Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bylaws Checklist and Checkup

by Bunnie Riedel, Host of Nonprofit Conversation

There’s a great deal of organizational introspection going on right now. Yesterday, I had that conversation with a nonprofit executive who discussed the drop in revenue due to the economy. How many of those conversations have I had in the last few months?

While many organizations are examining their revenues, staffing and how the organization could run better, it might also be a good time to examine the Bylaws. Are your organization’s Bylaws good enough to really serve the organization? Or are you creating a new organization and you’re wondering what needs to be in the Bylaws?

I’ve created a sample checklist of components of Bylaws, things to consider when forming a new nonprofit or evaluating an existing one.

Size of Board

The size of your Board requires a great deal of consideration. Make it too large and nothing gets done, make it too small and you don’t have enough board members to get anything done. I know of a national organization that has 65 Board members! The largest for profit board of a Fortune 500 company has 33 Board members, so why would a nonprofit even think it needed 65 Board members?

My preference is somewhere between 9 to 11 Board members. Large enough to take on projects and small enough not to become unwieldy. Remember if you really feel you need more hands you can form committees of members, you don’t have to have Board members as sole staff of working committees.

Requirements of Board Members

Clearly state in your Bylaws what the requirements are for being a Board member. Is there an organizational membership requirement? Is there a residency requirement? Is there a professional requirement (must be practicing a certain trade or profession)? Is there an age requirement (must be at least 18 years old)?

What disqualifies someone from being on the Board? I had a nonprofit Board applicant send me his application. I called to tell him there was a residency requirement; that he had to live inside the city. The next day he re-sent his application with an in-city address and said that he had moved into the city in the last 24 hours. Mmmm.

Are there special requirements for recruiting Board members? Do you want to enshrine in your Bylaws certain types of people? For instance, do you want to designate certain seats for someone from the religious community, the legal community, the educational community, etc.? These “special talent” seats may help your organization ensure diversity in Board membership and ensure you have a variety of talent around the table.

How are Board members seated? Is it by majority vote or is it by two-thirds of the vote? What will be the Board members’ terms of service? Are the seats for two years with renewal up to a six year maximum? And do include term limits, there is nothing worse than perpetual Board members, like bread, they do go stale.

How will you remove “bad” or unethical Board members from the Board? What is the procedure? One of my favorite Bylaws is automatic removal if someone has missed two meetings in a row and requiring the absent Board member to be affirmatively voted back on the Board.

How are vacancies filled? How are meetings conducted? What is the process for calling an Executive Session and what kinds of things can be discussed during Executive Session? Typically, because of open meeting or “sunshine” laws in various states, Executive Sessions really can only be called to discuss a personnel matter.

Is the Executive Director or Chief Officer an ex-officio member of the Board? Will there be any compensation to Board members, such as a stipend or the reimbursement of travel expenses?

Who Are the Officers?

Typically most organizations have a President (or Chair); Vice-President (or Vice Chair); Secretary and Treasurer. Officers beyond those are up to the organization and should be based on need. Sometimes expanding the Executive Committee can be helpful. Remember an Executive Committee can be empowered to make decisions between Board meetings, so the makeup of the Executive Committee is important. Perhaps the Membership Chair should be part of the Executive Committee or the legal appointee should sit on the committee.

How are these Officers elected and how long is their term? How are they removed from office without removing them from the Board?

Is There a Membership Provision?

If you are starting or have a membership organization, what is your membership provision? What are the requirements for becoming a member and do you want a provision that revokes membership, and if so, what is the procedure for that? Do members have voting rights?

How Do You Make Bylaws Changes?

You want to make sure you can change the Bylaws if necessary. However, you want to make it difficult enough that the Bylaws aren’t constantly changing to suit Board member whims, yet doable enough that they can be changed when needed. Is there a notification requirement? Is it 30 or 60 days? What is the notification requirement? Must it be in person at the Board meeting or should it be by certified mail? Who can propose a Bylaws change and how do they propose one? Does it require a majority or two-thirds vote of the membership?

Some states or countries require that certain things be included in Bylaws in order to get or maintain nonprofit status, check with your state or country for its requirements.

The primary function of Bylaws is to serve the organization. If your Bylaws are interfering with that goal, it might be time to examine them and make necessary changes.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Key to Motivating Board Members

Motivating Board Members or potential volunteers is not always an easy thing to do, as pointed out below by Angela Newman (Board Chair, Nashville RBI). We are all going a thousand miles a minute and keeping up with our work and personal obligations can be daunting. Angela mentions that communication is critical, I couldn't agree more. Communicate often to help keep your Board Members on track and engaged. Bunnie

The Key to Motivating Board Members

By Angela Newman
Board Chair, Nashville RBI

“There is so much to do and so few board members to help.” Sound familiar? All too often this does not reflect a lack of bodies. Many non-profit organizations have plenty of people that are willing to lend their name to the cause, but all too often many of them are simply “inactive.” They rarely attend meetings and when asked to help with connections or fundraising efforts, their lack of enthusiasm is demonstrated in both their communication and results. So how do you get board members to become more involved with the needs of the organization? This is a big challenge because board members of a non-profit are busy with their lives, kids, jobs, family events and household chores that take priority over the duties of a non-profit.

I’ve been involved as a board member with Nashville RBI ( for over four years and currently hold the position of Board Chair. Revenue from fundraisers held throughout the year help run the program; so having involved board members use their connections to raise money, secure sponsorships and open doors are key responsibilities of sitting on the board. I must say, it is very much appreciated when a board member not only attends the meeting but is also actively participating.

I believe the key to motivating board members is two-fold; the first is to lead by example, the second is to communicate with and involve the other board members.

