Category Archives: Organizational Development

Three Ways Your Nonprofit Can Overcome Inertia

Over the years, I've run across examples of inertia among businesses and organizations that some might explain as a little nutty.   The machine is not exactly humming along and things aren't going quite right.  No one seems to know why, but they're not attempting to learn more, as they dig in and continue doing the same things over and over again, expecting it to get better.

I imagine most folks have heard about Albert Einstein's “Theory of Relativity”.  I suppose, not as many have heard his definition of insanity, "doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.  Einstein was a physicist and so he understood the laws of physics, like Newton's 1st Law of motion.  This law also known as Inertia states that an object either at rest or moving remains that way until some outside force interferes.  So understanding Einstein's background, it makes perfect sense that he would describe insanity as such.

When applied to the business world, there's sort of a yin and yang to Inertia, it can be positive or negative.  If properly leveraged, you’re sailing along and things are going great.  But, if it is not working in your favor, you might find yourself unable to get moving, or worse yet, unable to apply the brakes to escape the inevitable.

The first step in overcoming the brunt of “bad” Inertia is recognizing your situation; understanding that maybe you're on a runaway rollercoaster.   The signs are often difficult to spot.  They may include a subtle decline in revenue or membership, perhaps volunteers are nowhere to be found, your staff may be slowly abandoning ship, or stakeholders just seem unmotivated.  In some cases, all you know is that something is not right, but you can't quite place your finger on the issue.  If any of these signs are nagging at your psyche, here are three things to help you to refocus.

Shared Vision:   Peter Senge, author of “The Fifth Discipline, The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization”, aptly said:

“If any one idea about leadership has inspired organizations for thousands of years, ‘it’s the capacity to hold a shared picture of the future we seek to create’ (1990: 9). Such a vision has the power to be uplifting – and to encourage experimentation and innovation.” He went on to say… “The practice of shared vision involves the skills of unearthing shared ‘pictures of the future’ that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance.” 

Let’s accept that it's easy to get sidetracked.  So, going back to the source of what you're trying to accomplish is a great way to refocus.  What's your vision of the future; for both your community and your organization?  When everyone is in agreement and focused upon those shiny goal posts in the distance, you can overcome inertia and your tendency to just keep doing the same things over and over again, just because they’re familiar.

Strategy First – Tactics Second:  Tactics are easy to get your hands around; they're tangible, and actionable, with clear borders.  What three things would you do to increase revenue; would you lower price, offer more services, or advertise more?  Adjacently, strategy can be quite amorphous.  Not long ago, I saw a group thread, which asked about best practices in moving from tactical to strategic; I quietly chuckled at all the tactical responses.  As a result, I became curious and “Googled” strategy.  I was surprised to not find an adequate answer to enlighten my curiosity.

So, I return to my bottom line: think in broad, high-level terms.  For instance, in order to grow, should we get bigger, or better?  With the resources available, what can we realistically accomplish in say, the next 18 months?  Then, drill down and start focusing on those things that reinforce your strategy.  Way back in 1954, Peter Drucker outlined Management by Objective (MBO) as a participative goal setting process that creates a hierarchy of actions to drive a particular outcome.  Here's the Hip Tip, don't fall into the trap of the quick fix; it never hurts to step back and assess from 30,000 feet.  

Measurement:  All too often, one of two things happens with your plan.  1) It sits on a shelf and collects dust; 2) It becomes a ball and chain that binds you to a runaway train.  Another principal tenet of MBO to apply is to set up a system to measure actual performance and achievements against your defined objectives.  Did cutting your price in half triple sales, membership, or your service offering?  If it didn't, all you're doing is splitting your revenue in half.  You need to set targets and determine whether what you are doing is making the desired progress.  Putting a measurement system in place can set guidelines for success.  It can also help you identify whether you're in or out of that rut and whether inertia is working for you, or against you.

Remember, change is good and healthy; it's the cornerstone of most successful businesses and organizations. Revisting what you're trying to accomplish and setting goals and objectives to achieve that vision will help you to refocus, and with a little luck, keep things lively, so inertia works in your favor.

Happy Holidays!

Competitive Advantage and Impact: The Difference is Critical to Nonprofit Strategy

Football Feet Crop 800x224pxI often feel like I'm walking on egg shells when using a term like competition.  Language like it is often viewed as foreign in the nonprofit community.  That's because collaboration, impact, and the common good are uppermost in all our minds.  But, competition can be good; it pushes innovation and inspires progress, and competition can be friendly. 

