Meet the Expert
Senior Advisor, The Bridgespan Group
- More than 40 years experience in strategic and operating leadership.
- Works with clients on issues of strategy and scale across a wide range of fields; particularly active with national networks serving disadvantaged youth populations, public education, and voluntary health networks.
- Has worked with more than 30 networks, including Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, YMCA, America’s Promise Alliance, Communities in Schools, NatureServe, Alzheimer's Association, Salvation Army, National Academy Foundation, Public Education Network, and United Way Worldwide.
- Joined Bridgespan after 13 years in the biotechnology industry – as chief strategic officer of Organogenesis, the first company to successfully develop a living human skin replacement product; president and CEO of T Cell Sciences; VP marketing and business development for Biogen; EVP and chief strategic officer for Biocode; and chief strategic officer for ImmuLogic.
- Before entering the biotech industry, Alan was a manager at Bain & Company and spent 13 years in the diesel engine industry.
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Optimizing Alignment, Impact and Sustainability of Nonprofit Networks
Senior Advisor, The Bridgespan Group
- The roles of the national center and its local organizations are misaligned.
- Typically with nonprofit networks, the national organization creates and sustains the brand and the local entities deliver the services. But things can get chaotic and out of alignment when reaching out to the community and funding sources. Program delivery is the responsibility of the local organizations, but program consistency, replication, and measurement are the national organization's responsibility.
A good example would be in data collection and reporting – often it's the case that the national organization raises the money and does the reporting, but the local organizations collect the data, and they're all collecting data in different ways. If you don't have a common reporting system for everyone and a network motivated to provide accurate and timely information, there will be problems in understanding what works across the network and in knowing how many beneficiaries are being helped. This leads to program inconsistencies, which wastes resources and lessens the appeal to funders.
- There is huge variation in capabilities among the local affiliates.
- The discrepancies between the capabilities of local organizations within a network can cause difficulties in reaching full potential for the network. Think for a moment about the YMCA. The Boston YMCA has a budget of $70 million and thousands of employees, but then there are other local YMCAs that have five to ten employees and a budget of $100,000-$200,000. Similar variations in scale and sophistication exist in just about every large network.
Managing across those discrepancies and capabilities while simultaneously aiming to deliver more impact through the national footprint is a real challenge. The national organization needs to think through whether to organize its field staff by geography or capabilities and focus of the local affiliates. BGCA went through a thoughtful and complete overhaul of its national field organization in 2012.
- Converting local passion to performance can be a challenge.
- In the nonprofit world, people generally are underpaid and overworked. They're in the space because they care about the mission and about doing good things. But in many organizations, professional management is comparatively loose, and in terms of job performance, caring can be a substitute for getting things done. Plenty of people are kept on in the nonprofit world because of their commitment and not their competence.
As a network strives to develop performance and outcomes across the country, addressing the issues of needed skills, performance measurement, and belief that outcomes for the beneficiaries is more important than serving the passion of the employees within each affiliate is a big challenge.
- The local and national organizations don't trust each other.
- A lot of friction can arise over who owns the relationship with funders. Imagine for a moment a local branch that can get $10,000 from their local auto dealer to support local activities, but the national office thinks they can get a million to support the whole network. Everyone is worried that someone is going to make deals that will upset their own.
There's also mistrust over the communities served. Imagine a national office that wants effective programs across the board and imposes certain restrictions on what the local organizations can do, and the local organizations say, "But you don't know our community. That won't work here." It's an issue of control and perspective, and both sides often have legitimate arguments.
- Arguments over control take precedence over performance and impact.
- Too often, the local organizations want a degree of autonomy but the national organization wants a degree of consistency. They wind up arguing over who has control over what the programs are instead of over what is most effective to assist the target demographic. Focus on impact recedes because of authority and territorial issues, often to the detriment of the programs and activities.
Optimizing Alignment, Impact and Sustainability of Nonprofit Networks: Common Problems