What happens when you don’t maintain your urban infrastructure

Infrastructure, systems, policies and procedures: have your eyes glazed over yet?

Undoubtedly, these are some of the least sexy words in a nonprofit management vocabulary.  No one wants to put these things too close to the top on any agenda, no one would show up.  And they are certainly not compelling issues that attract donors. There has been a lot of conversation lately about overhead and infrastructure in nonprofit management; in fact how critical it is to have this part of your organization receive the attention it fully needs and deserves. 

Your management of your internal systems may not percolate to the top of the list, that is, until they fall apart: until someone is put on hold for 20 minutes for a quick question;  until your donor calls, enraged, never have received an acknowledgement or thank you for a gift; until an important deadline is missed with the associated penalties and fines now showing up in your payables.

So, How Exactly Do things Work?

Taking the time to examine your ‘paper trail’ as it was called in the old days, is a very valuable exercise. Does your staff know the org chart, and where to go when something not normal comes up? Is state and federal paperwork filed properly and accessibly? How and where are all your records kept?

As tedious as these chores may seem, an investment in how well your internal structure is functioning is well worth the effort.

Big disasters often occur because insufficient attention is paid to structure and maintenance. 

  • On August 1, 2007, a bridge section of Interstate 35 West collapsed and dropped cars, trucks and their passengers into the icy river.   Thirteen people died, 145 were injured and the resulting mess took huge expense and effort to replace. Although the bridge was inspected annually, it had been deemed structurally deficient since 1990. That same year, over 75,000 other bridges in the US received the same designation. They had 17 years to get on top of this. 

  • In the midst of one of the more severe droughts in US history, a major water pipeline running underneath Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles broke not once, but twice, spilling over 10 million gallons of water and doing significant damage to nearby UCLA. The pipes were installed in 1913. While there is occasional mention of the critical importance of maintaining and upgrading water delivery for so many, this never seems to make the budget.

  • Taxes are often a pain, there are errors and corrections. With the new budget cuts, Forbes predicts telephone waits will dramatically increase ( as if they are not long enough now) and grievances will take even longer to research and resolve. Got a question or a problem, be prepared to wait, and wait and wait.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2015/01/13/irs-warns-of-delayed-refunds-long-waits-for-taxpayers-possible-shutdown/

Is it Inevitable?

Maybe your organization is not as big as US Department of Transportation, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water Board or the IRS, but you do have internal systems that need periodic examination, updating and tweaking.  Making sure things work the way they are supposed to, smoothly and cleanly, will make the tougher work you have to do easier. Imagine yourself as your caller, donor or visitor: how easy is it to do what you want to do?

Yes, you are mission-driven, of course you must always consider fundraising and development, client and donor satisfaction is way up there as well. However, managing your systems and procedures doesn’t seem so pressing. Very often, this will not seem urgent, until it is. And then it is really urgent. 

Where Do I Start?

Let us help you see what is working, and what needs some attention. Very often small changes can result in big improvements. Be sure the back office is organized and neat, it will make the doing the important work of your organization much more effective. 

Questions are always free, how can we help you?  clauren@laurenassociates.com

                                            310 828 6979

image credit: http://affordablehousinginstitute.org/blogs/us/wp-content/uploads/broken_water_main.jpg