Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Calling Minnesota Web Developers and Nonprofits

Mark Malmberg and the folks at Sierra Bravo are at it again! They are seeking Minnesota nonprofits and web developers for their third annual Nerdery Overnight Website Challenge. That's where they match web developers and deserving Minnesota nonprofits for a 24 hour complete overhaul of the nonprofits website--FREE of course.

See Using Nerdy Powers for Good from last February:

Go to

Mark is preparing an article for Nonprofit Conversation that I will post as soon as I receive it.

Now, how can we make this idea go global?

Happy Holidays! Bunnie

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I’ve been collecting “bad nonprofit management” stories lately. They’ve come to me in various forms such as: word of mouth, direct telling and emails. I’ve let them rattle around in my brain hoping to divine a pattern and I think now that I’ve found the similarity. But first, let me tell you the stories.

Story #1: An office manager receives a call from her Executive Director. The Executive Director is away from the office at a board meeting. The E.D. informs her and another staff person that they will have to submit their resumes via fax to the E.D. (away from the office at the board meeting) in order to apply for a new position being created. It seems there are two positions being melded into one and both employees will now be in competition for the one position. But wait! It gets better. Not only will the office manager have to compete against her office mate, but the job will be posted to the general public and the office manager will be competing to save her job against any newcomers.

Fine, in this economy there are lots of tough decisions being made, people are being laid off, jobs are being combined, and that’s reality. However, did the E.D. have to inform the staff via a phone call? Additionally, what is with the exercise of having the office manager submit her resume or having the two employees compete against one another?

Story #2: I get an email from a young man asking for my opinion. It seems he sent an email to a vendor asking the vendor why a certain price was a bit high. He suggested that perhaps the vendor’s supervisor might be able to help bring the price down. Two weeks later the vendor called his supervisor complaining wildly about the email and swearing he would never work with this young man again. Next thing you know, the young man’s supervisor calls him on the carpet, giving him a reprimand and talking about termination.

The young man wrote me and asked if I thought his email was out of line. I read it several times and it seemed innocuous enough, however, I reminded him that email has a funny way of being open to interpretation; it is the recipient of the email that may load it with meaning beyond the sender’s intent. I suggested that he do what he can to sooth ruffled feathers, but be sure to have his resume up to date and make sure he had what I call “go to hell money.” (If you don’t know, that is money you have saved that allows you to step out of a bad situation; whether that situation is a relationship, a job or a landlord).

Story #3: Employees at a certain nonprofit have not had raises for two years. There’s nothing unusual about that in the current economy, many people are not receiving the raises or bonuses they received during the boom times and most employees are very understanding because they recognize that money is tight. However, in this scenario, the Executive Director decides it’s a great time to remodel the office. Walls are knocked down, walls are constructed. New carpet is laid, new furniture is purchased. Things are really spruced up to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. Everything looks fresh and new and fabulous, but the employees are left feeling a bit pinched. None of them have received a raise in over two years, but money gets spent on an elaborate renovation. What is wrong with this picture?

Story #4: A very prestigious scientific organization holds a board members’ and funders’ reception, all the key employees are present, except the Executive Director. As time goes by, Board members are questioning staff, asking where the Executive Director could be. No one seems to know. Over an hour late, the Executive Director makes an entrance and it’s a dramatic one to say the least. She is not wearing a professional suit or even a tasteful dress, but instead, she is wearing a very mini-skirt, fish-net stockings and four inch spiked boots. There is a complete disconnect between her fashion decision and the staid organization she is representing. Needless to say, board members are not happy, the funders are a bit embarrassed and the staff is whispering and giggling. One might ask, given her generous six-figure salary, might the E.D. have hired a style advisor?

What do these stories have in common besides illustrating human foibles?

I say it’s lack of leadership. Leadership qualities, leadership traits, leadership training and maybe even leadership DNA. We all know people who are in leadership or management positions who shouldn’t be there. You’re thinking of them right now aren’t you? And I think there are an abundance of them in nonprofit management because nonprofits are often so personality driven versus performance driven. Further adding to nonprofit vulnerability is the culture of the volunteer nonprofit board.

What kind of leader would call an employee to inform them that their job was being eliminated and they needed to re-submit their resume in order to compete for a new position? That is a conversation you have in person and you certainly don’t need to require the submission of a resume, the employee has been working for you and if you don’t know their capabilities, then what are you doing at the helm? I think the tactic was an attempt to avoid an unpleasant in-person conversation and I certainly understand that impulse. However, that is what leaders do; they stiffen their spines and have unpleasant conversations, in person.

Story #2 reminds me that often people think leadership is akin to parenting. Step out of line and not only will I “punish” you but I will threaten you with even more punishment. I also found a certain lack of loyalty in that story. One of the most important things a leader can do is be loyal to the people who work for him or her. If you aren’t willing to listen to your employee’s side of the story, consider what your employee was trying to do or accomplish (even if it was misguided), calmly counsel your employee on your expectations for behavior and external interaction, you shouldn’t be in management. Sure, sometimes people deserve to be fired for egregious behavior or lack of performance, but you can’t go into a knee-jerk reaction every time someone makes a complaint.

In the third instance there is a complete disconnect between the management and the employees’ health and welfare. There is also a lack of understanding of what builds loyalty from employees to the leadership. Going without raises or bonuses is something that employees will understand when times are lean. It is their loyalty to the organization that makes the situation less painful. However asking your employees to sacrifice for the good of the whole and then turning around and spending a great deal of money on something the employees view as frivolous, destroys loyalty and weakens morale.

The fourth example just shows bad judgment.

We lead by example. We use the tools of empathy, honesty, forthrightness and self-sacrifice in order to develop those traits in others. We do things to encourage the personal and professional growth of those around us. We exhibit loyalty to those who work for us and we carry ourselves with a modicum of decency. And while it is true that some people are born leaders, I believe that people can learn to be leaders and often that learning begins with introspection.

Ask yourself. “What kind of leader am I?”

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Freebie Corner!

A few weeks ago I announced a couple of great seminars being conducted free. Today the Freebie Corner special is a fabulous report on nonprofit "taglines," the "2009 Getting Attention Tagline Report." Nancy Schwartz at Getting Attention, has developed this fascinating report. What taglines work? What taglines lessen your impact? Is it time to change your tagline?

It is a shame that for most nonprofits marketing becomes an afterthought. Worse still, in slow economic times, the marketing budget is often the first to suffer. Nonprofits must think of themselves as a business, nonprofits are "selling" something. Whether that something is services, legislative representation, peer professional networking, continuing education, etc., there is a product to be sold and there are "customers" to be acquired.

This report is worth the download and it's worth sharing with your nonprofit management and board of directors. Bunnie

The 2009 Getting Attention Tagline Report

by Nancy Schwartz, Getting Attention

Nonprofits have a major branding problem in weak taglines. Taglines are the best way to succinctly convey nonprofits' value, but 7 in 10 nonprofits rate their taglines as poor or don't have one at all.

The just-released 2009 Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Report, based on 1,700 2009 tagline award entries and recent survey responses from 1,900 nonprofit communicators, shows that most nonprofits don’t have an organizational tagline that works to make their organizations’ value clear, and easy to remember and repeat.

A highly-effective nonprofit tagline model (and one of the 13 winners of the 2009 tagline awards) is "Because the earth needs a good lawyer" from Earthjustice. Earthjustice capitalizes on what people do understand–-that a lawyer protects rights–-and uses that framework to dramatically position its role and impact in the environmental movement. And it does so with humor. If your tagline makes people smile or light up, without stepping on your message, then you’ve made an emotional connection…Bravo.

A strong tagline complements your org's name to convey its unique value or impact with personality, passion and commitment. If you fail to make the most of your tagline, you throw that opportunity away.

