Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Thank You, for Reading; Best Wishes to You In the New Year ; and I Wish Successes to the Nonprofits That Assist You and to Those That You Support

Dark skies in Joshua Tree National Park. | Photo: Ross Manges/Flickr/Creative Commons License
Thank you.

Thank you for reading, commenting, critiquing, and supporting  Seeking Grant Money Today

I began this blog in 2004 solely to share the professional nonprofit best practices information and expertise I amassed because nonprofits (from organizations aged start up to decades old) must maximize and protect all of their resources and assets.  In good and bad economies, nonprofits have little resources to spend and a free, professional, reputable resource can make the difference between making or breaking fundraising, operational, oversight, and other organizational goals.

All of these years later, thanks to your readership and to your willingness to let me know when and how this blog and its resources have helped, I know that this blog has indeed assisted nonprofits.  I hope that you and I each continue to do the same.

I am pleased and humbled to have accomplished my goal.  I am also grateful for all of your efforts in the nonprofit sector.  Thank you.

I wish you, the nonprofits that you benefit from and support, and also the good you aspire to do the very best and much success in the new year.

The past exists for us to remember; the future offers itself as an opportunity; and right now we have, in the present moment, a gift.


Thank you for the work you do for your community. 

I wish you a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2014.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Read My Corrections Of A Poor Annual Appeal Letter I Received So Your Nonprofit Crafts Professional and Sucessful Donation Requests That Retain Past Donors and Create New Ones

It is the time of year that nonprofits send out annual appeal solicitations in order to get ahead of donors planning to give.  Nonprofits solicit during the final quarter every year so that they might be one of the organizations a donor chooses to give to.

If your organization is about to ask previous and potential new donors for support be sure to learn how to do so effectively.   You want your appeal to successfully raises money.  The author of this letter, I can tell, has not learned how to craft a successful nonprofit solicitation letter yet.  I do hope that they take the time to learn. 


The following is easily one of the worst nonprofit appeals I've received this year.

I provide it, here, not to chastise or insult anyone.  Rather, I provide it to assist you, my reader, in the hopes that after reading this post you come to understand how to craft a professional and successful appeal letter for your nonprofit.

I altered the letter, below, so the organization and author are not evident.  The entire letter is here in green font to set it off clearly from the blog post.

"Dear DONOR,

"Whenever NONPROFIT makes an appeal for funds, I am always reminded of my UNCLE who throughout his life was heavily involved with many worthy causes, and who truly believed in " giving back.” Part of this work required him to engage in fundraising - something he did enthusiastically and successfully.

"To be honest, fundraising makes me uncomfortable. When I was younger, I once asked my UNCLE how he was able to be respectful of the donor while simultaneously stressing the importance of the cause he was collecting for. I have never forgotten his answer, and I would like to share it with you.

"My UNCLE explained that each time he requested funds for an organization, he would tell the potential donor: “ I feel extremely fortunate that no one is collecting for me, and you should feel fortunate that no one is collecting for you!”

"With this in mind, my UNCLE not only became a successful fundraiser for a host of worthy organizations, but he also reminded himself, and the donors he engaged, how truly lucky they both were.

"I hope that by reading about my UNCLE’s perspective on fundraising, you might take a moment to consider just how worthy and important NONPROFIT has become to thousands of people throughout the world .

"Our past was rich.  By helping NONPROFIT you make sure that our future will be as rich as our past.

"RIGHT NOW, we need YOUR help. Whether it's $25, $50, $100, $250, $500, $1,000 or more – your donation will help us preserve our history for future generations.

"At this point, we are less than $XX,000 away from our October fundraising goal. This gives us a little more than 3 days.

"Please help NONPROFIT reach this important goal.

"We are hoping that 200 people can donate $75, or more, by 11:59 pm on October 31. ( Gifts of $100 or more qualify for Value Added Services). Each night, we will send an update to let you know how we are doing.

"There are four easy ways to donate now:
"1)  Click here to donate via our secure website.

"2) Via PayPal by  clicking here.

"3) Call us at 555-232-4433.

"4) Make checks payable to NONPROFIT, and send to:

"NONPROFIT

221B Baker Street
London, England, United Kingdom

"Thank you in advance for your kind consideration.

"How lucky you are that I contacted you today to enable you to support our mission, and how very lucky I am to be able to act as an intermediary!

"Sincerely,

"Nonprofit Executive Name
Executive Position

NONPROFIT

"P.S. We need your help to continue our important work. Your support of NONPROFIT will ensure our ability to preserve our history for future generations. Please contribute whatever you are able at this time - it will make an immediate difference."


Now that you have read it, let's go over it.

First, let me be fair.  I know that the author clearly states in their letter, "To be honest, fundraising makes me uncomfortable."  It is not the most natural thing to ask people for money.  I know this.  Too, we are all ignorant when any of us begins a new job or task that we have never done before and that is completely acceptable and normal, of course.  Learning to get over any lack of knowledge or experience is how any of us grow in our careers and goals.  Hopefully the author of the real solicitation reads my post or learns how to properly solicit on behalf of a nonprofit.  More on this point below...

Second, let me say what the author and organization did well. They e-mailed their donors which is great.  It saves the author and organization money, time, and resources (i.e. saving volunteer time folding and stuffing, envelopes and letterhead, and postage costs).  Too, they e-mailed the solicitation on their organization's virtual letterhead which was very professional looking.  In the letter they provide a clear statement as to why they are contacting their donors.  They are requesting a donation. They state what they need.  They need cash donations.  Some organizations request In Kind donation items they are seeking in addition to asking for cash contributions, and still others also request assets, and so on.  They thank the donor in advance.  (They should really just say thank you (without saying 'in advance') because donors should be thanked for previous support.  Just say thank you.  Any new support a donor gives can be thanked through a formal thank you letter/donation receipt after the nonprofit receives it (and donors should be).  They do a very good job at clearly stating different points of contact through which the donor can give to the nonprofit and they provide all contact information clearly.  Finally, this letter is succinct, on point, and laid out clearly.  It does not waste the reader's time and they do not dawdle.  They get to the point and they remain clear.  It is easy to scan, if the reader does not have a lot of time to read a complete letter word for word.  If a recipient only scans this request, instead of reading the entire letter, the recipient/reader would still get the gist of the solicitation and how they might give should they wish to.

Now, I will explain what was done incorrectly in this donation request, why it's 'incorrect', and what would improve it:

__ The punctuation after the solicitation ("Dear DONOR,") is wrong.  Unless the author knows every single recipient of the letter they should not use a comma after the salutation.  I do not know the author of this letter personally so I know he/she does not know every recipient.  The more professional thing is to follow proper punctuation.  A colon (:) should be used after the solicitation.

__ Literally the first half of this appeals letter is an anecdote about the solicitation's author's UNCLE.  Why?!  I am sure they were trying to be charming.  They should not be writing about themselves or a relative in a letter seeking support FOR A NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION.  A better use of the space at the beginning of a single page nonprofit donations solicitation letter is to discuss the nonprofit that the donor will potentially give to. You want to provide the organization's name, mission statement, and talk about the beneficiary/ies of the organization.  You explain who or what the beneficiaries are, what their current needs are, how the organization is meeting those needs (ideally better than any other nonprofit) and why the organization is uniquely suited to successfully serve it or them.  These kinds of points should explain why this organization is doing what it's doing and how it's doing that.  As such, you will want to list all of the organization's major programs and services and ideally provide a brief (but truthful and clear) snapshot of the year's service statistics for each program/service.  How many people or forests or schools or whatever the beneficiaries are were served this year?  What was successful this past year?  Did the organization receive any accolades or awards from the community?  These are the kinds of clear, short, and truthful bullet point items that could be easily listed in the first half of the letter allows potential donors to see what their money will do for the organization and the community it serves, how the money is spent, and why the donation and the organization is needed in the community.  This is all compelling information for a potential donor to understand.  Making a compelling case is the finest fundraising that exists.  I wish the author had discussed any or all of these attributes of the nonprofit.  I'd feel like giving rather than feeling like I got to know his/her UNCLE a bit (who literally has no affiliation or tie with the NONPROFIT at all).

