From Briefcase To Toyota


“Hallo Madam!”, I turned around, reacting to the loud and excited call that echoed through the meeting hall. As I peered through the scantily lit room, I noted a figure racing towards me, holding my breathe momentarily as I watched his left foot kick against one of the chairs on the side of the aisle, and how quickly he managed to get his balance back, slowing down to a halt about 4 feet away from me. He looked very familiar, but I couldn’t quite place him.

“Otieno” he prompted me, “That’s my name. You remember that I used to play for the Langata Youth Soccer League while I was in my early teens? I laughed. “Yes I remember now. Yours was one the unique teams that went on to register to become a community club. I remember that you used to coach the team and play too. ” Otieno smiled. “Now my little club has grown, and we have 8 coaches who serve over 600 club members, most school children. We have partners who have invited us to this conference, and are thinking of supporting us more.”

‘That’s wonderful!” I concurred, “What kind of support do you wish to get from them, and what is the partnership all about?”

Otieno’s face fell, and he looked very perplexed. “I thought that they would tell me what they were going to donate for us to run our programs, so that when I return, I could implement. Instead they asked me what we need and to present a justification tonight. I leave tomorrow morning at breakfast, having enjoyed the conference; I’m not sure if we will have enough time, but I would like to chat with you about this.” We agreed to meet up over afternoon tea that day.

Otieno’s organization is a community-based organization (CBO), a loosely based non-profit that allows them to fundraise and run value-based soccer activities in their community. The organization developed from a self-help group of youth, and, within 4 years, had become a busy hub in the community, running activities that included clean ups, HIV-AIDS education, soccer leagues, an M-PESA (mobile money) shop, and an orphans’ shelter. Otieno’s enthusiasm and hard work was contagious, and other young people joined the organization, and on the surface, it appeared that all the projects were performing quite well, and the program had recently received a donation of a Toyota Van to facilitate travel to soccer tournaments.

Otieno was intelligent enough to know that he was at a crossroads: the organization was growing very fast in some areas, but the founders felt exhausted and confused. You see, when they begun the club, as teammates, they set the main goal as using soccer to teach life skills. They also recognized very quickly, that they needed to also survive individually while running the organization, so running an m-pesa shop provided the basic funds. Donations from partners later allowed them to run life skill education, teach soccer, as well as get involved in a varied number of community activities that were quickly growing wider. After that fast growth, Otieno was beginning to feel overwhelmed with growing demands on him as the Manager, Chairman and Head Coach What could he do?

It became quite obvious that Otieno and his organization needed to get support, and that evening I sat with him and his partners, and I was contracted to work on the next steps that would help them streamline their organization, in order to become stronger. Otieno travelled back to Nairobi the next day, confident that a concrete solution was near.

The weeks that followed were not easy, as we worked together through Board establishment and management, stakeholder participation in establishing the mission statement and objectives, and Board involvement in building a strategic plan together with the first six months of a project action plan. The process allowed Otieno and his team to keep activities that fit into their mission, and gradually let go of those that did not.

I will never forget that meeting with Otieno in Amsterdam. He showed his true leadership by recognizing that something needed to be done, and he was ready to make the changes that it would take to make the organization better. Through the process, his Board has learned to take on only partnerships and donations that add value to the mission. And because of that, the organization is thriving.

Imagine that you invited a prominent person to join your Board for a club or non-profit, and he/she attends the first Board Meeting. How would you answer these questions?

How far have we met the mission of the organization since it began?

Reviewing your mission and goals is very important, and give you an opportunity to celebrate your achievements, but also see the weaknesses that need to be improved on.

What is the relationship between the Management and the Board?

Its important that the role of each team is kept separate but complimentary. The Management plans the programming all year, while handling all the day to day running of the organization. The Board provides oversight. Sometimes there are overlaps, but it is important that the roles are clearly spelt out and understood.

How strong are our cash reserves?

The Board ensures that there is clear governance and financial policies in place, and that the resources are available sustain the organization’s mission. Many organizations look to build strategic plans that cover 3-5 years that offer clear sustainable budget lines, and well as ways to build the business or raise funds.

Is our budget realistic?

We would all like to achieve everything, but sadly, life isn’t that simple. Look at your expenses, and think about prioritizing, according to what is more critical and moving downwards. Also consider if some areas do not need to be done by your staff and could be outsourced. Just remember that the toughest call is usually made on the expenditure side of the budget!

How could we grow revenues?

This is important because you want to have a plus on the income side of your budget. Consider what your current revenue streams are, and what is more popular amongst your beneficiaries or customers. What simple adjustments could you make to improve your income?

How do we compare with our competition?

It helps to build a niche market or offering. You can only do this better when you know your competitors’ strength and weaknesses. Just remember that you should not change so much that you lose what you represent!


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