Tag Archives: non-profit management

Are You on Board?

Fundraising: Nonprofit board roles and responsibilities – Part 2

You’ve said “yes,” and now are serving on the board. What is expected of you? How do you demonstrate leadership? While we don’t have a crystal ball, we can provide guidance regarding your fundraising-related roles and responsibilities.

For many nonprofits fundraising is often the major method for securing funds and resources. As a board member, your leadership in this area makes a difference. Your roles and responsibilities fall into two general categories: policy and oversight, and giving and securing funds.

As a board member you will be asked to set fundraising policy. This includes items such as approving plans for a special fundraising campaign, and setting gift acceptance policies. For example, when the university you serve decides to launch a $150 million fundraising campaign, that will come before the board for approval.  You will want to ask informed questions such as, “What do the results of the feasibility study indicate?”Or “How many lead donors have been identified?” In the area of gift acceptance policies you may be asked to determine whether the organization will accept gifts of land, or cash gifts from gun manufacturers or tobacco companies.

You will also want to promote accountability and transparency. Support the adoption and implementation of policies related to conflict of interest and whistle-blower protection. Produce and distribute an annual report that shows how the organization uses the funds it receives. File your federal 990 on time. Communicate how the organization meets public needs and be willing to modify programs to help ensure best use of resources.

On a day-to-day level you will be responsible for understanding the institution’s fund development plan and in helping to bring it to life. For example, if the current focus is strengthening individual giving you will want to participate in house or office parties your organization hosts so you can meet new potential donors and supporters, and share with them the important work of the institution. As a board member your hospitality and words carry meaning and influence.

You should know the executive director’s or president’s vision for the institution. Talk with her. Ask questions. Then share that vision with other board members and most importantly with those who can provide funding and resources. Join your executive when she meets with leaders of local foundations or corporations. Meet with her in advance to understand the purpose of each meeting and then participate, showing support for her leadership and answering questions as appropriate.

Most importantly, make your own gift. Make a meaningful gift every year. Ask the company you work for to make a gift or sponsor an event. You have to give and advocate. Set an example. Stretch a little. Your community needs you!

© Copyright Saad & Shaw.  Mel and Pearl Shaw are the owners of Saad & Shaw. They help non-profit organizations and institutions rethink revenue sources. They are the authors of How to Solicit a Gift: Turning Prospects into Donors. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com or call (901) 522-8727.

Before You Say I Do

Fundraising: Nonprofit board roles and responsibilities – Part 1.

You’ve been asked to serve on the board of a nonprofit you believe in. It could be a college, a local advocacy organization or a healthcare center. Do you say “yes?” What would you actually be saying “yes” to? What do you need to know to make an informed decision?

Board service is more than a resume-builder or image enhancer. It is work. In these times that work includes responsibility for fundraising as well as oversight of the fundraising process. In order to make an informed decision, request a meeting with the board chair and the executive. Requesting such a meeting communicates the seriousness you attach to board service. The answers you receive will let you know what is expected of you. They will also make visible the organization’s fundraising strengths and challenges – something you need to know as many boards now find themselves having to make hard decisions because of changes in available funding.  Note: if the leadership doesn’t have time to meet with you as a prospective board member, that may signal their accessibility and/or the seriousness they attach to board membership.

Here are some questions you may want to ask. Add or subtract from the following list as appropriate. Use your list when meeting with the board chair and executive.

General questions could include the following. Is the institution working from a strategic plan and a fundraising plan? What are the fundraising needs of the organization and what will it take to raise the required funds? What methods of fundraising are being used and how successful have these been? What percentage of funds is raised using what methods? What percentage of the budget comes from earned income, fees or tuition? What are the opportunities and challenges the institution faces in the area of fundraising? Is there a reserve fund or endowment? What is the skill set of staff responsible for fundraising? What percentage of the CEO’s time is spent on fundraising? What is the track record over the last five years?

Board-related questions could include: What are the fundraising-related roles and responsibilities of board members as individuals and as a collective? Are there requirements for board members to give and fundraise? What percentage of annual funds is raised by the board? Are there orientation sessions to inform and equip board members for fundraising? What data management system is being used and what information is available to support board members and their fundraising? What is the average gift from the board?

What you learn by asking these questions can help you gauge how you can be of greatest support. At the end of the day fundraising is absolutely critical to the survival of every nonprofit organization and institution. Don’t be afraid to ask – the answers will help you provide the best leadership and oversight possible.

© Copyright Saad & Shaw.  Mel and Pearl Shaw are the owners of Saad & Shaw. They help non-profit organizations and institutions rethink revenue sources. They are the authors of How to Solicit a Gift: Turning Prospects into Donors. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com or call (901) 522-8727.

