Sunday, December 23, 2012

To Cope With Recent Tragedies I Have Taken Stock and Even Learned That I Am Grateful For Community Organizations In Part to Cope and Hope

I have not been posting, here, on Seeking Grant Money Today, or on its Twitter account for the past two weeks because my computer (which is five years old) went on the fritz and then simply did no more. 

I am neurotic and as such, I am a religious 'backer-upper' of my hard drive.  It's one up-side to being neurotic.  So, really, aside from the inconvenience of not having a computer of my own for a two week period, I didn't suffer anything bad.  I did not loose entire drives, lists of documents, or photos, my music library, years of e-mails, etc. as some people do when their computers cease functioning.

We now know much more important, invaluable, and real loss happened.  During the past two weeks, of course, the Sandy Hook Elementary Massacre in Newtown, Connecticut occurred on Friday, December 14.  That kind of horror puts everything into perspective, doesn't it?  There are no words to describe it or how one feels about it, are there?  There is no sense to make of it, beyond Newtown Police and the FBI's due diligence to provide evidence and testimony to the legal and public records.  Conducting an investigation is a pretty functional way to "make sense" of what happened for our society and a good one.  But, what about on an individual human level?  How do we make sense of it if we feel?  On the seventh day of Hanukkah, this year, and a mere eleven days before Christmas, Adam Lanza brutally murdered twenty very young students, six adult school staff members, and his mother.

Immediately, it did not matter that my laptop went kaput, days before.  It did not matter that I was overwhelmed about what gifts I had left to get still.  Nothing about whatever was bothering me before learning of the massacre had any of the gravitas it had, after learning of it.  My stress - the self importance of it (while normal and even understandable) was put into a new light.  It was an opportunity to be a bit self aware, and then from that self awareness it was an opportunity to better see my actual situation (which is blessed), and it was an opportunity to learn.  Before, I did not see that I was getting worked up about things that were both doable and manageable.  After, I admittedly saw my self importance amid what was neither truly difficult nor that big a deal (after all, I'd get a new computer, I'd get the gifts purchased and to their recipients, etc.).  After I saw things differently, like I'm sure you did, I instead immediately and intuitively put sadness, and of course compassion into place for especially the victims, their friends and family, the school staff, the Newtown community, and the first responders of/to the Sandy Hook Elementary Massacre.  But, too, I felt it for everyone in the world who loves a child or a school staff member anywhere... in Connecticut, in the United States, and in the world.

Especially at this time of year, but really at any time of year (such as a week after the Sandy Hook Elementary Massacre the four people who were shot and killed and three police officers who were wounded on a rural Pennsylvania road; or the the Oregon shooting a mere three days before the massacre on December 11, 2012; or the Aurora Colorado shooting that happened almost exactly five months before the massacre; etc.) we stop after these random acts of violence against a non-expecting general public and feel sadness and compassion for those lost and their loved ones and we can't believe it.  We can't understand it.  We can't make sense out of it.  But, usually afterward, we also learn of the heroes.  Some of the everyday people present during these acts of violence do extraordinary things amid horrific occurrences to protect and save those in harm's way.  As the stories of their actions and quick thinking trickle out after these tragedies we see the humanity, the hope, the strength that is indeed present certainly in the wake of such events (like the first responders who run into an elementary that holds innocent children and staff but, too, houses an incredibly over-armed shooter, to ensure that those in danger are taken out of the building and out of harm's way) but also we learn of the strength of some who snap to action for others during these horrors.

It is especially the stories that come out, after the tragedy, of the strength that is present during the violence that both puts hope into perspective and shines a light on given humanity, such as, in just one shining story of selflessness, Antonio Charro of Clackamas, Oregon who during the shooting rampage in the Oregon mall stepped out into the area the shooter had just shot up to take the side of Cindy Yuille of Portland, Oregon - a nurse who herself had just been shot, and was non-responsive lying on the floor.  He did this even as pops were still being heard from the shooter's weapon and while survivors ran past him encouraging him to get up, as they did, to get himself out of there.  He did not leave.  He said he could not leave her alone.  Sadly, Ms. Yuille passed away of her injuries.  This haunts Mr. Charro as he said in interviews, after; but her selfless service to her community as a nurse, and his humanity, his bravery, and his strength all still stand.  

We all make sense of the world around us and how we experience it through a lens partly made up of what we know, what we've experienced, our beliefs, our values, and what we dream of or hope for.  When I hear of the unassuming and selfless heroes that do what they can to protect or assist those in danger during or after these horrors, I find that I eventually think of how their action to help reminds me of the power, hope, and even the better in the world that (even if in a less remarkable way) nonprofit organizations - ones that truly exist and operate to do good in our world - instill in our communities and the futures we who know of their successes envision.

I do not wish, here, to belittle anyone or anything that is perhaps more remarkable, but rather to share my train of thought after learning about the horror of any crime against the unassuming or innocent, but especially how I thought in the days after the Sandy Hook Elementary Massacre, in particular.  I think my perspective is a way that I used not to try to make sense, but rather to see the world while knowing that such horrific evil exists and occurs.  Using my frame of reference of the world (as I experience it) this thought of nonprofits being (usually but of course not always) a force for good helped me to cope - to feel something like 'O.K.' (as best I can) about a world in which such shattering wrongness happens.  It's not that nonprofit's intention to good balances any of these tragedies.  Rather, remembering the victims and the wonderful people they were as recounted after by their loved ones, remembering the selfless heroism of the first responders, remembering the heroes during the violence and their deeds, and yes, even remembering that most nonprofits operate with a genuine interest to do good helps some semblance of hope and humanity come back into my view, after hearing about horrific ordeals.  Nothing removes the pain.  Nothing makes it all better.  But, the hope, strength, will of some to help, and their actions is truly heartening.  "Heartening".  That's a good word for how, at least in part, I've coped.  I've found a way to take heart.

In taking heart, I have located hope and even the joy of this season and of the coming new year, even while I feel sadness and compassion.

In this spirit, to you, I extend a wish: Belated Happy Hanukkah, Belated Happy Winter Solstice, Merry Christmas, Happy Kawanzaa, Blessed Ramadan, and best wishes in the new year.

Follow Up: Published July 18, 2013 Tracking the Funds for Newtown Relief

Grants for U.S. Nonprofits, Schools, Universities, or Government Agencies Providing Non-Traditional Solutions to Employ Individuals With Disabilities

From The Foundation Center...

[If you are interested in this grant opportunity, click "Link to Complete RFP" at the end of this blog post, for more information on it]

"Deadline: February 1, 2013 (Online Concept Application)

"Kessler Foundation Invites Concept Proposals for Signature Employment Grants Program

"The Kessler Foundation is accepting applications for its Signature Employment Grants program, an annual program that supports non-traditional solutions and/or social ventures designed to increase employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities.

"The program awards grants nationally to fund new pilot initiatives, demonstration projects, and social ventures that lead to the generation of new ideas to solve the high unemployment and underemployment of individuals with disabilities. Preference is given to interventions that overcome specific employment barriers related to long-term dependence on public assistance, advance competitive employment in a cost-effective manner, or launch a social enterprise or individual entrepreneurship project. Signature grants are not intended to fund project expansions or bring proven projects to new communities.

"Projects must be collaborative, serve a large geographic area, and include multiple funding partners and stakeholders. In addition, initiatives or projects must have the potential for growth, scalability, or replication.

"Any organization recognized as a tax-exempt entity according to the Internal Revenue Code may apply for funding. This includes nonprofit agencies, public and private schools, and public institutions such as universities and government (state, local, federal) agencies in the United States or any of its territories.

"Applicants may seek funding for $100,000 to $250,000 per year, for maximum project funding of $500,000 over two years.

"Visit the Kessler Foundation Web site for complete program information and application procedures."

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Recommended Content, Layout, and Uses of the Nonprofit Donation Remitance Envelope, And Why

Of the nonprofit donation remittance envelope, (the envelope of any varying legal size included as a donation request on its own, or included in a more formal donation request (such as folded into an annual appeal letter, for example), its design (layout and content) is the most important aspect of this fundraising tool.

