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Wish Blog

Jul 09, 2019

Building Better Nonprofits with Process Improvement Techniques

Process Improvement
A Conversation with John Perry, Process Improvement Manager, Make-A-Wish Metro New York

Nonprofit organizations are an integral part of our communities, promoting a mission that can enhance public welfare and building social cohesion. Nonprofits are legendary for their ability to work with meager budgets and small staffs. Therefore, when process improvement techniques are deployed, it can help a nonprofit achieve more with the same, or oftentimes less, resources.

Q: What is Lean Six Sigma / process improvement?

A: Lean Six Sigma is a process improvement practice most commonly used in large-scale manufacturing and healthcare industries to improve performance quality and operational efficiencies while reducing costs. The Lean Six Sigma process emphasizes the removal of waste to streamline work processes.  Recognizing the ROI, Lean Six Sigma has evolved to serving more service-based industries such as healthcare and government – and now nonprofits are getting involved in this practice.

Q: Nonprofits are notoriously lacking in resources and capacity. How does improving a process help solve for this?

A: In nonprofits, the human capital element is critical, and you can’t implement efficiencies without a collaborative, constructive, radical-thinking approach because every process or improvement has such an impact on internal and external stakeholders. Most nonprofits are consistently focused on generating fundraising revenue through stewardship and process improvement, supplements that work by maximizing the dollar value – with reducing costs and implementing operational efficiencies – which can stretch each donation that much further, resulting in the granting of more wishes.

Q: What is an example of how you helped Make-A-Wish be more efficient and what was the impact on the bottom line?

A: I think one of my proudest accomplishments has been working with the program leads and members of the operations team to transform our volunteer onboarding and compliance process. Two years ago, we were distributing physical applications and manually entering that information into our system, which resulted in the potential for human error and delayed processing. Today, we’ve saved over 15 hours a week by digitizing our volunteer application and automating the way information is transferred to our database. 

Q: What about people who challenge the idea that a nonprofit, which is based on a mission of social good, should be more automated and efficient?

A: Ultimately, I agree with the practice of automation and efficiency. However, as I’ve learned after spending the last two years in a nonprofit setting, automation in this organization is much different.  It’s a practice that can’t ignore the human capital. So much of the success of this organization is based on establishing long-term relationships with donors, volunteers, and those we serve through our mission.  Also, nonprofits tend to attract employees that are loyal and devoted to the causes they support much more so than in other sectors. This can create a challenging dynamic when implementing process efficiencies. In the past, my role was focused on eliminating the potential for human error in a process which typically meant removing that person from a process. Here, my focus is on providing staff with the tools and/or resources to do their job more effectively.

Q: How do you work together with passion for a mission and a lean mentality?

A:  This is the easiest question of all. Passion for the mission continuously motivates me to do something greater. It’s knowing indirectly, I could help reach every eligible child that makes me want to find solutions to every challenge. Bringing more attention to the nonprofit sector will result in better resources, ideas, and practices. The one thing I’ve realized in working here is that there is no question about the goal of this organization; regardless of the department you work in, the desired result is always the same. When we think in terms of reaching every eligible child, the conversation is easy and the solutions are rich. I also value the perspective of my colleagues. Whenever I’m thinking too much on the lean side, someone brings me back to the mission.

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