307 posts categorized "Nonprofit Management"

Embracing Leadership Transitions

April 13, 2018

Top_hands_inLeadership transitions happen all the time in philanthropy, but we rarely talk about the challenges and lessons they reveal. For the most part, our inclination is to try to keep the internal dynamics of our institutions private and (often) separate from our grantmaking. But because organizational change happens to all of us, we have come to see leadership transitions as offering lessons that can be illuminating not just to us but to our grantees and colleagues in other organizations as well.

Three and a half years ago, Lani Shaw, the longtime executive director of General Service Foundation (GSF), passed away suddenly. During her twenty years as GSF's first executive director, the foundation transitioned from being staffed by family members to having a full-time professional staff. Lani's passing put into motion a number of additional changes.

We know from experience that embracing change can be hard. But change can also propel an institution forward, because when it is embraced, it can be an opportunity to connect with our values and work in new ways. This is why, as we mark the two-year anniversary of a new executive director joining General Service Foundation, we wanted to share what we have learned on our journey.

1. Expectations: Transitioning to new leadership is just the beginning.

Robin Snidow (GSF Board Chair): It was a wake-up call when I realized that the hiring of a new executive director was only the beginning of the transition. I had my nose to the ground and was focused on the day-to-day business of keeping the foundation functioning. However unrealistic it may have been, I thought my work would be done once we hired the new ED.

That was not the case, and board chairs need to be aware. Transition means change, and change is dynamic. I wasn't trying to change anything while the executive director position remained vacant. But once Dimple [Abichandani] was hired, I knew we had to be open to changing if we wanted to take full advantage of the opportunities her hiring presented.

Lesson learned: Prepare the board for change. As board chair, don't assume your job is over or that it will get easier when you fill an executive position. That's when the fun starts!

Dimple Abichandani (GSF Executive Director): I remember a staff member saying at one point during my first few weeks here how happy she was that the transition was over and things could "return to normal." Her statement captured just how taxing it can be for an organization to go through the uncertainty of an executive transition. It took us all time to recognize that while the search process had ended, the transition was only beginning. When I look back on that period, I realize now how important it is for leadership to manage expectations.

It is also important for staff and board to be aware that a new leadership perspective may lead to opportunities to build a stronger container for the organization's work. It may also be an opportunity to build on the efforts of previous team members in new ways. All this takes time to figure out and implement.

Lesson learned: Be realistic and clear with expectations. Acknowledge that when a new leader joins a team, things will shift and evolve.

2. Culture: Change is hard because most change involves changing culture.

DA: When I started to understand that every change, big or small, represented a culture change for the organization, I started to talk explicitly about the culture I was trying to create. In the early days, I characterized changes such as moving our team to shared electronic calendars as being no big deal. When these seemingly "small" changes were not met with universal enthusiasm, I was initially baffled by why they should be difficult to implement. Slowly, I realized that what I saw as "small" changes represented a bigger cultural shift — and pain point — for the organization. So I started to be more explicit about the kind of organizational culture I was trying to foster — one that emphasized greater collaboration and integration across programs — and to connect changes, big and small, to that vision.

Lesson learned: Explicitly name culture changes as such and put them into a broader context of the culture you want to co-create.

RS: It's helpful to understand when you have a new leader in place that change is inevitable. We had to remind ourselves of this, particularly because we have a culture that we'd been building for decades. Lani was very much a part of that culture. Hearing that things needed to change is hard when you've been doing things a certain way. It can feel like a criticism and, while building trust helps, it can be difficult. However, there are ways to approach change that can make it feel less threatening and help ease the tension between preserving existing systems and being open to new ways of doing things.

Lesson learned: An attitude of "Let's try this" is important. Know that things are going to change and be open and transparent in your efforts to change longstanding culture.

3. Relationships: In your first year, focus on building relationships and establishing trust.

RS: My number-one job in the first year was to support and create the conditions that would enable our new executive director to be successful. I needed to have her back, to trust her, and to be her thought partner. Successful leadership is the foundation of a successful organization. We established trust by making sure that nothing was off limits. I encouraged Dimple to share any struggle or problem with me, and together we worked to find solutions. It was not only a way to try to solve an issue but good practice for us to learn to work together and to count on each other. Even when we could not come up with an immediate solution, we still had the confidence that we would in time because we had become a team.

Lesson learned: It's okay to go slow and focus on relationship building, which often requires time and patience. The bond between ED and board chair is a critical one, so bringing an intentional focus to that relationship is important. The foundation for a successful transition rests on creating strong internal relationships.

