Restructuring a Nonprofit to Deliver on a Powerful Mission

The Challenge: A nonprofit supporting a medical cause wanted to create a strategic plan for the future but their transition from a founder-led organization to a board-run setup was holding them back from thinking critically about their future.

The Solution: Talley focused on how to smooth over the transition, restructure the organization, and hire the right people to make a forward-looking planning session possible.

The Result: With Talley’s people-first approach to organizational problem solving, the nonprofit was able to align their board, get everyone excited about their mission, and restart the strategic planning process.

In 2022, an association dedicated to supporting those impacted by a medical condition realized they were in need of a new strategic plan and approached Talley. As a nonprofit organization, strategic planning is central to all of their efforts to ensure that they are working to fulfill their mission. The goal was to create a strategic plan that empowered them to continue their impactful advocacy work through clearly defined goals that align with their mission.

However, as the Talley team kicked off the first stage of a three-step planning process, it became clear that the association needed more than strategic planning. As organizational roadblocks became apparent, the Talley team switched gears and took a consultant role to help them align their organization, create a plan for a leadership transition, and pave the way for effective strategic planning.

Tackling underlying challenges

Every strategic planning process begins with a discovery phase, designed to dig into an organization's key data through analysis of their documents (like financial records and vendor contracts) and interviews with stakeholders. As the Talley team began the process, it became clear that the organization wasn’t at a point where these initial conversations could move forward. Their team was too worried about its past and present to focus on where they wanted to go in the future.

Once the interviews had started, it was easy to see that unresolved concerns about the transition from a founder-led organization to a board-led one made it impossible to move forward. Through these interviews, the Talley team learned that many key members of the organization had vastly different thoughts about the future of the association and its structure.

It turned out that 2022 was a pivotal year for this nonprofit as they navigated the management transition, which hadn’t been mentioned to Talley before starting strategic planning. As Talley dug deeper, it was easy to see that a lack of cohesive vision after the transition period had created an administrative issue that needed to be addressed before strategic planning could continue.

While it might have been possible to push organizational misalignment to the side and push a strategic plan into place to get the job done, that’s not the Talley way. Instead of executing solely what the organization requested of the Talley team, which would have set them up for failure in the long run, it was clear that a strategic plan would be much more effective after a deep dive detour. So, after identifying a roadblock, Talley dug in and worked with the board members to find a way forward.

Preparing for a restructuring

The Talley team immediately began working to finalize the transition so the organization could keep moving forward and fulfill its mission. Based on Talley’s previous experiences with board-run organizations, the most important factor for their success is board alignment where everyone agrees on the path forward. The organization was just shy of this key piece as each board member had a different idea of how the transition needed to be completed.

In light of this, the first step was to interview every board member to understand perspectives on where the organization could improve. Through this, Talley was able to clarify everyone’s roles and hopes for the future, allowing the Talley team to create a common starting point for conversation. It was also an exercise in trust building as Talley worked to determine and prioritize everyone’s wishes for the future.

After gathering perspectives from all stakeholders, the Talley team was able to facilitate a discussion about the organization’s future. The focus of the meeting was how to move forward with the new board-run set up, as it was currently preventing the nonprofit from setting forward-looking goals.

It became clear that the board needed to be both reorganized and further staffed for two reasons. Firstly, the association had DEI initiatives to bring a diverse array of perspectives to the organization. Secondly, they needed enough people with the right skills to execute all of the responsibilities placed on the board. As it stood at the time, the board had too many responsibilities for too few members and the Talley team helped them identify those gaps in legal, administrative, and medical knowledge. Recruiting solved the organization's clear gaps in skill, which needed to be filled in order to finalize the transition to a board-run organization and have a board that could operate on its own.

Part of the plan included redistributing the expertise they did have to the right committees, resulting in a two-pronged recruiting and reorganization plan. While the organization had several committees in place, like the Scientific Advisory Board, many had been neglected or were detached from their original purpose. Part of the organizational restructuring included refining these committees, reallocating members, and finding the best way for the whole team to work together based on their expertise and skills.

Once the board was filled out and committees had been reinvigorated, the association was ready to restart the strategic planning process. With the fresh perspectives from new recruits, productive committees, and a renewed sense of purpose, the strategic plan began coming together. Talley and the board members were able to go through the steps of the strategic planning process with much more excitement, positivity, and forward momentum than the previous attempt.

Putting challenges into perspective

Each organization Talley works with is unique with their goals and their challenges. This strategic plan was no different, with a winding path to address the original goal. But, the value of a collaborative approach to strategic planning and association management cannot be understated. It made it possible to work with this medical nonprofit, diagnose an underlying issue that prevented them from hitting their goals, create a plan to address it, and get back on track with a strategic planning session.

The value of a strategic partner goes beyond implementing pre-determined management solutions for organizations or simply checking off to-do lists that administrators can’t get to. It’s getting into the weeds with a client partner, learning the ins and outs of their organization, and working together to find solutions that set them up for success. The personal relationship is one of the most important, yet overlooked, aspects of a successful partnership that guides organizations through choppy waters and into the future.

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