SMART's Participation in The Patterson Foundation's Advancing Mission Thrivability Initiative

SMART's Participation in The Patterson Foundation's Advancing Mission Thrivability Initiative

Posted on May 05, 2022 by Melissa Spiellenkothen, Former SMART Board President

Editor's Note: Advancing Mission Thrivability is an opportunity presented by The Patterson Foundation for regional nonprofits to learn a mission-centric, economically informed approach to decision-making for their programs, products, and services. Participating organizations are introduced to this decision-making approach over a series of online learning opportunities led by No Margin, No Mission, a national consulting firm and social enterprise. Following the online sessions, organizations with demonstrated interest, opportunity, and preparedness to dive deeper into the work have the chance to receive 1:1 consulting support from No Margin, No Mission.


The benefit I derived from participating in Advancing Mission Thrivability (AMT) is the discipline that the Labinars and Webversations brought to thinking about any nonprofit's current and future state. That is largely driven by the structure of AMT, which advances from one set of concepts through others to conclude with an assessment of the organization.

In the first part, all participants complete the same exercises. For example, an exercise to assess programs/offerings on a matrix that contrasts mission with return. Viewing programs from that perspective begins to set a good foundation for planning for future growth — both economically and in social impact. In the case of SMART, "open houses," which require a lot of volunteer time and expenditure of scarce dollars but result in little impact on income or recognition in the community, should be a very low priority for the future. On the other hand, mission-focused programs that result in increasing mission reach (new clientele benefiting from expanded programs) and at the same time bring in significant income should be a very high priority for the organization.

The final advancement packet requires participants to assess the programs currently offered in terms of economic return on investment. Gathering accurate costs turned out to be very difficult – and only a limited number of "leaders" could answer these questions. That led to our conclusion that leadership needed to be more engaged in and knowledgeable of the programs, the financial details associated with the income/expenses of the organization, and where changes to programs are needed.

Once we were selected to participate in the final phase of AMT, in which participants receive organization-specific consulting help from No Margin, No Mission (also known as the 5-week consulting sprint), it was increasingly apparent that we needed to focus on building the Board of Directors. After a brief examination of the individual assets of the directors, we agreed that we needed to include additional skills and interests as well as numbers of directors.

This led to a significant revision to the Board Responsibilities and Commitment documents. While we planned a special board meeting to review these new documents, the board elected to simply approve them as proposed with little or no discussion. That should have been a hint of the challenge which lay ahead to increase board engagement. Another benefit of the consulting support was planning on raising a specific amount of additional funding sources over the next year. We were also coached to focus on capital improvement projects needed to prepare for a major grant request later in the spring.

The AMT approach requires several leaders to participate and is not particularly successful if there is no buy-in from leadership. In our case, the work of a very limited number of leaders led to only minor
changes in the organization.

The intellectual challenge and knowledge gained were priceless and can be carried to other endeavors.

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