Lead By Example

As a leader you are the axel of the wheel. It is your energy that gets the wheel turning and your enthusiasm that keeps it moving. There is no better way to motivate board members than for them to see you lead by example. Enthusiasm is infectious and if they see the time and energy you put into the tasks at hand they are more inclined to get involved when you ask them to assist. If, on the other hand, they were to see the leader only delegate, their response may be less than desirable and reflective of that attitude.

If you need board members to work on a project, list the high-level tasks to be done and note which one(s) you will be overseeing. Then ask the other members to volunteer for something they are interested in. If they don’t immediately volunteer, don’t hesitate to assign a task you would like their help with keeping in mind their specific skills and interests. If they simply cannot assist this time around due to other obligations, just let them know you understand and will approach them for the next fundraiser or project. Don’t be afraid to be a little “pushy” but be careful not to be annoying. Also let them know how important their involvement is to the cause and how much their help is appreciated. As long as you, the leader, are enthusiastic about the organization your “pushiness” will not be seen as nagging, but more as energy overflow.

Communicate and Involve Members

Once your energy and enthusiasm has started the wheel spinning, communication is what builds the momentum. If board members only find out what’s going on with the organization at quarterly board meetings, you risk having them “check out” mentally. Appropriate and timely communication is a means to share your energy and excitement. On the other hand communication that is too frequent or too lengthy can “check out” your members also.

I suggest you communicate monthly to the board on the highlights of the organization, to request their help where needed and share information about the future. Always share the successes of their efforts and show appreciation for the time and talent they contribute. Keep your emails brief and if appropriate in bullet format. Board members are busy people and being able to stay updated at a glance, will help keep them focused and engaged.

Angela Newman, CEO of Pink Ladders ( currently holds a leadership position in the healthcare industry where she has over 20 years experience. She also volunteers for Nashville RBI as Board Chair. She is an avid baseball fan (NY Yankees) and makes her charitable organization a priority in her life. She also holds a Master’s Degree in Business Administration.

Angela can be contacted at

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Creative Conference Planning

by Bunnie Riedel, Host of Nonprofit Conversation

I’m hearing it from everybody. Conference attendance is down. Conference sponsorship is down. Conference revenues are suffering. And if your organization relies on conference revenue as an income generator, these are scary times. Are there some things you can do to adjust how you create and budget for your conference so that at the end of the day you won’t be hit so hard?

Think about the barriers to conference attendance. Many organizations, businesses and most government agencies have scaled back travel budgets. What changes can you make in your conference to accommodate these reductions?

Location, location, location

Where do you normally hold your conferences? First tier cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami or Philadelphia? First tier cities pose a challenge because room rates are typically much higher. Could you hold your conference in a second tier city such as Sacramento or Reno or Richmond or Dayton? Will you find less competition in these cities and more cooperation from the convention and visitors bureaus? Is the city willing to “throw in” incentives for your bringing your conference to them? Perhaps free space at their convention center or special accommodations at city owned attractions such as the museum or the zoo or perhaps free bus transportation to special events?

The only caution I will provide in looking at second tier cities is sometimes (not always) airfare is more expensive and direct flights are harder to find. But other than that, I have always found that the smaller cities are very willing to go the extra mile to make sure they win conference contracts for their hotels.

Do you really need to have a national conference?

National conferences are wonderful because they bring your members together in one place. But, if your attendance has been waning, perhaps it’s time to think about smaller regional conferences. Perhaps it’s time to take the conference to the membership with conferences that could draw attendees within driving distance from surrounding regional areas. It’s like breaking up the conference into manageable bits. Let’s say rather than a four or five day conference, you create several two to three day conferences. You lower the actual conference registration rate, provide trade show vendors with the opportunity to show at one or several “regionalized” conferences (package deals) and increase overall attendance because more people can attend these regional events than the one large national conference.

Lower your overhead

Do you really need to serve all those cookies at the break or could you just serve coffee, water and sodas? Will people be offended? Not usually. Especially if they understand that your trimming back is part of the organizational trimming back. Members actually like when the organization is spending their membership dollars wisely. By the way, never-ever buy the “tea,” you will be paying $65-$85 per gallon of hot water with very few people actually using the tea bags. Or if you live in a country where you absolutely have to have tea as a beverage option, negotiate that you will only pay for tea bags that have actually been used.

Can you negotiate meals with the hotel? I once booked a cruise on the Potomac as our conference party and was able to afford it because I negotiated a lunch menu rather than a dinner menu. It dropped the cost per attendee from $75 per person to $35 per person. And guess what? Nobody noticed that the chicken entrée wasn’t a dinner entrée but instead the luncheon entrée.

Can you contact members with an online brochure? Do you really need to print the brochure? And if you really do need to print it, can you print it two color rather than four? One of my favorite tricks is to use lighter weight paper, it reduces mail cost.

Is it possible to replace staff with volunteers so you can reduce travel costs and staff hours (and potential overtime)?

Is it time to move from a cloth conference bag to a plastic one, can you use clip on badges rather than lanyards, do you really need to provide a notepad to every attendee?

Did you know that people really do like the “dinner on your own” night? That way they can have time with friends and catch up with one another.

Can you combine special events? Perhaps you can combine an awards ceremony with the keynote luncheon.

I’m not saying be cheap, I am saying be frugal. And right now, as we see all across the globe, “frugality” is in style.

Offer special registration incentives

Make sure your early bird registration is discounted enough from regular registration to make it attractive (and do have an early bird registration, it helps so much in conference planning). Offer a special discount to attendees coming from the same organization or business. Perhaps one at full price and the other 25% off; two at full price and two at 50% off, etc. Have a contest: those organizations or businesses sending the most attendees will receive a certain number of free conference registrations next year (and include hotel expenses). Offer a discount on membership with each registration, combine the package: membership = $100 and conference = $100, combine them for $135.

