Monday, December 19, 2011

How to Define Success?

By Virgil Carter

The beginning of each year is often a time of analysis and planning for many non-profit organizations.  It’s often a time for analyzing past performance and planning for next year’s activities.  Has the past year been successful?  Are you planning to improve your organizational success in the coming year?  These questions raise the issue of how your association defines success.  Success comes in many flavors.  Perhaps the important thing is to identify and implement what works for your organization.  Thereafter communicate, communicate, and communicate. 

So, what does your association value most?  Is it performance?  How about relationships?  Perhaps its competencies or credentialing.  Each organization is different when it comes to what matters most, not to mention why it matters to us.  So, to define success, there has to be agreement on what matters most.  The situation, which may change over time, has a lot to do with defining success.  For example,  an association in a protracted, downward financial spiral may define success very differently than an association whose growth has been 30% per year for the past five years.

Here are some important success categories, with suggestions how they might be used. 

  1. Strategy--Does our association have a sustained record of performance to plan over time (successful strategy is not measured in 12-month cycles and someone’s pet agenda for the year)?
  2. Voice of the customer—Who are our (right) customers and how do you know if they are satisfied (yes, there may be “wrong” customers)?
  3. Financial—Do we have sustained performance over time meeting budget or ending each year with positive variances (no margin, no mission)?
  4. Business operations—What is the record of new program development and existing program retirement over the past 5 years (are you still doing what you did 5 years ago)?
  5. Learning & growth—What investment do we make on a consistent annual basis for volunteer’s & staff’s learning and growth in their association roles (no investment, no dividends)?

When you have figured out what matters most to your association and how you will measure success, it’s time to think about annual communications planning and the year’s key audiences and messages.  Key messages are important for association leaders—volunteers and staff—to focus on, repeat and reinforce.  The messages help everyone to understand and stay on the same page.

There are many useful ways to define organizational success.  And to communicate effectively about it.  When there is consensus about success, your volunteers, staff and external relationships will thank you, knowing what to expect and how to help.  How will you measure organizational success in 2012?

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