What’s On The Table?

Chicago-Community-Trust-On-The-Table-2014Monday I had dinner with 10,000 people. Well, not exactly..  But, I did participate with 10,000 other Chicago area citizens in a community-wide “town hall” called On The Table created by the Chicago Community Trust in celebration of their 99th anniversary.

The goal, according to Chicago Community Trust, CEO, Terry Mazany was to have more than 10,000 people “from all walks of life and socioeconomic circumstances” engage in conversation about the issues facing their communities and ideas to make their communities stronger.

“We hope the conversations “generate new ideas, inspire bold solutions and cultivate relationships and collaborations to improve communities region-wide,” said Mazany.

The trust is using social media to capture these ideas and will report back to the community through their website and an idea exchange in October. The trust is also planning to use ideas gathered from On The Table to inform future grantmaking decisions.

I love this idea and loved personally participating in an On The Table event sponsored by PADS of Lake County.  Our group leader, Joel Williams, Executive Director of PADS was funny and engaging. He provided a tasty barbecue to facilitate our outdoor conversation.  Afterwards, many of the participants agreed to continue these conversations on a monthly basis and hold one another accountable for the action steps they committed to during our visioning.

Here’s what we discussed:

  1. What does our community do well?
  2. What’s best about our community?
  3. What can we do better?
  4. What’s our community going to look like 5, 10, and 15 years from now?
  5. What’s the one thing you will do this week to make the above vision happen?

Non-profits can take this On The Table concept to facilitate meaningful conversations with community members, key stakeholders, donors, etc.  Not only does this provide a wonderful engagement opportunity for these groups but it will also provide your organization with new ideas and stronger relationships between your organization and these constituents. Here’s 10 tips to get started :

1)      Check out the On The Table website at onthetable2014.com

2)      Select a date to host these events (perhaps your founders day, a significant date in your organization’s history, or a special date related to the cause you serve. World Alzheimer’s Day is an example)

3)      Identify table hosts who would be willing to provide the location and food. You can also have them host a pot luck or brown bag lunch.  Note the number of table hosts would depend on the overall size you want your event to be. Keep in mind you want small intimate gatherings of no more than 15 people.

4)      Create a website for the event and opportunities for people to engage through social media before, during and after the event

5)      Tailor the above discussion questions to your organization

6)      Engage your local media before, during and after the event

7)      Get your board members involved

8)      Invite some of the people you serve to these events

9)      Develop a plan to collect and share the ideas generated at these events

10)   Report back to the attendees on the ideas you plan to implement and the progress you’ve made

So, what’s “On The Table”  for your organization? We’d love to know!

 

Real and Lasting Good: A Culture of Philanthropy in Sustainability Planning

The numbers are in.

I know that you know:  Giving USA data was released this week. Researchers predict it will take at least five more years to raise as much as before the recession. When we look at imagesgiving over time, we see that bad economies can wreak havoc on our not-for-profits. Some die. Some cut services. Slashed government support doesn’t return at the same levels. How should NGOs protect themselves from the vagaries of the economy? How can YOU do better than the numbers predict over the coming six years?

Create a culture of philanthropy at your organization.

This isn’t pie in the sky stuff. It is powerful, successful, and sustainable.

First, let’s define our terms: a culture of philanthropy exists when everyone — your staff, your board, mission staff members like physicians, program leaders, faculty members, the CEO and other members of the c-suite – understands, believes in, embraces and acts on his or her roles and responsibilities in philanthropy in an investor-focused and co-ownership manner.

It starts at the top. Your CEO must be the first to get it. Philanthropy is a crucial component of the organization’s resource engine and therefore is everyone’s responsibility. Believe it. Embrace it. Act on it.

Co-ownership is the key. According to Cowan Global Consulting describes five levels of working partnerships starting at co-existing and moving past collaboration to the point five-degress-of-partnership-workingwhere everyone has stake, a share. Working with the fundraising team is an embraced responsibility, not a favor or something ones does when there is time.

That requires the CEO modeling the desired behaviors, celebrating successes, defining metrics, holding folks accountable and stewarding and rewarding outcomes.  Give yourself three years to achieve a true culture: 100% inspired, joyful, and generous giving from all staff, volunteers and board members;  everyone actively helping identify, engage, and steward donors and potential donors; everyone able to participate with adequate skills and understanding. Along the way, however, you will reap many benefits, starting in year one.

