Finance teams have long been the go-to sources for data across a nonprofit organization. They’re routinely asked to provide numbers, pull together metrics, and develop shiny reports for various stakeholders, such as board members and major funders. Oftentimes, these teams find themselves burdened with requests, and struggle to balance their workloads. The seemingly never-ending demands are typically indicative of an organization that hasn’t agreed to what data points matter the most, and how they’ll judge progress to plan. They’re reporting transactionally – and not spending enough time acting cohesively, according to an existing plan.
Think about your own organization – what are the key metrics you plan to hit this year or even this quarter? Are these tied to organization-wide goals or are your known performance metrics fairly siloed (for example, Fundraising has its own goals, while programs dependent on fundraising success have goals that aren’t aligned well)? What happens when you experience short-term volatility? And, most importantly, how are departments adapting to change along the journey? These aren’t easy questions – and it’s far too common to see organizations struggling to answer basic performance-related questions when pressed.
In our recent study of more than 300 nonprofit finance professionals, 80 percent of them told us their organizations are anticipating near-term growth. To achieve growth, many will be looking to expand existing programs, find new funding, and launch new programs to expand their mission. This presents challenges to finance team members who will be tasked to help evaluate growth projections and carry that back into budget planning and risk analysis.
This is also an opportunity for CFOs and finance directors to focus on their role being transformational within the organization. This shift means they should be more focused on what’s needed to take the organization to the next phase. This is less about backward looking data and more about projecting growth, performing risk analysis, and applying expertise to impactful program decisions. This makes intuitive sense – today’s CFOs and finance leaders already sit at the intersection of the entire organization.
Today’s technology solutions are also helping to free up time that directors and other senior finance staff previously spent producing reports and calculating performance metrics. Instead, these are distributed via easy to consume dashboards that provide visual analysis of data trends, key performance indicators (KPIs), and allow users, many of whom don’t sit on the finance team, to further explore the data themselves.
It’s this self-service aspect, combined with role-based security that allows finance staff to actually want other folks within the organization to look at key financial reports in the finance system. Less time can be spent at routine meetings analyzing and disagreeing about the numbers and more time spent on what tweaks or changes need to be made operationally, based on the numbers are saying.
As your organization plans out your financial roadmap this year, challenge your teams to brainstorm how you’ll ultimately measure your progress. Let’s say you’re planning program expansion into a new geographic region. Are you content with just measuring progress by revenue? No, you’ll probably want to measure by the number of new people served, but also make sure you’re measuring cost – producing KPIs like, “costs of service delivery per person” for the new area.
Once you develop meaningful (and easily measurable) metrics/KPIs that really matter, you’ll be prepared to properly evaluate progress to plan. Make sure to get executive buy-in, and develop department-level goals that cascade to individual goals around those metrics, too. Your funding stakeholders today – and the ones who you are seeking to attract – will appreciate the accountability you’re demonstrating as an organization.
Yes, many nonprofits are anticipating growth, but even with the best strategies, reality will always throw curveballs at your organization along the journey. Make sure you, the financial leader, helps the entire management team evaluate what’s realistic, develop sound metrics that can be measured, and share that vocally.
Metrics that really matter ultimately should be at the top of mind and influence behaviors across the organization. It’s a lot upfront work, but doing all of this will enable you to frame future conversations on what’s working well and what needs to be done to course-correct and get back on track. After all, if you’re not properly measuring progress, how will you really know if you’ve actually grown your mission over time?
Find out more about the challenges of risk management during growth, as well as tips for managing risk during a growth period in this short video. And download “Nonprofit Research Study: Managing Growth,” for even more information.