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.

Grants and Scholarships for U.S. Middle or High School After School Science or Environmental Clubs' Students

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]

"Posted on September 27, 2012   print  
"Deadline: Various

"Lexus and Scholastic Launch Sixth Annual Environmental Contest for Middle and High School Students

"A program of automaker Lexus and children's publishing company Scholastic, the Lexus Eco Challenge is an educational program and contest designed to inspire and empower middle and high school students in the United States to learn about the environment and take action to improve it. In its sixth year, the program will award a total of $500,000 in grants and scholarships.

"The competition is open to students in grades 6-12 who are either registered and home-schooled or enrolled in a public or accredited private school, and who are legal residents of the U.S. or the District of Columbia. Teams of students can enter if they are part of an after school science or environmental club, but the challenge is not open to clubs outside of school.

"Middle and high school teams comprised of five to ten students and a teacher-advisor are invited to participate in one or both of the two initial challenges, each addressing different environmental elements — land/water and air/climate.

"For each of the challenges, teams define an environmental issue that is important to them, develop an action plan to address the issue, implement the plan, and report the results. The submission deadline for Challenge 1 (land/water) is October 29, 2012; the deadline for Challenge 2 (air/climate) is December 17, 2012.

"Each of the challenges will have sixteen winning entries — eight middle school and eight high school teams. The winning teams each will receive a total of $10,000 in scholarships and grants to be shared among the students, teacher, and school.

"In early January, the winning teams from the first two challenges will be invited to participate in the program's final challenge. Teams will be asked to reach beyond the local community and inspire environmental action around the world through innovative ideas that are communicated to a wide audience. From the final challenge entries, eight first-place teams and two grand prize-winning teams will be selected. Each of the eight first-place teams will receive a total of $15,000 in grants and scholarships, and two grand prize-winning teams will each receive $30,000. The money will be shared by the students, their teacher-advisers, and their schools.

"For complete program information and entry requirements, visit the Eco Challenge Web site.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

What the Special Event or Events Fundraising Method Is, and How It Works

Half of my official job duties was administration of special events when I first began working in fundraising for the now defunct Multiple Sclerosis Association of King County (MSAKC).  (In late 2008 its board of directors voted to roll the MSAKC into the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's Seattle office's programs.  This decision ended a local nonprofit that had successfully provided direct services to Seattle-area people with MS and their loved ones for more than fifty years.)

A special event is a fundraising method that nonprofit organizations use to do several things at once.  It is an event or happening that should be enticing to the general public in order to acquire the most attendees or participants possible (and thereby both encourage the largest possible number of people among the general public to know about the nonprofit and to also participate and to give).  The event allows the nonprofit to raise funds.  The event is an opportunity for the organization to market its mission, achievements, and current programs and goals to the general public and increase its public relations.  A special event, too, should engender participants' genuine appreciation for the organization's work and its cause but too - they should feel good about having participated and frankly should genuinely enjoy themselves.  This, in part is how an organization retains dedicated attendees that participate year after year.

 The special event must be repeated once it is started.  It will typically not break even (expenses to put it on compared to amount raised) until approximately year three of conducting it consistently and will probably not make a profit until year four (but this can vary depending on the event's popularity or interest in it, the event's community, the attendees, and the location).  This is the case for almost any nonprofit and for any type of special event.  In other words, the loss in the initial two years of holding it must be expected and built into the organization's fundraising plan or development plan.

The special event raises more and more money each year it is held because it should retain past participants (at least 50% to 60% of them, year to year) and also bring new attendees each year.  It can either grow in number of attendees or participants, or the cost to attend might increase (if that is a cost effective choice to make and realistic), or sponsors may increase how much they pay for of the event as the event's popularity or notoriety grows over the years thereby lessening the amount the organization, itself, pays to hold the event year after year.  Ideally, all three of these things occur! 

Often, participants must register or buy tickets to attend, sometimes they raise funds in order to participate or invite colleagues or friends to join them at their table for dinner, etc. and then they actually attend the event.  None of these steps should be convoluted, difficult to conduct or submit/return to the organization, or annoying to those who sponsor the participant or come as guests with the participant to the event.  Customer service, at every stage of their experience with the nonprofit and its special event, provided to the participants and their donors, sponsors, or guests should be of the utmost priority, always - in order that attendees not only want to participate next year again, but so do those who hear about the event from them but have not yet participated, themselves.  This is the other part that ensures more participants return to attend year after year.  This may seem "obvious" but never assume that your organization's volunteers and staff know this or know how to be excellent at customer service.  Instead arm them with each and all with knowledge and train them.

