Insights from the Inside: Constructing Your Organizational Framework
This post is part of a series providing a road map for real world operational management of non-profits and social enterprises. The author, Gene Miller, has held a variety of high-stakes leadership positions in diverse industries through crisis periods and great successes. This series shares her results-based approach, presenting practical guides for how to get things done. She can be reached at genemillerassociates.com.
You’ve got a brilliant idea for a new enterprise and have been fortunate enough to garner financial support. The program/product/service model is under development under your leadership. But what do you do about building out the supporting infrastructure around your innovation? Let’s face it, the back side of the house is often the step child in any organization from the very outset, whether it be corporate or not for profit . . . that is until there is a problem. Then suddenly the crisis can be front and center and require massive efforts to resolve. Better to be ahead of the storm and build your organizational structure with the sound decision making consistent with the brilliance of your innovation.
Important thinking around how to tackle infrastructure should look something like this:
- Keep overhead fixed costs to a minimum but not at the expense of proper functioning.
- Determine financial constraints.
- Evaluate what level of expertise you need where, and for what period of time.
- Decide whether to buy or build.
Most organizations want to keep down costs and often early infrastructure needs require high caliber skills, but not necessarily on an on-going basis. And, the higher the skills required, the more likely you don’t want to fund that effort full time. You may elect a hybrid approach which could for example, have outside bookkeeping but internal hiring around revenue generation.
Here’s an approach to consider:
1. Assess your infrastructure needs, which likely requires some or most of the following:
- Bookkeeping/financial controls
- Human resources for policies, procedures, payroll and hiring
- Website design/management
- Computer tech support
- Risk management: D&O, malpractice, and renter’s/liability insurance
- Revenue generation and/or fund raising
- PR/Marketing/Social Media
- Legal services
2. Then come up with a buy vs build game plan. When I previously served as Executive Director of a new venture, our preference was to buy most services (except fund raising), and take a scaffolded approach for the remaining needs, utilizing interns in concert with outside providers.
In our case, joining the Mass Nonprofit Network (it could be a SBA or a Chamber type organization depending on your charter) afforded us introduction and referral to some pretty terrific (and cost effective) consultants and agencies who provide bookkeeping , HR and risk management. Internally, we hired a series of paid interns (using the criteria outlined in Blog #3…Building Your Team) to coordinate internal logistics with these providers. This worked incredibly well for us.
However, Words To The Wise re: Interns: They are of no value unless you are prepared to work with them and use them. Suggest you approach interns as an extension of the leadership, involving them in meetings and having them handle the follow up and coordinate logistical support/integration. Interestingly, many of the interns we worked with early in our history were subsequently hired as full time employees as the organization evolved. It’s a great way to test drive the organizational fit.
Tactical Takeaway: Assess your needs, budget constraints then build and/or buy. You may want to find creative ways to be cost effective like utilizing trade association introductions and correlated discounts for early on service providers. Think about whether a model incorporating interns would work for you.