Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Is the Arts and Culture Community on Your List of Potential Collaborators?

Few would argue the value of arts and culture. The vibrancy of arts and culture within a community has long been a key indicator of its livability. Individuals and companies looking to move into an area frequently evaluate the number and diversity of offerings as part of their decision-making process. Art therapy has proven helpful in treating a wide variety of conditions, from Alzheimer’s to physical and emotional trauma. And, a great deal of attention has recently been paid to the substantial economic impact of arts and culture. According to the 2010 National Arts Index, a report issued by Americans for the Arts, economic activity in the U.S., while losing ground during the recession, is still a $150‐$160 billion a year business that puts more than 2 million people to work and increasingly attracts cultural tourists (the number of foreign visitors who attend cultural events or venues has increased 23% since 2003).

However, today we have another reason to value arts and culture. It’s being used “in increasingly diverse ways to engage and build communities and address the root causes of persistent societal problems, including issues of economic, educational and environmental injustice as well as inequities in civil and human rights.” (“Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change: High Impact Strategies for Philanthropy” by Holly Sidford for the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, 2011) Artist-activists are pulling us in, forcing us to examine our assumptions and the way we do business.

To-date, most of this work has emerged from and been centered in the art world. Just one example from my community is the Center for Folk and Community Art, which involves the community’s residents in story-telling, using a combination of written work, murals and public presentation. In the past it has focused attention on societal issues such as gang culture and violence, bullying, abuse and violence in teen dating relationships, the environment and homelessness.

But, arts and culture could be so much more. It could be totally integrated into the fabric of social change, where artists sit at the same table as nonprofits, private businesses and governmental agencies committed to creating a healthier place for each of us to live. This is particularly important as the artistic voices of those who have previously often been disenfranchised – i.e., those making art outside of the better supported and recognized Western European, “classical” art forms – break through, since there is much to be learned from these voices.

According to the Animating Democracy’s 2010 report, “Trend or Tipping Point: Arts and Social Change Grantmaking” there are currently more than 150 funders nationwide that have recognized the value of supporting coalitions that are dedicated to social change and are inclusive of artists. I am proud that our own local community foundation is one of them. But what of the many nonprofits currently putting together coalitions to more successfully tackle community issues that are at the heart of their mission?

If your organization is contemplating collaboration, I would like to know if your board is considering the contribution artists, arts and culture could make in your success? How intentional is your board about including artists, especially those outside “mainstream arts and culture”? How are you going about finding the appropriate partners? Please write in and share your experiences and learnings.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Hunting for Nonprofit Funding Ideas?

I’ve been told that I have more ideas about how non-profits can earn funding than anyone in the world. While no competition has been held to officially award the title, I do love and collect ideas that grow non-profit organization’s funding and resources. More funding for you translates into better communities for all of us.

If you're curious about where I get some of my ideas or you want to find more ideas for your non-profit organization, read The Idea Hunter by Andy Boynton & Bill Fischer.

The Idea Hunter, a quick read, reminds us that:
1) To find ideas, actively hunt for them.
2) Productive hunting requires that you move beyond your regular environment.
3) We need to write ideas down or loose them.
4) While many ideas provide small improvements that don’t solve the Euro crisis or global warming, they are still important. Many improve our lives everyday in small, but satisfying ways. Translated into non-profit funding, idea hunter ideas provide solid, sustainable growth rather than the unexpected and unpredictable million-dollar check.
5) In terms of donors and other funding sources, do not just collect ideas and data, train yourself to notice “incidents and customer service preferences that connect clearly…” (P. 80) with your mission and organization.

For more ideas on how to increase your non-profit income also read this article, Don’t Set Resolutions to Increase Your Funding.

How do you collect ideas to help your non-profit organization obtain funding?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Barrier to Earned Revenue: Cultural Change

Help the Resistance to Join the Cause
One of the biggest barriers non-profit organizations face in increasing their funding from earned income, is staff and volunteer resistance. In some cases, cultural resistance about asking for money or more money from customers, clients, or donors at non-profit organizations is so huge it curtails all discussion and results in significant income loss. In almost all cases, in every non-profit organization, you will encounter those who like the way things are now. This holds true even when it means you lack enough funding for your mission or even to pay them properly.

At Bok Towers Gardens, (read about their success with earned revenue in my new column, Your Profitable Non-profit) the support of the docents, who provided the house tours of Pinewood Estate, was the biggest hurdle they faced as they increased their income and attendance by 300 percent. In the new setup, instead of leading tours through the mansion, docents were assigned to various sites in the building. The docents preferred the old way of leading tours even as Bok Tower Gardens enjoyed wild success with the new approach. As a compromise that worked wonderfully, staff encouraged the docents to help visitors enjoy the mansion as they saw fit. If a group or individual were happy self-touring, they did not step in. If the visitors wanted more information, the docent created an on-the-spot experience.

After you identify great ideas to increase your income, expect resistance. When you encounter it, love people for their loyalty. Help them to understand how the change has the potential to impact your mission and funding. Explore compromises, like Bok Tower Gardens. Develop a plan to help the resistance join the cause.