Understanding competitive advantage is about two things: 1) what it is you do best, and 2) how you fit within your community of service providers.  Considering these factors gives you the ability to better connect with your audience to improve funding and to better your position in the community by improving service options.

I've been following several topics in the LinkedIn group Strategic Planning for Nonprofits lately.  As someone with a natural curiosity and full well knowing this is a controversial topic, I posted the following question to the group: "What level of importance do you place on understanding an organization's competitive advantage in strategic planning?"  The comments flowed as though from a wellspring of enthusiasm and while I thought they would fall distinctly into two camps, by and large, I was pleasantly surprised.

In the contrary camp, comments included: "I don't usually use the term "competitive advantage" in this context, because I think it's more illuminating to say how one's organization fits into the landscape of others addressing an important community issue." Another comment stated: "I would add that in the nonprofit arts world organizations bridle at the word "competitive" so I often use the term "comparative advantage." Then, there was: "Swallowing to get past "competitive", there are several questions that funders silently ask that come close."

On the other side of the coin: "Other than Mission and Vision, I think that Competitive Advantage (Differentiation, Value Proposition, Uniqueness, etc. – they all mean essentially the same thing) is the most important consideration when doing strategic planning." Another said: "Being able to articulate how you are different and/or better than others is important to winning funding."

One of the more compelling comments stated: "Sadly, I find engaging non-profits in discussions regarding competitors to be challenging at best. I have encountered resistance to the use of business terms or concepts, as if doing so would somehow soil the purity of the group." This commenter went on to further illuminate his frustration with the following: "Adopting business concepts is viewed by some as cavorting with an enemy who somehow is responsible for the ills that the non-profit is trying to address."

I think we all agree that impact to the community is the priority, because without it, then what's the point?  However, it's important for every organization to distinguish between what it is they do best and how well they perform (outcomes).  Competitive advantage and impact are two different things. Outcomes demonstrate your value to the community and help you get better at what you do; while an understanding of your competitive advantage positions you among service providers and works to prevent overlapping services, which can dilute impact.

A final short, sweet, and poignant comment concluded: "Whatever you call it, it's vital."

And, that's the primary message I'd like to leave you with; whatever it is called, competition has always been present and it's here to stay.  Those organizations that do not understand what they do best, or that embrace that difference, place themselves at a serious disadvantage.


Reflections on 21st Century Nonprofit Strategy

chessboard2 800x224 GSWhile collaboration is not new, it certainly seems to be gaining momentum.  Perhaps that's because more and more people and organizations are discovering that together we're not only stronger, but we're smarter. 

I experienced a genuine buzz of collaboration at the Colorado Nonprofit Association's 21st Annual Fall Conference and collaborated myself with my good friend and colleague Rachel T. Emmer.  She is a frequent collaborator at Questus Strategies, where we've assembled a cadre of strategy architects who take a team approach to projects exactly for those aforementioned reasons. For the conference, she and I presented two separate workshops: "21st Century Website Realities" and "Foraging for Funding, Creating Social Enterprise."

Social Enterprise was on the tip of everyone's tongue at the conference.  Many nonprofits are exploring earned-income possibilities while social benefit-oriented companies look to forge social good out of a business model. Unfortunately, according to Bloomberg, 8 out of 10 business entrepreneurs fail within the first 18 months.

In a recent Forbes article Five Reasons 8 Out Of 10 Businesses Fail the article points to the "inability to nail a profitable business model with proven revenue streams" as a major factor. That's why our Foraging for Funding workshop presented a process for vetting ideas for further feasibility study. Using a World Cafe format and some innovative decision matrix tools, participants worked through the process of how to sort through a myriad of business ideas. We were pleasantly surprised to overhear several people exclaim: "Best workshop so far!" Having started several businesses, I know half the battle is in the preparation and planning.

The Forbes article also points out: "No real differentiation in the market (read: lack of unique value propositions)" and "Failure to communicate value propositions in clear, concise and compelling fashion" as two other reasons businesses fail. That's where 21st Century Website Realities offered tips on how you can leverage content marketing strategy and use your website as the hub for all your marketing activities.