Dig into this free updated guide to learn:

Why a Nonprofit’s Name Isn’t Enough

How a Strong Tagline Benefits Your Organization – Useful for developing support among colleagues and leadership

The 10 Have-Tos for Successful Taglines

Using Words that Work

The 7 Deadly Sins, 9 Snores and 5 Best Ways to Antagonize Your Audience – What not to do

Research, Create, Revise, Test, Repeat – The right steps to take to craft a potent tagline

Over 2,500 Nonprofit Tagline Examples to put to work for message brainstorming.

Download the 2009 Nonprofit Tagline Report here

Monday, December 14, 2009

Should Grants Be Your Only Source of Income?

Very interesting numbers Jenai Morehead, of The Foundation Consultants, provides on how nonprofit income is generated. Diversification is the key, in my opinion. Putting all your eggs in one basket is risky business. It's amazing that program services revenues lead the way. Look at your income and ask which income streams can be increased. Given that program service revenue is such a substantial part of nonprofit income, ask what your nonprofit is doing in that area. Thanks Jenai for the excellent breakdown! Bunnie

Should Grants Be the Only Source of Your Income?

by Jenai Morehead, The Foundation Consultants

Grants are wonderful. They assist in providing money that nonprofits need to serve their clients.

My first grant, many years ago was $1,000. We used it to buy bus tickets for our homeless clients. After the bus tickets were purchased the clients were happy and the grant was gone in no time. The program was run very well. We started making a good name for ourselves and exceeded our own expectations. Immediately, I saw that running a program meant that we were going to need more funds to sustain ourselves. Now what are we going to do?

This is a challenge that many nonprofits face every year they are in business. While grants are an excellent source of income they cannot be your only source of funding. Even in a good economy grants are finicky and cannot be guaranteed. You should plan to have other sources of income that line up with your purpose.

The Urban Institute ( puts out a variety of annual reports that give us information about where public non-profits get their money:

• In 2007, public charities reported over $1.4 trillion in total revenues and nearly $1.3 trillion in total expenses. (Source: The Urban Institute, National Center for Charitable Statistics, Core Files 2007)

• Of the nearly $1.4 trillion in total revenues, 22 percent came from contributions, gifts and grants and 67 percent came from program service revenues, which include government fees and contracts. The remaining 11 percent came from "other" sources including dues, rental income, special event income, and gains or losses from goods sold. (Source: The Urban Institute, National Center for Charitable Statistics, Core Files 2007).

Contributions and gifts are usually comprised of the money or items from private donors who are the people that support you with cash, clothing, cars, furniture or art. Grants are primarily cash given by foundations, government or corporate entities to support your nonprofit activities.

Program Service Revenues are services which your clients must pay for. An example may be lower rates for counseling services.

Income from Government fees and Contracts cover areas in which your non-profit earns income while performing a service for a city, state or federal government entity. Many nonprofit educational institutions raise funds through work in the areas of research or training.

An example of raising funds through Dues is your local YMCA. The YMCA provides a service to the community and raises income from its child care services, fitness club and health classes.

Rental Income is a source for nonprofits who specialize in low-income housing in which the tenant pays rent according to federal income guidelines.

Special Event income is raised at occasions like Christmas galas, banquets, marathons and walks such as “Breast Cancer Walks.”

Gains and Losses from goods sold is income generated from nonprofits who sell used/donated items such as Goodwill or Salvation Army. The gains from these sales are then used to support their mission and goals.

In contemplating fundraising, make a list of all of your resources and use them wisely. For example: You may have a lot of volunteers; sometimes utility companies or local governments need to get the word out on programs and changes in laws that affect their regions. This might be the perfect opportunity to get creative with your resources. Find niches that are not served. Leave no rock unturned.

Be relentless in your search for opportunities that will be win-win matches for your nonprofit.

Be careful to work within your non-profit mission and purpose. The last thing you want to do is to cause the income you raise to be taxable by doing activities that have nothing to do with your nonprofit mission. If you have questions about income generated from your charitable activity contact the IRS charitable division and find out their guidelines.

Above all, have fun doing your fundraising activities and always keep focused on the people you are helping with the funds you are raising.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Value Menu for Your Non-Profit

More than anything else, when it comes to fundraising, you've got to think like your donors. Besides their charitable giving to causes they believe in, what is their "bottom line?" Adam Miller makes some interesting observations and brings up a point: how many nonprofit CEO's or board members really understand how tax laws work? That's a question for your next board meeting! Bunnie

A Value Menu for Your Non-Profit
Connecting with donors to improve their bottom line… and yours.

by Adam Miller

I love watching folks order from the value menu at fast food restaurants. Fast food chains are competing for business in a difficult economy. They are promoting the value of their food and calling hungry customers to action. I believe they are on to something; it seems like more and more folks are piecing together meals that can be paid for with spare change.

How are you adding value for your key donors? How are you calling them to action? Most key donors are already passionate about your organization. They are already giving and they don’t need a sales pitch. Instead, you may be able to sweeten the deal and build a relationship by presenting them with a menu of options that will add value.

You can do this by understanding how your donors are taxed and working with them to give more effectively. If you save them money by allowing them to give more to your organization, you have succeeded. Their finances are better because they did something they were passionate about.

Understand charitable donations. Folks give in different ways and from different sources. Here are a few basics on charitable giving:

Checkbook Philanthropy. When a donor writes a check, they are using after tax income to support your organization. If you are a tax-deductible organization they will receive a deduction at the end of the year which will reduce taxable income… maybe! In order for this to help, your donors must itemize on their tax return. According to the IRS, only about 36% of tax returns for individuals and families are itemized.

Appreciating appreciated assets. In this economy, it is difficult to discuss assets that have gained in value. This sort of conversation with donors at the end of 2008 may have gotten you laughed out of the room. Despite how things feel in this economy, many Americans still have securities and real estate that has appreciated. If they were to sell these assets they would owe capital gains on the appreciation. If your donor bought stock at $1 per share and sells at $10 per share, she owes capital gains tax on the $9 of taxable gains. However, if she were to gift that $10 stock to your organization, she gets a deduction for the entire $10. Remember, she only paid $1. As icing on the cake for your donor, she no longer owes the capital gains tax because she made the charitable contribution. Your donor supported your organization, got a full deduction, and did not have to pay the tax on capital gains. She has saved money.

Let them leave a legacy. What would happen if your largest, most consistent donor passed away tomorrow? How would it affect your budget? If your donors are passionate enough to offer support during life, perhaps they would be equally passionate about supporting your organization after they are gone.

There are many ways to go about this. It can be as simple as adding your organization as a beneficiary on an investment account. Some donors opt to create charitable trusts, donor advised funds, or participate in charitable foundations. These options offer flexibility and can allow donors to receive a deduction now, remove assets from their estate, and support your mission long term.

Don’t get overwhelmed, get help. You are probably a bit concerned at this point, feeling like your role in the organization just got bigger. There is good news: you don’t need to know everything about taxes, deductions and charitable giving to be effective. Instead, consider partnering with folks who are passionate about your organization, and who know their stuff when it comes to taxes. Seek out financial advisors, accountants, and attorneys, partnering with them to educate donors. You may find a few of these professionals are already a part of your donor base.

Tax laws are constantly changing but professionals in your community can keep you ‘in the know’. Ask these folks to look for tax changes that may benefit your organization and act as a call to action for donors. Use each opportunity to present a newsworthy new addition to a robust value menu.

You are beginning to look like a super-hero. You are connecting with folks that are passionate about your organization and you are adding value by saving them money. Congratulations!

Adam is a Candidate for CFP® certification, a trusted fiduciary and fee-only financial planner at Elderado Financial. He works passionately to help families pay less in taxes and give more to the people and organizations they care about.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Making of “I am a Technical Woman”

I always enjoy having Jerri Barrett write for Nonprofit Conversation. She brings great insight on how to use, really use, technology to advance one's nonprofit. In addition to other things I do, I also do media distribution for government agencies and nonprofits. I get videos placed on hundreds of Public, Educational and Government (PEG) access television channels around the country. The videos air for free and that air time is worth millions of dollars to my clients.

