Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What's Your Mission?

In these tough economic times, it is sometimes difficult to stay true to your mission and not "chase dollars." At the same time, this is a perfect time to take a look at the difference between raising funds and altering the core of your agency. If you have an annual dinner, that doesn't mean you are going into the catering business. Likewise, if you add an auxiliary service to your core programs, that doesn't mean you are losing the vision of your organization.

These days, funders want a whole lot more for less. They want collaboration, non-duplication, and maximization. The increased expectations in funding contracts and the dramatically reduced number of such contracts make this an excellent time for nonprofits to expand their idea of service to their clients. On one of the nonprofit Boards I sit on, we recently took on a contract that requires we do HIV testing and counseling. The organization had never done this before and didn't have the infrastructure to take on such an endeavor. In looking at our community partners, however, we identified an agency that was to become our subcontractor. Needless to say, the partner agency was thrilled and so was our organization. Perhaps most amazingly, we have seen a marked increase in clients requesting the HIV testing and counseling! We didn't plan on delivering this service, but it is certainly needed.

Many things we can deliver to our clients make the provision of our core services easier or more valuable. Food pantries, family counseling, and youth services are just some of the things that allow us to serve our clients better - even though the add-on services weren't part of our core services.

As you look at new contracts, grants, and other funding opportunities, open up your mind to all possibilities. Look for ways to include community partners and ultimately provide more value for your clients.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

How Well Are You Doing?

The Third Sector, a British website focused on nonprofits, noted that nonprofit organizations had no interest in tracking performance. Funders in the UK could not even get input from organizations who had received money to track performance. One interviewee noted, ""When it comes to measuring impact, charities suffer from a culture of avoidance and a lack of ability, and one reinforces the other." Across the Atlantic, we face the same dilemma.

Very often, we see nonprofit organizations started by a singular individual who possesses amazing powers of motivation. These people usually create something of a cult of personality where they are the mission and the mission is them. Such leaders tend to carefully monitor every aspect of the organization's performance and there is an entrepreneurial spirit in all the nonprofit does.

As a nonprofit matures, however, leadership changes and normalized job structure develops. Departments are created, tasks are methodically delegated, and the entrepreneurial nonprofit begins to conduct business as usual. At this point, the effect of the nonprofit's business as usual approach is no longer measured by a continuous feedback loop between the founding leader and the target population. When those you serve request service, there is now a formalized process through which they must navigate. It is the process that becomes the focus, not the outcome.

With such an emphasis on processes, it is no wonder nonprofits do not want to measure performance. It is difficult and would require a complete paradigm shift to focusing on achieving the outcome for each client as a measure of success as opposed to claiming success when a client simply comes to us for help. While such paradigm shifts appear daunting and take time, there is a way to begin the process painlessly by encouraging your staff to consider our organization their client. A mentor of mine encouraged me to do this and although it takes time to develop the mindset, ultimately the focus is entirely on the outcomes of the organization. By encouraging each employee to consider themselves someone who has been retained for a specific area of expertise, employees can focus on delivering the highest quality of service with results being the only measure of success.

Whether you being measuring your success or not, others already are. Other nonprofits know how well you are doing and current and potential funders know how well you are doing. Do YOU know how well you are doing?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What Would Happen if Your ED Didn't Show Up Tomorrow?

  • Succession Planning. The name certainly doesn't conjure up images of a fun project. Nonetheless, most nonprofits do not have a plan to get them through a period where they lose their primary leader, the Executive Director. Failure to plan for the absence and replacement of an Executive Director can throw an agency into turmoil that will shake the very foundation of the organization.

    Executive Directors impact a wide variety of elements in a nonprofit organization from day-to-day operations to major funding streams. In addition to the fundraising problems that may occur with the departure of an Executive Director, there may be equally large problems with the execution of contracts the Executive Director was written into. Many contracts contain an expectation that the Executive Director fulfills an operative or supervisory role and failure to do so may jeopardize the entire contract. There are some key questions a nonprofit board should consider when contemplating a succession plan:

Is the Board of Directors able to hire a new Executive Director?

Is the job of the Executive Director realistic?

Is the salary of the Executive Director sufficient to attract qualified candidates?

