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Strategic Thinking For Your Nonprofit’s Year-End

2009 is rapidly coming to a close.  And once again, we find ourselves amazed at how fast the year has gone by.  Funny how we have this conversation every year, but we act like it’s the first time it went by this fast.

Just as December 31 rolls around every year, so does the need to plan for your nonprofit’s year end.  With only a few weeks left in the year, don’t put off until later some of the most important things you need to be doing right now.  Let’s take a look at some key, year-end necessities.

Strategic planning. The economic uncertainty of the past year has forced many nonprofits to shift gears and even change course.  For some, it has caused an existential crisis!  What has the economic downturn meant to your organization?  The end of the year is a natural time to (re)evaluate what you are doing.  Focus on maximizing impact for a minimum of expense.  Easier said than done, no doubt.  But now more than ever, it is imperative to be intentional with everything you are doing.  “Winging it” is ineffective in the good times.  It could be fatal in the bad times.

Budgets. Nobody enjoys budgeting.  It makes your brain hurt.  But, it is better than your organization going broke.  With real economic recovery still nowhere to be found, thoughtful budgeting will be the difference between failure and survival for many nonprofits.  Spend your money on paper before the year ever begins.  We see so many nonprofits that basically live like a lot of people…week to week, paycheck to paycheck.  Let 2010 be different.  You owe it to your donors and your beneficiaries.

Get compliant. Don’t victimize your own organization.  It is hard enough to run your programs.  You certainly don’t need to be battling government agencies.  If you know there are things you should be doing but you are not or, if there are things you are not doing that you should be, purpose to get it straight before the new year starts.  I know it seems like we harp on this all the time.  And, you’re right…we do!  It’s our job to bug you about this.  Think about it this way:  you see your organization everyday.  We see yours and many other organizations everyday.  If you saw the carnage caused by noncompliance that we see, you would better understand why we are so adamant that you get your house in order…before Uncle Sam forces your hand.

Assess your effectiveness. Maybe your organization is not on the brink of financial collapse.  Maybe you have been staying within your budgets.  You may even be in pretty good compliance with everything you know to do.  But how is your effectiveness…your overall organizational health and fitness?  Are you accomplishing your mission…or just going through the motions?  Are your volunteers motivated?  Are your supporters sacrificing to give to your organization?  Even in the difficult times, people give to “vision”.  If things have grown stagnant, it is time to ask, “Why?”  Brutal honesty is required or you should not waste your time asking the question.  Just be prepared for the answers.  Some will be technical in nature and relatively easy to fix.  Others will be organic and systemically rooted.  Those are far more important…and difficult to change.

There is nothing particularly magical about the end of the year.  But humans are creatures of habit and custom.  We tend to see the end of the year as the closing of a chapter.  As you prepare to close Chapter 2009, determine to be intentional about it.

Greg McRay, EA

Greg McRay is the founder and CEO of The Foundation Group. He is registered with the IRS as an Enrolled Agent and specializes in 501(c)(3) and other tax exemption issues.

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