Sometimes it happens so gradually that nobody is aware. Other times it is abundantly clear — “Nothing works anymore.”
It can happen in any organization, even those working for the most benign purposes. Nonprofit consultant Thomas A. McLaughlin maintains that the systemic breakdowns that lead to “Nothing works anymore” can be identified by key aspects and that repairing the damage rests on taking on each of these areas.
* The service model(s). They are just abstract portraits of the behaviors of people and systems, and outside forces can change the way they work, often subtly.
* Funder practices. The philosophies and practices of external funders, especially the government, can play a big part in systemic breakdown, even if the changes are short-term ones.
* (Stubbornly) fixed costs. The problem with these is that they must be paid no matter what else happens.
* Weak systems. The impact of these weak systems (administrative or financial) is that the negative impact spreads widely and quickly throughout the organization. And they can leave employees feeling frustrated and unsupported.
* Macro changes. These can include fundraising reductions, new legal requirements and even population dynamics. The smaller population of Millennials moving into organizations started by Baby Boomers could mean huge changes.
* Recessions. The two most constructive steps nonprofit leaders can take are to build financial reserves and create a short-term plan for coping with the immediate effect of a recession.