Monday, December 21, 2009

The Magic of Thirty-Five

Lyle Schaller, church consultant, writes, “You can’t overdo communications. All important messages should be sent out on at least five different channels of communications.” Marketing experts have long suggested that messages, to be heard, need to be repeated at least seven times.

What are your important messages? How are you getting them out to people via five different channels seven times? I’m working on a chart, five across, seven down, for a client to look at how we are helping people to remember his nonprofit in their wills. While we might not reach the magic number 35 this quarter, the tool is helping us to explore different communication methods and frequency. Quick jot down your most important message… what media are you using to share it? How often?

Monday, December 14, 2009

It’s Time to Judge on the Basis of Impact

The end of the year is approaching and people are hastening to make their 2009 gifts. Some generous souls will respond to any organization that makes an ask. For most, however, the process involves either going through the stack of envelopes received from organizations to which they’ve given in the past, merely to decide how much to give this year, or logging on to a charity watchdog site, such as those run by Guidestar and BBB Wise Giving Alliance, to see which organizations serving a personal passion get high marks. But, are any of these means the best way to approach this important task?

A small but increasingly vocal number of people are suggesting we should be looking at impact when we make our giving decisions. Has the organization to which we’ve given loyally over the years really lived up to its promise to the community? I can hear the contingent that turns to watchdog groups saying, “But that’s why I check these groups out!” The problem with the watchdog groups is that the criteria upon which they’ve been rating organizations are criteria that are easy to measure. They are not necessarily criteria that speak to impact.

One of the key factors upon which high ratings have been given in the past is the maintenance of low administrative costs. However, nonprofits have rightly complained for years that it takes people, facilities and equipment to provide services and achieve impact. People, facilities and equipment cost. Other key factors that result in a strong ranking include the number of dollars that are spent to raise money and the period of time the organization could maintain itself without any further fund raising. While clearly related to good business practices, neither of these criteria speak to results. Frankly, even factors such as numbers of programs, numbers served or satisfaction levels speak more to busyness than they do to impact.

Ken Berger, the CEO of Charity Navigator – one of the foremost watchdog groups – bravely came out this month to say that Charity Navigator will be redesigning its rating system to focus on impact. He admits that it won’t be easy, but believes it is necessary and doable.

Until all the watchdog organizations do our work for us, I propose that we put aside emotion and analysis based on easy but less-than-meaningful numbers to do our own assessment of impact. Is, for instance, our favorite homeless shelter merely serving more people or is it putting the people it does serve into their own homes and providing them with the skills to pay the rent and take care of the maintenance?

We can also look at how well the organizations we identify play well with others. Does that homeless shelter insist on hiring its own case managers, building out and staffing its own kitchen, or collecting its own clothing to provide to clients when it could reach out to other organizations in the community who already have case managers, a kitchen capable of feeding those in the shelter or sufficient clothing to share?

Doing this sort of research will take time, but the rewards go beyond knowing that you answered the call to ensure the status quo. It will draw you closer to the organizations you ultimately select. It will intensify the feeling you get inside when you give. It will force organizations to make a difference or leave the marketplace. And, it will allow you to live in a healthier, more robust community.

Quit Your Once Per Year Strategic Planning Retreat

Is one of your year-end tasks to set-up a strategic retreat for your board? If so, take the one-time-per-year get strategic-planning event off the list. Instead, plan a retreat plus eleven months worth of strategic thinking conversations to help your board and organization be more strategic.


-Good and regular strategy thinking eases decision-making. Henry Mintzberg writes that strategic thinking is seeing beyond, it constructs the future itself and it invents a world that would not otherwise be.

-Boards who dig deep into strategy and help you to do deep thinking, spend less time digging into management details. When you serve boards their main course, the strategy, they have less time in feasting on staff responsibilities.

Here is one idea to use in stimulating a strategic conversation:

Hand out a photo of your organization from Google Earth to your board members. Ask them what happens when we look at our work big picture? What relationships of ours do you see differently from this perspective? How might others see us?

My December 15 newsletter (available to newsletter subscribers only; email me at to receive a copy of it, subject line: “strategic.”) shares a month-by-month plan of strategic conversation topics suitable for your board.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Reducing Organization Clutter

Do you have 97 t-shirts from last year’s walk-a-thon in your attic? Or, 223 cookbooks that a past fundraising committee insisted would fly off the shelves, but now gather dust in your office? How about those 2,712 planned giving brochures you bought because of the volume discount?

Does your organization use clutter to avoid reality?

Brooks Palmer new book, Clutter Busting, while aimed at individuals, can help your organization shed items, like these, in the way of making progress toward achieving your mission.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Trouble with Values

My new post at PhilanTopic, the Foundation News Digest blog: The Trouble with Values.

An excerpt:

"Values are utterly subjective and mean different things to different people. Heck, any given value can mean different things to the same person at different times in their lives or within different contexts."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Mission Creep: A Good Thing

We have been taught to avoid mission creep like it was HINI. However, for some organizations, mission creep is a good thing. Case 1: When the market perceives your current services as having declining value--mission creep is one way to explore new services. If they have appeal, than you learn a good lesson. Case 2: If you begin to serve adjacent markets to provide financial stability to your whole organization, mission creep is a good thing.

Don’t throw out it out altogether; keep mission creep as a tool for the right time and place in your organization’s life.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

There’s a New “Normal” in Town

I’ve been hearing it for awhile, now… we cannot hope to hang on until things return to “normal.” “Normal” has gone for good. There’s a "new normal” in town and it only promises to keep morphing. Regulations will become tighter. Technologies will continue to change the way we do business. Upcoming generations will want to mold projects and processes in their image. The community will demand increasing levels of participation, accountability and impact. Collaboration will emerge as something necessary, something real, something more than a “front” to satisfy funders. Creativity will rule. The sharing of knowledge will become the norm. And, so the list grows.

How can we deal with these shifting sands? People a lot smarter than I have failed to come up with a definitive answer. However, I do have some thoughts. We cannot look backwards with longing. We, like Lot’s wife, will be buried in that sand.

We must realize, as my friend and colleague Hildy Gottlieb says, that we are creating the future now, whether consciously or not, with everything we do or say. So, we need to define our desired future, claim responsibility for our actions, see the elements dropped in our laps as constructive and utilize them, moving quite deliberatively in the direction that will take us where we want to go.

We must have faith in the community – the combined intelligence and experience sets of diverse individuals, all with skin in the game – and embrace what it has to offer. This might mean flattening our organizations’ hierarchies, or at least encouraging people to build the networks they feel would be most effective without regard to reporting lines.

We need to stop viewing our organizations as turf that must be protected from trespassers and poachers at all cost. Psychologically, thinking about the value easements on personal property offer to the owners of the property, as well as to the greater community, might help here. As a first step to breaking down the walls between “us” and “them” we could encourage that those in our organizations start talking to and working with individuals at all levels in other organizations, even other communities. And, we should start looking at how to leverage resources between organizations, as well.

