Archive for the ‘Nonprofits’ Category

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An all-volunteer nonprofit or with only one employee has many administrative challenges. How do we share information; e.g., calendar, schedules, assignments, rosters, documents, policies, procedures, etc? Sharing by e-mail becomes cumbersome. How do I know I have the latest version? How do I keep track of my official messages among my personal?

There are options, some better than others.

One option is a shared cloud drive such as Dropbox or Google Drive provides a place to store documents. It is easy to create an account. However, it requires planning a file management structure and document naming conventions that all users would recognize. It also requires planning and administration regarding document reliability; e.g., access to edit a document. In addition, some information such a calendar or a roster, which should be quickly accessible, requires finding the document and clicking or downloading to open.

A more robust option is to create a secure extranet site limited to registered users. The website could be designed to provide quick menu links to calendars, rosters, notifications, newsletters, policies, procedures, agenda, minutes, etc. to the nonprofit’s board of directors, volunteers, staff, etc. For example, one click on an option in the extranet menu could open the organization calendar, another link could filter the volunteers calendar.

WordPress and its plugins provide significant flexibility to design and develop an extranet site that meets the information needs of the nonprofit.


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committeeHow does an all-volunteer nonprofit board manage its operations as well as execute its governance responsibilities?

Some nonprofits with paid staff establish a COO position, the Chief Operating Officer, similar to their for-profit counterparts. The COO ensures that day-to-day operations of the nonprofit operate effectively. The COO’s primary role is to monitor and coordinate, “A nonprofit COO works with individual department heads to monitor their work, not only ensuring each function stays on track to meet its goals, but also making sure each department understands its role in relation to the other departments and the nonprofit’s mission.” (Job Description for a Chief Operating Officer for a Non-Profit Organization, Dave Samuels, Houston Chronicle) Additional information about the COO can also be found at The Bridgespan Group’s Nonprofit COOs 101.

How does a nonprofit with a traditional board structure of executive committee, finance committee, and fundraising committee successfully manage fairly complex operations without a chief operating officer?

I found minimal guidance on this question on the web. One article was recently posted on Nonprofit Quarterly, “What Staff?  Keeping Operations and Governance Separate in an Organization with No Staff” (September 27, 2013).

The author, Mitch Dorger, was confronted by this issue at a workshop he conducted. After the workshop, he posed the question to experts on an online discussion group, receiving the following options.

  1. Establish both governance and operational committees
  2. Establish two boards: governance and administrative
  3. Separate the roles of board officers: the vice president, treasurer, and secretary oversee operations; the president and remaining directors address governance
  4. Divide board meeting to address both operational and governance issues
  5. Establish three new committees: operations oversight, organizational development, and organizational future in lieu of traditional board committees

There is significant literature on nonprofit board governance and structure. However, how does a board decide on a structure to ensure that operations are properly managed? Just as governance has a leadership team of the executive committee, the key is to establish a leadership team for operations: program, finance, fundraising, information/data, and communications/marketing.

Just as a COO would meet with each member of this leadership team to monitor performance and ensure coordination, the all-volunteer nonprofit needs to provide a venue for operational management. An operations committee composed of these chairs, at a minimum, would be responsible for operations planning and execution. In lieu of the COO meeting with the heads of each operational function, the operations committee meets to coordinate, monitor, and oversee operations.

Since the nonprofit’s board of directors is responsible for the mission of the organization, it is appropriate for a portion of the board meeting to address operational performance. Rather than having each member of the operational leadership team address his/her function at the board meeting, it might be worth considering establishing a quasi-COO role on the board of directors to report on operations overall. I suggest that the board vice-president serve in the quasi-COO role as the chair of the operations committee.  This balances the two top positions on the board to cover governance and operations.

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Riding Board Cycles

Child on TricycleAna Dutra, in  A More Effective Board of Directors, “found that boards tend to progress from good-to-great along a four-phase continuum.”  “The continuum essentially represents a corporate hierarchy of needs, akin to the famous persona-development hierarchy created by psychologist Abraham Maslow.”  [November 5, 2012  in HBR Blog Network]

Julia Classen in Here We Go Again:  The Cyclical Nature of Board Behavior (Spring 2001 in the Nonprofit Quarterly) wrote, “It is essential that organizations understand that the behavior of boards is dynamic. As organizations continue to change and grow, so too will their boards-over and over again.”

Dutra’s four-phases of corporate boards are on a continuum, rather than cyclical:

  1. Foundational board provides basic compliance oversight
  2. Developed board
  3. Advanced board
  4. Strategic board provides “prescient forward-looking insights to form a company’s foundational strategy.”

Dutra focuses on five issues that hinder a board’s progress from foundational to strategic.  These are

  • Lack of role clarity
  • Poor process management
  • Lack of alignment and agreement on company strategy
  • Poor team dynamics
  • Board composition by not having the right people and skills

Classen claims that crises move nonprofit boards from one phase to the next:

  1. Founding period
  2. Supermanaging phase
  3. Corporate phase
  4. Ratifying phase

In the founding phase, board members have a personal investment and generally rely on the staff to set the organizational direction.  Usually a crisis propels the board into the supermanaging phase, in which the board reacts to the crisis by providing stewardship and oversight that were lacking in the founding period. The supermanaging phase evolves into the corporate phase as the board’s allegiance moves from the executive director to the organization overall.  In addition, the board installs systems to improve its function and begins to focus on long-term strategy and policy.