[Warning: This paragraph's information is not to be taken in lieu of understanding all of your organization's overseeing governments' laws and rules about special event fees and donations and how to collect, account for, and report them.  Ask your organization's Certified Public Accountant for all of the pertinent information.] Participants will ask what their tax deductible contribution amount is, after paying to attend your event (and will ask for a receipt).  The IRS allows for the contribution (or deductible amount from their taxes) to be the difference between the cost of their attendance/and or participation minus the actual expenses to the nonprofit for everything they pay for that they will get at the event.  In other words, if we work for an organization providing a golf tournament and we charge golfers $250 per person to play in the tournament this is the cost of their participation or attendance.  We determine that the actual cost per person who golfs, at the event this year, comes to $150 (i.e. the golf course is charging our nonprofit $100 per player to hold the event at that golf course this year, and their food and beverages costs being charged to us for the entire event is $50 per player (i.e. for drinks and light appetizers during the tournament, and then a barbecue dinner with wine or beer afterward)) and there are no other direct costs to the nonprofit for that attendee, then the attendee is donating to the organization that remaining or additional $100 charged to him or her to participate.  The math is the total cost to the attendee less the actual costs for everything they will get at the event (that the organization pays for) is the contribution amount (in this example, $250 - $150 = $100).  That $100 is the tax free donation the organization is raising on top of the costs it is passing on to the participant in the participant's registration fee.  This $100 (in this example, or the difference between attendance fee and actual costs) is the amount allowed as a deduction to whomever pays for the attendee's participation.  If the golfer's employer pays for their registration then the employer gets the tax deduction.  If the golfer, him- or herself pays for it then they get the tax deduction (as long as their employer doesn't reimburse them because then the employer would being paying the donation and get the tax deduction).

The MSAKC held approximately four or five special events a year (and this was only part of the organization's total fundraising effort each year).  Two events were usually formal dinners.  One was a 'meet the author' event where a renowned author spoke at a formal dinner and the later answered questions and signed his or her book.  The other was usually an executive level (board members) dinner with some major donors, active volunteers, and key staff attending, as well and was sponsored by one of the major multiple sclerosis medication's pharmaceutical firms.  The other two events were sporting events.  One was an annual rollerblading race (around one of Seattle's scenic bodies of water in the summer) and the other was an annual golf tournament hosted by and entirely attended by professionals in various related industries to the construction industry in Seattle and her suburbs.

Special events require specific advanced planning in order for them to go off without a hitch.  Some nonprofits choose to hire special event planning firms or consultants to plan and/or implement their special events.  A nonprofit can hire a consultant (and this, of course, is an additional expense to the organization) but it is not necessary that a nonprofit hire an outside expert to plan and/or conduct its special event.  In fact, more money is saved if a nonprofit plans, implements, and conducts its own special events.  They become experts on how to do it.  Too, they create and then maintain the relationships directly with vendors, sponsors, and donors specific to the event over the years.  This is always invaluable to any nonprofit.  A direct relationship can (and often does) lead to: donor retention and dedication, participant retention (because of ease of attending and consistent professionalism and customer service in registering and actual participation), increased sponsor involvement (anything from sponsor's employees becoming chairs of the special event's planning committee to increased sponsorship contributions, and more marketing of the event within their corporate marketing, etc.), and vendors decreasing their fees to possibly even donating their products or services out of loyalty and support to the organization, its cause, and the popularity of the event (often, for example, in exchange for their logo being included in the event brochure, or on marketing or advertising for the event).  The involvement for sponsors usually has a lot to do with their own firm's marketing goals, but too, they wish to be seen as members of the community that contribute and give back.  Once they come to know your organization (especially if they work with the same volunteers or staff each year to help put the event on) getting their involvement and increasing how much they contribute is easy for them and your nonprofit year to year.

