Tuesday, June 30, 2009

An Unconventional Nonprofit Stays Afloat

"Meat and potatoes" kinds of nonprofits don't have a lot of trouble finding foundational or conventional support. But what do you do with a nonprofit that isn't so conventional? You diversify, diversify, diversify. Amy Sananman tells us how the nonprofit she runs, the Groundswell Community Mural Project, manages to not just stay-afloat, but survive. Even though what they do is unconventional, it is important to the health and well-being of the community. Bunnie

An Unconventional Non-Profit Stays Afloat
by Amy Sananman, MPP, Executive Director
Groundswell Community Mural Project

I started Groundswell Community Mural Project at 26 with no major connections or seed foundation money.

I wanted to bring professional artists, grassroots organizations, and youth together to create public art in under-represented neighborhoods. But while I saw the cross pollinating of these communities as a strength, from a fundraising perspective, it posed a major challenge that to some extent still exists today.

Groundswell Community Mural Project’s mission doesn’t sit squarely in established foundation program areas. This was particularly true over a decade ago. Arts funders didn’t see our work as “art” because of the community involvement. And the idea that art could play a part in youth or community development was not popular among funders who supported youth development and community organizing.

We had to be strategic about how we grew and managed our budget. With no seed money and a mission that fell outside of traditional foundation guidelines, we devised a number of creative fundraising strategies--strategies that have now left us in good standing and positioned us to hopefully withstand the current economic crisis.

We currently have a $650,000 budget. While we are not planning any major expansion in the next few years, we are not furloughing or laying off any staff (in fact, our staff is expanding). Here are some factors that we can attribute to our position today:

Diverse Funding Stream: Groundswell didn’t start with seed money or any major foundation connections; we patched together a lot of smaller grants. As the grants from these funders grew, we developed a very diverse funding stream (33 government and foundation sources comprise 50% of our income). Individual donations (via campaigns, mailings and events) brings in 15% of our budget for unrestricted purposes.

Integrated Earned Income: Groundswell partners with community groups to create murals with a social mission. Having youth create work that actually serves a real-life need for the community partner is inherent to our mission. We have integrated our program and business models. All community partners pay for a component of the budget. Certain projects we can only do if the funding is there. Having an earned income stream gives us another tool to confront the economic crisis. If and when we are in need of additional funds, we can always do more projects. Earned income comprises 30% of our budget.

Program Profitability:
Groundswell’s budgets are fairly detailed and broken down by program. We project and track income and expenses by program . This helps us understand of the finances of each major program and determine which programs are operating at a profit or loss. That information provides us with a clear framework for strategically prioritizing programs and enlisting board and other key employees to improve finances. This is an emerging tool now called the Program Profitability Model (for more info: /www.nonprofitfinancefund.org/details.php?autoID=189#profitability)

Investing in Program: aka Staying Frugal with Operating Expenses. Groundswell began just by doing projects with very little to overhead. We didn’t have an office, a full-time staff, or insurance for many years. We are accustomed to doing a lot with a little and this has become part of the culture of the organization. Groundswell also utilizes the Americorps program to to expand our staff (we currently have one full-time and two part-time employees paid by AmeriCorp). The economic downturn has been terrible for young people entering the job market, but for non-profits hiring through Americorps, it can be a gold mine.

Living within Our Means and the Reserve Fund: Each year Groundswell projects its income and expenses so that each year’s budget balances without carrying any of the prior year fund balance over. We set aside our cumulative fund balance in a reserve fund.

While these strategies have put us in a good position, we never stop thinking about what could happen. Plan A, Bs and C contingencies are part of our on going conversation among senior staff and board. Like fundraising and development, organizational stability is a daily practice.

You can contact Amy at www.groundswellmural.org

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Economy's Impact on Decision Making

It's easy to throw up your hands and just blame everything on the economy. But, can you? Debra BenAvram tells us that it's a little more complicated than that. Why donations are down or conference attendance is off may require a bit more research, investigation and introspection. Bunnie

The Economy’s Impact on Decision Making

by Debra BenAvram, CEO, American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition

One of the more subtle effects of the economic downturn is its impact on analyzing and using data to make strategic decisions. You can’t necessarily compare facts and figures from today with years past – 2009 is an anomaly. Without having meaningful statistics to rely upon, determining the direction of an organization can be extremely challenging. This is true of any organization, but the lack of comparable statistics has significant repercussions for non-profits.