We've all seen tons of them.  Remittance envelopes fall out of the newsletter that comes quarterly by postal mail from our favorite nonprofit; or it falls to the floor as we unfold the solicitation letter we received at the end of November asking for a year end contribution to a charity working for a cause we care about.

Let's step back for a moment.  First, what is effective, successful, and professional fundraising?

When we solicit donations from established donors and potential new donors we are not simply asking for money, holding the tin can out with a little sign taped to it that simply says 'give to this charity'.  We know, today, that according to professional nonprofit best practices, the point of soliciting a donation is not to simply raise a buck here there and wherever we can.  Rather, the point in fundraising is to make a compelling case to people, companies, governments, etc. that may (or already do) donate to your organization such that they are not just guilted into giving or are just giving because they get some tax deduction for it.  We engage potential and established donors, we inform them, and make a compelling case to them why our organization is worthy of their support.  We do it knowing (ourselves, as the nonprofit making the request) that first, we can not fulfill our mission statement's goals without community support such as donations from the public and other entities.  As such, our nonprofits' donors are requisite partners in our effort and in fact, are partners in our organizations' successes and accomplishments.  It is not simply hyperbole or sentiment to thank donors.  Frankly, when a nonprofit says "we could not have achieved organizational success without you, donors" they are not being trite but rather honest and even clear minded.  If a nonprofit does not raise funds, year round, each week of each month, they can not afford their annual operating budgetThe organization that does not raise funds but more importantly, that does not raise partners in order to provide its mission's programs today and in the future is struggling.  I am sure of it.  The nonprofit that understands that its lifeblood is its ability to deliver its mission to the community understands that without its community's current but also ongoing or future support, it is dead in the water or treading and sinking fast.

Nonprofits make a compelling case to a pool of current and potential new donors (who are as determined by professional research to be more likely than just a random group of people to give to this particular cause and organization) explaining why they should give to this particular nonprofit (such as, if it's the case, perhaps it's the only organization doing the work it does; its programs' success rates; its excellent and ethical reputation; 80% (or more) of every dollar raised goes to programs and organizational operations; and its team or staff and volunteers and their credentials, experience, and reputations in their fields).  Too, once accomplishments are achieved, all donors are in relatively short time (perhaps on the organizaiton's website and in the next quarterly newsletter) made aware of the achievements their contributions enabled in the community (perhaps even providing the demographics and service statistics for those served) and the donors are thanked.  They are told in this correspondence that your organization's board, volunteers, and staff know that without their contributions your organization would not have achieved what it has.  Finally, the donors are made aware of what current and new mission based goals (programs) the nonprofit is working on and how they can support current and future work.

So, why even include a remittance envelope at all?

Most of all fundraising is still conducted, today, through direct solicitation such as postal mail requests.  Printing in bulk is not expensive and as long as a nonprofit has a P.O. Box or street address it expects to keep for a while, printing up thousands of donation remittance envelopes (as included in the overhead or expense portion of the fundraising budget) is a small cost compared to its donations (or income) return rate.  Track it and see, if you don't want to take my word on it.  What's more, remittance envelopes (especially postage-paid ones, and using the U.S. Postal Service Nonprofit Bulk Rate when possible) are very convenient and economical modes for donors to submit contributions, right when they are asked for a donation (such as in an appeal letter).  When Susan P. Jones or Abraham Z. Smith receives your nonprofit's request for support, he or she can just write a check and pop it into your organization's included remittance envelope and then drop that into the mail on the way into work the next morning.

You may think, 'Arlene, you were saying that the design of the remittance envelope is all important, earlier?'

Yes, it is.  Here's why.  A remittance envelope (like any contact whatsoever with any potential supporter of any kind of your nonprofit) is an opportunity.  The donor, as they go to fill out the remittance envelope, will also be reading the questions you ask of them, in it; or will be made aware of other ways they can both further their contribution (when possible) or support your nonprofit in other ways IF YOUR NONPROFIT MAKES THEM AWARE OF THESE OPTIONS.  This is where layout and content in the remittance envelope become powerful.

Of course the design or layout of the envelope must be uncluttered, clear, and pertinent.  Space, of course, no matter what size remittance a nonprofit uses, is limited.  So, all of its content must only be that of the highest likelihood to produce a donation and repeat support.  This content, it just so happens, tends to also be the information that is the most helpful and informative to the donor. Click on the following image for an excellent example of pertinent and helpful content for the donor and organization:

Donation Remittence Template - All rights reserved
All Rights Reserved.  Arlene M. Spencer.
When looking over the content that I've recommended, above, consider the potential donor to be someone that is interested in the cause your organization serves, and is interested in seeing the community continue to receive the services or products your nonprofit provides to your community.  Think of the potential donor as someone who is genuinely interested in your organization's welfare and further success.  If they wish to support your agency, then ask them in the remittance for the help you need, but too, let them know in what vast many different ways they may support it.  They may not know that these are the many different options they have to help your agency.  They may always say "no", of course - but at least they've been made aware.

Important things to keep in mind in the remittance's design:

__ Obviously, on the outside of the envelope you'll print your organization's name and mailing address.  You'll also include a box that either provides pre-paid postage or requests a postage stamp be affixed in the postage spot.  Finally, you'll include at least four blank lines in the return address spot.

__ Both inside the envelope flap, and on exterior of the envelope under the flap, is where the above information that I suggest in my graphic can be placed (obviously omitting what you wish or adding what you wish, such as maybe the demographics of the population your organization serves, or the reason why your organization's work is necessary, etc.).

__ What is key - especially since you do not want to be printing and then re-printing remittance envelopes (except in important instances, such as the change of the organization's mailing address, of course); remember not to put organizational information on the envelope that will become outdated quickly.  For instance, if you include the budget breakdown for your organization's operations for 2012 on the inner envelope (to demonstrate to the potential donor how well the organization is run and where each penny of every dollar raised goes - which of course is great content in the actual appeal letter) then you'll need to recycle any of the remittance envelopes with that information on it in 2013 and after!

__ Also, please keep your donor's need for privacy in mind.  In all places on the remittance where you request their contact or other information (wherever you provide a prompt for them to fill in) - be sure that the envelope flap covers it while it's in transit back to your organization through the mail.  Otherwise, people will not respond with information filled in. 

__ As such, be sure, too, that the adhesive strip that secures your remittance envelope will neither cover up (and seal over) or expose any of the donor's filled in information after they've filled it out and then sealed the remittance envelope to mail it back to you.

__ Finally, but not of least importance, the United States Postal Service provides information and suggested guidelines and helpful tips to nonprofits or other organizations that are having remittance envelopes printed up for regular postal use.  See their USPS Quick Service Guide 201c Courtesy Reply Mail guide.  It's helpful and I recommend you look at it, as you design your remittance, as well. 

Once you have your template submitted to your printer, they will offer to give you a sample or draft of a single remittance, per your design, if you wish.  I would take them up on it BEFORE authorizing the entire order be printed so that you can take that sample to one or two local Post Offices.  Actually ask a post master there what they think of the proof and if there are any changes they'd recommend or problems donors may have mailing them back to you.  Do this.  It is worth the time it will take to do.  Do it before you authorize the entire remittance print order.  This ounce of prudence can save your organization and its donors frustration, time, money, and your organization's professionalism will remain in tact.

Lowering the Cost of Housing Competition Grants for Innovation in Reducing Affordable Housing Costs

From The Foundation Center...

[If you are interested in this grant opportunity, click "Link to Complete RFP" at the end of this blog post for more information]

"Deadline: January 15, 2013

"New National Competition Launches to Reduce Affordable Housing Costs Through Innovation

"To recognize and support the creation of innovative affordable housing developments, Deutsche Bank and Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. are launching the Lowering the Cost of Housing Competition, which will award up to $250,000 in program-related investments to the winning proposal. Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation also is providing an additional $50,000 in grant funds to be awarded to proposals that show innovation in practice or industry understanding of cost-lowering measures. A Center for Design, Research, and Real Estate at Syracuse University School of Architecture is coordinating the national competition.

"The competition is seeking submissions from multidisciplinary teams working to create multifamily affordable housing projects that improve neighborhoods and reduce traditional developmental and building costs.

