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.