3 Major Trends That Nonprofits Need to Know Now


As nonprofit leaders create their business or strategic plans to guide their organizations through the years ahead, it is important to understand that the landscape within each nonprofit sector is changing rapidly.

Imagine advancements in technology that will allow for-profits to impede the nonprofit world. Imagine the service models of every nonprofit sector changing in ways that organizations are not able to conceptualize in their strategic planning. Imagine massive consolidation of nonprofits within the next 5-7 years.

The pace and direction of change is evolving in such a way that many organizations will be left unprepared to respond.

This creates a significant challenge for nonprofit leadership. In order to ensure future viability, leaders must find a balanced approach to time management. They must manage their organization effectively while simultaneously aligning it to the major trends reshaping the nonprofit world. These trends must be a part of Board conversations, strategic planning, and business model adaptation. 

Currently, there are three major trends shifting the landscape within nonprofit sectors: Customization, Decentralization, and Integration.

The advancement of technology is now allowing companies to capture deeper levels of client data. This affords these companies the ability to create customized services and solutions at a person-centered planning level. Behavioral data gathered from smart phones, wearables, sensors, and other solutions are beginning to tell the story of who we are as individuals. Data is captured, stored, and run through a system of analytic solutions with the goal of being able to support people at a personalized level. For example:

  • Healthcare: Electronic medical records, wearable devices, and analytics work to gauge eating habits, exercising habits, lifestyle, and a variety of other factors, with the goal of providing feedback at an individual level. This can be utilized for preventative healthcare or for providing more accurate and higher quality direct care. 
  • Human Services: Similar to the healthcare solutions, organizations that provide long-term support services, behavioral health, and housing can capture data through multiple channels and make changes to service models to improve the level of impact and increase the probabilities of positive progress and/or care.
  • Higher Education: Understanding how students learn as individuals, and the pace at which they learn, will allow for the customization of curriculum delivery through the use of technology. This will dramatically change the learning experience and alter the landscape of education.

An additional shift that is occurring in relation to customization, is that organizations will need to develop program or service differentiation. Organizations must have a more niche focus as opposed to the traditional broad approach to service. For example, if a college or university is widely known as providing exceptional nursing and teaching degree programs, why shouldn't that institution start to build a niche focus or competitive advantage around that top tier strength?

Another major trend that is also supported by the advancement in technology, is decentralizing services.

Uber and Bitcoin are two prime examples of the decentralization of transportation and financial industries. These massive disruptions and countless others, are being driven by technology. 

Solutions, such as Uber, are impacting thousands of companies and State Agencies around the country and worldwide. One singular technology concept could consolidate thousands of companies under one smart phone application and create thousands of jobs as a result. The same is happening with Bitcoin. It is a peer-to-peer financial solution that removes the need for financial institutions. Yet another technology concept that could consolidate thousands of banks and financial service companies. 

The common thread to these solutions is that technology is without boundaries and is collapsing industries. Think about amazon.com. What industry would you classify it under? Retail, food, or transportation? Data storage, entertainment, advertising? E-commerce, banking, or healthcare? 

The fact is, technology is collapsing many industries under one solution, Nonprofit organizations can be at the forefront of these new technology solutions or gobbled up as a result of not being intentional when designing their own future.

How will decentralization impact the nonprofit world? The dramatic shifts in funding at the State level is going to force organizations to figure out ways to move programming and services out of brick and mortar institutional walls, and drive it towards peer-to-peer technology solutions. Think of the costs and overhead associated with a program or service. There is physical space, employees, utilities, among many other budget considerations. What if peer-to-peer technology solutions could be created as a new way of delivering service? Organizations could use their existing business and service delivery models to build a technology solution that empowered community residents to service other community residents. 

This may seem like a foreign concept but for-profit organizations have already begun to develop solutions that will transform many nonprofit models and may even ultimately become competition. Given this trend and the impending change, organizations should consider their strengths, develop a niche focus, and determine if it can be built into a decentralized technology solution.

Another major trend that is occurring as a result of major shifts in funding, is the integration and consolidation of nonprofits across the country.

