same is true with foundation outcomes. Perhaps the foundation needs to recapture and reposition time to serve donors or the community. Or the foundation needs to create completely error free results. Or get gifts or grants recorded in real-time. Improving the foundation’s processes can help the foundation achieve all of these improved outcomes.

Concept 4: Use process improvement proven in your industry.

Process improvement has been around for over 50 years. Yet process improvement is not a one size fits all. The concepts that work in making coffee, manufacturing or even for public companies may not help improve community foundations processes.

Foundation process improvement focuses on getting the results foundations need with the approach and tools that work in that industry. For example, foundation process improvement includes improving the steps, tools and business rules of foundation processes. Including all 3 of these elements increases the impact the team can achieve.

Successful foundation process improvement achieves impressive outcomes

With these 4 key elements in mind, what does foundation process improvement help achieve? In my work with community foundations, here are the results foundations have achieved through proven process improvement:
• Recaptured over 4,000 work hours.
• Error free for 3 years.
• Existing technology is fully implemented.
• Deliver to customers in half the time.

Are any of these outcomes interesting to your foundation? Then check out the companion blog article here: 3 Keys to Avoid Process Improvement Project Failure.

Whether it’s having that great cup of coffee you look forward to each morning, or improving your foundation’s impact, having the right processes in place achieves the desired outcome. And when your team has the right process improvement resources and skills, you can achieve great outcomes.

Lee Kuntz is an expert at helping foundation teams build their process muscle and successfully improve process and outcomes. Your team can succeed too. Contact Lee to learn more.

My Continuous Improvement Job Is On The Line!

May 14, 2018 | 8:12 pm

Dear Lee,
I am constantly beating my head against a brick wall! Our continuous improvement team delivers training, leaders listen, shaking their heads yes, and leave excited. When they go apply what they learned, they can’t seem to connect the dots – like we’re speaking a language they don’t understand. Perhaps Martian gibberish…

They contact us when the wheels fall off rather than for help with proactive improvement. This is NOT what I signed up for. I thought I was going to make a difference. But now it appears my job is on the line! HELP!

Hopeless in Boulder, CO

Dear Hopeless:
Gosh, sounds like you’re walking on a tight rope 50 feet in the air at a circus.

This is where continuous improvement leaders land when they aren’t receiving the needed support.

It’s time to assess the strengths and weaknesses of your continuous improvement program.
First question to assess your program: Do you have documented results that continuous improvement has generated? Hours saved? Errors decreased? Customers served faster?

Evidence Gets Support.
We teach our teams to outline results before and after the continuous improvement project. We have a template I can share with you.

Asking and answering key questions will help identify your program’s opportunities.
This approach generates a customized program to gain the support and turn your team into heroes.

There is hope. We have helped many continuous improvement leaders off the tight rope. They have successfully gained support and do the work they deserve. You can achieve this success too.


P.S. Contact me for the template and to talk through your challenges.

Process Redesign—Before or After New Software Install?

December 14, 2018 | 3:32 pm

Dear Lee: We will replace our main software tool in the next two years. I have promised a big benefit from our big software investment.

I know process redesign can save us thousands of hours and deliver more value to our customers and board. But should we wait until the new software is in before redesigning our processes? Or redesign our processes now?

Tangled in Priorities in Indiana

Dear Tangled: What a thoughtful question! The chicken before the egg? The cart before the horse? Sorbet as a palate cleanser or dessert?

I have been asked this question several times in the last few months. Some background is needed.

Usually, software providers begin installation by asking for the work steps to be automated by the software. You could provide the current version of your process.

However, many times critical processes are built through decisions made over many years. For example, an auditor’s comment prompts an organization to add a double check to ensure payments are accurate. Then the next auditor sees more risk, so another double check is added. Yet another double check becomes part of the process in response to an error.

Another example: Your organization confirms client investments by paper. Then some clients want email confirmations, so that step is added to the process. But some clients don’t want email confirmation, so confirmations are stopped for those clients. When your organization implements a client portal, clients can see their investments online. Now you are operating four different investment confirmation alternatives.

Over time, these changes slow a process down and eat up capacity. And these layers may or may not deliver what clients or your organization need today.

Leaders of complex service organizations, including public and private foundations, have weighed in on the question of which should come first: a new software install or process redesign. The leaders I talked with said they do process redesign before a software installation so they can clearly identify and automate the right process—the process that will give them the biggest return on their software investment.