DA: During my first year, my number-one priority was relationship building. I was joining a foundation that had experienced a long period of stability and little change. Lani had been at GSF for more than twenty years, and we had board members who had been serving the organizations for decades. I knew that if staff and board members didn't trust or know me, then nothing would work, so I prioritized building these relationships, spending one-on-one time with board members to learn what was important to them and to get grounded by their stories and GSF's history.

My relationship with Robin was pivotal. She was a great sounding board, and I often drew on her deep knowledge of the organization, the board, and the staff. Early in my transition, I shared a challenging situation with her, and hearing her say "I have your back and I know this is hard" was wonderfully reassuring. It affirmed for me we were in this together. We got into the practice of solving problems together, which became the foundation of a positive and productive relationship — not just for us but for the entire organization.

Relationship building with the staff was also key. In my first two months, I traveled with each program officer to a gathering of grantees or fellow funders to get to know them, understand how they work, and witness how we as an institution were showing up.

Lesson learned: You can't move forward together if you don't have trust.

4. Internal Support: When a leadership transition involves a longtime executive director, an interim executive director can play an invaluable role.

RS: The decision to hire an interim executive director was based on my need to have a sounding board, a listening partner, someone to strategize with during the time GSF was without a full-time ED. I soon saw how an interim executive director can help bridge the uncertainty of change. Our interim ED was brought on with two main purposes: to support the chair in running the foundation and to help with the search for a new executive director. The unintended benefit was the support the new ED already had in place when she began her new job.

Lesson learned: Have an outside voice to support the board chair during this challenging time. A trusted interim director can help ease potential tensions between staff and board.

DA: Two years into my role, I still often think of our interim ED with gratitude because her work made my transition smoother than it might have been otherwise. Our entire team had only worked with our previous ED; having an interim ED gave them an opportunity to experience a different leadership style. Our interim ED was also very involved in the hiring process. I had the luxury of overlapping with her for almost a month, and part of her task was to structure a transition plan and facilitate an orientation retreat. Her coaching and advice as we went through the transition were invaluable.

Lesson learned: In a transition following a long-serving executive, an interim director can help prepare staff for change.

5. External Support: Find your people — your co-conspirators and confidants.

RS: It is so important to find your people and draw support and lessons from those relationships. As board chair, it was important to engage other members of the board so they were fully bought into the transition and the prospective changes that might come with it. Speaking to peers in philanthropy and nonprofits can also help answer questions and overcome challenges that may come up.

Lesson learned: Draw support and lessons from trusted partners, including board members.

DA: I have found so much joy in finding co-conspirators and confidants to lean on, getting their perspectives and learning from them. Being able to reach out and build confidential supportive relationships with other executive directors, particularly the new generation of leaders of color in philanthropy, has provided an important community for many of us, a space where we can align our work with partner organizations in ways that have a broader value and benefit.

Lesson learned: Build community with your peers. It makes the work more fun and impactful.  

Final Thoughts

The main lesson we learned from our journey is that leadership transitions are a work in progress requiring intentional focus for as long as it takes to cultivate the relationships and culture necessary to make the transition successful. From speaking to peers in philanthropy, we know that most leadership transitions involve challenges. But transitions can be joyful, too, because they enable us to connect with one another and our work in new ways. For us, taking the time to develop openness and trust meant that when challenges arose, we were more effective in coming up with solutions together. It also meant we were both in a better position to think boldly, take risks, and be brave alongside each other and in partnership with the organization as a whole.

Dimple_Abichandani_Robin_Snidow_for_PhilanTopicNo two transitions will be the same, but we can all find our own ways to embrace change and see leadership transitions as opportunities for reflection and strengthening our organizations. A successful leadership transition matters not just to the organization undergoing the change but to all of us working in the social justice ecosystem. When a transition fails, it hurts our collective efforts on behalf of equity and justice. And when transitions are successful, we are able to move closer toward our shared goal of transforming the world.

Dimple Abichandani is executive director and Robin Snidow is board chair of the General Service Foundation, which is dedicated  to building a more just and sustainable world.

9 Strategic (and Inexpensive!) Ways Funders Can Support Grantee Staff

March 16, 2018

Generic-supportNonprofits tend to sink or swim based not on mission and funding alone but on the talents of employees. Keeping good employees and equipping them for the work that needs to be done is one of the critical challenges frequently cited by nonprofit leaders, yet funders tend to invest much less in the "people" aspects of nonprofit organizations than they do in other areas. Indeed, businesses spend four times more per employee on leadership development than do nonprofits, while according to Foundation Center grant data from 1992-2011 less than 1 percent of foundation grant dollars are invested in nonprofit workforce development.