Special events should be planned out well in advance of their being implemented and then held.  It varies, but generally you will want to be planning out a never before held new special event at least a year and a half before the actual event's plan will be implemented (and this is before its held or conducted).  For a special event that has been held year to year, one may only need to begin planning for this year's version six months before marketing and then registration begins.  This too will vary depending on how experienced the committee chair is with the event, how well the event has been conducted in the recent past, and so on. The special event should have its own committee (ideally chaired by someone directly involved with the industry or issue the event pertains to so that they can easily call on colleagues and friends, etc. who will actually attend).  The committee should work well with the executive director and development or fundraising office (volunteers or staff) in order to plan and implement the special event.  Usually the committee conducts high level planning and operations (which leaders in the community will be asked to attend or get involved as sponsors or major donors; or the event is moving to a new larger venue this year and the committee selects it) but specifics are planned and administered by the nonprofit's fundraising staff or committee ( the event location, acquiring the mid to lower range sponsors, registering participants, planning and ordering the brochures and marketing materials, etc.).

The special event must have clear and compelling (enticing, interesting, fun) marketing and public relations: made public WELL IN ADVANCE of the event and then ongoing until the day of the event, introducing the event, inviting the general public, and clearly explaining the when, where, who, how much, how, and why of the event.  Do not create an event that allows the organization to advertise it for only a week or two before registration begins or before the event itself.  That is not enough time to promote the event (which is part of what marketing and public relations does) but too, it isn't enough notice for people to squeeze something new into their social calendars.  Provide them with at least a month's notice of an event's date and details.  It seems like I'm overstating the obvious but you do not know how many professionally held events I've read about in which the organization simply directs the public interested in attending to some website to get the basic information!  A website address is not information in and of itself!  Read my last sentence, again.  A website can provide information (and should) but asking someone who hears about your event to then go to a website after hearing about it is foolish.  The public should not have to go somewhere (like a website) to get the basic information about your event, though, EVER.  You have their attention when they read or hear about your event, right then.  You should provide the when, where, who, how, how much, and why in every public relations and marketing piece pertaining to the event.  Never ask someone in the general public to go elsewhere, after you get their attention, for information.  Give it clearly and accurately to them, in the moment, right then and there, everywhere you discuss or advertise the event.  A website is fine for registration or additionally providing basic information but the front line is the second, the moment you have the general public's attention and that's when they see anything about the event like when they read the newspaper, see an ad in a local magazine, listen to local radio, see a poster in their local restaurant's waiting room, get your nonprofit's latest e-mail, get your newsletter, or go to your organization's website, etc.  Always give all of the basic information along with even the slightest mention of the event, itself.

The special event's plan clarifies for everyone involved the who, what, when, where, how, and why of each step in implementing and conducting the event including specific tasks, benchmarks, the entire timeline, the budget, intended outcomes, etc.  Too, each special event should ask participants to review the event in a quick survey and ask for suggestions or where improvements are needed.  The special event's entire team should do a Review and Wrap Up meeting after each iteration of the special event to review participants' feedback and suggestions, determine what worked, what needs improvement, what the improvements will be, how much was spent, how much was raised, etc.  This information should be used, year to year, to improve the entire special event and to increase participation and the participants' ease of attending and enjoyment of the event.

What should the brand new special event be that a nonprofit commits to beginning and then holding annually, thereafter?  It depends.  In the third paragraph, above, I stated about how many years it takes for a nonprofit to either break even or begin to regularly make money from the new event and that "...this can vary depending on the event's popularity or interest in it, the event's community, the attendees, and the location."  This has everything to do with what special event a nonprofit selects to implement.  For example, if a nonprofit chooses to do a special event that is being done to death, already in its town or community; or if it selects a special event that is not in line with local interests or taste; or if a nonprofit picks a special event that is too pricey to attend for its region's locals, or is too difficult to get to in order to participate, etc. then the organization's gotten in the way of its own opportunity and goal.  A nonprofit must think through and even do blind polls or community feedback gathering to determine what will work best.  Remember, your organization is committing to this new special event for probably at least five years to come if not more.  Some successfully special events have been held for more than fifty years.  You'll want to consider what is possible (scale and continuing to scale upward) for your organization to do, that too entices the most participation from the general public, for the least cost to the organization, that results in the most valuable experience for the participant.  Take time to study and determine findings because it will help your organization go in the right direction for success, but too, cost less over time, and be more popular and interesting or fun.