"Lowering the Cost seeks to provide a new model for conceiving, siting, financing, building, and sustaining affordable housing. Selected teams will work on a specific site, proposing designs for multi-unit dwellings that present new methods for designing, building, and financing housing for individuals or families below 100 percent of area median income.

"Submissions should propose new and innovative approaches to affordable housing design while addressing statutory limitations, including current zoning and building code regulations. Proposals that work with their jurisdictions to investigate methods for clearing impediments to lowering the cost of housing will be scored highly.

"Applications from teams comprised of architects, developers, and policy professionals are strongly encouraged, and entrants are further encouraged to develop creative collaborations that include policy makers, planners, social service providers, academic departments, and research institutes. Submissions must be projects that can be completed on or before December 2014.

"Complete competition guidelines, updates, and application materials are available at the Lowering the Cost Web site.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A List of Specific Fundraising Methods Particularly Helpful At the End of the Calendar Year

We are fast approaching the end of the calendar year and there are certain fundraising methods that are particularly important at this time of year for any nonprofit to consider conducting.  Any one or more can be done for a year end boost to your organization's bottom line.

__ Year End Appeal - The year end appeal is usually similar to the annual appeal except the written and mailed request sent to everyone who donated a certain amount and above perhaps for the past two years (such as maybe $25 and above), usually lists all of the organization's accomplishments and accolades for the year clearly providing as well (perhaps in two separate pie charts or other quick but informative representation) all of the organization's spending and income, and stating what the goals are for the coming new year.  Usually, too, it is pointed out (gently) that a contribution to your group at the end of this year will provide an equivalent tax deduction (to the extent that the law allows) for the donor when they file their taxes for this year.

__ Major Donor Year End Appeal - Is a specific appeal, exactly like the Year End Appeal described above, except any major donor request is always conducted face to face with the nonprofit's major donors (again keeping in mind that the major donor is often eager to donate at the end of a calendar year to benefit their tax deductions and can also afford to give major assets such as land, stock, bonds, etc. and especially give on this magnitude at the end of the year for the tax break).

__ Grant Donors Looking to Spend Down The Rest of This Year's Giving Budget - By law foundations are required to donate a specific percentage of their total assets each year to remain in good standing with the IRS and other government entities that oversee their operations.  Sometimes a given grant donor will find, at the end of their fiscal year (which can fall, of course, on the end of the calendar year for some grant donors) that they have money left to give in order to meet either this oversight rule or to meet the giving budget for the year.  Either way, it never hurts to research grant donors, more likely to give to your specific nonprofit (see the link in this sentence to know how to determine which grant donors they are) and see if they happen to be needing to spend down this year (as it's the end of the calendar year).

__ Governments Looking to Spend Down The Rest of This Year's Giving Budget - Like the foundations described, above, (and though the economy is down still) some government agencies or programs gave budgets this year and some of those may have money to give yet in order to meet their giving goal for this year.  As suggested above, if their is a federal, state, local, or Tribal, etc. government agency that your organization knows has or would support your nonprofit, it doesn't hurt to research whether their office is looking to spending down some last unused money marked for grant donations.

__ Request Outstanding or Due Memberships, Pledges, and Other Final Quarter Donation Balances- Often, like a for-profit business, nonprofits can run their Accounts Receivable for their donations (or expected income report) for this year and see which donors (sponsors, in kind donors, etc. included along with individual, business, and foundation donors) have yet to give in full for the year if they promised or pledged a certain amount before 2013.  Requests all of these outstanding amounts.

__ Board of Director Annual Contributions - Often nonprofits raise money, annually, through annual leadership contributions which is a specific often larger amount that each board member promises to either raise or donate personally (or give through a combination of the two).  If your organization conducts Board Contributions, be sure to request any outstanding remaining balances from any board members still needing to fulfill their contribution amount for this year.

__ Employee Giving Programs - Many corporations provide their employees with the choice to give to any one (or more) of a long list of area or related nonprofits.  If, for instance, your organization operates in Dallas, Texas you might want to find out how your organization can get onto Hewlett Packard's Corporate Giving List (for their employees to select to give to your nonprofit) over the coming year - usually through a monthly (or other regular incremental) contribution deducted (pre-tax for the donor employee) from their pay check.  Another example is, if your nonprofit operates in Seattle, you could contact Microsoft's Human Resources offices and find out how to get onto their Employee Giving list for 2013 and on.  Always be sure, when requesting/receiving volunteer time or donations from any employer's employees whether the employer matches the contribution.  Often they do but if you don't ask, you don't know to request the matching contribution from the employer, once their employee's donation or volunteer time is given.

__ Corporate Used Items Warehouse Donations - Some corporations warehouse used and old office furniture, kitchen appliances, office appliances, etc. that they intend to donate (for the community goodwill and tax benefits to their company).  Some sell these items at very low prices.  If your organization is needing new equipment or furniture, for your office, contact a local large corporation and ask if they have such a giving program.

__ Thank Supporters - This is a 'no brainer'.  Always make it a point to thank volunteers, partners, and donors without asking them for anything at least four times a year (if not more often, such as thank the donor events).  As we are winding down this year, in all of your organization's year end publications remember the community that allows your organization to achieve its mission goal and the goals of its programs: the community partners, donors, and volunteers who without your organization could not operate, let alone succeed.  In your nonprofit's final newsletter, blog post, Tweet, Annual Report for the year, etc. thank them each and all.  Acknowledge the importance of the partnership you have with them.  State that your  nonprofit and its leadership knows that this ongoing relationship with them is how your organization's successes are achieved.

Grants for Emprical Research Programs Improving Lives of U.S. Youth Between 8 and 25 Years Old

From The Foundation Center...

[If you are interested in this grant opportunity, click "Link to Complete RFP" at the end of this blog post for more information].

"Deadline: January 3, 2013 (Letters of Inquiry)

"William T. Grant Foundation Accepting Letters of Inquiry for Studies on the Use of Research Evidence in Policy and Practice Affecting Youth

"The William T. Grant Foundation seeks to fund high-quality empirical research with the goal of improving the lives of youth between 8 and 25 years of age in the United States. To help accomplish this goal, the foundation is requesting Letters of Inquiry for its Request for Proposals on Understanding the Acquisition, Interpretation, and Use of Research Evidence in Policy and Practice.

"Support will be provided for empirical theory-building studies of what affects policy makers' and practitioners' acquisition, interpretation, and use of research evidence. The foundation is interested in policy and practice directly relevant to youth in the U.S..  Areas of focus can include education, juvenile justice, child welfare, health, family support, employment, mental health, and youth programs.

"The foundation will consider applications for newly initiated studies as well as add-on studies to existing projects. Add-on studies must address research questions not covered by prior funding from the Grant Foundation or other donors, although they may cover secondary analyses of existing data or collection and analyses of new data.

"The foundation encourages interdisciplinary projects and welcomes applications from researchers in various fields and disciplines, including anthropology, communications, economics, education, family studies, human development, organizational studies, political science, prevention research, psychology, public administration, public policy, public health, social work, and sociology.

"To be eligible for consideration, applicants must be employed at a nonprofit institution, either in the U.S. or abroad.

"The foundation will support research projects with awards ranging from $100,000 to $600,000 for direct and indirect costs over two to three years.

"Visit the Grant Foundation Web site for the complete Request for Proposals and application instructions."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Out of Gratitude to Our U.S. Servicepeople - Resources To Support, Cheer Up, Hire, and Help Them and Their Loved Ones

Want to cheer up, hire, or assist, service men and women currently serving the United States, or veterans or their loved ones at home; or are you a veteran returning to the work force?  Here are some resources:

To Cheer Up Or Support Those Currently Serving Our Nation and Their Loved Ones:

Support Our Troops - a nonprofit enabling the public to send care packages to U.S. service men and women, offers other programs such as Find-A-Group - a database that allows the public to find out what organization support the troops and their families, and you may donate if you wish to.

USO - a private nonprofit chartered by Congress, the United Service Organizations provides not only entertainment to the troops, overseas, as we all know; but more.  There are a variety of services and programs supporting our troops but their loved ones back home, including care package programs, free phone cards for service people and their families, and much much more.

