348 posts categorized "Nonprofit Management"

The sustainable nonprofit: Optimizing operations for community impact

May 06, 2022

News_globe_keyboard_solution_GettyImages.jpgThe past two years have been defined by disruption, and for many individuals and organizations, the prospect of more change may be intimidating. In fact, half of respondents to a recent Innovation Process Design (IPD) survey of community foundations said they worry about overwhelming staff with process changes. In reality, however, thoughtfully examining and optimizing operations—the day-to-day organizational activities that define how an organization achieves its objectives—can actually help philanthropic and nonprofit organizations recapture time, improve accuracy, increase coaching, and otherwise enhance their community impact.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a significant driver of change over the past two-plus years, as organizations scrambled to adjust to a rapidly evolving work environment and shifting community needs. According to the IPD survey, 92 percent of organizations installed virtual meeting systems to support a remote workforce, and 66 percent went paperless. Further, 66 percent of survey respondents reassigned job responsibilities and 61 percent overhauled operations.

Now, with two-thirds of organizations anticipating appreciable growth as the pandemic eases, changes are likely to continue through 2022 and beyond. Quite simply, organizations will have to make changes if they hope to keep up with demand. In light of that anticipated growth, 65 percent of organizations plan to bring in a major new operation in the coming year, 83 percent plan to expand or add programs, and 43 percent plan to create or execute a new strategic plan....

Read the full column article by Lee Kuntz, founder and president of Innovation Process Design Inc. 

(Photo credit: Getty Images)

Questions to ask before quitting your job: A column article by Molly Brennan

April 24, 2022

Man_face_down_on_desk_burnoutThinking about joining the Great Resignation? Four questions to consider

If you’re thinking about joining the Great Resignation and quitting your job, you’re in good company. Resignations are at a 20-year high, and depending on what study you’re reading, one-third to one-half of all U.S. workers are considering leaving their jobs right now. This record number of resignations is fueled by a range of factors, from the understanding that better pay and opportunities may be readily available, to a desire to work for an organization that is more values-aligned, to the desire to have more flexibility about when and where work is done. Burnout is also a significant factor that’s driving employees to seek other opportunities.

If you recognize yourself in any of these factors and are considering taking action, you’re likely to find yourself in a good position. The number of open opportunities has created stiff competition for talent, driving up salaries and giving candidates an advantage when it comes to negotiations.

A recent study from Pew Research Center found that many workers who leave their positions actually do find better jobs. At least half of these workers say that compared with their last job, they are now earning more money (56 percent), have more opportunities for advancement (53 percent), have an easier time balancing work and family responsibilities (53 percent), and have more flexibility to choose when they put in their work hours (50 percent). At the same time, that means almost half of those surveyed reported that they are not earning more, and about 22 percent said their current benefits are worse than at their last job.

So it would be a good idea to explore the following questions before quitting your current job....

Read the full column article by Molly Brennan, founding partner at executive search firm Koya Partners.

(Photo credit: Karolina Grabowska via pexels)

A ‘Nonprofit Development Bill of Rights’: A commentary by Evan Wildstein

April 05, 2022

Man_face_down_on_desk_burnout_pexels-karolina-grabowska-5717795The nonprofit sector, where I have spent the entirety of my career, is often woefully (and sometimes willfully) behind the curve on adapting to change. How many organizations had “preparing for a global health crisis” as a strategic planning priority?

Before 2020, some 1.54 million U.S. nonprofits were staffed by more than 12.5 million employees. Within the first three months of the pandemic, 1.64 million of those jobs vanished—and that’s a conservative estimate. Many of those jobs were eventually recovered, yet as 2021 came to a close, more than a quarter remained lost....

Nearly 10 percent of the U.S. nonprofit workforce are fundraisers. This hardworking cadre helps to raise hundreds of billions of dollars annually in a sector that grows more competitive, challenging, and necessary with every year....

I’ve been following the Community-Centric Fundraising (CCF) movement — a network of nonprofiteers who endeavor to “evolve how fundraising is done in the nonprofit sector.” Specifically, I’m inspired by how different fundraisers and organizations apply CCF’s 10 principles to philanthropy. This led to the idea of a development bill of rights....

Read the full commentary by Evan Wildstein, a fundraiser and nonprofiteer in Houston, Texas.