What examples of cultural resistance, especially around earned revenue have you encountered? How have you overcome them?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Drinking The Kool-Aid: Balance Your Funding Messages With Reality

Face it. As a nonprofits leaders you are in the sales and marketing business. As a leader raising funds, you constantly share with others that your nonprofit organization’s work is important, meaningful and valuable. Indeed your work is important, valuable, and meaningful.

Obtaining funding requires that you present your work and services in the most favorable, hopeful manner. Yet, important, valuable, and meaningful does not equal perfect. Even the most exemplary nonprofits face daily challenge to step-up to the next level, to fine-tune their work, to provide more mission, and to prepare for the future. (Follow this link for the traits of exemplary non-profit organizations.) Non-profit organizations who do not meet these challenges will shortly become un-exemplary.

The danger comes when leaders get caught up in the positive message and believe they are important, valuable and meaningful –and that they have arrived. When leaders get caught up in the external message and forget imperfections and growth needs they can be poisoned by drinking the own Kool-Aid.

The solution is balance. Smart nonprofits leader balance their “we are worthy of your funding message,” while simultaneously sharing areas under construction. They tell us how they are working to improve and are positively honest about mistakes. This balance reflects reality. It also creates a community of support, including donors, staff and volunteers, who understand that being a successful nonprofit is an ongoing movement that result is falling into potholes from time-to-time. When these bumps come, and they will, most of the community who has been hearing your balanced message will remain loyal. They love you. They love your work. They believe you will meet the challenges you face.

How do you communicate worthiness of support to your external audience and acknowledge your need to improve daily? How do you help people who have joined your organization, but are disappointed when they learn it is not perfect?

Monday, November 14, 2011

How to Succeed With Emergency Grant Opportunities

Good news! You non-profit organization just received an invitation to apply for a grant. Bad news! The application is due next week and you have at least a dozen other priorities.

Here’s a schedule to help you organize your preparations to meet the application deadline and provide a competitive application for funding:

Day 1

1. Review the donor’s website. Contact them for application requirements. Ask initial questions. Read any guidelines, marking all requirements with a tick box. You will fill the box in with a check mark during your final review after you fulfilled each requirement.

2. Do you need information for anyone else? Request their help. Establish Day 5 as their deadline.

3. Create an application dummy with scrap paper. A dummy is a mockup of the total grant proposal you will submit from cover letter to you’re the last page of the attachments. As you work, you will replace the dummy pages with completed ones so you can identify missing items. Take time to organize your submittal now instead of at the last minute.

4. Start drafting. Use paragraphs from existing materials, like case statements, bio statements from key staff.

5. Make a first attempt at creating the project budget.

Day 2 and 3

6. Continue drafting, aim for 1-2 hour sessions per day, during your most productive interludes. Apply butt glue, if necessary.

7. If you get stumped, you probably need more information. Find someone with answers or to make project decisions.

8. Time helps. The difficult questions you struggled with today will be easier when you review them tomorrow.

Day 4

9. By now your draft is emerging. Plan to work in shorter time blocks. Re-read sections while waiting for appointments, when you’re on hold or 15 minutes before lunch.

10. Email or call everyone who needs to provide you materials to remind them of the pending deadline.

Days 5, 6, and 7

11. Proof the draft, triple check all dates and numbers.

12. Ask one or two other people to read it.

13. Read the final application aloud. Check off the requirements you completed. Flag uncompleted items. Make a list of these and work through them one-by-one until all is done.

14. Compile the final document. Make copies. Remember to keep one for your organization. Deliver the application.

15 .Relax! You made it!

For more grant writing articles to help you non-profit organization earn funding, see this directory.

For six audios to purchase that will help you write grants if you are a newbie or an expert, follow this link. Each offers one hours of training from Karen– and contains the content of her famous grant writing workshops.

For other sources of non-profit income to augment your grant opportunities, read this article. Can Your Organization Obtain More Income?

Karen Eber Davis

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How Can Your Board Help With Corporate Sponsorships?


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Board members help non profit organizations to earn corporate support in many ways. To develop and sustain corporate sponsorships, these three types of support are important for boards leading successful non profit organizations:
1. Provide oversight and balance to protect the non profits long-term interest.
2. Identify opportunities.
3. Create connections that lead to and build relationships.
Here is an example of creating connections that lead to and builds relationships:
A film festival’s board includes a number of members with extensive home entertainment systems who favor a particular specialty store. One member knows the owner of three local stores and has heard him talk about his marketing needs. Together, the development staff and board members develop a proposal with several sponsorship opportunities. The board member sets an appointment. The three meet. After learning more about the owner’s needs, they jointly craft a sponsorship package for $50,000. It includes festival advertising, plus an exclusive in-store event. Platinum film festival members will be invited to an intimate event for $75 per couple to share refreshments, view a new film, learn from the film producer and be introduced to a “cool” new piece of home entertainment equipment. Besides directly marketing to the right potential customers, the storeowner gains the opportunity to meet and continue relationships with platinum members, and share one of his sites, his enthusiasm, and his expertise. This successful non profit organization gains new funding and an enthusiastic new sponsor who shares strong alignment with their mission statement.
How have your board members helped your non profit to secure corporate funding?
To learn what your board members need to know about corporate support, read and then give your board this article.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Moving From A $40 Gift To $5,000 in 4 Repeatable Steps


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In my last entry, I shared about a conversation I had with Sally in a bar after a consulting conference and how Sally grew from a $40 to a $5,000 a year donor. This entry shares the “moves” Teach for America used. This is what Sally shared, with my comments in parenthesis, just like a DVD commentary of a movie.

