Ordered List

Thursday 1 December 2011

Over the past few years I've looked at problems faced by a number of different social organisations, including new startups, developing organisations, and fully established ones. I typically see one common underlying factor; many of the issues stem from a failure to define some key points with the clarity and simplicity needed to make those definitions useful.

Before we continue, let me just say that this is not going to be one of those articles with 20 tenets or pieces of pithy advice. It is about 20 key things that you can and should work out for your social organisation.
At its core, everything I outline below can all be summarised into one overall key to success...


Until you define your key points of focus, your limited funds and resources are continually wasted on attempts to cover all bases and do too many things. You end up with a Brownian motion of people’s activities; lots of ad-hoc decisions made around on a host of assumptions. It all heads in one general social direction, but with a lot of wastage and pain along the way. Prioritising becomes impossible and core platforms of long term development get missed. Over time, this leads to many of the problems and fire-fighting that social organisations face.

Here’s my list of 20 key things all social organisations should have written down.
  1. Mission
    The real reason you set up.

  2. Goals
    What you want to achieve & How.

  3. Potential Revenue Streams
    Split into core, supplemental and potential revenue. Think business model innovation.
    • Strategy for long term Financial Sustainability.
    • Core revenue – Grants, donations, and products or services you charge for.
    • Supplemental revenue (opportunities for monetising your organisational brand, IP, audience and assets).

  4. Target Audience
    • Groups that you’re trying to impact.
       Primary, secondary and tertiary.
       Outline needs of each group.
    • Recruitment strategies.
    • Long term value for beneficiaries.

  5. Services & Offerings
    Make sure they are what your audience really needs, and not simply what you can or want to offer.
    • Core.
    • Peripheral.

  6. SWOT Outline
    i.e. A quadrant grid showing Strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats.

  7. Vision
    Where you plan to be in the Short, Medium and Long Term.
    • Realistic short-term (1yr).
    • Challenging medium-term (3yr).
    • Inspirational long-term (5-10yr).
    All your strategies must work towards this long-term vision. You must know how your org can best act as a springboard for long term value to the individual or community.

  8. Development Strategy /Roadmap Plans
    These need to be created specifically to achieve the vision – ideally for a 3yr timeframe. Include yearly changes for organisation size and structure, development focus, and revenue needed.

  9. Cost/Revenue models
    These must directly fit your roadmaps.
    • Detailed costs of services inclusive of all overheads.
    • Profit margins over and above cost. It is surprising how often organisations get profit assumptions completely wrong.
    • Cost / Revenue grouping for ongoing comparison.
    • Realistic funding needed and how it will be distributed.

  10. Risks and Mitigations
    Growth and Development challenges & how you’re going to address them.

  11. Plans for ensuring long term value to your end audience
    For example, alumni community platforms to enable interaction and ongoing engagement between beneficiaries.

  12. Competitors and Similar Organisations
    Regionally and globally (now that we’re all connected by the web, you are competing for recognition, funding and audience with organisations from all over the world). Knowing these can also help you build great collaborations and make a bigger difference (see 16).

  13. Unique Selling Points & Differentiators
    If you don’t have any, make sure you create them. Without these there is no good reason for funders to pick you over the myriad organisations out there.

  14. Potential Funders
    • Identify sectors and prioritise – typically
       Corporate CSR,
       Commercial Brands that want the association,
       Trusts,
       Government,
       Individuals,
       Community.
    • Identify specific targets.
    • Identify what value they would gain from being associated with your org (conversely rethink what you do to ensure that funders get clear value from their engagement with you).

  15. Framework for displaying Social Return on Investment (SROI)

  16. Support Networks
    Organisations that you could partner / affiliate with:
    • Social sector funders and developmental organisations
    • Charities and NGOs
    • Other organisations doing similar things – collaborating is a very fast way of scaling your outcomes and your reach.

  17. Targets & Performance Management
    Anything you’re trying to develop must involve something to aim for. Your vision roadmap should essentially define your targets for you.
    • Short term activity targets that roll up into long-term impacts.
    • Strategies or mechanisms for monitoring long-term impacts. In the long run this is going to be your best selling point for raising investment and support.

  18. Brand Strategy
    Brand associations drive both individual and corporate engagement.
    • What image and personality you want to project
    • Core themes and messaging

  19. Marketing & PR Strategy
    • Channels you’re going to focus on
    • Messaging
    • How you plan to involve/engage press media (online and offline)

  20. Community & Social Media Strategies
    The web is now ubiquitous and a global connector for communities. It can also drive funding and support from sources you never dreamed you could access. Social media refers to the free and open platforms that already have huge connected audiences, like Facebook, Twitter, Ning and Youtube. All you have to do is surf the wave.
    • Plans for building global and regional support communities using the web
    • Social media strategy
       Social media platforms and goals for each
       Codes of engagement and responsible resource

Once understood and defined, many of these points of focus roll into one another and can be prioritised, developed and managed with very little effort. You don’t have to be gung-ho and try and get everything achieved in one massive effort. Social issues are typically long term and have few quick fixes. As a social organisation you should be planning to be around for a long time so continual small steps in a clear direction are often all you need to be successful in the long run.

For each key driver, the trick is to avoid lots of words or huge business plan style documents that cannot be easily read or updated. Instead aim to have single PowerPoint slides or 1 pagers with short descriptions or a list of bullets that clarifies the essence of what you’re trying to achieve. Do NOT waste time debating semantics or making it perfect. Just brainstorm what you know, identify the gaps and dedicate some time to defining the answers. All you need is enough to provide clear direction and some decent guidelines for ongoing decision making.

Always think practical and focus on communicating simply and effectively. Check the following:
  1. Can the definitions be used by people within your organisation?
  2. Can they be reviewed and updated easily?
If the answer is no, make them simpler. Here are some 1 page outputs that you can easily pass around, stick up on walls, and review on a running basis...
  • Mission, Strategy, Tactics Pyramid.
  • 3 year Vision and Strategy Roadmap.
  • SWOT grid
  • High Level Stakeholder Analysis (covers audience, funders, support networks).
  • Summarised Cost vs Revenue Charts.
  • USPs.
Create a review point every 6 months, plan in the resource and effort to make sure it happens, and away you go!

If you want help with any of this drop me a line and I’ll talk you through it.