Many non-profit organizations may find themselves blaming the economy for dwindling membership or light attendance at events. And in some cases, that may very well be true. It’s worth digging a little deeper, though, to see if there is another root cause.

More Art than Science

If you can’t rely solely on data and you can’t just write off issues to the downturn, what do you do? The truth is, due diligence around decision making is far more art than science. Organizations must carefully examine data not only from 2009, but going back several years to identify possible trends and norms. This information will then need to be filtered through the lens of:

· The Board and its vision for the organization;
· Environmental issues and factors that may affect any given program; and
· What members seek to get out of their relationship with your organization.

Here’s a real-world example: at the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (A.S.P.E.N.) - an interdisciplinary organization whose members are involved in all aspects of clinical nutrition therapies - we experienced a drop off in attendance at our annual conference, Clinical Nutrition Week. It would be very easy to blame the situation on the economy. There are probably very few, if any, organizations that have not faced the same issue this year. But it’s important to validate or disabuse that rationale.

Through data analysis, we determined that driving attendance at CNW has been an historic issue and is not just specific to 2009. By digging a little deeper, we learned that we lose a large percentage of attendees each year. Could it be the content? Or because a competing organization’s conference was held at the same time? Or that we didn’t offer enough networking opportunities? These are questions that a combination of quantitative and qualitative data can help to answer.

Simple Steps to Making Good Decisions

In 2009, how do you know if a program is less successful because of the economy? How do you know it’s not the topic or even the day of the week? Here are a few ideas to help you make decisions in the current economic environment:

Use what’s available to you. Make an effort to reach out to industry peers. Each conversation adds up to your own qualitative data gathering mission. It seems so simple, but the feedback you gather from these conversations can be invaluable.

Refer to existing studies. There is a lot of available research that can help paint a picture of what is happening in the non-profit space and how to effectively use data. For instance, the American Society for Association Executives (ASAE) provides a number of resources on its web site including The Winter 2009 Impact Study - Beliefs, Behaviors, and Attitudes in Response to the Economy (http://www.asaecenter.org/AboutUs/newsreldetail.cfm?ItemNumber=39061).

Engage members. If a program isn’t working this year (or any, for that matter) start by going back to the group or committee within your organization that planned it. Casting a wider net to help solve problems and make decisions will provide you not only with more arms and legs, but fresh ideas and insights.

Understand your members. This is a year where people are evaluating every dollar they spend. Members can be fickle, especially if forced to whittle down the number of industry affiliations they have. Gaining insights into what your members really want is key to keeping them on board.

Ask questions. Maintain an ongoing dialog with members. Quantitative data is one thing, but going straight to the source is absolutely imperative. This can be accomplished by hosting open conference calls or Web-based discussions or by conducting focus groups and Town Hall meetings. And, of course, there is always that old stand-by, the membership survey. Whatever option – or mix of channels – you choose; the most important thing is to be sure to ask questions.
Everyone has been hit by the economy – I don’t want to undervalue its impact. But don’t assume that it is the cause of all organizational woes. By drilling down and using both a qualitative and quantitative approach, you may just find your organization has come out ahead by 2010.

Debra BenAvram, CAE serves as the chief executive officer of the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition. She is a certified association executive with areas of expertise including strategy, organizational culture, and volunteer management. She enjoys the balance of working with internal staff, the Board and others to shape the organization. Working with these partners, she works to facilitate the articulation of and movement toward the organization’s vision of its future.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Conducting Due Diligence in Your Executive Director Job Search

by Bunnie Riedel, Host

There is no doubt that the competition for jobs is fierce. For some, just having a job is enough. But if you are someone who is Executive Director material, or who wants to be an Executive Director, it may be tempting to take a position with a Nonprofit organization without conducting necessary “due diligence.”

What is “due diligence?”

Due diligence is finding out as much about the organization as you can, especially the financial health and legal status of the organization. If you are under consideration for an Executive Director position remember, if you get the job, you will be the chief officer of the organization and you will be responsible for the organization through good times and bad.