We must encourage out-of-the-box thinking. In fact, we should be encouraging people to burn that damn box for once and for all! This might mean that we take a lesson from some Fortune 100 companies and give people time each week to work on projects unrelated to their jobs that are of personal interest to them. Incredible ideas have come out of such policies in the for-profit sector. Why aren’t we encouraging people to dream, then share what they are developing? My guess is that we’ll find things in these projects that will move organizations closer to not only their own visions, but to healthier, more vibrant communities.

It won’t be easy. Real change rarely is. However, there is a saying that “change is inevitable, only the struggle is optional.” Let’s embrace the "new normal” and together clean up Dodge.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Karen’s Tips: Ending the Year On An Up Note

1. Capture at least one story that happened this year- of someone you served, a life you changed and a donor who made a difference.

2. Apply for any one-time per year grants.

3. Prepare and send thank-you notes, holiday notes and an end of the year appeal.

4. Create an overall big picture plan for next year.

5. Set your vacations in your calendar for the upcoming year.

6. Develop your top dozen strategy questions for the next year. What issues do you need to think about with your board?

7. Help your board to reflect on the past year and set both progress (what we will achieve) and process (how we will achieve it) goals.

8. Establish new learning goals. Help everyone-- your board, staff, volunteers and yourself to identify three areas where they want to learn more in the next twelve months. While classes and workshops are great, don’t overlook low cost print and Internet materials, like books and articles.

8. Start on any project you resolved to begin this year.

9. Set your goals for the next year, both personally and for your organization.

10. Adopt at least one new efficiency standard. For instance, our standard meetings will be one hour or less. Or, to keep focused on our major objectives, staff will write bi-monthly reports in fifteen minutes to be read in five minutes.

11. As funds allow, order standard supplies, so that you are ready for a fast-start after the holiday break.

12. Check with your accountant, printer, webmaster and insurance agent, etc. What improvements should you consider? What if anything will save you money, make you more effective and enhance your brand or your competitiveness?

13. Take time to review your many achievements during the year. Share this list, with those who helped you achieve them, with thanks.

Friday, November 20, 2009

If Foundations Want to be Heard & Understood, They Must Share Stories

My latest essay, on how foundations can cease being confounded by storytelling and start being heard, is now up at PhilanTopic, the Philanthropy News Digest blog.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Secret

In the parking lot after a meeting, I asked him for the secret to his long success at running his prosperous and innovative nonprofit organization. With his 30 years of leadership the nonprofit grew from a fitness organization with budget struggles to a leader in social programming and fitness with a budget of 90 million dollars.

What was his secret?

After looking carefully around us, perhaps to confirm that we were alone, he whispered, “Control the nominating committee.”

Dear Executive Director: Think twice about taking a job that doesn’t offer you this opportunity.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why Volunteer?

During a recent conversation, with other writers on this blog, we discussed why we volunteer. Here is our list of reasons. Check the ones that motivate you:

1. To give back

2. To be part of the community

3. To learn important information to help other organizations

4. To gain visibility and create useful connections

5. To redeem or collect favors

6. To stay grounded

7. To have fun

8. To gain skills or expertise

9. To create results and impact

10. (For leadership roles) To lead the effort, because it’s more comfortable than participating (i.e., If I run the meetings, we will end on time.)

11. So the work will be taken seriously

12. To respond to our passion for the mission

Now that you have a better idea about why you volunteer, go to Volunteering As a Nonprofit Leader to discover a tool to help you rate your different volunteer opportunities. It will help you to select opportunities that will provide you the most value.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Enhancing Nonprofit Accountability

Lately, I’ve been thinking about lot about how to increase nonprofit accountability, since it is so crucial to creating outcomes. In addition to dedicating the Fall Issue of Added Value to the topic, I’ve also developed a dozen other tips to grow it

Here is one additional tip:

Create Checklists for Routine Tasks.
Reduce the need for repetitive (and boring) thinking about regular tasks. Develop checklists. You might already use these for emergency closings. Add them for board meeting preparations, posting website updates, the end of the day lock-up and similar routines.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Business of Changing Lives

This is a great read if you’re trying to create nonprofit programming that will appeal to businesses or employ business concepts for sustainability. Author Allan Weis, Internet Pioneer, shares the story of how profits from Advanced Network and Services (ANS), were used to create ThinkQuest, a learning platform that helps students across the globe. Weiss calls it the “Olympics of Web Programming,” see The text also provides insight into the intent of other ANS grant making and replicable, sustainable program ideas.

This book was a gift from Laura Breeze from the Sarasota Education Foundation. The Foundation supports the TeXellence Program, a recipient of ANS funding. TeXellence provides computers to over 1,000 fourth graders and their low-income families each year. Imagine my surprise when I discovered in the book, that Ron Zimmerman was its founder. At the time, I was taking one of his MAC classes. It is “a small world after all” and we’re all in the business of changing lives.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Aligning Our Work Behind Our Vision

I am currently in Tucson, Arizona with my business partner Gail Meltzer, CFRE. We have just finished an incredible week-long class presented by Hildy Gottlieb and Dimitri Petropolis from the Community Driven Institute. The class was centered around The Pollyanna Principles, a book I’ve talked about previously on this blog. The two of us have come away with so much that we’d like to share with the world. However, on this blog posting I feel compelled to speak to the issue of ensuring our work is aligned behind our vision.

Throughout the course we spoke of the very real ability to create amazing communities. That ability starts with creating a vision that captures our highest potential – not for the organization but rather for the community. We must be able to see how lives will be dramatically changed as a result of our efforts. After all, when we aim for the sun or the moon, if we don’t make it, at least we’ll be up among the stars.

However, we can create the most inspiring vision known to man, but if our work does not move us on a direct trajectory toward our vision, we will fail to get there, or at best, get there after unnecessary delays and untold financial and human costs. Dimitri shared the example of a space craft designed to reach the moon. The astronauts or Mission Control must make numerous adjustments throughout the flight to ensure the craft remains on the proper path. If it is off by even a degree or two over the course of its long journey the craft will miss the moon altogether. Think how often we allow mission creep or even the protection of a program that is past its prime to take us the degree or two off course. With money as tight as it has been this last year and the needs greater than ever, we cannot afford squandering resources on paths that are not perfectly aligned with our vision.

So, begin today by reviewing your vision. Consider the conditions that must be met in order to achieve it. Identify the community impact goals that will allow you to meet each condition. Then prioritize these goals based on those that are most likely to help you reach your vision in the most elegant and robust manner possible.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ruined By A Grant?

The other day, my cousin emailed about a program at her congregation. “We have a Hispanic Ministry here which was funded partially though a grant. It will expire at the end of this year. With that income source going away, the Finance Committee is interested in learning if there are other grants out there that we could target.”

Too many programs, started with a grant, have weak or absent sustainability plans. In most cases, the grant funds are shortly expended and the program (no matter how excellent) closes for lack of funding. Thus, your great idea is ruined by a grant.

Don’t let a grant ruin your great program. Disciple your organization, to create a realistic sustainability plan and implement it. Here, are two articles that will help you to create programs that will be enhanced, instead of ruined, with grant funding:

When to Begin Your Sustainability Plans

Sustainability Questions for Before You Seek the Grant

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Evaluating your organization's "foundation" makes good sense

I recently received a flyer from my favorite undergarments boutique and found some of the questions posed relate to non-profits.

