Saturday, July 28, 2007

Emotional Issues

The participants in our recent Succession Planning roundtable agreed. The struggle with succession planning wasn’t with the steps involved in the process. Other than the time it takes to document the process, the steps alone are not that difficult. The primary challenge with succession planning is in the emotional issues. The Executive Director might not want to bring up succession planning for fear the Board would think they are planning to leave. The Board might not want to bring it up for fear the ED might think the Board wanted them to leave. You may have staff that you want to train to perform functions in the ED’s absence or in the interim between an old and a new ED but you don’t want them to be the new ED. The staff or key donors may have a close relationship with the ED and fear that the loss of the ED would adversely impact the future of the organization. Navigating the emotional impact that comes with succession planning can be mitigated by focusing on policies and procedures and investing time in fostering open communication. Focusing on policies diffuses the personal aspects. Developing better communication between all the people involved can reduce the tension that accompanies these discussions.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Board succession

We started out at our last roundtable discussing Executive Director succession planning but ended up focusing more on Board succession. Thoughts—
  • You sometimes think that it will be hard to find Board members with the same passion for the organization. But new members join and its not long before they are “infected”.
  • Create meaningful roles for volunteers. Allow selected volunteers to serve on certain committees. This gives you (and them) an opportunity to see what their role as a Board member would be like.
  • Limit terms for all officers to 3 years. Limit terms for Board members to 2 consecutive 3 year terms with a year break before the next six year stretch. But ask your Board member if they would like to stay involved during the one year break—on a committee or helping with a program or a fund raiser. If you don’t limit terms you make it harder for the Board as a whole to get used to working with new members.
  • In at least the last year of the President’s term, have a President in training. This does not necessarily have to be the Vice President. This person will spend a year with the President assisting them with their duties so that the transition is easier.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


At our Thursday breakfast roundtable, our discussion on succession planning moved into Board succession matters which then diverted to a discussion on Board accountability. Namely, what do you do when a Board committee is not keeping up with its responsibilities? A few suggestions:

  • Each committee chair needs to report to the President and/or the Vice President of the Board. The President and the Vice President should not chair committees so they are free to mentor and guide the other committee chairs.
  • Written descriptions of each committee and what the committee is expected to accomplish within a certain time frame.
  • Written reports from the committee as applicable.
  • Consider appointing a new committee chair if necessary. Sometimes, someone doesn’t have the time to be the chair but is afraid to let everyone down.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Decisions, decisions

Still thinking about setting priorities, especially in light of two consulting projects we are involved in right now. Great missions, passionate staff, tons of ideas, not a lot of time or financial resources—yet. Some of the ideas have the potential to generate significant funds. What to do first? Here are two techniques to help narrow focus. Look at your financial picture. Get it down on paper. Where are the current revenues sources coming from? What programs generate what type of funding stream? Analyzing objective financial data can help point you in the right direction.
Next, use a matrix to classify ideas. Make a chart divided into four quadrants. In the upper left quadrant place those ideas that are high return, low risk. In the upper right quadrant-high return, high risk. Lower left quadrant, low risk, low return. Lower right quadrant, high risk, low return. Those initiatives in the lower right quadrant are the ones you would be least likely to do. Those in the upper left quadrant have the most promise. You need to consider what can be done to either mitigate risk or increase return for the items in the other quadrants.
Although everyone probably has a general perception of the ranking of the initiatives, charting them out clarifies things for everyone.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Setting Priorities

Sometimes the issue isn’t a shortage of ideas but limitations on resources and the challenge of determining which ideas to pursue. Organizations will have retreats and brainstorming sessions. New ideas abound. But seldom does an organization have unlimited resources. The challenge in deciding which ideas to implement is multi-faceted.
  • Which initiatives will staff be most likely to embrace, increasing the chance of success?
  • Which initiatives will result in the most return on the investment of resources?
  • Which ideas are most likely to be feasible?
  • Sometimes an idea with a high potential return has more risk attached to it. When do you take the risk? When do you stay the course and keep to steady progress?

There are no easy answers but the organization that is effective in answering these questions will be more successful in implementing new ideas.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

A Whole New Meaning to Summer Camp

I spent 3 days last week with a group of families who set aside one week a year to do maintenance and construction projects at a camp. Last week the group worked at Mt. Gilead Camp and Conference Center in the Pocono’s. The families replaced the kitchen and dining hall floor; constructed benches for a fire pit; dug trenches and spread gravel to help with the water flow; and numerous other tasks. There were about 80 people involved including the children and I have to include the children because I watched a 3 year old spend two hours removing rocks from an area so grass could be planted and children ages 7 to 12 work from 7 to 5 each day on various tasks. A number of teens helped too but it was especially impressive watching how hard the younger ones worked. At the end of the week they figured out that it would have taken the camp director a year to do all the things they did.

Most of the families had been involved with this for an average of nine years though some people had been involved from the beginning in 1974. An 82 year old man and his wife handled the plumbing tasks. There were carpenters, electricians, and other professional contractors but probably half of the group were not professional contractors.

The costs for the camp—materials for the projects. The cost for the families--$30 per person for food for the week. The camp provides the facilities at no cost. Different camps vary as far as amenities, but at Mt. Gilead, we swam in the pool at the end of each day; and slept in very comfortable, clean cabins.