Consolidation & Integration
According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations registered in the United States. 33,900 of those are located in Massachusetts. Human service focused nonprofits account for 6,300 of these Massachusetts-based nonprofits.That translates to 6,300 organizations seeking funding from the same Federal, State, Foundation, and Philanthropic sources. These nonprofit organizations vary in size, scope, geographic reach, services, and financial need.  As the number of nonprofit organizations has grown, it has become clear that they may no longer be financially sustainable. While technology is creating opportunity to customize and decentralize, it is also creating the need for organizations to share services, build partnerships, or merge together in an effort to save money, increase capacity, diversify revenue, and position themselves competitively. 

Throughout the last several years, we have seen mergers in Higher Education, a sector that has traditionally not been known to consolidate. We have seen massive mergers in Healthcare, and are starting to see Human Service agencies integrate. Boards of Directors and Senior Leadership need to begin discussions about working with other organizations in the same vertical market or expanding across horizontal markets that would add value.

The three major trends impacting all nonprofits are real and are happening today. The way and manner in which we prepare for the next 5 to 10 years will be dramatically different then what has been done in the past. We must challenge ourselves to think and act differently in order to preserve the value nonprofit organizations have on our quality of living and the people that surround us.

By Eric W. Curtis

Leading Through Times of Organizational Change


Change. The word alone triggers an emotional response. Some people thrive on change or take it in stride while others resist it. Our brains are wired to dislike change. That’s because change can be overwhelming and uncomfortable. The unknowns may take people out of their comfort zone, activate innate reflexes, and lead to possible resistance. Beyond the psychological and physiological responses, there are organizational challenges to contend with such as role changes, added responsibilities, financial burden, or how work/life balance and culture may be impacted. The implications span across an organization making execution and implementation challenging. It is no wonder that the vast majority of change efforts fail. 

Organizational change involves going from the current way of doing things to a desired future state. Throughout the change process it is the organization’s leaders—the sponsors of change—who play the most critical role in determining the success of the effort. It’s easy to lead when all goes according to plan. However, organizations typically experience challenges with implementation. While these challenges can be temporarily uncomfortable, organizational leaders should not let that deter them. Instead they need to embrace change and view it as part of their role. Organizational leaders need to be adaptable by being able to detect and respond to change. That begins by embedding change and innovative thinking into the organization’s culture.

At the center of each phase of any change effort are the people affected by the change. These are the people who will either come along for the ride or resist, depending on how the effort is led and perceived. Many change efforts fail due to mismanagement of people issues. To ensure success, it is essential that all stakeholders are involved from the onset so that the initiative takes on meaning to them. When you have buy-in from different departments within the organization, conflicts can be resolved quicker, reducing any implementation roadblocks.

One potential roadblock occurs when organizations try to do too much at once—especially with limited resources. Stretching people too thin has a negative effect on how the change will be perceived and executed. All current and ‘in progress’ initiatives should be evaluated and triaged alongside the proposed initiatives to identify what the organization will begin, continue, and stop doing. This helps prevent change overload. Prioritizing initiatives that align strategy with the organization’s value proposition while supporting opportunities for growth and advancement will yield the greatest success. Therefore, communication is essential to a successful implementation.

In order for communication to be effective, the change leaders need to commit to the initiative on a personal level. Forming an emotional attachment allows them to stand behind the effort, 100%. Leaders must show confidence that the organization can make the proposed changes a reality. If leaders don’t believe in the initiative and the need for change then no one else in the organization will either.

Leaders must create a clear message to explain why the change is occurring and the reasoning for the timing of the change. A clear message helps unite people around the vision. Messaging should be focused on the desired future state. Leaders must paint a clear picture and specify the outcomes so everyone knows what they are working toward. This helps everyone make sense of why changes are happening, reduces uncertainty and resistance among staff, and accelerates the pace of change. It’s also important to let staff know what is at stake if the change doesn’t happen. When people see the bigger picture sometimes they are able to accept change quicker. Provide reasons for why the old ways of working are no longer effective to frame why the change is necessary. Outline what the change will mean to the team, what they stand to gain, and any known sacrifices they may need to make along the way.

