Most philanthropic organizations take pains to carefully design and then redesign their mission, strategy, and programs. They, along with their board of directors, often hire strategic consultants and share best practices with like-minded organizations to frame their goals and objectives. Yet many spend little time improving their daily operations to deliver on these plans, even though community impact will happen only by doing so.
Sound planning without excellent execution is unlikely to produce the desired results. Operations—meaning how work gets done—is the key determinant of whether organizations succeed in accomplishing their mission. For philanthropic organizations, the nuts and bolts of operations are what enable teams to award and deliver grants quickly, set up and service fund accounts accurately, and work effectively with their board.
Not surprisingly, the majority of grantmakers’ resources are spent on operations. Our recent informal study showed only about 10% of employee time is used for mission, strategy, and program design. Yet 90% of employee time is spent on the operations to deliver on that planning. Yet in philanthropic organizations, little energy is spent maximize those operations resources.
Each full-time employee of a philanthropic organization works about 2,000 hours annually. Staff leaders can assign and manage that time in an efficient and effective way. Or they can assign employees to tasks that duplicate efforts and don’t add value. Either way, the money is gone and the community pays for that time through fewer grant dollars being spent.
Operations success requires specific skills. These include focusing on details to produce desired results, practicing strong project and task management, solving problems effectively, and having a deep working knowledge of process management and improvement.
A great first step toward enhancing operations expertise is to identify employees with an operations aptitude, then provide them process management and improvement training. Our operations and process transformation training uses proven process methodologies to maximize what the organization already has to improve outcomes. We show attendees how to maximize work steps, technology, business rules, roles, training, and forms—all of which are components of operations.
As a result of our training and coaching during these deep-dive events, we see organizations achieving a greater understanding of the value of operations work. Their employees are also transforming how work is done, significantly reducing and improving the work steps to decrease turn-around time and improve community impact. Learn more through this case study describing how one team went from overwhelmed and delivering late to making a much greater community impact.
In my recent conversations with foundations, I have noticed a greater commitment to scrutinizing how work is done. This includes identifying staff to focus on monitoring operations outcomes while also managing processes and systems. Increasingly, grantmakers are redesigning roles to build in detailed operations accountabilities. We have seen three approaches to this intensified concentration on operations:
Identify an operations person in each major function: Some organizations are establishing operations accountabilities by naming a person in each area as the operations lead. For example, one philanthropy team includes a senior operations manager who “ensures the productivity and efficiency of the Philanthropic Services team while working across departments to improve cross-team collaboration and communication.”
Another organization employs an operations manager who “guides the development and implementation of efficient processes within the Community Programs team to maximize the team’s efforts toward racial and economic equity.” This same organization employs an operations manager in their finance area to deliver on the chief financial officer’s agenda. This operations manager “owns and drives Finance & Operations team planning, project management and process development. The role also is the primary liaison for Finance and Operations communication across teams and collaborates on cross-foundation operations initiatives.”
Hire a chief operations officer (COO): Some organizations are grouping functions that are highly operational into one leadership role. For example, one job posting noted that the COO “will work in alignment and harmony with the CEO and will be responsible for effectively managing the organization’s infrastructure, processes, human and financial resources.”
Another philanthropic group shared that the COO “leads the Information Technology, Grants Administration, Board governance, Human Resources, Organizational Development, Office Management, and business continuity functions.”
Add the management of operations to a senior leader’s responsibilities: Some organizations add “Operations” to the responsibilities of the chief financial officer (CFO) or another leader. One foundation’s description of its CFO and operations role includes: “Responsible for leading the Foundation’s financial reporting, risk management, budget, technology roadmap, and investment oversight.”
Another organization lists some responsibilities of the vice president of finance and operations as follows:
Making a positive community impact is possible only when effective operational practices are in place. Foundations are now building their operations capabilities and accountabilities, enabling them to focus on both planning and operations successfully. Your organization can too. Contact Lee Kuntz to talk about the operations challenges you see at your organization.