There are many reasons for this, from fear of getting tangled up in personnel issues to foundation charters that specify funding for programs rather than operations. However, as nonprofit organization Fund the People emphasizes, nonprofit people are nonprofit programs, and even modest investments in staff development can have significant impact.

At the Pierce Family Foundation in Chicago, our priority is capacity building and providing funding for the kind of "back office" support that keeps organizations strong and enables their programs to thrive. Given the particular experience of family members and founding staff in working for and running nonprofits prior to launching the foundation, a focus on supporting what it really takes to deliver mission was part of our vision from the beginning. It's only natural for us, therefore, to want to invest in the people whom nonprofits employ.

Below, I outline nine strategic and inexpensive ways we've invested in nonprofit staffing — and that we believe other funders interested in providing similar support can easily adapt for their own purposes.

1. Provide unrestricted general operating support. Capacity begins with staffing; do not underestimate the importance of supporting basic staffing costs by providing unrestricted general operating support. The more stable the general operating base, the more supported an organization will be in terms of staff retention, compensation, and morale. Staff also function better in non-chaotic environments that allow them to focus on how they can best put their skills to work. At the Pierce Foundation, 70 percent of our grantmaking takes the form of general op grants, and 30 percent is for specific capacity-building projects, from upgrades to CRMs and donor management software to consultant support for succession planning.

2. Offer an outside advisor for HR projects. Outside advisors can provide an objective review of a grantee's staff organizational chart, job descriptions, compensation levels, and personnel policies. We offer general workshops on topics such as "What Are You Paying and Why." We also offer private sessions with a consultant for organizations that are looking to revise their organizational chart or salary ranges, or (in a time of budget cuts) trying to combine two jobs into one. An outside advisor can make this process less painful and provide data and expertise that would not otherwise be available to an organization. We began experimenting with what made the most sense in this area because of the conversations our leading support specialist, Kris Torkelson, and Program Director Heather Parish found themselves having with grantees, many of whom did not know where to turn to for nonprofit-specific HR advice (much less a "reality check" with respect to job descriptions or comparables that can be shared with board members often reluctant to spend money on staff development).

3. Share salary data from national and regional surveys. We subscribe to the six or seven major nonprofit salary surveys because we know our grantees can't afford to and/or are unlikely to. One of our consultants combs and sorts through the surveys to identify "comparables" by position, type of organization, etc. and then shares that data with our grantees. This enables grantees to quickly see what organizations doing similar work pay their staff. Exposure to this kind of data often helps an organization understand why its staff turnover is high and can lead to needed adjustments to its salary ranges. We don't stipulate what our grantees should do with this data — that's not our role — but it typically feeds into the case for support made to their boards at budget time, as well as the longer-term planning done to ensure that an organization's ambitions align with its capacity.

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#TimesUp for the Nonprofit Gender Gap

March 09, 2018

Donor_perfect_workbook_for_womenFrom limited leadership roles to unequal pay to sexual harassment, the nonprofit community is coming to terms with its own #MeToo moment.

As a national conversation takes place around women’s issues, the surprising lack of gender diversity in nonprofit leadership along with the issues that surround it can no longer be overlooked.

For a sector that is largely funded and staffed by women, the numbers are troubling. While women make up about 73 percent of all nonprofit employees, they only hold 45 percent of nonprofit CEO roles. When it comes to pay, women nonprofit CEOs make just 66 percent of what their male counterparts make.

Fortunately, many nonprofits are having open discussions and taking action to promote gender equity in and beyond their organizations. 

In support of this crucial initiative, DonorPerfect partnered with five inspiring women who rose to the top of their organizations to create The Nonprofit Leadership Workbook for Women. This free downloadable guide commemorates Women's History Month in March, and every day, and offers a platform for these leaders to pass along what they believe it takes for more women in the nonprofit sector to ascend the ranks.

“This shift of power is so critically important. This shift in presence is so critically important,” says Marcia Coné, workbook contributor, author, and women’s advocate. “What follows is a shift in action, education, and understanding. It’s about balance and finding that there is space for both men and women to thrive, for both men and women to be safe.”

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What's in a Job Description?

February 02, 2018

It might not be obvious, but search firms like ours get lots of unexpected looks into what really goes on at the organizations we work with. And we're not just talking about hiring practices. We also gain insights into office culture, power dynamics, and reporting structures (those that work as well as those that don't). Where does all that information come from? Not from exit interviews or placement questionnaires. No, if you really want to get the inside scoop on an organization, all you have to do is look at the documents that every supervisor and employee loves to hate. 