I can't tell you how many government agencies and nonprofits have videos sitting on their shelves and aren't distributing them. What good is it to produce a video for internal consumption? Jerri tells you how to make your video go "viral." Enjoy. Bunnie

The Making of “I am a Technical Woman”

By Jerri Barrett, Vice President of Marketing, Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology

Two years ago (2007) I attended my very first Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC), which is put on by my non profit – the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology. It being only my second week on the job I was amazed by the incredible diversity of the women present at the conference – young and old, all races, and representing over 23 countries and almost all 50 states that year. But what really captured my attention was how happy everyone was. This was a technical conference, with a strong professional development component, but a technical conference nonetheless. Why was everyone so happy? My marketing mind at that moment told me that I needed to find a way to capture this feeling.

Months later as we were planning the 2008 GHC I proposed the idea of a video booth with a professional film crew. We needed professionals because the previous year’s team of volunteers and staff had accidentally overloaded and fried the inside of our video camera. We did get our footage but much of it was grainy or too dark to use. The film crew happened, thanks to a sponsorship by SAP, and we made a plan. Everyone that the film crew interviewed we captured saying I am a technical woman.

Once we completed editing all the footage we had over 99 instances of women saying I am a Technical Woman, computer scientist, etc and we had men saying I support Technical Women. Finally the video was completed.

The next step was the challenge. we had created this simple video and we wanted as many people in the world see it as possible. So I created a multi stage launch plan for the video involving both traditional media through our public relations firm and our communities (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter). Once I’d shown the video to my colleagues it was agreed that it would be shown at the 2009 GHC on the morning of the first keynote session. Most of our attendees would be gathered in the room to see the Keynote speaker. Simultaneously a number of things would happen:

The video would be introduced and shown to the audience of 1600 women. In the introduction to the video, I encouraged everyone in the audience to twitter about the video and direct people to our website where it could be viewed. The video was launched on Youtube and embedded in our website. A press release was launched as the video was being shown with a link to the video embedded in it. The press release and link were posted on Linked In and Facebook the same day. Teachers attending a K12 Workshop hosted by Anita Borg Institute, CSTA and The University of Phoenix all received DVDs of the video. On our website we offered downloadable versions of the video so that people wanting to show it at a conference wouldn’t have to stream it.

The results have been amazing:

1. The video has been viewed over 6850 times on Youtube.
2. The video has been downloaded from our website over 217 times to over 26 countries
3. When we launched the video over 700 people twittered about it in the hour after it was shown.
4. Over 40 different bloggers shared the video on their sites in the first month after launch
5. Numerous friends of ABI posted a link to the video on their facebook page.
6. The video has been shown at conferences in Japan and Australia.
7. The video is being shown in classrooms across the country.

My favorite outcome was from a co-worker who sent her 7 year old to school with the video. The response back from the second graders – I didn’t know that technical women could be so cool.

The question now is – how do you define a viral video? For me the definition is whether it is having an impact and people are sharing the video. In both cases that is a definite yes.

So please watch the video and let me know what you think about it. And be sure to show it to your daughters.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Guerilla Tactics for Membership Renewal

by Bunnie Riedel, host of Nonprofit Conversation

When I was younger and had no money, I would buy things on “lay-away.” You’d put a little down and then make payments but not get the product until it was paid in full. I got my first set of dishes that way, a little bit at a time. For the last twenty years, lay-away hasn’t existed but now with the economy in a slump, lay-away is back at some of the large stores.

In thinking about membership, so many organizations have lost members and are trying desperately to get them back. However, I have also seen a rigidity among nonprofits when it comes to membership dues and structure. Some nonprofits aren’t really understanding that doing business as usual will only continue to cause their membership numbers and dollars to fall. In normal circumstances, even when the economy is fabulous, nonprofit membership churn (or turnover) is roughly 20%-25%. In shaky times that number goes up by quite a bit.

Here are some ideas I’ve been noodling on lately:

Assess your current membership demographics. Where have you lost members? Are there certain types of people that are not renewing? Is there a way to bring them back by tailoring membership to their needs? For instance, let’s pretend that your organization is the National Tennis Enthusiasts Association (NTEA--a completely fictional association). Do you really know who your members are? Have you done demographic surveys of your membership?

Let’s pretend you have done those demographic surveys and you find the following:

20% of your members are under eighteen.
25% of your members are nineteen to thirty-five.
25% of your members are thirty-six to fifty.
30% of your members are over fifty.

Approximately 40% of your members are female and 60% of your members are male.

75% of your members live in suburban communities and 25% of your members live in urban areas.

Now cross-reference: How many of your under eighteen year old members are female or male and how many live in suburban communities vs. urban areas.

And, what percentage of those sub-groups have you lost?

You see that you’ve lost 30% of your under eighteen year old female urban area members. What can you do to appeal to them? Could you create an online community directed at them, with the latest news about young urban female tennis champions? Secure discounts on equipment and clothing? Offer “buddy” membership where two can join for the price of one? Host a “Young Miss” event in their city? Have a tennis camp scholarship contest for members only?

Now you also see that you’ve lost 40% of your suburban male over fifty members. What strategies can you think of to reclaim that demographic? It certainly won’t be the same as you would use for the under eighteen year old urban females. The point is: if you lump all your members together in one big group without taking into consideration their unique qualities, you will continue to lose membership or at least be challenged to maintain members.

Assess your membership dues structure. What is the cost of membership? Has it remained constant over the last few years or gone up? I know of an organization that recently raised its membership dues, and I think that’s insane, given the economy. Now is the time to look at your membership dues and think about putting them “on-sale.”

But we’ll lose even more money!

I don’t believe you will. People are looking for bargains and looking to cut back on their expenses. You will gain more members if you discount your membership dues. Also, think how you can market the discount.

“We know that the economy is slow and we decided to lower our membership dues to make it easier for you. We don’t want you to miss having your member benefits.”

If you took 30% off your membership dues tomorrow what would that look like? How can you market that to members you’ve lost? Is there a “volume potential” for your organization?

For seriously lapsed members (say a year or more) think about providing them membership at half-price.

Find value-added partnerships. I just received notice from an association telling me that I can now buy at a significant discount at an office supply store because I am a member. What products do your members use all the time? Perhaps they need a discount on liability or theft insurance. Perhaps they need certain types of equipment. Maybe they need discounts on airfare. Once again, conduct a short survey. Ask your members what they need and then find a supplier or retail partner that will give them substantial discounts just because they belong to your association.

If I see that over the course of a year my membership will save me $300 through discounts, and that $300 more than pays the cost of my membership, then I have a strong incentive to become or remain a member.

Provide a payment plan. Just like lay-away, except your members get their product up front. My heating and cooling maintenance providers just sent me a notice saying we can pay for the service in “3 easy payments.” Could you offer your members “3 easy payments?” This could certainly affect your cash flow and how you budget, but isn’t that better than not getting the membership?

I heard an organization advertise that you can join them by making monthly payments. So instead of it costing $120 per year, it now costs $10 a month. That makes it much easier to swallow. Of course the best way to do this is to set it up as an automatic withdrawal from their bank account. That’s the way my gym does it.

Make sure you are providing value. If you are losing members right and left, maybe it’s time to think about your organization’s “value.” Not only are people spending less but they are also demanding high value in the things they buy. What is your value? How are you competing with other nonprofits of similar size or mission? Why should anyone join your organization? You can’t ask for membership dollars and then not deliver a product. If people don’t see any advantage in sending you money, they will stop sending you money.

I hope that this has given some of you food for thought. And I hope that all of you achieve and succeed in your membership goals!!!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Connection Generation: A Review by Bob Crawshaw

I liked this review by Bob Crawshaw's because Iggy Pintado's book and his categorization of how people behave when it comes to technology is informative for Nonprofits. I think we always have to be considering where our membership or constituents are in regard to technology. That can be somewhat easier said than done. Take for instance the case of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology; it's probably a good bet that their membership leans more toward being Active or Super Connectors, and that fact drives how the Anita Borg Institute develops their programming. However, let's say your target constituents are low-income or rural (without access to solid broadband), you are going to have to employ more low tech strategies to reach them and that will impact your programming. It might be worthwhile to conduct an online (or mail in the case of the low tech constituents) survey to find out what your members or constituents technology capabilities may be and what their attitudes are toward technology.