Can the Board cover any gaps in fundraising?

If the Executive Director were to suddenly leave, who would assume their duties?

Discussing these questions will help the Board to contemplate action prior to an Executive Director's departure. In addition to funding and operational activities, the Board should consider the media strategy it will use to explain the loss of the Director and the steps being taken to replace him or her. This will be very important in terms of maintaining confidence in the organization from both the staff and the community perspective.

While leadership change can be difficult, planning in advance for the replacement of an Executive Director can help to keep the organization running smoothly, in compliance with all contracts, attractive to funders, and able to attract qualified candidates. Truly, a little succession planning does a long way!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Preventing the Swine Flu

There are currently 64 cases of Swine Flu in the United States. There has been 1 reported death. The rapid spread of the Swine Flu has created the concern of an international pandemic. Now is the time to make certain your nonprofit's employees and clients are aware of the Swine Flu and what steps can be taken to avoid catching and spreading the illness.

The Center for Disease Control recommends the following:

Stay Healthy.

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.

Try to avoid close contact with sick people

Influenza is thought to spread mainly person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people.If you get sick, CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

The Swine Flu virus is very fragile and must be contained in water droplets to survive being spread from one person to another. Many countries, particularly Mexico, have instituted the wearing of surgical style masks to help prevent the spread of the Swine Flu. Such masks are effective, however the measures taken by the CDC above are equally important.

Many nonprofits have a large number of people who come for services each day. It is very important that staff mandate each client disinfect their hands with antibacterial wipes or antibacterial hand gel. Similarly, clients must be provided with tissues to cover their mouths when sneezing and coughing. Any client who is displaying flu-like symptoms must be sent home immediately. Likewise, staff who display flu-like symptoms should be sent home immediately.

While nonprofits should always take great care to protect clients and staff, an event such as the spread of the Swine Flu gives creates a situation where ordinary care is insufficient. Scrutiny must be given to normal safety precautions and additional precautions must implemented to prevent the spread of this unusual virus. Only by taking immediate steps to protect clients and staff can they be protected and the spread of the Swine Flu stopped.

Monday, March 23, 2009

It IS a business!

For a long time I have heard people say they don't work in the corporate world, they work for a nonprofit. Nonprofits are actual corporations, they are simply nonprofit corporations. There is an everlasting misconception that nonprofit work is fundamentally different from the "corporate world" and therefore share little in common.

The truth is that nonprofits and for profits are fundamentally the same. There are the same issues with human resources, regulatory compliance, marketing, research and development, and sales. "Sales?", you say. Yes, sales!

For-profits sell widgets. Nonprofits sell units of service. Without making a value judgement on which is better - widgets or units of service, understanding that the mechanisms that allow for the consumption of widgets or units of service are nearly identical.

When a for-profit company decides to create a widget, they get the research and development department to come up with an idea. This idea is tested, modeled, and brought before potential investors. If the for-profit is successful, investors invest, the widget is made, the widget is sold, and enough revenue is generated to allow the widget to be produced indefinitely.

When a nonprofit decides to create a social service, they do research on the social problem and the best solution to come up with a program society can benefit from. The program is tested, modeled, and brought to potential investors such as individual donors, corporate sponsors, foundations, and government funders. If the nonprofit is successful, investors invest, the program is given enough money to start, units of service are delivered, and enough revenue is generated to allow the program to be operated indefinitely.

In nonprofits, like for-profits, there are quality control concerns, contractual obligations, and productivity quotas. In both, there are hirings, firings, 401k's, and medical insurance concerns. Aside from the difference between the unit of service and the widget, the differences are strikingly small.

The real difference comes in the perception of the nonprofit. Many who enter the nonprofit arena are dismayed to find out that the real service to the community lies in the ability to run a nonprofit successfully. The ability to do this lies in careful management of employees, the bottom line, and the Board of Directors. These responsibilities are a welcome challenge to the person who understands a nonprofit is not just like a business, it IS a business!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

It Can Be Done

Resources are scarce. Jobs are scarce. Good news is scarce. By now, we have heard it all. While these scarcities are a reality, there are still resources available. At a conference I attended recently for child care providers, there was a session about new funding opportunities. When the speaker announced there would only be five new funding opportunities in the coming months, half of the room walked out. I thought, great, my competition is cut in half. Understanding the competition for these resources is vital to getting the resources.