(Photo credit: Karolina Grabowska via Pexels)

Review: 'The Smart Nonprofit: Staying Human-Centered in an Automated World'

April 03, 2022

Book_cover_the_smart_nonprofit_fine_kanterTechnology is collecting information from us all the time to guide us in our decision making—much more than ever conceived of 30 or 40 years ago. A Netflix algorithm makes recommendations on past viewing history; Amazon’s algorithm decides how products are ranked in search results; Facebook’s algorithm determines what you see in your feed, to good and not-so-good results. If we’re not careful, algorithms can be used to decide who gets hired, who gets a loan, and who can receive vital, life-saving services. That part of it is about making sure human beings are not part of a data point metric but considered unique individuals with various needs. In The Smart Nonprofit: Staying Human-Centered in an Automated World,  Beth Kanter and Alison Fine, two experts in the use of technology for social good, explore the many ways in which nonprofits have been adopting “smart tech,” which they define as “an umbrella term for advanced digital technologies that make decisions for people.” Smart tech includes artificial intelligence (AI) and related technologies such as machine learning, natural language processing, smart forms, chatbots, and robots.

Kanter and Fine discuss the many ways in which smart tech is quickly becoming a part of nonprofit operations and how it’s used to automate tasks and save time. One of the most significant points they make is the importance of saving time in the nonprofit world—this world filled with people who are working to do good but may not have copious resources, staff, money, or time. The authors refer to this as the “dividend of time,” which translates to freeing staff to focus on other activities instead of rote tasks. Enabling staff to focus on “the things that only people can do” could lead to the very things the nonprofit is working to accomplish internally and externally, like reducing staff burnout, connecting with clients on a deeper level, solving problems, building better relationships within the sector, creating solutions, and overall better outcomes—a win-win when you find yourself in the nonprofit trenches and wishing for the day to be a little longer to offer just a bit more to the communities you serve....

Read the full review by Lauren Brathwaite, content editor at Philanthropy News Digest.

Strategies to help nonprofits not only survive, but thrive: A commentary by Donna Kennedy-Glans

March 07, 2022

Diversity_GettyImages_gmast3rNot only is the not-for-profit sector expected to address the disparities and fill the gaps exposed and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofit leaders are not exempt from the calls for greater accountability, equality, fairness, and sustainability—from the public as well as their funders, employees, volunteers, and the communities they serve. In these uncertain times, what strategies can help not-for-profit organizations not only to survive, but to thrive?

To understand how successful leaders build the organizational capacity required to adapt to a changing ecosystem and maximize opportunity for growth, it’s essential to understand the most relevant challenges your nonprofit is facing, then deploy strategies that connect the dots between external threats and foundational organizational values and capacities....

Read the full commentary by Donna Kennedy-Glans, founder of volunteer-run global social entrepreneurship initiative Bridges Social Development and the citizen engagement initiative Viewpoints AB.

(Photo credit: Getty Images/gmast3r)

Career insights: Four strategies for retaining top talent

February 22, 2022

Diverse_women_GettyImagesRetaining employees during the ‘Great Resignation’

We are in the midst of an extraordinary period of change in the talent market. The “Great Resignation” is a phenomenon that is impacting every sector and level of talent and is leading to fierce competition for leaders. As a recruiter focused on the nonprofit sector, I see the effects of this situation in my daily conversations with candidates and hiring managers. Candidates are in demand and talented leaders are very open to new opportunities. Hiring managers are losing team members and facing very difficult searches to replace them at a higher rate than ever.

According a September 2021 report from McKinsey, record numbers of employees are quitting or thinking about leaving their jobs: 40 percent of employees said that they were at least somewhat likely to leave their current job in the next three to six months, and 53 percent of talent management professionals reported greater voluntary turnover than in prior years.

It’s critical that managers and leaders understand what’s driving this trend and take steps to retain talent. Here are four things you can start doing right now to help ensure that your top performers stay with your organization and remain engaged....

Read the full column article by Molly Brennan, founding partner at executive search firm Koya Partners.

(Photo credit: Getty Images)

Invest in your operations teams to drive your mission forward

October 08, 2021

Like many sectors, nonprofit and philanthropic organizations have experienced a tidal wave of changes, adjustments, and challenges over the course of the pandemic. The need to direct funding toward efforts to meet emerging community needs, combined with the movement to bolster social justice causes, have highlighted new issues — or perhaps exacerbated existing ones — in operational structure.