What is Process Redesign?
Process redesign is a change in work steps to improve outcomes. One component of proven process redesign is reviewing and updating your business rules. Business rules are decisions made by your organization about what is delivered and how work is done. Business rules can include:

  • Defining if you deliver email versus paper confirmation to clients.
  • Using three, four, or even five double checks to detect and fix errors before they get out the door versus investing in steps to ensure errors never occur.

The Bottom Line
To answer your question, ask yourself: Which version of our process do we want to automate? The legacy process that has layers and layers of steps that no longer are needed? Or a process that gets us the results we need?

If you redesign processes now, before you install new software, you can build the work steps that deliver the customer experience you need. You can recapture hundreds or even thousands of work hours starting now. Other leaders have taken this journey successfully. You can, too!

Learn more about this proven process redesign approach in my companion blog, Process Improvement Approaches: Which One Works Best? And consider process improvement training so your team can successfully redesign processes to get results both now and after the new software install.

Great question! Let me know what you think of this approach, as well as your position on sorbet as dessert! Lee

3 Keys to Avoid Process Improvement Project Failure

May 14, 2018 | 7:30 pm

Many leaders within service industries invest a ton of time, money, and resources into process improvement projects. Leaders from community foundations, government agencies, nonprofits, and mortgage lenders – to name a few – work hard to improve outcomes. Unfortunately, national research shows that more than half have failed. Keep reading to learn how to avoid being part of this statistic.

These leaders take on process improvement projects with good intentions as they try to overcome the pain points they are experiencing. They are expected to do more with the same resources. Some are experiencing errors or gaps in their service to customers. And quite frankly, many employees are simply burned out, resulting in turnover.  Process improvement is a great tool to help leaders of complex services organizations turn this pain into achievable outcomes.

Achieve Dramatically Improved Results

In its simplest form, process improvement is defined as a change in work steps to improve outcomes. When an end-to-end operations process is looked at with an eye for dramatic improvement, it becomes a process improvement project. When a more complex  process is included in the project, there is a larger potential for improved results. Yet, process improvement projects are risky and frequently fail.

In a ProSci national survey of 150 process improvement projects, results show the majority failed. They found that when leaders rely only on traditional approaches and tools like mapping and brainstorming, the majority of times process improvement projects do not succeed. The lack of proven tools and approaches was a major reason for failure.

If you see pain points you want to solve, process improvement works. When planning to invest in process improvement, you NEED it to succeed.

3 Keys to Help You Avoid Process Improvement Project Failure

We’ll illustrate this through our experience with community foundations.

1.  Utilize proven tools.

Foundations consistently use tools that accomplish the results they need. For example, foundations use proven granting practices to create an outcome in the community. Similarly, process improvement projects succeed when the proven process improvement tools are used.

2. Train your team on these proven tools.

Community foundations need trained resources for key tasks to ensure they are successful. For example, only a trained accountant is hired for an accounting role. The same is true for process improvement skills. Employees will successfully see their process improvement opportunities and solve foundation pain points when they are trained in the proven process improvement tools.

3.  Build process muscle through coaching to achieve success.

Everyday foundation leaders mentor employees until they round that learning curve. Accountants are only allowed to work independently when they prove they are ready. The same is true with the team’s new process improvement skills. As a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, I needed to submit two successful projects before I was certified. Early on, I had several projects that were not successful which could not be submitted.

Process improvement best practices show the need for employees to use these skills at least twice before they are successful and independent in getting great results. Therefore, leveraging a process improvement coach makes your learners successful the first time. They are coached to build process skills, while strengthening their process muscles. – resulting in success and independence.

The Track Record: Process Improvement Project Success

Foundations have achieved impressive results by leveraging proven process improvement tools and approaches. Their employees were trained and coached to dramatically improve these outcomes.

  • Cut their grant operations time by 60%
  • Deliver to customers in half the time.
  • Error free for 3 years.

Case Study: A chief financial officer at a large community foundation saw process improvement projects fail – swirling for months, dying out unfinished or not delivering results. Learn how their most recent improvement project recaptured over 60% of the team’s time and now deliver to the customer faster. Build Improvement Skill-and-Will.

At Innovation Process Design we are experts at helping teams successfully improve process and results. Your team can succeed too. Contact Lee Kuntz to talk about what you’re experiencing and how leaders have solved this pain.

Process Improvement Training Results in Very Little Overtime. That’s my problem!