__ At no point does the author explain where the money raised this month will be spent.  Donors who understand where their money will be spent, why (to what benefit for whom or what) and when feel included and informed.  This information is also compelling and makes the case when soliciting nonprofit support.  In clear succinct phrases answer the following... Are there new programs the nonprofit is launching in the new year?  If so, what are they and why are they being started?  What need will they address?  Is there a new but as yet unmet need the beneficiaries have that your organization is uniquely suited to address successfully and efficiently?  Tell the potential donor.  Tie the donor to the organization's work and successes.

__ How much of every dollar raised is spent on the organization's programs and services?  If an organization spends 20% (or less) of each dollar raised on overhead and 80% (or more) on programs and services this is considered both ethical and professional.  Let the donor know.

__ The benefit of a donor's contribution should not be some general good deed or happy cheer.  The benefit of a donor's contribution is that the contribution they give enables the nonprofit to do the work of its mission statement to better the lives or welfare of the organization's beneficiaries.  If these facts are not laid out for the donor well... you are not making the case in a compelling fashion.

__ Does the organization need volunteers (besides financial support)?  If yes, say so besides requesting donations and explain how those interested in volunteering can do so with your organization.  How might someone needing the organization's assistance, support, or services contact those offices?  What is the organization's federal Tax Identification Number (demonstrates the organization is a legitimate nonprofit 501(c)(3)  and can assist potential donors in further researching your organization's track record and reputation).  What if a potential donor wishes to speak to a fundraiser in the organization's office because they wish to give a very large amount or even a bequest?  That contact information should be provided.  Does your organization have a website?  Provide its domain.

My final two points are philosophical or professionally methodological...

The logic to his/her UNCLE's advice is dated.  It used to go that a nonprofit was a charity seeking a coin someone might drop into the tin can it's fundraisers held out on the street corner, so to speak.  If it works, great.  If not, shake more cans in more locations.  This is not contemporary fundraising.  The fact is, there are far more effective and efficient fundraising methods (for any and all nonprofits - not just the big or well funded ones) and that is what I write this blog for - to share the latest professional nonprofit best practices because they are proven, they cost less than other methods, and they work for any and all nonprofits (from small start ups run by one or two people to well known, mega-million dollar annual operations, hundreds of years old nonprofits).  The fact is, guilting someone has nothing to do with effective or professional fundraising (i.e. you do not  need right now so give to this nonprofit).  The way a nonprofit professionally raises donations today has everything to do with best practices.  It is about determining which people in the general public care about the organization's cause and informing them why your specific nonprofit is effective and worthy of their support.  You make a compelling case.  How?  Could you easily learn some very effective and time and money saving best practices for free on this blog?  Yes!  Read any of the posts on the topic or nonprofit operation you wish to know more about by clicking on it in the "Labels" list below to the right on this blog.  Or, click on the How To label (or click its link, just to the left).  See, too, specific information on how to write a professional effective appeals letter at the end of this blog post, below.

Above, I grant that the letter's author says they are uncomfortable raising funds.  I know that this letter's author has been one of this organization's executives for many years.  Their position's probationary period ended years ago.  Yet, they did not yet feel obligated to learn professional nonprofit best practices (yes, even if he/she is a volunteer) fundraising, at all.  Volunteer service to a nonprofit require no less professional knowledge to do one's job successfully or achieve the organization's goals than a for-profit business job requires.  A job is a job and if an organization needs support then the job should be done in the most effective and efficient manner so that the organization raises funds and uses as little resources doing it.  The only way that we get beyond our jitters over fundraising, or that we that we grow any knowledge is by LEARNING the new skills or tasks that we have been assigned that we do not yet know how to do effectively or professionally.  We do not simply lament our lack of professional knowledge after having held the position for years, and we absolutely do not tell our supporters you do not know a skill you are responsible for knowing.  Admitting you are accepting your ineptness and doing nothing about it does not create much confidence in the organization or its leadership.  Ignorance of a job responsibility or task should only be tolerated by an employer or board of directors for the usual probation period for most jobs - no more than ninety days.  A board should also be certain that each of its executives have been completely trained on how to do every aspect of their assigned responsibilities, including fundraising within ninety days of recruiting or hiring that executive.

Effective fundraising does not waste an organization's resources, or waste a potential supporter's time, but instead successfully raises funds now and again later.  It is not trite, condescending, folksy, cutesy, or anecdotal.  In fact, quite to the contrary, it is always all about the organization's beneficiaries - their needs that the nonprofit meets through the work of the mission statement; through the organization's work and its programmatic and service successes; through its potential based on the reputations, credentials, and talent of its volunteers and staff; through its professional and ethical reputation as a well managed and well operated nonprofit; and so forth.  You do not schmooze or guilt donors into giving.  You build a community of donors who understand what their contribution does for whom or what and they give because they care about the cause and believe in the organization, its integrity, and its future potential.  They invest because your organization is a wise investment for the benefit of the community!

A nonprofit that ethically and professionally succeeds at its mission only need explain that they do this to both previous and potential new donors and it retains former supporters and creates new ones.  When a nonprofit informs a donor as to what their contribution did in the community, acknowledges that partnership with each and every donor, and thanks each one - they are developing life long ties with these supporters that enable the organization's beneficiaries.  Take yourself and your uncle out of your requests for nonprofit support.

Here's some help:

Need basic 'how to' information on how to write an effective nonprofit donation solicitation (or appeals) letter?  See Write an Annual Appeal Letter to Raise Relatively Quick Funds

Wish to see yet another actual terrible nonprofit donation solicitation I received and my explanation of what they should have done to get it right?  See Let's Look At A Poor Fundraising Appeal Letter I Received Today And Get It Right

Need fundraising methods that are useful for year of end fundraising specifically?  See A List of Specific Fundraising Methods Particularly Helpful At the End of the Calendar Year

Need some help to get your nonprofit's fundraising into better order for more successes in the coming new year?  See Put Some Shine On Your Nonprofit for the Coming New Year - Helpful Tools To Improve Next Year's Organizational Outcomes, Savings, and Successful Fundraising...

Grants for Communities Innovating in Urban Forestry

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]

"TD Bank and Arbor Day Foundation Invites Applications for Urban Forestry Projects in Under-Served Communities

"Deadline: December 20, 2013

"TD Bank and the Arbor Day Foundation are accepting applications to the TD Green Streets grant program, which will offer ten grants of $20,000 each in support of innovative urban forestry initiatives in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods.

"Funding is intended to support the purchase of trees, tree planting and maintenance, and educational activities. Up to 50 percent of the proposed funding can be used to purchase new trees.

"To be eligible for a TD Green Streets grant, qualified municipalities must be a current Arbor Day Foundation Tree City USA-designated community within TD Bank's United States footprint. Proposed new trees must be planted in neighborhoods identified as low- to moderate-income. Municipalities are encouraged to apply in partnership with community partners such as nonprofit organizations, schools, businesses, etc.

"Grant applications will be reviewed according to a range of criteria, including a demonstrated understanding of the purpose of the program and designing a program that promotes innovative, sustainable practices; demonstrated ability to involve the community, nonprofit organizations, volunteers, corporate sector, etc., in the program; a commitment to the training and continuing education of community staff and volunteers through workshops, accreditation, conferences, etc.; a maintenance plan to ensure survivability of new trees; and a system in place to evaluate the success of the program.

"Complete program information, list of eligible communities, and the online application are available at the TD Green Streets Web site."

Link to Complete RFP
ttp://www.philanthropynewsdigest.org/rfps/rfp4308-td-bank-and-arbor-day-foundation-invites-applications-for-urban-forestry-projects-in-underserved-communities#sthash.zjWrO4ZS.dpuf

Sunday, November 10, 2013

How to Help the Philippines After Typhoon Haiyan

To assist, please consider donating to any one of the following emergency relief nonprofits listed below.  As always, please research any nonprofit you are considering donating to before doing so.  You can research organizations (for free) at Charity Navigator (which has already set up a 'safe organizations for donors to give to list' for the Philippines Typhoon Haiyan disaster response).  Always remember, after a major disaster, that unfortunately there are scam artists creating fake organizations or relief funds.  Be prudent before donating, research organizations you are considering giving to, and your donation will go to assist victims, as you intend.