If you have been called for an interview and before you say “yes” to the position, there are certain things you should do. My first recommendation is that you research the Nonprofit on sites like Guidestar or Charity Navigator. Guidestar provides IRS form 990 (the Nonprofit tax return). With the 990 you can see income and expenses, how much Board Members are paid (if anything), how much the Executive Director is paid, how much is spent on program and often what kinds of programs the Nonprofit is conducting. Charity Navigator provides a breakdown of program v. administrative expenses, how much is spent on fundraising and a rating of the Nonprofit (according to Charity Navigator). My caution here is that both sites’ records are typically two to three years behind and in the Nonprofit management world two to three years can be an eternity.

Next, I would Google the organizational name. What press can you find about the organization? Is it good? Is it bad? Is there very little? If you know the sitting or previous Executive Director’s name or Board member names; Google them. You can learn a lot about an organization by searching the internet.

Before the interview, ask the Board for the following:

  • A copy of the bylaws
  • Minutes of Board meetings (if they aren’t posted on the organization’s website)
  • Three years of audited financial statements
  • Any literature or brochures or newsletters or journals the organization prints
  • An organizational chart (if they have one)

The bylaws can tell you a lot. How many Board members are there? What are their terms of service? How are Board members selected? How are Board members removed? Are the expectations of Board members spelled out in the bylaws?

Just as bylaws can provide a lot of information, so too can minutes of meetings. While minutes really are only supposed to contain action items and how they were handled, many organizational minutes will contain whole conversations. You can frequently gauge how Board members behave and interact with one another or the previous Executive Director from the minutes.

I have had organizations resistant to handing over three years of audited financials, which in my opinion is crazy because financial statements are a matter of public record for Nonprofits. If they don’t have audited statements, that will tell you something. Look at the statements with an objective eye, if you have a friend who is a CPA, ask your friend to look them over. Certainly pay attention to red flags, such as negatives noted in the management letter, but also consider that Nonprofits, like any other industry have good years and bad years. If the financials aren’t that great, the question you need to ask yourself is “Can I work with this?” Maybe you are the wunderkind who can turn the organization around. In my opinion, bad financials are not a deal breaker, the deal breaker is the conversation you have with the Board about their approach to turning things around. If it is sensible and doable, fine; if it sounds wacky…it probably is.

The literature will help you learn more about the organization’s programs and an organizational chart will help clarify the roles of the various players in the organization and may even reveal information that is not readily apparent (for instance, you may discover a field office nobody has mentioned before).

One of the critical questions you will want to ask during the interview is if there is any pending legal action against the organization. Organizations frequently face the prospect of lawsuits, so legal action (in my humble opinion) is also not a deal breaker but you must be aware of any actions so you can make an informed decision about accepting the position. Is the action going to be a huge distraction to you as you begin your new position? And if so, are you willing to deal with it?

In asking for this information you will learn a great deal about the organization. Is it transparent or is the Board trying to hide something? Being fully informed about the organization is important to your career decision; you want to make sure you give yourself the best possible chance for success, even if that means you might have to politely remove yourself from consideration.

By the way, I would love to have comments on your experience in searching for an Executive Director position, please make sure that all comments provide anonymity to the organization you may be commenting about. And if there's anything I left out of this list, let me know that too!

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Little Planning, Vision and Passion Goes a Long Way

So you're able to get the gifts in the door, now what? Managing your donor program requires savvy systems these days. Kirk Sadler tells us about a campaign by the Communities Foundation of Texas to raise $4 million for Dallas charities. But let's say your organization is a lot smaller than that. Blackbaud actually offer free software to organizations with less than 500 records! It's worth looking into. Bunnie

A Little Planning, Vision and Passion Goes a Long Way

by Kirk Sadler, Product Line Manager, Blackbaud, Inc.

Well I just got back from Dallas, Texas and what a ride it was. Yes, it did take two plane flights on US Airways through Charlotte, NC to return to Charleston, SC. However, I am not talking about that type of ride. I am talking about a well-executed campaign by the team at the Communities Foundation of Texas (CFT). CFT is a one of the largest community foundations in the nation. The Foundation recently embarked on a campaign to launch DonorBridge, a portal that provides both its donors (Donor Advised Fund holders) and the greater community of Dallas a resource with which they could make informed decisions on whom to volunteer with, support, donate to or simply learn more about. CFT has always been a leading community foundation, but in my eyes, this groundbreaking initiative has propelled them into the “visionary” category. They are taking a leading role in fostering philanthropy in their community, at a time when it needs it most.