Creating a Culture of Fundraising

Fundraising is a vital part of an organization’s life blood – it is what people do in order to bring an organization’s mission and vision to life. This is what makes the nonprofit sector different from the private or public sectors. “Revenue” is donated or “granted,” and fundraising is the primary way funds are secured.

Successful fundraising requires an organization-wide culture of fundraising. No one person can do it all. Some may wish one person could – and would – take on the responsibility, especially if that person is someone else! But that’s not the way to build a successful and sustainable fundraising program. When you have a culture of fundraising every person within your organization is directly or indirectly involved in raising funds.

Start building and strengthening your fundraising culture by including an explicit emphasis on fundraising in your mission, vision and values. Tie your strategic plan and business plan to a fundraising plan.

Make sure everyone within your organization knows how much needs to be raised on an annual basis, what the funds are used for, and the impact that will be achieved. Be transparent. Show where the money currently comes from and ask for help identifying where additional, or back-up funds could come from. Ask people how they would like to help.

Explicitly include expectations regarding giving and fundraising into the roles and responsibilities of board members. Include fundraising in each staff person’s job description, especially that of the president, CEO or executive director. When recruiting volunteers be sure to offer each the opportunity to give and to participate in fundraising. Provide all employees, students, clients, visitors and others who benefit from or appreciate your work with the opportunity to participate in fundraising. General training and orientation should include an emphasis on fundraising.

Giving – and asking others to give – is a privilege and an honor. Sometimes an individual’s unresolved feelings about money, giving and asking can cloud their leadership responsibilities. In such instances a board member or an executive may say she doesn’t want to “impose” on others by asking them to help with fundraising. What we know from experience is this: the biggest reason people don’t give is because they aren’t asked. We also know that fundraising can appear “clickish” and “exclusive” when only some people are asked to fundraise, or help with fundraising events. Resentment can grow and people with talent and initiative may become disengaged. Ask everyone. Ask for their gift, and ask them to ask. Always acknowledge, praise and lift up their giving and their fundraising.

A culture of fundraising grows over time and is embraced and demonstrated by leaders. The question is changes from, “Who is going to do the fundraising?” to “How can I help with fundraising?” Start now.

© Copyright Saad & Shaw.  Mel and Pearl Shaw are the owners of Saad & Shaw. They help non-profit organizations and institutions rethink revenue sources. They are the authors of How to Solicit a Gift: Turning Prospects into Donors. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com or call (901) 522-8727

Nonprofit Minefield: Politics!

2012 promises to be an action packed year with presidential elections and the accompanying debate, competition, advertising, and promises. Politics will definitely be in the air. And they may find their way to the doorstep of a non-profit you are involved with. That could be good news – an elected official who believes in your cause, who wants to help attract attention and funding to your organization. Or is it?

Politicians and nonprofits can be an explosive mix. We offer a few questions to help you proactively consider how your organization wants to be involved in campaigns this coming year.  What are your motives as a board member or executive in aligning your organization with an elected official, or one in the running? Will you do so quietly or publicly? If quietly, then why not publicly? Do you want something in return, or do you believe in the candidate’s platform regardless of whether her election could enhance your organization?

And what about the motives of an incumbent or candidate? Is he making promises in return for your endorsement? Will he support your institution if you do not endorse him? And what if she loses? Is there a potential downside? Could your being on the “wrong side” impact future funding or community standing?

What does it mean to be politically astute? Will you offer all candidates an opportunity to know your organization, its activities, goals and vision? Will you campaign for select individuals? Make endorsements? What is the difference between making your case to a candidate and making an endorsement?

How will your organization be viewed by donors and funders if your board decides to align itself with one candidate over another? If your institution engages people of all political backgrounds, how will an endorsement impact those who support a different candidate?

There is a difference between the mayor, or governor serving in an honorary position for your institution or campaign. In these instances you are engaging the office of the mayor, for example, not the individual. Be careful to understand the difference. You should call on your elected officials to make your case in the state capital or Washington DC. But, the fact that an elected official helps advance your organization should not make you beholden to the individual. It is their responsibility as an elected official to represent their constituency and to secure funds or advocate for policies that will benefit the people they represent.

Make a conscious decision about whether or not you want your organization to be viewed as politically aligned, or apolitical. Take some time to think about what actions you are willing to take in the coming year, and to look carefully at how those actions may impact your institution and the people you serve or advocate for.