I recently conducted a mail survey for a rural county and we discovered what we had suspected, that a majority of households have only dial-up and beyond simple email cannot download any photos, videos or rich text. This poses quite a challenge to Nonprofits trying to serve that area. On a final note, isn't that little kid and his t-shirt just adorable? Bunnie

Connection Generation: A Review by Bob Crawshaw, Maine Street Marketing

I have just finished reading the recently published book Connection Generation.

Iggy Pintado, a former IBM and Telstra heavyweight, looks at how Australians are taking to new communication technologies and their impact on our personal and professional lives. The book is a clear, simple read and valuable for those after fresh insights into how people are using social media.Pintado starts by identifying a number of "connector profiles". These are drawn from his own extensive marketing experience plus personal research he undertook for the book. He claims Australians - and this probably applies to those elsewhere - fall into one of five categories when it comes to using new media:

Basic Connectors are people with low levels of technological take-up. They can be any age but are united by their disdain or fear of technology. They need to be thoroughly convinced that new communication platforms can improve things and it often takes a tech-minded family member or friend to guide and encourage them to venture into online media.

Passive Connectors have a basic understanding of the new technologies but choose not to make it a priority in their lives. When it comes to online action they observe rather than participate. This is hardly surprising because many people in this category have traditionally consumed passive media such as print, radio and television. In marketing terminology they could be classed as the "late adopters" in the digital era.

Selective Connectors understand new communications technologies and use it to share experiences and maintain their family, friendship and business networks. However they stop short of expanding the range of their connections which limits their ability to take advantage of business and other online opportunities.

Active Connectors appreciate and use the new technologies to develop and maintain contacts, assertively share their thoughts and routinely use platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Linked-in for commercial and personal benefit. They are the marketing equivalent of "early adopters", people willing to try new things and take on fresh thoughts.

And finally there are the Super Connectors. These folks are digitally light years ahead of the rest of us and on the bleeding edge of technology. For them an online life is as fundamental as using running water or electricity.

These categories may define groups but they do not necessarily limit people. It is possible for individuals to move from one group to another as their circumstances and interests change.

Perhaps Basic Connectors are the most digitally vulnerable because the trend is for Australians to increasingly go online to connect their lives and that sea change is unlikely to reverse anytime soon. And what exciting times we live in when initiatives such as the Australian Government's National Broadband Program, the schools laptop program and first stirrings about Government2.0 have the potential to transform us into Australia's first connection generation.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Charity Accountability Standards: How Do You Measure a “Good” Charity?

My husband will not give money to a Nonprofit until he has looked them up on Charity Navigator. Ken Berger, President of Charity Navigator gives us a glimpse into how charities are not measuring their outcomes. I was a bit shocked at the numbers (even if they are hypothetical), but even in my own experience, I would be willing to lay money on those numbers being fairly accurate. This piece is a good lead-in to a blog I am working on about "horror stories" in the Nonprofit sector. Stop right now and ask yourself "How do we measure outcomes?" If you don't have an answer, it might be time to start creating a system. Bunnie

Charity Accountability Standards: How Do You Measure a “Good” Charity?

by Ken Berger, President and Chief Executive Officer of Charity Navigator

We have surveyed hundreds of charities across all causes to determine what data is compiled in this area of outcome measurement. We also intend to use the information to help us in developing our system. If there are some universally agreed upon outcome measures in a particular category of charities, it could help inform us on good standards. We assumed that most charities have SOME system of evaluating their outcomes. We were wrong. So far, only about 10% of the charities we have polled were able to provide us with information in this area. Furthermore it is likely that, of those that measure their outcome, a much smaller subset can prove from the data that they have truly meaningful outcomes.

We recently met with a colleague who funds organizations who can provide him with evidence of effective outcomes. He is getting similar results. The scary reality, he suspects, is that most charities (the overwhelming majority) have not even taken their first step down the outcome road. A couple of other experts with whom we have bounced this around have corroborated our findings.

We know that day-to-day survival mode is often the overriding focus and concern for most charities. In the current economic climate that reality has only intensified for most charities. So the lack of focus on outcome measurement is not likely to change any time soon, unless there are outside forces that demand it and resources that facilitate the process. We continue to assume that the larger agencies may be compiling this information, but may be reluctant to make it public. Even if this is true, only 4% of all charities have annual revenues in excess of $10 million. So our suspicion remains that the vast majority of charities are doing very little or nothing in the area of outcome measurement.

We think that the experts, foundations and charity advocacy groups are going to need to educate government policy makers and the general public about the significant importance of publicly available outcome measurement information before this situation will change. All grants, whether from government, foundations or corporations, should include a percentage to fund outcome measurement.

Why is this so important? We believe that an outcome driven culture is vitally important for a charity to be at its best and to be trusted. With all of the scandals and lack of confidence in charities, objective data will become more and more important in the public's perception of a charity's ongoing legitimacy. In such a climate, it's scary news that most charities probably are not measuring and documenting their outcomes.


Note: This is entirely hypothetical from discussions with experts and anecdotal information

2% **** Excellent
9% *** Good
23% ** Needs Improvement
36% * - Poor
30% 0-Star Exceptionally Poor

Nonetheless, we are going to continue down this road and implement an outcome measurement system once we are confident it contains the right elements. We will also be a voice for the importance of outcome measurement to whoever will listen! However, I now anticipate that whenever we begin to evaluate charities on outcomes (probably no time soon), most will not do well, if for no other reason than that they are not documenting what they are doing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Encore Opportunity Awards

Over the last twenty years, so much of our thinking has changed in regard to "older" workers. Maybe because Baby Boomers make up such a substantial portion of the population in the United States. Maybe because people are living and staying creative longer. Debra Caruso tells us how one effort seeks to honor those who are providing opportunities to older people. The Encore Opportunity Awards, by Civic Ventures and MetLife Foundation, found eight Nonprofit and public sector organizations that are maximizing their use of older workers. Is the Nonprofit sector leading the way in this regard? Bunnie

The Encore Opportunity Awards

by Debra Caruso, DJC Communications

Civic Ventures and MetLife Foundation announced the winners of the 2009 Encore Opportunity Awards, eight nonprofit and public sector organizations tapping encore talent to serve the common good. The organizations were noted for making it easier for experienced workers to transition into encore careers - paid jobs that offer meaning and the chance to effect social concerns.

"Many nonprofit and public sector organizations are hiring and retaining people over 50 to meet community needs - and doing so in an exemplary fashion," said Phyllis N. Segal, vice president of Civic Ventures, a think tank on boomers, work and social purpose.

From all over the U.S. , the award winners are engaging people over 50 in creative ways to protect public safety, build low-income housing, teach job skills, preserve the environment, even save dying Native American languages.

"This year's Encore winners are innovative, adaptable and smart. They recognize the need to take advantage of the talent of older American possess," said Dennis White, CEO and president of MetLife Foundation. "Their practices are models for others to follow."

The 2009 winners:

· Alliance of Early Childhood Professionals (Minneapolis)- This nonprofit created a youth development program that pays "elders"- Native Americans over 50 who know the Dakota or Ojibwe languages - to work with children from two to five years old. The language immersion experience is aimed at passing along native languages and culture.

(Pictured right: Alexandria Mason, left, and Maya Stand-Acero, learn the Ojibwe language from Lillian Rice, 77, while removing husks from wild rice at Four Directions Family Center in Minneapolis.)

· Civitan Foundation Inc. (Phoenix)- This organization designed its Caring Connections program to engage encore workers as direct caregivers for its programs serving those of all ages with disabilities. In its first eight months, the project trained 50 older Americans and placed 20 in caregiver roles with clients.