For Veterans and Their Loved Ones:

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Joining Forces - a White House initiative's website that provides veterans' employment resources and other veterans' and military spouse resources and support.

Veterans Crisis Line - a website providing a helpline for "confidential veterans" assistance from the Department of Veteran Affairs, resources for veterans having difficulties with depression or contemplating suicide, and resources for the loved ones of veterans facing crisis.

National Alliance On Mental Illness's Veterans and Suicide web page lists both government and private (non-government) resources available to both veterans and their loved ones who are dealing with a vet's depression, suicidal thoughts, or other mental health and wellness issues.

For U.S. Employers Wishing to Hiring United States Service Men and Women, (and for U.S. Veterans Returning to the Workforce specifically see the Society for Human Resource Management's link, below):

U.S. Small Business Association's Veterans web page providing information on the federal programs that encourage small business employers to hire U.S. veterans and what each program's benefits, requirements, etc. are.

Society for Human Resource Management's Military Employment Resource page, online, provides resources for veterans returning to the workplace (such as what rights they have according to the law, etc.), resources for employers: hiring tool kits, federal contractors lists, how to work through communication issues with hired veterans, best practices, and more.

Monday, October 29, 2012

For Basic Hurricane Sandy Information & Where to Donate, Too

Hurricane Sandy weather and geographic details information is available at the National Hurricane Center

Federal Emergency Management Agency's Evacuation Directions

FEMA's directions to find your nearby natural disaster emergency shelter is: "To find a shelter near you, Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345)." [From bottom of web page of ]

The Red Cross's Hurricane Sandy Shelter (and more) Information

The Humane Society of the United States Hurricane Sandy pet and animal assistance and safety and evacuation tips and information

__ Please be sure to: check in on invalid or elderly neighbors, care for yourself and your family's welfare, and please be sure to evacuate and bring food, water, and medication for all of your animals in addition to yourself

If you wish to donate to rescue organizations assisting victims of Hurricane Sandy:

To Give to the Red Cross

To Give to the Humane Society of the United States

Be safe and care for others unable to help themselves get to safety (human and animal).  I wish you and yours' safety.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Supporting Your Favorite Nonprofit Includes Voting By Tuesday November 6, 2012

My husband and I voted this weekend.  It felt good to get it done.  It's one less thing I have to do this week.  I know that you know what I mean.

The way I look at getting to vote in our republic, our democracy, is it is a privilege given to me by my citizenship; by my country's founders, millions of U.S. Armed Forces veterans (and their loved ones), and all others who have devoted either their livelihoods or volunteer work to this country - or, too, to the states and communities that I've in any way benefited from.  I vote, too, because I believe in America's nonprofit sector.

Of course, this may not be how you look at it.  I understand that there are different perspectives on voting. Many people feel disenfranchised.  Some are apathetic - they have better things to do and aren't sure their vote matters or don't want to put the time and effort in.  Yet others vote sometimes but not every election - and may do so out of either major stresses in their lives (i.e. illness, family problems, etc.) or even duress, or coercion for instance, see Hot Election 2012 Trend: Bosses Advising Employees How to Vote.

Putting voting aside for the moment, if you read this blog at all then I suspect you are either volunteering with or working for a nonprofit.  Most of us doing so believe in some aspect of the organization's cause, track record, and potential to succeed and achieve more.  You'd like to see it succeed further.  As such, I suspect that if we look at our communities, at a bare minimum there are at least a few economic issues that concern you, right now, if not other additional issues.  Nonprofits are in as much of a quandary, of course, as any other entity (household, business, etc.) in this economy.  So, at a minimum, the economy worries all of us supporting a community organization, right now.  There's some good news, nationally, here.

No matter what party Americans are affiliated with - they are aware of these current and unusually higher levels of need and are showing up and even increasing usual annual support for nonprofits across America.   See Conservatives and Liberals Are Equally Generous, Study Finds.  Please see, too, Most Donors Plan to Give as Much or More in 2012, Survey Finds.  So, the news is not all bad.

If, then, we support something in our community outside of the for-profit sector, we acknowledge, on some level, the potential individuals have to make a difference - to make something happen to help others or help resolve an issue - if we are supporting an organization.  You and I believe that, but it isn't that this "should" make you vote if you don't are aren't.  I'm simply pointing out the fact that by virtue of being involved in the community - whether you're volunteering at or working for your church, mosque, the local hospital, your child's public school, a nearby arts organization, your mother's cancer hospice nonprofit, or whatever it might be - you are involved in your community and your community is fortunate to have you do so (whether you're a volunteer or paid staff).  So, those of us involved in our communities are not just enabling something we see a need for - we are also on the front line, too.

What are some current examples demonstrating how nonprofits are actually on the front lines of our communities right now?

Not Hate Mail, but Teachers Send "Disappointment Mail" to Obama

Contest Seeks Ideas From Charities for Creating Jobs

Crowdfunded Medical Care?  Welcome to "The Twilight Zone"

Ryan Presents Romney Poverty Approach: Charity, Not Government

I am not going to tout one party or another, here.  Personally, I'll volunteer, that I don't think any one party, today, has anything in particular over another.  Having said this, I do believe most Americans affiliate with the political party they believe exemplifies their values and vision for this nation (and, of course, herein is the problem with politics, today.  Most Americans don't feel that the rubber meets the pavement no matter what any politician or party promises - but I digress).

I am talking, in this blog post, about our American communities and what Americans are facing today.

You know, if you work at all with or otherwise support any nonprofit, that the nonprofit (almost any nonprofit), today, is a major buoy for millions of people or 'things' we associate with a higher quality of life, as so many states' and local governments' budgets and too federal funding being lessened or altogether relinquished from different causes or issue that don't go away just because the prior funding streams do.

We all face some common concerns in our communities, right this week, such as:

Analysis: Fiscal cliff could hit economy harder than many expect

Analysis: Employees to face health care sticker shock

But you know this because we're involved in our communities.  Looking ahead, there are some issues we face, too, that will impact nonprofits and all of our nation.  Our federal funding or even our state's funding from the U.S. government for core projects and programs that either enable or support nonprofits' efforts are facing the chopping block, still.  See U.S. Congress may face another debt-limit showdown in 2013.  Too, the next president will in all likelihood place at least one if not more justices onto the Supreme Court (which, of course, is a life time position).  See Reading Guide: Where Romney and Obama Stand on the Supreme Court.  The list goes on from there.

Being involved in the community is a tremendous service to your family, neighbors, and friends and even to your town and nation.  The election this year on Tuesday, November 6, isn't just about who will become the next president.  It is of course about your local community's leadership and your state's, too.  These local elections impact your organization's future. Voting is also a tremendous service to your community and nation, too.  It could even be self-serving to the nonprofit you support or work for.

So, please vote.  I don't care which party you vote for or which candidates you support.  Please vote.  If not for you and your family, vote this election to benefit that nonprofit you believe in.

[For information on how to register and where to vote click "November 6", three paragraphs up and thank you.]

Grants for Creative "Place-Making" Arts Or Design Nonprofits' and Artists' Projects Fostering Community Identity and Revitalizing Economics

From The Foundation Center...

[If you are interested in this grant opportunity, click "Link to Complete RFP" at the end of this blog post for more information].

"Deadline: January 14, 2013

"National Endowment for the Arts Invites Creative Place-Making Proposals for Our Town Grant Program

"The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has published guidelines and the application for the next funding round of Our Town, the agency's primary creative place-making grants program.

"Through the program, the endowment will provide a limited number of grants for creative place-making projects that contribute toward the livability of communities of all sizes in the United States and help transform them into lively, beautiful, and sustainable places with the arts at their core.

"The program seeks to invest in creative and innovative projects in which communities, together with their arts and design organizations and artists, seek to improve their quality of life; encourage greater creative activity; foster stronger community identity and a sense of place; and revitalize economic development. Projects may include arts engagement, cultural planning, and design activities.