Just as a bra is the foundation to looking and feeling great in your clothes, a non-profit's mission is the foundation to looking and feeling great to your constituents and funders. If it doesn't fit properly, your organization will not look as well as it should.

Many women wear the same size bra they wore in high school, even though their body has changed considerably. Are you using the same mission statement you've been using for the past 25 years? Have you ever considered re-evaluating your mission to see if it still fits? Just as there is no guaranteed lifespan for a bra, there's no guarantee that your mission still fits your organization.

Our collective expertise can help you find the right foundation for your organization.

Laura Mikuska

"Helping charities achieve their dreams."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Trust is Your Building Block

All successful partnerships, collaborations and mergers are essentially trust exercises.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Nonprofit What If: Back Office Consolidation

Last spring, the Lodestar Foundation announced the semi-finalist for the Collaboration Prize. This new award is designed to inspire cooperation among nonprofits. From over 600 nominations, the semi-finalist included the Chattanooga Museums Collaboration. The Collaboration formed as a result of three Chattanooga museums successfully consolidating their human resources, technology, finance, marketing and retail operations to function more effectively and efficiently. Prior to the consolidation, two of the partners, the Creative Discovery Museum and the Hunter Museum of American Art lacked the capacity to fund their own administration. On the other hand, the Tennessee Aquarium possessed excess capacity. In the collaboration, the Aquarium provides a fee-based services to the two other museums, saving the Creative Discovery Museum and the Hunter Museum over $1.5 million each annually, plus creating a yearly $1.1 million revenue stream for the Aquarium.

This example provides us another opportunity to play another round of Nonprofit What If. Remember the rules of >Nonprofit What If? Take a successful concept used elsewhere and consider how you can apply it at your nonprofit for fun, profit and mission enhancement. Consider the benefits. If you are inspired, find others using the model to learn more.

Round #3: What if you worked with one or two other nonprofits to consolidate your back office procedures?


  • You will do more with less resources
  • Collectively, you can hire one expert to staff each function and less expensive personnel to support them (instead of each organization hiring a semi-expert)
  • Economies of scale provide additional cost savings
  • Staff members focus on what they do best, instead of performing scattered tasks in cross-functional areas
  • Donors love collaboration
  • Opportunity for positive media exposure
  • Once you work together, new program collaborative opportunities will become visible

Intrigued? Want to explore the concept further? Google these Chattanooga organizations to check out their “back office consolidation models.” And check out articles on our website about developing partnerships under Articles and Resources and then Team Building.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

communications and social media for nonprofits

"Group action has just become easier. ...Every url is a latent community."
-- Clay Shirky, on the communications revolution

Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations, addressed the Communications Network conference this past Thursday.
The Communications Network is a group of philanthropic professionals focused on communications.

Hoping to overcome the fear of change and loss of control that too frequently delay philanthropic organizations from embracing social media, Clay urged those present to
"start small and only talk to people who care. ...The whole idea of filter before publish is gone. ...Figure out where the people you want to talk to are, and give them the tools to help spread your message. ...View the Communications Department as not just a mouthpiece, but also a microphone. It's now about 2-way conversation. ...The feedback loop makes the organization smarter!"

He also pointed out that
"The loss of control you fear has already happened."

To read more excerpts from Clay's speech, including his suggestions on how nonprofits can get started engaging in social media, click here:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Shopping Update

This month I’ve added a new article to my website, called More than Money Shopping: Get the Correct Price. It’s designed to help you develop budgets. I already have the following updates for the article:

Under Real Estate: I recommended a site called Zillow. Yesterday, Terri Thacker (Realtor with Michael Saunders Sarasota) shared that Zillow’s pricing of the property’s market value is considered accurate by plus or minus 6 percent. To be conservative, adjust your budget up or down by this amount.

Add to Discount Opportunities: From a recent podcast, I learned about provides nonprofit organizations with free valuable technologies and resources to increase their efficiency and productivity, i.e., website development.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Narrative and the Nonprofit Sector

I had an inspiring discussion yesterday about outcome-based communications with Bob Penna, author of Outcome Frameworks: An Overview for Practitioners, and the forthcoming (and eagerly awaited!) Outcomes Toolbox. Bob frames outcome-based communication as: 1) Who are you talking to? 2) What do you want them to do? Simple steps for remembering that all communication is a means to an end goal.

We talked about our mutual desire to expand applied narrative work within the nonprofit sector, to help nonprofits in finding and utilizing stories to help not just in communications, but also in program evaluation, organizational learning and knowledge sharing, and capacity building. We talked about the Army and their use of After Action Reviews, and how this type of immediate, constructive, and democratic analysis of programmatic action contributes to rapid organizational learning and advancement. And we talked about the dire need to expand this low-cost, high-benefit approach to capacity building within the sector, despite fears of fall out from a recessionary economy.

Without training, Bob said, nonprofits are limited in their constructive use of the stories and anecdotes surrounding them. He also talked about the need for organizations to fully vet the stories they are using for marketing and fundraising, to assure that the successful outcomes are also sustainable outcomes.

There's another reason to fully vet the stories and anecdotes that are gathered: so much is learned in the retelling! As you speak with the real-life characters, you not only corroborate the facts of the story, you also learn details that can help make the story more dynamic for future listeners. Small, sensory details help listeners to imagine and emotionally connect with the story. And, with each retelling, more meaning is uncovered, and more understanding is fostered.

x-posted to Neurocooking

Monday, October 5, 2009

Two New Grant Tips

I had the pleasure last month to serve on a panel at the Florida Museum Associations Annual Conference. The topic was how to create compelling grant applications in these economic times. Co-panel member, Evan Jones, Grants Manager at the Selby Foundation, shared two tips that I would add to the 121 other tips in Grant-tastic! if I was re-writing the booklets. They are:

122. Send any extra materials, your CD, the new brochure or new annual report, you want the grant donor to review, with a follow-up note to the grant donor, after you submit your application. Your cover note might read: “Just confirming that your received our applications and sharing our new brochure.” Why? If you send extras with your applications they almost universally become trash.

123. Pepper your requests with highlights of your collaborative efforts. This can be as simple sharing how others use your building and what it would cost them to rent a building on the open market. Or, more elaborate, include a paragraph outlining the extent of your referral network, how often you use them and an estimate of the value your customers receive when they follow-through.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Should We Expect Our Grant Writers to be Certified?

A friend of mine recently called, all excited. She had just received national certification as a professional grant writer (GPC). While she has been doing grant writing full-time for years, she wanted to make this investment in her career. She said the process challenged her and taught her a lot. She compared it to going back for another master’s degree.

Coincidently, I had just gotten a question on choosing grant writers for a Q & A column I write on issues of importance to the nonprofit sector. It made me consider whether certification should be a criterion for selection. I happened to ran across an article by Vanessa O’Neal, entitled “The Truth about Grant Writing Certification,” that argues against it. Among other things, she concludes that the only valid test is whether someone’s proposals get funded. She suggests most grant writers feel the same, stating that 93% of grant writers she polled a few years back were not in favor of certification.