· Executive Service Corps of Chicago (Chicago)- To fill the leadership transition challenges experienced by many nonprofits, the Executive Service Corps recruits, trains and places retired nonprofit executives in interim director positions in Chicago-area nonprofits.

· Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department (Lawrenceville, Ga.)- This public safety agency recruits and employs encore workers to fill jobs at all levels. One quarter of the department's civilian and sworn work force is over 50 and previously held jobs government, retail and business.

· Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter Florida Inc. (Eustis, Fla.)- To provide homes to people living in substandard and overcrowded conditions, this Habitat for Humanity affiliate enlists a multigenerational work force. Half its staff is over 50.

· National Center for Appropriate Technology (Butte, Mont.)- This organization helps people nationally - with offices in Montana, Arkansas, California, Iowa, Louisiana and Pennsylvania - use environmentally sound, energy-efficient methods in farming. More than 40% of its employees are 50-plus, thanks to a recruitment strategy that seeks their skills and experience and a retention strategy offering flexible schedules.

· Orleans Technical Institute a division of JEVS Human Services (Philadelphia)- This technical training school employs retirees from the building trades as instructors to provide training and individualized support to an "at-risk" student population. More than half of the school's employees are 50-plus, including full- and part-time instructors, support staff, recruiters and counselors.

· Umbrella of the Capital District (Schenectady, N.Y.)- To help older adults and persons with disabilities live independently in their own homes, this nonprofit intentionally recruits 50-plus workers with the appropriate technical skills. More than 130 "handypeople" are paid an hourly stipend for light carpentry, lawn and garden maintenance, house cleaning and transportation to appointments.

In 2007, MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures first honored nonprofit and public sector employers with what was then called the BreakThrough Awards. The inaugural winners similarly exhibited successful strategies for finding, hiring and maximizing workers over 50.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Freebie Corner!

The best things in life are free. And if your budget looks like a lot of nonprofit organizations’ budgets, free is absolutely essential.

Recently I was contacted by two people regarding some terrific freebies. The first is Blackbaud’s Conference for Nonprofits being held in Charleston, South Carolina, November 16-18. Registration is now closed as the conference is sold out, however, some sessions are going to be streamed live from the conference.

All you have to do is go to to stream the following sessions:

Monday, November 16
8:30 – 9:15 a.m. ET, General Session with Blackbaud CEO Marc Chardon
9:30 – 10:45 a.m. ET, Skill Building: Ethics Under Fire, presented by Jay Love, Joy Simpson, and Paul Clolery
3:45 – 5:00 p.m. ET, The Tough Questions We Aren’t Asking Ourselves, presented by Holly Ross

Tuesday, November 17
9:00 – 10:30 a.m. ET, Keynote Session, featuring Derreck Kayongo
11:00 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. ET, Future-Proof: Making Viable Plans in Uncertain Times, presented by Dean Feener
3:45 – 5:00 p.m. ET, DIY (Do It Yourself): Is Your Fundraising Strategy in Need of Makeover? Presented by Richard McPherson

Wednesday, November 18
12:00 to 1:30 p.m. ET, Keynote Session, presented by Steve MacLaughlin
1:30 to 2:45 p.m. ET, Google Analytics® and Search Engine Optimization: Turning Information into Knowledge, presented by Bo Crader and Chris Tuttle
3:15 to 4:45 p.m. ET, Launching the Space Shuttle: Practical Advice to Ensure a Smooth Public Launch of Your Website, presented by Raheel Gauba

I know it’s not the same as “being there” but conference registration runs several hundred dollars and if you can hear some of the same workshops and thought innovators for free, then that’s a good deal.

The next freebie comes from Mark Buzan, at Action Strategies in Canada. Mark is hosting a free webinar called "Yes, Non-Profits CAN build an Energized Fan Base through Social Media" on November 24, 2009 at 1 p.m. Here’s how Mark described it:

Social Media can be an exciting or scary prospect for non-profits and association executives. Carrying on an effective strategy is a crucial requirement if an organization is to form a wide base of popularity for its cause and create a true online community. But with thousands of social networks available, how are you to know which ones will best advance your cause? If you are on the leading edge, you are on Facebook, and maybe even have experimented with YouTube. But is all of this giving you exposure? Are you actually being called by media? And how are you doing in your search engine rankings? There are many strategies required of an effective social media relations campaign. In undertaking your campaign, you need to consider the following - are you effectively:

Establishing the required "push" versus "pull" marketing tactics that will increase your online fan base
• Linking your current offline marketing techniques with effective online marketing techniques
• Determining who should speak for your organization on social media sites
• Developing an Anchor and Outpost strategy can significantly increase your exposure – and your search engine ranking
• Determining which PR sites you should join – and which you should not?
• Do you know how to use Social Bookmarking to leverage your efforts even further?

Social media is not a one-size fits all response. It requires thoughtful consideration. What strategies are you undertaking?

Mark’s a great guy, you won’t want to miss this one. You can register at

So this also gave me an idea…as I find free resources I will report them to you as a “Freebie Corner!” Cheers! Bunnie

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Case of 4,000 Twitter Followers Who Don't Care

Social media, social media, social media...blah, blah, blah. There is just the existence of social media (all quite fun and good) and then there's the true effectiveness of social media. Debra Askanase, a nonprofit social media consultant in Israel, takes the Twitter and Facebook craze to task by really examining the loyalty numbers on the back end of these applications. Just because someone is your "friend" or "follower" doesn't mean you have a relationship. This one is a good cautionary tale for business too! Bunnie

The Case of the 4,000 Twitter Followers Who Don't Care
by Debra Askanase, Community Organizer 2.0

This is the Case of the 4,000 Twitter Followers Who Don’t Care - and why 4,000 followers means nothing without engagement.

I recently took on a new client that wants to leverage its existing social media assets (Facebook Page/Fans, Twitter followers) to drive more visits to the website. This company has been building a social media presence for over a year, and is unhappy with the lack of website visits resulting from social media.

I was told that the Facebook Group was active with almost 500 fans, and that the Twitter account had over 4,000 followers. I was also briefed that, though there was not a lot of online fan feedback, the Twitter account included some committed followers. The highest priority for the client was to figure out why social media was not driving more people to the website – and come up with a better strategy.

I took on this challenge, and want to share a few observations about why social media isn’t working for this client:

Case Observation #1:

The most important number isn’t the number of followers, it’s the number of engaged followers.

4,000 Twitter followers seems like a lot. But how many really care about your organization? How many are willing to act on its behalf?

I evaluated “the 4,000 followers” on Twitter and “almost 500 fans” of the Facebook Page. I used Twerpscan, Twittalyzer, Twazzup, and Tweetmeme to analyze the Twitter asset, and discovered: almost 400 of their Twitter followers were pure spammers no one cared what the client was tweeting, and…most of the retweets were from twitter profiles related to the company the company did not engage in conversation online, and rarely thanked retweeters there was absolutely no Twitter strategy

What I discovered was that, of the 4,000+ followers, only three were truly interested enough in what the organization was tweeting. Three.

Twitter utilizes the concept of social media karma: give and give and then others will give back. This company didn’t offer help, advice, support or anything else personal. Obviously, Twitter did not drive people to the website – no one cared enough about the company to go there.

Of the 400+ Facebook fans, most didn’t care enough to “like” a Wall post. The ones that did comment or “like” a post were often friends of the CEO or employees. All the posted was to its Facebook Page was company stories or related news. Of the 400+ fans, only one was an (unrelated to the company) engaged fan! Facebook drove little traffic to the website, which again is not surprising.

Case Observation #2:

Be wary when the CEO or Executive Director isn’t using social media on behalf of the organization.

This CEO was absolutely unwilling to be personally involved in using social media for the company. This is indicative of a CEO that does not understand the basic principles of social media. It’s critical that everyone in the organization have some direct contact with social media. An Executive Director that isn’t directly responsible for some piece of the social media is missing important information by not connecting with stakeholders directly. Not every CEO has to be responsible, but he/she should be intimately involved with the social media activities, and understand the basic principles of social media.