Make sure your trade show vendors also receive special perks

You can hang on to charging $2,000 for a booth or you can charge $1,200 and have more vendors. And while the cost of drayage will be more overall (more booths), at least you will have a trade show that will be worth attending and your vendors will be more likely to come.

Remember that trade show cotton candy is the attendees’ list. Don’t scrimp on that, these vendors have paid to be at your trade show give them the attendees list, with phone numbers included, and I prefer email addresses but some organizations have policy against that. Combine your trade show charges with advertising charges and provide a discount.

Start early

A previous post discussed negotiating with hotels and recommended you always be looking three or so years in advance. The same with conference publicity, let your members know where your conferences are going to be and when, well in advance. Having advance notice allows attendees to budget for the cost of attendance or make special arrangements with their organization or business.

I hope these tips help you in conference planning. Re-thinking how you “do” conference can save you quite a bit of money and increase attendance.

Contact Bunnie info at riedelcommunications dot com

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Launching a New Program: Savvy Geek Chix Case Study

Jerri Barrett, from the Anita Borg Institute, is back to tell us about a new program they have launched. What? A new program in this economy? Yes, because if you are not constantly examining your programming and figuring out new ways to serve your members, your organization will quickly become obsolete. Especially in this economy. Managing cost is a key theme in this article. Enjoy! Bunnie

Launching a New Program: Savvy Geek Chix Case Study

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

In early 2009, Deanna Kosaraju, the VP of Programs for the Anita Borg Institute, called a meeting to discuss a new idea. How do we take all of the great information we’ve gathered from our other programs: the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing and TechLeaders and create a series of affordable programs? We were all keenly aware of the impact the economy was having on our community – both the fact that travel and training budgets were being slashed and that many of our constituency were either experiencing layoffs or were worried about being laid off.

After doing some research on what else was being offered in the marketplace, the decision was made to offer a low cost program that would address directly some of the issues that people were facing. Our first step was to come up with a name. After much debate and many versions the name Savvy Geek Chix was arrived at – savvy because our program attendees are smart, Geek because we work with technologists and Chix because we work with women and the word Chix is often used in the tech world.

Once we had a name we started working on content for our first event. Given what was top of mind for most of our constituency – layoffs and job security we knew that "Weathering the Economic Storm" would strike a cord. We wanted to not just focus on what happens at a layoff but what you could do to better position yourself in your company before a layoff and what you should do after the layoff takes place.

After the name and general topic were established, many different activities around launching the program began to take place simultaneously. Kim McLeod, Program Manager for Savvy Geek Chix, began the process of recruiting panelists and building content for the program. Early on we decided to repeat a very successful activity from our 2008 Grace Hopper Celebration, the Resume Clinic. For the Resume Clinic I recruited a wide range of recruiters from tech companies and recruiting firms to provide 15 minute resume critiques. Sort of a speed dating for resume review. Attendees could sign up for a 15 minute slot with one of the 15 recruiters. This would be the first hour of SGC. At the same time a networking reception was taking place in another room. Kim built a diverse panel made up of people who could speak to the list of topics we’d developed for the program.

Our VP of Business Development, Jody Mahoney, simultaneously had to go out and find a host company for the event. The host would provide the space for the event and the refreshments for our attendees. SAP agreed almost immediately and a date and time were set for the event.

Once we had all everything in place recruitment of attendees became our number one priority. Given the low admission price ($25 for the first event) we realized that we couldn’t do expensive outreach. We focused mostly on promoting the event through our newsletter, our communities and through our personal networks. We encouraged everyone who registered for the event to announce it to their own networks on Facebook and Linked In – helping us carry the word as far as we could. And of course we worked with other non-profits as well.

The actual event itself took place on March 24, 2009. We had 87 paid attendees, 15 recruiters and the ABI Staff in attendance. Measurement is a critical part of every program the Anita Borg Institute offers. We found that 70% of the attendees had not attended one of our events before, showing us that these low cost programs opened a new niche for us. 97% of the attendees said the program met or exceeded their expectations and 98% agreed or strongly agreed that they learned useful skills, concepts and techniques to retain jobs or survive layoff.

These results clearly indicate that there is a strong desire among our constituency for shorter and low cost programs that focus on skill development in key areas. Planning will begin soon for our next Savvy Geek Chix program.

Contact Jerri at

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Challenges Grantmakers Face in This Economy

While nonprofits worldwide are experiencing declining revenues, very few consider that grantmakers are also facing tough times. Many foundations manage endowments that are often invested in the same stocks, bonds and mutual funds the rest of us are invested in. If you've seen your own personal portfolio take a significant decrease, so too have many grantmakers. Kristen Putnam-Walkerly takes us through the challenges faced by foundations and gives us a glimpse of what grantmakers are looking for and what you need to consider when approaching grantmakers for funds. Bunnie

The Challenges Grantmakers Face in This Economy

by Kris Putnam-Walkerly, President, Putnam Community Investment Consulting

No one is immune to the challenges of doing more with less in this economy. From my vantage point as a philanthropy consultant, I hope this blog post helps nonprofits understand how the economy is impacting foundations, and provides suggestions for what grantmakers are looking for from nonprofits.

Six challenges grantmakers face this economy

1. Significant cuts in foundation assets and grantmaking budgets – Foundations lost approximately 28% of their assets in 2008, a reduction in assets generally means fewer dollars available for grantmaking. Some, such as the Gates and MacArthur foundations, are making efforts to increase funding in 2009. However, 67% of foundations surveyed recently plan to decrease funding in 2009. The Foundation Center is tracking how the top 100 foundations are responding to the economy.

