Using Holistic Management to Make a Non-Profit More Effective by ELIZABETH MARKS
n 2009, the Hudson Mohawk resource Conservation and Development Council (HMrC&D), a non-profit organization that I assisted as Elizabeth Marks Coordinator, underwent its fiveyear comprehensive organizational planning process. The Council was pretty typical of most small, non-profit organizations. The board was a group of intelligent, highly caring individuals who wanted to make their community a better place. While they did great things, they weren’t always sure what projects to dive into (they all sounded good!) or had a clear idea of what they were trying to create. At the same time, myself and two of my council members (Donna Murray and Crystal Stewart) were going through the Holistic Management professional development grant funded by Northeast Sustainable Agriculture research & Education (NE SArE) taught by Phil Metzger and Erica Frenay in New York. Even though we were still learning, the three of us decided to use the Holistic Management framework to plan for the future and make better decisions. Phil said, “Just go for it. Even if it is awkward, you will always make more progress than if you don’t try and you’ll improve your ability to work with people and Holistic Management.” Phil was right about the awkward part. Many council members were older farmers who weren’t familiar with strategic planning, let alone coming at it from an Holistic Management angle. Some of them didn’t understand what we were trying to do and felt the time would be better spent talking about the details of specific projects. With the three of us as allies, we kept at it.
Creating Vision & Mission The council’s original vision and mission had been developed 10 years earlier and was pretty dry. It certainly didn’t inspire or excite anyone. Vision The Hudson Mohawk rC&D Council’s vision is to be a “Catalyst for Action” serving to
facilitate improvements in the quality of life in the six-county rC&D area. Mission The mission of the Hudson Mohawk resource Conservation and Development Council is to promote regional, economic and natural resource conservation development. Donna, Crystal and I prodded the council to dig deeper. What were the council’s core values? What did they love? How did they want to be perceived? Here is what they came up with: The HMrC&D council operates as a positive force in its community. • It enables citizens to make sustainable choices by expanding access to a variety of local energy and food sources. • It improves forestry and agriculture by helping landowners and farmers develop environmentally, socially and economically sustainable practices. • It fosters increased communication and collaboration among groups working towards similar goals. • It operates with the flexibility to help where it is needed most. • Internally, the HMrC&D is known as a place where: • Differing views can be shared and explored. • Council members, the NrCS coordinator and secretary, and partners all feel valued and engaged. Next they came up with what they needed in order to achieve those values. In order to be a positive force in the community, the HMrC&D needs to have: • Open communication among our members, contributors, and partners. • An active and engaged council. • Credibility in the community, with funders, and NrCS. • Finally, they spent some time articulating what they were trying to create both as an organization and a community at large. The HMrC&D is striving to create a community which: • Has a sustainable, profitable landscape. • Addresses current concerns using human creativity. • recognizes and supports the rC&D and what we accomplish. Council members and partners are eager to support the organization by volunteering and advocating for funding.
A Process for Creating Priorities Now that we had a meaningful and real “mission” and “vision” statement (aka the Holistic Goal) that excited people, we could use it to make decisions for the organization. I helped the council modify the Holistic Management testing questions to help them make decisions about what projects to undertake. Prior to this projects were suggested using the “popcorn method.” At meetings, council members or partners would pop up suggestions for projects, everyone would think it was a good idea, and it was left to the coordinator to implement them. Donna, Crystal and I developed a project proposal form that contained the following questions (see box).
Project Proposal Form 1. Does this project fit in with the current 5 Year Plan? Does this project fit within the mission and values of the HMrC&D? ____ Yes _____ No 2. Does this project address the root cause of the problem that it is trying to address? (Identify root cause of the problem.) 3. Would this project create any opposition for a partner/individual whose support is needed in the near future? Would this project improve relations of a partner/individual whose support is needed? 4. Would this project strengthen the weakest link of a problem? 5. Does the council have the resources (time, money, expertise) to do the project? If no, what resources are needed to undertake this project? 6. How much time will this project take? 7. What will be the Coordinator’s role? What will be the Council’s role (i.e. what involvement is needed by council members)? 8. How will this project help the Council’s sponsors (the soil and water districts and county governments of Albany, Columbia, Greene, Schenectady, rensselaer and Montgomery counties)? 9. How will the Council monitor the project to know if it is effective or successful?
These questions helped the council members think about if the project: • Fit within the goals of the organization or was creating a future condition envisioned by the council, CONTINUED ON PAGE NINETEEN
IN PRACTICE 3