The Doctor Will See You Now

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Routine medical exams almost always measure a number of vital signs: temperature; pulse rate; blood pressure; respiration. Often, too, there’s height and weight, questions about changes, an overall assessment.


Nonprofits might borrow the approach—a routine exam of some of the vital signs that reveal an organization’s health. With apologies to real doctors and nurses, here is a metaphorical self-check for your nonprofit. Please note: this is an ironic post, not intended in any way to minimize the real medical conditions suggested here.


What’s your temperature? Does your organization always seem to be lurching from crisis to crisis, colliding with proposal deadlines, forcing people to take work home and then spending hours on the phone or Zoom, even beyond normal business hours? Maybe running a low-grade Funding Fever. Take two steps back and don’t call anybody in the morning—it’ll probably be OK.


The pulse of your organization is the flow of information, communications and interactions between and among your board, staff and funders. In the doctor’s office they’ll measure “BPM”—beats per minute. In your organization, measure the messages. Sixty or 70 emails a day? Five program announcements a week? Might be Tacky Talking, excessive and maybe unnecessary. On the other hand, too few messages, too much silence, a very Brady Blackout. Perhaps your best BPM is one that allows time to read, react and reset.


Then there’s blood pressure. Let’s say that money is the lifeblood of your nonprofit (although it’s what the money supports that really matters). A big infusion of cash comes in, program staff are told to “add units” or “extend hours” or “reach more clients.” Money pushes against realistic constraints. Or, common to a lot of nonprofits, not enough flows to the places that need it. Hyper Helping grips the organization in the first instance, Hypo Helpless in the second. What do your organs and extremities need to thrive and what can they manage?


Respiration is the act of bringing in new stuff and expelling old stuff. Your nonprofit is still relying on a 2010 survey of neighborhood stresses? Your organization has not had a board-led impact review since it was created? Might be a case of Shallow Learning. Throw open the doors and windows and invite in some new ions.


We are always looking for formats and templates to see how we’re doing. This playful way of talking about ourselves might be just—what the doctor ordered.


Thomas Boyd is Chief Editorial Consultant for The Grantsmanship Center
and an independent consultant to nonprofit organizations.

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