2. Reductions in staffing and spending - Most foundations we work with are carefully examining their budgets and cutting where they can. Travel to conferences and professional development spending has taken a big hit. Fewer are funding anything perceived as “new.” Some have laid off staff, such as the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland.

3. Decisions about how to allocate reduced resources in a changing environment –Resources are fewer and the needs are greater, so many foundations are grappling with whether to shift their grantmaking priorities toward meeting basic needs versus continue funding their priority areas, such as healthcare advocacy or workforce development. On one hand, basic health and human services are desperately needed. One the other hand, now is the time to leverage policy advocacy opportunities and stimulus funds to put people back to work.

4. Concerns about 2010 and 2011 – Some foundations calculate their 5% payout based upon a rolling average of the past 24 to 60 quarters (two to five years). As a result, these foundations anticipate their grantmaking budgets might actually take greater hits in 2010 and 2011 (as more “bad” economic quarters are averaged into earlier “good” quarters).

5. Lack of information & analysis – The economy is changing quickly and drastically, and it’s difficult to for funders to track the growing impact on the communities and issues they care about. This is especially true for smaller foundations with few or no staff. For example, it’s challenging for any of us – including foundations – to understand what stimulus dollars are coming into our communities and how we can leverage them.

6. Stress – It’s important to acknowledge that everyone is experiencing stress during this economy. As a recent New York Times article pointed out, even those of us who still have our jobs and homes can be feeling tremendous anxiety. Being in a position of “power,” as many grantmakers are, doesn’t make anyone immune to the fear of job loss, loss of savings, inability to pay for a child’s college education or a parent’s health care, and generalized fear about the future.

What Are Grantmakers Looking For?

Focus on results – Nonprofits must be able to demonstrate effectiveness through evaluation. With limited resources, funders want to know their dollars are making an impact. It’s no coincidence that three foundations have contacted my firm in the past week asking for assistance with evaluation.

Take steps to address the downturn – Nonprofits that are making adjustments in this new economic reality will be viewed more favorably by funders. One of our clients recently received several requests from grantees desperate for emergency funding to keep their doors open. While she wanted to help, she was disappointed that none were making any changes within their organization to address their funding shortfalls. They had no plans to reduce budgets or staff, re-organize, streamline services, or partner with others to increase efficiencies.

Communicate with your funders – Now is the time to step up communication with your donors. They can’t help you unless they understand what you need. Educate them about community priorities and how they can help you leverage stimulus dollars. A nonprofit recently requested a foundation grant to purchase solar panels, which would save them $80,000 a year on their electricity bill. It was an unusual request, and this foundation funded it anyway since it was an investment in this nonprofit’s sustainability.

Copyright © 2009 by Kristen Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Stronger Team in a Weak Economy

I can't say it enough, these are tough times for nonprofits. Recently a nonprofit executive told me how she had to lay off a couple of employees due to lower conference income and membership renewals. Those layoffs are straining her remaining staff. Re-examing every aspect of your organization is vital to survival. Here Brian Brandt discusses what steps you might take to make sure your organization can not just stay afloat but survive. Bunnie

A Stronger Team in a Weak Economy

By Brian Brandt, Summit Solution Group

Pick up any newspaper or watch any newscast and you’re certain to hear about layoffs, business shutdowns and dwindling stock portfolios. Unfortunately, the trickle down impact of these economic woes on most non-profits is an increase demand for services and a reduction in charitable gifts. Many non-profits are being forced to reduce their team resulting in an increase in work load and stress without a raise and perhaps even a pay cut. What are leaders to do?

The good news from all the bad news is that many non-profit leaders are rising to the occasion. Strong leadership that examines the organization with surgical precision, pours into the development of the current team, and optimistically leads the organization to fulfill its mission is demanded.

Examining the Organization

In the first half of this decade, there was a great addition of programs for many non-profits, despite their weak connection to the organizational mission. Now is the time for non-profit leaders, in conjunction with members of the board and staff, to take a step back and consider all of the programs and services that are offered.

Does each program really fit with the mission and vision?

Is there a duplication of services with other non-profits?

Are other needs more pressing considering the economic situation?

Are there more efficient ways to get our message?

Is now the time to make a drastic change to prepare you better for the future?

Do the board and staff have a clear vision for the future?

As I’ve taken groups through this process, inefficiencies are often found that free staff up to be more effective. This pruning process not only helps staff to be more fruitful, but also conveys that their time is valuable. Allowing them to be a part of the process is meaningful and also contributes to their professional development.

Pouring into Your Team

Developing your staff is integral to keeping up morale. Unfortunately, the training or conference budget is often the first thing to go when finances get tough. This is the time for non-profit leaders to get creative with their training and development.

Partner with other companies or non-profits to bring training in-house.

Give every member of your team a book and have weekly or monthly discussions. Have various team members lead the discussion.

Have various staff members conduct brief seminars on various subjects like public speaking, new media, and customer service.

Consider personal and family enrichment through family activities, personal finances training and one-on-one casual conversations.

Just have some fun. Take a break and bring in ice cream to make sundaes or take everyone to a local college baseball game and enjoy some spring time weather.

Lead from the Front

This is a time that demands that leaders truly lead through serving. While it is important that leaders stay focused on high level activities like vision casting, strategic planning and donor development, it is also important that staff see leaders willing to engage in the trenches.

Despite the current economic crisis, this can be a time where your people and your organization thrive instead of just survive. Take advantage of this season to reexamine every aspect of your organization and to reconsider how you are developing each person on your team. Then, you and your team will look back on this era and remember a time where all became stronger in the midst of turmoil…and your organizational story and mission will prosper for it.