Event One: The Invite
Sally was invited by a business associate who had helped her and her husband a lot in the past to come to a dinner to learn about Teach for America. Sally figured it was payback time; they owed this man plenty. (The right person asks Sally. How can she say no?)

Event Two: The Dinner
Sally and her husband attend the dinner and learn about Teach for America. She is offered the opportunity to sponsor a classroom. (A specific request for a specific amount that provides tangible outcomes.) Sally learns about the impact this gift would have on a whole classroom for one year. She believes the offer is a great bargain at $5,000. “All those little lives for one year for $5k?” Sally and her husband become class sponsors. (How can you help donors to understand you offer a great bargain?)

Event Three: Unknown
After the dinner, one assumes several exchanges and thank you notes were exchanged. Sally doesn’t mention these to me as she relayed her story. (These are musts.)

Event Four: The Offer to Tour and Meet Someone of Interest
Later, Teach for America makes Sally an additional offer. Would Sally like to go on a tour? They are giving a tour to a major business leader from a Fortune 500 company. There was space. Was Sally interested? Yes, she was. (Teach for America understands Sally’s professional need to meet other business leaders to promote her business. They understand the value of her time. Not only is Sally happy to learn more on a tour, she is happy to be introduced to a business leader who is a potential client of her consulting business.)

None of these brilliant events is accidental. Someone or a group of people, have thoughtfully considered how to offer these opportunities to Sally. Sally is being helped to do what she wants to do more of—make a meaningful contribution both personally and professionally. Teach for America helps Sally. Sally helps Teach for America. Teach for America helps Sally . . .
Who are your Sally’s? How are you reaching them? What is your plan to increase your income—whether via individual donations or one of the other six nonprofit income sources? How do you help people to succeed, so that they can help you to reach your mission? - Karen Eber Davis

Friday, October 28, 2011

Proof: The Individual Donor Opportunity Door is Wide-open

Sally Part One

We were having drinks after the consulting conference. Sally asked what I did. (Not her real name, because even though this sounds like it is about Sally--it is not.)
“I help nonprofits earn sustainable income and with innovations.”
“You know,” Sally responded, “Teach for America does a really good job.” Sally went on to explain that before Teach for America, she and husband were forty-dollar givers.
“Forty dollar givers?” I asked, astounded and then quickly assuming that even though I understood what she met—I must not. Sally, as I had learned earlier in the day, is a successful consultant who worked for global name-brand clients. Earlier, she earned an MBA from Stanford and worked as a manager with for a large international consulting firm. Surely, Sally and her husband, who had to in my quick conservative estimate earned more than $100,000 per year, didn’t only give $40 a year at a time to a nonprofits?
Yes, she explained they did. In the past, when they were asked to write a check they wrote one for forty dollars. Now, with Teach for America, they were sponsoring a classroom for $5,000 a year. “It’s amazing, we get to touch all those lives and it only costs $5,000 and only about a 100 people a year do it.”
Sally represents one of thousands of people who are bright and earn a sizable income—and seek to make a difference. She represents someone who has never been asked and worse, never shown the path your nonprofit offers to making a difference.
Sally reminds us that the individual donor opportunity door is wide-open, as are the majority of the other six nonprofit income opportunity doors. This is why this story is not about Sally because it is about nonprofit leaders, like you, who are unsure about approaching the Sally’s you know. Are you neglecting to offer the Sally’s in your sphere of influence the opportunity to help you change lives? Are you assuming (like me) that educated people with means already understand philanthropy and are already doing their part? How might we reach, show and educate Sally about the opportunities she is missing?

Stay tuned for more about Sally. In my next piece, I will share how Teach For America helped Sally to become a $5,000 a year donor. -Karen Eber Davis

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Karen’s Ultimate Test: Is this a Good Plan?




We like to hike, especially as summer heat gives way to cool fall mornings. Sometimes we come to bridges. Stone bridges are good. Solid wood bridges are good. But open slat or rope or wobbly logs over swiftly moving creeks—not my favorite. Nonetheless, I will step upon them to cross if I can see that they will bring me to where I want to go… in advance.

Your plans should also let you “see” that you can reach your destination from where you are. With firm plans you can feel that the next step you take and each one after that will let you place your foot on something solid that leads you to your destination.

