CAPE: Assess

In the second step of the CAPE Cycle, you and your team will conduct an assessment of your organization and any relevant external factors. This information will be used to inform your strategic plan and how it is executed. 

Two Reasons for this Step

There are two basic reasons for Step 2 of the CAPE Cycle -- Assess.

The first and most obvious reason is that you need to gather information about your organization and the environment in which it operates in order to create a relevant plan. Without that information then you’ll just be throwing darts in the dark. 

The second and less obvious reason is that conducting an assessment serves as an excellent way to engage others and create buy-in. 

We learned many years ago that people support what they help create. In other words, if you ask people to give you their insights then they’ll be more likely to support and execute the plan and process when completed.

Two-Part Assessment

There are an overwhelming and confusing number of ways that you could conduct an assessment of your organization. However, we’ve simplified this as a logical two-part process that directly connects to your strategic plan. 

In the following graphic you’ll see these two parts reflected on the bottom left and right. The basic idea is this:

  • In Assessment Part 1 you’ll assess where your organization is today
  • In Assessment Part 2 you’ll clarify your vision for your organization in three years and the actions needed to make that vision a reality

You’ll use that assessment information in Steps 3 (Plan) and 4 (Execute) of the CAPE Cycle to create and execute your strategic plan. 

The assessment process is typically facilitated by the Overall Champion(s). Others involved are just those that you wish to solicit information from -- staff, board members, volunteers, funders and key stakeholders. 

Balance Between Simplicity and Complexity

Within your assessment process you’ll need to find a balance between simplicity and complexity.

We’ve found that a simple and quick assessment can be just as effective as a long and drawn-out process at acquiring the key information you need for your plan. In fact, we’ve conducted assessments with small teams in a couple of hours that have led to excellent plans. 

Our experience is supported by assessment and decision-making research that Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in his book Blink. He said, “We believe that we are always better off gathering as much information as possible and spending as much time as possible in deliberation.” His research, however, led him to “a simple fact: decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.”

Further, your assessment is just one step in your four-step CAPE Cycle. Don’t worry about getting your assessment perfect because you’ll have plenty of time to reassess as you create and execute your plan. This is a dynamic process. 

However, there is a danger in keeping it too simple and efficient: you can leave others out of the process and your plan may not have the support needed to make sure it gets done. 

As we stated earlier, people support what they help create. So, even though engaging others in your assessment will increase complexity and take more time, you’ll benefit by some additional insights and more buy-in. 

To help you find a balance between simplicity and complexity we’ll differentiate between what we think is essential and what is optional in the assessment process. 

Assessment Part 1: Your Organization Today

You’ll begin the assessment process by clarifying the current status of your organization. 

Below is a table that summarizes the different assessments within Part 1.

The Organizational Bio -- Only for the Overall Champion(s) 

Conducting an organizational bio will provide you with a baseline of the “vitals” of your organization: programs description, financial overview, number of staff, etc. 

The completed bio not only aids your assessment process but can also be shared with new staff and/or board members as part of their onboarding to the organization. 

Access the Organizational Bio Assessment

Mission Met Financial Review for Small Organizations -- Only for the Overall Champion(s)

Similar (but simpler) to the Mission Met Checkup, the Financial Review provides a very quick snapshot of your organization’s financial capacity. 

Access the Financial Review Assessment

The Mission Met Checkup -- For multiple people within the organization

The Mission Met Checkup provides a quick snapshot of your organization’s overall current capacity. Of the first three assessments listed here and in the previous table, this assessment can be taken by multiple people. Consider having a core group of your staff and board take this or even extend it to your entire staff and board. 

The assessment includes:

  • Questions regarding your organization’s capacity regarding a variety of topics (programs, board development, fund raising, etc.)
  • A SWOT Analysis, a time-tested set of strategic questions regarding your organization’s internal Strengths and Weaknesses and external Opportunities and Threats.

Access the Mission Met Checkup Assessment

Review Your Current Goals and/or Strategic Plan

(You can skip this if your organization doesn’t have an existing set of goals and/or strategic plan.)

