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290 posts categorized "Nonprofit Management"

The Strategic Thinker-Leader

July 27, 2016

Rodin_thinker-leaderFor those who read my "5 Reasons Why 'Strategic Doing' Beats Strategic Planning" post, it will come as no surprise that I spend a fair amount of time thinking about, critiquing, and doing strategy. Truth be told, strategy is a bit of an obsession for me, more creative art and less a science, despite what the bean-counters and McConsultants would have you believe.

Like other creative arts, truly great strategy is the product of inspiration. And inspiration comes to us in its own good time rather than during scheduled meetings: while we’re arguing with a friend, thinking about a problem, noticing something we’d missed before, even while we sleep. (Okay, maybe that’s just me…)

More to the point, strategy isn't a thing, a plan, a committee, or a document. It's a way of thinking about change — a way of imagining that demands action. Because, at the end of the day, strategy is nothing more than a language for translating ideas into outcomes.

So what makes for great strategy, and how do you get there? When do you know you've nailed it? And, perhaps most challenging, can the art of strategy be taught? I don’t have the definitive answers to those questions. Maybe great strategy is like pornography: you know it when you see it, to paraphrase the late Justice Potter Stewart. That said, allow me to share a few observations from my years in the trenches about the what and how of strategy.

If strategy is nothing more than an organized way of thinking about change, then "doing strategy" should be built through a sequence of cognitive steps — a disciplined intellectual process that transforms what is to what could be and leads to a clear, compelling end-state vision.

So what does that disciplined and orderly thought experiment I call strategy look like? Like any other disciplined intellectual process, strategic thinking is built around a sequence of questions:

1. What is your end-state vision? How do you imagine your particular corner of the world looking different than it does today? Can you formulate a clear and actionable vision that is neither so broad as to be unhelpful nor so narrow as to blur the distinction between ends and means? Does the vision have sufficient power to inspire and activate those both within and outside the organization to think big, do big, and invest big? And, no less important, can you make the vision understandable to an average eight-year-old? (If not, go back to the beginning and start again.)

2. What needs to change in order to get from here to there and transform that concrete piece of the here-and-now world into your desired end-state? What's the logical construct — the change architecture, the rationale — behind how you intend to achieve that changed state? What are the relevant levers of power — institutions, people, policies, resources — and how will you rearrange and manipulate them in order to achieve your desired end-state? (In today’s lexicon, what's your theory of change?)

3. What tools/resources/knowledge will you need to engineer the desired change, both those currently available to you and those required? What's your plan for how to acquire the missing pieces or, perhaps more challenging and interesting, how to rearrange, redeploy, or re-prioritize those pieces to bring about the desired change?

4. Does your change management action plan describe in detail the "what, how, where, and when" of planning and executing the initial steps toward achieving your end-state vision? And why focus on initial steps? Answer: because unlike conventional strategic planning that purports to anticipate every step from beginning to end, real-world change dynamics are fluid and often unpredictable, and the strategic thinker-leader must have the humility to acknowledge that fact, not to mention the creativity to lead and manage in such an environment.

"Of course," write Loch and Kavadias in the European Business Review (January 19, 2015), "senior managers need to plan, but they also need to realize that large pieces of ‘the plan’ may be no more than hypothesis. Evolving the strategy is a journey where planning helps you to diagnose where you are and to understand the direction of travel, but it is not an 'optimized planned change'....

"When you look at the strategy journey through this lens, the cauldron...suddenly changes from a hard-to-control mess to a great opportunity to generate the inputs for good strategic decisions."

And therein lies the art. Every winning strategy — and, for that matter, every successful organization — is built on the ability of its leaders to respond adaptively and creatively to change. That is precisely why strategic thinking and leading is the sine qua non of effective executives, and why those organizations led by people who embrace the "hard-to-control mess" as opportunity will come out ahead every time.

Ami_nahshon_for_PhilanTopicSo, can the art of strategic thinking-leading be taught? My answer is an unequivocal "maybe." But cultivating the ability to imagine alternative futures, to think big, to never be fully satisfied with "what is" certainly constitute a good place to start.

Ami Nahshon offers a portfolio of coaching and consulting services to help nonprofits and their leaders optimize philanthropic mission, strategy, and performance. In his last post, he wrote about the empowered leader. For more information, contact him at AmiNahshon@gmail.com.