Many nonprofits and philanthropies have come under pressure to be more efficient and effective than ever before. The dollars just haven’t been invested to support the kinds of operations needed to carry out such a heightened level of giving in addition to addressing emergency programs. Don't think about operations in a narrow sense; for philanthropic organizations, the nuts and bolts of operations are what enable teams to award and deliver grants quickly, set up and service fund accounts accurately, and work effectively with their boards.

Operations graphic PND

Most philanthropic organizations take pains to carefully design and redesign their mission, strategy, and programs. Yet, few invest time in improving their daily operations to deliver on plans to meet their strategic goals, a step that is essential to making meaningful community impact. Sound planning without excellent execution is unlikely to produce the desired results.

It isn't enough to add operations staff when they’re needed. Organizations must frame operations as a function and manage it as a process with a defined plan, including giving it the same level of attention and subjecting it to the same rigorous evaluation as efforts to design, monitor, and manage their mission, strategy, and programs.

Improving operations processes has become even more important with the development of emergency programs and social justice funding, which have required an increased level of responsiveness even as the volume of grant applications has significantly increased. For example, one foundation I’ve worked with used to receive thirty applications for each program annually; this same funder now receives a hundred and fifty applications while having to meet a faster turnaround requirement. This makes existing processes and policies impractical. To fulfill the foundation's mission and achieve its goals, it has become more essential than ever that nonprofit and philanthropic organizations invest significantly in their operations teams.

Skill development and training are table stakes

Operations success requires specific assets and abilities including detail-orientedness to produce desired results, strong project and task management skills, effective problem-solving capacity, and a deep working knowledge of process management and improvement. At the same time, operations teams must have expertise in a wide variety of systems and procedures. Philanthropic tools have gone from a few select systems to a wide array of resources that are vital to each organization. And each year more tools are becoming available.

The first step in enhancing operations expertise is to identify employees with an operations aptitude, then provide them with process management and improvement training. This can involve everything from adapting existing tools and changes in communication to implementing new and improved forms and process changes.

By investing in the skills development of operations teams, organizations can enable employees to transform how work is done, significantly reducing turnaround time and increasing community impact. At the same time, the organization as a whole can gain a better organization-wide understanding of the value of operations work and show renewed appreciation for their teams, which, in turn, can lead to higher satisfaction among core workers.

Invite operations into the C-suite

Being efficient and effective also means greater commitment to scrutinizing how work is done. This includes identifying staff and leadership to focus on monitoring operations outcomes while managing processes and systems, which can involve identifying an operations professional in each major function of the organization.

For example, I’ve seen organizations place an operations manager in their philanthropic services team who works across departments to improve collaboration and communication. Others identify an operations leader who owns and drives finance and operations team planning, project management, and process development.

It is also essential, however, to bring operations into the strategic discussions happening at the executive level. Some organizations I've worked with are grouping functions that are highly operational into one leadership role — a chief operations officer — who is responsible for effectively managing the organization’s infrastructure, processes, and resources. I've also seen organizations choose to add operations to an existing leader's role, often the CFO. Elevating operations to the executive level will help ensure that the necessary process and system conversations are included in the design and redesign of an organization’s mission, strategy, and programs.

Ongoing coaching and training for an ever-changing environment

Investing in operational excellence is not just a one-time prospect. As organizations, technologies, and the needs of communities evolve over time, providing ongoing training and coaching to teams and leaders is necessary if an organization is to continue delivering positive impact effectively. Building process muscle and capacity can help organizations consistently raise more money and make more grants on a year-over-year basis without dramatic increases in their budgets. Creating a culture and structure that supports ongoing training and process improvement also helps employees feel more confident and pursue solutions.

Operations staff may feel second-class compared with their counterparts in a structure that excludes them from mission and strategy design. Conversely, if organizations invest in these teams, they feel empowered to take initiative on behalf of the organization.

Making a positive community impact is possible only when effective operational practices are in place. Foundations need to build their operations capabilities and accountabilities, which will enable them to focus on both planning and operations. By moving the conversation beyond mission, strategy, and programs to the details of how the work gets done, organizations find creative ways to maximize their resources and help them support their communities efficiently and effectively.

