The Future of Non-Profit Management

We recently caught up with Ashley Tobin, Principal of Work Better Consulting LLC. 

Her specialties include strategy, analysis, operational improvement, impact and effectiveness, training, organizational structure, problem solving, meeting facilitation and partnership development.

2a05cabWhat are some of the trends you see in non-profit management?

The biggest trends are in fiscal management, and especially in mergers and affiliations. Organizations are trying to save jobs and preserve their mission. Yet there’s so much redundancy. Everyone thinks they’re unique, but in many cases there’s no clear sense of what makes the different.

Aligning with other organizations is great. It can lead to a new business model, new revenue streams and other efficiencies. For these reasons, donors are asking for more collaboration. The term merger, however, still freaks people out.

What are some of the challenges you see with non-profits?

In non-profits, there are always two customers; those receiving services, and those paying for them. That’s one of the things that makes them different from for-profit companies.

Non-profits are realizing the need to break from their current business models. Traditional funding sources like foundations, individuals, state and city funding have changed. Funders are requiring more metrics, but many non-profits find program evaluation difficult. They struggle to tell their stories, or to differentiate themselves.

Sometimes the challenges are structural. Sometimes it’s a mindset. There’s very little investment in professional development, and that holds organizations back. That’s one of the reason I started Connecting Coffee. It’s a free program, one hour, eight or nine times a year, limited to 20 people. It’s an easy way to provide peer-based information sharing.

How do you help non-profits overcome their challenges?

By example, I’m currently working with a large agency in Philadelphia that’s applying to be a regional umbrella agency that will replace the current foster care system. I’m helping them to establish a community advisory board to respond to community needs. I’m also advising them on strategy, and am handling the project management piece, assigning roles, and building relationships. I’ll be bringing the right people together at the right time to ensure a successful transition. In effect, I’m a part-time, high functioning executive. I facilitate high level conversations.

Do you think there are too many non-profits competing for funding?

That seems to be the prevailing notion. And, I agreed with that in the past. But, what lately I’ve changed my thinking on the subject. New non-profits bring innovation, and should therefore be encouraged. But, they should also position themselves to be absorbed by larger agencies.

What advice do you have for struggling non-profits?

I remind my clients that if they want to survive, they need to bring new thinking. They might have to look different. Be different. Maybe your customer is not who you think it is. Maybe things have changed. It’s hard to get non-profits to act more like for profit businesses, because there’s no profit incentive for some transactions, such as mergers. But, they should still employ sound business and growth strategies. Also…train your managers to manage your staff.