Mission-Driven Architecture

June 08, 2016

Womens-opportunity-centersIt's not unusual for architecture and engineering firms to work on a pro-bono basis or for a reduced fee on "mission-driven" projects. In such cases, firms often are willing to trade profit for the reward of doing work that is rewarding in other ways. Some firms also take on such projects because the work is likely to raise their profile and, down the road, benefit their bottom line. Most importantly, populations in need also benefit. Schools and clinics are built where there were none, local people are employed and taught marketable skills, and the project — if planned well and executed efficiently — gives a boost to the local economy that is felt long after the construction dust has settled and the architects and engineers have moved on.

That said, I believe communities in developing countries would be better served if my fellow professionals and their NGO partners approached many of these projects differently and incorporated, from the outset, new thinking about how they are budgeted.

In the traditional budgeting model, firms wait for an RFP to come in over the transom or for an organization to come calling with a project (and budget) in mind. The problem with that, more often than not, is that the budget is woefully inadequate: whether it's a school, a clinic, or some other piece of critical local infrastructure, it typically includes only enough for the "basics," with little or no thought given to the kinds of "nice-to-haves" that would enable the project to serve the community in a more sustainable way. Systems for recycled rainwater, thoughtful waste management, proper siting to take advantage of passive solar — all too often, such considerations are non-starters in the budgets we see.

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Building Nonprofit Sustainability Through Digital Apps

June 07, 2016

NPO-Mobile-AppsProduct-based income strategies are challenging for nonprofits because of the costs associated with inventory. Either your organization has to shell out significant capital to keep the products you hope to sell in stock, or you have to partner with a company that will manage the inventory for you. In most cases, the company will take a portion of your sales to cover their costs and turn a profit before turning over the remainder of the proceeds (if any) to you – in effect, turning your carefully cultivated army of volunteers into a second sales team working to boost its own P&L statement.

With a digital product like an app, on the other hand, a nonprofit bears the one-time cost of product development and then is able to sell the product in perpetuity – or what passes for perpetuity in the digital age -- without having to worry about costs associated with building and maintaining inventory. In the digital marketplace, once an app has been created, selling a hundred thousand copies doesn't cost you any more than selling ten thousand copies.

What's more, having an app on a supporter's mobile device creates a new channel through which you can communicate with that supporter as conveniently as you can with email but without the "noise" created by the hundreds of emails most of us receive on a daily basis. Push notifications that directly target users of an app can quickly mobilize your user base, alerting them to new petitions, challenge grant opportunities, and other kinds of events designed to deepen donor engagement. (Note: while nonprofits are allowed to make money from the sale of digital apps, they cannot collect donations through an app. If you want to use the app to generate donations, you need to get potential supporters to click a "Donate" button that sends them to a mobile-friendly Web page where the transaction can be completed.)

So how much does it cost to develop an app? In 2014, when the team at RedRover first hit on the idea of building a digital version of our RedRover Readers program, we didn't have a clue. And asking a developer how much it costs is like asking an architect how much a new house will cost – the answer can range anywhere from hundreds of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on what you want the app to do. The more complex the functionality, the more it's going to cost.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (May 2016)

June 04, 2016

Greetings from Northeast Ohio, where the seventeen-year cicada are vibrating their tymbals to beat the band. We're pretty excited, too — about our lineup of popular posts from May featuring pieces by a whose who of social sector luminaries. So grab a cold beverage and your noise-canceling headphones and let us know what you think in the comments section below....

Got a submission you'd like to share with our readers? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

4 Performance Measurement Mistakes You Don't Want to Make

May 05, 2016

Warning-286x300Performance management can be a tricky beast — hugely important, but difficult to get right. Here are four common mistakes my team and I see made by social, government, and nonprofit organizations trying to measure their impact, and tips on how to avoid them:

1. Measuring too much. By far the most common problem we see is that most organizations try to measure too much. Every additional measure you track uses up precious staff time for collection, aggregation, and analysis. In some cases, tracking too many measures is as almost as bad as not tracking at all. One client we served had a list of more than eight measures it was trying to track. Managers and the board were so overwhelmed by the huge amount of information that their eyes tended to glaze over when the data was presented, and little or nothing happened as a result. We helped them whittle the list down to just a few outcome measures for each client group, and that enabled them to focus their energy, track their efforts in a meaningful way, and improve their outcomes.