Brian Brandt has over two decades of leadership experience and has served in numerous roles including C.E.O., Public Relations Director, National Sales Director, and College Tennis Coach. He is passionate about leadership development and regularly coaches executives on effectiveness, strategic thinking and leadership. Additionally, he speaks, writes and leads trainings on a variety of topics including: leadership, personnel issues, mentoring, behavioral styles (DiSC), team building, effective communications, delegation, parenting, media relations, marketing, community relations and bringing a vision to fruition.

Brian holds a Masters Degree in Global Leadership as well as a Bachelors Degree in Accounting. He lives in Tyler, TX with his wife and three children where he leads Summit Solution Group ( and serves on the board and volunteers with several non-profits. Contact Brian at

Monday, April 13, 2009

How Does a Corporate Philanthropy Program Bring Its Stakeholders Together Instead of Driving Them Apart?

Many nonprofits are scrambling to find revenue and many corporate foundations are being swamped with requests. Corporate foundations have to weigh not only the "worthiness" of the request but also the public relations ramifications of their response to the request. Janet Nava Bandera tells how her corporate client changed the way they consider causes. Interesting (and perhaps more democratic) way to decide which worthwhile cause receives both money and attention. Bunnie

How Does a Corporate Philanthropy Program Bring Its Stakeholders Together Instead of Driving Them Apart?

by Janet Nava Bandera
Founder and President, Foundation Mentors

In the early years of the decade the economy was booming and people were generous in their charitable giving. Companies also started showing that they could be good citizens and give back to the communities that helped them thrive by starting a corporate philanthropy program. The programs took the form of foundations, giving programs and employee volunteer programs.
In addition to making executives feel good, it was good business.
A 1999 Cone/Roper Cause Trends Report found that:

76% of consumers indicate they would switch brands or retailers to one associated with a good cause, when price and quality are equal; and

87% of employees at companies with philanthropic programs feel a stronger sense of loyalty to their employer.

What companies did not realize was that along with such programs came the competing interests of their stakeholders. Suddenly, executives that funded the programs (directly or indirectly) wanted a say in how funds were distributed, employees wanted to know if programs sponsored by executives got preferential treatment and customers started asking how to request funds for their favorite charities.

Couple that with declining revenues and suddenly, for some companies, what started out as a way to do good turned into a PR quagmire.

When faced with this situation recently a corporate foundation client of mine decided to change the nature of its program. Ten years ago company executives founded a foundation and supported it through payroll deduction. As revenue increased so did gifts to the foundation. The foundation grew quickly, but so did the number of requests for funds from community organizations, employees and clients. The result, more grants denied than approved. With each turn down came the inevitable question: Why? It is touchy to explain to a good client that his favorite charity did not live up to the administrative to program expense ratio formula that the foundation required.

The solution: No longer accept grant requests. Sounds like overkill, but the internal result has been profound. Instead of accepting outside requests, the company now has a completely bottom up employee volunteer program (executives still count as employees). The program encourages and rewards employees through supporting gifts and matching funds from the foundation. Within weeks of adopting the change there were 4 “projects” in the works.

How does it work? An employee captain puts together a team of volunteers and the team then solicits support from the foundation. The board still uses the same criteria to evaluate the recipient charity, but in addition, the request is evaluated based upon how many employees have signed up to participate and how the project fits with the corporate culture.

For this financial services firm: The first project--- “JA in a Day”. For the upcoming event, twenty-five employees have signed up to teach for a day at a local elementary school. Other projects with pending requests include a team of 30 signed up for a walk supporting a local cancer support group and a group of 20 outfitted in jeans and hammers for the day.

Although still funded by executives, the foundation serves to bring together the stakeholders. Employees from every department and at every level work together to support a common cause. This team effort gives new meaning to the term “employee happy hour”.
Contact Janet at or 314-691-4386.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Cultures That Nurture Commitment, Enthusiasm and Creativity

I once worked in a nonprofit in which the behavior of the day was back-stabbing, one-upmanship, intrigue and gossip. This behavior was encouraged by the Executive Director who seemed to take great pleasure in pitting people against one another. It really was a toxic environment. When I became an Executive Director of a national organization, I was determined that the culture I created would be collegial, supportive and cooperative. One of the things I discovered was that you can get a lot of work out of people who are happy in their job. And a happy crew made me happy. Dianne Crampton writes about core values that should be practised in every organization, not for profit or for profit. A good read for you, your employees and your Board Members. Bunnie

Cultures That Nurture Commitment, Enthusiasm and Creativity

By Dianne Crampton, President TIGERS Success Series

What is necessary to build an ethical, quality-focused, productive, motivated, and enthusiastic group of people? This is a question I asked before entering a Masters program in Organizational Leadership in 1987.

What I discovered was interesting. Emerging from business, education and psychology group dynamic studies were six repeatable principles – trust, interdependence, genuineness, empathy, risk and success -- TIGERS. What I also discovered is that these themes are anchored by behaviors that are easily recognized by how people treat one another and the organizations they serve.

Later, two independent validation studies concluded that these values are reliable, measurable and predictive. This means that if the values are present in an organization’s culture there will be predictable outcomes. If they are not there will also be predictable outcomes. The first, however, produces a culture that stimulates commitment, enthusiasm, creativity, and high levels of collaboration and teamwork among leaders and their teams.

Take for example, trust. Trust is a core human need. It is the belief and confidence in the integrity, reliability and fairness of a person or group.

As a core need, it is necessary for a person to grow into their full potential. In other words, people need to be able to trust one another and the groups they serve in order to be creative, motivated, committed, willing to collaborate, and able to resolve conflict so that they can forgive when problems arise.

Trust and the other five values are also interdependent with the three management functions that support the service the group performs – workforce, strategies and systems.
This means that if one of these functions is out of alignment, the others will be, too. The result is reduced productivity and damaged morale.