Headshot_lee kuntz_PhilanTopicLee Kuntz is founder and president of Innovation Process Design, Inc., and a certified operations coach. She provides training and coaching to help teams look at their work with new eyes, transform how work gets done, and create tangible results in operations efficiency and effectiveness.

[Review] Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives

September 27, 2021

Book_cover_equityBrevity and Wit, author Minal Bopaiah's strategy and design firm, could also be a good description of the way in which Bopaiah addresses the complicated concepts in her book, Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives. In six short chapters (along with an introduction and conclusion), Bopaiah both educates readers in equity-related concepts and equips leaders with tools they can use in their organizations' efforts to "design for equity." 

Bopaiah first explains how the concept of "equity" differs from that of "equality," defines each term in IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility), and explores how equity drives inclusion. She then illustrates the three preconditions necessary before an organization can begin to move toward a full expression of equity: 

1) Differences between individuals and groups are valued, not demonized or minimized;

2) People with power can see systems and how they influence opportunities for others; and

3) People with power want to create more opportunity so everyone can thrive with their differences intact.

Read the full review by David M. Holmes.

How software can amplify organizations serving adults with disabilities

August 30, 2021

News_disabilities_employment_300In the United States, adults with disabilities account for roughly sixty-one million people. This means that around 26 percent of our population is in need of supplemental assistance, such as being driven to work, getting help with grocery shopping, or assistance with everyday tasks at home. Organizations that specialize in supporting individuals with disabilities are often working with limited  budgets, receiving only 16 percent of total dollars donated to nonprofits — funding that is spread across the entire spectrum of human services providers.

Adopting dispatch software that makes managing clients, staff, and vehicles easier would better position those organizations to serve their clients more effectively and efficiently. Yet organizations serving adults with disabilities have been slow to adopt such technology and, for the most part, have relied on the manual way of operating with pen and paper.  Why? For most organizations working under budget constraints, the decision to upgrade existing processes to a digital system isn't made lightly.

Another barrier is the lack of accessible software and mobile apps that address the unique challenges adults with disabilities face. From vision and hearing impairments to cognitive disabilities, there is a wide spectrum of user interfaces that must be considered for a solution to be effective for this demographic. As a result, unfortunately, many software designers simply ignore this significant segment of the population.

When there is a software or mobile app available that serves clients with disabilities, the positive outcomes for service providers can be numerous. Technology can help organizations serve more individuals in an efficient manner, save money through improved resource management, and improve staff productivity.

On the in-house side for nonprofits serving adults with disabilities, HIPAA-compliant software can fill the gaps in the current legacy process and make data easily shareable with authorized personnel. Web-based forms are cost-effective and secure and allow organizations to be better advocates by enabling them to focus their attention on the needs of the client instead of administrative tasks. Filling out paperwork can end up taking the majority of an employee's day when that person could be working directly with clients. An online form that can be completed and filed with a few clicks frees them up to deliver superior care.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted additional considerations that a web-based scheduling and intake system can track far better than a desktop spreadsheet or pen and paper. An online software as a service (SAS) can facilitate COVID-19 alert tracking, ideal scheduling suggestions to allow for proper social distancing, and the ability to conduct contact tracing. In addition to supporting everyday time tracking and attendance reporting, these features can help nonprofits stretch every dollar, improve safety for their staff and clients, and enhance the client experience.

Take scheduling appointments, for example. Currently, scheduling is often managed by spreadsheets, calendars, and, at times, whiteboards — which can lead to many challenges, not only for staff but also for the individuals served. An automated system can help organizations keep a detailed history of schedules, schedule changes, and staff availability. Automating the process greatly reduces opportunities for human error and cuts down on staff time spent on manual entry, not to mention the need to update and review the schedules weekly, if not daily, to confirm accuracy.

Many organizations serving adults with disabilities offer transportation services to help get people to and from doctors' appointments or work. With digitized processes, drivers and clients know they are receiving accurate, up-to-date information and can communicate in near-real time. Drivers can check in and clients can track their ride at every point of the journey, allowing families, caretakers, or physicians to know where transportation is coming from and going.

As the U.S. population of adults with disabilities continues to rise, so does the demand for assistance. However, a recent study found that only 23 percent of nonprofit executives felt they totally understood the benefits of technology. Another survey found that only 11 percent of nonprofits viewed their organizations' approaches to digital solutions as highly effective. These statistics indicate that the nonprofit sector as a whole is behind the times when it comes to the adoption of technology. And this, unfortunately, is a significant "missed opportunity" to help their clients and their employees.

