A Crucible for Non-Profits

Def. Crucible:  a situation or severe trial in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new

Often, non-profit organizations lack the apprehension about the future and a sense of urgency typically found in for profits.  There are exceptions, such as non-profit healthcare organizations whose customers have multiple choices in the marketplace.  But, those that are grant-funded, although needing e to compete for grants, they enter every workday with their revenue known and simply need to manage within their budgets. 

Contrast that with a for-profit I consulted with years ago.  This online retailer that was dominant in the world of running, e.g. shoes and clothing.  I noticed that on every break, they were all working on the PDAs and then meeting in small groups rather than just jawing over coffee. What were they doing?  Checking their sales numbers every hour and determining whether they were hitting their sales targets.  That’s right; every hour.  If their numbers fell short, they conferred on how to adjust their sales promotion, chatted with their web resources, and adjusted their sale prices accordingly to be sure they hit their number.  Customer behavior and choices were literally driving change in their business on an hourly basis.  I have never experienced a non-profit enterprise with similar responsiveness to customer behavior. 

This lack of mandatory response to the market leads to less rigor in managing non-profit or governmental organizations.  There is more tolerance for sub-standard or below-target performance.  It is tolerated as long as there is a good “reason” for not hitting goals or meeting commitments.  And yet, non-profits profoundly impact the quality of our lives and society.  They are vital to well-being.  

PGS has implemented a means to bring about greater urgency regarding the level of organizational performance.  Namely, we have added a customer survey to our relatively recently implemented Discovery process.  Discovery employs surveys and interviews to reveal to both client and consultant the current condition, specifically, how close the organization is to its true potential.  Organizations usually approach us with a need and solution in mind.  Discovery tells us whether that need is the most urgent, whether there are the preconditions for success in implementing a solution, as well as the general culture we are dealing with.  We found that this shortens the time required for us to make a positive impact.  For the client, the results from Discovery serve as the crucible driving greater urgency to improve.  Clients have consistently asked us to repeat the survey annually to gauge the pace of improvement. 

 Recently, we have added to Discover, for some clients,  a customer survey.  In the non-profit arena, where you don’t have instant market feedback on how well you are doing, this survey draws attention to customer needs and wants and drives better performance.  Questions are customized for each client but generally seek to know the following:

  • How well are customer needs understood?
  • How well are they met?
  • Quality of service/interaction/responsiveness?
  • Problem resolution
  • Unmet needs/wants

The survey can be applied to funders or partners of the non-profit and/or to the end user of services.  Either can be enlightening.  What is often lost is that individuals compare their customer experience to that which they receive in other areas of commerce.  They compare you with their best interactions because in their mind, a customer interaction is a customer interaction.  So for example, while it is often the case that patients have to wait to be seen for medical appointments and the health care industry has convinced itself that that is OK, for the customer, it is not.  They expect to be treated as if they showed up for a dinner reservation.  They expect their time to be respected.  That is why you now see competition among emergency rooms for who has the shortest waiting time.  This was unheard of only a few years ago.

Non-profit executives, consider whether you have a crucible in place to drive better performance.  If not, consider a rigorous study of your customers as a means to that end.  

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