How to Assess Your Nonprofit Organization’s Readiness to Start a New Program
Just because a new program is needed doesn’t necessarily mean that your nonprofit should be the one to start it. You need to take other factors into account before taking the leap into starting a new program. Consider the following factors when assessing your ability to start a new program.
The nonprofit budget
A new program is almost always going to add expenses to your organizational budget. To be sure that you don’t get yourself into a financial hole, carefully project the extra costs you’ll have from additional staff, increased space, equipment, and insurance. After you have solid expense projections, you have to project where you’re going to find the added revenue needed to pay these costs.
If you’re sitting on a surplus, be careful about tapping into this money for new program expenses. Program expenses recur every year; your surplus funds may not be there next year.
Nonprofit organizational and staff capability
Does your organization have the knowledge and expertise to provide the program services? This question may not be a concern if the proposed program is merely an extension of what you’ve been doing. If your organization is branching out into new areas, however, be sure that you or someone in the organization has the credentials to provide a quality program.
Also pay attention to hidden staff costs. For example, consider whether your current program director will have sufficient time to provide adequate supervision for the new program.
Check whether you need additional licensing or accreditation to provide the program. This issue is especially important for human services programs. For example, if you’ve been working with teenagers and want to expand to elementary and preschool children, find out whether your program space must meet additional code requirements in order to serve a younger client group.
Arts organizations also should be aware that adding new programs can create problems with building codes. For example, suppose you have a visual arts gallery that typically serves no more than ten people at a time. If you decide to hold poetry readings every Tuesday night and expect audiences of 50 or more, your building may not have enough exits.
The nonprofit’s mission
From time to time, we’re all tempted by the idea of doing something new. But you have to ask yourself what selling goldfish has to do with your organization’s mission. If you go too far afield, you’ll be exploring unknown territory.
You can change your mission, of course, but you shouldn’t do so without considerable thought. Altering a mission statement just to justify a new program probably isn’t reason enough to do so.
The long term
An idea that looks good today may not look good next year or the year after. Don’t forget that costs rise year after year. Your staff appreciates raises occasionally. Try to imagine where the program will be five and ten years into the future.