Evaluating the big picture … and the small one


Organizations go through cycles. Growth is followed by an often welcome plateau that allows you and your board to stop and breathe.

But, too quickly, that safe equilibrium can degenerate into complacency and a blind allegiance to the status quo. This can drain the energy out of your organization, and once funding begins to dwindle, it may be too late to respond.

magnifying glass over puzzle pieces

Doing a full macro and micro evaluation is a way to re-energize your organization and breathe new life into your programs.

The Macro View

In strategic planning, the macro view is called an environmental scan. This framing of ideas is often referred to as “opportunities and threats.”

Think beyond that to include trends and forecasts to create a macro map of your world today. A macro map consists of words and pictures illustrating significant factors that affect your organization.

In the center is your organization. The first circle includes your clients, existing funders and stakeholders.

The next circle represents the domestic arena, including philanthropy, consumers, other nonprofits, business and government. The outer circle looks at global trends and the economic and business environment.

You may not see an immediate connection between your nonprofit and global trends, so look closer at conditions that touch your work.

For example, a food bank recently realized donations were dropping from manufacturers because of the strong global market for food. These companies sold the excess that they had previously donated. This has had implications for food sourcing and cost.

We often think of countries outside the United States as being behind us. But oftentimes, they can show us the future.

More than 10 years ago, when alternative energy was not a priority in the United States, an American solar panel company made most of its sales overseas. But sustained high energy prices have changed that, perhaps for good. How does this revived focus on renewable energy and conservation affect your constituents and services? A home-building and repair organization, for instance, could incorporate more energy efficiency into its work and, as a result, tap new funding while helping clients save money.

Consumer trends may also be relevant to your nonprofit. Looking at the food bank again, the incredible interest in local and fresh food reported as a 2011 Food Channel Top Trend is expanding program and funding opportunities.

This intersection of interests is bringing them new partners, including foundations addressing childhood obesity, farmer groups, local restaurants and “foodie” donors.

The website, which digests trends from all over the globe, observes that “screen culture” and “cash-less” are both a top trend in 2012. The implication for nonprofits? Make it easy for donors using smart phones to give money with a tap of the screen.

At the close of the macro scan, you should have a sense of the trends, threats and opportunities that are most likely to influence your organization. Your response becomes part of the strategic plan.

The Micro View

The goal of the micro scan is to objectively examine your target market and operating environment. Then use that information to shape your programs and services going forward.

Using the most recent demographics and key indicators, create a profile of your target market. What trends are you seeing as compared to the past? For a deeper understanding of client issues, a needs assessment survey is a good tool. Questions can be included about key macro trends and program concepts you are testing.

Next, look at peers in your particular sector to determine your position. Are you setting the pace or falling behind? Peers can be a good source of program ideas, target market insight and partnership opportunity. In this time of tight resources, many nonprofits are collaborating to increase impact and reach.

One of the most exciting aspects of the nonprofit sector is the ability to innovate and break new ground. Stepping forward as a leader can benefit you in many ways, including opening up funding opportunities. A good example is a small business lender that tied the macro trend of energy efficiency to client services and received several large grants from new funders as a result.

The funding outlook is a key part of the scan and one that you should monitor constantly. By staying abreast of opportunities and changes in the environment, you can be proactive instead of reactive.

Cultivating relationships while looking ahead will strengthen your ability to find new funding if ongoing sources dwindle. Regular communication of your results will also help keep you in the forefront.