For example, if systems (how you do things) are out of alignment with strategies (what you do) and workforce (proper staffing levels) what will be evident is overworked staff and insufficient systems. If the behaviors that support trust, interdependence, genuineness, empathy, risk and success are apparent then collaboration, information sharing, and problem solving among all employees will help bring the business functions into alignment.

If distrust, competition and lack of input from employees exist, strategic goals are jeopardized. Morale will be low. And unbalanced work loads with unsustainable systems will produce stress for employees, which reduce creativity, enthusiasm and commitment.

An example is relying on grants alone for funding service goals without regard for strategies and systems that support ethical and sustainable workforce issues (health care, retirement and fair compensation). This means that the values trust, empathy, interdependence, and risk would be low.

Therefore, the values trust, interdependence, genuineness, empathy, risk and success addresses core principles people need to work collaboratively and to their highest potential, which translates into productivity for the organizations they serve.

One or all of these values may be named in the organization’s operational value system or not. Either way, the behaviors that support them are measurable and support a culture that nurtures ethical, quality-focused, productive, enthusiastic, and creative employees or not.

A free white paper is available at that explains the six values and behaviors that support and undermine them.

Dianne Crampton has been working with motivated leaders and their teams helping them to consistently achieve goals with high levels of collaboration and teamwork for over 20 years. She is a published author, speaker, team consultant, leadership coach and president of TIGERS Success Series. She was nominated for Inc. Magazines regional entrepreneurial award for developing a game that teaches the six values and behaviors to leaders and teams. To get more information, go to

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

How Do Nonprofits Change in Lean Times?

Is it possible to imagine an industry harder hit in this environment than the real estate industry? Hardly. So imagine now that you have a double challenge, you are a nonprofit trade association president that serves the real estate industry. I asked the question and Joe Cusumano gave this response. Things I really like: shorter Board meetings that focus on action rather than philosophy; dividing tasks into smaller working groups with an assigned staff person; using technology to reduce travel and paperwork. Bunnie

How Do Nonprofits Change in Lean Times?

by Joe Cusumano, President
Inland Valleys Association of REALTORS® Triple Play

We are three (3) REALTOR® associations in southern California who combine our resources and strategies to provide nearly 20,000 REALTOR® members professional support. We’re called, Triple Play.

The Pacific West Association of REALTORS® (PWR), Inland Valleys Association of REALTORS® (IVAR), and Tri- Counties Association of REALTORS® (TRICO), represent southern Los Angeles, northern Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. In a nutshell, the Triple Play REALTOR® Associations, make up the largest organized representation of REALTORS® in the state of California. And real estate trade associations, as with many others, must run to keep pace with and anticipate member needs in a market-driven profession.

Keeping our board members motivated is especially challenging when we know they are facing tough times in their own firms. It is difficult to ask that they take additional time from their businesses for Association business. So here’s the difficulty for trade associations:

-our volunteer leadership is facing the most difficult time in history in real estate

-they have less time and fewer resources to donate to the efforts of the Associations

-we are more dependent upon staff to provide service to our members

-we have had to dramatically reduce staff

-our members need the support of the Associations more than ever and that support comes from staff

On the surface, this dilemma seems like a cycle of impossibility and a no-win situation for board members, Association executives, staff and members. It’s not.

We have learned to involve our leadership in strategic goal-setting that is tightly focused on member business support. We also have learned that as we create tasks or action items, it is best to divide the tasks into smaller working groups that include a staff person. In this way, we are not creating huge tasks requiring large amounts of board or staff time.

Our Associations have learned to do more with less. We are using technology in place of paper, combined meetings in a location to reduce drive times and we are beginning to also build our capabilities in using technology to replace some in-person meetings to eliminate the use of gasoline and the need to navigate heavy traffic.

I am proud to say that we have also shortened meetings, keeping them tightly focused with attention to action items, and less philosophical discussion. They have become the meetings to attend rather than avoid.

We have become lean and creative during these tough times. As with other organizations, we have had to reduce staff by more than 50% in order to reduce our expenses. It has been tough, but we feel that we have been able to maintain the level of service our members expect.

We must maintain the ability to attract and retain members because REALTORS® in southern California do have a choice of where they hold their trade association memberships.

At the forefront of our strategic planning these days is the creation of increased value for the member dues dollar. We do this by maintaining strong call centers with live operators to help members with technical issues or any other membership-related questions. We also continue to create a large list of vendor/retail relationships in order to bring deep discounts to members’ business needs. We are revamping our education offerings so that their continuing education reflects the current trends in the profession. We communicate each success as we accumulate them. These success stories help us to keep our members aware of our service delivery and keep our board leadership inspired.

For better or for worse, the world of real estate remained constant for about one hundred years and then one day, seemingly without notice, we had to change the way we support members. And our members have had to change their entire business models to meet the needs of the highly internet-educated consumer.

The current market-shift colors everything we do and offer. Our struggle to stay current means we have to keep our eyes on the pulse of the economy, the consuming public and the REALTOR® member who needs our resources in education, political representation and strategic relationships in order to have the maximum opportunity for success. And it all requires an engaged board and professional staff.

contact Joe at

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Writing an Effective Membership Renewal Letter

Writing an Effective Membership Renewal Letter

by Bunnie Riedel, Host of Nonprofit Conversation

Some time ago, in the blog “Membership Renewal and Retention” ( I promised I would offer a sample membership renewal letter. And my Google Analytics is telling me that people are frequently searching for sample membership renewal letters, so I guess I better make good on my promise. Rather than providing a sample, I decided to provide step-by-step instructions because every nonprofit is different and it would be impossible to write a pristine one-size-fits-all letter.

