For over two years, the pandemic has caused us to rethink and change the way we do business across all industries. We keep talking about when things “return to normal,” but we have no indication of when that will be or if this is our “new normal.” Now is the time for all organizations to refresh their strategic plan to ensure financial and operational viability into the future.
While there are many areas your plan could focus on, I have outlined for you below what we believe are some of the more critical areas to focus on in your plan. This is based on our experience in the ever-changing tax-exempt sector as well as other considerations from the pandemic. Some of the top areas to consider are as follows:
- PEOPLE – You know that you need to focus on your most valuable assets so you can continue to serve the individuals in your programs. Pay and benefits are critical in retaining your workforce, but you also need to think outside of the box to create a culture where people want to come to work every day. Recognizing individual and team efforts as well as providing flexibility in schedules have become crucial in retaining engaged employees. In addition, creating a community of inclusion, open communication, and appropriate tone at the top are more important now than ever. What can you do to strengthen your bond with the individuals who make up your most important asset?
- PROGRAM EVALUATION – Many tax-exempts have operated programs that are not financially viable because they were part of the organization since inception, or they fall in line with the mission. Now is the time for a detailed analysis to be done for all programs to project the financial viability into the future. If you decide to terminate programs, you will likely have staffing needs in other departments where you can redeploy the staff from the terminated programs. Another option is to partner with other local tax-exempts that still offer that program to possibly redirect staff or refer participants for the program’s services. As reimbursement continues to tighten, it is critical to make tough decisions sooner rather than later.
- COLLABORATION – Considering a potential merger, affiliation, or collaboration will also be something that governance should begin to think about as many tax-exempts are struggling. The federal aid packages that were created during the pandemic put a temporary band-aid on the financial woes of many entities. Now that some time has passed and these funds are lessening, we have noticed an increase in this type of activity again. There are various ways in which this can be done to lead to a successful outcome for both parties involved. This is especially important as many executive level individuals are nearing retirement age and there is no clear succession plan within the organization. Arranging management agreements or affiliations that could lead to a possible future merger will be critical in filling some of these needs.
- INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY – Having the appropriate IT infrastructure is an important part of your plan. Many tax-exempts have not invested in these costly systems due to having limited funds available. The pandemic has highlighted the need for individuals and organizations to be able to pivot and work in a remote environment. Security threats increase each year especially with more remote access to sensitive data. This important investment will ensure success in your business going forward.
- FUNDRAISING – How can you supplement the income you are receiving from funding sources to continue to operate your programs and build your cash and investment reserves? Over the course of many years, I have observed that many of my clients in certain tax-exempt sectors have done little to no fundraising to assist in their mission. Now is the time to begin cultivating relationships to expand fundraising and development at your organization. This includes the consideration of holding fundraising events, creating planned giving initiatives, applying for private foundation grants, and looking for ways to increase other contributions. Many organizations start with the families of the individuals they serve, governance, and other stakeholders. Overtime, the development function will become a more refined part of all tax-exempt entities in order for them to ensure future success and growth.
During this strategic planning process, there are additional focal points that should be considered. Typically, these plans will focus on a three to five-year period. Given the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic, it may make more sense to focus on a shorter timeline. Most entities will work on this during an annual board retreat with the assistance of an experienced facilitator who is generally an independent party. Our tax-exempt experts have been involved in many of these discussions with clients and nonclients and would be happy to assist you in this process.
If you need further guidance or have any questions on this topic, we’re here to help. Please do not hesitate to reach out to our trusted experts to discuss your specific situation.
This material has been prepared for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. Should you require any such advice, please contact us directly. The information contained herein does not create, and your review or use of the information does not constitute, an accountant-client relationship.