How a young professional turns lemons into lemonade…

Keeping the Weight Off

The economy is showing definite signs of improvement and many organizations are taking a slow, yet, deep sigh of relief as they have successfully weathered the storm over the past two years.  Agencies across the board used this time to carefully assess their core programs and determine which staff is essential to ensure the success of the organization’s future.  Such scrupulous assessment of each component translated into many internal adjustments and restructuring of roles, resulting in increased responsibility for the staff that was fortunate to keep their positions.

As the liaison between the senior-level executives and the service recipients, or end users, it is the administrator who seems to have been affected the most by these changes.  In the name of ‘organizational limitations,’ the administrator assumes the difficult challenge of maintaining overall programmatic integrity while meeting the requirements of the senior staff to reduce costs.  Due to familiarity and regular involvement with the program, the administrator is posed with the challenge to determine which components are absolutely critical, which pieces can be replaced or in some cases, need to be removed from the budget line.

While this daunting task is approached with fear, this exercise can turn an otherwise difficult situation into a real growth opportunity for everyone involved. Creative solutions show supporters, lay leaders and constituents that the organization understands that the ‘show must go on’ despite the limited resources.  Actually, in today’s market, many donors want to see how the organization maximizes every dollar and is sensitive to the changing financial realities. In a recent article (click here), George Rohr, president of NCH Capital, actually said that he looks at every program through a business lens and looks to see whether the program is maximizing the return of the philanthropic support.  Although Rohr’s statements were made during a Chabad lay-leader conference, the lessons can be applied to all organizations facing a similar problem.

Here are some concrete suggestions on how to maintain a great program while shedding, and keeping, some of those unwanted dollars off:

  • Think simple while thinking big.

Big thinkers are great they keep the vision alive and the project moving. They have the passion and vision to take something small and make it big. If you’re one of those types, the challenge is to learn self control and hold back from pushing too much through at once.

Thinking simple is about breaking up a project into a smaller, more manageable work flow–it’s streamlining a process without the extras. If you’re struggling with this, then put yourself in place of the end user of your program. Do they get the message? Can they figure it out by themselves? What extra features are not necessary, just cool?

  • Exclude features until they’re necessary.  Too many program start simple and wind up complicated…

And if you’re shooting for the wow! factor this might be okay, but don’t count on it. If you set the bar too high it’s hard to copy during tough times.  Most of your users are not going to get all those added features because that’s all they are–nice touches. They’re not necessary to the program, they just spice it up.

Here’s how to make this work… using only the bare essentials create a functioning program. Your goal is to end up with a simple and super-efficient skeleton. This could take some practice because it takes God-like resistance to not add certain things touches . Now, take your project/program and reduce it by 50% while still being effective to the end-user.  You’ve just been forced to rethink how the message is delivered. Do this again, reducing it by 30%. Then do it again, reducing it by 20%.

By starting with the minimum and releasing your lean program, you can more accurately measure and determine what features are truly necessary. It will save you time, money, and effort and allow you to focus on quality.

  • Focus on quality, not quantity.

Spammers go for quantity. But you’re not a spammer, and you definitely don’t want to waste money. That’s why trimming the padding lets you focus on quality. It’s easier to make the entire project look better, run smoother, and remain trouble-free when it’s well-built. When you keep adding, you begin sacrificing quality.

  • Minimize expenses and stick to your budget.

This is a tough one. The first rule of minimizing your expenses is to know your budget. This may be the amount you project the program will cost, or it may be how much the organization you work for has allotted you. The second rule is to stick to it.

With your budget you should first make sure the absolutely essential functions work (and work well). From there, you can re-evaluate the budget and decide which features can be added. This keeps you on or under budget and also allows you to deliver  with a workable program no matter what.

  • Finish the big stuff first.

Once you’ve determined what the essential features are, finish the big stuff first. Build the shell first and fit the small pieces into it. This naturally keeps the shell from expanding and instead compels you to shrink the contents to fit… and keep those unwanted programmatic pounds.

Now it’s your turn to share how you reduce the extra lard from your projects and programs.

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