DonorBridge was launched on May 20, 2009 with the first ever Dallas Giving Day. To encourage donations, Communities Foundation of Texas, with support from The Dallas Foundation, designated a total of $300,000 in matching funds for contributions made through DonorBridge to participating nonprofit organizations on that day.

All in all, Dallas Giving Day raised over $4 million dollars for Dallas based charities. Yes, I did say $4 million dollars for 353 Dallas based charities. Wow!

So one might ask, how did they accomplish this feat? First, they formed a very talented and dedicated team. Then, they worked 24 hours a day, getting technology in place, and networking with everyone they knew in the Dallas community. Finally, they sprinkled on a little pixie dust, said some magic words (hocus pocus always works for my three kids) and success occurred.

Seriously, CFT executed a well thought-out campaign starting with making sure they had the end in mind first. For instance, they knew that the Dallas Giving Day concept would only work if they could truly mobilize the community in ways they could not do themselves. So they built a plan that included the selection of technology (in this case Blackbaud Nonprofit Central and Fusion Labs), partners to cultivate (ex: Center for Nonprofit Management, The Dallas Foundation, The Richards Group and the Urban Policy Research) and a marketing outreach plan. By doing so, it gave CFT a roadmap for success that the team could iterate on for the preceding months leading up to launch day.

Selecting technology was key, as they wanted to make sure the vendor would be able to help them both embark upon this new journey and that the portal would be robust, easy to use and elegant in the eyes of the donors and the community. However, just as important was making sure they knew how to use that technology. So, CFT assigned a resource (part time) on their team to make sure that person knew how to use the system to its fullest potential; getting data in, getting nonprofits access to the system, making nonprofit profiles available on the portal and leveraging social networking technologies like Twitter to allow it spread virally. It was amazing to read the hundreds of tweets that day, and all of the news coverage—all adding to the excitement of the launch.

The partners were also crucial as CFT staffers knew they would not be able to get the message out as far and wide as they hoped without the help of their peers in the Dallas Community. These partners acted as additional mouthpieces to spread the word about Dallas Giving Day, but also participated in many nonprofit focus groups. For example, CFT brought in 50 to 100 nonprofits from Dallas and shared with them the vision of the matched gifts (up to $300,000) program on Dallas Giving Day and allowed them to reach out to their donors. Follow-up with these organizations, and in any campaign, is key to keeping momentum. It was amazing how far and wide this spread. Over 8,000 donations occurred that day! Yes, 8,000!

That said, I wish everyone GREAT success and fun planning and executing their next campaign!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Money May Be Down--But the Rules Don't Change

It's not always easy for Nonprofits to keep up with IRS rules, but it's important to do so. I find that organizations like American Society of Association Executives or your statewide Nonprofit Association (here it's Maryland Association of Nonprofits) are quite helpful in helping nonprofits navigate IRS code. So often mistakes are not made willfully but are the result of not really understanding what the proper procedures are. Trudy Jacobson provides guidance on how you should acknowledge your donors. Bunnie

Money May Be Down – But the Rules Don’t Change

By Trudy R. Jacobson
Managing Director Development & Marketing
Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations

You might be fighting harder for every dollar you achieve, or perhaps more grateful for every dollar you receive from a supportive donor that maintains their contribution level, but the rules of substantiation haven’t changed. In fact, it is more essential than ever that along with the appropriate thank you, you legally acknowledge all gifts accurately so the contribution the donors wish to take are accepted without challenge by the IRS. While I maintain that the reason that a donor gives is rarely first and foremost for reasons of tax- deductibility, they still want it to be easy to claim their deductions they believe they have coming when it comes time.

