Case Study: Pivoting for Growth
Narrowing your focus can promote growth
In some cases, to grow and develop a non-profit organization, you need to first narrow your focus. Non-profits by their very nature often try to “be all things to all people.” They believe that an open platform will lead to increased membership. In reality, this choice often leads to a lack of focus and mission creep that dilutes member value and ultimately weakens the organization.
We are working with an organization that is making a significant pivot back to a narrowly focused mission and membership profile. Here are some of the highlights of that story.
While organizations can appear successful on the surface, they may be losing traction internally. Usually there is a trigger that brings attention to the problem. That may be a lack of leadership candidates in the pipeline, decreasing membership numbers, difficulty engaging the right volunteers, decreased funding, or increased competition.
In this particular case study, the lack of distinction from other like-organizations and a decline in the type of member the organization was created to support led to an organization that was not meeting its mission.
The board complained that membership numbers were not where they needed to be, program attendance was light, and there were missed messages in how to present the organization to others. At this point, I was able offer insight. First, I shared was that their programming had become less distinctive over the past few years, and even as the executive director, I was struggling to sell it to prospects. I offered that in my experience working with the group, I had seen the program focus become so diluted that we were trying to design something for everyone – and it was a recipe for disaster.
Our first step would be to reconfirm who (ideal member) the organization should serve.
Take a Deep Dive
If you are truly interested in redefining your organization to successfully meet its mission, then return to the beginning – assess the vision and mission of the organization and create a strategic plan to reach that mission.
Creating a strategic plan that navigates a path to success is not only valuable, but critical in today’s world of overwhelmed volunteers and competition for funding. Once your organization begins to experience the triggers that indicate a need for change, the problems already exist. Take a breath, step back, and use the time needed to engage your leadership, funders, members and key stakeholders in a process that with set the course for the future of your organization.
In this case study, the organization needed to prepare itself to be honest with fellow colleagues. As it became clear that the best direction for growth was to narrow the focus of the organization, it also because clear that many members may feel disassociated, and that was not necessarily what everyone wanted to hear. In fact, it took several sessions with several different facilitators to reach complete honesty and transparency.
Ultimately, the process provided remarkable clarity and as it continued, decisions became easier to make, and the board itself gained a renewed excitement about the organization. That being said, while the organization came away in a much stronger position to effectively meet its mission, it looked completely different than it had 6 months earlier. And sometimes, that’s exactly what’s needed to move to the next level.
A Bold Response
Once the plan is created and approved by your leadership, the implantation begins. In this case, almost everything needed to be reevaluated.
Creating a Framework
It is not as easy as it sounds to pivot an organization, even when you find that the pivot will help advance the mission and the organization. Pivoting impacts every aspect of that organization from programming to membership recruitment, leadership development to funding sources. In some cases, the organization must learn to function differently at its most basic of levels. In this case study, almost everything changed: committees were eliminated and focus groups created; large community programs were replaced with targeted, small group sessions; funders were identified by their ability to impact members; and member value was increased through peer to peer interactions.
All decisions went back to step one: how does this impact, or advance, the primary member? Leadership was enhanced to reflect the profile of the primary member from the president through the board members. The infrastructure was designed in a way to support and facilitate the needs of the primary member, requiring a new culture to be integrated into a very traditional non-profit organization.
Programming was aligned with the needs of the primary members. The synergy developed adding value to that membership – and incentive to join – which is how the organization pivots and grows.
No doubt, a rebranding was vital to a successful pivot. We needed to show the value, and communicate it in a way that would resonate with our primary member. In this case, most of our focus went into reworking our content, as well as redesigning our website to reach our target member.
Finding the Right Time
Ever heard the phrase timing is everything? This organization had a great opportunity to introduce their pivot during the celebration of their 20th anniversary. It allowed them to gather input from founders and long-time members who were invested in the organization. We heard stories from those who were involved from day one, as well as their intentions for the organization and their hope for what the organization would continue to represent. These members provided the foundation from which this organization will scale.
The Anniversary also provided a spotlight for the changes. Anniversary events and publications highlighted the pivot and redefined the primary member. Timing isn’t everything, but it sure helps!
How You Reach the Next Level
Keep your focus. Pivoting is difficult, especially in non-profit, volunteer-driven organizations. While value is being enhanced for the primary member, others can sometimes feel disconnected. For these members, finding a connect point within the narrow framework is challenging, but can often be achieved. Sometimes, however, there isn’t a fit, and that’s ok too. Remember, to meet your mission with value to your members, you cannot be all things to all people.
And, if reshaping your organization to effectively meet the needs of its members and mission seems too daunting a task to navigate on your own, reach out. We’ll help you get to the next level.