Yes, I'm talking about your organization's job descriptions.

How do job descriptions reveal more than they were meant to? Let's look at six fairly common types and zero in on what they might be saying about your organization.

The All-Do Can-Do Job Description

Everyone can't (and shouldn't) do everything, but apparently your supervisor never got the memo. Under "responsibilities," this single-spaced three-page monstrosity not only includes "leap over tall buildings" and "argue cases before the Supreme Court," it also has the nerve to end with "other duties as assigned."

What this could mean: There's a good chance with a job description like this that no one knows exactly what the core functions of the position are, so the team responsible for creating it threw everything and the kitchen sink in just to be sure. Unfortunately, that often means that the person who ends up in the position is spread too thin and is likely to underperform. Can't say we're surprised; lack of clarity in a job description inevitably leads to confused priorities and overwhelmed staff. 

Pro Tip: Keep your job descriptions to one page. (Anything longer may be the reason the position is still open.) 

Unrelated Educational Requirements

You value education; we value education. But nonprofits too often are guilty of asking for educational credentials that not only don't match the requirements of the job in question — they don't make sense given the salary range. Why would a junior coordinator need a $75K master's degree? Or why is there an educational requirement for a fundraising position? In a sector where almost everyone is passionate about social justice, why do we insist on either excluding qualified candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds or saddling our junior staff with untenable debt?

What this could mean: Your organization isn't really serious about diversity and inclusion. By insisting on including expensive educational requirements in your job descriptions, you could be eliminating otherwise qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds before your candidate search even starts.

Pro Tip: "Or equivalent experience" in a job description gives you much more flexibility and will open up the candidate pool to a much broader variety of qualified people.

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5 Questions for...Laura Kalick, Tax Consulting Director, BDO

January 12, 2018

The GOP tax reform bill agreed to by the U.S. Senate and House in December and signed into law by the president on December 22 is over a thousand pages long. The bill is so long, in fact, that many members of Congress haven’t read — and are unlikely to ever read — it in its entirety. Its impact on nonprofits and the charitable sector could be significant, however, which is why earlier this month we spoke with Laura Kalick, national non-profit tax consulting director for the nonprofit and nonprofit healthcare industry at BDO in Washington, D.C., about provisions in the new law most likely to affect nonprofits in 2018, and beyond.

Headshot_laura_kalickPhilanthropy News Digest: There are lots of provisions in the tax reform bill that are going to affect nonprofits and charities. In your view, what is the one provision likely to have the greatest impact on the sector?

Laura Kalick: Well, the one that’s going to have the most impact is the doubling of the standard deduction and the limitation on deducting state and local taxes. These two provisions will likely result in a huge number of American taxpayers not itemizing their deductions and therefore not being able to deduct charitable gifts, which, as you know, is an important incentive for charitable giving. It's hard to know, of course, what people will do, but estimates from the likes of Independent Sector and the Council on Foundations suggest that charitable giving in the U.S. may take a hit of as much as a $20 billion, which is pretty substantial.

PND: The bill includes two provisions likely to be popular among individuals who do itemize their returns. One is an increase in the charitable contribution deduction limit, and the other is repeal of the so-called Pease limitation. How are those changes likely to affect charitable giving?

LK: The Pease limitation was more of a concern for high-income taxpayers, in that it reduced the value of a taxpayer's itemized deductions by 3 percent for every dollar of taxable income above a certain threshold — something like $250,00 for an individual and $300,000 for a married couple. With its repeal, people whose total income exceeds those levels will now get the full benefit of their contributions, so in that sense it could be an incentive for higher income taxpayers to give more.

The other provision is of little help to anyone, in my opinion. Previously, you could deduct charitable gifts totaling up to 50 percent of your contribution base — essentially, your adjusted gross income (AGI). That's a pretty large number, and although I don't have the stats for you, it's a lot more than most people actually allocate to charity. A provision in the new tax bill raises the maximum to 60 percent of one's contribution base, which is an even bigger number and not something that is likely to apply to too many people in any given year. I would also note that in addition to being able to deduct contributions up to 50 percent of one's contribution base, if there are contributions in excess of that amount, they could have, under the old code, and still can be carried forward under special rules. So I believe that increasing the limit to 60 percent is likely to have little impact.

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[Review] 'Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector'

November 28, 2017

The nonprofit sector has never faced more difficult challenges — or had the potential to create greater impact — than it does today, argue William F. Meehan III, director emeritus of McKinsey & Company, and Kim Starkey Jonker, president and CEO of King Philanthropies, in their new book, Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector. But for nonprofits — by 2025 projected to need up to $300 billion more annually beyond currently expected revenues in order to meet demand — to benefit from the largest intergenerational wealth transfer in U.S. history (an estimated $59 trillion expected to change hands between 2007 and 2061), they will have to "earn the right to expand [their] role and maximize [their] impact" in what Meehan and Jonker refer to as the coming "Impact Era."