In August, 2006, a federal law went into effect that donors are NOT able to claim a deduction for charitable contributions unless the donor has a cancelled check or other bank record, or a receipt from the charity, to substantiate the deduction. However, this new law left in place a 1994 enactment that each separate contribution of $250 or more require written acknowledgements from the charity of the contribution. Of course, they don’t specify any particular form for the receipt – but it seems obvious that the acknowledgement should include the name and address of the donor, and the amount of the donation. We would suggest that the extra step of confirming the form of payment (cash, check, credit card) must also be noted as well as the date the gift was received. Plus, If it is easy for you to note the specific check number or credit card transaction on the acknowledgement/receipt – that is all the better. And, of course please confirm that you are in fact a 501 (c) 3 organization.

But the clues of what the IRS really wants are noted in many places in the language of the requirements.

First and foremost, if no goods or services were received – it really needs to note that on the acknowledgement. And, if no goods or services were received, you should go on to write that the entire amount of the donation is tax-deductible. But, the letter doesn’t (especially during this economic time of reserve and constraint) have to be mailed via first class postage – it can definitely be sent electronically. However, that brings up the second issue. As we look to care for and support our donors, we need to remind them that they MUST retain the letter/receipt in their records for tax purposes. It never hurts to remind our donors that the IRS no longer will accept a canceled check as substantiation of a charitable contribution of $250 or more.

The IRS assumes guilt before innocence, in fact the IRS presumes that the donation is not tax-deductible and requires taxpayers to prove that the amount they paid is either fully deductible or that they have a right to deduct the amount they are claiming based on fair market value of other services paid for or covered by the total dollars paid to the charity.

Here’s where vigilance pays off. When we as nonprofits make life easier for our donors to substantiate their contribution to the IRS it is yet one more reason they want to continue supporting us.

Contact Trudy at http://www.marylandnonprofits.org/

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Multi Organization Collaboration

The old saying "two heads are better than one" is most often true. I find collaboration not only stimulating to my own creative thinking but also empowering. Norman Olshansky talks about organizational collaboration. This is a theme I have been hearing more and more of lately. Foundations and grantors are seeking organizations that are leveraging their strengths through collaboration with like-minded organizations. The days of turf wars are gone and each individual organization becomes stronger as they work together. Bunnie

Multi Organization Collaboration

by Norman Olshansky, President of Nonprofit Consulting Resources

For many years, funders of charitable organizations have encouraged nonprofits to address more of their time and resources towards:

A. Articulation and implementation of a clear vision and business plan

B. Capacity Building

C. Achieving a better return on investment on their charitable dollars

D. More focus on long term sustainability

E. Avoidance of unnecessary duplication with what is offered by other similar nonprofits

F. Collaboration with other organizations wherever possible

G. Increase Board/Staff Leadership development

Given today’s grim economic environment, poor investment performance and limited resources, funders are even more focused on ways to maximize the impact of their limited resources.

Nonprofits, have already been impacted by the declining economy and know that the conditions are likely to get worse before they get better. They are looking for ways to address flat or declining campaigns, the need to cut costs, increase efficiencies and find new ways to address total financial resource development.The current environment can be used as a catalyst for funders and nonprofits to work together to address their mutual interests. The following are a few examples of areas of potential collaboration:

Accounting, Bookkeeping and Auditing
Investing and money management
Fundraising – especially for capital and endowment
Staff and Leadership Development
Marketing and Public Relations
Human Resources, and staff Recruitment
Safety, Security and Risk Management
Information systems and Technology

Many attempts to bring nonprofits together on collaborative initiatives have failed due to initial lack of trust between and among participants and a feeling that participation could result in a loss of control over their own destinies.How collaboration is developed is the key to success.

Implementation Process

We recommend the following steps and are available to act as consultant/facilitators/project managers to the process. (Hereafter identified as “professional”)

The initial introductory process becomes critical to the creation of collaborative ventures. There needs to be a funding organization or group of funding organizations which agrees to be the initiator of the process and take on this project. They need to be a significant player in the community and be respected by the organizations which will eventually be involved. The funding organization(s) provide initial seed money to retain a professional who will be the point person to work with participants. They provide the umbrella of legitimacy, seriousness and importance to the venture. They oversee the work of the professional.

A “professional” needs to be engaged who has experience working on collaborative ventures with nonprofits and is seen by potential participating organizations as highly professional, empathetic to their needs and impartial.