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are already on the ground in Philippines and conducting search efforts and have emergency supplies ready to be distributed now.  To quote their site's web page about the IFRC's Haiyan assistance work, "The IFRC has released 500,000 Swiss francs (545,000 US dollars) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to assist the humanitarian effort on the ground, as the typhoon is now leaving the Philippines and heading across the South China Sea towards Viet Nam." - See more at: http://www.ifrc.org/news-and-media/news-stories/asia-pacific/philippines/thousands-of-homes-destroyed-by-typhoon-haiyan-in-philippines-63686/#sthash.MYj3F4Pu.dpuf

Red Cross is also already on the ground in the Philippines.  To quote their Haiyan web page (on their site), besides also providing search and rescue services and having emergency supplies at the ready, the Red Cross, "The American Red Cross deployed two disaster relief specialists on Saturday to assist in the assessment and relief efforts. Since communication is still very limited in the hardest hit communities, the American Red Cross will also send two telecommunication specialists and a satellite system in the coming days.  The Red Cross has activated its family tracing services. If you are looking for a missing family member in the Philippines,..."  - See more at: http://www.redcross.org/news/article/Red-Cross-Sends-Support-to-Philippines-for-Typhoon-Response

UNICEF "UNICEF staff in the Philippines are rushing into position to deliver aid. More emergency experts are on the way. In Copenhagen, 60 metric tons of emergency supplies — for the health, medical and shelter needs of children — are being readied for an emergency airlift, to arrive within 48 hours."  See more at https://secure.unicefusa.org/site/Donation2?df_id=16500&16500.donation=form1

Doctors Without Borders "Emergency teams from Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) arrived in Cebu, the Philippines, on Nov. 9."  "... MSF is strengthening its teams with an additional 30 people including medical personnel, logisticians and psychologists arriving in the coming days. MSF is also sending 200 tons of medical and relief items, which will arrive in Cebu within the next three days. A first cargo plane will leave from Dubai tomorrow, and a second will depart Belgium on Tuesday. The humanitarian cargo includes medical kits for treating wounded, material for medical consultations, tetanus vaccines, and relief items such as tents and hygiene kits." 
MSF is strengthening its teams with an additional 30 people including medical personnel, logisticians and psychologists arriving in the coming days. MSF is also sending 200 tons of medical and relief items, which will arrive in Cebu within the next three days. A first cargo plane will leave from Dubai tomorrow, and a second will depart Belgium on Tuesday. The humanitarian cargo includes medical kits for treating wounded, material for medical consultations, tetanus vaccines, and relief items such as tents and hygiene kits.  - See more at: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/news/article.cfm?id=7140&cat=field-news#sthash.iuq0r3WE.dpuf
- See more at: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/news/article.cfm?id=7140&cat=field-news#sthash.iuq0r3WE.dpuf
Emergency teams from Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) arrived in Cebu, the Philippines, on Nov. 9. - See more at: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/news/article.cfm?id=7140&cat=field-news#sthash.iuq0r3WE.dpuf
The IFRC has released 500,000 Swiss francs (545,000 US dollars) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to assist the humanitarian effort on the ground, as the typhoon is now leaving the Philippines and heading across the South China Sea towards Viet Nam. - See more at: http://www.ifrc.org/news-and-media/news-stories/asia-pacific/philippines/thousands-of-homes-destroyed-by-typhoon-haiyan-in-philippines-63686/#sthash.MYj3F4Pu.dpuf
The IFRC has released 500,000 Swiss francs (545,000 US dollars) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to assist the humanitarian effort on the ground, as the typhoon is now leaving the Philippines and heading across the South China Sea towards Viet Nam. - See more at: http://www.ifrc.org/news-and-media/news-stories/asia-pacific/philippines/thousands-of-homes-destroyed-by-typhoon-haiyan-in-philippines-63686/#sthash.MYj3F4Pu.dpuf
The IFRC has released 500,000 Swiss francs (545,000 US dollars) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to assist the humanitarian effort on the ground, as the typhoon is now leaving the Philippines and heading across the South China Sea towards Viet Nam. - See more at: http://www.ifrc.org/news-and-media/news-stories/asia-pacific/philippines/thousands-of-homes-destroyed-by-typhoon-haiyan-in-philippines-63686/#sthash.MYj3F4Pu.dpuf

he IFRC has released 500,000 Swiss francs (545,000 US dollars) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to assist the humanitarian effort on the ground, as the typhoon is now leaving the Philippines and heading across the South China Sea towards Viet Nam. - See more at: http://www.ifrc.org/news-and-media/news-stories/asia-pacific/philippines/thousands-of-homes-destroyed-by-typhoon-haiyan-in-philippines-63686/#sthash.MYj3F4Pu.dpuf
The IFRC has released 500,000 Swiss francs (545,000 US dollars) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to assist the humanitarian effort on the ground, as the typhoon is now leaving the Philippines and heading across the South China Sea towards Viet Nam. - See more at: http://www.ifrc.org/news-and-media/news-stories/asia-pacific/philippines/thousands-of-homes-destroyed-by-typhoon-haiyan-in-philippines-63686/#sthash.MYj3F4Pu.dp
 
 
Animal Welfare
 
Humane Society International

The Philippine Animal Welfare Society (whose acronym is "PAWS" but is not affiliated with the American animal welfare organization, PAWS, but is its own stand alone Filipino nonprofit).

Veterans, Thank You. Here Are Resources To Assist Veterans and Their Loved Ones...

"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." [Source: Out of Gratitude to Our U.S. Service People - Resources To Support, Cheer Up, Hire, and Help Them and Their Loved Ones]

Advice On Any Individual Seeking Grants for Themselves (as Opposed to Grants for An Organization, Etc.):

Are There Grants for An Individual?

A Bit More for Individuals Looking for Grants

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Plan for Your Nonprofit's Coming Fiscal Year for Both the Organization's Welfare and Growth, and For Each Program's and Project's Success

The calendar year is coming to an end soon and so, too, will many nonprofits' fiscal years.  As we are in the beginning of the fourth quarter of this (calendar and perhaps your fiscal) year, this is a good time for your organization's leadership to convene to plan for the coming new year.  In order to be effective, efficient, and economical a nonprofit's leadership wants to plan for each and all nonprofit operation in the coming year well in advance.

In order to plan fully, consider the following...

For the Organization's Overall Operations:

Programs
Your New Program or Product Design Must Be Clear Before Applying for Grants

Organizational and Operations Budgets
How Does A Nonprofit Implement A Sound Growth Strategy for Itself?

How and Where Resources Exist To Keep One Step Ahead for Prudent, Conservative and Effective Budgeting and Planning In the Rebounding Economy

Organization's Total Fundraising
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...

What the Nonprofit Annual Report Is, Why It Is Necessary, But More Importantly - How It Can Be Powerful In Increasing A Nonprofit's Fundraising, Volunteers, Public Relations, and Marketing Results

Volunteers
What the Nonprofit Annual Report Is, Why It Is Necessary, But More Importantly - How It Can Be Powerful In Increasing A Nonprofit's Fundraising, Volunteers, Public Relations, and Marketing Results

What A Nonprofit Can Do To Recruit Board Members That Are the Best Possible Leaders For Its Specific Organization and How Board Recruitment Generally Works
 
Organizational Oversight
Here's A Handy Checklist for Nonprofit Operations and Fundraising Success

About the Nonprofit's Governing Documents, Especially the Bylaws and How They Can Be A Powerful Tool for the Organization's Success 

What the Nonprofit Annual Report Is, Why It Is Necessary, But More Importantly - How It Can Be Powerful In Increasing A Nonprofit's Fundraising, Volunteers, Public Relations, and Marketing Results

To Get More Detailed... Planning For Each Program, Project, or Product:

Project/Product/Program Planning
Mission-Based Thinking - Why It Matters, Especially Today - Why It Works, And Examples Of It Enabling Organizations That Use It

Mission Based Thinking Part Two of Two - Examples Of It Enabling Organizations That Use It

Project/Product/Program Design and Review
Your New Program or Product Design Must Be Clear Before Applying for Grants

Program Staffing
How Any Nonprofit Can Raise More Support, Acquire the Best Talent, Strive, and Grow...


