A Nonprofit’s Business Plan for a New Program

engineering photo credit: engineeringgroup-ks.com

Organizational business planning is like carpentry. You’ve got the elevations and floor plans, but you have to build the house, and build it right. (Yesterday’s blog post contains practical tips about organizational business planning.)

Business planning for a new program or service is more like engineering. The problem of how to achieve the desired result could be accomplished several ways, but you have to figure out the optimal approach and then do the calculations to prove that it will work. Practical tips for creating a business plan for a new program is the focus of today’s post.

I recently made two suggestions to a nonprofit that has staked out its intent to develop a new program to address an unfilled community need:

  1. At the idea stage, use a framework for evaluating the program model options, and
  2. Agree on the end-state of the proposal for the pilot that will go to the Board for funding

I’m interested in what program evaluation criteria you’ve found helpful, as well as what you include in a business plan that will be used to propose a new program.

I’m sharing my take in the hopes you will share your experience. And of course I’ll publish comments here on Philanthrophile.

Framework for evaluating program model options:

Based on the program profile:

  1. Not duplicative: To what extent is this program truly needed and different than existing programs that address this need?
  2. Measurability: How likely are we to be able to identify a measurable outcome from this program? (definition = long-term end result) Note: requires a clear theory of change.
  3. Core Capabilities: To what extent is this something that draws upon our current knowledge of the community and operational experience?
  4. Ease of Implementation: How hard or easy will this program be to set up and manage? (The more “moving parts” and new processes, the harder.  Also, the availability of partners/allies is not listed as a separate criteria, but will affect ease of implementation, etc.)
  5. Affordability: How confident are we that we have the financial resources absorb the startup expense without putting our other programs at risk?
  6. Confidence: How confident are we that our estimates of cost are realistic?
  7. Staff-ability: How likely are we to be able to manage this new pilot program without putting our current operation at risk?
  8. Fund-ability: How likely are we to be able to secure seed funding for the pilot program?
  9. Volunteer resources: How likely are we to be able to secure reliable volunteers for this program?
  10. Scalability: If this program is successful, how easy or hard would it be to expand and scale it?
  11. Mission fit: Does well does this fit our general mission and what people expect of us?
  12. Sizzle factor: How potentially exciting is this program to the community and our supporters?

Program Proposal

Once you have a pretty good idea about the program model, it’s important to develop a document that puts the meat on the bones and provides assumptions for the financial pro forma.

Table of Contents

  • Executive summary
    • What is our strategic intent in developing this program? Is this about broadening our response to need, or deepening what we already do?
    • How does this fit within our mission and history?
    • Proposed program profile (elevator speech)
  • Proposed outcomes and theory of change: What are the specific outcomes for which we want to be held accountable? How will our proposed program work to achieve the outcomes we aim to achieve?
  • Target audience profile: what do we know about who they are, how many there are, where they are, and how they are (e.g. status)
  • Operational requirements
    • Human resources
      • Staff including management oversight
      • Volunteer
    • Administrative business processes
    • Physical plant
    • Partnerships
    • Distribution
    • Transportation
    • Technology
    • Quality evaluation (how will we know we are providing service that meets clients’ needs?)
  • Funding targets (what are the top sources of funding dollars that might support this?)
  • Financial pro forma including allocation of indirect costs, with upside and downside scenarios
    • Cost per client
  • Dependencies (are there certain resources – internal or external – that we are dependent upon to implement the pilot successfully, on time?)
  • Milestones and monitoring plan

Share this with friends in the nonprofit sector and invite them to contribute observations from their practical experience. We’ll all benefit!


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