Stagnation and Decline:
Symptoms and Treatments

The signs of organizational distress in an NGO arenít difficult to identify. Here are the most typical symptoms of decline and some practical responses:

Program
Symptom
Demand has declined, and capacity to deliver services is under-utilized.
Treatment
Reassess the needs of target audiences, and revise programs to meet current needs. Or, add new offerings to the program mix, and eliminate outmoded ones. Restaffing or retraining may be required to deliver new or revised services.
Management
Symptom
Management is unable to think creatively about the organizationís mission or approach.
Treatment
Enlist help from external advisors to generate fresh alternatives and provide objective perspectives. A change in leadership may be appropriate.
Staffing
Symptom
The staff is torn by infighting and turf wars.
Treatment
Consider reorganizing staffing structure, including reallocating responsibility and retraining people. Retain consultants to help clarify disputed issues and assess staff membersĀEcapabilities.
Board
Symptom
The same few board members show up at every meeting to rehash familiar issues.
Treatment
Contact all board members and discuss their commitment to the organization. Revise the boardís structure to reflect present-day needs. As part of this process, some board members may resign voluntarily and new members with critical skills can be recruited.
Systems
Symptom
Administrative systems are needlessly complex, confusing, and outmoded.
Treatment
Review your systems requirements in light of changing programs and technologies. This may require the expertise of outside management and information technology consultants.
Fundraising
Symptom
The organization is ďchasing dollarsĀEby inventing new initiatives primarily to attract available funding, contorting existing programs to match fundersĀE special interests, or responding to Requests for Proposals indiscriminately.
Treatment
Clarify the mission, and revise programs to make them more relevant. Concentrate on funding opportunities that clearly fit this new direction. Adopt a more proactive approach to funders.
Financial Management
Symptom
Cash flow problems and projected budget deficits are chronic.
Treatment
Pare expenses by dropping or curtailing non-essential services. Develop new sources of income based on revised programs.
Internal Communications
Symptom
Staff members donít willingly speak out on critical problems and feel disconnected from important decision-making.
Treatment
Create an operational policy that outlines procedures for involving staff. Give senior staff opportunities to work with the board.
External Relations
Symptom
The organizationís reputation has diminished; there is confusion among outsiders about its mission and programs.
Treatment
Inform funders and other constituents of your progress as you revise goals and programs. Be sure that messages about newsworthy accomplishments are conveyed to key audiences.


Source: The National Nonprofit Leadership and Management Journal, Volume 18, Number 1, January/February 2000


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Comments and suggestions:
Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org