I agree with O’Neal that consistently getting grants funded is ultimately more important – at least to a client – than being able to claim a number of qualifications that include a passing grade on a test. And, I have NO doubt that 93% of grant writers do not want to have to go through a certification process. It’s expensive, time-consuming, takes one away from paid work and could show that the emperor has no clothes. Besides, for those who have been doing the work successfully for years and have a sufficient number of loyal clients, going through the certification process appears unnecessary.

Still, I do think it’s about time that such a program is available and that more people are encouraged to pursue certification. Anyone can hang out a shingle. There should be some way of assuring clients that their grant writers can demonstrate a given level of expertise. This is especially true today, when money is tight and the needs so great. Organizations should feel comfortable that they are investing in a known quantity.

For years, those in the nonprofit sector have complained that they are not valued by the general society to the same degree as those working in the for-profit sector. One example of this that is frequently cited is that they are not paid on an equivalent basis. Well, maybe part of the reason is that there are few educational requirements for working in the nonprofit sector and even fewer requirements for demonstrating competence, let alone excellence. The GPC program – like its older sibling the CFRE (Certified Fund Raising Executive) – stands up to this reality, raising the professional level of the field and making the pursuit of this certification one way that people can set themselves apart, demonstrate broad-based knowledge and justify remuneration at a higher level.

The certification program, offered through the Grant Professionals Certification Institute, requires a combination of post secondary education, grants training, several years experience in the grants field, the ability to show a record of success in obtaining grants, community service and successful completion of a two-part written examination that includes a four-hour multiple choice section and a 90 minute writing portion. For more information, go to

Monday, September 28, 2009

Delusion Free Thinking

Amongst the over 60 articles on my website, there is a one page article that I’ve referred people to repeatedly. It offers seven qualifying criteria to help nonprofit organizations determine if they are ready to seek grant funding (Is Your Organization Ready to Apply For a Grant?)

After a conversation with Laura Mikuska last week, another author on this blog, I’ve added another criterion. During the conversation, Laura made me laugh when she referred to a meeting with a would-be-client, wondering if they were still delusional. Here is the addition:

8. You understand that raising significant amounts of money, even for the best organization in the world, will require significant amounts of effort, time and creativity. That is, you have realistic expectations about the amount, kind and timing of grants and other funding you will initially receive.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Appointment Making

A development director seeks to make an appointment.

What she did right:

  1. Professional, self-assured
  2. Determined in advance that a meeting was the next step
  3. Established reasons for the meeting; in this case to share work load and provide updates
  4. During the call, established the need to be brief. She had an appointment arriving shortly.
  5. Created urgency. She established a deadline—meet by the end of the month in order to bring the information to another group
  6. When the appointment was not made, it was because the contact lacked time, not that the contact lacked interest in her cause.

What needed work:

  1. The Development Director was unable to hear information presented during the call that made one of her key objectives impossible.
  2. Refusal to flex. When she was presented with the idea of moving a meeting to a later timeframe, she refused.

Two Leanings:
  • Excellent plans need to give way to contingencies that result from being in the moment
  • Sometimes you can meet your objectives--but the route is different than your ideal

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Are most nonprofits paralyzed in fear?

Marketing expert Seth Godin has a wonderful post today, specifically discussing non profits, "The problem with non".

Here are some excerpts:

"Non as in non-profit.
"The first issue is the way you describe yourself. I know what you’re not but what are you?
"Did you start or join this non-profit because of the non part? I doubt it. It's because you want to make change. The way the world is just isn't right or good enough for you... there's an emergency or an injustice or an opportunity and you want to make change.
"These organizations exist solely to make change. That's why you joined, isn't it?
"The problem facing your group, ironically, is the resistance to the very thing you are setting out to do. Non-profits, in my experience, abhor change.

"...If you spend any time reading marketing blogs, you'll find thousands of case studies of small (and large) innovative businesses that are shaking things up and making things happen. And not enough of these stories are about non-profits. If your non-profit isn't acting with as much energy and guts as it takes to get funded in Silicon Valley or featured on Digg, then you're failing in your duty to make change.
"The marketing world has changed completely. So has the environment for philanthropic giving. So have the attitudes of a new generation of philanthropists. But if you look at the biggest charities in the country, you couldn't tell. Because they're 'non' first, change second...."

There's a lively discussion about the post in today's Chronicle of Philanthropy "Give and Take", mostly defending non-profit use of social media. I posted the following comment:

The focus on social media is mistaken; that is one example Seth uses to make his larger point: “If your non-profit isn’t acting with as much energy and guts as it takes to get funded in Silicon Valley or featured on Digg, then you’re failing in your duty to make change.”
This is why the concepts of social entrepreneurship and social innovation are eclipsing the non profit sector, in terms of attractiveness to highly creative, risk-taking folk; the former appear to put equal emphasis on both “mission” and “driven”.

Monday, September 14, 2009

How They Want to be Loved by You

“I don’t like spiders and snakes and that ain’t what it takes to love me… like I want to be loved by you.”

Since we are on the topic of snakes… perhaps you remember these Jim Stafford’s lyrics about a young romance. They came to me the other day when I heard about a nonprofit that developed an elaborate and expensive (and very clever) marketing plan to contact foundations and other potential donors.

Marketing and pr are great to get the word out. And, woe be the nonprofit who hides its good work in a closet but if foundations and donors had lyrics they would be something like this . . .

“I like relationships and programs that change lives. I like knowing how I can and do help. I like knowing what needs doing next so we can continue to make an impact . . .

Not very lyrical perhaps, but its how they want to be loved by you.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Stories are a Vital Source of Knowledge

My essay on stories and knowledge sharing for nonprofits and foundations is posted today on PhilanTopic, the Philanthropic News Digest Opinion and Commentary blog. Here's a summary:
“The value of stories extends far beyond marketing and fundraising. ...There is much to be gained by creating a true culture of story sharing within our organizations, especially those that function as hubs of entrepreneurship and innovation, and especially at this uncertain moment. ... Nonprofit leaders and managers can both seek out and share crucial knowledge by regularly eliciting and sharing stories. ... Stories are more than a commodity. ...They are, instead, a vital means for organizations to nurture understanding, make sense of complexity, and embrace change.”

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Nonprofit What If: The Snake in the Water

For reasons unknown, we have a lot of snakes near our house. Over the years, we managed to pull three out of the house. So it came as no surprise the other day that when I climbed into the swimming pool that a skinny but three-foot long snake was already enjoying the water. I exited the pool more rapidly than I entered it.

Before going to get my family members to help with “Remove the Snake Adventure Number 4.” I walked along the edge of the pool toward the deep end to study him and rolled my eyes. It wasn’t a snake at all, but a bent green tomato stake from our grow box, gently undulating in the slightly turbid water.

I returned to the pool and stepped over to remove the stake. But as I swam closer, and the water moved, my eyes told me it was indeed a snake. With trepidation, and feeling a bit like Moses, I reached out and forced myself to grab the creature by its head, only to have it transform as I lifted it out of the water--from snake to bent stick.

