How To Turn Around a Non Profit Organization In Crisis

Engineering a Comeback

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There are literally thousands of non profit organizations in the United States. At any given time, some significant number of them experience an organizational crisis of some kind. These moments of acute organizational distress can be brought on by financial distress, board strife, serious operational challenges, or any combination thereof.

These challenging moments are particularly difficult for small to mid sized community based organizations such as community centers. community development corporations, theatre organizations, non profits serving youth and many other non profits doing community based work.

This is often the case for a fairly straightforward reason: many such non profits are led by boards of average people who are mission driven but may often have little practical experience in the management and policy direction of a small to mid sized corporation, which is what these organizations are. Naturally, when major challenges occur, board members can quickly become overwhelmed by the circumstances and become paralyzed. The organization grinds to a halt as the board flounders and if the crisis at hand isn't addressed, eventually the organization will succumb.

In those situations where the board cannot seem to chart a course forward, one worthwhile approach to break through the logjam is to develop a turnaround plan. A turnaround plan is essentially a focused, time limited working document that accomplishes a few key things:

  • Succinctly and accurately describes the problem
  • Proposes the broad outlines of a solution
  • Lays out specific action items for implementation of the solutions

How To Use Your Turnaround Plan

Its vitally important to understand the purpose of your turnaround plan and the audience for it. The turnaround plan is not a document in which you lay out in excruciating detail how you will fix all the organizations problems. Rather, it's purpose is to outline in somewhat general terms how you intend to solve the problems at hand. It is not a set of instructions on fixing your broken organization, it's a road map to the final destination of a thriving functional organization. It has two audiences. The internal audience of the board and staff (if your organization has both) and the external audience of your funders, supporters, stakeholders and volunteers.

Typically, your funders and stakeholders often know your organization is in distress and will be skeptical of any request for support that is not accompanied by a plan of action to fix the problems. Once your turnaround plan is drafted, you schedule meetings with your key stakeholders, supporters and funders, share the plan with them and ask for their feedback and advice on your plan. This is key and where the value of the turnaround plan shows up. What you will find when you use this approach is that your stakeholders and funders will not only gladly give you their feedback, they will often provide you with recommendations that improve your plan! In many cases, they will explicitly tell you "if you do ABC, we could help you in XYZ way.

This is the top benefit of a turnaround plan document. It provides the vehicle for you to articulate a vision for the future to your stakeholders and actively engage them in the process of restoring your organization to health.

Need a template to help you get started drafting your turnaround plan? Click here.

Comments 2 comments

Djaak profile image

Djaak 4 years ago from Johannesburg, South Africa

Very cool article man. Very helpful and informative.


Political Season profile image

Political Season 4 years ago from Indianapolis Author

Thaanks for the encouragement. After many years working with non profits struggling to overcome adversity, this is one of the learnings I've taken away from the turnaround successes (and failures). I'm glad you found it useful. If it helps you turn around an organization, let us hear about it.

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