Today, when someone wants to learn more about your organization, the first place they go is your website. Yet, even with the importance of making a favorable first impression, it's remarkable how many sites fall flat.  You only have 8 to 10 seconds to capture a reader's attention, so it's vital to make the most of it. While building credibility with a contemporary, professional-looking site is essential, what's most imperitive is engaging your audience, that often means having something both powerfully moving and relevant to say.

By answering the following: What do you do? Why is it important? And, what's the impact to the community? You begin to build a relationship that answers the most central question of all: "Why should I give you any money?" Content marketing leverages our basic need for stories and deeper connections; by listening, conversing, and teaching instead of pitching, you set your organization up as an expert in your field and that encourages people to return time after time.

I've been on a soapbox talking about these ideas for a while now. But, I must say I felt pleasantly validated when Tuesday's keynote speaker, Susan McPherson, SVP & Director of Global Marketing for the NY, NY Public Relations firm Fenton echoed our advice. Two things are critical in mission achievement; emotional connection and community engagement; it's effective storytelling that gets you more than halfway there.

You can find our presentations on the Questus Strategies website and soon we'll have complimentary ebooks available to help you get the basics in place.

3 Steps to Systemic Strategic Planning

meeting-classroom-people-439655-o crop 800x224px

It must be the time of year, because lately I've seen several posts on strategic planning. Some have evocative titles like: "Does Strategic Planning Matter?", or "How Do We Keep the Plan off the Shelf?” Others are much less suggestive, placing their emphasis on tactics to make the process better.

So, I guess I'll chime in too. Over the years, I've heard my fair share of discussion around the pros and cons of strategic planning; some profess that it's the process, others the plan.  Often the discussion revolves around tips, tricks, and engagement tactics for stakeholders. Perhaps that’s why I usually hear such a big sigh of dread surrounding the planning procedure, with questions like: is it THAT time again? Or, how much time is it going to take?

I think this trepidation springs from two things: 1) not understanding the process, and 2) all the emphasis on engagement tactics and methods rather than strategy. So, let’s take a closer look at how to place the emphasis on the strategy in strategic planning.

If you boil it down to its essentials, strategic planning can be pretty simple.  It's all about determining how to best grow your nonprofit or social enterprise to maximize impact and social good.  If you think about it, there are really only two forms of growth: 1) bigger or 2) better.  Sound too simple? It's not; you want your organization to continuously move forward and at some point you need to decide on where to focus that growth based upon resources. Setting a goal of bigger sends you in one direction, while setting a goal of better sends you in another. In either case, you have a basis for creating objectives to achieve your organizational development goal.

Strategic Planning GraphicOk, so now that I've made it sound simple, I need to explain there's just a bit more to it. The second step to understanding strategic planning is to recognize it’s foundational, like a layer cake.  You can think of it as a pyramid, where there are several stratums, each built and relying upon the one below. Each level has to be fully formed and strong enough to support those above.

At the base you have your core principles. On top of these foundational principles is your business model.  What do you provide, how do you provide it, what makes you special, and where do you fit in the community? Then, to this you add your growth strategy. These three things give you your primary foundation. With an understanding of your environment and your direction set, you can now establish your goals and objectives, which lead to your tactics.

But there is one more leg to the stool and it is critical to your balance. This leg knows that your planning is a continuous process and here is where the paradigm shifts. Planning is systemic; it is circular rather than linear. Most resources recommend that strategic planning take place periodically, once every 3 to 5 years. But in this new paradigm, once it starts, it never ends, because you should be constantly evaluating and adjusting to your progress. Where are we, where do we want to be, how do we get there… where are we… how do get there?

Think holistically and look closely at what you can realistically do in the near future and then continue to tweak your plan.  I’ve found that if you break your planning into easily digestible pieces, it’s much more palatable and productive.  For more insight, give me a call, or pick up the book: “The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution”. Among all the research and approaches I’ve tried, this book was perhaps the biggest single influence that helped me appreciate the systemic nature of strategic planning.

Consider starting your next plan as the beginning of an on-going process, one that cycles onward and upward towards your organizational growth, whether that's bigger, or better.

5 Steps to Crisis Management Nonprofits can learn from Emergency Managers

crisis image ropeJust imagine, your organization is humming along, donations are at par with your goals, your staff is happy and motivated, and there is genuine synergy among stakeholders. What if this good situation were to go bad?  What if… you were to lose a major donor, sponsor, collaborator, or key individual? What if a negative story on one of your programs were to appear on a major news source? What if?