Programs' Budgets
The Word "Gets" Is In "Budgets"

Programs' Marketing
Why Is Marketing Important In Grant Writing?

How to Use Marketing, Affordably, To Increase A Nonprofit's Numbers of New Grant Donors

What the Nonprofit Annual Report Is, Why It Is Necessary, But More Importantly - How It Can Be Powerful In Increasing A Nonprofit's Fundraising, Volunteers, Public Relations, and Marketing Results

Programs' Public Relations/Public Outreach/Social Media
Why It Matters What the Public Thinks of A Nonprofit & How To Check

How Your Nonprofit's Website Can Increase the Grants Your Organization Raises

What the Nonprofit Annual Report Is, Why It Is Necessary, But More Importantly - How It Can Be Powerful In Increasing A Nonprofit's Fundraising, Volunteers, Public Relations, and Marketing Results


Programs' Participants' Feedback/Tabulation and Review of Feedback Findings
Is Your Nonprofit Providing Enough Or Too Many Programs?  Too, How Does A Start Up Nonprofit Know How Many Programs To Open With? 

For Each Program: End of Program Follow Up/Gather and Review Lessons Learned/Study Improvements/Implement Viable Improvements
Evaluation Methods - How Can A Nonprofit Use Them To Raise More Money More Often

Grants for Organizations, Designers, Artists, Etc. Working With Local and National Partners to Transform/Impact Community Vibrancy

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 13, 2013 (Letters of Inquiry)

"ArtPlace Invites Letters of Inquiry for Creative Place-making Projects


"ArtPlace, a nationwide initiative to drive community revitalization through the arts, is inviting Letters of Inquiry for its fourth round of funding through its Innovation Grants program.

"A collaboration of thirteen major national and regional foundations, six of the nation's largest banks, and eight federal agencies, ArtPlace works to accelerate creative place-making — defined as "a means of investing in art and culture at the heart of a portfolio of integrated strategies that can drive vibrancy and diversity so powerful that it transforms communities" — in the United States.

"Grants will be awarded to projects that involve arts organizations, artists, and designers working in partnership with local and national partners to have a transformative impact on community vibrancy.

"Applications are encouraged from all fifty states and any U.S. territory. Certain ArtPlace funders also are committed to working in specific states or communities. Currently, these include Akron, Charlotte, Detroit, Macon, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, San Jose, and St. Paul, as well as communities in Alaska, Arizona, California, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wisconsin. Projects in these areas are particularly encouraged, although applications are welcome and grants may be awarded to projects from anywhere in the U.S.

"Award amounts are decided on a case-by-case basis. To date, ArtPlace America has awarded 134 grants to 124 organizations in more than 79 communities across the U.S. for a total of $42.1 million.

"While ArtPlace grants are intended to fund a range of costs associated with implementing a creative place-making project, ArtPlace loans should be used to finance costs associated with a capital project such as pre-development, acquisition, construction, and real estate improvements.

"Complete guidelines and Letter of Inquiry submission instructions are available at the ArtPlace Web site."

Monday, October 14, 2013

Charity Navigator's 2013 Nonprofit Salary Study Findings Got A Gawker Writer 'Shot' When Really, Nonprofit Employees Should Insist Nonprofit Leaders Attract and Retain Employees By Operating and Fundraising Better

Charity Navigator, "America's largest independent charity evaluator, provides free ratings of the Financial Health and Accountability & Transparency of thousands of nonprofits..." (as stated by Charity Navigator's website) has just released the findings from the 2013 edition of their annual Nonprofit CEO Compensation Study.  See it at 2013 CEO Compensation Study Final.

Social and cultural phenom website, Gawker, whose tag line is, "Today's gossip is tomorrow's news." posted the article, Here Are the Most Overpaid Charity CEO's in America today about Charity Navigator's 2013 findings.  The title of this article sounds editorial until you go to Charity Navigator's page two of the actual Study's .PDF (See page two of the link, at the end of the first paragraph, above). His article simple summarizes Charity Navigator's study's findings and here is what Charity Navigator's findings report's authors said, themselves (as the Gawker article quotes),

"This report offers insight into how a charity’s mission, size, and location impact its CEO’s sala-
ry. It also highlights some questionable salaries, such as those that approach and exceed a mil-
lion dollars, and suspect compensation policies, such as charities that have multiple highly-paid
family members on staff. We round out the report by offering advice for judging the appropri-
ateness of a nonprofit executive’s pay." [Charity Navigator]

The Gawker article's author, Hamilton Nolan, appears to have enjoyed looking over the comments under his salaries recap as much I have.

As of the time that I am writing this blog post, today, he has responded twice to comments relating to his blog post/article.  He responds to a portion of a comment first, and the comment snippet is,""You know, there's this misconception that people who work at nonprofits should essentially accept being paid less than market value for their skillset.""

Nolan responds by pointing out, in his words, "On the contrary, this study is all about market value. It surveys the market—in this case, nonprofit organizations.  It surveys the market—in this case, nonprofit organizations. The salaries listed are in the top 1/3 of 1% of "market value" in their market. That is, in my mind (and in the mind of a typical corporate compensation committee), a strong indication of overpayment. If you'd like to be more specific in your objections, I'm all ears."

His second response (thus far, anyway) he further explains his point of view (based on the study's findings) thus,  "I'm not saying that employees of nonprofits should be poorly paid. I'm saying that the CEOs of nonprofits should not be paid grossly outsized salaries. I also believe this for private companies, though the justification is somewhat different."

I know it is really uncommon for people who comment online to read the entire article, from start to end, that they comment on (whether or not that is what has occurred here or not - I do no know); so, I imagine it is even less likely that the folks who have commented on Nolan's story also read the actual study's findings.  Had they, they might understand that Nolan, himself, was not editorializing in his Gawker post, but rather re-stating Charity Navigator's own findings.

It is a bit interesting that the messenger got shot.

We nonprofit types get our nose bent out of joint (especially those of us who are employed as paid staff by nonprofit organizations who are not making over $1 million) when we read (or partially read, as the case may be) anything sounding remotely like, "...people who work at nonprofits should... accept being paid less than... for their skill set..." (the editing of the original Gawker comment is mine not theirs' or Nolan's).  I know why it annoys us.  I've been paid nonprofit staff, I've volunteered for others, and I've consulted for still other organizations.  I've written blog posts, here, on this topic.  Not only should nonprofit staff be paid according to a fair market value of their expertise, knowledge, reputation, and so on - they should also receive reasonable benefits.

The study's findings would be a far more interesting topic for nonprofit staffers to have commented about and reacted to rather than reacting to an assumed bias which was misplaced at the feet of the Gawker article's author.  There was no bias - the article reiterated a study's findings - and the author didn't write the article based on his opinion (of which he explained later happens to be that nonprofit staff should not be paid poorly).  Here's why:

Charity Navigator's study was done with a pretty representative sample of the American nonprofit sector.  They wishes to find, in part, among other findings, which nonprofit executives are the most highly paid.  (See the study to read how Charity Navigator selected their sample group, and why they chose those organizations, which types of nonprofits they excluded and why, and how they carried out their analysis to arrive at their findings).

As we are so touchy about the topic, nonprofit employees, in particular, should consider the study and its findings because it gives us information about which organizations get that we are valuable and treat us as such.

To Charity Navigator's (and arguably Nolan's) point(s), donors, should be taking note of the study's findings and those organizations that pay their executives in (according to the nonprofit sector's own market) extremely above average salaries.  Beginning on Charity Navigator's findings report's .PDF's page 13 they, in the report, recommend how donors can further consider or research Charity Navigator's findings to determine how, for themselves, a donor feels about let's say one of that donor's favorite charities which is perhaps over-compensating their executive (or not).

On page 14, the report then gives nonprofit organizations, themselves, some advice based on the findings and possible concerns the findings could raise for the people and entities that support a given nonprofit.