"All Our Town applications must reflect a partnership that will provide leadership for the project. These partnerships must involve two primary partners — a nonprofit organization and a local government entity. One of the two primary partners must be a cultural (arts or design) organization. Additional partners are encouraged and may include an appropriate variety of entities such as state-level government agencies, foundations, arts organizations and artists, nonprofit organizations, design professionals and design centers, educational institutions, real estate developers, business leaders, and community organizations, as well as public and governmental entities.

"Grants will range from $25,000 to $200,000.

"Complete program guidelines, an FAQ, and information on previously funded projects are available at the NEA Web site."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Like Any Successful Ride - It's What's Under The Hood That Determines How Well Any Nonprofit Raises Funds

Do Not Chase Grants, Instead - Raise Them Again and Again

A Community's Confidence In A Nonprofit Is the Ultimate Key to An Organization's Future (and success)

Nonprofit Self Evaluation Leads To Efficient, Economically Trim, Effective, Increased, & Successful Fundraising, and More

Why It Matters What the Public Thinks of A Nonprofit and How To Check

Grants for U.S. Nonprofits, Governments, Tribes, and Educational Institutions Linking Econimic Development and Community Well Being to Stewardship & Health of the Environment

From The Foundation Center...

[If you are interested in this grant opportunity, click "Link to Complete RFP" at the end of this blog post, for more information].

"Deadline: December 3, 2012

"Wells Fargo and the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation Accepting Applications for Environmental Solutions for Communities Grant Program

"Wells Fargo and the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) are offering financial assistance through Environmental Solutions for Communities, a new grant program designed to help communities in the United States create a more sustainable future through responsible environmental stewardship.

"The program will support highly visible projects that link economic development and community well-being to the stewardship and health of the environment.

"Priority for grants will be given to projects that successfully address one or more of the following: innovative, cost-effective stewardship on private agricultural lands to enhance water quality and quantity and/or improve wildlife habitat for species of concern while maintaining or increasing agricultural productivity; community-based conservation of local habitats and natural areas, efforts to enhance water quality, promote urban forestry, educate and train community leaders on sustainable practices, promote related job creation and training, and/or engage diverse partners and volunteers; showcase innovative, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly approaches to improve environmental conditions within urban communities by "greening" traditional infrastructure and public projects such as storm water management and flood control, public park enhancements, and renovations to public facilities; and increase the economic and biological resiliency of the nation's coastal communities and ecosystems (including the Great Lakes) by restoring coastal habitats, living resources, and water quality.

"For the 2013 program, preference will be given to projects in priority regions and states, with a particular emphasis on urban areas.

"Eligible applicants include nonprofit 501(c) organizations; state, tribal, and local governments; and educational institutions. Applicants must be working in states where Wells Fargo operates. Individuals, federal agencies, and private for-profit firms are not eligible.

"Grants will typically range from $25,000 to $100,000 for projects of 18 months.

"The complete Request for Proposals, list of priority geographic areas, and application instructions are available at the NFWF Web site."

Sunday, October 07, 2012

The Roles A Nonprofit's Founder May Hold During the Life Cycle or Growth of the Organization

Not every person who founds a nonprofit is not necessarily the very best possible candidate to either be the new organization's executive director nor the board president (and should never be both).  Please read Someone Has To Say It: The Nonprofit's Founder May Not Be the Best Executive Director Or Board President Candidate (and Should Certainly Not Be Both).  This post is the follow up to that one.

When interviewing people for either the executive director or board president position there are considerations (each candidate's professional and/or volunteer education, credentials, experience, knowledge, and one's professional and personal reputation) a nonprofit's board should come to know and weigh, compare, and the founder can be considered in either pool of potential 'hires', of course.

But there's more.

A founder is many powerful and important things to a new nonprofit.  He or she is a leader within the community, simply by virtue of deciding to do something about an issue or cause that concerns them enough to develop a solution for it.  They are probably pretty good at getting objectives achieved.   They may or may not have personal experience or a connection to the cause or issue. Too, he or she is creating an organization that will ideally go on and achieve the goals of the mission statement.  There is something to the idea that every nonprofit is in the business of putting itself out of business.  To put it another way, wouldn't it be nice if cancer were entirely eradicated?  Not only would fewer people suffer, but all nonprofits affiliated with cancer research, support services, medical services, hospice, etc. would be out of business.  It would be a good reason to be out of a job.  There is a lot of doing good involved in operating a nonprofit and a lot of satisfaction for anyone who participates in the effort (from volunteers, to donors, to staff, to clients, etc.).  A founder can (understandably) feel very tied to their new start up nonprofit.  They've likely put in tens and tens of hours into forming it, invested their own expertise and perhaps finances into filing, and have perhaps included friends and family by asking them to get involved.  It's a tremendous effort and even a difficulty.  It's an effort to begin and launch a new nonprofit.  It is understandable, therefore, when we hear of nonprofit founders who, without questioning if its in the best interest of the nonprofit's goals or the beneficiaries, insert themselves into the nonprofit start up's executive leadership positions.  They, after all, are the person who brought the organization into existence.  They are not, however, the reason that the brand new nonprofit exists.  This is an important distinction for the founder but also the other leaders to understand.  The reason the new organization exists is the needs of the beneficiaries. If Bill began a nonprofit to provide lunches to low income elderly seniors who are immobile but not in a care facility, Bill may believe his new nonprofit exists because he founded it.  He did indeed bring it into being.  The reason, though, that the organization that Bill founded exists is to feed immobile elderly who are not in care facilities (and their not necessarily receiving enough nutrition at home, if the service was not provided).  The beneficiaries of the new nonprofit and their need is the reason the lunch service nonprofit exists.  Bill is not the reason this new nonprofit exists.

So, if the reason a start up nonprofit organization exists is perceived to be because of the founder (by either the founder, its executive leadership, volunteers, staff, donors, or etc.) - then something is already setting the organization's potential back when it has barely begun operating.

In my example, here, Bill's effort and contribution to the community is admirable, perhaps critically necessary, and everyone who receives its services and the community at large will undoubtedly be grateful to him for his passion and commitment to the impoverished and hungry senior citizens.  Bill is the face of the organization's story - how it came to be - and he is the critical person who initiated its launch.  The seniors the agency winds up feeding are the faces of the nonprofit's mission statement and ideally, its success.  Everyone involved in getting the organization underway and operating, getting the programs and services designed and implemented, and the volunteers and donors who support the organization's effort are each and all team members in the nonprofit's success (whether it is a start up or a two hundred year old organization - this is always the case - it takes a team).  As we've all heard... yes, I'm going to say it..."there is no 'i' in 'team'".  What we don't always hear is why.  The reason why is no one person can do everything necessary to design, deliver, support, sustain, and grow a successful nonprofit (one that achieves the goals of its mission efficiently and ethically).

A nonprofit like any organization has a life cycle.  The IRS has a segment of their website dedicated to the life cycle of the nonprofit called Life Cycle of a Public Charity.  A brand new organization begins with a lot of behind the scenes work prior to the launch.  Usually the process to file with the state, IRS, and perhaps other entities (such as cities, counties, or Tribes, as required) takes at least a year (from start to finish).  A legal charity in the U.S. must file with the IRS in order to operate as a charity legally.  Meanwhile, the founder and probably a small team as well must make sure that the nonprofit is not setting out to do work already being done (or done well).  There is some required due diligence of this sort.  What is the geographic region the agency is going to serve?  Who is the target population (or beneficiaries or clients)?  What are their typical demographics?  What is the need the new nonprofit is being formed to meet?  How will the nonprofit answer these needs (or what are the programs and services the organization is going to provide)?  Which other government agencies, nonprofits, companies, etc. are working in the same cause of issue in the same geographic region the new nonprofit will serve?  How many are doing very similar work?  Is there any overlap?  Is another entity already addressing the issue or cause the new start up is intending to for the same beneficiary population?  Nonprofits that succeed and grow (whether start ups or not) are ones that are relevant. In other words, if an established nonprofit is already feeding the low income home-bound elderly in the same community Bill wishes to serve - Bill should likely address another need (one that is as yet unmet) or risk not being able to raise funds, volunteers, etc.  If another established nonprofit is already successfully feeding the population he's identified (like for instance, perhaps a Meals On Wheels is already doing this work in the same region) then why would a donor give to your new start up to do the thing an established (successful) organization is doing?  Too, why should Bill potentially pull any support from them if they do their services well?  Finally, why do what's already being done when another need that isn't being served could be?  Perhaps, if Bill finds out during his initial needs investigation that Meals On Wheels is doing what he initially considered doing through the new organization and they doing it very well, efficiently, and are reputable.  Then he could instead make this new nonprofit idea a needed and related program of the established Meals On Wheels - one that is needed but has not yet been designed, funded, or initiated by that Meals On Wheels.  Of course, he'd have to discuss this idea with that nonprofit's leadership first.  Or he could also investigate (through a needs assessment conducted among the target population) what needs actually do exist that are not being met or aren't being met well and create a nonprofit to instead of his first idea, serve another.  Maybe Bill, upon learning of Meals On Wheels providing lunch to poor elderly he conducts a professional and well written survey among the target population and through its findings he finds that they need a grocery service.  No nonprofit, government agency, company, etc. is helping them get their groceries consistently, at no cost or a low fee, successfully.  Bill can now consider how to form the new nonprofit's mission, programs, services, and goals around this as yet unmet need because this new organization will indeed be relevant.  Donors, volunteers, clients, and even other organizations (who might become partners to the new start up) will each and all understand the need being met and that it is not being met by any other entity.  Why wouldn't they (and the remaining community at large interested in this issue) support the new nonprofit Bill is starting up (especially if it's run effectively and efficiently)?