Can you in your minds eye see in advance how your plan gets you from here to there? How many of your plans, big and small, get you from here to there—in your mind's eye?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Planning, The Final Step Bridge Building




By far, the most complicated and most important step of planning is bridge building. The purpose of the bridge you will build is to get you from here to there. The bridge represents the steps you will take to move between these two spaces. A good bridge closes the gap between the two locations and it carries solid traffic. This is complex thinking. It involves concepts, making connections, identifying steps, estimating timing, using resources, testing ideas, and research. It involves eliminating good choices that do not work, coping with unknowns and not meeting everyone’s expectations. Throughout the planning process, hope is critical. You must believe that solid plans are possible and that the results will be worthwhile. Finally, good bridges and good plans are not built in a day or afternoon. Invest time and energy to create your bridge or plan from where you are now to your vision.
When it actually comes down to making “the plan” how do you organize the process so that nothing is overlooked?
(For more on the first two steps of planning, see my recent entries in this blog.)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Often Missed Step of Planning: Where You Are Now



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My office is near U.S. 41 in Sarasota—the main commercial artery of the city. Along this corridor I have standard errands, both north and south. To save time, I run different errands en route to meetings depending if the meeting is north or south respectively. This plan saves gas, energy and waiting at stoplights. At your nonprofit, your plans will work best if you also know your starting place. This Where You Are Now is the second essential stage of good planning.

What does it mean to know where you are now? Knowing includes obvious items; your physical location, financial status and pending staff changes. It also includes subtle issues, like market conditions, a planning group’s comfort level with each other, and if you have the information you need to plan, etc. As an example of the last, last week a group of consultants planned what with a series of recorded teleconferences. We failed to make much progress until we determined that we had recorded the previous sessions—a needed piece of information.

Another component of Where You Are Now that is especially fruitful for experienced groups is information about other planning experiences your group completed. What was successful about them? Lacking? Do people have positive expectations about up-coming planning sessions? Was the fiscal piece strong or does it need additional effort? Identifying these or related issues is “knowing where you are now” and the second step in good planning.

What kinds of questions do you ask and answer when you look at your current situation as part of the planning process?

(For the first step of good planning read this entry: The Critical First Step of Income and Other Planning: Destination.)


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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Power to the People: One More Reason for Boards to Listen to Their Communities

Smile Train and Operation Smile both provide (literally) face-saving surgeries to indigent children outside the U.S. born with cleft palates. Smile Train is actually an offshoot of Operation Smile, rising out of a difference in philosophy. Whereas Operation Smile sends doctors overseas to perform the operations, Smile Train uses local doctors. The spinoff, which occurred in the late 1990’s, left the two organizations bitter rivals. However, with the changes in the world the two organizations contemplated a merger this past spring that would have brought them back together again. Merger talks were suddenly called off though when donors of Smile Train representing 82 million dollars in contributions expressed opposition to the proposition – some quite publicly.

This is but one example of what those of us who closely follow the many news briefs and RSS feeds from the sector (special thanks to Ruth McCambridge, editor of The Nonprofit Quarterly who along with her colleagues put out an excellent daily feed and recently raised this particular example at the Alliance Conference in Oakland, California) are increasingly seeing – community stakeholders who are mad as hell about some of the decisions being made in their name. And, they aren't just going to take it any more. (For those too young to get the cultural referent, rent the 1976 film Network. It’s probably more relevant now than when it was released.) The public brouhaha that embroiled Smile Train and Operation Smile is just the latest volley in a trend that began with donors wanting a say in how their money is spent. It is a trend that intensified with those donors demanding the return of their money if they feel that the intent behind their gift is not being honored. And, it is a trend that became a runaway train with the decision of an increasing number of stakeholders to pump their financial and human assets into new organizations when they sense the legacy organizations are failing to achieve sufficient or desired impact.

Boards today must recognize that the marketplace will drive which nonprofits shall live and which shall die. If boards aren't paying close attention to what their stakeholders deem important, they may find their organizations on the list of failed entities and their personal reputations sullied for betraying the community’s trust.

To me, the lesson is obvious. Someway, somehow, boards must listen – really listen – to their stakeholders. This might be done informally as long as there is some intentional way of capturing the data on an ongoing basis, such as including BTW Talk on every agenda. For those who have not heard me explain this before, the BTW Talk involves scheduling 20 minutes or so at each meeting to discover what board members have been hearing in conversations with friends, family and colleagues since the last time the board met that could potentially impact the organization and its mission in some way. These are conversations that often start with, “By the way….”

Or, it can involve instituting a means for gathering information on a more formal basis. For instance, the board might contract to survey the community on a regular basis. These surveys can be done online, through the mail, in person or over the phone. Interviews, insight or focus groups, and large-scale change methodologies such as World CafĂ©, Future Search or Appreciative Inquiry can also be employed to garner the community’s insights.

The focused and purposeful use of advisory councils is another means of tapping into what the community needs. So is bringing greater diversity into our boardrooms. One way to do this is to choose a model such as Community Engagement Governance (see Freiwirth, Judy. “Engagement Governance for System-Wide Decision Making.” Nonprofit Quarterly. Summer 2007. pgs. 38 – 39.), which actually shares the power of decision-making with different individuals in the community based on their interests and areas of expertise. The key in all of these cases is to truly give weight to what the community is saying and not just employ the techniques as window dressing.

