Wed, January 28 2015
Filed under: Nonprofit leadership •
Yesterday Network for Good was honored to host a group of delegates from 10 countries as part of the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program. The group included the Executive Director of the Icelandic Youth Council, the Program Director for the Russian Red Cross, the Community Manager from the Office of the Mayor of Athens, and a grassroots organizer from Saudi Arabia, among others who work with local governments and community groups to mobilize volunteers and social giving around the world.
As we gathered to talk about leveraging online technology to mobilize volunteers, raise funds, and communicate with supporters, it was clear that the challenges these international organizations face are nearly identical to those of nonprofits here in the United States. Here are a few themes that rose to the top during our time together:
- Diversifying funding sources: Organizations that are highly dependent on government contracts or grants look to shift their funding sources to reduce the vulnerability of relying on one source of funds. In some cases, this shift to individual giving is new territory and these organizations are sorting out how to prioritize individual donors and the resources needed to support a successful strategy. Sound familiar?
- Finding (and retaining) the right donors: The universal challenge, but also a wonderful opportunity to learn from one another. For some international organizations, most individual donors are coming from outside of the country, so connecting with and expanding the donor base can be difficult. This is where new networking tools and storytelling venues will continue to make a big impact.
- Communicating with donors: We all agreed that the key to retaining individual donors is regular and responsive communication. Some organizations are trying to find the right balance of interaction and dedicated time to responding to donors and listening to their feedback.
- Collaboration vs. competition: With many organizations working to solve similar issues, these NGOs identified a need for more collaboration and stronger networks to pool resources, and make a bigger impact. This is a challenge. One way we can all encourage knowledge and resource sharing is to commit to supporting and participating in roundtable discussions and gatherings just like the IVLP sessions.
- Getting the story right: From attracting supporters to inspiring gifts to retaining donors, compelling stories are critical. The delegation discussed the challenges of competing with more “media friendly” stories or causes, and the opportunities to connect the right story with the right audience segment. Organizations are made up of multiple stories, which provides a wonderful chance to line up the perfect story with the right segment of a cause’s community.
Do any of these strike a chord with you? What would you add to the list? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
We offer our gratitude to the Department of State and the IVLP delegates for spending time with our team and sharing their experiences. We wish them well as they continue their tour of the U.S. and look forward to learning more from our nonprofit colleagues around the world.
Mon, September 29 2014
Filed under: Nonprofit leadership •
An organization’s ability to accomplish its mission is only as strong as the organization’s infrastructure. As you fight to make the world a better place, how do you make sure you’re providing a nonprofit workplace that fosters fairness and complies with the necessary rules and regulations? I recently had a chance to catch up with the Aina Gutierrez, author of Walking the Walk: A Values Centered Approach to Building a Strong Non-Profitand Deputy Director of Interfaith Worker Justice. Her new book is an easily digestible, yet comprehensive, practical guide to organizing and improving internal operations and finances.
NFG: What drove you to write this handbook?
Aina Gutierrez: The national nonprofit I work for, Interfaith Worker Justice, has a network of more than 40 affiliates that are small organizations with less than 10 staff. Part of my job in the last twelve years has been to train these groups on the subjects outlined in the book (office administration, fundraising, financial management, board development and human resources).
There were two trends I saw in talking to these groups and other small nonprofits I’ve been involved with. The first is that most small groups struggle with these “back office” issues because there were few training resources and materials for those that juggle multiple roles and don’t have the time (nor passion!) around building systems and procedures. And yet, many of them were really struggling with personnel issues and managing their budgets. It caused many staff and board leaders stress and burnout.
The second is that many of the policies and procedures of small nonprofits don’t seem to reflect the values that the organizations espouse in their programmatic work. A number of staff work for low pay and few benefits. Most small organizations don’t have access to constructive feedback or support. I felt strongly about the need to reflect the organization’s values in the way it operates, and that a written resource might be the best way to do that.
NFG: The book is geared toward small nonprofits with fewer than 10 employees. We work with many organizations who also have volunteer “staff” or staff members who are running their nonprofits on the side? Can you share some advice for those situations?
AG: Sure. It’s pretty amazing, but the smallest nonprofit isn’t that much less complicated to run than a more established organization. Both have boards, raise money, file government forms and have policies.