The reason the people walked out of the room wasn't apathy, it was hopelessness. The challenge of getting funding seems insurmountable, but the truth is, organizations WILL get funding. It can be your organization. There are three keys to getting funding in today's market:

1. Be the Most Qualified Service Provider: In your grant proposals, tell how your organization is the best, biggest, most qualified agency. Set your organization apart by highlighting past accomplishments and future goals. Nothing about your application should read, "Business as usual."

2. Serve the Most with the Least: Many proposals today read like bidding wars where the one who does the most with the least wins. Knowing this, make certain you keep your administrative overhead low and your units of service high. Look at your proposal with a critical eye and ask how you can increase the amount of direct service you are delivering. Here, quantity counts!

3. Collaborate: Funders want to spread the wealth. Build collaborations into your proposal so funders have the opportunity to take credit for funding more agencies with less money.

If you don't pursue funding, others will. By being proactive and tenacious, you can be funded!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The following article speaks to a potential plan by the Obama administration to lower the amount an individual can deduct with regard to charitable donaitons.

Read the article: Click Here

It is important to understand the implications of potentially less donations from wealthy individuals. Read it when you have a chance.

The Nonprofit Network Team

Traditional Fundraising Must Continue

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in January over 1,000 Hawaiian workers were laid off. That is compared to 217 for January 2008. Many of these jobs were in the nonprofit sector, causing nonprofit organizations to lobby the state of Hawaii to set aside stimulus package dollars specifically for nonprofit services. This is a good strategy for the short-run, but in the long-run this strategy has the potential to be devastating to the entire nonprofit sector.

Nonprofit organizations have three primary sources of revenue: Grants, donations, and earned income. Grants can be from the government, corporations, or foundations. Donations are generally from individuals and earned income is from services and activities conducted by the nonprofit. The recession has caused a decline in grants, donations, and earned income, resulting in a shortage of services and subsequent layoffs. The injection of stimulus dollars will help restore services and jobs, but it is only for two years. If nonprofits rely on stimulus dollars as a development strategy, in two years they will back where they are now.

Fundraising success for a nonprofit organization depends on relationships. Now is the time to create new relationships that will yield success over the next two years. Nonprofit leaders should be visiting with foundation representatives, corporate liaisons, and elected officials. These relationships take time to nurture and there are no shortcuts. By working on these connections now, they will bear fruit by the time the stimulus money ends.

The stimulus money will create a funding bridge for nonprofits who continue traditional fundraising effort. For those nonprofits who don't, the stimulus money will be a bridge to nowhere.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sing for Your Supper

In an age where the global economic downturn has come to affect every corner of our lives, it is easy to see the need to help others - and ourselves. No one is safe from the reach of economic collapse on a worldwide scale, every one of us is touched by the magnitude of the situation. Indeed, every one of us is part of a situation of epic proportions that has yet to fully unfold.
With this understood, there is the temptation to want to give without requiring anything in return. At a recent food and clothing giveaway I was asked people had to do to receive items. I replied, "Nothing." I was then asked what people could do if they wanted to. I pointed out a few things and before I knew it people were volunteering to help with the event - in addition to getting a few pieces of clothing and some much needed food. Instantly clients began to pitch in.
Soon clients and volunteers were working side-by-side to serve an even greater number of people. At that moment I realized the utility of enlisting our clients to volunteer. It had nothing to do with leveraging available resources either, it simply had to do with preserving self-dignity. The people who were there to receive items were the same people who were working four months ago. Their self-esteem used to rest in part on putting in a long day's work and getting paid for it. With the work gone, part of the self-esteem went along with it. This event gave these hard working folks a way to get some much needed help and to give back at the same time.
I've talked to a number of nonprofits since the food and clothing giveaway. Each one is now implementing opportunities - not requirements - for people to give back. The response has been overwhelming and the effect on clients' self-esteem has been amazing. Keeping up hope while looking for a job is easier when remind ourselves we can sing for our supper - and what a sweet song it is!