In addition to what is communicated, how and when a message is conveyed is equally important. Early and ongoing communication is essential to gain employee buy-in and the approach to communicating change should be consistent across all departments. The way changes are communicated has an effect on employee morale. Communication needs to appeal to both the emotional and rational minds of staff. It is the leader’s job to frame the change as positive. Clear, consistent, and honest communication reduces anxieties. Leaders should realize that mindsets may need to shift before everyone adapts to the change. Leaders need to be honest about any unknowns while also showing confidence that together the organization can face any challenges, adapt, and remain successful.

To clearly convey the message across the organization, leaders should host an all-staff meeting followed by individual department meetings. This allows the opportunity for staff to process the initial message before regrouping in a smaller setting. While time for a Q&A session should be allocated during the all-staff meeting, the departmental meetings are where more individualized dialog can occur. It’s crucial for leaders to attend, give sufficient time to listen to concerns, respond honestly, and continue to be available following the meeting. To demonstrate leadership’s commitment, the change initiative should be the number one item on every team meeting agenda. By communicating effectively and often, leaders can begin to engrain the initiative into the culture of the organization and build trust and credibility.

Once the organization’s proverbial sleeves are rolled up, things may start to get a little messy. Deadlines may be off track and outcomes may need to shift. This is the most challenging part of the change process, but also the most critical to leaders’ communication efforts. Key components of successful change efforts are sustaining the initiative and seeing it through fruition. Anticipating that there will be ups and downs makes these difficulties easier to handle. When leaders prepare for the unexpected, they can be proactive and responsive. They can take necessary action for what is needed in a responsible way. Leaders should find ways to motivate, inspire, and coach staff while focusing on results and rewarding those who achieve the goal. It’s important to emphasize the early wins. Helping people thrive with change and not just cope is what separates successful leaders. While the outcome may not always be what was envisioned, it is important to take the opportunity to identify small successes and reframe any failures to improve future performance. Leaders should remember that improvements never occur without change and sustainable change takes time.

Regardless of their niche, all nonprofits are impacted in some way by the regulatory, political, legal, environmental, technological, or competitive landscape. These external factors feed into the changes that take place internally. If organizations don’t respond with their own improvement efforts they will eventually become obsolete. You can’t improve unless you’re willing to change. Responding to change positively, effectively, and responsibly allows organizations to remain viable. Non-profit leaders need to stay ahead of what is to come to remain relevant.

At Curtis Strategy, we have helped many organizations lead change efforts in strategic planning, organization design, governance, and mergers. A clear vision and prioritization of change initiatives coupled with effective and consistent communication have been the formula for successful outcomes. Please contact me at barbara@curtisstrategy.com if you would like us to assist you in leading your organization through a successful change initiative.

by Barbara Sierota

Know Your Job: The Importance of Role Clarity in Organizations


As football nation prepares itself for the season’s biggest game, I am reminded of the New England Patriots most widespread mantra, “Do Your Job”. Whether you are a New England Patriots fan or not, it is undeniable that the phrase has become widely known and is now a staple in the Patriots organization. Based on the concept that when every member of the Team does their job well, it will result in achieving the goal.

What can be learned from this simple yet poignant movement is truly a lesson in role clarity and team management. According to John Baldoni , a contributor  for Forbes Magazine:

"More deeply such a system, which New England practices, is that they see in you something that no one else does. The Pats may be your last best hope to achieve excellence in the game. At the same time there is faith in you as a player. And when a player senses that management believes in him, there is pressure to play well, but there is also the belief that someone has your back.”

This concept can be easily translated to any organization in both the for-profit and non-profit world, but for our purposes, we can focus on the latter. Society truly depends on the health and capabilities of our non-profit sectors. Non-profits take on society’s greatest challenges and are often the voice for those that cannot speak for themselves. 

The current increase in demands on nonprofits, stemming from increased needs in communities, means that the Staff and Leaders that comprise an organization must each do their job well in order to drive the organization’s mission forward.

