Outstanding Nonprofit Management! Hallmark #1: Mission and Program

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Recently I had the privilege of being on the panel which reviews applications for the Alford-Axelson Award for Nonprofit Managerial Excellence.

Each year the Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management presents two Alford-Axelson Awards to nonprofit organizations, which correspond to the nonprofit’s annual budget size (large/small respectively). The purpose of the award program is to honor and continue the legacy of Nils G. Axelson, a devoted community healthcare leader and visionary, and Jimmie R. Alford, a recognized thought leader in the nonprofit arena, by celebrating Chicago-area nonprofit organizations that exemplify managerial excellence.

Beginning with this post I’m launching a seven part series that will examine those management practices that exemplify award winning nonprofit management. It is inspired by the performance of this year’s Alford-Axelson Award winners which suggest actionable steps other nonprofits can take to achieve managerial excellence as well.

First however congratulations to this year’s winners:

Small Category (budget size less than $1.7 million): Literature for All of Us was selected for its well-defined mission, inventive programs, strong volunteer and client engagement, and strong commitment from the board of directors–strong examples of managerial excellence.

See Video: Literature for All of Us: 2014 Alford-Axelson Award (Small Category) Winner

Large Category (budget size greater than $1.7 million): Chicago Community Loan Fund demonstrated effective management through its in-depth strategic planning process, cultivation and relationship building with volunteers, effective resource management, and transparency with stakeholders.

See Video: Chicago Community Loan Fund: 2014 Alford-Axelson Award (Large Category) Winner

The Alford-Axelson Award Review Committee uses the following seven Hallmarks of Nonprofit Managerial Excellence℠ to assess the nonprofit management and performance of each applicant organization:

Mission and Program
Leadership and Governance
Strategy and Innovation
Human Resources
Financial Strength and Performance
Resource Generation and External Relations
Accountability and Integrity

For each Hallmark of Nonprofit Managerial Excellence, the review committee uses a set of underlying performance criteria to identify exemplary management.
I will start by outlining the underlying criteria for the first Hallmark, Mission and Program, and offer actionable steps that your organization can take to achieve its higher performance goals, just as this year’s winners have done and continue to do.

#1 Mission and Program- What we look for:

Organization’s purpose is formally and specifically stated
Organization’s activities are consistent with stated purpose
Mission statement provides a clear and compelling expression of organization’s reason for existence
Organization revisits mission and strategy periodically and makes revisions as appropriate and necessary
Organization has defined, cost-effective procedures for evaluating, both qualitatively and quantitatively, its programs and projects in relation to its mission
Evaluative information is used to strengthen organization’s effectiveness
Mission impact is significant with regard to some human or community need

I recommend the following actionable steps to assess your organization’s performance in the “Mission and Program” Hallmark of Nonprofit Managerial Excellence:

Engage stakeholders to:

Get their quantitative/qualitative assessment of how the organization is performing in these areas. This will uncover the degree of stakeholder alignment as well as areas that need to be improved.
Identify performance goals (desired outcomes), strategies to reach them and the steps that need to be taken to achieve higher performance targets.
Develop a time-line to reach goals, establish ownership of deliverables and accountability, and measure results.

A great tool to facilitate this process is Kellogg Foundation’s Logic Model which is designed to assist nonprofits demonstrate the effectiveness of their program activities

Why is all of this important?

Even if an organization doesn’t aspire to an award these performance criteria set higher standards which are achievable for a majority of nonprofits. And achieving higher performance standards will serve to:

Differentiate your organization from others
Significantly improve development outcomes
Create a stronger platform to support capacity building and insure sustainability
Further energize staff and board members, volunteers and other stakeholders

In my next post I will examine the second Hallmark of Nonprofit Managerial Excellence: Leadership and Governance, so stay tuned!

Please post your questions/comments and share this post with others in the nonprofit world, and feel free to call/e-mail me anytime for a free chat about any questions you may have.

Jim Stoynoff

(312) 920-1700


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