Since this list is by no means inclusive, I am anxious to hear what others have used to stay in touch with what their stakeholders are thinking, feeling and desiring. Please share your success stories and your “learning experiences.”

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Critical First Step of Income and Other Planning: Destination

Our last entry talked about the definition of good planning. This one continues along similar lines and explores the first step of all good planning: Knowing Where You Want to Go.


Most nonprofits know where they want to go. Like New Englanders in January, everyone agrees, they want to go south for February vacation. Likewise, your nonprofit may agree that your “south” is to improve the quality of the bay water, the readiness of children for kindergarten or the lives of people with developmental disabilities. While you may know the direction, good planning demands that you stop and clarify what exactly constitutes your destination. After all, Miami, Tucson and the Caribbean are south as are Brasilia, South Africa and Newark.


What, for example, does it mean to help people with developmental disabilities to live better lives? To do good planning it matters if you’re talking about housing, employment, family relations or health matters. Each destination requires a different plan.


Knowing your destination allows you to draw a straight line to it from where you are. Good plans reduce expensive meandering. Clear destinations also create vision energy at the start of planning. (Won’t it be exciting to see this in action?”) This energy is needed as fuel for the deep-thinking work ahead.

How has clarifying your destination helped your planning process? How has lack of clarity created confusion?

Monday, September 12, 2011

What is Good Planning?

Planning is one of the many overused but little understood terms tossed around nonprofit organizations. Recently, several consultants from this blog were organizing an audio-conference for nonprofit board members on the topic. We started our planning by discussing the definition of planning. Fifteen-minutes later while we had made progress, we had also uncovered more questions than answers. If it took three experts fifteen minutes to begin to agree on what planning is—you will probably find some uncertainty at your organization. Yet, planning is something we do everyday. After all, you plan when you run out paper and make a note to pick it up after your meeting. You plan when you prepare for your special event. You plan when you determine how exactly you will improve transportation service for seniors.

For starters, here is a definition: planning consists of tasks, energy and resources applied to create a desired future. Good planning includes three components:

1. Where we want to go (the vision).

2. Where you are now.

3. The bridge you will build to get to the vision.

These three components are universal to all planning. This includes your smallest efforts (where should we hold our special event?) to big questions (what is the most effective way to cure cancer?)

How can you tell if your planning was good? If you can create, in your mind’s eye, the bridge you will build and imagine using it to travel from where you are to where you want to go.

When you plan, all three areas need your attention. Which area do you find that you neglect the most? Did you ever stop to define what planning was before you begin to do it?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Boards - Your Chief Administrator Wants You to Learn and Practice CEO Evaluation

Ask board members to list their responsibilities and most will include the supervision of the CEO. However, according to the findings of CompassPoint and Meyer Foundation researchers as reported in Daring to Lead 2011: A National Study of Nonprofit Executive Leadership, there is apparently a disconnect between what board members acknowledge as their responsibilities and what they take on, because close to half of the CEOs surveyed reported that they had not had a performance review within the past year. Adding concern, of those boards that do ensure their CEOs are reviewed, more than two-thirds may not be particularly skilled at the process, judging by the report that fewer than one-third of CEOs found their review either somewhat useful or very useful.

With CEOs clamoring for effective feedback there are evaluation basics that every board can incorporate. Assign a month within which the CEO review will be done, add it to your compliance calendar and make a commitment to follow through. Ask the CEO to consider process and goals and to explain what he or she feels will make the review valuable on both a personal and organizational level. Gather input from the entire board. Then select a few board members to sit down with the CEO to negotiate what the review will consist of. Be sure success measures and deadlines are clearly defined so that everyone has a clear picture of what it will look like when the CEO has successfully met all expectations. Provide interim assessments that ensure everyone is still on the same page and that movement toward goal achievement is on track. (See “Evaluating the Top Administrator: A New Approach” for more.)

But what takes evaluation beyond the basics and ensures an effective result? I would like to learn what those boards that are providing “very useful” feedback are doing. I’d also like to hear from CEOs about what would make their reviews satisfying and helpful. Are there tips that you can share with your colleagues and partners? Perhaps you’ve asked a former board chair to lead the process or brought in a consultant to guide it. Maybe you’ve found a book or article that provided helpful insights into the process or content. All input is encouraged.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Rational Fundraising and Income


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Is This Task On Your To-do List? Miss It At Your Peril
One overlooked task of nonprofits is to make sure they are rational in their fundraising and income development work. Why is this overlooked? People don’t realize it is needed. Most people come to your nonprofit based on their emotions, that is, their passions.
Passions are an excellent starting point. It is how we select the causes we care about from the overstuffed cereal-aisle-full of nonprofit opportunities. What do we believe in? What made a difference to us? What will make a difference in our community? We choose based on emotions. We choose based on passions.
Passions get us in the door. While passions should not be forgotten, they do not make a good base for fundraising and income development work. Passions alone do not create income. Passions mixed with rational actions based on research, strategy, analysis and planning do create income.
How can you tell if your fundraising and income development work is rational?
Here are three keys to evaluate it:

Key One: Logical and Realistic Expectations. If you raised $100,000 last year from earned revenue, it is logical given similar efforts and a similar market, that you will raise the same amount give or take 10 percent next year. If you never raised $100,000 is unlikely you will receive a gift this size, even if you included it in your strategic plan. Your fundraising and income plan are rational when you can identify short sequential steps that get you from here to there.
Key 2: Effort. The strategic plan states that the fundraising committee will raise funds. The committee meets regularly, directs several initiatives and makes appointments to ask donors for donations and to build relationships. In this case, effort matches the sought outcomes. Contrast this with a fundraising committee who meets for several times and then quits because they have no idea how to fulfill the goals given to them.
Key 3: Proven Paths. Not only must you put forth effort, it must be the right effort. Susan, in the midst of her first capital campaign, attends a workshop to confirm that her work as campaign coordinator is on track and that she has correctly organized her next steps. From her research, Susan learns that she has a proven plan to meet her goal.
Passions often rule, even in fundraising and income development work, unless efforts are made to be rational. What keys that show you are being rational would you add to these three? How do you make sure your fundraising and income development work is rational?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ruined by Success? The Danger of Windfalls

The Young Parent’s Group won a grant of $50,000 to launch their program. It was a great step forward and, at the same time, almost did them in.

Senior Services received a bequest, from an elderly woman no one knew, for $250,000. It nearly ruined them.

Almost every nonprofit over time will receive one or more windfalls. At successful nonprofits, these windfalls create great celebrations. But after celebrating and investing the funds to better their mission and often to buy that new roof that caused so much anxiety, successful nonprofits return to their tried–and-true fundraising and income development plan.

For others, the windfall creates challenges. Like their successful counterparts they celebrate and often make similar mission investments. However, instead of returning to consistent fundraising and income development work, they fixate on obtaining more windfalls. At Senior Services, five hundred people visit them a year. How can they find the next person who will leave a bequest—when the last bequest was from a one-time visitor? The Young Parent’s grant came from the community foundation as it was launching a new initiative in the area. Which, they wonder, of the other 100,000 or so other grant sources available will give them $50,000 to operate next year?

How can you avoid a windfall from placing your nonprofit at-risk? First, be joyous and grateful. After the celebrations, return to a realistic income and fundraising plan that is based on consistent disciplined-work, proven outcomes and fit with your organization’s temperament. Follow the paths that successful nonprofits like you follow. When your nonprofit has lucky breaks—and you will, recognize them for what they are. Celebrate. Then, return to the tried-and- true.

How does your nonprofit handle windfalls? Have you developed a board policy about how to handle them? Has your nonprofit ever been “hurt” by success?

Friday, August 19, 2011

An Open Question to Board Chairs: Do You Dare to Lead?

Executive directors have thrown down the gauntlet. In “Daring to Lead 2011: A National Study of Nonprofit Executive Leadership” conducted by CompassPoint and the Meyer Foundation, only 20 percent of those surveyed reported being satisfied with their board’s performance. While a few of these executive directors might have a personality conflict with their current chair or have felt particularly frustrated with their board the day they responded, there must be something more significant going on to account for 80 percent of chief administrators indicating dissatisfaction with their boards.

Determining the underlying factor(s) is particularly important in today’s rapidly changing environment where boards must be strong, strategic and steadfast so that their organizations can be responsive and achieve relevant results. Research by the likes of Herman, Renz and Heimovics, Nobbie and Brudney and others have made very clear that there is a relationship between the effectiveness of a board and the effectiveness of the organization for which the board works. While none could prove causality, each found that highly effective organizations have highly effective boards.

I don’t believe that an organization’s effectiveness can be laid at the feet of just one person. Yet, I do believe that you, as board chair, have opportunity and influence that can be brought to bear in ways that you perhaps have not tested. Be honest with yourself. What more could you do to ensure a stronger board, and ultimately a stronger organization?

For instance, research again tells us that highly effective boards use more proven practices than less effective boards. There are a lot of accepted practices out there that are actually based on myth. Are you just propagating these or are you analyzing their effectiveness? Are you making the effort to regularly read or participate in workshops and webinars to learn about governance practices rooted in science? Are you implementing what you’ve learned? If not, why not?

As an unknown sage once said, “Hope is not a method.” You cannot afford to merely come in once a month to chair a meeting, check in occasionally with your executive director and write your column for the newsletter and expect an exceptional board to emerge. Nor can you rely on years of experience with a multitude of boards. The world has changed too much. If you dare to lead, tell us what you are doing differently and what impact it has made.








Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Better than Genetics: Family Philanthropy Traditions

Seventy percent of high wealth families have traditions that teach family values about the importance of philanthropy to their offspring. This fact presents nonprofits a wonderful set of opportunities. How so? As part of your strategy to create long-term donors, you can offer intentional programming to support this effort. This programming will offer high wealth families, who want to act on this tradition, an opportunity to create a deeper relationship with your organization.