Do you have a contingency plan in place to deal with the unexpected? Planning for every possible scenario is of course counterproductive; but, having an understanding of the process necessary to put an effective plan in place quickly is well within your reach.

Emergency management professionals are experts in dealing with the unexpected. I spent 12 years performing search and rescue operations throughout the Rocky Mountains, mostly in Colorado with Alpine Rescue Team, but also nationally and regionally, with the Mountain Rescue Association and the Colorado Search and Rescue Board.  I would shout from any mountaintop that those years contained some of the most valuable and rewarding experiences of my life.

Nothing can compare to seeing the joy on a lost person's face when they have been found, witnessing a mother's relief when her child has been returned, or the personal gratification of being physically spent and emotionally drained when a mission has been successfully completed.  I'm immensely thankful for this experience; it's where I gained an appreciation for nonprofit work; the collaboration, commitment to a cause, and sense of purpose being the ultimate motivators.

The lessons I learned over those years could fill a Chinook helicopter (yep, they are big), but one analogy recently came to mind while consulting with a nonprofit working through an unexpected executive transition. Crisis management is not something most nonprofits prepare or plan for, the crisis just happens, often out of the blue, and they're usually one of those sink or swim situations. They are similar to the calls I used to get in the middle of the night, those where Aunt Edna was expected home for dinner from her favorite hike and it's now 10 PM and storming. 

We had a process for planning on the fly and the simple steps I learned from emergency management training fit perfectly for any organization experiencing an unexpected situation.

  1. Is the scene (of the accident) safe? Do you understand what the situation really looks like? Are there any hidden traps? Before you leap, this is the perfect time to take a close look around in order to thoroughly assess the situation, understand it, and then determine a reasonable response.
  2. Triage the patients/problems. There is often a hierarchy to your situation and its many inherent problems. Think beyond the obvious to understand where the bleeding is worst and set your priorities accordingly.
  3. Develop an evacuation plan. You're looking to evacuate yourself from the situation as quickly as possible. Public relations efforts are usually the first place to start; you need to get ahead of the developing story, so it doesn't get worse, or better yet, so it is perceived as positive.  Next steps are often found in a broader assessment of your organization to learn why the situation got out of hand. Stepping back before stepping forward is often a good strategy.
  4. Implement your plan. Whatever the plan, set a timetable, budget, and measurement system to ensure success.  But most importantly, don't be afraid to adapt as the situation evolves. These situations are often fluid.  New twists can appear around any turn in the trail, behind any rock, or tree; so make sure you don't step off a cliff. 
  5. Mop up the scene. This is often overlooked. Part of your clean up beyond putting away the gear is an overall assessment of the operation.  In the military it's called an after-action review. It looks at what went right, what went wrong, and what can be learned from the gap.

Noted scholar and teacher, W. Edwards Deming once said: “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you do not know what you are doing.”  Always think of your actions as a process, even when you are in crisis mode.

One Africa Award – A Model for Success

Kids 001 1038x250 pxFood Nutrition Foundation is a Zambian organization I am proud to have worked with now for about two years.  It's been fun to watch them grow and mature and begin to shape ideas into programs and programs into community impact.  They asked me what I thought about applying for the ONE Africa Award, a $100,000 award which aims to recognize, reward, and advance the exceptional work of organizations founded by Africans that are based in Africa. 

They are a small organization and so my first thought was it may be a bit beyond their current capacity, but upon further consideration, it dawned upon me how great it was that they have the raw ambition and willingness to give it a go.  But, what really struck me was how the contest itself was an excellent model for a well-structured, efficient, and effective organization.  I couldn't help but notice how the words demonstration and impact were liberally applied and how an emphasis on measurement and collaboration were critical to an award. Any organization that commits to adopting these principles, would find impact improving in their community. Take a look at the rules and see if you agree…

2013 One Africa Award Criteria

The 2013 ONE AFRICA Award will award best practices by an African organization or individual addressing social development issues through innovative advocacy in promotion of Millennium Development Goals (MDG) attainment.

  1. Extent to which the organization has designed and implemented an innovative advocacy program that employs new approaches to impact in a given sector(s).
  2. Ability to demonstrate and communicate specific indicators of progress and impact linking work to a given sector(s) in a clear results-oriented framework.
  3. Demonstration of the ability to replicate efforts of the organization to take intervention to scale.
  4. Demonstration of strong internal and constituency accountability mechanisms (i.e. community leadership consultations and involvement in programs to demonstrate the interventions are relevant to the majority of the poor in the target community and empowers them in a sustainable way) along with transparency of operations.
  5. Extent to which the organization has employed creative partnerships to achieve its goal(s) and ensure coordination with other development actors. These partnerships may include public and/or private sector players.

