In April 2020, I participated in Emory University’s Compass Initiative ORGanized webinar series for their nonprofit members. See the recording below.

The one-hour webinar covered:

  • defining the structure of your organization
  • what it looks like when the structure is out of place
  • how it shows up across the organization’s lifecycle
  • when it may be time to restructure

Given the ongoing collective experience of COVID-19, most of the questions focused on restructuring a nonprofit organization. Check out the Q&A transcription below.

What tips do you have for agencies who are determining if changes needed are short term or permanent? Do you recommend bringing in an outside consultant?

To determine the permanence of your organization structure changes, first set up time with your board of directors to work through potential scenarios for your organization’s short and long-term future. The board should weigh in on any major structure changes like adding new roles, promoting or hiring new leaders, or removing any roles. 

If they can’t come to an agreement, consider bringing in a consultant if you’re trying to understand something outside the skill set of those outside the call, e.g. hiring, development, legal.

What are some tips for rearranging roles for COVID-19 that will stay in place after the pandemic?

Take stock of all of the programs and services your organization provided before this time and what will best help your audience right now. Determine what partnerships could be utilized to provide service to your audience for non-core programming. Consider what, if any, are you offering that’s different from your normal services and then assign a special person/team to it similar to a program officer.

If the programming is only relevant for COVID-19, it’s a temporary responsibility, and does not require a full change to job description. But, if you’re adding on any responsibility to any one person, what responsibilities are you taking off their plate for the time being?

Communicate the organization’s current priorities so your staff understands where they should be focusing their efforts. For employees with added responsibilities, be clear on shifts in priorities with your team. 

Once your organization no longer needs to offer temporary programming, talk to your team about how to slowly die that down and be clear as a leader about what you want their priorities to be moving forward, i.e. who’s working on what today and moving forward, what the priorities are, etc. 

If these new responsibilities will continue once COVID-19 is no longer a threat, updates will need to be made to job descriptions and your performance evaluation process. Also, be sure to include your structure and significant role impacts as you discuss priority shifts in your annual reports. 

We just completed a reorganization before pandemic, what can we do to make sure we continue to thrive?

Times like these amplify the importance of the ability to strongly lead an organization through change. Be sure to over communicate with your staff and board about progress and priorities. Also, be mindful, if you just did a restructure, in times of crisis people tend to revert back to old ways of working, so as a leader, watch out for these behaviors. Finally, over communicate that “we restructured for this reason and how we’ll use it moving forward” and hold people accountable to it.

How can an Executive Director convince their board to do a restructure?

Your organization’s board should be part of any conversation around restructuring. Use storytelling and data to emphasize the changes that need to be made and the negative impact being seen today.

For example, as the leader, you may notice that there is poor staff performance or morale, lack of communication, info isn’t shared, deadlines are missed, etc. The root cause(s) could be anything but the negative impact can be calculated as the cost to the organization if nothing changes. 

Do not start the restructuring process without first assessing the root causes. Contact us if you’d like to know more about our organizational assessments. 

How can we restructure our board of directors without forcing them out?

Review your current by laws to see to what standards your board members are being held. Identify where your board is missing the mark. Are they not bringing in fundraising dollars? Are they required to according to your board bylaws? 

Conduct a gap analysis of the board and leadership team’s skills, expertise, and resources. Update the bylaws and lay out expectations and requirements for the board to effectively lead the organization moving forward. Let the board members then decide if they can contribute what the organization needs and be held to the new standards or not. Some will recommit. Some may opt out on their own.

Finally, set term limits for your board members. At the end of their term, they can either reapply for their seat or let it go.