 The number one thing that a new nonprofit's founder can do especially initially is network.  A founder can be incredibly instrumental in networking as they are the face of the new organization's administration.  He or she is a store of compelling information.  Bill can sit down with pertinent contacts working for similar or related other nonprofits, companies, and government agencies in the field and impart his passion about this population, explain in quantifiable recent terms (per his needs study's findings) why this need is so important to serve (no one else is doing it and they need groceries), and where he is in the process of starting the new organization.  Perhaps he's even the best person at this stage to do this very necessary work.  Networking is a large percent of his job as the organization is being formed and certainly as it launches.  He will not only be developing potential donors, community partners, volunteers, or colleagues but he will also find out information he did not know that is pertinent to the new nonprofit's existence and work.  Maybe Bill meets with the Meals On Wheels executive director, Deborah, and board president, Seth, and shares with them what the new nonprofit will do, for whom, how and what the founding/launch timeline is.  He might hear from Deborah that Bill ought to meet with Meals On Wheels' programs managers to inform them of the new nonprofit's services and timeline but also to ask them about who they would recommend (as they are professionals in that field) who they could recommend as potential volunteers or staff to assist in designing programs and being hired as programs managers.  Maybe, too, Seth recommends that he take Bill around to a few meetings with the larger businesses in town - he would be happy to make introductions for Bill and the new nonprofit to people who may become board members, may donate themselves and/or through their businesses, and might also be key community partners (for example, maybe Seth introduces Bill to the Ford dealership's owner (who has donated new vans to Meals On Wheels every five years) and that dealership leader after meeting Bill promises to do the same for the new nonprofit - and why not - it's a second and new additional write off, community outreach opportunity, marketing and public relations accomplishment for the dealership). 

Meanwhile, Bill has a million other irons in the fire as do two others who have been helping him since day one.  They, together, are researching recent, local, fundraising trends in general (to take its overall temperature, in the current economy, locally), and researching potential donors for their specific organization (and even through a feasibility study, perhaps) to understand  would local people support it financially or in kind, would local businesses, and if so - how much - how often, etc.  The three of them are also developing job descriptions and qualifications for various volunteer positions - everyone from the first executive director (which Bill intends to throw his hat into the ring for among other candidates) to the fundraising committee, to the board, to the volunteer manager, programs people, and bookkeeper.  They already have a local nonprofit-specific CPA and attorney who are each volunteering time with the start up (and these folks are helpful to have in place as a start up files for their 501(c)(3) status with the IRS).

Bill maybe learns of Keisha and Anthony who are each reputable and credentialed social workers that have worked with the elderly their entire careers, from Meals On Wheels (or another agency) during his networking.  They meet with him and agree to volunteer to help Bill design the new nonprofit's services and programs as he has no experience in programs or services design or management (and certainly not in geriatrics or direct services such as providing groceries).  He asks them to do two things.  Bill asks them to research what other nonprofits in the state and the rest of the United States are successfully delivering groceries weekly to low income elderly and whether any of these nonprofits would be willing to share their programs/services designs and their budgets.  Nonprofits often share the programs or services that they have designed that have proven to be both effective (per the service's goal) and effective (successfully providing the program or service to the target population such that it works for them) because they can then call their programs or services that are replicated by other organizations model programs.  Model programs raise more support particularly from grant donors and some matching grant donors because they are not only successful but proven and replicated.  The other side of this is the organization that uses a proven program or service as a model for their own is building proof of concept (and success) into their own new program or service.  This builds a lot of confidence into their new service offering (even if start up) and donors give when they feel confident.  The second task he asks Anthony and Keisha to do is to identify actual real service numbers or put another way - he asked them to research and be able to state within one hundred people how many people exactly their organization will serve during the first two years of the organization's operations (which is expected to begin within a year's time).  In order for Bill to oversee the designing of realistic programs and services, but too, to be able to budget for, staff, fund, etc. anything - he has to know in real numbers what costs he is looking at.  If Keisha and Anthony find after their research that potentially the new nonprofit will buy and deliver groceries to ten thousand clients, Bill might respond, "Wow.  We will have to grow into serving that many people, and begin smaller but aim to serve them all in five years."  Or he might respond, "I've been raising enough money, already, and have enough pledges, sponsors, and other kinds of donors that I think we could do that within the first two years of service."  His response to their findings has to be based in both what he's already hearing back from potential volunteers and donors; but too, how much he is learning the organization will realistically be able to raise each year.  In the end, given what budget/funding decisions Bill makes, he leaves it up to Anthony and Keisha and their expertise to decide whether going with one of the model programs as a template is potentially the most effective method to deliver their services to local clients (given the findings from the needs assessment), or whether it makes more sense to develop their own programs from scratch (using Keisha and Anthony's expertise, what community partners are pitching in, and local demographics and needs findings).  If they deem building their own programs makes sense, and if the board signs off on this finding, then the two of them will design and implement (and possibly run) the programs and service (including the intended outcomes in specific client numbers, evaluations, budgets, staffing needs, site locations, logistics, etc.).

No one who builds a new organization (for profit or nonprofit) sees that entity as only existing for the duration of their lifetime - only to end when they die.  The intention is that the business or nonprofit will go on growing, succeeding, achieving, and building into the future indefinitely.  As such, the goal is for a new start up to thrive, grow, succeed, and flourish.  What will it take for the nonprofit to do this?  Well, it must achieve the goals of its mission statement.  It's programs must be efficient and effective.  The population served must actually assert themselves (without coercion, etc.) that their need is being met that the agency intends to serve.  The organization has to be reputable, well run (according to professional, nonprofit, best practices probably), and announcing its name, services, goals, and successes in the community.  They must make their organization and its successes known so that current and potential new donors, volunteers, and community partners feel confident supporting this nonprofit.  Operating the nonprofit according to best practices just happens to get a nonprofit in position to be the magic combination: compelling, relevant, and also able to demonstrate (through programs' evaluation findings and service stats) it's a sound investment for anyone in the community that wishes to support it.  This is an organization that is currently successful and whose future is bright.  Efficiency is a best practice that also instills confidence and also ethics - 80% or more of each dollar raised goes directly to programs and services, the agency reports on time and is a transparent operation (anyone at any time can get the organization's annual report).  Aside from its administration, though, a new nonprofit that is going to thrive must have an experienced, talented, credible, reputable, and perhaps even specialized team of volunteers or staff (especially among its board and entirely its programs and services designers and managers).  Credentialed reputable professionals instill confidence, too.  Perhaps more importantly, they know how to build or replicate a successful program design, how to implement it, how to oversee and manage it (and its staff or volunteers, budget, and evaluation) - so that it achieves success for the beneficiaries.  Their needs get met and the organization doesn't waste time, money, or its reputation fumbling and bumbling (even if well meaning).  If a reputable team of leaders and staff or volunteers (especially initially) aren't at the helm - who is going to know what is going to actually work and how long will it take that person to find that out? 

