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A Client Centered Mindset

Projects may have noticed that we have started to refer to our Fiscally Sponsored Projects as both “clients” and “partners.” This is not a slip of tongue, but a deliberate step towards clarifying our role and relationship with the community we serve. We also are not abandoning the term project.  There are times its use is appropriate such as when describing our legal relationship–Fiscally Sponsored Project.  Some may criticize this shift as too “corporate,” but to us it reflects our shift from being a service provider to truly partnering with each Fiscally Sponsored Project.  As a Model A fiscal sponsor, we have always been in business with projects—but we haven’t always articulated just what this means.

Through our strategic planning process, we carefully examined how Community Initiatives could deepen and expand services. Critical to that outcome is developing a plug and play model where 100 projects efficiently share resources. This maximizes the value and minimizes cost. We collected extensive data from our clients to inform this shift. We examined how we delivered services in the past, and re-envision how it should look in the future.

This examination revealed that too often we sought to be efficient rather than deepening our understanding of clients’ needs. Our goal going forward is to work around our clients, recognizing that efficiencies, policies, and processes are tools empower their work in the community.

Services designed around client needs

Our next challenge has been to shift from being a service delivery organization to one that partners with clients.  First, we scrutinized our data to identify the services most needed by our clients.  We identified services that were on-point, needed to be strengthened or added, and those we could add in the future — stay tuned!

We worked closely with an organizational development expert to re-structure program services in the following ways:

  1. Changed the department name to client services,
  2. Redefined role and accountability as partners,
  3. Created career ladder with defined knowledge and skill requirements for team members,
  4. Identified and grouped clients by primary needs, and
  5. Expanded the team from five to seven ultimately to ensure manageable caseloads.

We have begun the same process in the finance department.

What does partnership look like?

As we began to define partnering with clients—we considered the use of language and what it conveys about our relationship.  It struck us that the term “Project” by itself could imply some maternal or paternal relationship in which a project needs to be worked-on or fixed by us.  Our clients don’t need saving or for us to “fix them.” Our clients need a partner to support them with high-quality and comprehensive professional services, to empower them to achieve their mission, identify successful strategies, solve problems, and ultimately to flourish. We considered many terms; none worked perfectly.  So we opted to use two terms to convey how working with us should feel—client, our projects have options and choose to work with us, and partner, a two-way relationship.

The next step has been to define what a partnership with Community Initiatives looks like.  We started with our values—going through each one to define the relationship:

Integrity—clients can rely on the fact that we operate ethically and ensure legal rules are satisfied;
Trust—clients believe we are fair and transparent; empathy—clients feel we solve problems and take actions by thinking about the issue from the client’s perspective;
Teamwork—we work together and communicate closely at Community Initiatives to support clients; and
empowerment—we enable our clients to flourish.

There are certain elements in our Model A partnership in which Community Initiatives must retain some authority:  legal compliance, taxes, finance controls, risk, and insurance.  Even in this oversight, our clients retain an enormous amount of autonomy. Clients are free to decide what to do or work on or the approach to use to achieve results.  Clients also are responsible for raising the funds necessary to support those activities.  However, even when it’s a legal, tax, risk or insurance issue, we strive to work in partnership with our clients. We are here to discuss the issue, explore options, and find a solution together.

A look ahead

Our model is more efficient and robust than ever. We are proud to provide the highest quality professional services in a way that allows our clients to reduce operational costs and focus on achieving their mission.

We hope over the coming year, you can feel the difference. As partners, you will be working with us as we implement and deepen a client services mindset. It won’t happen overnight but we are committed to the path.

Our goal every day, is to view our success through the eyes of our clients and what they achieve in communities.  We are honored to be your partner in your goals.