Book_engine_of_impact_3dDrawing on a number of surveys, including the 2016 Stanford Survey on Leadership and Management in the Nonprofit Sector; a variety of Stanford Social Innovation Review articles, business and nonprofit management books, and Meehan's course on nonprofit leadership at the Stanford Graduate School of Business; and Jonker's experience overseeing the Henry R. Kravis Prize in Nonprofit LeadershipEngine of Impact outlines the challenges nonprofits currently face — lack of impact data, transparency, and sustainable operational support; donors' tendency to give impulsively to well-known organizations rather than high-impact ones; ineffective boards — and then explores a number of tools that nonprofits can use to address those challenges. They do not include venture philanthropy or impact investments, which Meehan and Jonker, somewhat "controversially," are skeptical of. Instead, they urge nonprofits to embrace the "essentials of strategic leadership" — mission, strategy, impact evaluation, insight and courage, funding, talent/organization, and board governance — which, when brought together thoughtfully and intentionally, create an engine of impact that drives organizational success.

Quoting liberally from business management expert Peter Drucker, Ashoka founder Bill Drayton (an early mentor of Meehan's), Good to Great author Jim Collins, and other luminaries, the authors illustrate each component of strategic leadership with concrete examples often drawn from the work of Kravis Prize winners such as the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), BRACLandesa, and Helen Keller International. And while they concede that some of them may be obvious, they are quick to note, based on survey results, that they are not all well understood or effectively implemented.

They emphasize, for example, the importance of a well-crafted mission statement, and caution organizations against mission creep, even if avoiding the latter means saying no to a new funding source. Indeed, saying "no" seems to be a critical part of strategic leadership, in that the urgent need to achieve maximum impact in a time of enormous challenges and limited resources is too important for nonprofit leaders to be distracted by non-mission-aligned activities — or by debates over semantics (e.g., "theory of change" vs. "logic model"): "if you ever find yourself caught in a debate about these terms' usage," Meehan and Jonkers write, "we suggest you leave the room immediately. We do."

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Best Practices for Implementing New Software

October 16, 2017

Puzzle_cooperation_250If your foundation or charity is thinking about implementing new software, it's essential that it have a well-thought-out technology strategy in place before proceeding. Such a strategy should include a holistic view of the pros and cons of the software under consideration, buy-in from key stakeholders, and a focus on ROI as well as costs.

Of course, any software implementation should be a team effort that has been blessed by leadership and is conducted in real partnership with the software implementer. Settling on a software solution that solves one problem for a single department without thinking through the entire organization's technology needs and ecosystem can lead to more problems than it solves, including:

  • a fatal lack of buy-in from staff and management;
  • technology needs that go unaddressed;
  • duplication of effort; and
  • lack of systems integration.

Selecting a vendor based on a solution's cosmetic features while ignoring the implementer's competence and capacity can also cause problems. And because many foundations and nonprofits are laser-focused on initial costs and frequently ignore longer-term return-on-investment (ROI) calculations, especially when it comes to choosing a firm to implement a solution, organizations often end up with software that is inexpensive but does nothing to drive impact or improve their bottom lines.

Long story short? Software solutions that appear to be inexpensive at first glance can result in significant unaccounted-for costs during the implementation process. Which is why forward-thinking organizations look for solutions that can help them advance their mission and yield a better-than-average return on investment.

Here are five types of software that are useful for foundations and grantmaking charities:

  1. CRM: Provides a holistic view of the constituent experience across the entire organization.
  2. Fundraising: Gives a clear view of performance and yield (including data enrichment services), processes donations, and helps empower your organization's “evangelists” to raise money on your behalf.
  3. Financial: Provides in-depth record keeping and custom reports that allow you to drill down into your finances.
  4. Grants management and impact measurement: Identifies, tracks, and measures the impact of grants and gifts (both cash and in-kind) against concrete outcomes.
  5. Analytics: Is used to harness the power of data and connect with constituents, highlight areas of operational improvement, and generate insights into potential organizational investments.