As a result of this contest, FNF is now looking at these parameters with an eye towards their internal and external methodologies and with the goal of applying them to organizational growth for the future. Organizations will do well to understand that an innovative, well-organized program complete with measurement systems that target community relevance, progress, and impact are critical for growth and sustainability in today's highly competitive funding environment.

Indicators, Benchmarks, and Ice Cream.

Ice CreamGuest blog post by Jerome Stiller:

If you're like me, you have to be vigilant to be sure that your waistline does not keep growing as you get older, like rings on a tree. It’s tough for me because I consider pastry, ice cream, and beer to be three of the four essential food groups (the other being coffee). So I exercise and try to watch my diet. But how do I know if my efforts are successful (or not)? Of course I could step on a scale every day or every week, and compare my weight to some ideal weight. I could do something similar by measuring my body fat percentage and/or BMI. Or I could use a tape to measure the circumference of my waist just below my belly button (don’t ask).

I've tried each of the methods above and don’t care for any of them. Weighing myself every day or every week means that I have to remember to do it, and it can be downright depressing because I am always heavier than I think I am. And what does “ideal” weight (or body fat or BMI) mean anyhow? Ideal for whom? Maybe not for me.What I do to measure my progress towards my weight goals is:

"I do not buy pants with a waist larger than 30 inches."

I wore size 30 pants in college, and I continue to do so today. When my pants are too tight, its time to increase my efforts, and when they fit quite well I know I’m doing a good job of managing my weight. In fact, discomfort from tight pants is an excellent and constant reminder that I need to do better (i.e., put down the cheese danish!) to meet my goal.

The example above takes a basic evaluation question (how am I/we doing?) and highlights some considerations of indicators and benchmarks.

An indicator is proxy measurement providing information to help answer the evaluation question. A benchmark is an explicit statement that provides a point or target for comparison.

And there is always a choice of benchmarks. For example, I could have chosen to compare my weight to some external standard (the “ideal” weight) , some self-determined target (to weigh 10 lbs less or to weigh 150 lbs); however these benchmarks would not be relevant to the tight-pants indicator. Notice that the indicator(s) you choose is crucial in choosing the appropriate benchmarks, and vice versa.

So, I have an indicator (how tight or loose my pants are) and a benchmark (a not-larger-than 30 inch waist) to help me assess my success in managing my weight. My evaluation strategy is to monitor the way my pants fit me and to use that data to inform my eating and exercise habits – looser means ice cream; tighter means no ice cream.

I chose this indicator because I am able to derive useful information from it (too tight -> need to workout and diet more), and it requires minimal time and effort because its something that I do already. While it doesn't measure my weight directly, it is easy and provides the information necessary to manage both my short-term and long term goals.

I hope you've found this useful in understanding some basic design considerations in program evaluation. Most importantly, remember that:

a) there are a wide range of options in determining evaluation indicators and benchmarks (many of which are not costly or even free); and

b) that your program evaluation will be successful if you choose indicators and benchmarks that are clearly aligned with your evaluation goals.

I chose an evaluation strategy that:

a) gave me meaningful information relevant to my evaluation question (are my exercise and diet efforts successful?) and

b) used minimal resources.

In designing and implementing a successful program evaluation, you can choose from a variety of strategies and their appropriate indicators and benchmarks to meet your evaluation needs. Me? I’m going to get some ice cream.

This Hip Tip is provided as a guest post from Jerome Stiller, Senior Data Analyst and expert in program development and evaluation. Jerome believes that data can and should be used to paint a compelling picture that will guide program and organizational development and provide persuasive evidence of impact. At Questus Strategies, we measure performance to guide development and improvement, and we measure impact for demonstrating success in achieving organizational goals. In today's highly competitive funding community, these data-driven demonstrations are increasingly important to funding sources.

Is Your Board… Bored?

Bored Board

We've all experienced a rut. You fall in and it seems like all you do is spin your wheels in that proverbial ditch. It can happen with the best nonprofit boards as well. 