Initially, a group of organizations, which have shared characteristics, should be identified by the facilitating organization with input from the “consultant”. Those similarities could be mission, size, location, relationship to facilitating group and/or type of service provided.

The first group could be seen as a pilot or test group which, if successful, could expand at a future date. The facilitating organization must be willing to step back and let participants determine if and how they want to proceed.

The “professional” initially meets with recommended organizational Executives individually, to float the general idea that the facilitating organization(s) have proposed to encourage collaboration. Examples of what has been done in other communities is shared and a request is made for them to attend an initial meeting with other agency execs to determine if such an effort makes sense and the best focus area(s) for such a collaboration. It is important that the top professional executive of each organization be the initial contact and participate in the collaborative process with his/her peers from the other organizations. During the initial private meeting, the “professional” answers basic questions about the process and assures the agency director that there will be no requests for commitments from agencies until or unless a plan has been developed by the group that has the approval of each of the participants and their leadership.

An initial group meeting of the organization Executives, who are willing to explore the idea, is convened by the facilitating organization(s) and led by the “professional” with no hidden agendas. Care must be taken that no one organization take over the process or become the “gorilla in the room”.

Patience and time is required to make sure that all questions, concerns and details are addressed and processed with each of the Executives and that they are given the time to review the ideas proposed with their own leadership.

Anything that is proposed must pass the test that it will benefit all participants, will be implemented in a fair manner, that all parties will have a say in the project and that there will be a large enough return on investment on time and resources to warrant going forward.It is critical that whatever is agreed upon also include the need for all of the participating organizations to have “skin in the game”, including financial and human resources commensurate with their size and abilities.

Ultimately, whatever is agreed to must be formalized in memorandum of understandings between the facilitating organization(s), participating organizations and each other. These agreements will need to be approved by each of the participant boards. The initial collaboration should be one that is not too complex/complicated and has a high degree of potential for success. Once organizations have participated in a successful collaboration they are more willing to consider ventures that may contain more risk but which also can provide greater reward.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Importance of Board Meeting Attendance

How often have I seen this? Organizations unable to properly function because Board Members don't attend meetings. Gene Takagi provides some terrific insight into the responsibility of Board Members to attend meetings and what can (and should) be done to ensure attendance. Bunnie

The Importance of Board Attendance

by Gene Takagi, The Law Office of Gene Takagi

A board of directors is charged with providing ultimate oversight over the activities and affairs of its organization. Each director must discharge such duties in good faith, in a manner the director believes to be in the best interests of the organization, and with due care. Failure to regularly attend board meetings likely signals a director's inability or unwillingness to meet the director's fiduciary duties to the organization and its mission.

The most important factor in encouraging board attendance is to ensure that meetings are productive and valuable to the organization. Directors are more likely to attend meetings at which they believe their participation will be constructive. While I save a more comprehensive discussion of holding effective meetings for another post, here are some keys:

  • Have a capable chair who can effectively preside over the meeting and elicit the participation of the directors.
  • Have basic rules in place that are consistent with the organization's core values (but be careful of adopting formalized procedures like Robert's Rules without a full understanding of all of the procedures).
  • Predetermine the goals of the meeting (and be mission-focused).
  • Develop and distribute at least several days in advance a detailed agenda for the meeting, including the actions required to be taken, and supporting materials.
  • Provide opportunities for each director to contribute relevant information to the organization and the board with respect to major issues, opportunities and threats (this may be collected and distributed in advance of the meeting -- the chair may then choose to focus on important and/or recurring issues at the meeting).
  • Manage time appropriately and respectfully.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of meetings.

A nonprofit's bylaws may contain provisions to encourage board attendance. Quorum requirements may be established to ensure that board meetings can only take place with the participation of a majority or supermajority of directors. If the quorum requirements are set too low, a small percentage of directors may be able to take important actions without the input and vote of a majority of the directors. For example, in the case of a board with 12 directors and a quorum requirement of 40%, five directors may hold a meeting, and an affirmative vote of three may constitute a board action. By increasing the quorum requirement to a simple majority (i.e., >50%), seven directors would be required to hold a meeting, and four votes for an action. If a quorum is defined as 60%, eight directors would be required for a meeting, and five votes for an action. The higher quorum requirements would (1) send a signal to directors, prospective directors, and others that regular board attendance is expected; and (2) ensure that a very small percentage of the board could not pass actions that impact the organization. However, boards must be careful not to set its quorum requirements so high as to jeopardize the board's ability to take important actions in a timely manner.