The public may read Mr. Nolan's article and just get upset thinking, 'I gave X charity $100 or Y organization $1,000 last month.  Is 70% of each of those dollars going to some executive's salary?!'  If donors do get their hackles up - then good!  Asking a question is the first step to getting an answer.  Donors should learn that Charity Navigator exists to provide the public (for free) with data that can assist them in determining whether a given nonprofit is doing the work of its mission statement, if it achieves mission success regularly and often, how much of each dollar raised recently went to the mission/work, and whether it is run professionally and ethically. 

The public may think, 'well, all nonprofits should be operated by volunteers because then less of each dollar the charity raises goes to overhead or operating costs'.  Then the public ought to volunteer and see for themselves what work goes into all aspects of nonprofit operations (from providing programs, to raising funds and volunteers, to overseeing/planning operations and mission based growth, to public outreach, and so on).

The public, too, ought to consider that the nonprofit sector both provides support to (in services and programs often at lower or no costs to clients), and nonprofits inject money into local economies.  A segment of the American public would be out of work if suddenly all nonprofits no longer employed people.  That would drag on our economy and on each nonprofit's ability to provide their programs and services.  There is no industry that does not benefit from talented, knowledgeable, skilled employees.  It is no different in the nonprofit sector as it is in the for-profit sector.  Why does, for example, IBM pay its executives what it does?  Why does IBM charge what it does for its products and services?  Because the market both provides salary and product/services context, financially, for what is acceptable; and the marketplace also reacts to these costs and prices, over time.  Well, it's the same in the nonprofit sector, too.

Charity Navigator, though, doesn't state anything in their report to nonprofit employees.

Those of us that are working in the sector, especially those of us who are not making $1,000,000 or more a year - don't seem to be of consequence.  But we are.  We are 99% of Americans employed by nonprofit organization.  We should be vigilant for our salaries, benefits, and career opportunities and expect the best.

We, who get tired of careers in a sector that itself sometimes under-values employees by offering  working-poor salaries with no or little benefits, need to take our umbrage with those who are actually responsible for these hiring decisions - the boards, executive committees, and executive directors of the nonprofits in our geographic regions.  Are nonprofit leaders unable to hope to attract the best talent and keep it?  Do they not know how to plan?  No budgeting knowledge?  No fundraising experience or success?  If not - they shouldn't be leadership.  Nonprofit leaders should not just be concerned about what their potential supporters think of a salary study's findings, but too, they should seriously consider what their current employees and potential hires think of their futures in the sector.

Nonprofits operate best with educated, current, credentialed, talented, reputable hires who hopefully stick around (so the organization does not burn through money and resources, unnecessarily due to a high turnover rate).  Nonprofits, then, need to both be able to attract the best but also retain the best of the talent pool.

No one who works in the nonprofit sector should seek positions with any nonprofit other than the organizations that in their recent history demonstrate they value employees by paying competitive wages and benefit packages and are providing excellent career growth opportunities.  Cities, Tribes, and states should also encourage nonprofits to attract and hire talent so that their communities are earning and spending more in their locales.

Nonprofit leaders should realize that if they wish to be able to recruit the best and then retain them, they must offer competitive pay with competitive benefits packages, just like any other industry.  It costs less for them, over time, to not have to pay for high turn over rates or incompetence.  Nonprofits need, too, to work with employees to determine excellent human resource management and career growth opportunities to retain talent.  How, then, should a nonprofit afford or raise the funds to employ talent?  How should nonprofits raise funds for overhead so that the public (donors or volunteers) gets it and thinks it worth a portion of each dollar or hour they give?

I think that this is the real question eating at nonprofit leaders, employees, and supporters.  To all of you I submit that (just as is required to raise money for any nonprofit operation) to raise overhead the organization has to demonstrate its programs success rate, that its operations are ethical/professional operations, demonstrate its dedication to its mission, and demonstrate the need for the organization to do what it uniquely does in its community; and then it has to demonstrate why however much it spends on overhead costs (such as salary, rent, office supplies) is worth overhead's percentage of the total operations budget.  If a nonprofit, of each dollar it raises, spends 85%  on programs and services (or the mission) and 15% on overhead, the operation is operating ethically according to the nonprofit sector's own professional best practices, the IRS, and Congress.  Probably according to all states' governments, too.

Overhead, as a portion of the operations budget, should not be feared.  Overhead operational cost is a reality of any entity's day to day business.  All nonprofits that are successful have and are raising overhead funds right now.  It is indeed possible.

If a nonprofit makes the case to its current and potential supporters (donors, volunteers, or community partners) that for example, "Until our nonprofit hired a credentialed Early Childhood Education teacher with a masters and successful program designing experience elsewhere, we were not creating effective and efficient programming.  Steve Rolland, our new teacher, evaluated and then re-designed our Early Childhood Education services so that in one year our success rate doubled, we reached more children in the target population than ever before, and we provided all of this at a lower services cost than we had been operating at over the past three years." then its ability now and its potential for the next goals are very compelling to those potential donors or other supporters.  Real, clear, quantifiable benefits have been incurred.  Nonprofits must make the case.  They do so by providing pertinent succinct information to the public that is the truth and compelling.

Where do I get the data I need to provide an accurate and compelling case?

Nonprofits must be operating competently and professionally by keeping honest and detailed books, being up on the latest in professional nonprofit best practices for each and every nonprofit operation and the latest best practices in whichever professional sector that pertains to their mission, by tabulating service statistics (always for each service and program), by planning and including expected outcomes in those plans and then following through once a service or program has completed and tabulating benefactors' feedback and recommendations so the organization: a) knows if it achieved its outcome, b) what it could do better, and c) what the benefactor's real needs are or what needs of theirs' have not yet been alleviated (that pertain to your organization's mission).  Programming should be based on the benefactor's real but as yet unmet needs that pertain to a given nonprofit's mission statement. A nonprofit's programs and services must be pertinent, current, and meeting a real need effectively and efficiently to consider itself successful.  A nonprofit must have truthful data (that can be audited) about its work and successes and then it must inform the public, its supporters, and its potential supporters of its successes.  It has to inform everyone of what it is accomplishing and how efficiently, professionally, and ethically it is accomplishing everything.  The community then understands the value of the nonprofit (and its employees) by virtue of what it accomplishes in that community efficiently.  Then, donors feel compelled and confident giving to the nonprofit that makes its case, and are also more likely to give again (even if a portion of each dollar given goes to overhead costs).

Award for U.S. Domestic Violence Nonprofit Programs Addressing Needs of Under-Served Populations

From The Foundation Center...

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

"Deadline: November 22, 2013

"Mary Byron Project Announces Roth Award for Domestic Violence Programs Focused on Under-Served Populations


"As part of its annual Celebrating Solutions Awards honoring innovative programs in the United States that demonstrate promise in ending the generational cycle of domestic violence, the Mary Byron Project has created the Roth Award to reward and spotlight domestic violence programs that address the needs of under-served populations.

"Eligible programs provide services to populations (including those based on age, race, ethnicity, gender, faith, disabilities, low socioeconomic status, sexual preference, and victims from economically comfortable suburban areas) that traditionally do not know how to avail themselves of services or who are too ashamed to find them.

"One Roth Award will be presented annually in addition to the other four Celebrating Solutions Awards. Eligible programs may be nominated for both the Celebrating Solutions and Roth Awards, but may only receive one $10,000 grant.

"To be eligible for the award, a program's primary focus must address the issue of intimate partner violence. The nominated program, agency, or organization, as well as the core components of the program being nominated, must have been operating for a minimum of three years (established no later than September 2010 for the 2013-14 award year); be operating when the nomination is made; and be part of a nonprofit 501(c)(3) or government agency. The program should be replicable, or, if it is national in scope, should have applications for individual communities regardless of their size or ethnic population.

"Visit the Mary Byron Project Web site for complete program information, application guidelines, and nomination materials."

Sunday, October 06, 2013

News Stories Describing How the Federal Government Shutdown is Effecting Nonprofit Organizations

Here is a news round up describing how the federal shutdown is effecting the nonprofit sector, six days since it began (the federal shutdown began Tuesday, October 1, 2013):


Updated: Government Shutdown: What It Means for Nonprofits  (from The Chronicle of Philanthropy)

Charities Brace for Government Shutdown

Nonprofits Begin Coping With Government Shutdown

Government Shutdown Will Impact Millions of Service Volunteers

Shutdown Brings Combined Federal Campaign to a standstill

 What the Shutdown Means for Nonprofits (from the Smart Giving Matters blog)

 Do Congressional Salary Givebacks Add Insult to Injury?