In the last blog, I introduced the “game” of Nonprofit What If. You will remember the simple rules. Take a concept from elsewhere and consider how you can apply it at your nonprofit for fun, profit and mission enhancement. Consider the benefits. If you are inspired, find others who are using the model to learn more.

To execute this round of Nonprofit What If, take out a piece of paper and jot down fear areas. Everyone has some snakes in or around their organization. What form do yours take? Have you been avoiding entering the water because of a fear of what MIGHT be there? Is it possible that by taking a look at them, you will find that the water is not filled with venomous creatures --but harmless ones that only appear dangerous? Take a moment to look at your fears. For instance, why haven’t you pursued getting a role on the board nominating committee? Or, asking a donor why they no longer fund your organization? Or, the gruff board member what he or she would really like to accomplish with their leadership?

To continue Nonprofit What If, next to the fear listed, jot down the benefits of removing it from your life. If the benefits outweigh the fear, schedule a time to learn how to remove the snakes or stakes. Start with some research about how others have solved the challenge.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Nonprofit What If: The Lunch Truck, Stimulating Possibilities

During the economic downturn, to help offset their below par dinner revenues, several outstanding high-end chefs purchased lunch carts and serve a limited menu of their specialty dishes. The Wall Street Journal reported one chief grossed $400,000 his first year of operations. While you might add a lunch truck to boost your revenues, another successful way to use this concept is to play Nonprofit What If.

The rules of Nonprofit What If are simple. Take a concept being used successfully elsewhere and consider how you can apply it at your nonprofit for fun, profit and mission enhancement. Consider the benefits. And, if you are inspired, find others who are using the model to learn more. Ready to begin?

Round #1: What if you provided some of your services via a truck instead of a fixed facility? Depending on your needs, your “lunch truck” might range in size from a van to a semi.

• You bring services to customers
• Because they are in their neighborhoods, your staff regularly learns about the community issues that face your customers
• You can schedule services in five outlying areas one time per week, instead of creating permanent 40 hours a week sites with too little demand
• Immunity from rent increases and utility bills
• Your vehicle becomes a moving billboard to help spread your brand and increase community recognition
• You can tap into funding sources in new geographic areas.
• Its green. Even in a truck, if you drive 15 miles to a site, it will be less energy expensive than 30 or 300 customers driving to your existing site.
• You can respond to changing needs and begin, end and expand services as needed.

Intrigued? Want to explore the concept further? The Animal Rescue Coalition of Sarasota provides a mobile spay/neuter clinic. The Suncoast Workforce Board developed a portable computer classroom called the Mobile Career Opportunity Center. Google these organizations to check out their “bring the services to the customer” models.

If this is not the perfect concept for you, keep watching this blog. We’ll continue to explore other “hot concepts” and help you apply them to your organization.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hey Media Editors, the Nonprofit Sector is Worth Following, “Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin’s Business News” source, just announced the release of Nonprofit Weekly. What a wonderful commitment to the community serves.

Unfortunately, such commitment is sorely lacking around the country. While no news outlet seems to miss the all-too-frequent scandals, and many are happy to publish grip and grin photos of events – often for a hefty fee – there is relatively little coverage of community impact other than the occasional human interest story around the holidays. Movers and Shakers columns may include the appointment of a nonprofit CEO or development director, but there are few columns dedicated to nonprofit issues or proven practices.

Over the years, plenty of media sources dedicated to the nonprofit arena have cropped up. And, they never seem short of news to share. Why, then, does the mainstream media believe nonprofit news is not worth the column inches?

The impact of the sector is tremendous. Ever since Lester Salamon published his seminal work The Emerging Nonprofit Sector: An Overview in 1996, where he found among other things that one in every 6.9 jobs in the US were in the nonprofit arena, communities have been studying the economic engine that we know as nonprofit organizations. The results are nothing short of astonishing. In South Florida where I live, for instance, the latest (2006) economic impact survey conducted by the Dade Community Foundation and the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade’s “official economic development organization,” found that almost 9 percent of all corporations in the county are nonprofits and that 15.5 percent of the total gross receipts in the state were attributed to the nonprofits just in Miami-Dade County. These numbers have been growing and are expected to continue to grow. The number of registered nonprofits in Miami-Dade rose 30 percent in the seven years between 1999 – when the county began keeping such records – and the 2006 report.

Over these same last seven years I have talked to newspapers all over the country about publishing information of use to nonprofits and have been told repeatedly by editors that there is no market. I kept wondering when someone would finally 'get it.' So, three cheers for Hopefully other mainstream media will follow.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Blue Sweater: End of the Summer Reading

In her book, The Blue Sweater, Jacqueline Novagratz, founder of the Acumen Fund, traces her journey from banking in Africa to running the Fund. The financial model of Acumen is difficult to emulate – the Rockefeller Foundation (where Novagratz has been a staff member) seeds her with $5 million dollars, and she successfully raises another $3 million –before Acumen has a name. While Novagratz's funding model is difficult to copy, the power of her relationships is not.

What else is the take away from the nonprofit leader? Her obsession to find and support actions that create real change. This book will give you a healthy restlessness to examine the result of your activities. What are your intended consequences? Are you creating sustainable outcomes? Are people’s lives changed for the better, both immediately as they solve their current issue and long-term? Do they gain skills to solve similar future challenges when they come again? Can you be more effective by slightly or significantly alternating the way you do business? As leaders in the nonprofit world doing good, Novagratz invites us to live in the harder question –are we effective?

Novagratz’s book also supports the work our firm has been doing. Instead of bandaging the symptoms, we’ve been creating donor requests that increase the organization’s capacity to improve people lives long-term. For example, with one client we’re developing a loan pool that provides the nonprofit funding relief and the opportunity for service recipients to help others by long-term recycling of the loan money.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Self Esteem and Non Profits

Some non profit organizations are lacking in self esteem. They quietly toil away in relative obscurity, wearing the "best kept secret" moniker as a badge of honour. While it may seem crass to "blow your own horn", that's exactly what organizations need to do in order to become more effective.

Every non profit organization has to set itself apart and prove that they are the "go-to" organization in their particular area. You have to take some risks in making your organization stand out from the crowd. Communicating the mission, vision and values and focusing on the brand of the organization will let people know about the valuable work you do. The more you can consistently tell your story, through a variety of outlets, the more you will be top of mind for clients, stake holders and funders.

Don't be afraid to stake your territory on the web. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and your own website are all ways to get your message out. Make sure that everyone in the organization is following your policies on communications before they begin to "tweet" to maintain brand messaging. Register your own domain name ( so that people can find you easily when searching.

The Internet is today's equivalent of the soapbox - get on yours and shout your mission, vision and values to the world!

Laura Mikuska

Friday, August 7, 2009

When should you use a consultant?

Many non profits arrive at a stage where they contemplate bringing in some outside counsel to advance their development program. But is there a right time and a wrong time to hire a consultant?