Many philanthropic organizations have only the next four months to position themselves for success this year. Given November marks the beginning the big donation season, that means there is only a limited window for completing this year’s agenda. Some organizations are focused on just surviving 2021. Others are engaging employees to solve pain points, create capacity, and get ready for the year-end donation season.
Because of the far-reaching effects of the pandemic, this year promises to bring added challenges to the philanthropic sector. To be most productive and successful, you need to ask yourself several key questions: Are employees engaged? Do they have the skill and time to solve these challenges?
Return to Office: Just when remote work procedures are running well, many foundation staff are returning to the office. Once there, what process will they perform? Is the team ready to redesign processes for in-person success?
Regular Plus Special Programs: The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently reported that charitable giving is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels. That is good news for our communities, but it means philanthropic organizations need to be poised and ready to process those forthcoming gifts and grants. In addition to managing that workload, will your foundation continue to offer emergency assistance programs? Are social justice programs also on the agenda? How will your employees find time to do their regular work, plus take on any special programs?
System Replacement Goals: How are your systems holding up? With so much new technology available, did your organization include a systems change in its 2021 plan? Will it be in the 2022 plan? If new technology is on the horizon, where will you find the skill and time to ensure successful implementation?
Hiring in the Post-Pandemic Economy: More jobs are starting to be available as the economy regains its footing. Employees are starting to take advantage of new opportunities by changing jobs. As always, it’s challenging to find great candidates. How will you attract and retain good employees? How will you get new employees up to speed quickly so they can be productive when the end-of-year rush gets underway?
The consistent thread tying these challenges together is the need to engage employees in deciding how work gets done, create more capacity, and redesign processes for maximal effectiveness. Philanthropic organizations have successfully addressed these needs and achieved their goals through our process transformation coaching and training.
Learn more about our certified process skills in this blog post: Process Certification Helps Organizations Achieve the Results They Need
Whether it is through our hybrid approach or all in-person, we help employees learn how to work more efficiently and effectively. By actively engaging employees in identifying opportunities for improvement and creating solutions, we foster an organizational culture characterized by nimble skill and empowerment.
Recently a California foundation sponsored our training and coaching package. First, through our four-hour hybrid Think Differently Concepts Workshop™, we taught attendees how to spot work steps that were value-added and those that were a waste of resources. They learned to solve these pain points. Employee feedback on the training included the following comments.
• “I liked the exercises and examples pertaining to our organization specifically.”
• “I liked working in small groups with people from other departments, and having time for questions.”
After the training, Lee meet with foundation leaders to design steps that will keep transformation skills in use.
Next, Lee coached this team in a deep dive into their gifts process. They took the process from 86 steps to 58 better steps while retaining strong internal controls. In the past, each pile of paper checks gifts was passed between staff 13 times. The team designed a new electronic, document-based process that cut handoffs in half. Error proofing is now a well-known and practiced skill.
The team will implement their new process before October so they can face the year-end donation season in a stronger position. Foundation leaders said that through this work, they expect to recapture capacity and deliver acknowledgements more quickly. They appreciated that the project was done on time and on budget. Said one leader about the combined training and coaching approach, “Lee used empathy, understanding and extensive knowledge of Community Foundations to help us streamline our process.” Added another leader, “We accomplished A LOT in a short time!”
In this blog post, learn more about how our training and coaching program works and why it is a worthwhile investment: This Year, Plan to Succeed!
The very busy year-end donation season is coming soon. Rather than struggle through that hectic season, contact Lee Kuntz to learn what you can do reach your performance goals and thrive this year.
Community action programs (CAP agencies) are the last local line of defense for families in need. They feed and heat our neighbors. They step in to ready young children, who would other wise be left behind, for school success.
Some CAP agencies want to do more. Therefore, they are building their team’s process muscles. Then they are taking a deep dive into their operations processes to better meet community needs. Their outcomes are recapturing and reinvesting work time and better meeting state mandates. Learn the innovation happening at one CAP agency from our presentation at the Minncap Annual Conference.
Did the pandemic impact your grant payments? Are employees moving paper from location to location to get checks out? Are they working extra-long hours? Does it take more time to get checks out? What feedback is your organization getting from grantees and vendors about paper checks?
One organization looked into their busy season and decided to proactively take action to help employees and the community thrive. Here is their story:
Streamline Through Effective, Paperless, Electronic Payments Case Study.
Recently a nonprofit programs director, Shannon, asked me for help when she identified gaps in her organization’s grantmaking operations. Since Shannon had seen these pain points cured in another organization, she knew the solution: transform processes to change outcomes.
Shannon’s experience is proof positive that seeing is believing. She and other leaders are now leveraging our Introduction to Process Transformation event to help their organizations to help their organizations streamline operations and learn how to improve client outcomes.
Shannon first experienced process transformation results when a consultant hired by her previous employer led the team through a process improvement project. The results were impressive, helping Shannon’s team recapture hundreds of hours of time from operations while improving the quality and speed of grants decisioning and delivery.
After Shannon accepted a promotion with a larger foundation, she immediately saw that grantee onboarding took so long that many deserving organizations dropped out before they applied for their first grant. These nonprofits just could not spend the time waiting in line for a grant application. And these frustrated organizations shared their experience with donors in the community, hurting the foundation’s reputation.
Based on her previous process improvement experience, Shannon recognized her current situation as a process improvement opportunity. She explained to operations leaders from finance, grantmaking, technology, and donor relations that their pain points were solvable through an investment in transforming operations processes. The foundation then invested in our process improvement training and coaching. As a result of their efforts, staff cut their nonprofit onboarding from 90 days to 20 days, and at the same time gathered better data and set more favorable and attainable expectations with the nonprofits they serve.
Shannon was able to get leadership on board with the funding and time investment because she had experienced the positive results of process transformation and could speak to its benefits. But how do problem solvers like Shannon gain support for process transformation when neither they nor their higher-ups have seen the benefits? Or when foundation management is not yet open to an investment in process transformation?
Recognizing that seeing is believing, we have developed an event called Introduction to Process Transformation. This live, virtual gathering entails one day of process transformation coaching with your team that fits within your organization’s existing budget. The event is tailored to your specific situation, in that leaders from your organization will identify a small process that needs improving, and you will leverage our team’s coaching to transform that process.
The expected outcomes of this one-day event are as follows:
• A detailed process and map that can drive improved outcomes.
• An implementation plan for the new process.
• Employee ownership of the newly designed process and its implementation.
• Employee engagement in the next improvement investment.
Because of the tight, action-oriented focus of this coaching, your foundation can learn and achieve the value of process transformation without stretching or exceeding your current budget. Your staff will close process gaps and solve operational pain points. Potential processes to be explored in this introductory, one-day event include creating paperless payments, gift or grant acknowledgments, and ACH payment.
Foundations don’t have to live with employee stress, reputational risk, and negative community feedback because of processes that don’t work as they should. If you are looking to cure these pain points, contact Lee Kuntz to share your foundation’s hurdles and roadblocks and hear how others are curing those pain points. Lee can suggest an adaptable process improvement coaching and training option that fits your situation. Foundations have reaped numerous rewards by investing in process transformation. You can too.
In this, my twentieth year in business, I thank so many for being part of my community. By collaborating with wise and dynamic people and organizations, I have had the privilege of assisting hundreds of organizations in solving their operational pain points. Working together, we have shaped organizational cultures for the better and have equipped organizations to fulfill their mission and serve their constituents effectively. Thank you.
In today’s blog, I am reflecting on that journey and sharing a few important learnings.
Twenty years ago this month, I was at a crossroads. I was burned out from a project director role and an accounting manager role and was out of work due to job elimination. Job elimination took me by surprise. Exhaustion did not. After catching up on my sleep and rebuilding my energy for a month, I naively decided I would do “consulting.” I had no idea what that meant, nor did I have a plan for how to succeed on that path. Yet I jumped in and promptly began both a new career and a new organization. That was the start of my real learnings about how to be successful in any career.
We all have skills in multiple areas, and how we choose to invest those skills is a personal decision. In my case, I was thankful for my previous experience with Cargill Inc. and American Express (later American Express Financial Advisors), both Forbes Top 100 companies. As I started my consulting journey, I was asked in interviews with potential clients, “What do you do?” I regularly replied, “Anything you need.”
The school of hard knocks soon taught me that when I tried to do everything, some things went well and others did not. If I lacked passion or relevant experience for a given consulting role, I became stressed, unfulfilled and disappointed that I failed to produce strong results for the client. In contrast, when I was both passionate about the task at hand and good at it, I was happy and my clients were pleased to recommend me to others because of the measurable improvements they experienced.
Skill is important. Yet passion is a priceless intangible. Passion fills a person with energy and drive—it’s the spark that engages others. Passion makes a person believable.
My early consulting forays taught me that my passion was achieving process improvement results. I came to believe that the only people who can improve how work is done are the employees who do those steps. I also observed that most employees do not yet have the process improvement skills they need to approach their work in the most effective and efficient manner. Few employees are familiar enough with the science behind quality management, lean operations, and human-centered design to attain process improvement results. ProSci, a change-management organization, published a survey saying that the majority of process improvement projects fail, with lack of skill being a primary reason. Embracing my role as a process improvement trainer and coach has fueled my business and services for many years. And I thank my first client, John Ahlfs, for taking a chance on me 20 years ago and launching me on my journey.
When I am talking to teams from around the country about how they can recapture time and deliver better results to their community, I get excited. And teams that engage me get inspired. They believe.
I periodically get asked to provide career guidance, which I do whenever possible. My time-tested career advice is to follow your passion, because being excited about what you do is the surest way to achieve success.
When I decided to go into consulting, I thought people would automatically listen to me. I was the expert, right? But after watching my advice go sideways several times, I learned there was more to my service to others than teaching about what I knew.
I found a book on consultative consulting, which suggested listening before providing insights. This made perfect sense, because how can a consultant help anyone without understanding where the organization or its employees are coming from? Even a person who is paid to give advice must earn the right to give it.
That is when I started really listening well to my prospects, clients, friends, and family. Once I learned to ask the right questions and listen attentively to the answers, I was able to provide a meaningful, well-rounded perspective. Understanding others’ views, drivers, and goals now has become second nature to me and has become an essential element of my success.
Initially I was going to show everyone just how to get consulting done. I thought I was smart and skilled and could simply prescribe the changes that needed to be made. I missed so much while I acted under that do-it-myself mindset. I missed how others saw things. I missed wrinkles and texture about situations. I missed building relationships with the people who would help me.
Since that time, I have built a community that supports my business. I have vendors who have been with me most of these 20 years, learning about my business and providing exactly what was needed again and again. I have had employees who have learned my company’s values and have applied them so well. I am also lucky enough to have supporters who provide wise counsel, share important information, and speak well of my work to potential clients. I believe I have earned their trust by listening to their needs and being committed to their success. And I have clients who trusted me to listen and meet their needs. These same clients are consistently available to provide a reference and a view into their work with my team.
I have learned that it takes a community to make a business or career successful. I am so thankful to you and others who have trusted and helped me during the past twenty years. Here’s to the next decade!
Is your foundation installing new grantmaking or CRM software? Many times, staff are excited to have a new system, but they are hesitant to give up what is familiar and proven. Some philanthropic organizations address these emotions by developing a comprehensive software install plan. Such a plan addresses process change management steps as well as the questions, concerns, and reservations of the people who will implement them. Leaders who took these human factors into account say their investment in thorough planning more than paid off.
More than one hundred philanthropic organizations change grantmaking systems each year. This once-in-a-decade or so task is an expensive and risky venture. Given that most foundations install a new system quite infrequently, employees are understandably unfamiliar with the conversion process. And even though some employees may be tired of the old software, are they ready to significantly change their work processes, roles, and controls to maximize the new system?
One foundation spent a couple million dollars on a new grantmaking system and CRM only to have employees bypass the labor-saving features of the new system. They continued their manual work arounds, including old work steps, spreadsheets, and piles of paper. All the expensive, state-of-the-art bells and whistles that the new system offered went unused.
Achieving buy-in from staff members who will use the new system on a daily basis is a huge contributor to software success. Therefore, meeting employees where they are and readying them to implement the changes ahead is an important project step. Recently we surveyed philanthropic leaders, asking what steps they included in their new software plan to prepare employees for the pending conversion. More than half (58%) of survey respondents said they invested in human and process change management training during their new system install.
Their outcomes? Participants said their training addressed human change-management skills, empowering employees to question how work is done, business policies, and roles and responsibilities. Many also said they believed this training helped them achieve improved outcomes during the new software install and ongoing.
Is your philanthropic organization interested in learning how human and process change management training looks? Register for this upcoming free webinar: Not Just Plug and Play – Process, People and New System Install.
Also, contact Lee Kuntz to discuss your journey and challenges. Lee can share how others who have installed new software have achieved success by incorporating both human and process change management training into their installation plan. Many foundations have helped their employees embrace new and better ways to approach their daily tasks using a new software system You can too!
Here in Minneapolis and across our nation, these are challenging times for nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. Local emergencies, impactful opportunities to speak up, and the COVID-19 pandemic are creating serious new needs in communities across the country. Organizations that were already operating at or near capacity find themselves trying to stretch their resources even further while simultaneously managing the disruptions caused by a shift to remote work, declining donations, and a volatile stock market. As a result, many organizations are struggling to meet their goals.
Learn how some organizations are going virtual to improve their nonprofit operations and results to their community through my recently published article in The Sustainable Nonprofit blog from PND by Candid.
Go Virtual to Improve Results During Emergencies
Have you installed new software that was universally embraced and paid for itself quickly, perhaps even within 24 months?
Attaining widespread employee buy-in at an affordable price is a worthy but difficult goal. Yet as new software competes for funding with other good ideas, achieving this is important. Business process redesign can help philanthropic organizations realize this measure of success.
Philanthropic organizations replace software, including their big grantmaking systems, every five to twenty years. That makes sense, as the philanthropic industry is growing. Contributions to donor-advised funds totaled $37.12 billion in 2018. This represents an 86 percent increase in contributions over the past five years. The related grants increased likewise.
Growth in grantmaking often necessitates employing new tools to stay ahead of the workload. Leaders of philanthropic organizations need to build a strong case to justify investment in costly new software. The best-case scenario is when the new software pays for itself within 12 to 24 months. In order to achieve such a favorable return on investment, employees throughout the organization need to be open to change and willing to explore all that the software has to offer. Business process redesign engages employees in fully learning and embracing new software, inviting them to fully leverage it.
Recently, three experienced technology leaders and I spoke at a Technology Association of Grantmakers webinar about how to leverage business process redesign to promote software acceptance and a quick return on investment. Key points:
Check out this new, free tool that can inform your thinking about software implementation: Business Process Redesign Steps for New Software Success.
Contact me, Lee Kuntz, at firstname.lastname@example.org for a no-cost discussion of your situation and recommended steps to redesign your business processes.
Foundations have realized substantial benefits from their new software investment through leveraging our business process transformation coaching and training. You can too!
Is your Minnesota philanthropic or nonprofit organization experiencing PAIN?
• Board looking for more efficiency and savings?
• Errors or double payments to vendors?
• Burned out employees?
Three Minnesota teams will dramatically improve their organization-wide accounts payable process through a two-day cohort workshop. Their new payment process can save time across their organization, which can be reinvested in your community. Teams that have taken this workshop have recaptured between 300 and 1,000 work hours. They also deliver better and faster outcomes.
The bottom line: Within six months, financial leaders can recapture their investment in time and coaching. One nonprofit leader shared: “It’s a no brainer. Little investment, bit return. Our time is valuable and we now we can do so much more for our community.”
In this workshop, attendees will:
• Transform their accounts payable process using proven coaching and tools
• Learn in a three-organization cohort, hearing best practices from others
• Maximize all they have now, without investing in new hardware
Attendees at this workshop achieve success through Innovation Process Design’s proven three step approach.
Contact Lee Kuntz today to hear more or register your organization for this September in-person or online two-day learning cohort.