Why are we doing all that? How to align your charity’s work with its mission

publication date: Oct 23, 2013
author/source: Bill Kennedy

Bill Kennedy photoDo all your programs line up with your mission?  For many charities, the answer is “not quite.”  An organization might have programs or events that are not directly traceable to its strategic goals for all kinds of historical, personal and diplomatic reasons. The programs and events may be worthwhile in themselves.  They just don’t reflect the current mission.

When I had to develop a budget for a new client, I stumbled across a simple tool that sparked a good conversation about the charity’s work.

The organization work chart

The tool was an organization chart based on work instead of people, like the simplified one shown here.  At the top you have the box for the whole organization.  The next level has the charitable objectives and administration.  Below that can be more detailed objectives or the programs / events themselves.Work chart

In an organization going through significant changes in operations or staff, this budgeting exercise can ensure that smaller programs that might otherwise be forgotten get included in the budget discussions.  A simple overview diagram helps people see the whole organization, particularly when there are shared responsibilities for programs.

Staff response

Budgeting can be a mysterious process for a lot of people.  But when staff sees the revenues and expenses in the context of their specific work, the budget starts to make sense. 

Estimating the money required for a bite-sized piece of work is much easier than trying to budget for a whole department at once.  In addition, staff can see their work in the context of the broader organization’s work.  They see how programs align to each other and to the strategic goals.

Another advantage to a work-based organization chart is that it is easier to move responsibilities around.  In the simple example above, the charity would typically have a manager for each goal:  research, education, assistance and administration.  But the reality may be quite different.  For example, John might have kept the hostel program when he transferred to education, something which no longer makes sense. 

Analyzing the chart may highlight gaps and opportunities in the organization.  For example, it might become clear that there is a lot more fundraising work being done in research and assistance than education.

Board response

The two main responses I heard from the board of directors were: 

  1. I had no idea we were doing all that.
  2. Why are we doing all that?

The chart showed the work broken down into chunks and organized those chunks by strategic goal. It was as useful as the budget documents when the board assessed the immediate year and the overall direction of the charity.

Bill Kennedy is a Toronto-based Chartered Accountant with Energized Accounting, focusing on financial and reporting systems in the charitable sector. He blogs at www.EnergizedAccounting.ca/blog/. Find out more at www.EnergizedAccounting.ca; follow Bill @Energized

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