Additionally, we have spent a great deal of time here discussing social media and technology, so now I’d like to advocate for good-old-fashioned-letter-in-the-mail membership renewal letters. There are a couple of reasons. Strictly sending a membership renewal via email will lower returns. People are inundated with email and the likelihood the recipient will delete the email without reading it is high. Your email may be seen as just another communiqué from the organization and easily dismissed. And while people are also inundated with postal mail, your chances are much better the recipient will add your renewal letter to their “bill” pile and write the renewal check while taking care of their usual obligations. You can do both, email the renewal letter and mail the renewal letter, that way all your bases are covered.

The Greeting

It is important to personalize the greeting. The address block should look like any business letter you do and the greeting should be “Dear Person’s First Name.” Example “Dear John.” If you are in a culture in which using a person’s first name is prohibited, then at least use a proper “Dear Mr. Smith.” But don’t use “Dear Member” or “Dear Supporter.” You should establish that your organization has a personal relationship with the member and that they are important to your organization and not just some anonymous check writer. Mail merging is a simple process, if your membership person doesn’t know how to do it, they need to learn.

The First Paragraph

The first paragraph must be an acknowledgement and a thank you to the member for their loyalty to your organization. Do not jump into “It’s membership renewal time!” Write a few lines thanking them for their past membership because after all, you are grateful for their membership, without it you wouldn’t have an organization.

Second and Third Paragraphs

Briefly tell them what the organization has accomplished in the past year. When I say “briefly” I mean “briefly.” Your organization may be the greatest on the planet but people do not have time to read a dissertation on its accomplishments. Personally, I am a fan of bullet points. And I am a fan of the rule of three’s (it’s actually an obsession I have). Tell me three great things you did with their membership dollars.

“Your membership enabled us to accomplish so much this year.
  • We were able to beat back legislation on Capitol Hill that would have prohibited farming collectives in the Tennessee Valley. Our defeat of this legislation means that family farms will continue to thrive just as they have for over 150 years.

  • We held our first-ever conference on “Why Water Matters” in Las Vegas, Nevada. Over 300 people attended the four day conference and we were able to award 50 conference scholarships to graduate students from universities throughout the country.

  • We developed a media relations campaign with public service announcements for television and radio on why water conservation is so important. The “Waste Today, Thirst Tomorrow” campaign aired on over 400 television stations and 1,200 radio stations throughout the nation. The video public service announcements garnered a Telly Award as “Most Effective TV Campaign by a Nonprofit.”

    We’re proud of what we’ve been able to do and we could not have done it without you!"

Next Paragraph

Now tell them what you have planned for this year. Note, I said, “this year.” Not the next two or three or five years. You need their membership commitment to accomplish even greater things in the coming year. List a few of those great things you are going to do. Again, bullet points are my preference; short, sweet, bullet points. Also show some excitement about what you have planned…you just can’t wait to get to the projects! If some of what you have planned is continuing the programs you are already doing, that’s fine, but do emphasize why those programs are so necessary and important.

Finally “The Pitch”

The pitch or closing the deal,, whatever you prefer to call it. This is not the time to be shy, ask them to renew their membership and make it urgent “Please renew your membership today!” This is the paragraph (or two) where you might even include a premium for renewing quickly, such as: “If you renew your membership in the next two weeks, we will send you our lovely low-flow shower head so you can begin to conserve water right away!” This is also the place where you can ask them to renew at a higher level or add an extra amount to their membership.

The Close

Thank them again, let them know that if they need anything they can contact you and you will be happy to assist. The closing must be from the highest officer (Executive Director) or Chair of the Board, not the membership director. Make it warm and friendly, I think “Sincerely” is just fine but you can go beyond that with a “Your partner in water conservation, Jane Doe” if you choose, just make sure it’s not cheesy.


Here are some technical points:

  • Try not to go over 2 pages. I once was in a seminar in which a direct mail consultant said the appeal letter had to be 4 pages. I completely disagree. People do not have time to read 4 pages, the mail package will cost you a lot more and nowadays, people see lots of paper as being wasteful. I recommend 2 one-sided pages so it has some weight, but if your organization is highly concerned about conservation, you can do a double sided letter (not my first choice).

  • Do use recycled paper and envelopes, people notice things like that.

  • Include a return envelope. You don’t have to provide postage and in fact, I recommend you do not provide postage as some will view that as waste. If they really like you, they will spring for the stamp.

  • Be sure the outside envelope has “Address Correction Requested.” While you have to pay the return postage, in the long run it helps keep your list clean.

  • Don’t forget to include the membership application.

  • Be sure the signature of the Executive Director or Chair is in blue, not black. Even while most people understand that the membership letters are computer generated, having the signature in blue makes it look more personal.

  • Be sure to send a thank you note, it can be brief, but acknowledge their membership. Many organizations like to provide membership cards, you can do that, but it’s very expensive, so unless having a membership card entitles them to some discounts or special events, you don’t need to do that. A nice thank you will suffice.

In the previous post I talked about when you should mail, how often you should mail, etc. You cannot mail one time and expect good results, you just can’t. Read the Membership Recruitment and Retention post mentioned at the top of this one for a membership renewal mailing strategy.

And, please do write me if you have any questions or need assistance info at riedelcommunications dot com

Thanks for reading! Bunnie

Friday, April 3, 2009

How Valuable is Your Finance Staff?

So you got the grant! Congratulations! However, now is not the time to sit back on your laurels. Grant management is as important as getting the grant in the first place, because if you do it well, you may be able to get another grant from the foundation or government agency. Along with making sure the program you promised is on track, you need to make sure your financial management of the grant is on track. Which may mean making sure your financial staff is up to speed on what is required from the grantor or hiring a financial consultant. Dwayne Briscoe of Bookkeeping Results, LLC, provides some interesting advice on financial grant management, some nuggets to think about. Bunnie

How Valuable Is Your Finance Staff?

by Dwayne Briscoe, Bookkeeping Results, LLC

I have assisted in the handling of nonprofit organization finances for years, and recently I’ve worked with organizations as their sole financial “department”. With the experience I’ve accumulated I want to share my thoughts in hope that people may be able to gain some useful insight from an outside perspective.