Roxy Jerde, the Executive Director of the Community Foundation of Sarasota recently shared this piece of data at the Funder’s Forum. As an example, she also shared that she brought children from her family to a Ronald McDonald house to meet the residents.

Being open to young visitors, like the Ronald McDonald house, in one example of a way to support this tradition. How else might you support it? If your efforts are minimal but you would like to expand them, check out The Volunteer Family a nonprofit that supports family volunteering for ideas. If you want to be even more proactive offer specific events for young relatives. Some groups offer a volunteer or educational activity for families during school breaks and the summer. Others provide family tours on school holidays. Others offer opportunities one Saturday per month.

If part of your strategy to increase your nonprofit income is to reach new donors, consider helping families to continue or start this tradition in ways that feature your nonprofit. Choose your favorite idea, adapt it to create a signature family event and then share it here to inspire others. Or, if you already have one please share what have you already found to be successful.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Succession Planning: Is Your Board Prepared for Transition?

Everyone is talking about succession planning today. Much of the conversation is motivated by the large numbers of baby boomer executives expected to retire in the next few years. While this is a real concern deserving of our strategic attention, I have to wonder why so little attention is paid to succession on our boards of directors. After all, turnover is virtually an everyday occurrence on boards. Term limits and life’s challenges move people out of office or off the board altogether on a regular basis; and fewer and fewer individuals are stepping up and into the vacated leadership positions. The result is that boards are often forced to choose creative approaches to filling the empty chairs, such as allowing people to share the leadership responsibilities or conferring key positions on inexperienced talent. Unfortunately, experience tells us that such solutions typically result in a loss of organizational momentum or effectiveness. But, this needn’t be the case if we will commit to adequately preparing our boards for transition.

I doubt there is anything we can do to bring back the days where people will spend a decade or more working their way up to a coveted leadership position. But a strong succession plan is within reach of every organization. To see how, we must first consider what a succession plan really is, and what it isn’t. It isn’t about knowing who the next three board chairs will be. It is ensuring that you have a strong board with clear procedures in place, where everyone understands the big picture, is engaged and knows his or her role. In other words, the best succession plan is having a board that regularly operates under proven practices because a board like that will be able to continue to perform effectively regardless of what position may turn up empty tomorrow or the next day.

To determine if your board is prepared for the inevitable expected – to say nothing of sudden – transitions, answer the questions below.
 Does your board have criteria for membership?
 Does your board maintain a current pool of good prospects for board membership by continuously identifying and cultivating potential members?
 Does your board “test out” potential board members by encouraging committee or other participation first?
 Does each individual on your board have a job description?
 Does your board chair have a job description?
 Has each individual on your board gone through an orientation?
 Does your board share a collective vision for the community?
 Does your board share a passion for the mission of the organization?
 Does each individual on your board have ready access to a copy of the bylaws?
 Do the bylaws indicate how the transfer of power will operate under both normal and extenuating circumstances?
 Does your organization operate according to its bylaws?
 Are the expectations of your board members clear?
 Are board members that fail to live up to their expectations asked off the board? (Is this a given, regardless of the person’s affluence or influence?)
 Are your board members provided board education at every meeting?
 Does each individual on your board understand the issues critical to the organization’s mission?
 Do your board agendas encourage participation around substantive issues?
 Are decisions consistently made on the basis of your organization’s mission, vision, guiding principles as well as defined criteria for success?
 Is every individual on your board offered opportunities for leadership?
 Do your board members know each other well enough to look forward to working with one another?
 Does your board take time at most meetings to evaluate what it is doing well and what it could do better?
 Does your board do an annual self-evaluation?
 Does your board make changes in its behavior on the basis of its evaluations?
 Does each committee have a purpose?
 Does each committee have goals?
 Are your committees held accountable for achieving their goals?
 Does your board have a crisis management plan in place?

If you answered “no” or “only sometimes” to most of these questions, you may be left wondering if there is a future for your organization when one or more of your key leaders leave. Don’t let that happen. Make a commitment today to begin working on those conditions to which you were not able to answer a resounding “yes” and soon you’ll realize that succession is no longer an issue because your board is functioning efficiently and effectively no matter who is in the driver’s seat.

The Cause and Corporate Funding

The most misunderstood nonprofit income source is corporate funding. Why? Many nonprofit leaders only vaguely understand the reasons why businesses provide nonprofits money. Yet, most nonprofit leaders would like this income. To obtain it, one must understand the reasons why such partnerships form. Last month’s Added Value article listed five reasons:


· Business Opportunities. Businesses seek to increase their customer base and goodwill among current customers. Nonprofits that reach their customers or potential customers provide an opportunity.

· Employee Support. By maintaining loyal employees, businesses reduce recruitment expenses and improve employee morale. Supporting nonprofits demonstrates that the company has a heart.

· Repayment. The funds represent a concrete expression of business’ gratitude for the community support that made success possible.

· The Cause. A business leader has a passion for your mission. Business income provides him or her with a vehicle to act on their passion.

· Strategic. The business recognizes that working with a nonprofit is a chance to meet these or similar objectives with one check.