You know it’s happening when… You've been talking about revisiting your vision, mission, and values statements, for like… forever! When you've gone through several board members in the last year and you suddenly find half your team is gone. When your meetings consist of nothing more than business as usual, or when your query for questions on the Treasurer's report is met with silence. When members are more interested in their mobile devices than the discussion at hand, or when you spend the majority of your board meetings discussing reports or policy rather than the future of the organization.  Yep, you guessed it; these are all signs you're in trouble.

An organization can hit these speed bumps at any stage in their lifecycle.   It's easy to become mired in minutiae, tactical details, or malaise rather than a big picture that creates excitement and enthusiasm. Here are some Hip Tips to get you out of that rut and with a little luck, perseverance, and strategy, steer clear of it!

Raison d'être

Nothing gets a group more excited than a higher purpose, a common goal, or shared vision. As explained by Peter Senge, in his book The Fifth Discipline, a shared vision is: "the capacity to hold a shared picture of the future we seek to create" (1990: 9). As such, a shared vision has the power to be uplifting and to encourage experimentation and innovation… It works to transform your nonprofit into a learning organization, which continually evolves and grows.

When a vision is shared, "People talk about being part of something larger than themselves, of being connected, of being generative. It becomes quite clear that, for many, their experiences as part of truly great teams stand out as singular periods of life lived to the fullest. Some spend the rest of their lives looking for ways to recapture that spirit." (Senge 1990: 13)

Routinely revisit and refresh your vision, mission, and values. Work to get your team excited about a new project, strategy, program, or campaign. Just as important is finding evidence of your impact to the community you serve.  Evaluating and understanding your Triad of Value will guide you to better service and better service creates a sense of purpose, which leads towards personal fulfillment and deeper commitment.

Embrace Opinion and Encourage Debate

Beware when all you encounter is agreement. If your meeting conversations lack strong opinions, passion, or questions and if they are generally measured, or worse, nonexistent, you may have a problem.  These may be signs that your team lacks the enthusiasm to rise beyond the day-to-day agenda and consequently, is just going through the motions. 

Despite what some may think, spirited debate means your members have genuine interest and concern. Difference of opinion creates a pathway to creative solutions, better understanding, evolved thinking and strategy. Remember to remind everyone to do their part and ensure they "understand what the other side is saying."

Also understand that diversity and inclusivity run deeper than you may think. You need to involve each member of your board and other stakeholders at a deeper level. There are demographics beyond race and ethnicity that shape a person's culture; great ideas and understanding can come as a result of a range of experience.

Recognize, Utilize, Reward, & Celebrate

Nothing drives a board member battier than when they offer their expertise only to have their experience and talents rebuked or ignored. More importantly, your organization may falter as a result.  Understand why a member wants to be involved and create a position that provides satisfaction for that member.  People are your MOST valuable asset. Anyone who volunteers and makes your organization a priority should be celebrated and nurtured.

Take note that some individuals may desire to learn something new or perform something different from their day job. As my father used to say, "You never know unless you ask", so ask! If you desire to maximize your team's effectiveness, dig deeper by getting to know each of your members on both a personal and professional level.  Then, encourage the rest of your team to do the same and you'll create a winning atmosphere. 

Look Beyond the Playbook

Often policies and procedures are the focus of board development.  That's because aside from being good governance, they are tangible and much easier to get your hands around than really important issues like strategy, or impact.  A good foundation for your organization is important, so make sure you have a copy of Robert's Rules; apply them during your meetings to give them weight and importance.  Just understand that policies and procedures don't necessarily create an effective organization. People do! Inspire them, employ their talents, and reach for the stars!


No Magic Bullets

speeding bullet 2"Nonprofit organizations are stuck in a vicious cycle that threatens their ability to raise the resources they need to succeed." – "Underdeveloped", CompassPoint

Like many of you, I subscribe to several industry groups and newsletters in the interest of staying on top of trends, notable wisdom, and topical conversations of interest to my community. So, a question posed to the Linkedin group, Alliance for Nonprofit Management, which revolved around a development director raising his/her own salary, caught my eye. That's because, I've heard this argument before, most notably from a colleague who led a rather large nonprofit association. At the time of his remark, I remember suddenly getting that cold prickly feeling.

Around that time, I also heard a statistic that proclaimed the average length of employment for a development director to be 18 months and for an executive director, 36 months. That's never sounded like a positive solution for a sustainable organizational future and it certainly doesn't create a positive environment for a team approach to growing relationships with donors.  So, I found the following quote from Compass Point's study: UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising more than simply poignant.