Organizations that support individuals with disabilities can meet the growing demand for services by modernizing their systems. Implementation of new technologies can feel overwhelming at the outset, but once adopted, the benefits are visible not only to the office staff but to the individuals served. The ultimate mission of organizations serving this community is to be a support system, and this shouldn't be impeded by administrative or clerical barriers. The adoption of technology assures that the focus is always on the client.

Headshot_Nicole Leisle_Bitwise_philantopicNicole Leisle is vice president  of product marketing at Bitwise Industries.

The Sustainable Nonprofit: 'Lessons from a successful merger'

August 17, 2021

Handshake_two_suitsHow nonprofit mergers can energize donors and accelerate progress

While nonprofit and for-profit organizations differ in that nonprofits are mission-driven and for-profits are profit-driven, both seek to provide value to their constituents or customers, so it's critical to maximize efficiencies to increase capacity, value, and impact. Consolidation or mergers are an important way to maximize efficiencies — an area where nonprofits could learn valuable lessons from for-profits.

Although mergers occasionally occur in the nonprofit space, particularly among larger organizations, the tendency is toward proliferation, which is almost always driven by the best of motives. Individuals personally affected by a disease or cause are moved to action and often set up a nonprofit to do work that is already being done by other organizations. This can dilute available resources, create inefficiencies, and confuse donors. Consolidation, by contrast, creates opportunities for existing nonprofits to expand mission and achieve results that simply aren't possible when resources are fragmented....

Read the full column article by John L. Lehr, CEO of the Parkinson's Foundation....

Hiring a nonprofit CEO in a mid-COVID environment

August 13, 2021

Man_and_woman_masks_handshake_GettyImages_VioletaStoimenovaThe COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts have proven to be incredibly challenging for businesses and nonprofits alike. Many have had to adapt and change their processes and procedures to accommodate social-distancing and other public health measures, and others have had to close their doors for good. Now, as restrictions are being lifted and doors can be opened again — let's call it a "mid-COVID" environment — organizations are faced with another challenge: hiring.

Since the world shut down around us and many of us transitioned to working from home on a long-term basis, perspectives and expectations around where and how we work have shifted. If your nonprofit was in the process of hiring a CEO before the pandemic and had challenges finding qualified candidates, hiring now, mid-COVID, is going to be even more difficult, as candidates will be seeking unique and alternative options for employment.

Here are some considerations for nonprofit board members to keep in mind when hiring in the "new normal" market:

Use your existing market: Sometimes the best candidates are right under your nose. Tap into the board members' networks and let them know that the organization is hiring. If the board is actively engaged in the community, they will already know the caliber of people to refer. Members of those networks and communities will not recommend just anyone, so you can rest assured that the candidates presented will have at least the minimum qualifications.

Commit to diversity and inclusion: Many of the people who lost their jobs to COVID are now looking for employment. This could be a great thing for your organization in that there is a larger pool to select from; however, this could also mean that some candidates may be overlooked. Ensure that the board makes diversity a top priority when selecting potential candidates.

Make a standout offer: Just as your board members are out scouting for talent, so are more than a thousand other organizations. Make sure that potential candidates can hear the "heart" of your organization; making a "heart" connection is going to be key to the recruiting process, as candidates are no longer motivated only by salary and benefits. Many candidates who are back out on the job market are people who had decent salaries and benefits that were lost when their nonprofit had to close their doors or downsize as a result of the pandemic. Make sure that your organization presents other ways in which it plans to retain the candidate, even if another pandemic or other crisis were to arise.

Be clear about workplace expectations: Be prepared for many of the candidates to ask about hybrid or remote work options and let them know what your organization's stance is. Take into consideration that many people are fearful of becoming sick or being in a large crowd, so be prepared to address this new question that was not a question candidates would ask pre-COVID. Board members should be prepared for some candidates to walk away from the opportunity if remote or hybrid options are not available.

Hiring will be a unique experience mid-COVID, and your organization must be prepared to adapt in order to attract qualified and dedicated candidates to the team.  

(Photo credit: GettyImages/VioletaStoimenova)

Headshot_Tiffany Rucker_JSGassociates_PhilanTopicTiffany Rucker is a small business and financial literacy coach at JSG & Associates as well as wife, mom, and special needs advocate.