Oklahoma nonprofits brace for ripple effects of federal shutdown

As the nation and the world are doing, the U.S. nonprofit sector also watches eagerly as the October 17 deadline for increasing the U.S. debt limit looms; especially amid Congress's continued apparent indifference to their own inability to work together or compromise.  Since they are not working together, the possibility of a federal debt default is slowly steadily increasing daily, and threatening the U.S. and global financial markets.

Scholarships and Stipends for American and Canadian Public or Private School 7th - 12th Graders Creating Different Arts or Writing (See below for kinds of arts and genres)

From The Foundation Center...

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

"Deadline: Various

"Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Invites Entries From Creative Teens


"The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to recognizing the most talented teen artists and writers in the United States and Canada, has launched a call for entries for the 2014 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

"Creative teens in grades 7-12 are invited to submit work in one of twenty-eight categories, including film and animation, video game design, sculpture, photography, fashion design, poetry, journalism, humor, dramatic script, and science fiction.

"Student submissions are judged on the regional level by the alliance's affiliates, with the top winning works then presented to national panels of creative leaders to determine which will receive the highest honors. Fifteen graduating high school seniors will be awarded with Portfolio Gold Medals, which include a $10,000 scholarship. Additional scholarships are made available to Portfolio Silver Medalists and through sponsored awards and stipends to summer arts programs.

"To be eligible, students must be in grades 7-12 in a public, private, parochial, home-school, or out-of-school program in the U.S. or Canada, or in an American school abroad.

"Deadlines for submitting work vary by region and generally range from December 15, 2013, through January 15, 2014.

"For complete program information, entry guidelines, and regional deadlines, visit the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Web site."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Put Some Shine On Your Nonprofit For the Coming New Year - Helpful Tools to Improve Next Year's Organizational Outcomes, Savings, and Successful Fundraising...

As we are approaching the end of the calendar year many nonprofit organizations are also at or about to reach the end of their fiscal year.  This is a great time to be certain proactive plans are in place for all aspects of the coming year's operations (from volunteer management to fundraising to programs and so on).

Here are some resources that may be very helpful for you to consider for your organization's fundraising success in 2014 and further:

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

How Your Nonprofit's Fundraising Can Be Successful In the Coming Year

Specific to Grant Writing:

What Are Grant Donors Looking For & Funding Today?

How Do We Afford Grant Writing?


To Improve Your Organization's Fundraising Success From Individuals, Specifically:

September Is Boom Time for Donors, Google Says

 What Motivates Giving?

How To Increase the Number of New Donors

You, Too, Can Raise Major Donations and Here's Some Help...

Getting Major Donors To Contribute Large Regular Donations Can Stabilize Cash Flow

How Nonprofits Will Save More and Raise More: Or, How To Conduct Donor and Donations Analysis

What the Nonprofit Annual Report Is, Why It Is Necessary, But More Importantly - How It Can Be Powerful In Increasing A Nonprofit's Fundraising, Volunteers, Public Relations, and Marketing Results

For the Organization's Oversight and Leadership:

What A Nonprofit Can Do To Recruit Board Members That Are the Best Possible Leaders For Its Specific Organization and How Board Recruitment Generally Works

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

Why Successes Or Having An Accomplished Track Record Is Important For Any Nonprofit To Be Able To Raise Funds

What A Development Or Fundraising Plan Is and How and Why It's Invaluable To An Efficient and Effective Organization

Nominations Called for Scientists Early In Their Career Who Have Successfully Engaged a Non-Scientific Public Audience

From The Foundation Center...

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

"Deadline: October 15, 2013

"American Association for the Advancement of Science Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science


"The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has issued a call for nominations for the AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science. Established in 2010, the award recognizes early-career scientists and engineers who demonstrate excellence in fostering greater public engagement with science.

"Nominees will have conducted science activities with a focus on interactive dialogue between themselves and a non-scientific, public audience. Types of public engagement activities might include informal science education, public outreach, public policy, and/or science communication activities such as mass media, public dialogue, radio, TV and film, science café, science exhibit, science fair, and social and online media.

"The award offers a cash prize of $5,000, a commemorative plaque, complimentary registration to the AAAS annual meeting, and reimbursement for reasonable hotel and travel expenses to the meeting to receive the prize.

"To be eligible, nominees must be early-career scientists or engineers in academia, government, or industry actively conducting research in any scientific discipline (including social sciences and medicine). During the award year, AAAS will expect the recipient to continue participating in public engagement with science activities and initiatives.

"Visit the AAAS Web site for complete program guidelines, eligibility requirements, and nomination procedures."

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mission Based Thinking Part Two of Two - Examples Of It Enabling Organizations That Use It

Examples demonstrating how mission-based nonprofit operations best works when it is used effectively by a nonprofit's staff and volunteers are difficult to come by.  As we all know, examples can be very powerful. 

In this post I provide examples demonstrating how mission-based thinking can be used among all people operating a single nonprofit from executive leaders through the ranks to day to day staff or volunteers.

This blog post is the final part of, or part two to my original post, Mission Based Thinking - Why It Matters, Especially Today - Why It Works, And Examples of It Enabling Organizations That Use It in which I explain why more than ever today mission-based nonprofit operations is not just best practice but critical.  It works for a reason for organization of all size all over the world (that's how best practices come to be - it works for other nonprofits that try them).  Here, I am furthering the discussion by providing examples of its use for effectiveness, efficiency, and professionalism in nonprofit operations.

To be clear, I will reiterate that mission based thinking is first putting the best interests of the organization's beneficiaries and the best interests of the nonprofit, itself, given the mission statement, when considering any organizational issue or situation from large operations or oversight considerations to the small day to day business decisions.  The mission statement must be the first and guiding principle.

The Situation
Let's pretend that you and I work for a (made-up), local, fifteen year old, successful, well run nonprofit, Holly Town Holly Shrub Preservation Society (HTHSPS).  It is located in Holly Town, Connecticut - population 100,000, which is a historic district and our local economy relies a great deal on tourism in our region.  The draw to Holly Town for tourists is the beautiful, small, historic district downtown; the lovely historic neighborhoods; but especially the holly shrubs growing in different local homes' yards, business sites, and parks.  Most of the plants are over one hundred years old, and comprised of at least twenty unique varietals of holly shrub of which only six are currently sold commercially, anymore, worldwide.

The town's holly plants are antiques, unique, and of value considering their age, their beauty, and their economic potential for Holly Town's local economy.  Nowhere else in the world is there such a concentration of all of the known species of holly.

Annually, HTHSPS holds: cutting sales of each of Holly Town's holly plant twenty varieties, which are gown in the nonprofit's plant nursery for commercial sale; classes on how to best care for the different various holly shrub varieties to ensure one raises and keeps their plants healthy; an annual Holly Ho Down which includes a holly shrub competition for prettiest shrub and community parade and fair; and HTHSPS organizes and maintains a scientific consortium made up of academics and professionals working in science and through education to document, study, protect, and ensure the future of Holy Town's twenty different holy bush varietals.  Each of these are fundraisers (and the nonprofit conducts others annually like: an annual appeal, memberships at different giving levels, board contributions, and monthly requests using remittance envelopes in its online and mailed newsletters) except the consortium which is not a fundraiser but on of the programs or services that the organization provides.

No other nonprofit locally, nationally, or world-wide focuses on the holly plant and its various known varietals.  Our annual operating budget is $750,000 (which means we know we need to spend $750,000 to operate the nonprofit as planned for the coming year and so we must raise at least $750,000 over the coming fiscal year).  90% of each dollar (or $0.90 of every $1.00) raised is spent only on the nonprofit's programs and services (or, put another way, 90% of each dollar raised is spent only on the mission-based work for the organization's beneficiaries, rather than the overhead costs).  Though the complete twenty varietals grow in Holly Town, our nonprofit's service area is the world as we provide services and programs world wide and to anyone who calls our office requesting our information or services.