Classen writes, “But nothing lasts forever.  Over time, a board’s oversight and strategic decision-making functions may diminish, and meeting attendance may become sporadic.”  Eventually the board moves into the ratifying phase, in which “the board is functional but largely disengaged from the organization.”  Classen asserts that when a crisis occurs, the ratifying board recycles into a supermanaging board.

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The board’s role in strategic planning does not end when the board approves the strategic plan.

What is the role of the nonprofit’s board of directors after approving a strategic plan?

The board should monitor implementation of the strategic plan. The board should evaluate the broader implications of the plan; e.g., is progress being made, are the goals and objectives still valid, are priorities realistic.

In order to ensure that the board assumes its responsibility in monitoring the strategic plan, it should establish an implementation policy that answers the following questions:

1.  When will the board receive implementation plans for strategic plan goals and objectives?

2.  How often will the board review the status of implementation of the strategic plan?

3.  What issues should status reports address?

a.  Are the objectives being achieved?

b.  Will the objectives be achieved by the proposed implementation plan timeline?

Strategic plan monitoring by the board should be directed to ensure that the strategic plan is relevant and that it supports the mission, and to assist the board in determining whether there are there any actions that the board should take or direct.

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Fast Company posted an article on June 28 about “a free, open-source tool designed to help nonprofits tell their stories,” How A Web App Can Help Nonprofits Tell Better Stories And Raise Cash.

Sparkwise is a new data visualization and outreach platform that aims to help nonprofits, independent media organizations, and individual activists communicate their initiatives and accomplishments with visual clarity, statistical tangibility, and aesthetic verve.

Sparkwise allows presentation of essential statistics, information, news, and stories in the form of data visualizations, photos, videos, newsfeeds, tweets, etc.  The founders addressed 10 goals in developing the application; however, only nine are provided in the article, including additional information on each goal.

  1. Making stories easy to tell
  2. Better measurement tools
  3. Data should always be visual
  4. Make transparency easy
  5. Open it up to community improvements
  6. Human progress tracking
  7. Easy for novices and experts
  8. A key feedback point: self-analysis
  9. Building a sense of shared effort

I’ll be looking into this application!

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If you’re going to be a banana, be the best banana you can be.  I remember this quote from a few decades ago during PBS pledge week, specifically Leo Buscaglia.

As a nonprofit, how do you stand out in the banana bunch?  How do you say, “Pick me, pick me!”?

More than likely, your nonprofit is not competing with other nonprofits in terms of mission or services.  However, you are likely competing for resources: financial and human.  On a broader scope, a nonprofit needs visibility and relationships.  Visibility for the community to be aware of the nonprofit’s services.  Relationships with donors, clients, and partners.

Marketing isn’t limited to for-profit corporations.  It is applicable to not-for-profits, perhaps more commonly referred to as communications or outreach in the nonprofit sector.  The Communications Toolkit, published by Cause Communications, states it well,

In the corporate world, not being visible eventually means going out of business.  And more nonprofits are coming to understand that the same is true in the nonprofit sector.  If those you are trying to serve don’t know you exist, or if donors don’t understand that you need their support, your organization’s survival can be at risk.”

Proactive communications strategies can stave off potential crises while position a nonprofit as a worthy recipient of support and public trust.  To get your message heard, understood and remembered, you need to use some of the same channels and strategies that for-profits use.

Why use the term communications instead of marketing?  The Toolkit reports,

If you look in the dictionary, you’ll find several definitions, including “the art and technique of using words effectively to impart information or ideas” (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition, 2000).  That’s close.  But the truth is that everything you do – or don’t do – communications a message to your audience, whether it’s those you serve, your volunteers, donors, staff, the media or the government.

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When considering donations, people often make harsh assumptions about nonprofits that spend on marketing and overhead. But maybe those expenses means the organization is doing a good job.

How true!  Why do we expect not-for-profits to perform incredibly difficult work for  public benefit that for-profits won’t approach without adequate financial resources?  Why does the public think it’s appropriate for corporate executives to receive obscene compensation while not-for-profits struggle to keep their doors open?

Alexa Clay and Jon Camfield in It’s Time to Start Judging NonProfits Like For-Profits, on the Co.Exist blog by Fast Company, claim, “If you’re simply crunching the numbers and looking for the nonprofit with the lowest overhead, though, things have gone horribly wrong. It’s a bad way to judge an organization.”  In addition, they quote management consultant Neil Edgington,

If a nonprofit organization is creating change, then everything they do is in support of that change. How can a program run if there is no financial engine (fundraising) to fund it? If there is no building or space to house it? […] How can you possibly separate “program” from “overhead?” We must move beyond this distinction and encourage nonprofits to raise (and donors to give) more capacity capital.

The public does not view donating to a not-for-profit as an investment in the community.  In deciding whether to “invest,” the donor should investigate the not-for-profit in a manner similar to investigating a for-profit corporation before buying shares.  The authors state,

This is, of course, the hard part. You can ask: How much time are they devoting to their actual mission versus marketing their successes? But how can you know about their impact unless they take the time to tell you about it? Here is where the marketplace for social change is inefficient, and where the individual consumer-donor either has to make a safe bet with a large, well-respected organization, or enter in to a much more complex world of mitigating their “risk.”

I suggest that this is an issue that nonprofits need to address in their outreach / communication / marketing plan.  How can the organization inform the potential nonprofit “investor?”  One tool is the annual report.  While the annual report may be a mandatory document for membership organizations, it can be a useful tool for non-membership organizations to address “investment opportunities.”

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