MyCareer@PND: Four trends shaping the post-COVID recruiting and hiring experience

August 11, 2021

African_American_woman_laptop_GettyImages_PoikePost-COVID-19 trends shaping the recruiting and hiring experience

As with just about every aspect of life, the world of executive recruiting has evolved at rapid pace over the last year and a half. Now that we're moving into what may be the beginnings of a period of stability, it's become clear that some of the recruiting and hiring trends that have recently evolved are here to stay, at least in some form.

Here are four strong trends that are shaping the hiring experience for both candidates and hiring teams:

1. A focus on recruiting leaders of color. The murder of George Floyd and the ensuing civil unrest have had an extraordinarily strong impact on hiring. Hiring managers, teams, and organizations reacted to these events by looking inward and, in most cases, realizing that their teams are not diverse. This led to a sudden, intense demand for leaders of color, which has not abated. Leaders of color are reporting being recruited at higher rates than they've ever experienced, and hiring managers are prioritizing diversity in their pools and processes more than ever....

Read the full column article by Molly Brennan, founding partner and executive vice president of Koya Partners.

(Photo credit: GettyImages/Poike)

How nonprofits are navigating the real estate market in an almost-post-COVID-19 New York City

August 06, 2021

New_york_city_Katie Haugland BowenBefore the COVID-19 pandemic, the real estate landscape had always been a challenge for New York City nonprofits, with rent-related cost often being the second-largest expense of a nonprofit's budget and venue-dependent organizations allocating an even greater portion of their budgets to real estate. The pandemic's unprecedented impact on companies and organizations across the world varied by sector; for nonprofits, the effects were compounded by increased uncertainty around funding, physical closures, and, for many, the inability to fully transition to remote work while continuing to serve their missions.

Some organizations could not transition to remote work because in-person services were essential to their programmatic offerings, while others continued to work in physical offices because they faced low funding or technology barriers that prevented them from switching to remote work or elected not to do so because of the impact on work culture and productivity. For example, nonprofits committed to advocacy work, many of which rely on dynamic brainstorming sessions to analyze issues and advance strategies, found Zoom meetings a poor substitute. Those organizations eagerly returned to their offices as soon as they could, implementing safety protocols while getting "back to business." Nonprofits that work to address food insecurity also had personnel who were considered essential employees and were expected to come to work each day to package meals and deliver them to those in need.

Now, organizations that were able to transition to virtual operations are returning to varied levels of in-person work and navigating a hybrid work balance. Employees are increasingly expecting more flexibility from their employers about where — and sometimes when — they work, and employers are eager to capitalize on any benefits from this shift. Both nonprofit and for-profit organizations with fewer employees in the office on any given day are asking whether there might be a way to reduce real estate expenses. Without the obligation of coming into the office, can staff be hired in locations where the cost of living is lower and, therefore, at lower salaries?  

At the same time, some organizations appear to be emerging from pandemic restrictions in better financial shape than before. Early on in the pandemic, it was predicted that many venue-dependent organizations like theaters and healthcare providers that require physical space to deliver on their missions would have to close their doors permanently. However, for many in the performing arts sector, this has not turned out to be the case. As a general rule, nonprofit performing arts groups require subsidies to support their programming in normal times; therefore, less programming requires fewer subsidies. If an organization could maintain its donor base (i.e., the source of the subsidies) while reducing expenses, there was the opportunity to build a one-time surplus. 

One nonprofit client of my company, Denham Wolf Real Estate Services, that has provided social services to the community for decades, saw its revenue increase more than 10 percent over the past year, thanks to donors recognizing the increased need for the organization's services during the pandemic. With the advent of work-from-home, this nonprofit was able to convert unused office space to program space, thereby improving efficiency and saving on expenses. Other nonprofits, however, were not so fortunate.

The pandemic compelled organizations across the sector to reevaluate their real estate and, in many cases, adapt to new modes of service delivery. Healthcare facilities, for example, have had tremendous success transitioning to using telehealth to provide necessary services to individuals and communities. To accommodate populations that lack access to technology and Internet services, some nonprofits have redesigned their sites or, in some cases, taken on additional space to provide computers and make telehealth services readily available to all.

