Nonprofits in New York touch the lives of almost all who live here. Think of the impact if their performance can dramatically improve. Diana Davenport, WG’87, Vice President of Volunteer Services for the WCNY, has for years sought to do just that. Diana was named chair of the 2014 New York Community Trust Nonprofit Excellence Awards selection committee.
Can you tell us about this awards program? Who can apply and how many nonprofits do you expect to apply?
Thank you. I am really excited to talk about these awards. Now in their 8th year, the Awards program teaches, recognizes and encourages outstanding management practices among New York’s large nonprofit community. This may not be terribly sexy but we should all care that the nonprofit organizations that we support are well run. The Awards program recognizes the important roles played by thousands of New York’s nonprofit organizations in improving our lives. It helps nonprofit leaders by spotlighting excellent management practices that enable nonprofits to better serve their communities and achieve their missions. We encourage all nonprofits to apply. Several of the newer, entrepreneurial type of nonprofits have reached the semifinalist stages of the program. It’s great to see a young organization starts at the outset putting the best management practices in place.
Winning organizations receive $60,000 in cash awards, special mentions and tuition scholarships at the Columbia Business School (oops!) Since the first Nonprofit Excellence Awards in 2007, more than 550 nonprofit organizations have applied and 23 have been recognized.
Just by going through the process, we believe that the Awards Program gives nonprofit leaders the tools and management practices they need across eight key performance areas to build stronger organizations. Identified by thousands of nonprofit leaders across the country, these eight areas are:
1 Overall management focus on results
2 Governance structure
3 Financial management
4 Diversity and cultural competence
5 Human resources
6 IT practices
8 Fundraising/resource development.
If a nonprofit is interested in applying, they can participate in the five clinics we offer on the application and selection process. This gives them the opportunity to ask questions and get more detailed information about what we’re looking for. Following the awards ceremony, we offer a series of what we call Pathways to Excellence programs on each of the 8 areas so nonprofits can find out what their peers who have won are doing. And, detailed feedback is available to all participants, based on the deep reviews our team of top nonprofit experts conduct. Many of our winners are applying for the second time.
How does the selection committee go about the process of finding out what makes an organization’s management practices exceptional?
You can just imagine … we’re a group of Type A nonprofit experts all in one room for hours multiple times over nine months. We have experts in board governance, finance and investments, operations, PR and communications, cultural competence, human resources, IT and fund raising. It’s a surprisingly cordial team and we learn so much from each other. We divvy up 60-70 applications, each of which is 80-100 pages long. We discuss the merits of each organization at length and then narrow the pool to 10 semi-finalists. Those semi-finalists complete a follow on application. We all review all 10 of these organizations and narrow it down to 6 finalists. Then we do ½ day site visits to each. It is comprehensive.
What does a winning organization look like?
Kent, I’m glad you asked that question. We have seen well run organizations that are staffed by five people to organizations with thousands of employees, from simple art groups to nonprofit hospitals. We look for dedicated organizations, who are especially strong in one or two of the eight areas but not resting on their laurels: they are actively analyzing their results and continually changing their practices to further improve. Whether it is broadening the number of clients served, deepening the level of attention dedicated to each individual client, expanding the communities served, or helping others in the same field replicate successful programs, you can feel their drive for excellence.
Winning organizations may have been founded a century ago while others are in the first couple years of life, yet they have similar attributes. Their boards are engaged and actively recruiting new members. Their management team is deep, pulls from within and has a succession plan in place. These organizations value their employees and work hard to develop and retain them. They also work within the communities they serve and pull their board members and staff from those communities. They work to get buy-in from the communities they serve. Their financial procedures and practices are clear and carefully monitored. Responsibility is pushed into the organization so that everyone has a stake in the outcome. IT systems, the communications plan and fundraising are becoming more linked. They innovate.
So I am guessing that my fellow Wharton alums will agree, this really is sexy stuff! For more information, please visit https://npccny.org/info/awards.htm
You may reach Diana at:
Vice President, Administration
The Commonwealth Fund
One East 75th Street
New York, NY 10021
(212) 606-3834 Phone