Eugene A. Scanlon addresses this question in his book Fundraising Consultants - A Guide for Nonprofit Organizations. Recently published as part of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Fund Development Series, he addresses the timing and internal readiness necessary to benefit fully from a consultant's expertise.

Many of us, non profits and consultants alike, can relate to his real-life examples of his experiences, both positive and negative. If you are considering hiring a consultant but would like to assess your readiness, this book is a timely resource.

Laura Mikuska
"Helping charities achieve their dreams"

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Insight into the Nonprofit & Governmental Sectors

"I'm not ashamed to say that nonprofits are businesses. We employ people, we deliver services, and people pay for them (not the same people).

"....Running a government agency is about spending money. You get in trouble is you underspend, and you get rewarded if you overspend - by getting your budget ceiling raised."

-- Muzzy Rosenblatt, Executive Director of BRC, the Bowery Residents’ Committee, one of New York City’s most comprehensive social services agencies

And Still More Summer Reading, The Last Dropout, Stop the Epidemic!

Bill Milliken's book traces the development of the Communities in Schools movement. His funding base is fairly traditional fundraising: corporate sponsors, individuals, government appropriations, etc. The interesting take away for nonprofit leaders concerns program strategy and design. Communities in Schools views it work as creating a third side of a triangle of support for children to stay in school and succeed. The first two sides of the triangle are administration and teaching methods. The Communities in School side which completes the triangle is “the coordinated involvement of community members who can meet the nonacademic needs of students...” Milliken points out that when this third side of the triangle is ignored it undermines “. . .the huge and necessary investment we're making in the other two sides of the triangle.”

Do you look at the services you provide as completing a triangle (or other shape) that bolsters other investments? One recent project I helped design involved setting up services for youth in an Enterprise Zone which as one of its impacts will bolster other “huge and necessary” investments in the Zone. How does your work make the work of others more effective? Can you add a service that provides a third side to an existing but wobbly two-sided triangle?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Book: Life Entrepreneurs, Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives

This book's foundation is 55 interviews authors Christopher Gergen and Gregg Vanourek undertake of ordinary people who live extraordinary lives. They define these as people who apply “their vision, talents, creativity and energy not only to their work but to their entire lives—changing their world for themselves and those around them.”

Is it any surprise that a review of the list those interviewed includes a large number of nonprofit leaders? As a nonprofit leader you're on the right track--keep up the good work.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Convert to Graphic Facilitation

I am a word person. Words are my key to understanding concepts and the world around me. While intellectually I understand that people process information differently, I’m still not sure I believe that approximately 65% are visual learners, who focus on the pictures, graphs and charts that I just skip over. After all, I’m the type of person who has to make a conscious effort to conjure up a visual image of the main character in a book – though if the author revealed it, I can tell you the color of his hair and eyes or what his height and body type are. You can only imagine my shock when I learned that some people actually see a movie unfolding in their head as they read.

A year ago I was introduced to graphic facilitation. This is a process of capturing the ideas that come out of meetings, not as bulleted lists, but pictorially in a way that additionally shows the relationship of the ideas. The concept was intriguing, particularly when I learned that people tend to turn to watch the evolving “picture” whenever they begin to “space out,” as they are wont to do at some point in meetings or planning sessions. The graphic actually keeps their attention focused on the topic, increasing both their involvement in the moment and their take-away learning/understanding. The process won me over, though, when I experienced, as Christine Valenza relates in her article “Understanding Visual Thinking: The History and Future of Graphic Facilitation” (Interactions, July/August 2009), “In a lively meeting, the big paper demands collaboration, correction, controversy. Its value is in the moment it crystallizes and in the connections it makes. It becomes a member of the meeting in its own right.”

So, in a move truly outside my comfort zone, I recently took a class on graphic facilitation. I am so glad that I did. While I am not an artist – I’ve had people laugh at my attempts to draw stick figures – in a mere couple of hours I did learn to draw credible figures and I gained the confidence to take a stab at representing whatever concepts were thrown at me. (I admit I also relaxed a bit more when I read the line in Valenza’s article, “The imperfect nature of my strokes makes the big paper human and touchable.”) Most importantly, I walked out of the class realizing that while I may never go much beyond adding an illustration here or there to my flipchart pages, I have a new arrow in my quiver for generating engagement and helping my clients see their problems and possible solutions in a different way.

If you are interested in learning a little more about using simple drawings in your work, check out Dan Roam’s book, The Back of the Napkin: Solving problems and selling ideas with pictures (2008).

Monday, July 27, 2009

Seismic Shift: The Changing Nonprofit Landscape

We live in interesting times. Concurrently, two large events are interacting and impacting nonprofits. The first is the economic recession. The second event is a seismic shift that involves fundamental changes in the nonprofit landscape. With my binoculars, looking beyond the recession, here is what I see in the emerging landscape.

1.Fewer Nonprofits—perhaps 10 percent or more. Most of the closures involve “paper and dream nonprofits”—that is, people who formed nonprofits around a dream, but lacked viability. Others will fold who provide essential services. To continue to meet your mission, consider if you need to add some of these services to your nonprofit’s portfolio.

2.A Dual Focus on Outcomes and Savvy Communications. The outcome focus is not new, what is new is the understanding that outcomes alone are inadequate. If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there, it doesn’t help your cause. Those who thrive will provide outcomes plus have the public relations savvy to successfully communicate why these outcomes are important in the noisy market.

3.Earned Income. While not new, the recognition of the importance of this revenue source is growing. In the post-shift landscape, successful nonprofits will create several sources of earned income from their services or related business activities, i.e., thrift stores, concession stands or armbands. To compete, as a nonprofit leader you need expertise in running both types of operations.

4.New Ways of Creating Communities. Your new community can include your donors and everyone interested in your effort. Facebook, Meetup and similar Internet opportunities are the large portals of new communities. Smaller portals include short-term work groups where participants from across the world meet three or four times by telephone to create work products. Instead of joining large neighborhood animal clubs, people join communities around very specific interests. You can create a community of people interested in puppet shows for the hard of hearing and smaller even more obscure communities.

5.Money Based Partnership. Related to the above and also stimulated by recession, people are creating information-based partnerships to produce outcomes at less cost. Many of these money partnerships will be tried and institutionalized with a handshake. Others will be tried out and abandoned. Partnership conversations begin with questions like, “What are you paying for this service?” “Can we save money by joining together?” “If we do this together, what are the financial benefits?”

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Making your case in 20 minutes or less

I had lunch recently with a long-time friend whose participation as a Rotarian brought out an impassioned plea.

In case you've never attended, the Rotary meeting format usually affords approximately 20 minutes for a speaker of interest at each weekly meeting. Rotary also requires regular attendance of its members, so much so that they are encouraged to attend other chapter meetings when schedules prevent them from attending their own club's weekly gathering.

I've always admired Rotarians for this level of dedication to the organization. There are few meetings I'll attend weekly without fail outside of worship and faith-related small groups. As a result, many Rotary members can count on one hand the number of meetings they miss each year, putting their attendance close to 50 meetings, which also means 50 or so presentations.