So how can organizations set themselves up for long-term success once they've chosen one or more of the above solutions? Here are five best software implementation practices:

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (June 2017)

July 05, 2017

Don't know if you all agree, but it's unanimous here at PND: Whoever invented the four-day weekend deserves a medal. We've got a busy July lined up, but before we get too far into it, we figured this would be a good time to look back at the blog content you found especially interesting in June, including new posts by Rotary International's John Hewko, Battalia Winston's Susan Medina, DataViz for Nonprofit's Amelia Kohm, regular contributor Kathryn Pyle, and the Center for Social Impact Communication at Georgetown University. Enjoy!

What have you read/watched/heard lately that got your attention, made you think, or charged you up? Feel free to share in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

The Diversity Gap in the Nonprofit Sector

June 06, 2017

Diversity logoThe lack of diversity at the highest levels of the country's corporations has become a popular topic of debate, thanks in part to a number of high-profile stories focused on the technology industry.

If there has been less criticism of the nonprofit and foundation sectors, neither is exempt from the problem. Earlier this year, Battalia Winston analyzed the leadership teams of the largest foundations and nonprofits in the United States and found that they, too, suffer from homogeneity. We found, for instance, that while 42 percent of the organizations we surveyed are led by female executive directors, 87 percent of all executive directors or presidents were white, and that there was only minimal representation of African Americans (6 percent), Asian Americans (3 percent), and Hispanics (4 percent) in those positions.

Our findings, which we've published in a white paper, The State of Diversity in Nonprofit and Foundation Leadership, are similar to those presented in a number of recent studies. A 2015 study by Community Wealth Partners, for example, found that only 8 percent of nonprofit executive directors were people of color, while a 2013 study conducted by D5 found that 92 percent of foundation executive directors were white.

While one would think that nonprofits and foundations — particularly those that support underserved communities and minorities — would prioritize diversity within their leadership ranks, attracting and recruiting diverse talent is easier said than done, especially at the leadership level. If organizations want to create sustained diversity at the top, they need to continuously cultivate a talent pipeline of diverse high-potential candidates, both internally and externally.

For any number of reasons, building a pipeline of diverse talent can be particularly challenging for nonprofits and foundations. First, the talent pool of diverse candidates is still significantly smaller than the pool of white candidates. According to a 2016 study by Young Invincibles, racial disparities in rates of higher education attainment continue to widen: between 2007 and 2015, the gap between the share of white adults with postsecondary degrees and Latinos and African Americans with postsecondary degrees increased by 2.2 and 0.4 percentage points, respectively.

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[Infographic] The State of Donor Retention 2017

April 29, 2017

The folks at nonprofit management and fundraising software company Bloomerang recently surveyed 775 nonprofit organizations (mostly) in the U.S. and Canada "to see where they stand on the issue of donor retention" — and are sharing some of the key findings in a nice little infographic on their website (and below):

Infographic_state-of-donor-retention-in-2017

No real surprises here. The vast majority (99 percent) of the surveyed respondents have heard the term "donor retention" (up from 98 percent in 2014, the last time Bloomerang conducted the survey), while two-thirds (67 percent) track their donor retention rate (up from 55 percent in 2014). Maybe more interesting are the reasons nonprofits give for NOT tracking donor retention:

  • don't have the tools (20 percent)
  • don't know how (16 percent)
  • aren't sure what they would do differently if they knew their rate (14 percent)
  • no one has ever asked to see it (13 percent)
  • don't care about the metric (1 percent)
  • "other”

What about your organization? Is donor retention something you and your colleagues think about and track? And if not, why not? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

To learn more about the importance of donor retention and why it's a critical metric for your nonprofit, check out our Sustainable Nonprofit archive, where you'll find any number of articles on the topic — and lots of material on other topics of interest!

Groundwork for Good Fortune: The Real Power of Strategic Planning

April 14, 2017

Strategic-Planning2It's the phone call every nonprofit leader dreams of. "I'd like to give you a very large sum of money." At first I thought it might be a scam, but when I realized the caller was the real deal — a philanthropist who cared deeply about education — a new question came to mind: How would we spend that much money?

Fortunately, we had just concluded a twelve-month strategic planning process, had a board-vetted plan for growth ready to go, and were able to submit that plan to the donor with only minor revisions. Several weeks later, we received our first-ever seven-figure gift.

To quote the Roman philosopher Seneca, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." Nonprofit organizations often treat strategic planning as a luxury, opting to focus on more pressing, day-to-day matters. And because, as time-management guru Steven Covey has framed it, strategic planning is entirely Quadrant II (important but not urgent), its inherent value is easily overlooked.