The new audit requirements for government funded grants; more stringent restrictions by foundations; the new 990 tax filing return; and the detailed scrutiny of donors to determine where their dollars go; are items of interest that need to be discussed and planned for. Grant fund applications are becoming more and more stringent on the financial side, seeking tighter control over accountability and seeking working fiscal year and mid-year budgets. Times are changing and to not be prepared spells disaster for any organization, whether for profit or nonprofit.

There are three key areas to consider for any nonprofit in order to re-evaluate how it is going to move forward and how it is going to sustain its current level of service. The ultimate buy-in must be from upper management, including the board of directors, because it takes a village to sustain a nonprofit, not just one person.

1. Who is managing your finances? I often work with business and nonprofit clients who end up in a situation for which their books are in dire need of clean-up. One reason for this is the hiring of staff or an outside contractor uneducated in how they should perform their duties correctly in order to complete the tasks at hand. Outside of criminal background checks, are personal/professional reference checks made? Testing performed for specific software used for the organization? Or even an expert in the financial field consulted as an outside interviewer?

Not everyone can do accounting work, although some think it’s just simply knowing how to use a calculator. There are too many rules and regulations that can lead to financial ruin.According to ( the average low end bookkeeper makes $32,404 per year or $15.58 per hour. The median range is $37,016 per year or $17.80 per hour, and the high range is $41,047 per year or $19.73 per hour. These hourly rates obviously exclude payroll taxes and benefits, but take a look at what you’re paying your staff currently compared to these rates. Another question to consider is that often program staff are given the opportunity for continuing education, but are the financial department staff?

2. Who reviews the grant financial reporting for reimbursements outside of the financial department? If it’s only the financial department doing this, it’s one of the biggest mistakes that can be quite costly in the end. All grants have a variety of rules and regulations that must be followed, including how they are presented for reimbursement. This is where an outside source is a valuable asset to review everything to determine if there are any potential conflicts before the grantor sees it.

3. How often do you review the Agency’s budget and grant budget schedule?
A minimum of once a month is necessary in order to make sure that you are not only on target but can also plan for potential budget changes before the end of the grant term. A budget change less than 3 months out before a grant ends, isn’t always the easiest thing to get approved. Always be aware of where everything is in any given moment, to allow you to be prepared for the worst.Invest in your future by partnering with your financial staff. They are the ones who need your support the most.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Could I Use an Executive Coach?

Years ago, while going through a rough patch in my career, an executive coach proved to be invaluable. He gave me important feedback, helped me monitor my truth meter and provided me with a renewed sense of worth. He also helped me find the courage to begin exploring other options and reminded me to keep looking forward. Jay Bloom says that the higher up one goes the fewer confidants one will have. No doubt. Think about it, could you use an executive coach right now? Bunnie

Could I Use an Executive Coach?

by Jay Bloom, President of Bloom Anew

An executive coach is a valuable resource for organizational leaders because the higher one ascends on the formal leadership ladder, the more limited one is in whom s/he can confide. A leader cannot confide on certain issues with direct reports, employees, colleagues, competitors, or individual Board members, for example. And leaders understand that confining oneself to internal dialogues can limit effectiveness.

In the more than 25 years I’ve been involved in executive coaching, I’ve seen two primary areas that make coaching truly valuable to leaders: transitions and skill development.

Leaders facing some type of transition choice are usually asking one or more of the following questions:

Should I take a promotion and/or relocate?
Do I leave this company and change employers?
Do I get out of this field and re-career?
Am I the right leader for this organization at this time, and going forward? Do I retire? What do I want to do after I retire?

The leader’s spouse or partner may be a resource, but because they clearly have a vested option in the outcome of these questions, the spouse or partner may not be able to provide the neutral space that the leader needs to consider and reflect on his or her primary needs and desires.

At this time of critical transition, an executive coach can help frame the choices, explore the leader’s personal and professional goals, and understand the possible outcomes. The executive coach provides a leader-to-leader/peer-to-peer perspective that also provides encouragement and motivation for change.

The second purpose of executive coaching is in the development of a particular leadership skill or set of skills. As a leader rises higher in an organization, his or her technical skills become less important, and a greater requirement is the development of emotional intelligence skills. No longer responsible for executing tasks or strategies, leaders must manage people, inspire performance, and develop partnerships. These kinds of leadership responsibilities require greater self awareness, managing one’s emotions and the development of one’s empathic skills. All of these skills are required to work more effectively with people and the growing diversity in the work environment—diversity that not only includes race, gender, ethnicity, class and sexual orientation, but also generational differences.

Executive coaches can provide immediate support to organizational leaders in:

crisis management situations
facilitating communication between the board and management
improving management and supervisory skills
creating a healthy organizational culture
consideration of merger or other partnership models
succession planning

As the economy takes its toll on organizations of all sizes, leaders are experiencing increasingly relentless pressures and what feel like permanent whitewater conditions. The confidential relationship with an executive coach is not only a very important investment for the individual leader, but for the organization as well.

Jay C. Bloom provides executive coaching and organizational consultation as President/CEO of Bloom Anew. Jay has undergraduate and graduate degrees in psychology, and has attended executive management programs at Yale and Harvard Universities. Most recently, Jay served as the interim President/CEO of United Way of Columbia–Willamette, as the director of Multnomah County’s Task Force on Vital Aging, and as President/CEO of Morrison Child and Family Services, a $20 million nonprofit, for 13 years.