In commercial buildings, landlords have been struggling to retain existing tenants and write leases for new ones, which has resulted in more robust incentive packages. In addition to lowering rents, landlords are offering longer free-rent periods and increasing tenant improvement allowances. Tenants looking to sublet space may also add incentives, including access to shared conference rooms, phone systems, and receptionists. For tenants looking to sign new leases, particularly for office space, there are very good opportunities in the marketplace.

Each nonprofit faces a unique situation that requires careful planning to ensure good decision making. As nonprofits reevaluate the role of real estate in support of their missions, there is also an opportunity to re-engage with the community to help determine the optimal way to connect in this altered landscape. Service organizations are using this opportunity to communicate with their clients and better understand how they can best serve them, whether that means keeping the same services or offering new ones. Needless to say, the goal is always to do what is right for the people they serve, and if budgets are constrained, taking into account community input and evaluating programs is critical. Many organizations are receiving positive feedback from those exchanges and even increased community support through fundraisers or volunteers, which fosters a deeper connection with the community. While this process can be both exciting and daunting, aligning operations and budgets with the current needs and desires of those being served can inform a more sustainable future.

Looking to recovery, nonprofits are presented with a real estate landscape that is gradually stabilizing. Indoor spaces for work and events are cautiously reopening, and some remote work adjustments remain permanent. Organizational attitudes are shifting from preemptive planning to actual decision making — a shift reflected most clearly in the rising rates of lease signings and extended lease terms, which are once again reaching five to ten years. However, as organizations plan their return to the office, they're taking the time to fundamentally reevaluate space requirements, usage, and purpose of having a physical location. Across the board, nonprofits are reconsidering how square footage requirements and location, among other factors, will be most efficient for serving their communities. 

Throughout the pandemic, it has been encouraging to see the tenacity and creativity of the nonprofit sector's efforts to adapt and persist. The continued dedication to a mission-first approach in the sector through these incredibly challenging times reaffirms our confidence in the nonprofit community. The commitment and ingenuity of the staff and volunteers providing services to their communities, whether in a physical space or through a screen, are both inspiring and impressive.

(Photo credit: Katie Haugland Bowen)

Headshot_Paul_Wolf_DenhamWolfRealEstate_PhilanTopicPaul Wolf is co-founder and president of Denham Wolf Real Estate Services and has more than thirty years of development, brokerage, and nonprofit consulting experience.

The Sustainable Nonprofit: 'A fundamental shift in the mindset of young Americans'

August 04, 2021

Diversity_GettyImages_gmast3rA mindset shift among young American nonprofit employees

We've all seen people across the country and around the world struggling financially from the fallout of COVID-19. As our Cause and Social Influence researchers have continued to track young Americans' (ages 18-30) behavior related to causes during this time, we sought to understand the ramifications of these financial struggles from two perspectives: that of a young employee and that of a nonprofit. What we found is a fundamental shift in the mindset of young Americans that could hinder nonprofits' ability to recruit and retain talented staff.

Each quarter, our researchers track this age group's behaviors and motivations related to social issues and major moments and movements. In the first report of 2021, we found that their interest in social issues had become much more personal, thanks largely to their experiences during the pandemic. Now, findings from our research conducted in June underscore just how personal those issues have become....

Read the full column article by Derrick Feldmann, lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence.

The responsibility of nonprofits to take care of staff, now and in the future

June 24, 2021

Office_diversity_creative_GettyImages_scyther5When the pandemic hit, everyone panicked, and nonprofits weren't immune. Organizations like mine, Teen Cancer America (TCA), relied significantly on large in-person fundraising events and activities to support our work, and when such events were no longer possible, our entire donor-relations model was disrupted. And this happened just as demand for our services increased as a result of the acute isolation young cancer patients were experiencing as a result of the pandemic.

Nearly every nonprofit has struggled with its own pandemic-related challenges, and while many have found creative ways to keep their heads above water, maintaining and supporting a stressed staff — helping them do their jobs and finding new ways to reward them — has been a challenge. With our operating budgets under pressure, monetary rewards could not be guaranteed. How could I make sure they knew that I authentically cared about their well-being?

I wanted to do something that demonstrated thoughtfulness, truly helped boost team cohesion, and also could signal to donors that TCA was a responsible employer while being fiscally prudent.