This can be tricky for groups without paid staff, or with part-time staff. There’s never enough money or time to accomplish everything.
NFG: Can you share some advice for those situations?
AG: So I would recommend that your readers do a quick assessment of each area outlined in the book and highlight parts that seem important to the organization that are missing. The book has chapters on staff, board, office systems and management, government requirements, finance, and fund development. And just start working on it, bit by bit. Include a few tasks in the organization’s workplan, or find a board member or two that are willing to help. There’s a lot of information online and from allied organizations that can be easily adapted and used for small nonprofits. It’s really just being aware of the back office work that needs to be done and doing a little bit at a time.
NFG: There’s an entire section on building and managing your board. We hear from many nonprofits who struggle with this relationship. Why do you think this is often such a difficult piece of the puzzle?
AG: I think any institution made up of passionate people who bring with them varying ideas and perspectives will not be without its share of internal struggles. An organization’s board is no different. Managing the board can be very rewarding, but it can also be frustrating at times.. And, as staff, it can sometimes feel like its not worth the time and energy to build a strong board, so it falls by the wayside.
But, it is worth it. The key is to continue to recruit and develop leaders that care about the organization and have something wonderful to contribute to its success. If someone doesn’t have a skill set or experience to help, or creates a lot of drama, or brings a different agenda to the table, or doesn’t want to do any work – that person shouldn’t be on the board. It can be time consuming to recruit and keep the right people for the job, but a small group of people that really connect and are willing to work can help build the organization in some really incredible ways.
NFG: What are some of the challenges you’ve observed in nonprofits who don’t have strong administrative systems?
AG: Oh goodness, there are so many stories. Every nonprofit I’ve worked with has at least one horrible story that cost a lot of time, energy and usually money to fix. I certainly have made plenty of own mistakes in this area!
The biggest challenge with organizations that don’t have strong systems is that it’s not an efficient way to operate. Pulling together a 300 person mailing shouldn’t be an all day job. But if your database is disorganized, the printer jams the envelopes, and you have to run to the post office to buy stamps, it can take hours. It impacts the important work that the group should be doing. And its super frustrating for the staff!
Having weak systems can also cost a lot of money. I’ve worked with a number of groups that miss government filing deadlines and have to pay late fees. Or groups that order office supplies last minute and pay expensive overnight shipping for a meeting. Or, groups that miss grant deadlines because there are not good tracking systems for applications or reports. These things all cost the organization a lot of money, and there often isn’t money to go around.
NFG: What are the payoffs for getting it right?
AG: One of the biggest rewards of those with good administrative systems is that they are able to engage more people in their work. Organizations that are able to efficiently communicate with their constituents and potential supporters via email or direct mail are more likely to receive more donations and support than those that don’t communicate. Donors that are assured the organization is run well will continue to give and often give more. Board members that are better connected or informed about the work will more likely be better engaged and provide more help.
Having good administrative systems is really the backbone of any strong nonprofit organization. It has a direct impact on its programmatic work and financial viability.
NFG: This book is obviously a great guide for emerging organizations, can established nonprofits learn a trick or two as well? Should these organizations re-assess their processes? How often?
AG: Yes, definitely. I encourage readers of more established groups to first review the policies and practices outlined in the book and make sure they have similar structures in place. Second, take a look at their own policies through a values-centered lens and see if there are areas that don’t reflect the organization’s values. And third, consider if its time to update a few things. For example, my organization recently looked at our healthcare plan to see if we should try the state-based exchange through the Affordable Care Act. It didn’t make sense for us to change right now, but it is likely something that will impact our healthcare benefits in the future. Even long time organizations should try and keep up on policy changes that could benefit small nonprofits.
All organizations should look at the administrative and financial progress made every year. Don’t look at everything, but when the organization is making its annual goals and objectives, it should include some work on internal policies and procedures. Incorporate this work incrementally into the organization’s board and staff and new things will be done every year. Progress is something to feel good about!
Thanks to Aina for her insight and for providing a handy guide to policies and processes that can sometimes feel daunting. For more tips and insight, check out Walking the Walk: A Values Centered Approach to Building a Strong Non-Profit.