The concept of deliberate strategic planning goes back at least as far as the late 1960s, which is when John Argenti published his landmark Corporate Planning and when companies began engaging in SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. The nonprofit sector embraced strategic planning in the 1980s and 90s, as the number of registered 501(c)(3)s began to explode, "charities" became more professionalized, and the competition for grant dollars increased. In 1993, Patrick J. Burkhart and Suzanne Reuss published Successful Strategic Planning: A Guide for Nonprofit Agencies and Organizations, one of the first books to help nonprofits with their long-range planning.

Still, apart from the occasional discussion at a staff meeting or board retreat, organized strategic planning often takes a backseat to the day-to-day work of running an organization. Yes, schools use strategic planning to shape and guide their capital campaigns, but for nonprofits that don't mount major fundraising campaigns, setting aside time for strategic planning can be seen as more burden than blessing.

At Oliver Scholars, the time and effort that went into strategic planning paid off handsomely when we were asked by our angel donor for a well-thought-out growth plan. Is your nonprofit prepared? The following ten tips can help your organization get the most out of its next strategic planning process:

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Embracing Partnerships to Widen Impact

December 09, 2016

Piecing_it_togetherAs the executive director of The Blue Card, a national nonprofit that assists Holocaust survivors, I have seen nonprofits having to adapt to the consequences of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, a rapidly accelerating digital revolution, and a renewed emphasis on corporate social responsibility, all of which have forced them — and us — to rethink how we communicate and execute on our missions.

Through this period of change, we've managed to grow our operating budget by 40 percent and expanded our outreach from nineteen to thirty-two states, even as our full-time headcount has remained in the single digits. At the same time, my colleagues and I have seen the needs of survivors we support increase, as they struggle with health issues and ever-rising healthcare costs. For many of them, the difficulty of navigating the public health system and the stresses they face as a result of financial pressures are exacerbated by the psychological and emotional scars they bear. That's why finding a way to provide outreach services to our constituents has been as important as helping them with financial support.

Indeed, if we learned anything from the economic downturn of 2008-09, it's that it is just as important to diversify one's operational strategy as it is one's fundraising strategy. By forging partnerships and taking advantage of synergies with a variety of public- and private-sector agencies, we've been able to increase our programmatic offerings while keeping our operational structure lean and nimble.

And along the way, we've learned a few things about how collaboration and partnerships can be used to help extend an organization's reach:

Don't be afraid. While charitable giving rose smartly in 2015, so did the number of registered nonprofits. Which means the competition for dollars and support from foundations, associations, corporations, and individual donors is as great as ever.

It's important to remember, however, that nonprofits focused on the same problem or cause invariably share the same goal. And that collaborating with an organization or organizations with a mission and goals that align with yours doesn't mean the support you receive has to suffer. On the contrary, you just may find that funders are willing to increase their support if they know the extra dollars won't be used to underwrite duplicative services or programs.

In 2013, for example, The Blue Card began working with the Association of Jewish Family & Children's Services (AJFCA), a membership network of Jewish family service agencies across the United States and Canada. Through AJFCA, we were able to cultivate relationships with social workers and agencies around the country that often are the first point of contact for the elderly, and today we receive referrals from more than seventy agencies in the AJFCA network.

In addition, we've identified organizations in other countries that do similar work and have formed relationships with many of them, making it possible for those agencies to refer donors to us who wish to help Holocaust survivors living in America.

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[Review] 'The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact Without Burnout'

November 04, 2016

Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman are successful nonprofit tech pioneers, social media experts, in-demand trainers and speakers, and the authors of several books. Both have also experienced professional burnout and view self-care as a critical aspect of any nonprofit professional's job, especially if she or he is engaged in mission-based social change work.

Bookcover_Happy Healthy NonprofitIn The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit, Kanter and Sherman address the problem of burnout with, as blogger Vu Le writes in the book's introduction, "their signature humor, piercing insight, and concrete advice." In the process, they also present "a compelling argument for why we burn out and why it is important for all of us to take care of ourselves and each other...."

To avoid something like burnout, you have to understand its causes and symptoms. That is the focus of the book's first chapter. In addition to common problems such as general work-related stress, the ubiquity of technology, and information overload, certain aspects of nonprofit work contribute to burnout, write Kanter and Sherman. Many of them fall under the rubric of the "nonprofit starvation cycle," a "vicious" dynamic that begins with funders' unrealistic expectations about how much money it takes to staff and operate a nonprofit and results in nonprofits "misrepresenting their costs while skimping on vital systems." Other challenges unique to nonprofit work include the "scarcity mindset" (the belief that there is not enough of what your nonprofit needs to go around), the "indispensability myth" (a pronounced correlation between work and one's identity), and underinvestment in leadership development. Together, write Kanter and Sherman, these factors can lead to emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and a lack of personal effectiveness and accomplishment.