May 14, 2018 | 7:57 pm

Dear Lee:
So I really do appreciate you training my team this year. We did indeed achieve success from the overwhelming work we faced. The embarrassing operation errors are gone. Clients and leadership love us. This process improvement training transformed our business and culture.

Did I mention, we work very little overtime?
That’s my biggest problem right now!

With the holidays coming up, I think about how I’ve avoided my mother-in-law’s holiday dinners for years by claiming overtime. She serves headcheese, kishke, and pig snoots to name a few. These, well, SCARE ME. I may have to face my fears this year. Or maybe you could pull one more nugget out of your bag so I can avoid this event?

Hiding Out in the East


Dear Hiding:
Let me check my bag – no, no advice on mother-in-laws. But heritage food – yes. I’ve had the privilege of sampling all these and agree with you. Luckily you do have time to figure out how you will handle this moment. The good news – overtime doesn’t have to be part of your plan. Good Luck!

Simply stated, process improvement is a change in work steps to improve outcomes. Through process improvement training you too can overcome overwhelming workloads, eliminate errors, and improve relationships with clients and leadership. Contact Lee Kuntz at 651-330-7076 to talk about what this might look like for your team.

4 Process Improvement Approaches: Which One Works Best?

May 14, 2018 | 8:40 pm

Service organizations work hard to solve their pain points. Many look to deliver more to customers, save time and get employees home at night. Process improvement is a change in work steps to improve outcomes and is a tool that can be used to accomplish all of this. There are several approaches to process improvement.

Which Process Improvement Approach Should Your Team Use to Achieve Success?

To answer this question, we surveyed leaders of complex service organizations including: community foundations, nonprofits, government, financial and mortgage organizations. We found leaders generally use four different types of process improvement:
• Informal
• Experience based
• Technology driven
• Transformational

Informal Process Improvement: This see and adjust approach is used to solve clearly seen pain points which have clear solutions. Organizations use what they already know and understand about the pain. They pick a solution and implement it to plug holes or gaps quickly.

Example: Alex would really like to get home from work before his children are in bed. He takes a closer look at what happens on the days he stayed late. He finds his late nights are the same days that customer checks were not entered into the system accurately. With that in mind, Alex improves his check entry process by balancing as soon as he is done entering checks. Alex uses logic and his knowledge of what is happening now to improve the process. Now, Alex gets home in time to read book after book to his children before they go to bed.

Experience Based Process Improvement: Over time and experience, employees develop best practices that work well. The employee understands the best practice and has seen the results it achieves. The implementation of a best practice experienced by an employee is a good form of process improvement.

Example: Susan is thrilled to start a new job within operations at a mortgage organization. She quickly notices they do things differently than where she came from. Now, it is hard to track where mortgage files are in the process. Under tight pressure to close mortgages quickly, Susan sees the team wasting valuable time looking for files. Based on her past experience, she knows if files are accessible and seen by the entire team, this time will not be wasted. After Susan introduces the idea, explains the value and how it works, the team decides to implement the idea. Now the mortgage operation flows smoother and originators are heroes to their clients. Susan used her experience in past processes to bring improvements to her colleagues.

Technology Driven Process Improvement: Technology tools are critical to complex service organizations. These tools can help innovate and drive faster, more consistent outcomes. This potential payback can influence these organizations to use complex expensive technology.

Installing new technology is only one step towards achieving innovation and delivering faster, more consistent outcomes to clients. The other critical step is redesigning processes to maximize the new technology. Redesigning process and implementing technology go hand in hand to achieve the needed results and return on an investment in technology.

Example 1: Warren County installs a new fee billing system. The county’s technology director, Jean, sponsors a meeting with directors and finance to train them on what the new billing system can do. With that knowledge, the team maps out the new work process to leverage what the new system offers. The team also identifies that the new billing must get bills out within 5 days. Based on the team’s 5-day need, the technology and processes are adjusted until the team achieves the 5-day results.

Example 2: Chang must assign volunteers within one day for Renew, a nonprofit organization. Right now, he needs to look up each volunteer’s availability in the system to find the right resource. Due to this time-consuming step, Chang rarely meets that one day goal. He talks with his technology partner, requesting a better way to see volunteer availability. IT talks with Chang, mapping out the current volunteer assignment work flow. IT also asks questions to identify what Chang needs to accomplish. IT builds a report that Chang now runs every day that lists volunteers’ availability. Using the report, Chang now assigns volunteers by noon and spends the rest of his day in the community helping clients.