Mon, September 15 2014
Filed under: Nonprofit leadership •
(Editor’s note: Today’s post comes from our friends at the National Council of Nonprofits. Jennifer Chandler, Vice President and Director of Network Support & Knowledge Sharing, offers an easy way for your nonprofit to help advocate for charitable giving.)
If you could make two simple phone calls or send two easy letters to advance your nonprofit’s mission, would you do it? If yes, then please read on.
A ray of sunshine is peeking through dark storm clouds that have hovered over nonprofits the last several years. Those storms dropped the Great Recession, increased demands for services, declining donations, and reduced funding from government contracts. That ray of sunshine is finally within reach – but it is flickering. To keep it from disappearing again, we each need to act now, to advance our missions and serve our communities into the future.
What is happening?: The ray of sunshine is the America Gives More Act, which the House of Representatives passed in July with support from across the political spectrum. As we all learned from Schoolhouse Rock, the Senate now needs to pass the bill for it to take the next step to becoming a law. And your Senators need a little push from the nonprofit sector to make it happen.
Every community would be positively affected by the America Gives More Act. It would create benefits for all nonprofits, across all subsectors. Most notably, the legislation would make donations from individuals to nonprofits through April 15 eligible to be counted as deductions on the prior year’s taxes. For nonprofits, this means a potential new rush of donations around tax time, not just at the holiday season.
The work of individual nonprofits would also be strengthened by the America Gives More Act. For food banks and others tackling hunger, it would enhance incentives - and make them permanent – to help drive donations of nutritious food. To promote land conservation efforts, the bill would make the incentives for donating easements to preserve our environment permanent also. And to make giving a bit easier for older Americans, the legislation would allow older individuals to donate directly from their IRAs to any public charity and make this allowance permanent. This permanency will send charitable resources into communities that need them, instead of being used year after year by nonprofits to advocate for the incentives to be renewed by Congress. Lifting our voices now to make them permanent will allow us all to re-dedicate that time to advancing our missions.
Act Immediately: There is only a small window of opportunity left in September before Senators leave D.C. again for the mid-term elections. Once they leave, the window slams shut. Therefore, the charitable nonprofit community needs to speak up now before we lose this unique opportunity.
It’s up to us all to speak up. Join other nonprofit board members, staff members, and volunteers across America by delivering this simple message to your Senators: Don’t leave Washington in September until the Senate passes the America Gives More Act; our communities are counting on you.
- Call your Senators’ local or Washington, DC offices (202-224-3121)
- Text or Tweet your Senators
- Write your Senators (see sample letter)
Mon, September 08 2014
Our daughter, Charlotte, recently started sixth grade, and the pumped-up energy at school that first morning really got me thinking.
“Back to school” is one of the definers of fall as we know it. It’s right up there with apples, the changing colors of the leaves, and Halloween.
Here are all these kids marching into the unknown for nine months of learning and growth. Some are thrilled to be starting again, others are longing for the pool or camp, but all have this incredible opportunity to be exposed to new content, to digest it in the context of what they know now, and to arrive on the far side with a fresh perspective and new skills. I’m envious!
Few of us have this kind of formal growth opportunity, but ongoing intellectual and creative growth is vital. It’s the only way to ensure that our marketing and fundraising content is relevant while fueling our personal satisfaction.
My call to action for you and me? Let’s reclaim back to school. Let’s schedule some learning—via conversation, reading, participating—into every day, even if for only five minutes. Learning is energizing, positive, and productive, but you have to make it happen.
Here are the five main methods I use to keep learning:
1. Read and watch content (blogs, e-newsletters, social media, books, videos) in the field, from nonprofits in all sectors, and from expert marketers—in the nonprofit world and beyond—and fundraisers. This helps me keep current on trends, models, needs, tools, and news.
2. Scan the world news, and process how it affects your work and the perspectives of the folks your organization strives to connect with.
3. Participate in hands-on group workshops and webinars, so I’m doing rather than just digesting. For me, the doing reinforces learning like nothing else.
4. Push myself to take on the next new challenge, and make sure there’s always a “next challenge” to tackle. Right now I’m focusing on developing several new training modules and a new small-group online learning program. You may think about how to meet the needs of an underserved part of your community or tackle a new donor segment.