2. Underutilizing what you have. Many organizations are so busy worrying about measurement that they don't realize what a trove of information they may already be sitting on. One national nonprofit I know had been working on putting together a measurement system for three years, engaging external consultants, and doing a lot of hand-wringing about their lack of a large-scale control study. Its senior leaders, like those at many other organizations, found themselves overwhelmed by choices, confused by terminology, and with little to show for their hard work. Yet in the background, the organization had been collecting all kinds of information. With an infusion of new energy, leadership took stock and found that simply by undertaking an audit and tidying up the organization's data they were able to tell a compelling story to current and potential funders. The moral of the story? Before you do anything else, investigate what you have at hand. What information are you already collecting that measures outcomes for your clients?

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The Empowered Leader…or 5 Reasons Why ‘Strategic Doing’ Beats Strategic Planning

April 07, 2016

Strategic-Plan-Poster Edited2One of these days I'm going to sit down and write a treatise on why I believe strategic thinking and strategic leadership are more valuable than strategic planning — particularly, but not only, in a not-for-profit context. I'm going to do it, I promise, but not today. I'm too busy doing stuff.

So apparently was Southwest Airline's legendary founder and CEO Herb Kelleher, who held that "strategy is overrated, simply doing stuff is underrated. We have a strategic plan. It's called doing things." Or, as management guru Tom Peters puts it, "the thing that keeps a business ahead of the competition is excellence in execution."

How many of us were taught that "boards make policy and executives implement it"? Turns out that assertion is both over-simplistic and short-sighted, at least as far as well-functioning organizations are concerned. The empowered leader — whether nonprofit or for-profit — must own and lead both the strategy process and the strategy itself, which is one reason why strategic planning is overrated and often ineffective. Done conventionally, strategic planning empowers the consultant, not the executive. Executive coaching, on the other hand, invests in the development of leaders who then empower their organizations, boards, and staffs to think big and execute well.

I'm not saying that strategic planning isn't important. It certainly is — especially to the legions of pricey consultants happy to have you pay for their thick workbooks and the many billable hours needed to walk the strategic planning team through them. Strategic planning is, after all, a big business. (Don't believe me? Stop by one of McKinsey's hundred and nine offices around the globe and chat with one of the eleven thousand consultants and advisors the firm employs.)

So what's a better option? You guessed it: focused and well-executed executive coaching. One-on-one coaching can be a valuable and effective alternative (or, even, precursor) to a full-on strategic planning process, especially for the already overwhelmed and over-burdened executive who is worried about the cost, in terms of time and money, of the latter.

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[Infographic] Charitable Solicitation Registration

March 19, 2016

Did you know that before before your nonprofit seeks and accepts donations, it must register in each state where it will be fundraising? You probably did. Did you know that forty-four states and the District of Columbia have charitable solicitation laws? I'm betting most of you didn't. Okay, so this is one of the weedier areas of the charitable sector, but as this excellent infographic from the folks at Harbor Compliance reminds us, ignore those laws at your own peril....

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[Infographic] Questions Nonprofits Should Ask to Assess Their Risk Management Practices

February 13, 2016

If, like the majority of Americans, you have some (or most) of your retirement savings invested in stocks, the last month and a half has been disconcerting (to say the least). The same is true for nonprofit organizations, which count on grants from endowed private foundations and deep-pocketed individual donors to fund key initiatives and, in many cases, keep the lights on. As anyone who was around in 2008, 2002-03, or the early 1990s can tell you, however, when stock portfolios fall in value, foundation grantmaking and individual giving are quick to follow. And volatility in revenue streams is just one of the many organizational risks the typical nonprofit faces.

What's a nonprofit executive to do? The worst thing he or she can do is to do nothing. As Ben Franklin liked to say: "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." So, how does one prepare for risks, both known and unknown, that lie in wait for even the best-managed organization? As the infographic from our friends at accounting giant BDO's global forensics unit reminds us, ask questions. Lots of them.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (January 2016)

February 02, 2016

Not even an epic mid-month nor'easter could keep January from flying by. Not to worry. For those who blinked and missed all the great content posted here during the month just passed, we've got you covered....

What did you read/watch/listen to last month that made you think, got you riled up, or restored your faith in humanity? Share with the rest of us in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

3 Surefire Ways to Engage the Best Volunteers

January 23, 2016

Happy_volunteersOver 60 million people spend an average of 52 hours a year volunteering their time with nonprofit organizations. Many organizations agree that volunteers are critical to their overall health and play a role in their ability to become, and remain, sustainable. Volunteers serve many functions; they can help deliver client programs, create awareness about mission and impact, and keep staff costs reasonable. But having volunteers can be a lot of work!