Are there additional reasons you would add to this list? Has your nonprofit been funded by a business for a different reason? Are you a business that funds a nonprofit? If so, why?


Read the article, How to Succeed In Business, What Your Leaders Need to Know About Corporate Funding here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Serving on a Nonprofit Board is Good Business

This summer several blog contributors are presenting a series of audio conferences entitled Serving on a Nonprofit Board is Good Business. The series prepares individuals to serve on boards of nonprofit associations. While aimed at board members, executive directors can also learn from them. A recent session, Engage! Provide Oversight, lead by Dr. Terrie Temkin provided these helpful tips:


1. Terrie suggested developing a checklist to help complete all board essentials quickly. She shared that most boards spend ALL their time on these essential but routine items, which leaves little time for thoughtful strategic conversations. Do you have a checklist for routine items? When can you develop one?

2. While you might already have one or more skeptics on your board, Terrie suggested you make this role available to everyone by creating a “skeptic of the day.” This person asks dig-deeper questions to stop automatic group consensus and encourages thoughtful questioning. By sharing the role you will hear a new voices and new questions.

3. You can’t be everywhere. Terrie recommended dedicating a few minutes at each meeting for a “By the Way Conversation.” During this time people share what they have heard about your organization and key community events that impact it. What can you discover if you regularly ask your board members what is new? What events did they attend since you last met? What did they learn? “By the Way Conversations” help you to learn all over the community.

In a few weeks the group presenting this series will meet for a planning session. Do you have any interest in a series like this for your board members? (The current series is for members of the Society for the Advancement of Consulting only.) Would you be interested in a similar series for executive directors? Let us know your thoughts so we can include them in our plans. Thanks!

Monday, June 27, 2011

The (Anxiety Causing) Panel Review

The room is dark except for a projection screen that displays a slide outlining your proposal. Fourteen people sit at a conference table: eleven panel members and three staff. The name of your organization is called. You stand and move forward. At the podium, you introduce yourself. An icon on the screen flashes, “Questions. Questions. Questions.” The panel members shoot. And, you field a dozen questions (seems like more!) about your 63-page application, your reports from last year and literally anything that pops into the minds of the panelists or staff and strikes them as relevant.

It’s the grant panel review. You want to help you organization to receive the funds. You want to help the panel and staff to understand the importance of your work. How can you excel in this setting? Here, are three of more than a dozen guidelines we offer to nonprofits with whom we consult, to help them shine in this potentially anxiety-causing situation.

1. Prepare. Review your materials—an obvious suggestion. Here is a new twist. As your review, note areas where you want to provide updates. Where has the situation changed since your wrote the grant, e.g., a staff member was added with outstanding credentials? In your materials, do you find any vague answers you can clarify? Finally, what questions would you have if you were a panel member? Prepare how to respond. Prioritize points to make.

2. The Messages. Identify up to three key messages. What do panel members need to know—and remember after you leave the room? While “#1 Prepare” is about supplying critical details, messages are main ideas that carry emotional content. How will you change lives? How does your proposal meet the donor’s goals? Why is it urgent to fund this proposal this cycle? During the panel review in as many answers as possible include key messages.

3. Use We. During your presentation think and use “we.” This embraces the audience (and those they represent) in your work. It helps you to remember that they truly are potential partners and not, despite their numbers and the room’s darkness, inquisitors. However, using “we” is more than just tossing it into the conversation. Use a “we” that views the meeting as an opportunity to engage the panel members and staff in a deeper relationship with your organization.

Karen Eber Davis Consulting helps nonprofit organizations and businesses that work with them create sustainable income and innovative to get them there. With her help, nonprofits have earned more than ten million dollars in strategic grants—resulting in new funds and more resilient nonprofits. Sign up for Added Value today for more articles about nonprofit funding and innovation.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Seven Earned Revenue Tips

We help nonprofits and groups that serve nonprofits with sustainable income and winning innovation. I just finished designing a project that generates income and mission (my 14th such project). By July 2012, the project will generate $44,000 in yearly income and serve 200 new customers. Here are seven tips gleaned from the project to help you create sustainable income:

1. The new service involves flipping an existing one. While the project will serve traditional customers, the innovation repositioned a side event to a main one. How might you create something new and profitable with existing components?

2. Remember the goal: the project will be self-sustaining. You will be delighted with the projected mission results. Do not forget the goal.

3. Run the numbers. Estimate income and expenses early. Run them at your planning mid-point and at the end. Adjusting paper models is easy.

4. Pricing always involves trade-offs. You can serve more by charging less, but if you charge too little the program won’t survive. Remember #2.

5. Start small. To test the idea, my client piloted it in January with 18 people.

6. Control growth. Resist the temptation to ramp up a new effort too rapidly. In this plan, the first year takes the project to a sustainable scale, and leaves room for future growth. The organization has the capacity to earn an additional $20,000 and serve 100 more customers, but ramping up this much would cause unnecessary stress and risk service quality.

7. Tap many sources. In addition to earned revenue, the project income includes four of the other seven sources. Income diversity enhances stability. Successful cocktails take mixing.

For more help improving your income flow, see recent issues of Added Value.