Here are seven steps to help you achieve a culture of philanthropy!

  1. Begin with a clear, compelling, aspirational and urgent organizational vision undergirded by shared, stated values. The mission and vision are the reasons the organization desires a culture of philanthropy. A driving institutional vision provides the urgency for change.
  2. Change requires a vision as well. Imagining the organization once it achieves the culture of philanthropy paints a picture all constituencies can embrace. What will everyone do differently with what results? Change is personal. The change vision must speak to what’s in it for the individuals who need to change. Get the word out. Spread the vision often and throughout the institution.
  3. Start with champions and modeling behavior. John Kotter, leadership guru, calls these champions a “guiding coalition.” Who are those influential people who already understand, embrace, believe in, and act on his or her roles in philanthropy and stewardship? We need them to help bring along the others. According to change expert, Jeanie Daniel Duck, “People believe because they actually see the new behavior at work and working.”
  4. Wow your team.  It is hard to make others feel great about giving and participating in philanthropy, if the proposed change agent feels beleaguered or under-appreciated. We must invest in our people first. Demonstrate great customer service internally if we want our staffs to provide it to others. Solicit your board, volunteers, and staff members in personal and inspirational ways. Provide them with impact reports, data, stories, and visuals. How can they help you achieve this with others, if they’ve not experienced it?
  5. Develop a plan. A vision without a plan is just a pipe dream. Assess your current strengths and weaknesses. Develop concrete, measurable goals for achieving a culture of philanthropy and stewardship. For example, if none of the senior administrators give, a goal might be 100% generous giving by a specific date. Strategies and tactics follow. Make sure the strategies include removing obstacles, changing systems, or structures that undermine achieving the desired culture.
  6. Institutionalize the new changes. Kotter stresses this. Document the new policies and procedures. Put philanthropy and stewardship on the institutional dashboard. Include it in performance measures. Make it a stated part of the values statement.
  7. Reward, steward and celebrate success.

The benefits of a culture of philanthropy are awesome: Faster recovery. Sustainability. Increased giving. Higher donor loyalty. Strong donor satisfaction. Viral marketing. Joe Connelly of the Wall Street Journal reported, “Donor retention is the new acquisition and customer service is the new marketing.” Achieve a culture of philanthropy and you’ll be on the cutting edge.

To request a copy of “The Common Thread”, from the April issue of CASE Currents magazine, where Karen speaks on this topic in greater detail, please visit our website.

Risk and Capacity Building: A Response To Dan Pallotta’s TED Talk

There are oh-so-many things to say about Dan Pallotta and his talk at TED.  The essential point of his presentation is that the nonprofit sector is at a disadvantage to the for profit sector because of the way we – as a society – think about nonprofits and charity.  Some of the many points he makes we can dismiss right off the bat.  For instance, his point that nonprofits can’t share profit to attract risk capital….  Well, yeah, they’re nonprofits.  And that means that they don’t have to pay taxes.  And that means that they can’t act exactly like a for-profit unless they plan on paying those taxes.charity

Many people have talked to me about Dan’s idea of paying top executives in the nonprofit arena more.  I won’t spend too much time on this either; this piece in the Stanford Social Innovation Review Blog makes some interesting points.  What I would point out is that many for-profit companies pay their top talent huge amounts of money and just as often as not they prove to be just as mediocre as the rest of us.  I think Dan exaggerates the impact that a single person can have on a nonprofit institution.

What I do think is really interesting about Dan’s talk is how we are much more tolerant of risk and long-term capacity building in the for profit world than we are in the nonprofit. Venture philanthropy is all the rage these days but the funny thing about it is that most venture philanthropy works and acts exactly like traditional philanthropy.  Yes, there is more of an emphasis on clear and measurable outcomes within a defined period of time. However, I would argue major investors in an organization have always wanted this.  What’s maybe changed is that lower-level investors now expect the same thing.

But aside for a demand for clear social outcomes, venture philanthropy still generally acts very differently then venture capital.  Major investments in fundraising and other capacity building is still exceptionally rare even though such investments can leverage a great deal more.