Before evaluating an existing volunteer program or embarking on a new one, determine what motivates your volunteers and then work toward creating, and supporting, a program that best serves their needs while advancing your mission. I recommend using the "3 R's for Happy Volunteers" as a framework for the internal conversations that will help structure your program:

Relevant. Volunteers feel most productive when their time is connected to their particular interests and skills. Volunteers excel when they feel they're in a position to leverage their expertise in service to a greater purpose. To generate maximum volunteer productivity, interview prospective volunteers to understand their motivations, skill sets, and interests before assigning them a task.

Realistic. The typical volunteer is between 35 and 64 years old and is employed. Statistically, most people who volunteer also volunteer for more than one organization. In other words, your typical volunteer leads a busy life! When structuring a volunteer program, consider the scope of the tasks being assigned. Your goal should be to expand the capacity of your organization using volunteer know-how and enthusiasm while providing your volunteers with tasks that can be accomplished without overwhelming them (i.e., some of the larger, longer-term tasks on your to-do list may require a team of volunteers working in concert with a staff member).

Rewarding. People volunteer in part so they can feel good about making a contribution to their community. When developing a volunteer program, therefore, focus on providing high-touch, meaningful work that your volunteers will be proud to talk about with their networks, colleagues, and friends. And in those cases where the work that needs to be done is more administrative or mundane in nature (see "Relevant" above), make an effort to match the right volunteer to the task. As with donors, volunteers thrive on and respond to recognition and appreciation for their efforts.

Bottom line: Happy volunteers help drive the effectiveness of our organizations, make our lives easier, and are more likely to become both financial supporters of and advocates for our cause!

Want to learn more about creating a volunteer program that meets the needs of your volunteers and your organization? Then join me for "Build a Successful Volunteer Program," a Foundation Center webinar, on February 9, from 2:00-3:00 p.m. ET. We'll talk about the questions you should ask before inviting volunteers into your organization, practical tips for choosing the right volunteers, and tactics you can use to effectively recognize and retain valuable volunteer talent. We'll also focus on practical information you can use right away to create more meaningful and lasting volunteer engagement.

New York City-based Marti Fischer is an entrepreneur, radio host, teacher, career coach, and nonprofit development consultant who helps individuals and organizations hone their communication skills in order to "Achieve Their Next." Marti can be reached through her website www.martifischergroup.com.

Weekend Link Roundup (December 5-6, 2015)

December 06, 2015

Rockefeller-center-christmas-tree-statueOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans

The Campaign for Black Male Achievement has released the inaugural Black Male Achievement Index, a "first-of-its-kind report to track and communicate how cities' efforts across the country are advancing black male achievement."

Climate Change

The University of Massachusetts has joined the growing list of educational institutions that have announced they will divest themselves of investments in coal companies. WBUR's Zeninjor Enwemeka reports.

Can so-called green bonds be a game-changer in the fight against global warming. Rockefeller Foundation president Judith Rodin thinks so and explains in the Guardian how the foundation's Zero Gap work is helping to show the way forward.

On the Barr Foundation blog, Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a national coalition of investors, environmental organizations, and public interest groups working with companies to address sustainability issues, looks at some of the companies that are stepping up to address the climate change threat

One major American company, Google, has announced that it will nearly double the amount of renewable energy it uses to power its data centers, with six different wind and solar power projects scheduled to come online within the next two years in the U.S., Chile, and Sweden. Michael Liedtke reports for the Washington Post.

Fundraising

The San Diego chapter of the Alzheimer's Association has joined the New York chapter in splitting from the national federation, setting itself up as a purely locally operated organization. The San Diego Tribune's Bradley J. Fikes reports.

Giving

Is donor-driven charity dying? After noting on the Huffington Post's Impact blog that the latest numbers released by the World Giving Index show that while total giving is up, the number of individuals making those gifts is down by 5 percent, George McGraw, founder and executive director of digdeep.org, argues that nonprofits need to start developing new revenue models and offers a few suggestions.

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Interview Strategies for Hiring Managers

October 24, 2015

Interview-strategies-for-hiring-managersNot all interviews are equal. There are great interviews and great interviewers, and then there are not-so-great interviews and interviewers. The tips below will ensure that you are in the great camp.

1. Make time to prepare. Don't go into an interview without a plan of action. This includes taking the time to review the resume of the candidate carefully and preparing a list of thoughtful questions in advance. Going into an interview with a comprehensive list of questions will ensure that you don't forget to ask anything and that the interview will move along smoothly. Make sure, too, that you have some generic questions, as well as questions tailored to the open job position itself.