This CEO was using social media to “drive numbers to the website,” which completely misunderstands the basic fundamentals of social media. They are:

Engage with people first, create relationships, then move them to act.

Case Observation #3:

Their social media sites offer no real value to fans and followers

The company hadn’t taken the time to figure out what people were interested in reading on their social sites. Since the organization was not actually creating individual relationships with its fans, then it had to offer compelling and relevant news and data. However, it wasn’t giving followers information that mattered to the followers. Not surprisingly, no one wanted to visit the website to find out more.

Case Observation #4:

You need a strategy for each and every social media platform.

Their overall social media strategy consisted of posting news and information. This is an appropriate strategy for social bookmarking sites like StumbleUpon and Digg, but not at all for social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, the company usually posted the same information on both Twitter and Facebook. Fans of both sites were not even receiving unique value or reward for following the company in two places.

It’s important to realize that no two communities are the same online. Each has its own rules, expectations, and needs. You need an engagement strategy for each one of these communities. The strategy should consider the qualities of each social media platform, the needs of followers, how to best engage, and what your organization can offer its followers in terms of both engagement and value.

It’s Elementary, My Dear Watson

Social media is a tool to help your company meet its goals. But it’s more than that: if you aren’t using these tools properly, then it doesn’t matter how many fans, followers, or linkedin connections you have. They won’t care enough to do anything for your organization or company.

This case illustrates that it’s not about the number of fans and followers. It’s about the engagement. Create a strategy that brings your organization engaged followers and real relationships.

4,000 followers means nothing without engagement. And it never will.
You can contact Debra at: debra at communityorganizer20 dot com

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Development and Communications Equation

There's the do you combine development and communications? In small nonprofits, there is rarely the staff to have robust development and communications efforts. In larger nonprofits, that actually have staff or even departments solely devoted to these two things, there often seems to be a chasm between the development arm and the communications arm. And now, more than ever, as the scramble to survive continues on, these two elements (working in harmony) are even more critical. Good advice from Jessica Berk Ross. Worth mulling over at the next staff meeting. Bunnie

The Development and Communications Equation
by Jessica Berk Ross

This past year has been a challenging one. The economic downturn has put pressure on all organizations to increase efficiency and to do more with less. While that’s not a new mantra for nonprofit organizations, those competing for philanthropic dollars have a renewed sense of urgency. They have an even greater mandate to gain mindshare, communicate relevance and demonstrate impact in order to secure the funding they need to further their mission.

2010 is poised to be an even tougher year than 2009 for nonprofits. Giving levels have been nearly nonexistent, leading to what may be a particularly dismal period in the next 12 months. It is a critical time to evaluate organizational communications and how messaging and outreach can effect real outcomes--both programmatic AND financial.

Development Outreach is Communication

“We want to launch this new initiative, but need to secure funding.”

“We’ve applied for a grant to support this program. Without it, we won’t be able to operationalize this initiative.”

“Our usual donors have been bombarded with requests this year. How can we compete?”

Statements like these have become all too familiar over the past year. It’s a tough time to be raising funds even for the most worthy of causes. But there is something you can do so that your efforts have a greater impact. One important – but often overlooked - way to optimize development outreach is by thinking about it through the lens of strategic communications. At its heart, development outreach is communications. It is reaching an audience – in this case donors rather than, say, consumers, shareholders or the media – to build awareness and spur them to action. But far too often, the development and communications functions are almost entirely separate within an organization. When combined, though, these functions are far more effective--and efficient-- than when operating independently.

As one development consultant explained, “At least 80% of the non profits I work with have communications tools that are ineffective. I do my best to try and improve it, but I don’t know that a development professional is the right person for that job.”

It’s Not Either/Or But Both

Ruder Finn, a national public relations agency, has many clients in the nonprofit and advocacy world. Very often, at the crux of the business challenges these clients face is development. Ironically, though, that is seldom what we are tasked with at the outset of an engagement
Many of these organizations either think about communications OR development, but rarely about both at once or in an integrated fashion. As we begin to work with a client on a specific program – perhaps a Web site launch or a new initiative – the discussion quickly turns to development. These programs require funding and adequate funding requires effective development outreach. . It becomes clear in a very short amount of time that communications objectives are inextricably linked to fundraising efforts.

On the flip side, communications outreach around a particular program must take into consideration messages already in the pipeline related to raising funds. You don’t want to bombard the same audiences with disparate, uncoordinated messages. If a development related message goes out one week, the collateral piece you send about your new report the following week may be met with either aggravation or confusion.

It can be far more effective to look holistically at your outreach. Leverage the tools that already exist to share news or launch a product. Do you have a donor letter going out? Why not use that to also share information on that new report? By only reaching out to donors in a very strategic, thoughtful manner, you are likely to have a far greater impact.

A Few Tips

A more integrated approach to communications can yield far greater results. And it doesn’t have to be complicated, overly time consuming or costly. It only requires a few simple guiding principles:

1. Key messages. Having a set of consistent talking points that are then referred back to and woven into all of your communications goes a long way to building a strong brand. It can elevate the level of awareness of your organization with your donors (and, by the way, any other audience with whom you are communicating). It also makes developing new materials a lot easier – you already have a starting place for the language you’ll need to use.

2. Create an outreach timeline. Establish a framework for a combined

development/communications program. At the beginning of the annual planning process, ensure that the development and communications director are not only coordinating, but have worked together to map out a timeline for donor outreach throughout the year. In short, embed development within the overall communications program.

3. Personalize the message. An integral part of success is creating awareness of your organization’s value to the community and to society as well as building an awareness of the financial need. Quantify and personalize your mission and objectives as much as possible. It’s the old “what’s in it for me” message. Targeted communications – ones that resonate with each audience including individuals, corporations or foundation - demonstrating why that person should care about your organization’s mission will create a more favorable giving climate by conditioning the marketplace.

4. Keep it up. Sustained and ongoing communications to funders and potential funders is critical. It is important to establish touch points at regular intervals throughout the year. You may have an annual dinner, but how often are you communicating with donors and potential donors in between these events? Are you updating them on progress regularly? Are you sharing good news in a timely fashion? You should be reaching out, at a minimum, on a quarterly basis.

5. Variety is the spice of life. Ideally, outreach will take place across a variety of mediums – electronic, print and face-to-face – to accommodate the different ways people absorb information. Consider what tools – collateral, events, e-mail updates, newsletters, and social media – will help you gain support from new prospects and maintain relationships with existing funding sources.

6. Social media works! Social media – including sites like Facebook and LinkedIn as well as blogs like this one – are an absolutely essential part of every organization’s communications and development programs. If you think your donors aren’t using them or you just aren’t taken them into consideration, you may be missing opportunities. If you’re not comfortable with them, there are many (free) opportunities to learn more. Organizations such as Vocus ( frequently host free webinars that can be very instructional.

Build it in

It starts with the strategic planning process. To make your communications and development programs a success, integrate the two from the outset. As you embark on your planning for 2010, think about increasing the impact – and the return on investment – of development programs by more efficient use of communications resources. With this adjustment to your overall operating model, you may just make a very challenging year a lot more manageable.

Jessica Berk Ross is the managing director of the Washington, DC office of Ruder Finn. With over 20 years of strategic communications experience, Jessica is adept at helping clients in both the nonprofit and corporate world meet their organizational objectives.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Deadly Fundraising Mistakes

Here's the latest from fundraising consultant extraordinaire Sandy Rees. Another valuable article to share with Board Members and Staff. The market for donor dollars is tough out there and you can't afford to make these mistakes! Bunnie

Deadly Fundraising Mistakes

by Sandy Rees, CFRE

Fundraising these days isn’t as easy as it once was. With the difficulties facing many organizations, now is the time to be on top of your game when it comes to raising money. The last thing you want to do is make mistakes, especially mistakes that can kill your capacity for fundraising.

