When a foundation or nonprofit updates its software system, the purchase typically requires years of research and a financial investment that can run well into six figures. So, it’s important to make the most of that purchase. The most effective way to do that is to use system upgrades as an opportunity to reexamine internal processes
That kind of self-reflection allows the organization to get the best return on their investment, while following best practices for a software purchase. In fact, in a recent Innovation Process Design survey, 100% of participants said process design is essential when adding new software. By maximizing internal processes, organizations can get employees out of the back office and back to serving their communities.
“It’s important to have a high-level outlook of what outcomes drive the process and not be married to current processes in order to achieve the same result in a more efficient manner,” wrote one respondent.
“I can’t imagine how you can put in new software without reimaging the process,” wrote another.
In all, 24 philanthropic and nonprofit organizations completed the survey. Approximately half of respondents were financial leaders. The other half were grantmakers and technology leaders. Most respondents — 80% — had recent experience implementing sizable new software projects.
Exactly what reimaging should look like depends on the type of project in question. If your software installation is small or low risk, following vendor best practices or holding internal discussions may be enough. Larger or more involved projects may require an outside coach to lead the process or provide redesign training.
Wondering where to start? Here are a few key questions to answer before you complete your next software purchase:
1. How should you redesign? About half of survey respondents said they typically manage process redesign internally. Another 41% said engaging an outside coach is an important part of the process. A coach’s process improvement expertise can be a powerful tool when employees are hesitant to make changes, too busy to fully focus on the task, or inexperienced in process design.
2. When should you redesign? Reimaging before selecting a new software system gives nonprofits a clear picture of how they can work more efficiently and may even help them realize they don’t yet need new software. Redesigning after a system has been selected but before it’s installed, on the other hand, allows foundations to build new processes with the new system’s capabilities in mind. Building processes after the system is in place is another viable option, but respondents said it often feels like “trying to build a plane while it’s in the air.” Half of respondents to the Innovation Process Design survey said the best time to redesign is after selecting the new system and before installation. Meanwhile, another 37% say redesigning before selecting a new system is the way to go, and the final 12% say redesign should be done after the new system is in place.
3. Should you go big? The answer to this question may depend on the size of your software purchase or the needs of your processes, but 60% of survey respondents said they received more benefit from major process redesign than from minimal or no redesign. For some, going big led to better outcomes, faster implementation, and more significant return on a major systems investment, while giving team members the confidence to ask and resolve questions. In addition, 58% of participants combined process improvement training with redesign. These organizations said they received significant value from process training and this approach.
Understanding the goals of work is the first level of process redesign. It creates a framework that organizations can use as they proceed to the second level, which includes process work — identifying the structure of who does what, and when they do it. The third level is process detail — identifying the screens, fields, reports, and steps used to complete the work. However, all organizations should incorporate level three – process detail – when implementing a new software system.
Once an organization has a clear picture of its needs and the scope of the software project at hand, the team can identify the steps needed for reaching its goal — whether that involves a major design or a few simple process tweaks. This thinking is summarized in a matrix you can use to identify the specific process redesign steps to help your team be successful. See the matrix and survey summary report here: Summary of Reimage Processes for New Software Survey
Changing the way things have always been done is intimidating, and there are inherent risks. But applying time-tested resources in a way that best meets your nonprofit’s needs will make it easier to successfully manage the twists and turns of process transformation.
Donor-advised funds are a big growth area for foundations. More donors are contributing to these accounts at their favorite foundation than ever before. Yet these funds provide little margin to pay for the services they require. Foundations are squeezed between low margins and high service requirements as the number of funds climbs.
Some foundations address this challenge through maximizing each donation opportunity. Some are looking internally. These foundations are decreasing the labor and cost to serve donor-advised funds while delivering better and faster results to their contributors.
When a donor contributes to a donor-advised fund at a public charity, that person is generally eligible to take an immediate tax deduction. Then those funds are invested for tax-free growth, and the giver can recommend grants to virtually any IRS-qualified public charity. Donor-advised funds are the fastest-growing charitable giving vehicle in the United States, because they are one of the easiest and most tax-advantageous ways to give.
Public charities, mainly foundations, receive minimal fees for the work they do to manage donor-advised funds. Yet these funds require substantial services, including investment management, grant payment, and grantee due diligence. For many foundations, the labor and cost of performing these tasks approaches or is greater than the fees they receive for these accounts. As these funds continue to proliferate, some foundations find that managing them siphons significant time away from fulfilling their essential purpose.
Some of these foundations are turning to advanced process improvement to decrease their labor and costs as they support their donor-advised funds. Once they get trained on the tools that are working for community foundations, these proactive leaders are redesigning process to recapture work time while delivering consistently good service to donors.