It’s simple. Very straightforward. But what happens when Staff and Management are unclear about what their job is? Or if Staff perception of job tasks do not align with the expectation of Management? 

This is where the lesser known and certainly less catchy phrase comes in, “Know what your job is”. 

While this too, seems to be simple in concept, it is often what keeps countless organizations from successfully implementing the Strategic Plan and achieving goals. 

This breakdown in organizational structure occurs for a number of reasons. In some situations, Staff is unclear about what tasks they are responsible for or there is a miscommunication over expectations. This often results in there being a gap in tasks that need completion or a duplication of efforts. Instability could occur when there is a lack of accountability, leaving everyone to manage themselves without any metrics in place to measure progress. 

Regardless of the cause, in order to strengthen organizational behavior and shape a stronger future, staff and leaders must work with clarity and focus. Enhancing collaboration, building accountability, and improving clarity of purpose and performance leads to efficient and effective organizations that are able to propel strategy forward. 

At Curtis Strategy, we believe that a vital part to this process is the creation of Job Posts. This process allows organizations to establish clarity, accountability, and measured success at all levels. Building job clarity helps improve employee effectiveness and focus, resulting in cost savings and additional revenue generation. 

Staff and Management gain understanding of each job function, and develop a path to achieve success. Success measures are established and training requirements and support systems are identified to ensure goals are met. 

It raises the level of accountability for all members of the Team and in keeping the Job Posts front and center, management is able to best utilize their employees, keeping strategy moving forward.  

This strategically focused outline for success ensures that each member of your organization will know what his or her job is and, in turn, will be able to do the job right.

By Carolyn Madden

Merging Non-Profits is a Journey of Endurance


Acquiring a non-profit organization is a bit like running a marathon – it takes plenty of patience, stamina and perseverance.  The definition of endurance is the ability or strength to continue or last, especially despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions.  This certainly defines my experience with merging or acquiring non-profits!  One never knows how long it will take, how tired the parties will become, how stressful and demanding it can be (especially given other responsibilities), and how many unexpected challenges, large and small, arise in the process.  However, like a marathon, the journey always provides great insight, increased strength, enhanced confidence, and a celebration at the successful completion.  So, let’s explore that journey.  

To embark on the merger journey, one must be willing to take risks.  The entire process, including the outcome, carries risks that can halt the merger completely.   Perhaps the biggest risk presents itself at the start of the journey.  Consider all that one has to evaluate prior to deciding to run (or not!) a marathon. The same can be said for taking on a merger. Considerations such as the mental and physical toll, financial implications (fundraiser), and environmental impact must all be explored and addressed.  

As a CEO, making a decision to acquire another entity is so much more than a growth consideration.  It requires an evaluation of resource capacity, financial stamina, risk-mitigation, culture challenges, and, most importantly, passion.  I can objectively answer most of these evaluation areas with numbers, charts, process tools, and logic, with the exception to this being passion.  In my opinion, passion is the most critical part of the evaluation.  I ask myself the following questions – Do I believe in their mission? Will I be proud to speak about their legacy? Are they, or do they, have the ability to meet my quality levels? Do they fit into our strategic plan? Will my Board support it? And finally, will I be proud to welcome their clients and staff into our non-profit?   These questions are always the most challenging but they provide the pivotal point on merger decisions.  All of them must be a resounding YES!

What is “due diligence?”  Not only is it the next phase of the journey but it is where the detailed analysis take place.   This is a pain-staking process that cannot be underestimated in terms of details, follow-through, and evaluation.   Running a 26 mile course requires a thorough understanding of all conditions one will face so that a good decision can be made. Where the first part of the journey is about fit, mission, and passion, this process is all about numbers, facts, statistics, and truth.  Seeking the truth and understanding the liabilities (all types) becomes the cornerstone of a strong merger.  Again, there are risks.  Decisions will need to be made about learnings – some will require more resources, some will be deemed inconsequential, and some will cause the merger process to end.  If you get through this phase successfully, consider yourself fortunate!

