How to Know When It’s Time to Add a Program or Service

We met in our satellite location, at 7:00 p.m., to prepare for our first class meeting. The class leader had cleaned, decorated, made beautiful snacks, set out chairs and prepared an array of resources for participants. The room was set up and the instructor was ready to start a new program/service for the organization. It was exciting to think of all the people we could help, and accomplish our goal of starting a support group.

Around 7:30 it was clear that no one was going to show up. We sat there in silence wondering why no one would come. Is it because the issue we were dealing with was too personal or that our community just didn’t want to deal with it? That was some of the initial thinking as to why this program didn’t get off the ground.

This happened during my first year of being an Executive Director. I was happy to support volunteers and their dreams of providing a service they had always wanted. We made a flyer, mailed it out, purchased materials, got our room ready, and waited in anticipation for eager participants to arrive.

I learned, later, that there is much more that needs done before we move forward with adding new programs or services to our nonprofit. If the program or service is really that important it will be worth the time we spend preparing to launch a new effort. Below are some tips that I would encourage you to consider. I believe if you do, your program will enjoy more success.

    • Develop a Budget. Each program and service should have its own budget. Simply make a list of what is needed to run that program and estimate what your cost will be for each line item. Even if you have volunteer staff, estimate what it would cost to pay them if you could, and include that in the budget. Include marketing, materials, facility cost, development, training, staff and anything else that is used to allow you to offer this program or service.

    • Staff. The person developing the program is not necessarily the person who staffs the program. Think about what your program would look like if it was running exactly like you hope for. If you are a part of management, you don’t need to be running the program. Who can run your program successfully, and allow you to do the job you were hired for?

    • Evaluations. How will you know if your program is successful? When people are helped? If that is your answer then you might want to think that through a little more. When we write grants and fundraise for an organization we need to be able to tell donors and granting organizations how much our program costs, what resources we need to run it and what, exactly, our program will look like if we are successful. Even the smallest nonprofit, or grassroots effort, can take the time to think through what a successful program looks like, develop goals to gauge success and ways to evaluate effectiveness.

    • Board Support. The board I worked for approved every new program and service we started. They approved starting a thrift store, moving the organization, adding services and transitioning to a medical clinic. I had their approval, but I can see now that I didn’t have their support. If your board gives you approval you are free to proceed, however, if you have their support your program will be much more effective. You need accountability, a cheerleader, a group promoting your program and helping you fundraise for it. If you don’t have that then don’t move forward until you do.

  • Right timing. Take a mental snapshot of your organization. What does the history of your organization look like? In the larger scheme of what is going on is now the right time to move forward. Have you raised the funds to cover your program budget? How long has it been since you initiated a new event, program or service? Timing is important to the long term success of your organization and your programs and services.