Back to the impassioned plea. My friend, a city bank executive, strongly encouraged me to create a forum for non-profit executives and leaders to help them with their presenting skills. Apparently, such skills are sorely lacking for half or more of those who come through my friend's club.

I'd always heard that such clubs are bombarded mostly with poor presenters or people only there to ask for money and that such occurrences comprise the majority of the meetings. That creates suffering and hardship as members, week after week, sit as hostages through needlessly poor presentations.

There are more options than I can count for resources on improving one's presentation skills. I would also count such skill as near paramount for a non-profit executive these days, especially when the economy tightens and those executives get out and about seeking community support and funding.

Here are several tips:
1. Get the basics on presenting skills - I always recommend the basic Dale Carnegie Course. There's likely one closer to you than you think. It's a great investment and you can usually repeat the course at no charge if you'd like extra practice.
2. Craft your 20-minute presentation for use at any time - It's more than likely that you can have an evergreen presentation that tells a bit about your organization, its value to the community and cites one to three examples of local individuals or organizations which have benefited from your work. Then you can update and customize it to fit special occasions or seasons, such as the homeless shelter providing warm meals over the holidays.
3. Create it so that you can present with or without technology aids - Yes, Murphy shows up at Rotary meetings and you're bound to have a technology/projector/computer failure when there's no time to replace the equipment. Your ability to present a cogent, concise and compelling 20 minutes with little else than your outline in front of you will reflect your professionalism and appreciation of the time you've been given to an often highly influential audience. I also strongly recommend that if the PowerPoint adds nothing but the words you'll already be delivering verbally, try going without it. Reasons to consider this include maintaining attention on you and your presentation and less on the screen. I like the flip chart or white board to illustrate a particular point in a way that forces me to move and add energy to a particular point.
4. Practice your presentation before staff and board - Before you head out for prime time, make sure key people inside your organization have the opportunity to hear and see what you're saying. The practice and repetition is valuable in and of itself and you'll likely get some positive feedback that will help you improve the presentation.
5. Get out the video camera - I've recommended that a surgeon general's warning be placed on any video that requires someone to watch herself/himself in action. "Warning: viewing yourself on video can provoke nausea and drooping self-esteem. Proceed with caution." There's no better feedback, however, than seeing for yourself what others are seeing and hearing.
6.Bring a co-worker or board member to every presentation - Ask that person ahead of time to be ready to provide feedback following the event, good and bad, giving you a resource for continuous improvement.
7. Ask your host for feedback - Even if it's a day or two later and you're communicating by phone or e-mail, get a sense of how your host and the group felt about your presentation. While it's less than ideal to catch a bad review after the fact, it beats going out and stumbling again due to ignorance that the prior presentation was lacking in some easily improved element. It also improves your chances of being invited back next year.

Do yourself and your local civic clubs a favor by taking your presentation skills and quality up one or two levels. It will only strengthen your case later when the time comes to invite community support for your organization and its mission.

John Carroll is an award-winning columnist, author, executive coach, consultant and president of Unlimited Performance, Inc. in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. You can reach him directly at or follow him on Twitter at

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

the dangers of stakeholder segmentation

Your “young leaders” grow up to be “leaders”, who then grow up to be “visionaries”, or some other categorical definition. Stop inventing new categories and further segmenting your donors, staff, and other stakeholders. Approach your people seamlessly, or you risk loosing them in the valleys between defined categories.

One of my clients has a “young leaders” donors group, modeled after the New York Public Library’s well-known Young Lions program. Two women, college roommates, joined at the same time. One woman, unmarried and non-parenting, remains in the group, quite active. The other, married, homeowner, with two small children, feels she no longer fits the membership profile and has left. Neither does she share the financial or professional profile of the organization’s formal Board of Directors. Her engagement with the organization is threatened by her lack of fitting into one of their tightly defined subgroups.

Continue reading at

Monday, July 20, 2009

More Summer Nonprofit Reading, Three Cups of Tea

This is a great book to read if you’re involved in the nonprofit sector. First, it will make you feel like your work is not all that difficult compared to Greg Mortenson, who decides to build a school in a rural village in Pakistan. About half way through, as Mortenson begins to develop a series of schools and a nonprofit organization, you will want to go back in time to hand Mortenson your favorite nonprofit fundraising materials and suggest he study it on one of his many long flights to the Orient. Instead, he sends out 500 letters to famous people he does not know and looks for Mr. Wealthy. Finally, you’ll learn how Mortenson and his idea of building many schools for girls in Pakistan comes to life through his perseverance, ethics, hard work and by the good luck he makes by staying in the game. This is a book that affirms that you, too, can achieve your nonprofit mission—even if you wisely avoid Mortenson’s specific techniques

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Summer Non Profit Reading, Unbowed by Wangari Maathai

Maathai, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner, via a NGO, plants millions of trees in Kenya and, at the same time, helps maintain democracy in her country –the more challenging, life-threatening, braver of the two feats.

For the non profit reader, what is the take away?

Her financial model: Women, who stand to benefit the most from trees, are encouraged to create nurseries with gathered native saplings. When these saplings are successfully planted and tended for six months, the women receive the equivalent of 4 cents per tree-- enough cash in poor rural areas to motivate the planting of 30 million trees in Kenya.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Small Boards Lead to Group Think

The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently shared the findings of a report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy that laid a good deal of the blame for the significant foundation losses to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme on the size of the foundation boards. The watchdog group found that of those foundations that lost between 30 percent and all of their assets, the median board size was just three. In a number of those cases, the boards were made up totally of family members.

I am not surprised by the premise in this report. While most states require only three board members and there is no perfect size for a board, group dynamics’ research teaches us that small groups often lack the diversity of opinion necessary to avoid group think. In some cases it is due to the fact that people ask their friends, or others “like them” to join them on the board. In such cases, there is an increased likelihood of similar thinking – or, as in this case, that many of the members of the board know and rely on the same investment people. In other cases it is just due to the fact that with such few people on the board, it is easier to go along because everyone knows they will have to get along in the future.

If this scandal teaches us anything, it should remind us that one of the most important skills a board member brings to the table is that of critical thinking. This means that every option should be questioned. All the pros and cons should be considered and the ramifications projected. Potential benefits should be tested against potential costs. Underlying assumptions and motivations should be brought to the surface. And board members must remember before making a final decision that they are responsible to the community for leaving the organization stronger than when they came in. Their decision should be consistent with their organization’s values and move the organization closer to the accomplishment of its mission and vision. This charge is made easier with a larger, more diverse board that treasures a culture of challenge.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Tell your funder: "You, too, can be a force for good!"

From the brilliant folk over at The Switchblog:

"Here's a nice plug for the value of funding advocacy - perfect for all our advocate friends trying to overcome a timid (or ill-informed) foundation's reluctance."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Why Do So Few Nonprofits Have Annual Funds? And How to Get Started

During the introductions at an annual funds training, only three attendees of fifteen shared that their nonprofit organizations conducted annual appeals. Across the nonprofit world just 50 percent of nonprofits conduct annual appeals. Yet, almost all nonprofits aspire to find more individual donors. Annual appeals form the base of all individual fundraising. So, why is this percentage so low?
· Campaigns do not pay for themselves especially initial ones. In fact, if you only use direct mail, your cost might average $1.50 for every dollar raised. (On the other hand renewals cost $.25 on the dollar raised.)
· At first glace, annual funds appear complex relative to fundraising via special events or grants. They involve databases, writing intriguing letters and requesting funds face-to-face.