Bottom line - the special event is a fundraising method but it's more than that.  It's truly an opportunity for the nonprofit, the beneficiaries of its work, and the general public.  A well planned and executed special event: entices the general public because it sounds fun or interesting; is easy for the general public to attend because everything required of them is clear, easy, and quick to do; both provides them with the clear message that by participating they are partnering in your nonprofit's mission success but also doesn't hammer them over the head about the organization's cause or needs; engenders the general public's care and support of the organization and its work; and raises funds.  The event should be so fun that they participant wants to attend again next year and tells a friend or two to do the same.  A special event allows the organization to interact with the general public directly (instead of only with its clientele, volunteers, and donors).  Volunteers and staff should enjoy themselves, but too, know their responsibilities and job, and how to provide excellent customer service at each step.  Well conducted special events are an opportunity for everyone to win.

There are many reputable resources that can help a nonprofit's leadership learn how to best plan and successfully implement and raise funds from special events.  If you look in my Amazon  Bookstore, above, in the middle right of this blog - you can search for books explaining the 'how to's' of special event in detail.  The books in my E Store are hand selected.  I picked each for its reputation in the nonprofit sector.  You can't go wrong.  If you locate a book you'd like to use there, but your organization can't afford to buy it - check with your local public library to see if they have it.  If they don't ask about them either acquiring it or if you can get it through inter-library loan.  One of these options usually allows the public to get a book the library doesn't have.

Grants for Nonprofits Providing Housing to U.S. Veterans

From The Foundation Center...

[This grant is available to registered 501(c)(3) groups to apply for (not individual people).  The community groups that receive the grant will use the money to house U.S. service people.  If you are interested in more information on this grant opportunity, click "Link to Complete RFP" at the end of this blog post for more information]

"Deadline: October 12, 2012

"Home Depot Foundation Offers Grants to Support the Housing Needs of Military Veterans

"As part of its Celebration of Service initiative to ensure that every United States military veteran has a safe place to call home, the Home Depot Foundation is inviting community groups to apply for a Celebration of Service grant through the Community Impact Grants Program.

"Grant proposals must specifically identify service projects that benefit veterans.

"Community Impact Grants support a range of activities, including repairs, refurbishments, and modifications to low-income and/or transitional veteran's housing or community facilities; weatherizing or projects designed to increase the energy efficiency of low-income and/or transitional veterans' housing or community facilities; and planting trees or community gardens and/or landscaping community facilities that serve veterans. Grants must support work completed by community volunteers in the U.S.

"Only registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, tax-exempt public schools, and tax- exempt public agencies in the U.S. are eligible to apply.

"Grants of up to $5,000 will be provided in the form of Home Depot gift cards for the purchase of tools, materials, or services.

"Complete program guidelines and the online grant application are available at the Home Depot Foundation Web site."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

For Efficient But Effective Nonprofit Programs, Service, and Administration Like Fundraising - GIS Is A Tremendous Tool... And It's Free...

Technological innovations are continually offering nonprofits, whether they know about them or not, advanced, simpler to use, faster solutions for their unique needs.  For example, this past Thursday I attended nonprofit tech software and solution providers, TechSoup's webinar, "Mapping Your Impact" for nonprofits which was in part hosted by Geographic Information System (GIS) software and hardware industry leader's ESRI . ESRI's Nonprofit Organization Program account executive, David Gadsden, spoke.

Geographic Information Systems or GIS is computer software that allows a user to "...visualize, question, analyze, interpret, and understand data to reveal relationships, patterns, and trends." ( )  You can imagine, if you have not used GIS for your nonprofit how it could be a powerful tool to plan, know in real time, and assess so much, including providing solutions to disseminate information and referrals, or to, in real time, currently and efficiently inform: programs' planning and evaluations, strategic planning, fundraising, beneficiaries' needs assessments, accounting or budgeting transparency for donor reporting and relationships, services management, even volunteer management, and more.  Data sets (depending on the user's needs and goals) are layered over maps and tied into real time data and allows for database connections, too.  As with any software system the results are a matter of "garbage in garbage out" or not - but assuming that an organization has on- the-ball volunteers and staff (who are well trained and continually supported by superiors as continuing education or modernizing tech infrastructure are needed) the quality of the nonprofit's data entry is likely not an issue.