The pandemic has highlighted the uncertainty of our futures on a very personal level. I thought about employees like Alec, one of our youngest team members and a cancer survivor: How could I ensure that his and other employees' financial futures were safe? I pondered the responsibility I had to support staff in their future planning and concluded that the charity should investigate 401(k) options, something I hadn't previously considered.

"For people my age, the future of our careers fluctuates, and with that comes financial uncertainty," Alec told me. "Especially with this pandemic and having had cancer myself, I know how important it is to prepare for the future, whatever that looks like for me. I may not be in the same career, I may not have a stable job, or I may not even be able to work for health reasons in the future, but I know I will have this 401(k) account ready for me so I can retire with fewer worries."

Most nonprofit leaders might assume their organizations aren't even eligible for such a plan. I'd assumed that the expense and lack of flexibility would make it impossible for TCA, but it turns out that today's 401(k) plans offer some options.

My criteria had been straightforward: low cost; competent account management; complete flexibility over the level of employer contribution, which would enable me to manage within our means; and simplicity and flexibility for staff to manage their own accounts. I was referred to Human Interest,* and the wealth management company run by one of our board members did due diligence and gave the green light, impressed by its investment philosophy and low fee structure. We also looked into 403(b) plans, but 401(k) plans turned out to be the best option for a nonprofit like ours.

Most of my preconceptions that nonprofits couldn't afford to provide 401(k)s to their employees were smashed: There was flexibility in how much in matching funds I could offer year-to-year, depending on how well our fundraising went. An "auto-enroll" function made sure that everyone in the organization could take advantage of the new benefit right away, and employees could change their contribution level from month to month. And because we had control over the charity's contribution, I could show existing and potential donors that TCA was doing something important to take care of employees both now, during a difficult time, and in the future, as responsible employers.

As someone who has gone through this 401(k) selection process, I want to encourage other leaders to consider what it might mean for their employees' lives. While nonprofits often assume that they can't offer a "full benefits package" that includes retirement plans, many team members under 30 either haven't thought much about retirement or assume it is out of reach because they are used to living paycheck to paycheck. It is our responsibility to help educate them.

The retirement gap (the amount people need to retire comfortably vs. the amount they are currently on track to save by retirement age) is widening into a chasm. This is potentially disastrous for individuals, families, and a society that is ill-equipped to carry the burden of a future aging population. Nonprofits have just as important a role to play as any other employer in closing that gap.

Here are a few practical tips for other nonprofits who may be looking at 401(k) plans as an option:

Communicate with and educate your employees about why retirement matters. Once our staff understood why it was important to save early and, most importantly, why it should be part of the permanent workplace culture at TCA, we had high rates of participation, making it clear the benefit was a worthwhile investment.

Be transparent and communicate to donors about the plan and the reasons behind it. The messaging should emphasize why you are fully committed to helping staff through times like the pandemic and other challenges. Demonstrating that you've chosen a low-cost, manageable plan lets funders — and your board — know that you're controlling costs and using contributions responsibly.

Here are some specific features in a plan that will help in the nonprofit context:

  • Plans with resources to help educate employees and guide their investment choices.
  • Easy initiation, with an option to "auto-enroll" employees. Research has shown that auto-enroll encourages higher participation and savings than the "opt-in" method.
  • Compare fees to get the lowest. Traditional 401(k) providers have tailored their offerings to big companies and often include hefty sign-up, initiation, and termination fees, but now we have far less expensive options to choose from.
  • Make sure it allows for flexibility. Does the plan allow the employer match to change according to a yearly budget? This is a key feature for the sometimes volatile budgetary world we all live in.
  • Think about your employees and the apps they use in their daily lives. Our plan came with a dashboard for millennial and Gen Z staff who are used to managing all things online.

Given nonprofits' often limited budgets, it's easy to ignore what we used to call "nice-to-haves" for our staff, but if the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that well-being matters, and taking our employees' wellness — physical, mental, and financial — seriously is an essential part of keeping our organizations afloat. In the case of a 401(k) or other retirement plan, this nice-to-have should become a must-have. I would like to see this as the universally accepted norm on a global scale.

Simon_Davies_philantopicSimon Davies is executive director of Teen Cancer America (TCA), a nonprofit founded by Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who that helps health providers and systems develop specialized programs and facilities for teenagers.

*Disclosure: TCA is a current customer of Human Interest. However, neither TCA, nor any of its representatives, received compensation for the publication of this article.

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  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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