2. Include other colleagues in the process as appropriate. It's always a great idea to bring other colleagues into the interview process. For starters, they can be an invaluable source of feedback as you evaluate candidates, and they also can provide candidates with a more nuanced and layered understanding of the organization. Take the time to prep your colleagues and make sure they have all the relevant materials (including the job description!) and a clear idea about what you'd like them to ask. Don't feel as if you have to include a large number of people, as that can be overwhelming for a candidate and make it more difficult for you to absorb and assess feedback. But do aim for a cross-section of people likely to interact with a new hire on a regular basis.

3. Use the opportunity to shed light on your organization’s culture. If the candidate doesn't ask, be sure to share aspects of your organization's culture so that both of you are able to evaluate whether he or she is a good "fit." You can talk about values, how people communicate with each other, whether or not attendance at a retreat is part of the job (and what the retreats are like), how big decisions get made, what people do for fun — anything that will provide a sense of the overall culture at your organization.

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Philanthropy University? It Really May Be the Next Big Thing…

October 23, 2015

Especially here in Silicon Valley, there are many who believe technology is a silver bullet for social problems large and small. In the Valley, technology is looked to as THE source of innovation and the key to making solutions better, faster, cheaper. Sometimes that is in fact the case; most of the time it is not.

Take the example of PlayPumps, a technology that was designed with children in mind and was supposed to make pumping water in remote villages in the developing world easy and fun. Instead, today, in many villages, the pumps sit broken and idle. Or the soccer ball that was supposed to generate energy when kicked, serving double duty as a toy and a lamp for households without electricity. The balls, praised as ingenious when they first appeared, soon proved to be a bust. And the list goes on.

Sometimes, however, technology can provide exactly the right tool for the job. Philanthropy University would seem to be such a case. In partnership with the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, Philanthropy University offers free online courses taught by top instructors. In the process, it greatly expands access to the knowledge, wisdom, and best practices social sector leaders need in order to improve human and social service delivery around the globe. (Full disclosure, I serve on Phil U’s curriculum advisory committee.)

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 17-18, 2015)

October 18, 2015

Our weekly round Fall_Foliage_Photographyup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog.

Climate Change

Does Bill Gates understand that divestment movements do not need to financially impact their targets to be successful? Not really, argues Katie Herzog in Grist.

And look who just came out in support of the UN climate goals

International Affairs/Development

It has been a deadly year for aid workers in the field. Iain Overton reports for the Guardian.

Education

Can separate be equal in education? In Boston, many black families have decided that diversity in the classroom is a luxury, not a necessity. Farah Stockman explains.

On Medium, Jeff Raikes, former CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has some thoughts on how philanthropy can promote innovation in Education.

Grantmaking

On the Barr Foundation website, Senior Program Officer E. San San Wong discusses three trends the Boston-based foundation's arts team is exploring in the context of a strategic planning process.

Higher Education

Looking for innovation in higher education? Washington Monthly's Matt Connolly highlights ten leaders who are delivering it.

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Losing the Red Cross Would Be the Real Disaster

September 27, 2015

Headshot_beth_gazleyPhilanTopic is on vacation this week. While we're away, we'll be sharing some of our favorite posts from the last year or three. This post was originally published in November 2014. Enjoy.

As a disaster researcher and scholar of nonprofit management, I've followed the (well publicized) travails and (hardly publicized) successes of the American Red Cross over the years.

I've met its national staff at research conferences and local staff at state and county emergency management meetings, where I've served on the board of my local Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD). I participated with hundreds of other invited experts in the governance audit that resulted in the "American National Red Cross Governance Modernization Act of 2007." I’ve monitored the commentary after a ProPublica/National Public Radio exposé of the Red Cross appeared last week. And based on my observations, I have developed a healthy respect and sympathy for the Red Cross.

Bet you didn't see that coming.

There's no disputing the fact that the public needs better results from the Red Cross. The organization has been essential to our welfare since the day it was chartered by Congress to be our national disaster response agency — primus inter pares among hundreds of agencies known collectively as voluntary organizations active in disaster. In fact, the Red Cross predates the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) by seventy-nine years.

Congress has entrusted a good part of disaster-related mass care and sheltering to the Red Cross. Somewhat less rationally, Congress imposed this public mandate on the Red Cross without much aid; the agency is expected to meet our nation's disaster relief needs largely through the philanthropic generosity of Americans.

Further complicating matters, the Red Cross has been plagued for years by leadership issues — issues that aren't easy to resolve because they are rooted in a number of larger, systemic problems:

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