Patience on social returns that take longer than a couple of years is also a rare exception rather than the rule.  And then there is the complicity of nonprofits themselves.  We so rarely dream as big as we need to.  I was talking with a self-identified venture philanthropist recently that wants to fund riskier ventures and wants to encourage fellow philanthropists to do the same and I remember thinking to myself, “Would we believe a funder if they told us they were OK with failure?”  I’m guessing we wouldn’t.  I’m guessing that we would be thinking that if we want to have a chance at additional funding and a career going forward, we’d better show some concrete results pretty fast.  So we play it safe.  Privately, we all dream big but we seldom put it out there for funders to ponder.

So I agree with Dan wholeheartedly that our societal mentality holds the nonprofit sector back.  He’s very much right in saying frugality does not equal morality.  But, as Laura points out, money invested in marketing is only a means to an end.  The true output is the kind of social impact we have.  Sometimes that requires a lot of dollars, sometimes it doesn’t.  At times we may need to invest a lot in our marketing and fundraising but over time we are ultimately better off investing in our mission and its outcomes.  Many, many nonprofits (if not that vast majority) are able to keep their fundraising costs below $0.25 on the dollar and still be highly effective.  The fact of the matter is Dan’s organization engaged in the least efficient form of fundraising out there: event fundraising.  And while his cause lent itself to that model, most other causes don’t require this and can get a much better return on their dollars.  Even Dan’s organization could have done so by leveraging the people his walks attracted for major donor dollars instead of relying on a few big sponsors that left his organization fatally vulnerable.

Ultimately, I’m glad that Dan is raising these ideas.  It’s important that we talk about the respective roles of the for profit and nonprofit world.  And perhaps those people most in a position to be helpful will start to think of nonprofits differently and change the landscape.  But in the meantime, the nonprofit sector remains a market place just as the for profit sector does.  Efficiency does matter.  Diversity of revenue does matter.  Social return on investment is our ultimate metric, not dollars raised.  As Dan points out himself, ours in the market of love and you can’t measure that in money raised.

Incredibly Helpful Financial Management Toolkit

Image-the-Wallace-FoundationTime for us to practice what we preach and deliver a little stewardship to an organization that is truly building capacity in the not-for-profit sector.  A huge thank you to The Wallace Foundation for their leadership in creating strong education in the United States – and most particularly for their newly unveiled financial management toolkit:  StrongNonProfits.org.  I admit that I haven’t personally discovered the Foundation’s motivation, values and philanthropic preferences but I think it’s not a wild guess to say that they value creating useful, practical tools for the non-profit sector.

They have done exactly that.

The financial management toolkit brings together resources in four key areas:

offering links to free-standing tools and resources from other websites (like another of our favorites: Blue Avocado) to help support best practice in a variety of areas where non-profit leaders – or Board Chairs, like me – may be looking for addition support.

Among my favorites:

  • A Non-Profit Dashboard and Signal Lights for Board:  this terrific resource from Blue Avocado has strongly influenced how my board reports and reflects on our progress in our strategic plan.  It’s mighty useful too in identifying the most important metrics to be reviewing monthly.  As Judy Vredenburgh, CEO of Girls Inc., reminds us: “We do what we measure.”
  • Also in the Monitoring section:  “Understanding Auditing Financial Statements” and “Understanding Indirect Costs”
  • From the Governance section, one of the many valuable tools in this section:  “Maintaining Operating Reserves: An Organizational Imperative for Non-Profit Sustainability“.  This one wins no awards for catchy title but given the Kellogg Foundation’s findings in 2009 about on the “Quiet Crisis” that found that the vast majority of organization have fewer than three months cash reserve, this white paper is imperative.
  • The Operations section is so chock-a-block with great resources, I couldn’t choose just one:  accounting basics, choosing accounting software, internal controls, fiscal management activities calendar, and a program budget template – these are just a few from this section.
  • From the Planning section:  who would not welcome a “Five Step Approach to Budget Development” from Fiscal Management Associates?

My favorite of all?  An interactive tool called “Go or No Go” –  a tool that walks you through the steps to decide whether a contract or funding opportunity is a wise, strategic choice to pursue.  This one also comes from the good folks at Fiscal Management Associates.

Wallace Foundation:  you have done a great service with this fiscal management toolkit.  You identified exactly what’s on our minds and delivered.

Everyone:  go share this with YOUR board and use this!