The organization maintains an office, downtown, which is open for business five days a week, 8am - 5pm, and is staffed by four full time staff members, and usually two volunteers, daily.  The leadership of the nonprofit includes the executive director (who is one of the four full time staff members) and a board of directors that includes eleven non-paid, volunteer, board members.

From Small Day to Day Decisions to Major Implication Organizational Decisions - Mission Based Thinking In Action

Holly Town Holly Shrub Preservation Society's mission statement is:

So that the public will always be able to enjoy the beauty of, and so our communities have the best opportunity to retain the diversity of and health of each of all twenty Holly Town holly varieties, Holly Town Holly Shrub Preservation Society documents, studies, protects, educates the public about, and promotes the growth and propagation elsewhere of all twenty varietals through: qualified professional study, public education and outreach, plant propagation and public cuttings sales, and the dissemination of information and research findings to the world.

[To be clear, the beneficiaries of HTHSPS are not the holly shrubs, themselves, but rather the general public, world wide, for whom the organization preserves and protects these shrubs for.  If it doesn't seem like this is the case, re-read the mission statement and consider the first phrase therein].

As I said, above, you and I both work for HTHSP.  I am a paid staff member working in the fundraising office and you are a board member which is an executive and volunteer position. 

The board just had a monthly board meeting last week and the executive director placed on the agenda the bullet point item, "Strategic planning for next three years".

It was the last item on the board meeting agenda and as such it was arrived at, during the board meeting, at about 6:30pm, an hour and a half after the meeting started.  Everyone was tired and hungry and ready to head home.  Proposing that the board conduct strategic planning (the data-based consideration of the beneficiaries' needs as they pertain to the organization's mission in order to choose the best programs and services (given the beneficiaries' current but as yet unmet needs related to the mission) in order to shape the organization's future direction by using study findings, recent service statistics, and growth projections to decide upon either continuing current programs and services, ending some, and beginning brand new programs/services) for the coming three years is a big consideration, though, and one no board should either take lightly or avoid doing so.  As it was so late but such a critical and important issue there were a few snide comments from tired board members, some questions about what strategic planning is, and finally a motion that the topic be tabled until the next board meeting.  The motion was seconded and voted for.  Next month proposing a strategic planning project will be considered by the board.


Next, HTHSP's executive director calls you and I into her office this morning and lets us know that a donor who gives annually called her yesterday morning asking if he could send in a $10,000 restricted donation earmarked for our nonprofit to create or genetically engineer for him a holly variety that would survive and flourish and grow electric blue colored leaves.  He likes bright colors and doesn't see why all holly bushes must have the dark green spiky leaves.  The electric blue would be highly unusual and he thinks popular probably with the public, therefore, if we use his funds to develop it, we'll make more money in the long term once we propagate and sell cuttings from the first healthy electric blue colored holly shrub that thrives.

Using these three scenarios we'll take a look at each issue facing each volunteer or staff member, and we'll see how they proceed in considering each issue. 

The board is about to consider whether they should conduct strategic planning in order to best plan the organization's operations over the coming three years.  This is no small order.  Strategic planning while extremely proactive, effective at creating efficiency and reducing costs, and enabling of excellent planning, is time consuming, its own process (requiring additional meetings besides the board meetings), and while the cost is minimal considering the returns - it is somewhat expensive up front.

In the executive director's realm, the offer of a single $10,000 donation can not be taken lightly.  What nonprofit wouldn't want that kind of contribution?  He will restrict it, though, so the contribution would not be an unrestricted $10,000 donation.  It can, by law, only be spent on what he designates and in this case, he wants the nonprofit to genetically create and then propagate electric blue plants.  This issue is internal as the organization views all donors (whether they give $5 or $50,000) as partners in the organization's ability to provide its mission statement.  In other words, the executive director sees the issue as internal because the culture of the organization is to see donors as part of the nonprofit's community or family.

Finally, one of the volunteers,  as she was leaving her shift for the day, suggested placing a sign over the reception area that would state the organization's current fundraising goal, and indicate where incrementally, how much the nonprofit had raised so far.  She mentioned it to the receptionist and the executive director both of whom happened to be standing in reception as she left for the day.  In other words, this is not a major consideration, but rather just a good idea thought up, on the fly, to consider.  Everyone understands that she is suggesting it may assist with fundraising goals and increase donations from walk-ins.  The executive director thanked her for her volunteer work for the day and for the idea, too.  The executive director promised her that she'll quickly pull some staff together to talk about her sign idea when she volunteers next (so she can be a part of the discussion).

None of these are public relations issues.  In other words, not one of these issues is a threat of a lawsuit, for instance, or something like discovering that an executive or staff member has been stealing money from the nonprofit's coffers.  All three of these issues, depending on how they are handled, can and may become public relations issues - but not one of them need be.  In fact, aside from the strategic planning suggestion, neither of the other two situations are particularly unusual (except that maybe it's not everyday that a donation of $10,000 is offered - but donations are received daily so the scenario (aside from the larger increment amount) is not unusual, operationally).  The strategic planning suggestion is not unusual but rather not considered or conducted annually, so it is (operationally) not day to day normal business.

Even seemingly mundane day to day office considerations like 'should we hang a sign over the reception area that states the organization's fundraising goals for the year?' can be answered using mission-based thinking. 


The key to success using mission based thinking, which we'll see is used to consider each of these three scenarios, is that there be open and honest constructive consideration given or if in a group - a discussion considering - the mission in relation to any issue that arises small or large putting the organization's and the beneficiaries' best interests first.


Mission Based Thinking - Step By Step (Or Reasonably So)

Do whatever the organization's set procedures require always.

As is appropriate (according to both nonprofit, professional, best practices and the organization's own set procedures) a mission based decision can of course be made by a single individual (such as a staff member making a call on a day to day business issue that pops up but falls within his job description and does not require executive input).  Some organizations will be more trusting of its staff and volunteers while others may have procedures in place that even the smallest day to day call has to be brought before the executive director. 

Sometimes, only a staff member and the executive director or the executive director and a department's staff need consider a problem or challenge.  Mission based thinking is more of a group effort, then.

When a group, quorum, or committee's input is appropriate in considering a larger issue (again, if a set procedure is pertinent then it must be followed such as perhaps taking notes at meetings, for example):

Be inclusive (all relevant stakeholders that should be involved should be invited to be involved).

Assert at the beginning of the meeting that the best interests of the organization's beneficiaries and the best interests of the nonprofit, itself, given the mission statement should be the guiding principal when considering the current issue or situation.

Allow dialogue to go where it may as long as it is: professional, on point, and constructive.

Allow everyone involved in the discussion time to digest what everyone involved has suggested or said.

Return to the topic on an agreed upon time and date, if a simple short ten minute break is not enough time for this, that everyone involved can make, and keep that meeting time/date.

Restate that mission-based thinking is required at the beginning of the second meeting.

Revisit the discussion and allow for further dialogue using the same dialog rule from above.

Ask for motions or final thoughts and then follow through to arrive at a vote or decision as soon as possible without stifling voices, or discussion, or controlling the floor.

Watch Mission Based Thinking in Action

So, beginning with the proposed fundraising benchmark sign, after the volunteer and other daily staff arrive the next morning and get settled in, the executive director asks everyone for ten minutes at the conference table to consider and discuss it.  One staff member asks the receptionist if he thinks it will clutter the front entryway to the office.  He doesn't think it will.  I (being a development staffer) suggest it might raise money from walk ins but there could be a better use of the money it will cost to have the sign made to be put towards some other fundraising effort that would make more money.  The executive director understands my response but guesses the sign might cost forty dollars, at the most, to have it made so it's not a large expense and that cost would likely be covered by the new extra walk in donations in at least a week's time (based on the rate of donations given by walk ins right now (without having the sign)).  She thinks the sign might inspire higher walk in contribution amounts if they see visually that a goal is being achieved and how they can help to get to it.  Finally, one of the programs managers suggests that we make a nice looking handmade poster to test the idea and see if it's fruitful.  If it brings in more money than recent walk in contributions have (over the course of say a month) then we should invest in having a professional sign printed up - maybe one we can manipulate enough so that it can be re-used year after year.  Fortunately, I track which contributions the nonprofit receives from walk ins, so it's possible to monitor the rate and amount of donations received after the make-shift sign goes up to compare to the previous donation rate and increments. 