In both examples, process mapping was used to help the team. Identifying required outcomes is another process improvement tool that they utilized. The employees in both examples only achieved the needed results by applying both technology change and process improvement.

Transformational Process Improvement: There are times when leaders need to significantly improve results. They need big gains like recapturing half their operations time or eliminating errors. These leaders use more advanced process improvement tools. This includes tools like traditional mapping, select Lean service operations, quality management and change management tools.

The need to use a selection of proven tools comes from evidence. ProSci, a nationally respected change management organization, conducted a survey of 150 process improvement projects. Over half of these projects “failed to be completed or did not achieve bottom-line results.” They found that the key success factors were proven tools, compelling results, accountability, support, involvement and cultural transformation.

These key success factors are foundational in transformational process improvement.


Example: A large community foundation has a big problem. A donor, who is also a board member at this foundation, shared that other organizations pay out his grants in 5 days. They are operating 10 days faster than this foundation. Leaders from this foundation heard the message and know they need big transformation to cut their time by two thirds. The CFO learns about transformational process improvement – advanced process improvement. The CFO gains support to train employees in advanced process improvement tools. They leverage an advanced process improvement coach in a four-day rapid improvement event to help employees see their opportunities, allowing them to transform their grantmaking processes. Utilizing their skills, the team independently implements the new and dramatically improved grantmaking process. Ninety days after implementation, this foundation team checks their results and celebrates. They now get grant checks out in 4-5 days rather than 15.

The bottom line: transformational process improvement leverages advanced tools delivering advanced results.

The Bottom Line

So how does a leader know which process improvement approach to use to be successful?

The answer: It is all about the results the leader needs. Contact Lee Kuntz to talk through your needs and to identify the approach that can work for you.

Summary: Leaders of complex service organizations can select the right process improvement approach for their organization by first looking at what they need to achieve and how important it is to get those results. Then, pick the process improvement approach that matches those needs.

At Innovation Process Design we are experts at helping teams successfully improve process and results. Your team can succeed too. Contact Lee Kuntz to talk about what you’re experiencing and how leaders have solved this pain.

Want ROI? Invest in Your Team’s Process Improvement Muscle

May 14, 2018 | 7:50 pm

Community foundation leaders say they were happy with the process improvement report generated by their accountant or consultant. At the same time, these leaders were frustrated because they could not get support to implement the outsider’s ideas. They paid thousands of dollars for the report and have almost zero return on their investment (ROI). Their credibility is on the line. Can you relate?

Community Foundation Employees Significantly Impact ROI

Process improvement is the change in employees’ work steps to improve outcomes. Even with the best consultant, employees may not fully understand and support the consultant’s process recommendations. After all, who knows your processes best? Your employees!

When employees don’t fully support an outsider’s recommendations, they may not fully engage in implementing and owning the improvement ideas. Without engagement and ownership, the report’s improvement ideas don’t get implemented. Without implementation, the foundation achieves zero or negative ROI in the improvement report.

Build Your Employee’s Process Muscles to Achieve ROI

When the foundation invests in building employee process skill through improvement training and coaching, they achieve better results. By harnessing the power of their employees and amplifying their process skills- employees get in the improvement game.

Newly skilled and coached employees create better improvement ideas – those that actually work with your foundation’s complexities. Employees fully implement their own, well thought out, improvement ideas. They go the extra mile to make their own ideas work. And they keep those improvements in place. These employees see and enhance processes with their new skills right when they see the process train starting to come off the tracks.

Lee Kuntz shares “Foundations say that when they invest in building employee process muscle, they achieve employee support to improve and ongoing implementation and process ownership. This is exactly where the foundation’s ROI comes from.”

Track Record of Investing in Process Improvement Investment

Evidence supports the investment in employees as process improvement and process management resources. Foundations achieved these impressive results by building skills through process improvement training and coaching.

Cut gifts operations time by 60%.
Error free for 3 years.
• Busiest giving day in foundation’s history without a hitch or error, and the team went home at end of work day.

Case Study: Learn how a chief financial officer at a large community foundation invested in process improvement training to recapture over 60% of the team’s time and now delivers to donors faster.

They achieved superior results from this investment. You can too. Contact Lee Kuntz with the pain points you see.

Contact Lee today to discuss your challenge.