Andrew Schroeder, the Director of Research and Analysis at Direct Relief International spoke during the webinar about how his nonprofit uses GIS, and specifically ESRI's Arc GIS product to: discover the specific needs that exists, in real time, in the places around the globe that Direct Relief Int'l provides emergency assistance; to survey program partners and beneficiaries to inform Direct Relief Int'l's programs designs; asset tracking; for rapid assessment in emergencies; programs' and services' effectiveness assessment; to track where service partners (i.e. FEMA, American Red Cross, local, state, and other federal agencies, etc.)  are during emergencies (in real time and live on actual maps including, for instance, where emergency evacuation routes are and whether their clinics are located on then evacuation routes); and discerning what assets the partners have on the ground (to avoid redundancy and to be efficient while being effective, overall).  Specific to fundraising, he mentioned in his presentation that Direct Relief Int'l also uses GIS to provide budgeting/spending transparency to their donors and potential donors in both reporting/donor relationship development and solicitations (in real time, visually).

ESRI's Nonprofit Organization Program currently offers a free GIS software program called ArcGIS Online that anyone can use for free.  It provides two gigabytes of storage per user; hundreds of hundreds of maps that your organization's information can be laid over as you need, including maps containing the most recent demographics information from the most recent federal census, for example (if you click on the ArcGIS Online link, above, and look at the "Featured Maps" at the bottom of the web page, you'll see even more of what maps or data sets are available); cloud computing and storage (so your organization does not need to find space on its server, for example, to store maps which can be large data files); and free tutorials and demonstrations to explain both how to use the free GIS and also how to do any number of technical operations you may choose to add information to your maps.  All of this is the free version of ESRI's GIS (and they are always adding new maps and data sets).

The caveat of using the free GIS is that it will have ESRI's branding on maps (which is a tiny price to pay).  If an organization wishes, though, to have the paid package (or variations or combinations of their offerings as needed) including applying one's organization's own branding on maps, etc. and extended storage beyond two gigabytes, among other benefits and support - you can currently purchase GIS software and/or hardware for nonprofits through ESRI, directly, and the nonprofit discount is 50% the retail price for their offerings and solutions.

Technically, today, GIS involves less hardware (compared to even the recent past) because so much data (i.e. nonprofit clientele information, donor information, and required maps) can be stored in the cloud, rather than on a network server.  ESRI is proactively planning for its cloud storage (as it's more and more commonly used in all industries) so it offers cloud computing and storage solutions in its total GIS service offerings, as of just the past couple of years.  It considers this entire package, enterprise GIS as it offers not just cloud storage computing and solutions but too, online, desktop, server, mobile, developer, and other solutions.

Gadsden, for example, shared in the webinar his recent experience of working with one of ESRI's nonprofit clients in Africa where they were ground-truthing (verifying) the nonprofit's client's needs have been met and feeding the data, as they walked around the village and spoke to people, in real time, up to the organization's database (in the cloud - even though the organization's offices are in the United States) using cell phones and an iPad (because they could access the Internet from the village as they walked around).  The data they collected then immediately renders in the organization's client database (as they chose to do) and also, in real time, on the organization's map of Africa.  Both of these tied into the client's GIS.

ESRI, Gadsden explained in the webinar, is in the process of working with TechSoup to provide ESRI's full GIS solutions (part of the enterprise offerings listed above or the total package, as needed) to nonprofits at a discount.  This arrangement has not yet (as of this date) been finalized but is expected to be available through TechSoup in the near future.  Check with TechSoup to see if they are now offering ESRI's products, if you are interested in more information.  For now, ESRI offers nonprofits GIS solutions at half off the retail prices.

If you would like to hear and see the webinar I attended (and see, too, the Power Point presentation that was given with it) for free, click on Webinar Archive: Mapping Your Impact   It is an hour long and a great introduction to what GIS can do for nonprofit organizations, specifically.

Grants for American and Canadian Grades 6 - 12 Science Classes ala the Shell Science Lab Challenge

From The Foundation Center...

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

"Deadline: November 12, 2012

National Science Teachers Association Accepting Entries for Shell Science Lab Challenge

"The National Science Teachers Association, (NSTA) with support from Shell Oil Company, is accepting entries for the third annual Shell Science Lab Challenge.

"The challenge invites middle and high school science teachers (grades 6-12) in the United States and Canada (with special attention to urban and underrepresented groups) to illustrate replicable approaches to science lab instruction utilizing limited school and laboratory resources.