All volunteer positions (leadership, office admin, programs, and specialists, even) should have a job description including qualifications.  These should be state of the art (or current) because anyone considering the position can tell a lot about your organization from the job descriptions it advertises for job openings.  Always put the organization's best professional foot forward and research what the latest best practices job descriptions for various positions entail (and understand why).  Multiple candidates should be recruited for the leadership roles (leaders in the professional field and the sector should be identified whether working already or volunteering already elsewhere, courted, and invited to apply).  What nonprofit couldn't use the cream of the crop to ensure its organization's success and potential?  Aim high.  All for profit executives consider community involvement and many volunteer (especially as board members).  It's a public relations opportunity for their firm, at  a minimum if the company's leaders are volunteering but often these leaders genuinely wish to get involved in the community.  Don't decide for anyone.  Let them say "no" to your organization's opportunity if they need or wish to.  Candidates for office administration or assisting with programs or services should also be considered in larger numbers than necessary but considered based on their commitment to volunteer, availability, maybe experience, but too, definitely their background check results, and what is learned after following up with their references, etc. to determine whether one's beneficiaries (clients) will be safe in their care, and so on.   It helps to use the cause or issue's professional and ethical minimum standards (including too the laws or guidelines suggested by one's state, and other pertinent governments). 

Bill may or may not outshine other candidates in whichever position he applies for (along with the other candidates) but the board (or whomever is 'hiring' for the leadership position) should be clear that they are to choose whomever is the best candidate based on how they stack up to the job description and suggested experience and skills, and how they compare to the entire pool of candidates.  Bill is concerned and has passion and follow through but does he know how to run and oversee a nonprofit organization?  It requires expertise in fundraising, working with volunteers, overseeing budgeting and implementation of programs and services, evaluating those programs and services, and more.  If he doesn't know how to do these things - why doesn't he allow someone who does (and does well) to take the role?  The future of the organization and its best interests (the goal of the mission statement and the intended outcomes for the beneficiaries) should be the focus in all of the nonprofit's leadership's decision making.  Mission-based decision making is what leads to organizational operational and programmatic success.  Kowtowing to a founder's ego or entitlement to a position or role does not do anything for the nonprofit or its beneficiaries and it can actually harm both (see the news item links at the bottom of the previous post, "Someone Has To...".  The link is in my first paragraph, above).  When leadership always uses the mission and best interest of its goals as the number one factor in making decisions - not only is everyone in the leadership on the same page - but it's clear that the values of the organization are truly its services and programs' successes.  This instills confidence among clients and potential supporters, but too, it is how a nonprofit thrives, grows, succeeds, and shines.

A founder may or may not be effective in any role (including being the founder, even) depending (of course) on what their knowledge and experience is in both the nonprofit sector and the professional field that the specific nonprofit is working in.  Nonprofits are unique and require (like any field) unique expertise.  You'll want someone with successful experience but a strong reputation to plan and begin fundraising.  If you don't recruit a volunteer (or eventually staff member) with qualifications - why wouldn't you and what are your real goals, then?  The real answers to these questions need to be brought to the fore and addressed, maybe.  It's the exact same thing with nonprofit programs, nonprofit administration, and leadership.  Expertise saves money, time, and reputations; but more importantly it's how success is achieved (and quicker).  As an organization launches, ideally it has in all necessary positions (executive director perhaps, but board members, volunteers, and committee members) filled by experienced, reputable, talented people who are told to do what is best for the nonprofit and its beneficiaries and not any one or anything else - and then do that. 

A founder may, after an organization launch, become a board member (not necessarily the president), an in office volunteer (who works under the executive director), a committee member (marketing and public relations, fundraising, etc.), or may even simply become a client (the last nonprofit that I was a staff member for was founded fifty years prior by a woman who needed a direct service provider and after helping form the nonprofit became one of its clients (and nothing more)).  Can a founder be the best possible candidate for a leadership position after a nonprofit is formed?  Yes.  Is it always going to be the case?  No.  How can a nonprofit do its very best?  Requiring qualifications and expertise be met.  With the best possible team and the best possible candidates filling each and every leadership position the organization's future is very really potentially incredibly successful.

Grants for Organizations Providing Care to People Living With HIV/AIDS From Under Served Populations

From The Foundation Center...

[If you are interested in this grant opportunity, click "Link to Complete RFP" at the end of this blog post for more information].

"Deadline: November 2, 2012

"AIDS United and MAC AIDS Fund Announce Retention in Care for People Living With HIV/AIDS Funding Opportunity

"AIDS United and the M·A·C AIDS Fund have announced a Request for Proposals for the Retention in Care initiative, which aims to increase retention in effective HIV health care by people living with HIV/AIDS, particularly those who are living in poverty and are at risk for dropping out of care or becoming sub-optimally engaged in care.

"The program will support approximately five grantees in the United States to facilitate retention in HIV health care by strengthening support and service systems and addressing barriers that affect people's ability to consistently participate in such care.

"AIDS United encourages applications that include a focus on marginalized, under-served populations that traditionally have less access to, and retention within, medical care. The organization is especially interested in funding proposals that combine retention in care efforts with intersecting areas of concern — for example, intimate partner violence, depression/mental health treatment, housing, and food security.

"The Request For Proposal (RFP) process will be open to any qualified applicant regardless of their funding status with AIDS United.

"Total project budgets are expected to be in the range of $200,000 to $250,000 annually. Grant funds may be used for direct retention in care program expenses; personnel expenses for staff providing direct services to the clients served by this project (peer navigators, nurse practitioners, case managers, early intervention specialists, outreach workers, etc.); overall initiative coordination; project evaluation; and information systems development and implementation.

"The complete Retention in Care RFP and application instructions are available at the AIDS United web site."

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Someone Has To Say It: The Nonprofit's Founder May Not Be the Best Executive Director or Board President Candidate (and Should Certainly Not Be Both)

When a nonprofit is founded by a single person often that person feels 'the right' to become the nonprofit's executive director or board president.  As I've said in other posts, in this blog, I get it.  The founder is passionate about the issue or cause the organization is going to work on, feels a certain natural claim to the leadership of the new nonprofit, and is likely a great public facing member of the team.  They carry in their person both the passion in a nonprofit's launch but too, the unique story of who began this nonprofit, and why or how the organization started.  This is powerful storytelling which we all know is powerful marketing and public relations.  All start ups must begin fundraising among all other operations (including building programs) and networking is a key component to launching all of this.  It is important that the story be told.  It is a great way to begin networking and introducing a new nonprofit to the community and world; and this individual is potentially a good member of the brand new organization's leadership team.

Is being the person who can tell the founding story of an organization the best person with the most qualifications and experience to lead a particular organization, though, such that it both grows in a healthy fashion and also delivers the organization's mission efficiently and effectively?  It's a mouthful sentence.  The goal for any nonprofit that wishes to succeed and grow is to best serve the beneficiaries of its mission statement while also operating the organization efficiently and ethically.  The mission is "..the thing" and the number one interest is the beneficiaries.  So, does passion and gumption qualify an individual to know how to best do these things if the goal is to succeed at the mission for the beneficiaries? Maybe.  Maybe not.  And, I think that you know this.

The founder is not necessarily the best person to either lead the day to day operations as the executive director nor is he or she necessarily the best candidate to lead the board.  If a founder is truly creating an organization that they believe that the community needs and can really solve some issues effectively - that person will do whatever is best to ensure the organization begins, grows, and exists to do more good another day.  The founder - the impetus - the carrier and instigator of the passion for the new start up's cause does whatever is necessary to best serve the beneficiaries of the organization's work.  Sometimes the founder is the person for one of the leadership jobs, but sometimes they aren't and a professional will acknowledge and even support facing this fact.  Perhaps they are "suited" (i.e. of the founder one probably can comfortably say, 'Joanna cares about the issue...' or 'Dave has a personal history with the organization's cause...' and these are important connections to the mission and the agency, itself) but are they the best candidate for either leadership job?  I am certain the founder is passionate about the cause.  But, is passion enough of a qualification for an executive director or the board president position?  Or, are there more qualifications a leader of the particular nonprofit should have in order to truly be the actual best candidate for the best interest of the future of the nonprofit?