The bylaws may also provide for the automatic removal (or deemed resignation) of directors who either miss a specified number of meetings or fail to attend a specified number of meetings. A board may have the right to remove a director with or without cause under state law and the organization's bylaws, but such actions may be highly sensitive, politically charged, and not seen as a viable option except in extreme circumstances of director misconduct. An automatic removal provision linked to attendance may allow for the pruning of absentee directors without an affirmative board action for removal and loss of face of the removed director. However, as nonprofit attorney Don Kramer points out in Nonprofit Issues, such provisions may not be enforceable, particularly if poorly drafted. One key to a valid automatic removal provision is not to tie the removal to a number of "unexcused" absences because without written evidence to the contrary, it may be argued that the board excuses every absence. Instead, the removal provision can provide for board discretion to waive the automatic removal provision under certain defined circumstances.

A nonprofit may also adopt a board attendance policy outside of its bylaws which explicitly defines the organization's expectations of its directors. Such policy may be included in the director's job description and given to each director and prospective director. Carter McNamara provides a sample board attendance policy in the Free Management Library.

Board attendance is directly correlated to board participation and thereby to the success of the organization in furthering its mission. Creating and maintaining a board culture that expects the participation of its directors in productive meetings will increase the engagement of the board. And an engaged board is one of a nonprofit's most valuable assets.

Contact Gene at http://www.attorneyfornonprofits.com/

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Jack of All Trades or Master of One: Getting Donors More Involved in Your Nonprofit

Executive Directors are finding themselves having to do more with less these days and that can be a great strain. How can Executive Directors delegate some of their workload, especially when it comes to fundraising? Adam Miller provides us all food for thought when it comes to raising money. I think my favorite line in this article is "serial extrovert." We all know who they are and perhaps we can harness their gifts for the good of our organizations. Bunnie

Jack of All Trades or Master of One: Getting Donors More Involved in Your Nonprofit

by Adam Miller, Elderado Financial

Everyone knows a true Renaissance man or woman; a Jack of all trades. These are the folks that are not afraid to tackle any problem. They will jump right in and fix the car instead of taking it to the shop, or repair the broken water heater on their own. It is so easy for the executive director of a non-profit to become the Jack of all trades. The responsibility of overseeing management and fundraising is no small task. No matter how supportive your donor base, at times it can feel like your hand is constantly out asking for more. This becomes a vicious cycle that leads a director to ask less and to take on more of the work themselves.

Donors are feeling the pinch in this economy and it is more important today than ever before to rethink your role. The role of an executive director is not to do all of the work but to direct and to connect with key individuals within the community that can help. So get up, get out of the office and get folks excited about helping the organization, without having to ask for money.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

§ Find that donor who is on every social network and who knows how to update her blog and Facebook account from her mobile phone. Perhaps she would set up a social network for your organization, have her create profiles on the internet and spread the message for you. Let this person use her skills to upload the good news of your organization to the world.

§ Think of the best hosts or hostesses you know, ask them to get involved with planning your next fundraiser banquet, or even an intimate donor appreciation night. Your guests will leave feeling welcome and your event planners will find joy in the whole process.

§ Get the local youth involved. The kids in your community know how to upload videos, pictures, and commentary to the internet. In fact, most of them can probably do the job from their cell phones without looking. Have a key donor give $10 for every YouTube® video posted about your organization and let the youth have fun, making silly videos while raising money.

§ Do you have an outgoing board member who is great speaker, ask him to get on the service club circuit and present the benefits of your organization to the community. Make sure to follow up with a letter to the service clubs requesting support.

§ My wife is the official thank you card writer for our favorite non-profit. She has beautiful handwriting and loves to keep top donors feeling appreciated. Next time you get a card from a donor or board member, make sure to ask if they would consider sending a few thank you cards each month for your organization.