Having examined the causes of burnout, they then address the issue of self-care, which they break down into "Five Spheres of Happy, Healthy Living." Sphere 1 is the individual's relationship to him or herself — mentally, physically, and spiritually; if any aspect of this sphere is neglected, all others suffer. Sphere 2 is our relationship with others, including family, friends, acquaintances, strangers, and people in our communities (both online and off). Sphere 3 is our relationship to our environment (both indoors and out). Sphere 4 is our relationship to work and money (but also includes our relationships with co-workers). And Sphere 5 is our relationship to technology (continuous exposure to which can negatively affect your well-being).

The next step for Kanter and Sherman is self-assessment. In researching the book, they reviewed a number of existing assessment instruments and then, based on that review, developed four new tools and worksheets: the Nonprofit Burnout Assessment (to help you recognize whether you're on the path to burnout); Your Current Reactions to Stress (to help you gauge positive and negative behaviors in response to stress); a Current Self-Care Behaviors and Stress Triggers Reflection Worksheet (an addendum to the previous assessment); and Individual Self-Care Assessment and Checklists (which enable you to assess your self-care habits and practices against the "Five Spheres" framework). According to Kanter and Sherman, self-assessment, when conducted honestly, helps us identify stress triggers in our lives, negative and positive responses to those triggers, and areas where we may need to set boundaries. With that information in hand, we can then build healthier routines and habits.

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Does It Count, If You Don't Count It? The Future of Social Impact Measurement

October 19, 2016

Solutions_outcomes_signpostOutcomes. Impact. Results. In the for-profit world, all are key to the long-term viability and health of an organization. Today, in the giving sector, we are seeing the same concepts around performance and measuring outcomes take center stage. 

But as the conversation around best practices for results-focused giving continues to gain traction and the ability to demonstrate the results of giving becomes more important, organizations and individuals across the philanthropic spectrum, from foundations to nonprofits to corporations, to the individual change agents that support them, are struggling to define a common language for performance measurement and reporting. 

While that language may not yet exist, players across the giving sector can agree that being able to demonstrate social impact involves many of the same elements as good storytelling.

Needless to say, the power of good storytelling has been a feature of politics, business, and our dinner tables for as long as any of us can remember. That's because the best stories get to the heart of their subject and leave the listener feeling moved — whether to act, reflect, or investigate the subject matter. And while a story focused on a single individual, if told well, can grab our attention, when the story relates to something bigger or greater than ourselves, it is even more powerful.

Across the giving sector, we see champions for social good who understand that strong stories, powerfully told, can make a difference. Nonprofits, foundations, and corporations alike are harnessing the power of storytelling to share the impact of their work, to draw people to their mission, and to inspire action. But once social impact begins to be viewed through a storytelling lens, it becomes clear that crafting a compelling story about impact starts with a focus on measurable results. In other words, a donation or giving campaign that doesn't lead to the measurement and reporting of results is like a story without an ending. 

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Weekend Link Roundup (September 3-5, 2016)

September 05, 2016

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

Corporate Social Responsibility

The landscape of corporate philanthropy is changing — for the better. Andrea Hoffman, founder and CEO of Culture Shift Labs, looks at one Wall Street firm determined to change the existing stock-buyback paradigm.

Disaster Relief

In aftermath of the recent flooding in Louisiana, The (Baton Rouge) Advocate's Rebekah Allen and Elizabeth Crisp look at how crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe are disrupting the traditional disaster relief funding model.

Education

In the New York Times, Christopher Edmin, an associate professor at Teachers College, Columbia University and the author of For White Folk Who Teach in the Hood ... and the Rest of Y'all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education, challenges the idea that the answer to closing the achievement gap for boys and young men of color is to hire and retain more black male teachers.

Fundraising

Wondering how to get the public solidly behind your cause? Of course you are. Regular PhilanTopic contributor Derrick Feldmann shares some good tips here.

Higher Education

As the call for institutions of higher education to diversify their curricula grows louder, maybe it's time, writes the University of Texas' Steven Mintz on the Teagle Foundation site, for colleges and university "to embrace the Great Books spirit and delve into the most problematic aspects of our contemporary reality through works that speak to our time and perhaps all time."

Impact/Effectiveness

The Organizational Effectiveness program at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation has launched an Organizational Effectiveness Knowledge Center designed to be a space where nonprofits, funders, and others can "exchange learning, resources, and reflections about improving nonprofit organizational and network effectiveness."

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  • "The dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning his life are in his own hands, when he has assurance that his income is stable and certain, and when he knows that he has the means to seek self-improvement ...."

    — Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

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