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Organizational Management & Leadership


*** Decision-making and Change Forces in Nonprofit Organizations

The 21st century comes dispensing with it a number of macro-environmental conditions ranging from political, economic, social, technological, environmental to the legal landscape in which the organization operates. Another condition that also affects and demands decision making is the cultural phenomenon of the locale in which the organization operates.

Decision-makers in nonprofits must be able to respond to the needs for both policy movers and program managers to know all of the things that their service area is good at and how such knowledge can be integrated into producing quality system and program outcomes that serve to uphold the desired integrity of the organization and its board of directors.

The need to respond to competition in the nonprofit settings is different from those the for-profit settings. Nonprofits compete for donor money and they do so by selling the projected benefits of a new program service line or showing evidence of quality impacts of existing programs in terms of how the organization helps the community and the society as a whole.

APPROACH TO CHANGE: A NOTE FROM AMAKA EXPERIENCE IN THE FIELD On examining how the organization respond to the changes around it, my client, the Jewish Board of Family and Children Services (JBFCS), has an annual clientele of 16 thousand New Yorkers and has been supporting New Yorkers for 125 years. But federal regulatory changes around funding for community organization, JBFCS needed to prepare and respond effectively to changes that were evolving.

The AMAKA SUPPORT Following intense interactions managers and senior leadership, we determined that there was a need for a wholesome response to the changes with a focus on the direction of the field, understanding the aftermath of the government policies and the disparities it creates.

AMAKA RESULTS AMAKA conducted interviews, audit of policies, service utilization reports, client satisfaction surveys, and reports of previous government audits, AMAKA sets the JBFCS on track and set for it the following plan to respond to prevailing industry issues as well as the determination to respond to the overall change within the organization with the ultimate goal of hope, recovery, and resilience in helping the people we serve to realize their potential and live as independently as possible:

👉Establish clear definitions of recovery with measurable outcomes for each program and department, knowing the recovery means different things to different individuals 👉Lead the field of human services by fostering and maintaining an environment of innovation and a culture of adaptive agility 👉Gather and use input from multiple sources, including clients, families and the communities, staff and other service providers, government, payers, academia, our Board of Trustees, and external opinion makers.

To put all of these into the operational decision making context, JBFCS: 👉Promotes recovery by addressing all aspects of an individual’s life, including mental, physical, family, housing, employment, and educational needs; and respond to change in each of these areas accordingly Involves individual service users, their families, and communities in understanding and responding to the relevant change 👉Encourages changes and prevents problems from emerging in the first place 👉Engages in practices that have proven and evidence-based results 👉Monitors the process of service delivery and the progress of those served

THE CAVEAT To make the AMAKA intervention sustainable, decision making processes needed to change as well. Prior to AMAKA's Consulting engagement with JBFCS, the organization engaged heavily in the concentrated and distributed decision-making process at various levels of the organization considering how vast and numerous it’s outputs—i.e. programs and services—are. A concentrated decision making is a process whereby the vast majority of the decision-making responsibilities lie with senior leadership including the board of directors while a distributed decision-making process allocates decision making responsibilities throughout the organization to various heads of the program sectors.

Based on interviews with senior and executive leadership, it was revealed that the JBFCS relies heavily on concentrated decision making in order to allow it to quickly make a decision focused on organizational strategy and legal health of the organization. Our observation was that the concentrated decision making process was a tradition in JBFCS because there are a lot of things that come along with the huge size and expectations upon it in addition to the following reasons:

👉High-Performance Syndrome: JBFCS considers itself a high performing institution as evident in its one hundred ten (110) years of existence. It has an inherent fear of failure and it relies on this fear to drive performance. But this fear prevents a competent and broader group staff from being trusted to make departmental decisions.

👉The wise few: The organization feels that the fewer the people entrusted to make a decision the easier it is to make and reach a decision. What this results into is that qualified and rightly placed individuals get excluded from the decision making process which overtimes result to depict that their experience and insights matter less regardless. The long term effect is a resulting attrition and job dissatisfaction. Given the mission-driven nature of the nonprofits, increased job dissatisfaction and attrition are counterproductive to operation.

In short, concentrated decision-making process tends to disempower other professionals at various levels of the organization.

AMAKA'S ADVISORY: Recommendation for the 21st Century JBFCS management

Uncertainty around decision making can lead to inefficiency and ineffectiveness. People can become discontent when overtime they are systematically excluded from contributing to the decision making the process. Sectorial and departmental heads can be given some leeway into making a decision as well with some guidance. This can be done through the distributed decision-making process by opening up a system that is inclusive and enhancing communication and participation throughout the organization.

A guideline was developed around what types of decisions that sector and department heads can make and identification of all the criteria that decisions emanating from the department can center on. These decisions must: 👉Fit with Mission, Vision, Values 👉Impact on beneficiary 👉be appropriate to the culture 👉Impact of change agenda on the organization 👉Have supports for the option (internal and external) 👉Break-even point (in years), where applicable 👉Sustainability (years to receive payback after break-even)

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