© Copyright Saad & Shaw.  Mel and Pearl Shaw are the owners of Saad & Shaw. They help non-profit organizations and institutions with fundraising strategy. They are the authors of How to Solicit a Gift: Turning Prospects into Donors. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com or call (901) 522-8727

Preparing for a Year of Promise

We’ve been hearing whispers that 2012 may – just may – be a more prosperous than 2011. There may be more jobs, less unemployment, and more good circulating throughout communities across the country. We believe in preparing for the best of times, placing stock in the adage that luck favors the prepared. In term of fundraising – securing funds for non-profit organizations and institutions – preparation is always the bedrock.

While money may have appeared to be flowing to organizations in the past, a more prosperous 2012 will most likely not bring a return to the days of “easy money.” In the recent past many organizations and institutions benefitted from the general prosperity that many throughout the country appeared to be experiencing. But many did not, and despite the current economic challenges, many organizations are attracting major gifts and investments. That’s the odd thing about the non-profit sector – all boats don’t rise and fall at the same time or in the same rhythm. Some are more favored simply because of “who” they are. Here we are referring to the fact that churches, hospitals, colleges and universities are historically the largest beneficiaries of gifts from individuals. So, if you are a grassroots arts organization or a reading program within a small rural community your organization may not attract as many donors as nationally recognized St. Jude’s Hospital. Likewise, colleges with alumni from middle class and wealthy families who have pursued lucrative careers may find they receive larger and more frequent gifts than colleges whose students came from less affluent backgrounds and who may have pursued less well compensated careers.

But nothing is written in stone. What we do know is this – prepare for fundraising success. Put in place the policies, procedures and actions that support a culture of accountability and transparency. Put fundraising front and center as a priority. Understand the balance between emotion and fact – use both when communicating with your current and prospective donors. But always be prepared to demonstrate good stewardship of funds. A fundraising campaign that tugs at the heartstrings can turn people off when word gets out that there is a big difference between what you say and what you do.

Over the years we have identified what we refer to as Prerequisites for Fundraising Success. Over the coming weeks we will focus on a few of these to help you prepare for increased fundraising success in the coming year. And we will return to these in columns throughout the year. What we know is this: a well managed nonprofit organization – regardless of size – benefits when the leadership (board, executives and staff) are in alignment, focused on its mission, working from a strategic plan, and engaging with donors and supporters in a proactive, market-tested manner.

© Copyright Saad & Shaw.  Mel and Pearl Shaw are the owners of Saad & Shaw. They help non-profit organizations and institutions rethink revenue sources. They are the authors of How to Solicit a Gift: Turning Prospects into Donors. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com or call (901) 522-8727

Value of Diversity – Part Two

Taking a risk and funding smaller, grass roots organizations may feel challenging when there are larger, more established organizations providing similar services. Yet even when providing award winning services, not all organizations or institutions can serve everyone within a service area.

Consider this: perhaps there are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people who don’t feel comfortable using certain health facilities because they have experienced insensitive treatment. They put off routine health care. Would a smaller LGBT-friendly clinic help serve this population?

What about refugee families from around the world? Could the best provider of health, education, youth or senior services be the organizations that helped these families resettle? Some donors and funders might consider this “mission creep” – a phrase used to describe programs that “creep” beyond an organization’s funding mission. But if the volunteers and staff have gained the families’ trust, then perhaps they are the ideal provider.

What about the arts? How many arts organizations is enough? When recommending consolidation or choosing not to fund an organization it is always important to look at the arts community as a whole. How will changes in funding affect the diversity of art forms, expressions and audiences? Is it enough to have one strong, well-funded black visual arts organization; one strong Hispanic performing arts theatre? Should there be multiple smaller organizations serving these populations as well?

What we know is this – diversity and innovation are vital to a healthy vibrant non-profit sector. Grass-roots and emerging organizations can challenge more established organizations to adopt new programs, change their culture, or increase their advocacy. They may not be as well funded, so their data collection may not be as robust as it could be. They may have high turnover due to low salaries, long hours or lack of health benefits. They may not always say the right thing. Their boards may not include fundraising power-houses or political influencers. But, they typically have a lot of passion. Some have deep community connections and relationships that help them discern community needs before they are visible to others. These organizations can be risk takers, innovators and important catalysts that keep the sector healthy and help ward off complacency.

We strongly believe in giving and investing in well established organizations. They are often the cornerstones of our community. And we believe the “up-and-comers” need attention from donors and funders as well. The values of the nonprofit sector expand beyond efficiency. Innovation, new leadership, new models of service delivery, and different advocacy strategies are good for all of us. As in the private sector they help breed innovation, they challenge the status quo, and in many cases they deliver where others simply cannot.