It's uncomfortable to consider and certainly not easy to bring up or say out loud - but the fact is - if a nonprofit's operations, or if its leadership is encumbered by the weight of either a founder's self-entitlement or ego (or both), then the leadership is neither doing its job nor effectively able to.  It is the responsibility of the leadership to see and also acknowledge it if this is the case.  The organization, too, is in a poor position that could lead to it not growing or succeeding as well as it could.  If a nonprofit's leadership is operating always first considering the founder, then the mission statement and the beneficiaries are not the focus of decision making (as they should be).  Instead, whether they acknowledge it or not (whether the founder wishes to acknowledge it or not) often the first consideration goes through a filter ('Joanna won't like it if I or the board comes out against her on this' or 'Dave is the founder, so he knows best') and that has no place in best practices operations.

It might be new to a founder or a founding team to believe this, but it is the case that if your organization's mission is relevant and needed by the community (no other organization is solving a currently as yet unmet known need) there are many experienced, talented, even credentialed professionals who will be interested in volunteering (or the same can be said of potential staff, etc. when hiring becomes a possibility) with your nonprofit.  There are no requirements that a nonprofit, for example, have a Google board member serving in order to attract the cream of any profession's crop to either volunteer or work for your nonprofit.  You may think your new nonprofit is too small, or ask 'who am I to reach out and advertise for the best in this field'?  'Why would they respond?'  If the cause is real and the organization's going to serve that cause - there will be amazing candidates for your organization to consider, and depending on how well your organization is getting the word out about its launch, its mission, and who it's looking for to run it, some may be literally the best in their professional field.  Remember, Microsoft board members, AT&T executives, and even the highest up executives at say, the American Red Cross's executive offices often seek leadership roles in the community.  Talent is out there looking to get involved.  So, who would be better at serving your organization?  Someone with talent and experience or someone who of course did as important an achievement by founding the nonprofit but does not have the experience or know how to do as good a job as the other candidate?  Is founding a nonprofit enough to forgo bringing on the best qualified person to go forward?
In this day and age, no founder should be both a board president and an executive director.  Temporarily they might be, but only for a short limited amount of time until one of the positions is filled by a qualified finalist.  Not only is one person occupying both positions too much power held by one individual - it truly is the definition of a conflict of interest.  The board of directors of each 501(c)(3) (and other charities recognized by the IRS) are legally required by the Sarbanes Oxley Act to oversee and be personally accountable for the organization's operations and that includes overseeing the executive director and their performance and so the entire board must be able to fully execute their executive role.  The board is individually and as  a whole legally, per Sarbanes, responsible for all reporting to the federal government including fiscal oversight  and ensuring it's correct; but too, it must be certain that the operation is running in an accountable transparent fashion.  The word "transparent" has been a buzzword since before the law was a law because (as news story after news story can demonstrate) the federal and even state governments that oversee legally recognized business entities (including nonprofits) had had enough of not being able to either discern nor report to the public what agencies were operating on point per their mission, efficiently, or even effectively.  Congress (and the public (who are donors, volunteers, clients, etc. of these nonprofits)) had had enough of that - and so, in part due to this, Sarbanes came to be.

The law is not the only reason that a founder (or anyone) should occupy both the executive director position and the board president role.  If a donor considers giving to a nonprofit - they do so to achieve some accomplishment in the community at large - the goal of the recipient organization's mission and also the goal of its current programs and services.  If though, a nonprofit is led by one person mostly (as they occupy the head of the directors and also run day to day operations) it may not appear like a wise investment for the donor.  Decisions...all decisions (growth, strategy, beneficiaries' needs, policies, oversight, operations, etc.) are best handled by a team (preferably one with expertise, experience, successes, and even (if appropriate) credentials).  If, though, the team is not as strong as it could be (in its accomplishments or professional experience) or if the team is not empowered by its entire leadership to always base decisions on what is best for the beneficiaries and put them and the mission first (rather than a founder's perhaps inappropriate legacy and their expected or entitled position or their ego) - then why would that donor give to this nonprofit over another that is better run (i.e. more effective and efficient which empowered leadership is able to do)?  That other organization's potential - its future also looks better given it is unencumbered by the extra political quagmire (or even drama).  The other nonprofit will appear to a knowledgeable donor as the wiser investment, and well, may be.

Any one person who occupies both the head of the board and the executive director position should relieve themselves of one position (or both), or their board members should talk with them and ask them to do this.

You or they may protest to my blog post's points.  Someone might respond, "Well, Joanna has led us to many programs achievements, fundraising successes, and our operations are on budget and on track..." or "Dave has been nothing but enabling about the board and the other volunteers.  He is not a political quagmire for the organization's operations or future."  If these things are actually true (and also the full potential the organization could actually achieve) then fine and all is good enough at your agency.  If there are cracks showing, so to speak, though - and you know better than I - then there are questions for your organization's leadership to consider and answer.

Then don't take my word for what I've insisted, in this post.  Look at the actual real world.

All of these concerns, cautions, and recommendations are modern day, professional, nonprofit, best practices, and (as I repeat in this blog) are so because they have repeatedly worked (for all kinds of different nonprofits, of different sizes, in different geographic locations, etc.).  Best practices come to be (by someone innovating and then sharing with colleagues at other nonprofits what works) and then these methods are repeated and become accepted because they provide a nonprofit with the best possible outcome, at the best possible savings, in the least amount of time, ethically.  They are tried and determined to work.  These are efficient success-generating practices (which I work to impart to my readers through this blog).

The following news items are cautionary tales (real world news items that are the red flag warnings in our society), and are fairly well known and some are famously so, now.  Here are a few that involve (in all instances) the nonprofit's leadership not making decisions for the organization based first and foremost on the agency's mission statement and its beneficiaries first which is exactly the same as putting an individual (the founder) first in decision making.  Two of these actually involve founders being asked to step down or being found in the wrong by overseeing government.  More to my point - all of these news stories feature prominent long standing nonprofits that by virtue of being such were operating for a while with a founder as a key leader (even operating successfully for a long time) but by not making decisions in the best interests of the mission and its goals first always, this still bit these organizations in their rumps.

Three Cups of Tea Author and Nonprofit Founder Determined To Have Mismanaged Org After Year Long Investigation

A Look At the Susan G. Komen Experience... and be sure to look at the news article, in this post, titled "Komen Founder to Step Down As Chief Executive"

Susan G. Komen Organization's Experience Is The Devil In the Details (for Us and Not Just Komen)

A Real World Example Demonstrating Why Nonprofit's Mission Statements Are More Important Than the Almighty Dollar

News stories include (most recent first):

Komen Family Chooses a Successor to Brinker or So They Say

Nike chooses to sever its ties with Livestrong

Lance Armstrong cuts formal ties to Livestrong

AP source: Armstrong 'sorry' to Livestrong staff 

Livestrong responds to Armstrong's Oprah Interview: 'Disappointed', but grateful, too 

Livestrong Tweaks Logo To Move Past The Lance Armstrong Scandal

Whether a nonprofit's leadership is willing to see and also acknowledge it or not, the organization's founder can be a real impetus to a nonprofit's capabilities or worse - its success and greater potential.  Seeing and acknowledging an issue is better than not.  We all know this to be true.  Too, the sooner this occurs the better for the nonprofit's organizational health but more importantly the better for an organization's beneficiaries and meeting their needs well (as demonstrated sadly well by Susan G. Komen's recent news (see above)).  It can't happen soon enough.

Having said what I have in this post - of course, most founders are qualified to play key roles in the organization.  My next blog post, The Roles A Nonprofit's Founder May Hold During the Life Cycle or Growth of the Organization is about what qualifications an organization should look for in each of its leadership roles, how a nonprofit can go about recruiting and finding the best possible candidates (which occasionally may be the founder), and which nonprofit roles a founder can best fill and at which stages of a nonprofit's lifetime.