Here are some mistakes that I have seen small nonprofit organizations make, either on purpose or out of ignorance, that have been devastating. Making just one of these errors can put your organization in a downward spiral faster than a jack rabbit on a hot summer’s day.

1. Lack of planning and strategy. If you don’t know where you are going, then any road will get you there. Having a plan is critical to the success of your organization. It doesn’t have to be a Pulitzer-prize winning document, but it does need to provide you some guidance and direction for your organization. I’ve seen lack of planning result in a good organization becoming lethargic and sort of stuck on a hamster wheel of day-to-day monotony. Remember, people don’t plan to fail. They fail to plan.

2. Lack of support and participation from organization leaders. Your CEO or Executive Director MUST be involved in fundraising. When it comes time to ask a donor for money or thank a donor for a gift, your top staff person must take the lead. Likewise, your Board of Directors MUST pull their weight. It’s one of their basic responsibilities. They should make a monetary gift themselves and they should support fundraising efforts by the staff.

3. Not allocating enough resources to fundraising. One truism of fundraising is that you must spend money to raise money. It can be done on a shoestring, but it’s tough. It’s a lot easier when there’s funding available to cover postage and basic supplies. Sometimes an organization cheats itself out of success by not committing the necessary money to hire a fundraising staff person.

4. Reinventing the wheel. There’s no need for anyone to start from scratch with fundraising. There are many resources out there that you can draw from. Take advantage of trainings and books. Network with other fundraisers. Attend professional association meetings.

5. Putting all your eggs in one basket. A basic principle of business that works in the nonprofit world is this: don’t have most of your business coming from one customer. Yet, too many nonprofit organizations get most of their funding from one grant or one customer (usually government reimbursement). If for some crazy reason that one goes away, you’re dead in the water. It makes the future of your organization terribly unsure.

Want to know more? Get a free copy of my special report “10 Deadly Fundraising Mistakes and How to Avoid Them” at

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Govern Like a Jazz Group: A Core Chart for Optimal Flow in Nonprofit Governance

Does it get any better than this? Many of us spend plenty of time looking for good analogies or strong metaphor; that connection to enhance our communication and really express our feelings. Brian Fraser, of Jazzthink, really hit the nail on the head with this article. It's not something that you can necessarily quantify, but we all know (because we feel it) when the rythyms are working and everyone is in harmony. Conversely, we also instinctively know when they're not. Love this article, take it to your next board meeting! Bunnie

Govern Like a Jazz Group: A Core Chart for
Optimal Flow in Nonprofit Governance

by Brian Fraser, Ph.D., "Lead Provocateur"

Think of the last board meeting you participated in at one of the nonprofits in which you are involved. On a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being highest), rate the flow of the meeting. Think of flow as a process in which the achievement of purpose progresses unimpeded. It’s something like a stream with no debris in it flowing smoothly to its destination. It’s also like a jazz performance in which all the musicians are in sync and their instruments blend harmoniously into a toe-tapping, body-swaying performance. To get a sense of how that looks and feels, click here to enjoy Jamaican piano virtuoso Monty Alexander and his group playing Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry.”

In the liner notes to his Impressions in Blue album, Alexander offered an astute description of jazz, identifying five elements that go together in creating optimal flow in great jazz. Taken together, they constitute a core chart of the key notes (the basic melody and rhythm sheet of music from which jazz musicians play) in engaging and effective governance. They describe optimal flow in nonprofit governance as well.

“Jazz, at its best,” writes Alexander, “is a situation in which participants willingly support each other, working together as one, each player bringing virtuosity, optimism, mutual respect, good will, and the desire to make it feel good.” [Emphasis added.]

Let’s take a closer look at each element as it applies to the flow of nonprofit governance.


Each member of the board brings a particular set of talents to contribute. In most cases, those talents have been honed through deliberate practice over many years. The person who has those talents comes onto the board to use them in the service of the organization’s purpose. It will take some orientation time, sage advice, and intentional support to assess and decide together how best to deploy those talents to achieve the organization’s aspirations. But if your board does not have a clear process for matching talents to tasks in the operation of your organization, put that on the agenda of your next meeting. You are wasting your greatest asset – the virtuosity of your board members. Board members who are frustrated at not being able to offer their best to the success of your organization will not be fully engaged in willingly supporting your work.


The jazz musicians with whom I have worked most closely at Jazzthink are born optimists. Prior to a performance, they are loose, jocular, and positive about the potential they are about to achieve in their performance. They know their instruments and how to use they to the best advantage when they are playing together. They are sensitive to and appreciative of the audiences for whom they are playing. They anticipate the best. If something goes wrong in the midst of the performance, they have the confidence, based on experience, to find ways to overcome the problem and get things back on track. The best boards on which I have served and with whom I have worked thought and behaved the same.

Mutual Respect

Respect is the oil that keeps different personalities working smoothly together. If respect for the varying virtuosities of each board member and for the potential of them all flowing together smoothly is not present, your board will not be working together as effectively and efficiently as it can in helping people change their lives. Time, money, and opportunities will be wasted.

Unfettered conflict around ideas about the best ways of doing things is essential. If that conflict starts to center around personalities, either within your own head, or at the table, or over coffee, you’re in trouble. In the midst of the current challenges being faced by nonprofits, both in terms of emerging needs and dwindling resources, you can’t afford that. Valuing the virtuosity you have gathered and the power of mutuality to enable you to continuously improve your performance is foundational to finding the kind of flow we are considering and achieving the impact you desire.

Good Will

Closely aligned with mutual respect, good will has to do with the intent you bring to the table. You were invited to sit on the board and probably said yes in order to work together with others to willingly support all those in the organization who help to change lives through whatever the organization does. Keeping that intention in mind in every situation that comes to the board, no matter how conflicted or pressured the board may be, will model the good will needed to work through the functions of the board to guide and monitor well the performance of the organization. Jazz musicians who are wrapped up in their egos, or who insist on their own way all the time, or bring their own idiosyncratic agendas to the performance too often simply are not invited to play with the group again. I know it’s not easy to fire a volunteer board member, but sometimes it’s necessary. Don’t agree to or continue to play with people lacking or unwilling to develop any of these elements of optimal flow in nonprofit governance.

The Desire to Make it Feel Good

Jason Koransky, long-time editor of DownBeat, once said, “Jazz ain’t supposed to make you frown.” I think the same should be said about nonprofit governance. People should leave a board meeting feeling a deep satisfaction for having accomplished significant things that strengthen the capacity of their organization to do its good work. Smiles rather than frowns should grace their faces. To achieve this in the midst of the disagreements, crises, pressures, and tensions that mark any gathering of people with the responsibility to attend to fiduciary, strategic, and generative matters relating to a nonprofit’s success requires exceptional self-management. You have to pay attention to how you show up and seek support from your colleagues on how to show up better. The good purpose of your organization deserves that kind of effort.

You Are All Jazz Musicians

Here’s the connection. You co-create this quality of nonprofit governance through the conversations that you have, especially those in your meetings. Donald Schön, professor of urban studies and education at MIT and an accomplished jazz musicians himself, pointed out that the most common form of jazz or improvisation in human experience is ordinary conversation. Your instrument is your voice. Every time you engage in conversation, you use vocabulary and grammar differently, improvising with them to create something new. The intent with which you engage in conversation and the deliberate practice you undertake to continuously improve the results determines the positive contribution you make in any endeavor. That is especially true in finding the optimal flow of good governance in your nonprofit organization. The reality is that you are all governing like a jazz group. You can all work together like Monty Alexander’s group to support the purpose of your organization. The question is “How great are you willing to sound together with your colleagues?”