So you’ve decided to run or merge – now the risk becomes more significant!  You must now follow it through and move into full action.  If you are running, get to the starting line and put one foot in front of the other – quickly!  If you are merging, let the myriad of steps begin.  It can feel as fast and exhilarating as a marathon at times, as well as slow, demanding, and never-ending like a marathon.  There are many legal, financial, human resources, communications, and logistical steps that have to be perfectly executed and completed on-time.  This is where the passion comes back into the picture to fuel the need to push through this process with precision.  The closer the merger date gets, the more intense, tired, and stressed it can become – just like the last six miles of that very, very long run! One begins to wonder if it is truly worth it, as new obstacles come into play on a daily basis.   Patience, stamina, and perseverance become the mantra and the CEO must lead by example.   

As you cross that finish line or get the stamped Secretary of State confirmation of the merger, it is met with exhilaration, exhaustion, and a true appreciation for a job well-done.   Suddenly, the weight of many months of planning and worrying are gone – it is complete and feels great!  Like a warm-down after a marathon, much of the closing work still needs to be completed so while it is not over, it definitely feels calmer, within control, and executable.  It truly is time to celebrate! 

So if you think you have what it takes, start your journey, create your path, run fast, and with great heart….
By: Anne Colwell, CEO Cape Cod Child Development

Zones of Innovation: How Education Must Adapt


To keep pace with the changing world around us, it is vital that School Districts andUniversities delegate time and opportunity for the best ideas to be developed, tested, and expanded upon.  

Many practitioners view innovation as a product or integration of the newest technology craze. However, those are simply manifestations of the innovative process that precedes them.  Long before any product is created or any system goes live, innovation begins. It originates with the creative thinking process that is cultivated within an organization.  Sir Ken Robinson says “A culture of Innovation is when having creative ideas and acting on them is routine.”  The key is to establish an environment that both encourages and cultivates innovation, making it part of an organization’s culture.  

Organizations must also be adaptive when incorporating innovative ideas.  The business world has been contending with disruptive innovations for decades, if not centuries.  There were many that doubted telephones and automobiles when they first arrived, but despite this, innovations sweep the nation and the world over and over again. 

Just recently all major television networks joined together to air a special production focused on the need for innovative high schools.  The program, “XQ Super School Live,” took a detailed look at the “As-Is” and “To-Be” status of education today. Programs that prepare young people for the future by incorporating new models of education were highlighted. 

High Schools and Higher Education institutions must embark on a path that substitutes lecture for interactive and experiential learning.  The time is now to integrate all forms of media into the learning experience: video, photography, 3D printing, augmented and virtual reality, as well as gaming and collaboration facilitated through technology, just to name a few.

Incorporating the innovations of today will provide students with the learning they need to solve the problems of tomorrow.  

The Team at Curtis Strategy recognizes that harnessing creative thinking is a vital part of any organization making progress. We have created an Innovation Canvas as a means of tapping in to that creativity that is present within an organization but is often underutilized.

This series of steps is just one way that Universities and School Districts can establish zones of innovation within their organizations: 

  1. Create the i-Lab:  Innovative ideas can come from a variety of sources. The i-Lab is a place where people can share and develop their ideas into a prototype to share with organization leaders. 
  2. Selection Panel:  Establish two-four times per year that people can bring their ideas to a panel of peers and leaders who evaluate their innovative strategies.  The panel will select the most promising proposals to advance to the next stage.
  3. Testing Tank: Now that the idea has been selected, the designer, with support from the school, organizes an opportunity to test the idea/product/system in a real-life scenario. It is during this stage that the viability of the concept will be realized. 
  4. Expand or End:  The designer is now given time and resources to further develop the innovation.  This provides opportunities for reflection, modification and improvement.  If the designer is able to show positive results and real opportunity for expansion, they receive additional support.  If the innovation does not prove to be sustainable, then it is back to the drawing board!

This activity can be utilized within any Educational Organization, using our strategic planning tool, the Innovation Canvas. For more information concerning the canvas or our approach in building strategy to prepare schools or Universities for the future, please contact Eric Curtis, at eric@curtisstrategy.com