It’s possible that you’ve put some good thought into an existing set of goals and/or strategic plan. If that’s the case then make some time to review your plan and answer these questions:

  • What have we accomplished thus far?
  • What needs additional focus and effort?
  • What can be eliminated?
  • How effectively are we executing and measuring progress on our goals/plan?
  • What have we learned from our goals/plan and our process?

The risk of reviewing your existing goals/plan, however, is that you may get trapped into some old thinking that you need to abandon or redirect. Be aware of this potential trap when reviewing your plan. 

Additional and Optional Assessments

The assessment tools described prior may be all that you need to get clarity about your organization’s current status. However, if you’d like to dig a little deeper, here are some additional assessment tools and questions you can use. 

Accomplishments, Disappointments, and Things Learned

We have always found that these three simple questions provide a good basis for discussion.

Over the last year…

A. What have been our key accomplishments? Our successes?
B. What have been our key disappointments? Our challenges?
C. What have we learned from these accomplishments and disappointments?

There is a simplicity to these three questions that can provide valuable insights. 

PEST Analysis

The Mission Met Check-up assessment (see prior) includes a couple of questions regarding the external environment in which you operate. However, if you’d like to dig deeper on these external influences then consider using the PEST Analysis. This assessment helps you and your team clarify the Political, Economic, Social and Technological factors that may impact your organization. 

The PEST questions are:

  • Political Factors: What political factors may have an impact on your organization? (Things to consider are laws, regulations and political “noise”.
  • Economic Factors: What economic factors may have an impact on your organization? (Things to consider are inflation rates, unemployment trends, interest rates, status of philanthropy, etc.) 
  • Social Factors: What social factors may have an impact on your organization? (Things to consider are health consciousness, environmental trends, population growth, etc.)
  • Technological Factors: What technological factors may have an impact on your organization? (Things to consider are use of social media, impact of video conferencing, trends in use of software, etc.)

Questions for Key Stakeholders

Sometimes you’ll want to ask your key stakeholders (funders, partners, clients, etc.) to provide you with feedback regarding your organization. Typical questions we like to ask stakeholders are:

  • What do you believe is our organization’s mission?
  • Compared to other similar organizations that you’re aware of, what makes us unique?
  • To your knowledge, what are some other organizations that do similar work?
  • What are the opportunities that you believe we should be pursuing?
  • What are the threats that our organization should be aware of?
  • What is the most positive thing that you’ve heard about our organization?
  • What is the most critical thing that you’ve heard about our organization?
  • What priorities should we be focused on?
  • Do you have any general advice for strengthening our organization?

Assessment Part 2: Your Organization in Three Years

Having a good idea of where you’d like your organization to be at some point in the future is foundational to creating a strategy that will help you get there. This is strategic planning 101. 

For a small nonprofit, a three-year organizational vision is a timeframe that typically works well. Three years is far enough in the distance that it can catalyze some big picture thinking while not being so far off that it is impractical. 

That said, some new organizations think three years is too long and they create a one- or two-year vision instead. Conversely, more established organizations may create a four- or five-year vision. 

Like so many concepts that we’re presenting to you, tweak them to meet your needs. 

A Vision for Your Organization -- Not a Vision Statement

Note that what we’re talking about here is a vision for different elements of your organization in three years, not a vision statement. For those familiar with strategic planning, this can be confusing. 

A three-year vision will answer these types of questions: What will your organization’s programs/services consist of? How many staff members do you hope to have and what will their roles be? What will your budget and expenses look like? 

This organizational vision is in contrast to the vision statement which describes how “your world” will be different as a result of your organization’s work. For example, Teach for America’s vision statement is “One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.” We’ll get to the vision statement later in Step 3 -- Plan.

Conducting an Organizational Vision Assessment

To create your organizational vision you’ll want to have the same people that took your Mission Met Checkup take the Mission Met Organizational Vision assessment.

This assessment asks you to think about different components of your organization and answer these two basic questions:

  • Vision: What, specifically is your three-year vision for __________ (programs, financials, operations, etc.)?
  • Actions: What, specifically, needs to happen to make your vision a reality?

One other thing to note. The word “specifically” is very deliberately used in the questions. We’ve found that if you don’t ask people to be specific then their answers tend to be too vague and not nearly as helpful as they can be.

Access the Organizational Vision Assessment