Stewards of Strategic Resources
One of my favorite Bible passages comes from Luke 12:48: “... and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
As a nonprofit leader, you are placed in a position to steward the resources that have been entrusted to you. Many leaders think of this in its most basic form — money. Certainly stewarding your organization’s finances with excellence is vital, but I encourage you to also think about how that ties into the overall stewardship of your organization. Let’s look at a few areas of nonprofit management and see where being a good steward in those areas contributes to the overall health and mission of the organization.
A good way to frame this is with 4 P’s: People, Process, Protect, and Prosper.
I like to think in terms of basics, which at the core is who are we and what we do. This helps keep our organization focused and aligned. A good way to frame this is with 4 P’s: People, Process, Protect, and Prosper. Being a good steward requires discipline in each area to maximize the gifts and talents entrusted to you.
- People: Leaders often overlook a resource that is even more important than money: people. If you do not have the right people in the right positions, sustained success will be nearly impossible. Do you have the right people managing your financial resources? This requires expertise, skill and commitment to your mission. It also requires a commitment from your leadership. More broadly, this is true not just for finance staff but all employees across your organization. Spend time hiring and nurturing your employees. My son works for the New England Patriots. He was hired as an equipment intern and now handles all the travel logistics for the team and staff. The hiring process involved multiple personal references and more than two days of interviews with staff up to the top level of operations. When you care about every hire, you set yourself up for success. Also, if someone is not working out it does not help them or your organization to keep them on the team. Spend more time on your productive people and less on the ones who take rather than give. The other three P’s will mean nothing if you do not have the right people in the right positions.
- Process: Earlier in my career, I heard the term “managing by wandering around,” which was used by management consultants Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr. in their 1983 book, In Search of Excellence. This concept is good for getting to know your people, but there can be more value in getting to know what they do. Why do they do certain processes? Why are certain routines sacred? What was the origin of a report they run faithfully every day but that no one reads? Our CPA and consulting firm works with nonprofit clients to help them implement best practices. Successful organizations have efficient, well-documented, state-of-the-art processes. Enable your people to be successful by giving them processes that maximize their efficiencies and talents. Always look for ways to improve a process.
- Protect: The best people and the best process will not help if you have a cyberattack or other fraud. Be sure you are current on physical safeguards. Be sure your technology is protected and redundant and your employees have periodic cybersecurity training. Work with trusted insurance brokers to maintain proper amounts of business interruption insurance. Be sure your organization has a board and advisors who understand the risks of what you do and help look for ways to manage the risk. Consider Enterprise Risk Management (ERM), a comprehensive assessment of the risks to your organization and how you can respond.
- Prosper: When you have the right people with great processes that are protected from fraud and other disruptions, you can prosper. Thinking back to the beginning of this article, prospering does not have to mean money. How many people have you fed, cured, educated or discipled? This is the real definition of prospering. Look for ways to measure and communicate these outcomes to help ensure your organization is stewarding your resources as effectively as possible as you work to fulfill your mission.
I hope that as you endure this worldwide pandemic (not one of my P’s!) you will honor the amazing task you have been given, and that entrusted with much, you work hard to return much.
Fran Brown is Managing Partner of CapinCrouse, a national CPA and consulting firm devoted to serving nonprofit organizations. He has more than 30 years of experience providing audit and management consulting services to a variety of nonprofit entities. Fran’s expertise includes strategic planning, budgeting, financial statement preparation, and board training.