Setting Priorities

Let’s face it, there is never enough money; therefore, it’s about setting your priorities.

 A common theme during my public sector career and now with nonprofits, is not having enough money. Many politicians, bureaucrats, and servants of the public have grand ideas of what they want to do including the services they want to provide; but it all costs money, and often more than we have.

 The reality check: there will never be enough money to do everything you want to; you can only do what you have money for. Once you and your funders accept that, you can focus your efforts accordingly. Unfortunately, instead of accepting this reality, funders continue to push service providers to deliver regardless, and service providers bend over backwards to oblige. However, there comes a point where all parties have to face reality.

 It is not that simple? Sure, it is.

 Five step approach to allocating funding:

 ·              List the objectives you want to achieve;

·              Calculate the cost to deliver the programs;

·              Prioritize the initiatives;

·              Start from the top and work down:

·              Stop when you run out of money!

 Then start over now asking the following questions:

 Is there a more cost-effective way to deliver the services we chose so that we can fund the ones we didn’t?

 Can we scale back the ones we chose so that we can fund the ones we didn’t?

 Let’s look at an example:

 There is a government consumer protection program where employees are responsible to ensure commercial weight scales accurately reflect the amount being charged to customers for goods. Examples include gas station pumps, scales in grocery stores, and a multitude of other scenarios. The inspectors are for the most part public servants of the government department but may also be contractors who perform the services on behalf of the authorities.

Typically, the mandate for the manager of a field unit would be to conduct a given number of inspections per year given the salary, benefit, and operations budget which would include equipment, supplies, travel, and an office space to call home.

 Priorities would be established via a risk assessment where authorities have determined the high probability-impact areas keeping in mind there should still be some presence in other areas in order to avoid complacency in those sectors.

 Considering the provided resources and areas identified for inspection, how should the manager prioritize the workload? How can the team allocate their time in order to make the most impact?

 Given travel is costly and time consuming, the tendency might be to concentrate efforts in the local area; having been a taxation auditor, I can assure you this happens, the impact of which is those who are living in remote areas go on a run-away. Setting this aside, what are some of the ways to complete the maximum number of inspections?

 First, let’s define an ‘inspection.’ If you are assigned gas station pumps for example, does this mean you test every pump at the particular station, or can you test for example 50% of them and have a level of assurance the remainder are probably compliant? Keep in mind testing 50% of the units in a given location will not mean you will be able to test twice as many facilities, this due to travel and reporting time.

 Does the above approach work for all service industries? Obviously not; if you were a mental health counsellor, serving half the clients means half the clients go without therefore you will not meet your mandate.

 All this aside, sometimes a nonprofit organization is contracted to deliver a specific service on behalf of a given funder; in these cases, should you accept the challenge, the priorities will be set for you. However, even within that, you are still limited by what you can physically do with the resources provided. It all comes down to negotiation and what you establish in your contract.

 In the end, we are human which means we can only do so much; that being said, sometimes there are creative ways to achieve more with less.




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