Dr. Brian Fraser is lead provocateur of Jazzthink. He speaks, consults, and coaches with nonprofit organizations and their leaders using the wisdom and workings of jazz to help them imagine better ways of serving the common good. He sits on the board of the Alliance for Nonprofit Management and is on the governance and leadership training team at Volunteer Vancouver. Visit his website at This article originally appeared on Charity Channel. Re-printed here with permission of the author.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Grant Contract Isn't a Suggestion

I saw this article on Charity Channel and knew I had to "reprint" it! The truth is that you really do need to expend grant funds just as you promised you would. It may be tempting to apply grant funds to pressing needs, but if you want to get a second or third grant, the grantor has the right to know exactly where you spent every dime. Additionally, even if it is a one-time gift, the grantor has the right to ask for re-payment of funds if the money was not spent as was promised in the grant application or contract. Read and heed. Bunnie

A Grant Contract Isn't a Suggestion
by Rebecca Shawyer, Director of Grant Administration at Brazosport College

Throughout my career I have noted that far too often, program staff and administrators discuss and debate the meaning of the words "grant contract." What does this term really mean? Is it really a binding contract? Why can’t we buy that new computer we need? After all, we have grant funds left over.

Sadly, in the past I have found that some of my colleagues honestly believed that once grant funds have been received and deposited into the agency’s banking account, they were free to dip into them for any expenditure associated with the relevant grant project. As grant professionals, we know differently; and, it is our job to educate our colleagues before there is a problem.

So, what is a contract? The dictionary lists a variety of definitions for the word contract. Two that pertain to grant contracts are as follows: (1) “an agreement between two or more parties for the doing or not doing of something specified”; and, (2) “an agreement enforceable by law.” (Source:

“An agreement between two or more parties for the doing or not doing of something specified.” Hmm, this sounds quite clear. It doesn’t mention the possibility of loop holes or wiggle room. It clearly states “for the doing or not doing of something”. So why do program staff, accounting offices, and administrators offer think that it is acceptable to spend funds in ways not included in the grant contract?

I think that the answer is quite simple. Grant professionals oftentimes find themselves playing the role of a compliance officer because they failed to educate their organization and colleagues about the strict nature of any grant contract. It is our responsibility to take the time to fully explain contractual limitations prior to the signing of a contract.

I believe that this educational process should begin at the time grant proposals are being developed. In fact, I have found that it is crucial that everyone (including the president or CEO) clearly understands that the written proposal including its implementation plan, outcome objectives, evaluation plan, and budget will become an addendum to any future grant contract awarded. This is true for private foundation, corporate donor programs, and government agency awards.

Thus as I lead my college’s grant development teams, I consistently and constantly remind them that our eventual performance will be rated on that which they state will be done in the proposal narrative. In order to facilitate the development of ambitious but attainable goals and objectives, we develop a progressive program logic chart that clearly shows the relationship between program activities, minimum process objectives, staffing plan, equipment and supply purchases, and anticipated outcomes.

As we develop our grant applications, their attention is focused upon three primary issues:

The proposed program plan – With a contract award, the granting agency or foundation will expect that the proposed plan detailed in the application will be implemented as described with a minimum of changes. It will be assumed that as professionals, the program team has developed and proposed an implementation plan and strategies that are based on recognized and best practices in their field. If the team proposes to achieve that which is not truly attainable, it is likely that the organization will not be able to meet its contractual obligations if an award is received. If this happens, the organization could be endangering future grant awards and be putting itself in a position that requires the repayment of grant funds.

The budget – The budget needs to be realistic, accurate, and well thought out. After a contractual agreement has been reached, many funders will allow only minimal changes to the budget. Funds must be used for expenditures specifically listed in the proposal. For example, if the requested budget allocates $25,000 in salary expenses for direct service personnel, the agency may not pay administrative fees with these funds (unless the funder provides prior written approval of the change). For this reason, program teams should give as much attention to how the requested funds are being distributed as they give to the rest of the proposal. If funds are not properly allocated, the organization could find itself without adequate funds to cover key costs required for optimal implementation. If this happens, the funding agency will expect the grantee to find the needed funds elsewhere.

Equipment and supply purchases – Without prior written approval, equipment and supplies (such as computers, laptops, furniture, inkjet cartridges, etc.) cannot be paid for with grant funds unless they were included in the proposed budget. Additionally, if it was proposed that computers be purchased with the grant funds, these same funds cannot arbitrarily be switched to pay for new furniture.

After all, a grant contract is not a suggestion. Any grant professional that has ever survived a funder’s audit knows that it is in fact “an agreement enforceable by law.”

Contact Rebecca Shawyer at Rebecca.Shawver at BRAZOSPORT.EDU

Monday, October 5, 2009

Bad, Bad Board Members

by Bunnie Riedel, Host, Nonprofit Conversation

You know who they are.

They engage in side bar conversations with other board members or even the members, about what they think is wrong with the board or the executive director or the organization in general. They joined the board simply to promote themselves or their business and then come up with schemes to get the organization to buy their services or products. They ask for special favors such as upgraded airfare or free tickets to a fundraising event or free products from vendors.

They commandeer meetings and interrupt other board members or talk incessantly. They don’t show up for meetings. They don’t have their assigned tasks ready when asked or they drop the ball altogether. They never raise a single dime. They insist that money be spent on projects that are not in keeping with the mission or they come up with grandiose projects for which they will bear no responsibility. They over-scrutinize everything the CEO does and never find anything worth praising. They have unreal expectations of the CEO, often calling the CEO at home or while he/she is on vacation.

They are rude to volunteers or members. They have no comprehension of nonprofit governance and often make suggestions that are contrary to maintaining nonprofit status. They are willing to break the law, falsify tax documents or behave unethically. They date or have a romantic relationship with a staff member. They donate a large sum of money so they can blackmail the other board members or CEO or staff with their generosity. They go behind the CEO’s back and direct staff to perform certain tasks. They get their friends hired to the nonprofit.

I could go on. These are just a few of the things I (or my colleagues) have personally experienced. There is a “comment” section at the end of this article and I would love to hear your comments on behaviors of “bad board members.” The point of this article is: what is a CEO or board members to do with board members who misbehave?

Years ago I was speaking to a peer explaining a particular problem I was having with a board member. He gave me a piece of advice that was golden. “Put a board member between you and the problem.” In other words, it is the responsibility of the board to manage its membership and even the most talented CEO must turn to the board for assistance in dealing with bad board members.

This isn’t always easy because frequently board members don’t want to be confrontational or they hope that a problem will eventually work itself out. Most often though, problems do not go away on their own and ignoring them can cause them to grow. Problems are best avoided through written policies, governance structure and organizational culture.

A clear set of guidelines such as a “Conflict of Interest” statement that each board member must agree to and sign, can help organizations fend off attempts at hijacking the organization for personal gain. Conflict of Interest statements can also define what board members are free to discuss with non-board members or the public at large. The National Council of Nonprofits has an excellent sample conflict of interest policy that can be tailored to your organization at

Board members who don’t attend meetings can be dealt with by establishing a policy for meeting attendance. I’ve always favored the policy that requires a board member who misses two meetings in a row be automatically removed and must be affirmatively voted back on the board. This saves the board from having to vote members off the board, which so often boards are reluctant to do.

Establishing clear guidelines for fundraising expectations can also save the board headaches. After talking with CEO’s for many years, I would hazard a guess that well over eighty percent of all board members do not raise money for the organization they serve. This is contrary to one of the essential responsibilities of being a board member, fundraising.

How a board handles an obnoxious person is a reflection of organizational culture. Ideally the president or chair of the board should manage meetings in such a way that no one person can dominate the agenda or bully the other members. However, if board behavior is out of hand, it might be time to call in a consultant to conduct board training.

And speaking of board training, does your organization have a board handbook and are new board members provided with training? This is an area that often gets overlooked or dismissed. And while organizational expectations might seem obvious, it should be remembered that people aren’t born “board members” and many people who find their way into board service are well meaning volunteers not governance experts.

The functionality and health of the board of directors is a direct reflection of the health of the nonprofit. If a board is dysfunctional, the organization will be dysfunctional. If a board is focused, healthy and mission driven, the organization will be the same. If you are dealing with bad, bad board members, it’s time to take action, delaying will only cause the problems to grow.

Earlier this year, Angela Newman wrote an article on the “Key to Motivating Board Members.” It is worth another read: