Situation: A community foundation CEO shared with me that her organization was growing, but the processes they had in place felt frail. She worried that employee turnover could create the risk of errors and reputation damage. Also, the foundation was moving slowly in performing essential services, such as issuing donor-advised fund (DAF) grants. This CEO knew the foundation had the opportunity for growth, but employees were burned out from regularly working overtime on both evenings and weekends. How could she lead the team to solve these challenges?
Approach: My first step was to introduce process improvement/transformation tools so staff and leadership could see what was actually happening. Then I provided a four-hour “Concepts Training” to project teams to build the foundation’s most powerful asset: their team. After that I coached a 24-hour process deep dive into the foundation’s DAF grants process.
Results: This approach enabled each project team member to learn the process. The team removed 40% of the process steps they had formerly used to issue DAF grants. In so doing, they decreased turnaround time and recaptured about 1,500 hours of staff time. Staff and leaders came to understand that every employee needed to be part of the solution. Now the team has both skills and will to replace FIMS. A delighted project champion commented that the work was done on time, on target, and on budget.
See a process deep dive happen: IPD Process Deep Dive Experience Video
Given that November marks the beginning of the big donation season, many philanthropic organizations have only the next four months to position themselves for success this year. Now is a great time to engage employees in solving pain points, creating capacity, and getting ready for the year-end donation season. Learn more: What Will Your Organization Accomplish in the Next Four Months?
Recently, a software vendor told me that organizations considering a new software system would do well to supply their vendor with a detailed process map. Having such a map helps the vendor better address the organization’s needs and generate a more accurate quote. In four hours of work with your team, I can produce a process map that will help you achieve a better software outcome. Contact me to learn more.
The past two years have been defined by disruption, causing some leaders to worry about overwhelming staff with process changes. In reality, however, thoughtfully examining and optimizing day-to-day organizational activities can actually help philanthropic and nonprofit organizations recapture time, improve accuracy, increase coaching, and otherwise enhance their community impact. Learn more in my article recently published in Candid’s Philanthropy News Digest. Change for good: How foundations can increase impact through operational improvements | The sustainable nonprofit | Features | PND (philanthropynewsdigest.org)
MinnCAP Annual Conference, Willmar Minnesota
July 26, 2022, 1:30 to 2:45 pm
Minnesota CAP agencies: Learn more and register: MinnCAP Annual Conference 2022
Is your organization looking to make a bigger community impact? Your operations—that is, how work is done—can be a powerful contributor in accomplishing your organization’s 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 boards. Some organizations have discovered that fine-tuning these operations equips them to magnify their community impact.
These organizations function at their best when their processes, systems, and people are maximized. Here are three ways organizations can maximize to operate for impact.
Better service to the community. When an organization’s grantmaking work steps are consistently carried out as designed (including substantial error proofing), grants are issued accurately. Proactive operations staff make these grants in the manner that is best for grantees, whether electronically or with hard-copy checks. Having processes in place to verify email and postal addresses eliminates the need to reissue communications or follow up on missing grant payments. When organizations manage processes for accuracy and a high service level, everyone’s time and energy can be spent wisely.
Quicker turnaround. Most organizations spend hundreds of thousands—even millions—of dollars on technology. From my experience, few of them use more than half their system’s capabilities. Instead they rely on manual processes and system work-arounds, all of which slow the delivery of payments to grantees and receipts to donors. When payments and receipts do not go out on time, grantees and donors typically start calling to find out the status of their payment or donation. Fielding calls and tracking down an explanation takes precious time away from the main purpose of the philanthropic effort.
A grantmaker who makes best use of the available tools, such as leveraging templates in Outlook and creating system reporting rather than relying on manual work-arounds, gets grants and confirmations out the door fast. The donor or grantee’s focus on creating an impact continues without disruption.
Efficiency that creates lower administrative costs, enabling more community investment. Philanthropic work, whether related to program design or operations, is paid for by fund expenses. Therefore, greater internal costs mean higher fund expenses and less money available for making a philanthropic impact. Doing operations work more efficiently can help decrease internal costs. A key component to that efficiency is maximizing staff time.
Yet too often, operations staff are hired and then shown their desk and a pile of work. This may unwittingly imply that their role is less important than the functions carried out by program designers.
Nonprofits that support their staff by defining clear roles, providing purposeful training, and delineating business rules find that their staff gets work done faster and better. And not inconsequentially, their employees are satisfied, productive, and energized.
Grantmakers and operations staff working in finance, technology, human resources, and other areas have an important role to play in enhancing efficiency. By proactively managing and improving processes and making best use of systems, you can increase the philanthropic impact of your organization.
Learn more about how to enhance operation in this recently published article: Invest in your operations teams to drive your mission forward – PhilanTopic | PND | Candid
Lee Kuntz is founder and president of Innovation Process Design, Inc. As a certified process coach, she provides process improvement training and coaching to help teams look at their work with new eyes, transform how work gets done, and create tangible results in operations efficiency and effectiveness.
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.
The COVID-19 health crisis has created serious needs in nearly every community, and for the philanthropic and nonprofit organizations that serve those communities it has created a unique challenge: Organizations that were already working at capacity now see even more opportunities to carry out their mission, but they are struggling to find the resources to meet those needs. Disruptions caused by a move to remote work, declines in giving, and an unpredictable stock market are all making it more difficult for organizations to meet their goals.
Employees who were already 100% committed now find they need to commit 200%. So, where does that extra 40 hours come from? Increasing your organization’s capacity to have a positive impact on targeted populations is key at this time of scarce resources; and live, online, process improvement training and coaching is the perfect tool to help build organizational muscle while keeping staff safe.
Adding new software is a major investment for philanthropic organizations. While improved tools can help automate business processes and create more efficient workflows, adding a new software solution can take years of research and hundreds of thousands of dollars for implementation and system integration.
It’s a big job, and new software alone is no guarantee that an organization will improve outcomes enough to cover the cost of installation. Read more and take part in a 10 question survey on best practices here.
Has your organization brought in new software with great promise and not achieved the desired results? Has the new software failed to improve the workflow? Has implementation of new software damaged credibility?
Now you can both learn and share your experience through our “Maximize Business Process and Outcomes During New Software Install Survey”. The goal of this ten-question survey is to gather philanthropic organization leaders’ views and experiences in redesigning processes when installing new software. The survey responses will be aggregated to identify best practices.
Survey link: Maximize Outcomes During New System Install Survey
Thank you for investing in this survey, yourself and others in the philanthropic industry!
Is your organization planning and budgeting for next year? Are you tired of fighting the same pain points year after year, such as overwhelming workloads, demands for better or faster results, or challenges to maximize costly technology? During this year’s budgeting and planning season, invest in process transformation to recapture capacity and solve pain points.
This is planning and budgeting season for about 70% of the organizations I know. Many are creating concrete plans and budgets to solve their pain points in 2020. If they do not, organizations will experience the same old pain and frustration in 2020.
Organizations that help and serve others are recapturing hundreds—even thousands—of hours of capacity. They are serving their customers, community, board, funders, and donors in half the time. These leaders are retaining employees. Their secret? Investing to transform processes and results.
Most of us have done process improvement. We have tweaked processes and resolved breaks. Some organizations are taking their improvement work to a transformational level. They are cutting their work steps in half and delivering to their key partners in fraction the time. They are freeing up thousands of staff hours that can be used for other purposes
These organizations budget for an investment in process transformation training and coaching during in their annual plan. Here are the results they are achieving.
• Recapturing over 4,000 work hours.
• Sharing services across functions.
• Maximizing use of existing technology.
• Remaining error-free for 3 years.
• Delivering to customers in half the time.
• Transforming their organizations through ongoing improvement.
Recently we surveyed our clients’ process transformation results. Our customers achieved a return of 1.5 to 3 times their investment during the first year after implementation. This return came in the form of recaptured time and error-free results. Then these organizations continued to receive time back and positive feedback from customers over time.
Figure 1: Return on Transformational Process Improvement
In addition, achieving this enviable return on their investment, these leaders are committed to building a culture of ongoing improvement. They can easily fix and improve any process and result because they have learned the tools to see and solve transformation opportunities. Their employees are fully invested in the process transformation game because they have been involved as stakeholders since the inception of the training.
Leaders are bringing the story of process transformation to their organizations’ annual planning discussions. Yet a common question is: What does the initial investment consist of?
The initial investment in transformational process improvement includes two components: dedicated staff time for learning and implementing new approaches and out-of-pocket costs for training and coaching. A typical employee will spend between 5 and 40 hours annually doing successful process transformation. The cost of the training and coaching depends upon the amount, level, and number of days needed. My firm offers a half day and a full day think differently process transformation workshop. Contact me to learn more about training options.
Organizations that train their employees in process transformation find that work gets done faster and with fewer errors. The time saved leads to better service to the organizations’ customers and community, and greater job satisfaction among employees. You can, too! Contact me, Lee Kuntz, to learn more about how your organization can plan to solve pain points and thrive.
Will you or your colleagues be attending the 2019 Foundation Administrators Officers Group (FAOG) Conference for community foundations in September? I ask as I am delivering our Introduction to Transformational Process Improvement Training™ on Wednesday, September 11. The FAOG conference ends at 11 am Wednesday. This transformational process improvement training session starts Wednesday at noon.
Introduction to Transformational Process Improvement Training™ is both the first three hours of our one-day training and the first of our five course transformational process improvement training series. See how community foundations transform their donor advised fund grants process to a better, faster and less laborious outcome. See how they recapture hundreds even thousands of work hours from their gifts process while delivering acknowledgements to their donors better and faster.
Learn more and register at: Introduction to Transformational Process Improvement Training after FAOG. Registration for this training is limited to 15 attendees to ensure everyone has a great experience. Registration closes once 15 people have registered or on August 31, 2019, whichever comes first.
If instead your organization is ready to learn to do transformational process improvement, check out our one-day training in Florida on August 22, 2019 or contact me to frame having the training at your site.
Glad to share this opportunity to learn these important concepts while at the FAOG Conference! Contact me with any questions.
The work week should be over, but the office is buzzing, and the chief financial officer is making the rounds one more time. Foundation policy says grantee checks must be in the mail by end of day Friday, and there are still dozens of outstanding items. Everyone is staying late, because if those checks don’t get out, grantees can’t act on their programs. People can’t get help. And the foundation board is sure to hear about it.
If that scene sounds uncomfortably familiar, you’re not alone. Learn more: Invest for Impact: Continuous Process Improvement
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