That's a pretty normal sounding discussion right?  That's all that's required as long as the people involved in it are focused on the best interests of both the organization and the beneficiaries.  And they wrapped it up with a mission-based decision in ten minutes!  This was a last minute quick meeting - not requiring formality or even stating the mission before everyone discussed the idea.  It is in the organization's best interest is to raise what new additional money it can and all they were talking about was spending was $40 to do so (if that - they're going to test their idea out to see if it will be fruitful before spending the $40).  To some organizations, of course, an expenditure of $40 may warrant bringing the suggestion before the board for it to decide.  This organization operates on a $175,000 annual operating budget, remember, so $40 is safe for a day to day operations decision.  Also, this nonprofit does not have any restriction in its procedures on the executive director.  This organization's executive director is empowered to deal with day to day decisions and bring only the organizational oversight, planning, and direction considerations to the board (their job description and purview). 

No one, here, cast the consideration in the best interests of a person or some one's insecurities or ego.  No one in this discussion brought inter-personal or organizational politics to the situation.  There was no battle over territory (perceived or real).  The volunteer who made the decision just had an idea and everyone found it worth discussing because it is in fact in the best interest of the beneficiaries and the organization, given the mission statement.  She wasn't trying to assert some personal agenda or making a power grab.  When, though, a nonprofit's executive director require that he or she be both the executive director and the board director and that he or she is permanently in that position - not only is the organization then limited to the leadership that has installed itself (for instance, what if there is a better qualified, experienced, and talented person that would lead the organization into better success, more growth, better fundraising, and so on?), but everyone involved thinks that keeping him or her happy is the point of day to day operations and major organizational decisions instead of focusing on the mission and the best interests of the organization.  Once the organization's board comes to the founder and says, for example, "You know the community and we are grateful that you started this organization but your permanent leadership is not healthy for this organization's best interests as no one feels free to do what is right for the organization, first.  First, everyone is worrying about you and your interests and we need to change this." then they have begun putting the organization's beneficiaries and the nonprofit's best interests first perhaps for the first time, but it is an important step in a more professional direction that will yield better results.

The executive director next asks the volunteer who came up with the idea (who happens to have creative and artistic talents) whether she would like to make a nice looking temporary sign to be used to test the fundraising idea and she agrees to.  The executive director now returns to her own office to consider the large donation offer and the restriction tied to it.

She knows that there is no program or project the organization provides that has to do with developing genetically engineered shrubs.  Furthermore, she knows from the organization's mission that the nonprofit's efforts are focused on the twenty varietals that exist.  There is no suggestion that the nonprofit's work is to develop new varieties.  After thinking all of this over the executive director decides she must call the donor back and inform him that while the organization is grateful that he brought his idea to them, and while they remain grateful for all of his previous support, the nonprofit stands with its mission of doing its work for the existing twenty varieties.  So, they cannot take the donation as he is wishing to restrict it to genetically engineering new varieties.  She says she is sorry and remains grateful for the opportunity.  In fact, she is so clear about the organization's work and grateful for his past contributions that he says he would like to send the $10,000 in to HTHSP, unrestricted, and will look to develop his electric blue variety elsewhere, with other money, perhaps in the private sector.  She can not thank him enough, and he shares his own gratitude with her.  He appreciated her being forthright, being so timely (she got right back to him the next day), and he appreciates that she is so clear about the organization's reasons for its work, and of course, he loves holly shrubs.  He'd like to see these twenty varieties get the best chance to be around for future generations.  Due to its successes, he sees that HTHSP provides that.  So, he's mailing the $10,000 check that morning.

Finally, the board starts their next board meeting beginning with whether or not to conduct a strategic planning session for the coming three years.  The following facts are shared with the board.  The strategic planning session will require, total, no less than twenty hours of the board members' time (in addition to the already set board meetings and other committee meetings); will require a quite successful and reputable consultant to lead the board through the strategic planning process whose estimated costs came in at $15,000; and will involve a lot of reading (recent studies' findings, economic forecasts, feasibility studies, and so on); and may involve a board retreat for one weekend (depending on how available each board member is for the process).  Everyone groans when they hear that last possibility but everyone regroups and the floor is opened to discussion.

"Can we afford to spend $15,000 right now in this economy?"  Bitsy asks.

"Do we need to do strategic planning to best decide how to plan out the coming three years?" Bruno asks.

Willy suggests his cousin might be a good consultant to help with strategic planning.  He doesn't do much nonprofit consulting but once read a book about strategic planning a year or so ago and will probably cost much less.

Sophia and Shadrack suggest shopping consultants if HTHSP is serious about doing strategic planning.

Otis asks when the organization last conducted strategic planning.

Bitsy looks at the record and discovers it has not been done for five years, now.

Otis and Willy say they think it's probably time to do it again since it's been a long time.  The three of them would like the organization to do it.

Shaniqua asks if maybe they shouldn't make the period planned for five years instead of three.

"Do each of the board members know they have the extra twenty hours to spare right now?" Sandip asks.

Jamal, Lucinda, and Buster have the time and would also like to see the board conduct the strategic planning.

Sandip points out that the findings from the most recent beneficiaries' survey (taken six months ago) indicate that the public would like to see more care, propagation, and maintenance courses being offered for the twenty varieties of holly shrubs, and the attendance at the Ho Down has dwindled over the past three years indicating it may be time to retire that event and take up a new one.

After Sandip reminds the board of these facts, everyone agrees it is important that the board consider conducting strategic planning now or soon.

This is just the beginning of the discussion but everyone is being honest, professional, remaining on point, and considering what is feasible, viable, and also good management for the beneficiaries best interests and the organization's best interests.  No one person's or one group's agenda is being put first.

Eventually the conversation becomes a bit more specific.

Willy's suggestion is appreciated but the majority agrees that if the board is to do this work and spend the organization's money at all they want to do it with someone extremely reputable and well regarded with an impressive track record successfully conducting nonprofit strategic planning sessions with other nonprofits.

They consider both Shaniqua's question and Sophia and Shadrack's suggestions.  They decide that yes, no less than five strong potential consultants should be considered and that Shadrack would write up a Request for Proposal explaining that HTHSP is looking to do strategic planning and e-mail it out to known consultants, a local professional nonprofit consultant affiliation to disseminate to their members, and to colleagues working for other nonprofits who have recently done strategic planning (to ask who they liked working with and why).  Shaniqua's question puts time and timing before the board.  They discuss this and decide they should come up with a three year plan but that they should put the strategic planning off one year from now so they have time to find a talented consultant and so that they can raise the $15,000 (additionally to all other already planned fundraising) over the year.

Sandip points out that he and his wife have a brand new baby and that time is hard to come by for him, right now.  In a year, though, they should have a routine and he should have an extra twenty hours to give to the process beyond the board and committee time requirements he's already committed to.   So, he likes putting the process off for a year.

Bitsy proposes that they table the topic for now in order to move on to other topics they need to discuss and Willy seconds the motion.  Jamal will type up the notes from this meeting and e-mail them to everyone for the board to consider before their next meeting where (they agreed by vote) they will finally decide whether HTHSP will do strategic planning and if so, when, and to create a plan for how many years.

This discussion is just the beginning as this is a big deal, but it demonstrates, again, that the best interests of the beneficiaries and the organization being put first in considering (in this case a large decision) anything enables everyone at a nonprofit to not only be on the same page but on the page of the reason everyone and anyone that supports this nonprofit (however they might: donors, volunteers, community partners, attendees or participants, etc.) does so.  This is a step towards not just integrity and professionalism, but also lends towards transparency (all interests really are in the organization's welfare).  Anyone who really investigates this organization (looking into its public record, at financials or the annual report, looking into its success rates (ala the mission), or asking volunteers or staff what they think of the organization and how it's run) will feel confident in it (why shouldn't they?).  It will pass the sniff test.