"Entries will be judged on the basis of a number of criteria, including demonstrated science inquiry and innovation in the classroom with limited laboratory equipment, materials, and resources; demonstrated impact and engagement with students and the school community; and demonstrated need for support to improve science laboratory experiences.

"Fifty-four regional finalists will be selected and asked to create a short video that displays the school's current science laboratory facilities and provides further explanation of how winning equipment and resources would make a difference in their science teaching and in the learning experience for students. The judging panel will then review the submissions and select eighteen regional winners. Of the eighteen winners, five national finalists will be chosen, and from those finalists a grand-prize winner will be selected.

"More than $90,000 in lab makeover prizes will be awarded to the eighteen winning schools. All winners will receive science lab equipment, cash grants, membership to the NSTA, and support to attend NSTA conferences on science education.

"For complete program guidelines and the application form, visit the NSTA Web site."

Sunday, September 09, 2012

What's The Trick Nonprofits Successfully Raising Funds, Even In This Economy Use to Create Their Success? Planning. All About The Development Plan That Works...

A Development Plan, Fund Development Plan, or Fundraising Plan is the same thing and enables nonprofits to raise funds in order to ensure cash flow for operations - to fund their missions and programs.  In order to raise funds effectively and operate efficiently (especially in this economy) nonprofits plan out their coming fundraising or development work.  I will refer to this plan, herein, as a development plan.

You and I know that the key to a nonprofit's effectiveness is its ability to successfully deliver its mission goal to the community, through its programs and services, and to achieve positive outcomes based on the current as yet (mission-related) unmet needs of the organization's beneficiaries.  Part of that success, deep in a nonprofit's operations, is a nonprofit's ability to raise funds today and also tomorrow effectively in order to afford the programs, services, and overhead.  As I caution organizations to save, budget, and spend less in this blog, I've written "especially in this economy" or "especially today" a lot since 2007 and the economic downturn, but the fact is a nonprofit (like any business) is never in the clear to spend money unwisely, of course - so the real key to whether a nonprofit succeeds and survives to serve another day isn't just its programs achievements; its leadership's experience, knowledge, and oversight; but too, its ability to operate tomorrow is also based on the organization leaders' ability to be efficient in its budgeting, spending, and savings (today or in any economy).

The number one tool any nonprofit leader has to accomplish true efficiency is planning and that includes planning out the nonprofit's fundraising for the coming year or two (depending on the organization's preference). 

An effective development plan raises the necessary funds to cover all expenses or anticipated necessary cash for the coming year (or two, depending on what amount of time the organization wishes the development plan to cover).  An excellent development plan will plan to raise funds for the time period's anticipated expenses, savings goals, an unforeseen possible financial emergency, etc.  All of this is based on finalized organizational planning and budgeting having already been completed before the development plan (for the coming time period) is begun.  If an organization takes the time to have planned programs, services, and overhead (including staffing, rent, utilities, etc.) and their budgets, this will allow leadership to plan for the most realistic future.  Less money will be spent, less time will be wasted and so the more realistic the information is that the plan is based on, the more efficient the spending, and time taken.

Like any operational planning, development plans come in all different styles, formats, and frankly abilities to serve a nonprofit well or not. Formats, styles, and even implementations may vary, nonprofit to nonprofit, but the effective development plan (no matter differences) contain certain common features.

Effective development plans are born out of real data.  For the time period outlined by the organization (i.e. a one or two year development plan) the best data to inform a successful development plan comes from:
__ Organizational strategic plan,

__ Anticipated programs' and services' plans or designs and budgets,

__ Overhead planning and budgeting (or forecasted organizational operating budgets) including the fundraising plan (or fundraising volunteers', staff, and department's budget),

__ A reasonable sense of the coming regional and national economies (using reputable recent regional and national studies or forecasts),

__ The organization's donors' track record and preferences (look for local donors studies' outcomes such as feasibility studies conducted by similar organizations and analyze your organization's own donors' responses and preferences over the past year),

__ The organization's own fundraisers' skill and knowledge (it's alright to have novice or inexperienced board members but they must be trained and expected to become effective leaders in a relatively quick manner, alongside the rest of the board),

__ The staffing plan, the timeline or schedule (including anticipated benchmarks and expected accomplishments by each),

__ And the 'on the ground' logistics (locations as pertinent).

A lot of this may sound like rushing out to the local library's Reference Desk for recent studies, or sticking one's finger up in the wind to take a temperature and it is a bit of both but a development plan that really works well is more.