© Copyright Saad & Shaw.  Mel and Pearl Shaw are the owners of Saad & Shaw. They help non-profit organizations and institutions with fundraising strategy. They are the authors of How to Solicit a Gift: Turning Prospects into Donors. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com or call (901) 522-8727

The Value of Diversity – Part One

ImageWhich is more important efficiency or innovation? Consolidation or diversity? Are the values and metrics of the private sector the same as those of the non-profit sector? Should funding flow to institutions and organizations who demonstrate the greatest impact and serve the greatest numbers? Should institutions with powerful and influential boards be considered more worthy of investment than those run by activists, artists or community members?  How does long term stable funding – and endowment – impact an institution’s ability to secure current funds? How are the disparate impacts of current and historic racism, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism, and religious intolerance integrated into funding assessments? Is there one yard stick against which all nonprofits are evaluated, or is there diversity in measurement?

Who makes these decisions anyway?

Believe it or not – we all make these decisions. We do so consciously and unconsciously, with great impact, and with almost none. Whether we give $25 as an individual, allocate $2.5 million as a federal agency, or recommend $25,000 as a program officer or foundation board member we are making the decisions.

We don’t necessarily know how our actions will compound with or offset the actions of others. Sometimes we can anticipate the impact, othertimes we won’t know for years to come. We have to use our judgment, rely on experience, trust our instincts, and open ourselves to voices and visions we may not encounter in the course of our personal, professional, or religious lives. 

As fundraising consultants our work gives us a first-hand look at the diversity within the nonprofit sector. There is diversity in the types of organizations, service areas, advocacy foci, leadership, budget size and history. There is diversity in the number and type of people served. Impact, efficiency, reporting, staffing levels, salaries, experience, success, funding and visibility all vary.

We are also aware that during “challenging economic times” the pendulum can swing too far towards efficiency and consolidation. While we certainly advocate for these, we also believe in diversity and innovation. Our experience has also shown these are not always found within the same organization.

Those who work with us know we always ask about impact, numbers served, and advocacy results. We want to know if other organizations doing similar work; challenging our clients to move away from duplication and towards filling a unique niche. At the same time we want to know who is not being served. We ask questions about how emerging communities – particularly immigrant communities which may have small or large numbers – are being served and included.

While it may cost more to provide services to a smaller community, efficiency cannot be the only factor influencing the work of the nonprofit sector. Justice, equity, diversity, and creativity are also guiding values.

Continued next week!

© Copyright Saad & Shaw.  Mel and Pearl Shaw are the owners of Saad & Shaw. They help non-profit organizations and institutions with fundraising strategy. They are the authors of How to Solicit a Gift: Turning Prospects into Donors. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com or call (901) 522-8727

Questions for Nonprofit Growth

Sometimes it is the questions we don’t ask that lead us astray. In part one of this series we discussed how today’s changing – and challenging – economic times can be a catalyst for nonprofits if we are brave enough to ask questions we might prefer to run from. Here are a few.

“How can we operate more efficiently?” For example, as a community of nonprofits, can we decrease operating costs by using one resource for payroll, purchasing, insurance (health and liability), and even accounting? Lawyers would need to be involved; computer systems set up and tested… But at the end of the day, this could increase efficiency and increase resources devoted to service delivery. Or maybe not. You won’t know until you ask. Asking the question and having the conversation could lead to new approaches.

Another question is “what can we do differently?” One organization we know provided residential services for the most vulnerable children in their community. They had their own campus with new buildings. They received public funds, ran their own school, provided housing, counseling and more. But changes in public policy and changes in best practices caused them to change how they operate. They looked at the funding landscape – and the children’s needs – and changed their service delivery model. They have closed their residential campus and expanded their community-based and school-based services. They could have continued to raise funds for their residential program. Instead they had the foresight to ask “where is the market headed” and adjusted course.

We don’t know the questions you need to ask, but we encourage you to think outside the box. Put aside preconceived notions of what success looks like. Remember, as non-profits, our mission is the public good and that changes over time. New issues emerge. Populations change. Funding opportunities change as well. Here are a few questions to spur you on: Would becoming a program of another organization or institution allow us to better focus on what we do best? Are we effectively communicating what we do? Are the services we offer the best way to address community challenges and opportunities? Have we become dependent on one or two revenue sources? Do we leave everything in the hands of our CEO – what if she leaves – what would we do? Would a change in public policy help reduce the need for our services? If so, should we become involved in public policy? Are we focused on sustaining our organization or eliminating the need for our organization? Do the people we serve believe in our work? What do they want us to do differently? Would they miss us if we were gone?