However annual funds, when used year after year, create consistent income. Annual fund drives help you sieve though the potentially interested and discover the fiscally committed. Annual funds encourage donor upgrades. Besides providing unrestricted money to your organization, they offer everyone you know the chance to participate in achieving your mission.

To dabble your toe in the annual fund waters, invest time between now and autumn, the most successful request time, to create a mailing list. Include everyone you know. Include your staff and board members. Include former staff and past board members. Include friends, relatives and civic, social and professional acquaintances. Then go back and really include everyone you know. List people you encounter during the year. Add those who attended your events. Add those who contacted you. Then in autumn, ask those with the most potential for a gift face-to-face and to others, send a letter requesting a gift.

Are you committed to obtaining more individual donors? If yes, are you committed enough to add these tasks to your to-do list?

Monday, June 8, 2009

"If you’re hip to the jive, you avoid using words like nonprofit altogether."

I've certainly sensed sneering at the non profit sector, and Albert at White Courtesy Telephone nails this "sector agnosticism".

Nonprofit Innovation

In a recent e-magazine article, Ruth McCambridge, Editor in Chief of the Nonprofit Quarterly wrote about nonprofit innovation and shared an article about the Colorado Rural Housing Development Corporation (CFHCD). From both, it was clear, that nonprofits who successfully innovate learn that:
  • One size does not fit all –but all no matter their size can innovate
  • It helps to look at options and study them in-depth, i.e., CRHDC's conducted two years of national research on the lease to purchase program before creating one
  • Stay flexible and open to opportunities in your markets, you can learn an immense amount even during economic turbulence.
  • No nonprofit takes advantage of every opportunity and· What works is to grab hold of your best opportunities now and understand that if you fail to take advantage of one --not to worry. Others will arrive shortly.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Increasing efficiencies through collaboration

Just finished reading an article in the Seattle Business Journal about several non-profit agencies that have created a coalition to find ways to save money and weather the economic challenges.

I've had the privilege of working with one of the non-profits mentioned and know the ED is a highly collaborative & creative person, so I wasn't surprised. Can you imagine for-profit orgs doing this? Anyone have similar examples to share?

Access the full article here =>

Sylva Leduc, MEd, MPEC
The Leadership Strategist

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

good may be subjective, but bad is always bad

At today's launch of the Institute for Ethical Leadership at the Rutgers Business School, an audience member commented that Charity Navigator's reduction of multiple inputs to one single, evaluative number seems "eerily similar" to the un-transparent financial metrics and business data simplification that brought about the economic crisis.

Surprise! Ken Berger, President and CEO of Charity Navigator, was also in the audience, and he responded that the organization is indeed seeking a variety of metrics to assess and report on the true value and efficiency of nonprofits -- BUT, that the organizations that are now receiving 1s and 2s are truly deserving of being called out on their abhorrently inefficient business and philanthropic practices.

Creating a Culture of Philanthropy

During a recent conference call with other contributors to the Advancing the Non Profit Sector blog, we discussed how many non profit organizations could better capitalize on the collective knowledge and experience of all staff members and volunteers by creating a culture of philanthropy.

Many organizations get caught up in the silo phenomenon - every staff member or department operates mainly in their own silo without knowing what's going on in the neighboring one. They're not even sure about how they fit into the overall organization. It's especially evident in fundraising - most staff or volunteers not involved in fund development don't feel they can or want to contribute to the program. 

Non profit leaders can encourage everyone to be part of the overall organization by ensuring they are well acquainted with the mission and vision. Have them explore how they fit into the organization and encourage them to be part of the bigger picture. Organize informal gatherings where stories can be shared among colleagues. A story from the program delivery staff might trigger some ideas among the fund development staff.

Encourage staff and volunteers to share connections they may have with donor or board prospects. Everyone is part of the overall community and has formed relationships that may be beneficial to the organization as well as the prospect.

Breaking down the silos will strengthen your organization and ultimately benefit your constituents.

Simply Possible

Recently, I met with the membership sub-committee of our local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. One subtext of the 20-minute meeting, which for convenience was held directly after the regular chapter meeting, was how we could, given our workloads and responsibilities, efficiently and effectively support memberships of this all-volunteer organization.

Among other things, we agreed to keep the structure informal, i.e., to arrive at chapter meetings early to meet and greet people as our schedules allowed vs. creating monthly assignments to do the same. We left the meeting with a dozen tasks to do —none extremely time consuming, but all designed to support the organization and share the workload.

Using the concept of that is is possible to simplify but still remain effective, what is one action you can do today to reduce the workload at your nonprofit?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Recruiting Board Members? Mission Attachment Must Be a Key Criterion

I recently attended the biennial nonprofit governance conference co-sponsored by the Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership and the Nonprofit Quarterly. As always, I found it exciting to hear the most cutting-edge research that impacts the work I do.

I walked away with a great deal, but one of the key validations was work done by Will Brown out of Texas A & M University. Will has been looking at factors that encourage board members to fulfill their roles and responsibilities. He found the strongest is mission attachment.

This really should not be a surprise to anyone. It seems obvious that someone who has an affinity for your organization’s mission is likely to work harder to see it come to fruition. However, the finding should serve as a reminder to all of us recruiting board members that focusing on finding people who care about the mission is truly important. Such research might even get us to rethink our often single-minded desire to identify individuals with affluence and influence – shown a few years back by Dave Renz and Bob Herman at the Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership to be negatively correlated to board effectiveness.

It should also serve as a reminder of the necessity for frequent board education. It is only through the internalization of the organization’s values, client stories, program statistics and outcomes that mission attachment – and pride! – can grow.

Of course, my 30 plus years of experience convinces me that boards should also be looking for strategic thinkers – people who ask the hard questions, probe, understand the ramifications of decisions and can look beyond the same old, same old to creatively help move the organization closer to the achievement of its vision. But what a combination… people with passion who are motivated by that passion to use their skills as strategic thinkers to benefit the organization! There is little such board members couldn’t accomplish.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tell Me What’s Good About Tough Times: #2, Savings Because We Looked

This morning the local newspaper was published 1.5 inches smaller –with the same news. Last month, instead of it all being tossed each week, the bulletin for Sunday worship was re-organized into two parts: half to reuse for the liturgical season and half to recycle with the day’s event. And this quarter, a client’s newsletter is being produced in-house at a cost savings of over 75 cents per page.

After this, when we find economic good times once again, we’ll keep some of these savings and continue to use them for services that improve peoples lives. Many organizations in many ways are finding ways to save money because the times require it. The essence of our work doesn’t always take lots and lots of resources, but lots of creative ideas combined with the right resources. Success is trying them out and keeping the best. Where are you finding savings now—that you will continue?