§ Is anyone you know highly connected to the community? Look for financial professionals, politicians, etc. These are the serial extroverts that can’t go anywhere in the community without saying hello, the ones who aren’t allowed to shop with their spouse because they have to talk to everyone they know. Get these folks to wear your mission on their sleeves. Literally, buy them a golf shirt or a nice ski vest and keep them updated. Give them the latest news and ask them to be intentional about spreading the word. They will see more people in a day than you could see in a week.

Think about every task you do during the day, especially the ones that leave you feeling exhausted, and ask yourself, “Is there someone that cares about our organization that would have fun doing this?”

During this difficult economy supporters might be decreasing their giving but it doesn’t mean they don’t care. Find creative ways to put these folks to work. This isn’t a task to think about just for today, this is your primary role as the leader within your organization.

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. Contact Adam at http://www.elderadofinancial.com/

Monday, June 1, 2009

How an AARP Mailing Sparked the Idea of Ageless Dreamer

Besides bringing fabulous information from talented nonprofit leaders and advisors, I envisioned this blog as also highlighting deserving nonprofits. Laurie Widmark of Ageless Dreamer sent me an email and I visited her website. What I saw wowed me! The stories of the people who Ageless Dreamer has reached out to and made their dreams possible is amazing. It is also a reminder that our elders don't just shut down on reaching a magical number, but continue to have hopes and aspirations just like their younger counterparts. Read this article, then go to Ageless Dreamer and become inspired. Bunnie

How an AARP Mailing Sparked the Idea of the Ageless Dreamer

by Laurie Widmark, Founder and Volunteer CEO

Late in 2000, I received a mailing from AARP – American Association of Retired Persons. Friends had joked about it earlier when they had received what was noted as the first piece of dreaded mail alerting you to the fact that you were about to cross a chasm where you had not yet been. The big 5 0.

Even though I didn’t feel or look any different, the message became clear: AARP had found me! I couldn’t identify with it and certainly wouldn’t acknowledge being a member of it. It was then that I knew there had to be another way to bridge from age 49 to 50 and beyond and feel confident there was still time to experience more energy, life, and dreams.

What now” Old Dreamer”?

As I pondered possibilities, I was keenly aware of my Dad’s words when I was in my twenties: “You’re a dreamer”. And it sure wasn’t meant as a compliment. In my forties, spending time with my women’s group, they would sometimes look at me with love and raised eyebrows, and laugh with me at my dreaming. I had many failed adventures before, why would they hold out any hope for this one?

Deep down inside I knew I was still a dreamer despite, or -- in spite of -- my age. A few years after loosing my youngest daughter to suicide at the young age of 23, I knew that there was nothing that could squelch my own dream except any fears I let fester.

After I received my 2nd invitation to join AARP, the name fell out of my mouth and into place, more out of self identification than selflessness: I was an Ageless Dreamer ®.

The Ageless Dreamer ® takes shape

Over the next few months, paying closer attention to how neighboring communities valued old age, I noticed, and was also guilty of the fact, that most of us drive past assisted living facilities, nursing homes, or senior public housing, and not even turn our head to look.

Partly, this “distancing” was based on our beliefs that the basic needs of our elders, from medicinal to food, for the most part, was being taken care of by senior providers, caregivers, those working in the medical field, and adult children.

But there had to be more. I started dreaming out loud to anyone who would listen: “How could we raise the level of awareness for the wisdom and knowledge of this generation?” How can we redefine the age old definition of old age ™?

The Ageless Dreamer ® is of the belief that just because someone is part of our oldest generation, it doesn’t mean that they don’t still dream. In essence we act as a catalyst to those caring for our oldest generation to remember to ask: Do you have a dream? And then listen closely. By asking, it’s almost as though we’ve given them permission to dream out loud with us and listen to the kernel of a dream be told.

We aim to get louder than the noise of: wheelchairs, walkers, hearing aids, life lines, doctor appointments, medical prescriptions, what’d you have for breakfast, and did you have a bowel movement today? Join in the movement of constipated dreams!

To learn more about this nonprofit 501(c) 3 organization, please visit the website at http://www.agelessdreamer/ or call (603)953.0006, or contact Laurie info@agelessdreamer.org

One day at a time. One dream at a time.
Laurie Widmark, Founder