What are the questions you can ask, and where will they lead your organization and community?

An Honest Assessment

As non-profit leaders it is time to go to a new level of honesty with ourselves and those we serve. It is time for questions we may have put off. Questions such as “Are our current operations best serving our community?” “How could we do things differently to be of greater impact?” “Should we phase out some programs and introduce new ones?” “Is our mission relevant?” “Is there a more effective or more efficient model of service delivery?” “Should we consider merging with another organization?” “Who could we partner with?”

These questions are pressing given today’s realities. They are a doorway to the future, even though we may not know where we will end up as we summon the courage to ask them. They may represent the road less traveled; they may lead us to where we need to be.

As the year comes to an end, we can reflect and step up in a new way. We can call on our internal strengths, and the relationships we have developed over time. We can bring stakeholders and those we serve together to examine community needs and how our programs and advocacy meet – or don’t meet – those needs. We can identify gaps in service, and duplication of efforts. We can move beyond commitment to our individual organization and its mission, and look at ourselves in the context of the larger community, or eco-system we are a part of. 

This organizational change – or challenge – mirrors our individual changes and challenges. So many of us have had to reinvent ourselves, change our expectations. There is loss in letting go of what we thought would come to pass. For many it is accompanied by the emergence of a new strength. A new resilience. New competencies are uncovered; connections and relationships are rekindled. We are forced to do things differently as the old ways won’t work. And somehow we find our way.

What is true of us as individuals, and families is also true for us as a community. The way things used to be isn’t the way things are anymore. For many non-profit organizations there is the continuous process of doing more with less. There are smaller budgets, smaller staffs, and more demand for services, advocacy and solutions. And there is more competition as organizations and institutions increase their fundraising and turn to individuals, corporations, government agencies and organized philanthropy in new ways, with new appeals, in hopes of securing new funding. The dreams of a new building, expanded services, or even continuing support from long time supporters may seem out of reach.

But the questions we now ask may contain the answers we need. We can seek guidance for ourselves and those we serve. We can ask questions in conversation with others who can help us see what we cannot currently see or imagine. Today’s challenges can be a touchstone for a better future.

Factors Causing Non-profit Fatigue

Non-Profit FatigueWe’re all human. We get tired, lose focus and experience fatigue. Sometimes we can’t name what we are experiencing. We find it difficult to refocus, reenergize, and – if needed – reinvent. When this occurs within a non-profit we refer to it as “non-profit fatigue.”

Symptoms include feeling as if you are working from a defensive position, that you and your organization are in a perpetual crisis mode. Your organization may be underfunded, your staff overworked and underpaid. Board members may question the skill set, leadership and experience of the staff. Employees – especially the executive director or CEO – may question the board’s commitment and leadership. You may experience a lack of success in meeting goals and objectives. Board, staff and volunteers may feel unsupported, as if they are “in over their heads.”

There may be finger pointing, hand-wringing, absences at board meetings, and a general sense of drift.

Non-profit fatigue sets in over time. It is insidious, highly infectious and often grows and spreads without detection.

Contributing factors include a lack of open communication, transparency, accountability and flexibility. These can be compounded by a lack of new ideas and new blood. Perhaps some of your board members, staff or even your executive director have stayed too long. Lack of clearly defined roles and responsibilities can contribute to lots of activity with little outcome. One fatigue symptom – doing the same thing over and over again – can result from lack of opportunities for professional development and growth.

Finally, an often overlooked contributor is “disconnect.” Over time your organization can become disconnected from the community it serves. It can become inwardly focused instead of community focused. This often coincides with a lack of intelligence regarding how the market (including potential donors!) responds to your organization.

If any of this sounds familiar, don’t worry. Non-profit fatigue is a natural occurrence within the life-cycle of an organization. And, there is a cure. You can apply the cure when you recognize the symptoms, or you can apply it proactively before it infects the uninfected.

Our suggested cure: proactive planning. Get to work examining the fundamentals of your organization, its mission, vision, operations, leadership model, community engagement, marketing, and fundraising. Examine your business plan, your strategic plan, your marketing plan and your fundraising plan. Are you benchmarking your progress? Evaluating your results? Adjusting course? If you don’t have these, roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Look forward, seek solutions, examine what works and what doesn’t. Focus on your vision and goals. Get into planning. Open the metaphoric windows and let in some fresh air!

© Copyright Saad & Shaw.  Mel and Pearl Shaw are the owners of Saad & Shaw. They help non-profit organizations and institutions rethink revenue sources. They are the authors of How to Solicit a Gift: Turning Prospects into Donors. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com or call (901) 522-8727