Considering Organizational Development

Third-party assessment can help your nonprofit organization navigate an ever-changing environment – while becoming an increasingly effective agent for social change.

Third-party assessment can help your nonprofit organization navigate an ever-changing environment – while becoming an increasingly effective agent for social change.

Getting Your Nonprofit to the Next Level

As it began to lay the ground work for future development a decade ago, one forward-looking Rhode Island nonprofit decided to work with an outside consultant to help the stakeholders navigate the process. When the organization’s executive director recently ran into the consultant who supported the nonprofit’s organizational development process, she pulled out a dog-eared copy of the 10-year-old assessment report and told her, “You know, I still use this road map, and we only have one thing left on the list of recommendations!”

Supporting People First

Organizational development helps a nonprofit increase its long-term health and performance by building the capacity of and supporting the people who make up the organization. The process usually begins with an organizational assessment. The quantitative and qualitative information gained through assessment helps the staff, board, community members and other stakeholders identify what is working well, what can be improved in an organization and any barriers to effectiveness.

Thorough organizational assessment asks that a nonprofit’s staff, board and key stakeholders come together to tell their collective story and create a shared portrait of the group’s current reality. This means that they will need to systematically examine the organization’s services, funding, governance, management and overall mission effectiveness.

While self assessment is helpful, leaders and staff can still have blind spots that a third party assessment can help the nonprofit organization to acknowledge, ensuring that all key stakeholders are included in the process. This is the type of assessment that we practice at TSNE - one that honors the wisdom and experience that already exists within the client organization. It uses a tool developed over many years by Ruth McCambridge, now editor-in-chief of the Nonprofit Quarterly magazine.

Developing Your Road Map

To be effective, organizational assessments are designed to provide long-term road maps for organizations that need a North Star for their organizational development work. For example, an assessment done at the request of an arts organization in Connecticut helped the group to realize how much pain the acrimonious split with its founder had caused over two years. Following the assessment process, the nonprofit re-established the relationship with the founder and honored its former leader’s legacy, creating a renewed sense of collective energy for the organization’s future.

Thus, an assessment does more than look at the “nuts and bolts” of organizations. It looks into and reveals the heart - the intangible aspects of an organization’s life. This provides a nonprofit organization with a way of “living from the heart,” vital to its capacity to accomplish its mission.

Deciding How and When

So, how does an organization know it is “time for a facilitated assessment”? Often, and appropriately so, nonprofits will conduct self assessments. Some factors, however, may signal the need for a facilitated assessment, which can enable a deeper dialogue. Some factors that signal the need for a facilitated assessment include finding that:

  • Vital systems in the organization are breaking down.
  • People—board and staff members, constituents and partners—are not on the “same page.”
  • The organization is repeating destructive patterns, whether financial, emotional or programmatic, and cannot break the cycle.
  • There is a lack of clarity regarding organizational direction.

There are other times when an assessment can be useful as well:

  • Just before a major leadership transition at the board or staff level
  • When organizations that are in "good organizational health" want to see the “whole elephant” and be intentional about planning their future organizational development

While it is important to stress the time commitment that an organization needs to make to organizational development and assessment, the rewards are clear, as stated by the Rhode Island executive director referenced earlier. As a result of their partnership with TSNE Consulting Services, client organizations have been able to:

  • Enhance their managerial capacity
  • Strengthen their infrastructure
  • Clarify and sharpen their mission focus
  • Capture the impact of their programs through improved, meaningful evaluation
  • Develop specific skills and capacities through custom designed trainings
  • Plan effectively for their future, including deepening their capacity to be nimble in today’s quickly changing world

Consulting Services at TSNE

While Consulting Services at TSNE specializes in assessment, we also do strategic planning, executive transition, board development, strategic alliance development and other organizational development work for individual nonprofits as well as nonprofit collaboratives and networks. Additionally, we partner with internal and external associates to deliver technical assistance in the area of technology, fundraising, human resource and financial management.


About the Author: Heather Harker is the current director of consulting and executive transitions at TSNE MissionWorks. She carries on TSNE’s tradition of using a comprehensive array of organizational development expertise and services developed under the strong leadership of her predecessors, Ruth McCambridge and Ron Ancrum.

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