"For years now, there has been widespread concern in the nonprofit sector about premature turnover of development directors, lengthy vacancies in the role, and the seemingly thin pool of qualified candidates from which organizations can choose. The development director is commonly labeled a “revolving door” position, and “the hardest to fill and retain” by executives, board members, funders, and capacity builders alike."

Fundraising/development is by and large a sales function. You need someone who will get out there and sing your praises, but it's not that simple. With years of experience as a sales manager and development director, I understand the pressures associated with these positions as much as anyone. And, with over 25 years of marketing, business, and organizational development expertise, I know there is a simple solution to this turnover problem: fundraising is not a singular position. You can't expect one individual to arrive with a box of magic bullets, or a Rolodex full of donors interested in your mission. Here are some hip tips to help you reframe your expectations about this important organizational function:

  1. Stop looking at fundraising as a burden. If you are convinced of the importance of your work, that you are performing your best, and if you believe the world is a better place because of your impact, then asking donors to invest in your mission should be the easiest thing in the world. Everyone should want to participate. 
  2. Resist the urge to hire someone with the goal of placing fundraising soley in their court. Rather, give this person the responsibility of rallying the troops and giving all your stakeholders the opportunity to sing your praises.  Your development director is your quarterback, not your running back. Don't hand him/her the ball and hope he/she crosses the goal line.  Everyone on the team should be focused upon tearing down the goal posts.
  3. Think holistically, understand that your entire organization is a system, with each functional area reliant upon the other.  Program drives impact, impact attracts funding, marketing spurs interest.  It is circular not linear.

By applying a holistic strategy to your organizational development you'll automatically create a team environment where everyone wants to win. 


30,000 Foot Strategies

flight_dispatcher_training-cropAs we are propelled head long into a new year full of uncertainty, but rich with promise, consider these 30,000' strategies to jump-start your 2013…

1. Identify your strengths and align your responsibilities.  In his book, "Let My People Go Surfing," Entrepreneur, climber, and founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard professed this simple truth: "Managers have short-term vision, implement strategic plans, and keep things running as they always have. Leaders take risks, have long-term vision, create the strategic plans, and instigate change."

Most board development resources agree that one of the fundamental responsibilities of a nonprofit board of directors is to set the organization’s mission and overall strategy, and to modify both as needed.  Yet, I often see boards placing their attention on tactical issues (like laboring over a new logo) instead of pursuing broad strategies for a sustainable future.  In order to make the most of 2013, use Chouinard's common sense observation to your advantage.  Get your board to take a step back and focus on the big picture, while you let your staff do their job of handling operations and implementing your strategic plan.

2. Focus on building your "business". Dan Pallotta, the author of  “Uncharitable,” exposed the unfair rules imposed upon charitable organizations, including the biased view of overhead (investment in infrastructure) as something sinful. Rather than simply asking, “How much of donations will go to programs?” you should consider expanding to a broader discussion about investment and capacity building to achieve more meaningful outcomes and greater impact.

Every successful business takes risks, they invest in themselves, and leverage their vision by investing in people, capital equipment, advertising, and product development. Your organization would do well to do more than spend on program, but to consider how to better solve problems for those you serve, re-evaluate your outcome measurement infrastructure, examine how you reach out to a greater audience and who that audience may be, and to invest in your people.

3. Renew & widely promote your "Theory of Change". Your "Theory of Change" is that set of building blocks that when all lined up lead to a long term goal, desired outcome, or community impact. When a donor clearly understands your process, it becomes a critical link that works to convert a donation into an investment in your organization. When donors become investors, they are consigned to your mission and their personal fulfillment leads to greater funding.

Recently reported by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, "More than four out of five donors conduct research before they give. And many of those donors are looking at your organization's website for information about how their money will support your mission."  In a related Chronicle article: "More nonprofits have shown that data collection and analysis can change the way an organization operates and improve its results in fundraising and carrying out its mission…"  Refine your process for greater and greater impact and efficiencies in order to maximize every dollar you earn.

Finally, don't leave the public's understanding of your "Theory of Change" to chance.  Test market how you explain your process, first among insiders, and then to a larger and larger audience.  When people "get-it" and appreciate your theory, it paves the way to a greater recognition of the importance of your work.  This, then becomes the value proposition from which you implement tactical marketing initiatives to grow mission and achieve vision.

All the best in 2013!