As MNA continues working with you, our members, to navigate these truly unprecedented times – in group calls, consultation, trainings, and conversation – a term that keeps coming to my mind is ‘margin’ (or slack or space).
We’ve all used and heard a number of different analogies to describe our work over this past year – “Running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace,” “wandering in the wilderness,” “drinking from a fire hose,” etc. – but the common thread amongst all the analogies has been lack of margin, lack of space, lack of slack in how we carry out our work.
The stakes have and continue to be high, and there has been no room for error as we’ve worked to protect our missions, protect our employees, change and adapt to shifting circumstances, and show up for our community in need. Our reserves – our margin – of energy, hopefulness, grit, and determination have continually been depleted and restored with the push and pull of the work, day after day.
More concretely, we’ve seen the poignant impact of financial margin (or lack thereof). Many of us over the past year have had moments where the lack of financial margin has led to impossible choices concerning our community, our employees, and our very missions. And while we’ve been continually told we need to adapt, evolve, take risks, and innovate our missions, that work is exponentially more difficult when we have no financial margin with which to fund that work or take risks that may or may not succeed. Having margin – having a financial reserve – is an essential prerequisite to being nimble and adaptive, and it’s something that even the healthiest of us lack or have lost over the past year.
Starting on March 24th, MNA will be launching its Financial Leadership course. This six-week series is centered around teaching concepts and providing tools to enable the non-finance-background nonprofit leader to become adept and confident in leading the financial perspective of the organization. It’s not a course in financial compliance, but rather a course on how to integrate financial information into planning and leading for mission impact. We will cover a lot of ground – dashboarding, budgeting, performance management, cost/benefit analysis, and more – and will give you easy-to-use Excel tools to make implementation easier.
We will also be giving time and attention in each week to this idea of margin and building reserve. For most organizations, the idea of having sufficient unrestricted reserves for a rainy-day fund, infrastructure investment, program growth, and risk-taking is a seemingly unachievable dream. We want to help turn that dream into a goal and will be exploring strategies to take steps toward achieving that goal. We will do our absolute best to meet you where you are and offer you some strategies to take steps forward, however large or small.
Blog by MNA Innovation Director, Adam Jespersen
Adam joined MNA in 2019 as its first Director of Innovation after more than a decade of progressive experience in nonprofit management, leadership, fundraising, and grant writing. Raised in rural Montana, Adam received his bachelor’s degree from Carroll College and his master’s in business administration from the University of Montana. Trained and experienced in Lean Management and Person-Centered Design, Adam is passionate about helping people, teams, and organizations across Montana find their stride in being more effective and impactful.