Right on the Money: Make a Plan for Sustainability in the New Year

Image of a key ring with a dollar sign on it.

The past two years have shown how essential a solid financial strategy can be for nonprofits. New Hampshire’s Child and Family Services, a statewide charity with headquarters in Manchester, has weathered the recession without any layoffs or reduction in services thanks to diverse revenue sources—including an endowment, private and corporate donors, the United Way, and state, local, and federal funding—and staff-wide commitment to financial sustainability.

CEO Michael Ostrowski stresses collaboration and teamwork when formulating and enacting the organization’s sustainability plan, which he uses as a blueprint for keeping the organization financially stable. “A sustainability plan should be a consensus of board and staff about what type of organization you want to be from a funding viewpoint,” he says.

Reaching consensus about long-term, shared goals and how to fund them can make tough financial decisions easier over the years, especially during economic downturns like today’s. Ostrowski outlines a five-step process for implementing a thoughtful financial plan:

  1. The CEO prioritizes and sets goals. Ostrowski recommends posing questions to identify your organizational needs, always keeping your mission in mind: “Do you want to do government contracts? Will you respond to federal RFPs? Should part of your services be funded by the city because you impact municipal goals?”
  2. The CEO collaborates with other leaders to come up with a plan. As CEO, Ostrowski took responsibility for setting the tone and scope of the deliberations that helped formulate his organization’s plan. Then, working with the chief financial and operations officers, Ostrowski polished the strategic plan based on the organization’s priorities and his co-leaders’ advice.
  3. The plan is presented to the board and staff. Ostrowski presented the draft sustainability plan to Child and Family Services trustees at a retreat, then further revised it based on board members’ input. The discussion was then opened up to all levels of staff, who were expected to be knowledgeable and mindful of the organization’s goals once the plan was implemented.
  4. The new policies are implemented at all levels of the organization. Following the CEO and the board’s lead, Child and Family Services employees—from direct service providers to managers to administrators—are expected to help save money and maintain a balanced, diverse revenue stream. Administrators monitor funding levels for each program with a weekly dashboard that tracks how client referrals compare to budget expectations, while staff stay attentive to any changes in government policy or referral numbers. Additionally, staff are trained to work in more than one department, which ensures that managers can assign staff to the programs that most need help, depending on the number of youth and families needing assistance.
  5. Everyone works to track progress and adjust goals as necessary. “We revisit our priorities constantly,” says Ostrowski. In addition, the plan calls for a significant review of the organization’s priorities every two to three years, and for staff to actively monitor the cost effectiveness, quality and accessibility of their programs.
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