Lifecycle Analysis

An Organizational Capacity Building Tool

Assessments are critical tools in developing the knowledge and understanding necessary for strategy development. A lifecycle analysis operates under the assumption that nonprofit organizations follow a developmental path in many ways similar to that of human beings. At each stage there are readily identifiable indicators that can be seen as building blocks to an ideal stage of maturity. This assessment answers the question “where are we?”

From a foundation-building perspective, it is useful for helping an organization identify where it is strong and where it needs to further develop.  It typically examines areas including programs, administration, finance and fundraising, marketing, governance, and staffing. Where are you?

Programs and Services

Grass Roots

  • Extremely informal or not yet a concern
  • Perceived need for a program or service
  • We have identified key unmet client/community needs and can articulate them.

Startup / Incubation

  • Simple programs or a mix of diverse & non-integrated activities
  • Strong commitment to delivering services

Adolescence/Growth

  • Programs begin to establish themselves in the market
  • Often demand is greater than capacity
  • More focus on evaluation and impact of programs

Maturity/Stability

  • Core programs are established & recognized in the community
  • Long range program planning
  • New programs are added & deleted as market dictates
  • Programs functioning well

Leadership/Management

Grass Roots

  • Entrepreneurial & visionary leader

Startup / Incubation

  • Single minded founder whose vision drives the organization
  • Sole decision making – little to no hierarch

Adolescence/Growth

  • Beginning strategic division of labor
  • Executive Director still primary decision maker & is less accessible to staff
  • Both external & internal demands

Maturity/Stability

  • Need for well-rounded Executive Director
  • Sometimes Founders Syndrome
  • Delegation of authority & clear accountability

Staffing

Grass Roots

  • All volunteer driven
  • No paid staff

Startup / Incubation

  • Most work completed by volunteers
  • Small (if any) enthusiastic staff
  • Sense of “family” & cooperation among staff

Adolescence/Growth

  • Staff size increases – still join primarily for mission
  • Deepening organization chart, with more centralized management
  • No job descriptions & personnel policies

Maturity/Stability

  • Even larger & more culturally diverse & specialized staff
  • Professional managers are hired
  • Vertical, hierarchical organizational chart

Governance

Grass Roots

  • All volunteer driven
  • No paid staff

Startup / Incubation

  • Most work completed by volunteers
  • Small (if any) enthusiastic staff
  • Sense of “family” & cooperation among staff

Adolescence/Growth

  • Staff size increases – still join primarily for mission
  • Deepening organization chart, with more centralized management
  • No job descriptions & personnel policies

Maturity/Stability

  • We regularly explore new program delivery models
  • We have developed an internal process for evaluating new opportunities/programs
  • Our strategic plan reflects a long-range program plan

Administrative Systems/Operations

Grass Roots

  • Not yet a concern
  • No operations base

Startup / Incubation

  • Few formal systems
  • Operations are agile and flexible
  • Informal management infrastructure
  • Few operational routines or systems
  • Frequent informal communication

Adolescence/Growth

  • Unsophisticated operating systems
  • Unstable operations
  • Purchasing technology
  • Permanent home office with new admin support
  • Begin development of operational systems
  • Internal communication is challenging

Maturity/Stability

  • Program and operational coordination through formal planning
  • Systems, policies, & procedures in place
  • Standardized & efficient operations
  • Better integration of technology
  • More data management
  • Formal communications

Finances & Fundraising

Grass Roots

  • Not yet a concern

Startup / Incubation

  • Focus on gathering resources
  • Limited financial resources
  • Small budget with limited to no financial/accounting systems
  • Overly dependent on a few funding sources & in-kind donations of expertise
  • Hand-to-mouth funding opportunities

Adolescence/Growth

  • Established relations with key funders but still unpredictable funding resources
  • Efficient at in-kind & volunteer resources
  • Cash flow problems – organization is undercapitalized
  • Cost considerations are important
  • Revenue generation options considered

Maturity/Stability

  • Program and operational coordination through formal planning
  • Systems, policies, & procedures in place
  • Standardized & efficient operations
  • Better integration of technology
  • More data management
  • Formal communications

Marketing & Communications

Grass Roots

  • Not yet a concern

Startup / Incubation

  • Poor external communication
  • Word of mouth referrals & marketing
  • No formal public relations

Adolescence/Growth

  • Improved promotional materials
  • Web and Social Media Presence
  • Utilizing multiple marketing channels

Maturity/Stability

  • Marketing plan developed
  • Professional image & promotional material
  • In-house communications &marketing expertise
* Adapted from: The 5 Life Stages of Nonprofits, Judith Sharken Simon, 2002 and The Conservation Company, 1997.

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