Nonprofit Tough TImes

Question: With federal, state and local governments spending less on social programs because of the looming budget crisis, what actions do you recommend nonprofits take to protect ourselves? Question Submitted by James in Utah

With many nonprofits receiving some sort of government funding, the current national financial crisis will more than likely affect your nonprofit. Even those surviving from foundation or individual donors will more than likely see a decline in funding. The reality is that even though we don't know how much we will be affected, we have already seen all 2008 stock market gains lost in the first few weeks of 2008. Therefore, foundations and individual donors will have less money to donate. So what do you do now to protect your nonprofit?

1. Begin working on your 2009-2010 budgets now. It's important to know what funding you are sure to get and what funding is at risk. Take time to understand your funding. Do not see this process as something you have to do? Look at this process as something you need to do for yourself.

2. Review every budget item and position to make sure they are absolutely necessary. If you believe you will need to go through lay offs, take time to understand where they may come from.
3. If you have a billing problem on any of your contracts, figure out how to solve this now while you have time. When you don't have money coming in, you don't want to be caught in a situation where your funders aren't paying you because you didn't do something right. This is free and easy.

4. Begin to identify your 2009 individual donor process now. When will you mail your solicitations and who will you call? Your individual donors can buffer the drop in government funding.

5. Identify and plan your fall 2009 dinner now. Focus on how much you want to net. This is the only thing that matters. Your annual dinner is not about PR. It's about raising money. period! If you know that you will have a cash flow problem in October, put your dinner in October. If you know you will need an additional $50,000 during that time period, you still have time to raise it.

6. If you've had an annual dinner before, solidify your corporate sponsors now. If you have never held a dinner before, organize it now or don't have one this year.

These are some basic answers on how to protect your nonprofit from the economic turmoil. If you'd like me to expand on any point or answer a new question, please e-mail me at info@thenonprofitnetwork.org.

Make sure and take advantage of posting your nonprofit jobs for FREE, final consultants. Send us your nonprofit videos as well from YouTube. We're here to help. Any questions, send to info@thenonprofitnetwork.org. If you want a link on this site, just let us know. Just link us as well on your site or blog.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Watch the first A Trabajar! event!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Monday, February 16, 2009

Question: My nonprofit has been told that we should be expecting a 20% decrease in next year’s budget. What should I do now to protect my nonprofit and my employees? Question Submitted by blogger.

Dear Reader, the next fiscal year that starts on July 1st for most nonprofits will be extremely difficult. Many agencies that depended solely on government funding and did not take the opportunity to build relationships with foundations, individual donors and corporations will probably have to lay off some employees and curtail services. Some nonprofits might even be forced to close altogether. However, here are some practical tips you can use.

1. Identify how much money you actually expect to loose from the cutbacks. If you have a $2 million dollar budget, do you expect to have to raise $200,000 or $400,000?
2. Once you know the amount you need to raise, break it down even further. If you need $400,000, can you raise $200,000 from foundations, $100,000 from your dinner and $100,000 from donors?Along with these points, there are some things you can do with your contractors to prevent additional cuts. Here are some suggestions.
3. Are you attending every meeting you are invited to? This includes any training your funder is going to.
4. Have you invited your funder to visit your agency? Many contractors and foundations want to visit your agency. Make sure and have coffee and pastries when they do visit.
5. Ask for the opinion of your funder? It’s important to know what they are thinking. In fact, its simply courteous to let others talk. As Executive Directors and managers, we like to be the ones talking sometimes.
6. The last point is very important. When a funder visits you, put a sign on your front door that says “Welcome (name of funder)”. Put about four of these around.

The question is difficult, but the answer is even more difficult. As nonprofit Executive Directors, most of us did not expect we would be sales persons. We thought we would be working with children, families and others in need. The reality is that your ability to be a sales person will lead to the help you expect these groups to receive.To be brave in this situation is to understand that leadership is being a salesperson for your nonprofit. To be weak is to beleive your destiny has been predetermined and allow your services to be reduced and staff to be laid off?

These are just my thoughts. What do you think? Post a comment.If you'd like me to expand on any point or answer a new question, please e-mail me at:

info@thenonprofitnetwork.org .This is an official blog of

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