For example, one community foundation used process implement training and coaching to go from 75 to 39 steps in completing donor-advised grants. Once the new steps were implemented, their average processing time dropped from 50 minutes to only 25 minutes. With the savings of time, the foundation is able to deliver grants more predictably and efficiently—to the delight of donors and the nonprofits that receive those grants. In addition, the recaptured work time is now being used to address other community needs.
Foundation leaders are savvy. They constantly tinker to improve how back-office work is done. But the donor-advised grant squeeze may require more than a few tweaks in process. It may require making an investment in advanced process improvement.
Contact Lee Kuntz to learn how to address this squeeze through redesigning processes. Several community foundations have built their process knowledge and redesigned their donor-advised fund processes to recapture thousands of hours and deliver better and faster results. You can too!
Have you been part of a process improvement project that required an investment of hours upon hours over months or even years? Was a process improvement effort stopped because the team could not agree upon which improvement ideas to implement? Or an improvement initiative that made things worse instead of better?
With results like these, no wonder leaders hesitate to authorize process improvement initiatives. Yet some leaders are achieving impressive results from redesigning processes. They cut the work time to serve their customers in half, recapturing and repurposing thousands of hours. At the same time, they deliver better outcomes to their communities, boards, and partners.
These diametrically opposed outcomes beg the question: What creates the big difference in results?
The difference in results stems, in part, from the varying working definitions of process improvement. One website defines process improvement as “a systematic approach that can be used to make incremental and breakthrough improvements in processes.” While this approach sounds promising, it falls short of bringing transformational change.
A process redesign project that focuses only on improving how work is done will not significantly improve outcomes despite taking many hours of staff time. For example, one team shared that they worked on an improvement project for eighteen months. They met for two hours every month and talked about a host of cutting-edge ideas. Yet the team could not come together behind any idea they were willing to try. After they had invested more than 400 work hours generating ideas without implementing any of them, people started dropping out of the project. Then the CEO identified a new initiative and the team switched its focus to that priority.
I view process improvement more holistically. I see it as a tool to improve outcomes in a broader sense. It can be leveraged to enhance quality, customer experience, accuracy, compliance, or any other key process outcome. When leaders start by identifying the specific outcome(s) that must be improved, they make it possible to achieve impactful process improvement results.
Recently, a chief operations/administration officer (COO) became aware that her organization was incurring significant late-payment penalties. Phone calls about the late payments from both internal managers and external partners were eating up her team’s time, and the organization’s financial resources were being squandered on paying the penalties.
The COO talked with her team about what she saw and then initiated a process redesign project with the specific goal of getting payments out on time. She leveraged my team’s process improvement training and mentoring to help the team better understand what was actually happening. Once her team saw that they could solve the pain they were experiencing, they eagerly stepped forward to be on the redesign team. This team used their new process improvement knowledge to reduce the payment process from 110 steps to 60 steps. Now they are implementing these new ideas and have shortened the time to get payments out. They will no longer be plagued with collection phone calls and can reinvest their time in helping the organization fulfill its key objectives.
Achieving process improvement results starts with identifying the needed outcome(s) first. After all, would you start a road trip without picking a destination? With no destination, you may end up in Alaska, rather than California. Or on the side of the road, out of provisions for the journey. Only through setting a clear destination can your team succeed in achieving the improvement they need.
As a coach and a trainer, I have opportunities to influence leaders as they seek to achieve process improvement results. Therefore, I first ask which outcomes need to be improved.
When leaders focus on improving specific process outcomes, they foster employee engagement and leadership support. Starting with a particularly painful outcome is a great first step. For example, a director of donor relations received calls from three donors who said they received someone else’s gift acknowledgement letter. After awkward apologies were made and the letters were corrected, the director called me to learn how she could quickly address this situation so it would never happen again. I coached her and the team through a four-hour rapid process improvement event. I encouraged the group to kept one essential outcome in mind: Gift acknowledgements must be sent out to the correct donor every time.
Being clear about the goal helped galvanize the team to take action and be laser-focused in their redesign work. This focus shortened the time needed for the improvement work, as there were no side trips that consumed valuable team time and energy.
When your team needs to attain a given process outcome and is missing the mark, think process improvement. Whether your issue is an unhappy customer, overwhelmed employees, or a board demanding answers, start by identifying the specific outcomes needed. Communicating with employees about the missed mark and committing to resolve it can begin your journey to achieve impressive results.
Some organizations have built their process management skills and routinely fix inadequate outcomes successfully and quickly. You can, too. Contact me, Lee Kuntz, to talk through how your team can undertake rapid improvement that achieves process improvement results and promotes organizational success. Achieve Process Improvement Results: Start at the End