The more quantifiable defensible data that goes into a development plan and the process of creating the plan the better the plan will be.  What do I mean with such mathematical gibberish?  I mean - you either inform your organization's plan to raise funds successfully for tomorrow, the next month, and during the course of the next year with garbage or factual information, likely patterns, and pretty damn on-point educated guesses.  One gets your organization there successfully and without unnecessary expense and the other might result in a stapled pile of papers or a *.doc file but will be worthless and frankly, a waste of your volunteers' or staff's time.  We know that no one is a swami or able to see the future.   No nonprofit's leadership is.  But some nonprofits - many nonprofits - are pretty damn good at raising funds, even in this tight and harsh economy.  How do they do it?  Through planning but too, in using realistic and real information to inform their organization future operations, like fundraising among others.

Each nonprofit is its own unique 'being' with its own unique donors, clients, and communities.  So, some of the best sources of quantifiable data (whatever is being claimed in the data can actually be measured by another party should they wish to check your organization's claims or the data you're using to assert that claim) and defensible data (the data being used is based on real need or your nonprofit's clients actual demographics and service statistics which will demonstrate the actual need in the community that your organization is providing a solution for) is at your organization's fingertips. It goes without saying that the more current or recent the data sets, the better.

Evaluation methods built in to each of your organization's programs and services are not only excellent tools to help raise more funds and retain donors - evaluation methods' tabulated responses happen to also be excellent sets of data for a nonprofit's strategic planning, for example, but too - its development plan!  Right there you have information not about some people in your organization's region or some subset of the local community but rather YOUR ORGANIZATION'S own beneficiaries - its clients and their specific demographics, needs, and experiences.

Similarly, donor/donations analysis is actual real data about your organization's lifeblood - its support, its donors.

Your nearby public library, some government agencies (from federal to state, local, and even nearby Tribal governments) and certainly other nonprofits often provide recent studies' findings (and sometimes even their raw data sets) for free.  Always be sure to keep relevant and also succinct when reporting or selecting data to use.  These agencies may providing any of the following pertinent information: economic forecasts, the donor climate, communities' needs, communities' demographics, regional politics, trends, population growth, etc.

The development plan should also include the following information after the pertinent data is used to inform the plan:

The timeline should be clearly defined and then throughout the plan, it should be accounted for entirely.

Build a process for the development plan to be carried out through.  This may include: regular meetings, reports, follow up meetings at the end of major benchmarks, trainings, and even the utilization of online cloud solutions such as Google, Wikis, allow for trainings, meetings, communication, documentation, etc. as deemed necessary.

Identify viable fundraising methods including those conducted annually and new ones.  Make a plan for each (staff, necessary infrastructure or software, printing, event planning, intended participants, how it will be funded, etc.).  If your organization conducts special events, then create a unique individual plan for each special event, too.  State the amount anticipated to be raised by each method, into each fundraising method's plan.  Plan outreach, solicitation, networking, marketing, ongoing donor relations, donor retention, and public relations into each fundraising method's plan.  Create a budget for each. Build an evaluation method and process into each.  New fundraising methods should include a long term plan as it often takes them three to five years of consecutively being held before one breaks even or turns a profit.  Research any new fundraising methods to be sure your organization understands what they typically cost, who typically attends them, what they raise from the first year through the time they begin to break even or raise more funds than they cost and when that is, etc.

Plan out, for each fundraising method, who will be targeted as potential donors (current and new).  It is not necessary, for instance, that you have a complete list of all of the foundations your organization will approach for its fundraising for next year (your grant writer will do that and the more current the prospecting for a grant donor is the more likely your organization's chances of success).  It is effective to list, though, how donors will be targeted or identified for each specific unique fundraising method.  For example: Grant Writing - traditional best practices prospecting; Major Donors - individual donor analysis and research; Special Events - continuing X, Y, and Z annual events and adding Q, and R new events raising funds from: corporate sponsors, participants' registration fees, and get the venue and meals donated and/or sponsored.  Whatever the targeted donors are - they must be realistic and actually viable contributors.  In other words - don't list potential donors that you hope or think will contribute.  If necessary, conduct your own feasibility studies to determine what the current economy and thinking will actually produce for a newly implemented fundraising method.  Knowledge based in facts is the best insurance for the organization's future.

