Use the Fall Season to Assess & Improve Your Nonprofit

By Jeff Caponigro, Executive Vice President - Corporate Communications and Chief Marketing Officer, Trion Solutions

Autumn is upon us with its cooler temperatures and vibrant colors and, for many, is the best season of the calendar year. For a non-profit organization, it is the perfect time for leadership to take an honest and insightful assessment of operations and to plan for a more successful future.


Is your organization sufficiently strong and robust to compete against others in the areas of talent recruitment and retention, fundraising and reputation/communications management? Is it vulnerable to potential issues that could derail current success and inhibit future growth? Would you like an easy way to uncover vulnerabilities and fix problems before they turn into crises?


Please take a few minutes this fall, perhaps when enjoying some apple cider or a piece of pumpkin pie, to consider how your non-profit organization fares in a 10-point Vulnerabilities Checkup. Since all 10 areas are equally important, and all could cause a ripple-effect issue with the other, they are listed in alphabetical order.


  1. Ancillary functions – Does your organization struggle with areas that take its focus off your core mission, such as Human Resources or Training? Do you find yourself taking far too much time and concern about areas largely unrelated to the organization’s purpose? Have you considered different approaches, so you can stay focused on your core business?


  1. Communications – How well does your staff communicate with each other? How effective does your team communicate with your key stakeholders (current and prospective donors, opinion leaders, community officials, partner organizations and others)?


  1. Culture – How would you characterize the culture within your organization? Empowering? Team-oriented? Trusting? Divisive? Disjointed? Stressful/Unhealthy? What ideally would you like the culture to be and what needs changing in order to achieve such a culture?


  1. Diversity and inclusion – Is your team sufficiently diverse to be open to new perspectives, ideas and opportunities? How would you rate your organization’s staff in ethnicity, sexual orientation, age/experience, disabilities, veteran status and other areas to provoke diversity of thought?


  1. Employee engagement – Has your organization been hurt by the Great Resignation, Quiet Quitting or other issues reflecting staff disengagement? Have you asked each team member, separately and privately, what is most important to them and how you can help achieve that for their personal and career engagement? Have you helped them identify a Greater Purpose for why their position and your organization are so important?


  1. Financial stability – Are there red-flag areas in your organization’s financial history, performance and outlook that could cause derailment of programming, talent attraction and retention, fundraising and program fulfillment? Have you ignored areas of concern that, if not addressed, could worsen?


  1. Professional development – Are all team members meeting your expectations in the areas of conduct, expertise and execution of their duties? Are they provided opportunities to learn and grow professionally to both help the organization and achieve personal growth? Should you consider an outside resource to help?


  1. Reputation/Brand – What do your stakeholders, internal (staff, board members, volunteers) and external (current and prospective donors, news media, community leaders and others), think about your organization, leadership, mission and success? Are you investing enough attention and resources behind telling your story and should you consider an outside expert to help with your organization’s visibility, messaging and connection with its stakeholders?


  1. Succession – How well prepared for the future is the organization in all positions from the top to the bottom to ensure high performance and continuity? Who would step in if you suddenly lost any of your individual team members? Do those “next in line” see a path toward personal and career growth?


  1. Technology – How would you rate the organization’s I.T. infrastructure, operational effectiveness and cybersecurity initiatives in their ability to keep the organization running smoothly and protecting critical and sensitive data from getting in the wrong hands? Do you have the right I.T. partners engaged to ensure you remain current in the fast-changing and important area of technology?


Non-profit organizations have lots of moving parts. It becomes too easy to sweep issues under the rug, hoping things get better on their own. Fourth quarter is the best time of year to look back at past challenges, successes and weaknesses and consider changes for the year ahead. Consider using the 10-point Vulnerabilities Checkup to help you and your team reveal strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and threats. And, most importantly, develop an effective plan to address each with strong commitment to achieve continuous improvement and strong momentum going into 2023.


About Jeff Caponigro

Jeff Caponigro, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Executive Vice President-Corporate Communications and Chief Marketing Officer for Trion Solutions ( He is the author of THE CRISIS COUNSELOR: A Step-by-Step Guide to Managing a Business Crisis (McGraw Hill/Contemporary Books), which is published in five languages. He has been inducted into the Public Relations Society of America’s College of Fellows, PRSA-Detroit’s Hall of Fame and Central Michigan University’s Journalism Hall of Fame.


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