Organizational Assessments: A Solution to the Questions That Keeps Some Nonprofit Leaders Awake At Night

Post by Bill McAndrews, SVP and Regional Director of Long Island

When meeting with nonprofit leaders, I often ask: “What keeps you awake at night?

To this, many nonprofit leaders respond that they wonder whether their organization is structured to maximize potential. For example:

  • Do I have the right people in the right place doing the right things at the right time?
  • Are there organizational weaknesses that could pose a risk to success and, even more serious, the survival of the organization?
  • How can I improve the organization’s performance, especially in a time when the operating environment is changing and resources are dwindling?

One way NESC has helped a number of organizations find solutions to these questions is through performing an Organizational Assessment.

What is an OA?
An Organizational Assessment (OA) is an integrated systematic multi-disciplinary methodology that examines how an organization functions and evaluates the effectiveness of the existing organization.

Why Conduct an OA?
A systematic OA process obtains evidence-based information about an organization which can:

  • Identify an organization’s strengths and weaknesses
  • Pinpoint areas of competence
  • Assess and improve an organization’s performance
  • Support the planning and decision-making process
  • Indicate areas in need of change
  • Restructure decisions
  • Uncover potential risks

Who: Internal vs. External
Another key question we get from nonprofit leaders is, “Can’t we perform an internal self-assessment rather than hire someone to perform an external assessment?
An internal self-assessment can increase an organization’s ownership of the OA and acceptance of feedback along with commitment to the evaluation’s recommendations. However, an internal self-assessment can cause stakeholders to question the independence or validity of the findings. More important, external stakeholders may fear that hard issues will not be tackled due to potential sensitivities within the organization.

NESC believes that using an external source is the most effective way to uncover real issues and separate them from perceived problems. Real issues can be sensitive and they might not be surfaced as legitimate issues by an internal OA.

How to Conduct an OA?
Recognizing the need to achieve “internal ownership” and “commitment” of the OA, as well as limiting time and associated costs, NESC has developed an OA – Self-Assessment Tool to be utilized in conjunction with an Organizational Assessment project. This tool combines the benefits of a self-assessment with the advantages gained by an external perspective.

The OA Self-Assessment Tool is an assessment document with over one hundred targeted questions which looks at:

OA Graphic

The OA Self-Assessment Tool has been used in a number of projects and has been credited with helping NESC gain acceptance of the OA at the outset of the project, helped to uncover “hidden” issues, limit costs and time.

Who Benefits the Most from an OA?
An important question often asked is, “Can all nonprofit organizations benefit from performing an external OA?” Most often nonprofit organizations who engage NESC to perform an OA are those reaching a turning point in the organizations history or are facing changes driven by external forces. Nonprofit leaders facing challenges like these are interested in assuring the success and, more important, the survival of their organization.

When to do an OA?
Even without external or internal pressures, every nonprofit organization should be periodically analyzed and evaluated to determine whether it is optimally functioning in accordance with its mission.

Times are challenging and there are no “magic bullets”. A well-executed Organizational Assessment can be the one thing to help nonprofit leaders meet organizational challenges head-on and, perhaps, get a good night’s sleep.

McAndrews, BillBill McAndrews, who joined NESC in 2011, has a diverse career as a business professional, entrepreneur, and educator. He spent more than 20 years with Verizon/Bell Altantic/NYNEX, and ten years with the New York City Department of Education. He has managed his own business planning consulting firm. Bill has degrees from Pace University and Brooklyn College.


About National Executive Service Corps

National Executive Service Corps is a nonprofit dedicated to empowering nonprofits since 1977.
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