All staff and teams or committees should be clear about what their specific tasks and responsibilities are, what their timeline and benchmarks are, and what resources are available to them.  Everyone should understand who they report to, what they need to report, how they report to them, and how often they report.  They should be supported and enabled rather than micromanaged.  Trust talented, expert, successful volunteers and staff.  Allow people to be successful by delegating responsibilities to them, educating, and trusting them, and providing them with what they need in order to be successful.

As with all other organizational programs, the development plan should have an evaluation method built into it to assess what is working, what is going well, and what needs improvement based (yes... you guessed it) on real actual outcomes (i.e. donations analysis, various methods' success rates and response rates, donors' feedback such as anonymous donor surveys, major donors' suggestions or comments, etc.). Remember, always, that identifying proactively where improvements are needed is your organization's responsibility, is cheaper, is better off discovered by your own organization than by the press or public (for your organization's reputation), is less expensive in the long run, and an opportunity.  Finding where improvements are needed should not result in a punishment or fuming.  Rather, it should be expected.  Anticipate that at a minimum, things change and your organization will need to adapt.  But too, people make mistakes and that's just how it is.  That's not to be faulted but rather anticipated and keeping a proactive eye out for them is cost effective.  Expect them and allow the organization to be nimble enough to make improvements.  There is no organization that operates perfectly.  What the lessons that have been that have been recently learned is actually something that forward thinking grant donors, for instance, often ask for at the end of grants from grant recipients, not to condemn or berate them (!) but to learn lessons themselves (for future grant recipients' benefit) but too, to ascertain how well the grant recipient monitors its own programs and evaluations and what it does about what it finds (such as where improvements are needed).  They ascertain which grant recipients operate their organizations such that they would want to give to that nonprofit again.

Finally, build into the development plan where and how any of the planned fundraising methods, anticipated amounts raised for each, and anticipated expenses.  In other words, if some fundraisers are actual formal events - these require in their event planning renting perhaps a restaurant, a ballroom, or a specific venue.  That will require booking it, etc.  Too, obviously, it will involve either having the location's rental cost donated to your organization, paid for by one of the event's sponsors, or your organization paying for the location.  I am using the venue as an example here to discuss event planning, and venues are only one small part of event planning.  But, it demonstrates my point.

To learn more about what a development plan is, how to create an effective one, or to answer any questions you may have I strongly recommend:

The Foundation Center's free, interactive, online training Introduction to Fundraising Planning course (which allows you to go at your own pace)

6 Steps To A Fundraising Plan For A New Nonprofit by Joanne Fritz, PhD Guide to Nonprofit Charitable Orgs

Nonprofit Quarterly's What Should Your Fund Development Plan Include?

My Amazon Store (in the middle right hand side of this blog) lists books considered standards in the profession, and have been hand selected by me, as such.  If you locate a book that looks helpful but can't afford it, note its title and author and see if your local public library has it.  If it doesn't, ask a librarian for it through either the library's purchasing program or its inter-library loan program.

And as always, please feel free to comment on this post with questions or suggestions that I have missed herein.

Grants for U.S. Or Foreign Documentary Filmmakers

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 5, 2012

Tribeca Film Institute Announces Guidelines for Documentary Fund

"The Tribeca Film Institute (TFI) Documentary Fund provides grants and guidance to exceptional filmmakers with character-driven nonfiction works-in-progress that sit outside of the social issue landscape. By supporting work that engages in unexplored perspectives, the fund aims to help take audiences into someone else's environment and spotlight the journey of the individual.

"Submissions must be feature-length documentaries with an intended length of at least seventy minutes and should creatively document one or more unique characters. Submissions can be in the advanced stages of development, production, or post-production but must not have aired on any form of television, been screened publicly, or have been distributed in theaters or online prior to February 2013. Submitted films must show enough footage to highlight character, unique access, and storytelling ability.

"Foreign language documentaries are eligible but must be subtitled and suitable for an American audience.

"The program is open to filmmakers anywhere in the world. Applicants must be 18 years of age or older. Student films and documentary short films are not eligible.

"Grants of at least $10,000 will be awarded.

"The program will accept submissions beginning September 5, 2012, and close November 5, 2012.

"Visit the TFI Web site for complete program guidelines and submission requirements."