5. Synthesize what I learn with what I know and share that with you in blog posts, e-news articles, speaking gigs, and training. This is the linchpin of my learning program, pushing me to put it all together—for you!
I guarantee I get my learning by scheduling it every day in “ink” on the calendar. This time-blocking approach works wonders for me.
Starting today, reclaim back to school as your own. Schedule time daily to stimulate your mind, nourish your soul, stay on top of the world you’re working in (and communicating into), refine your perspective, and build your expertise and impact—all prerequisites to creating the relevant content and calls to action that best engage the folks whose help you need to move your mission forward!
How do you keep learning even when your professional development budget is zilch? Please share your learning habits and favorite resources in the comments below!
With refreshing practicality, Nancy Schwartz rolls up her sleeves to help nonprofits develop and implement strategies to build the strong relationships that inspire key supporters to action. She shares her deep nonprofit marketing insights—and passion—through consulting, speaking, and her popular blog and e-news at GettingAttention.org.
Fri, August 08 2014
When I asked nonprofit experts in a range of fields, from fundraising to programs, to share their summer reading lists, I had no idea what to expect.
I was thrilled to hear so many passionate stories about books that have made (or are likely to make) a huge difference in these folks’ lives. I’m sure that you’re reading all the time—blogs, Facebook, e-newsletters—but my colleagues told me that, for them, reading a book is something different. The process of immersing oneself in a work that is longer, richer, and typically experienced in a distinct format, be that hard copy or on an e-reader, is a unique experience. This immersion outside the day-to-day is highly engaging, energizing, and refreshing on the creative and intellectual fronts.
With that potential in mind, consider these top picks for your end-of-summer reading list. One of them could change your life:
Auto Biography: A Classic Car, an Outlaw Motorhead, and 57 Years of the American Dream, Earl Swift
Sally Kirby Hartman, vice president of communications at the Hampton Roads Community Foundation, adored this pleasure read about a ’57 Chevy and its various owners. Sally’s a superstar communicator and extracted a valuable marketing insight: “Auto Biography is a great reminder that a good observer can bring any topic to life by writing about real people,” she said.
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell
If you know the work of fundraising scribe Tom Ahern, you won’t be surprised by the passion he brings to this recommendation. When Tom likes something, he really likes it. So when he told me that Blink was “blowing his mind,” I had to know why.
“Try this one,” said Tom. “A psychologist administers a test to college students. There are 10 questions. Scattered through the questions are words such as ‘worried,’ ‘Florida,’ ‘old,’ ‘lonely,’ ‘gray,’ ‘bingo,’ and ‘wrinkle.’ When the students arrive to take the test, they act their age. When they leave after taking the test, they act old, walking slowly. What you read when taking the test affected the way you behaved.
“OMG, Nancy,” exclaimed Tom. “The great unknown for copywriters (me) is the human mind and how it actually works, not how we guess it works. That’s why Blink is blowing my mind: it’s all about recent psychological research, as told by a fabulous journalist.”
Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, Nir Eyal
Nonprofit Web mastermind Seth Giammanco, of ModLab, is digging into Nir Eyal’s model that can be used to help products stand out in a world of constant competition for attention. He outlines that model here. It’s useful guidance and great inspiration for shaping your programs and services and positioning your organization’s fundraising and marketing campaigns for the strongest results.
Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World, Gary Vaynerchuk
Kevin Martone, technology program manager at the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, is just digging into this one now. It’s the latest (maybe greatest?) from social media guru Gary Vaynerchuk, who shares secrets on connecting strongly with customers—donors and other supporters to us. Sounds worth a read!
To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, Dan Pink
In his breakthrough book, A Whole New Mind, Dan Pink broke through traditional perceptions on success drivers, suggesting that right-brain skills are a huge success factor. Celeste Wroblewski, vice president of public relations at Chicago Symphony Orchestra, is eager to read his latest. Celeste, I’ve read To Sell Is Human, and you’re in for a treat.
Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, Arianna Huffington
What’s heading your end-of-summer reading list, or what book tops the list of those you’ve already finished? Share your picks in the comments below!