There was no need to ask the families why they did this. They enjoyed working together; spending time together at meals and around the campfire; reconnecting a year later; and meeting new people who had joined. It was exciting seeing how much could be accomplished so quickly. And it was rewarding for parents to watch how hard and how enthusiastically their kids worked. I know that there was a lot of work prior to the week from the participants and the camp director but an endeavor like this makes volunteering fun.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

How to Take Rejection

At last month’s seminar the Foundations discussed reasons why your grant application might be turned down. These are situations that are out of your control. But when you contact the Foundation to find out why you didn’t get funding, if it is because of one of these reasons, you’ll be encouraged to try again next year.
  • There are limited amounts of funds available each year. A Foundation may have certain organizations that it will support year after year and then vary funding from year to year. You may receive funding from a Foundation for several years and then not receive funding. It doesn’t mean the Foundation no longer likes your mission; it just means they are varying the organizations that they are supporting.
  • A Foundation tries to diversify its funding. If you are a women’s services group and four other women’s services groups happened to apply that same year, they may only pick one. If it isn’t you this year, it could be you next year, so don’t give up asking.
  • A new non profit will rarely be funded the first year. The Foundation wants to see at least one year of history. After that they will be more interested to help keep the non profit going.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Decreasing the Odds

In my last post I shared ways that Foundations suggested you could increase the odds of getting your proposal funded. Here’s the flip side…

Try to avoid:

  • Starting a new non profit. If you have a great idea for starting a new non profit, check with your area community foundation or a local family foundation. They will be aware of what is already out there and chances are there is already another non profit doing what you would like to do. The community foundations expressed their frustration with the number of new non profits starting.
  • Boiler plate applications. You can certainly copy and paste standard language, project descriptions, or an overview of your mission, but try to personalize the application to the specific Foundation. Have someone else proofread your final grant. Our panel all had stories to tell of applications with another Foundation’s name listed in the application.
  • Don’t exaggerate to make your program sound bigger. If you are expanding your program to help 100 new people, don’t say you are going to be helping 500 new people. You don’t want to explain next year why you only helped 100.
  • Don’t come back year after year for the same thing. Foundations are looking to diversify.
  • Foundations typically do not fund individuals so it’s not likely that you’ll be able to get scholarship funds.

That all said, there are Foundations geared to specific interests. So there are some Foundations that specifically mention scholarships. Some Foundations fund the same organizations year after year. Foundations may change their focus, so keep them on your radar in case their focus does change from North County to South County. Family foundations may be less likely to change, especially if the provisions of the Foundation were established in a will. Community and corporate foundations may change their focus over time and even as frequently as year to year.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Improving Your Odds

Looking to get funded? The following ideas from our panel of Foundations might help:
Keep in mind that an overall goal of the Foundation is to put its money where it can reap the most from its investment.

  • Collaborate with another non profit. This allows the Foundation to get more from their investment.
  • Read the requirements of the Foundation. If the Foundation only funds in North County and your non profit is in South County don’t waste your time or their time with the application.
  • Explain to the non profit organization how your project will be “self sustaining” in three to five years. “Self sustaining” can include increased donations from individuals and other organizations as part of a donor development program.
  • The Foundations emphasized that they wanted to be part of a growing organization. They are glad to help something get off the ground but they don’t want the organization to be dependent on them for funding each year.
  • As part of this, keep in touch with the Foundation throughout the year so they can see how you are doing. They see themselves as being one of your partners and want to follow your success.
  • The Foundation wants to see Board buy in—meaning that 100% of your Board is giving time and money to your organization
  • And I’ll mention it again since it was brought up a few times—collaboration is the key to a successful proposal.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

And So I Digress

The spring has been filled with baseball, softball, ballet recitals, and end of year school events. It seemed like there would be more time to blog once work slowed down but other things picked up. I started to write more about the great advice from the Foundation meeting last month. But I wanted to fit this in first.

Friday I spent the day helping to decorate the middle school cafeteria for the Freshman Dance. This year’s theme was “A Night under the Stars in Central Park”. Thanks to yards of gossamer, white lights, fake trees, park benches, and a lot of creative parents the cafeteria became Central Park, with the Central Park Zoo, a stone arch with “water” flowing through it, and a patio under the stars. The hall featured the New York skyline, flowered arches, a gateway, and park benches.

One of the organizers suggested that next year the parents have a fundraiser the following evening to raise money for the class. That way the creative efforts could be used for two nights and enjoyed by more people. That idea could be expanded and the facility could be offered to a local non profit for their annual banquet.

Another local school transforms their gym every year for the after prom party. It is so elaborate that the school is open for about 2 hours earlier in the evening so that the public can see the theme and the decorations. While not every school does something like this, it would be a beneficial collaboration to allow a non profit to use the facility and the lavishly decorated areas for a fundraising banquet.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Meet the Foundations

Last Thursday we assembled a panel of Foundations to meet with area non profits and discuss what makes a successful grant proposal. Three family foundations, a community foundation, and a corporate foundation graciously gave advice, told stories, and discussed the philosophy behind their funding choices.

Some tips on how much to ask for:

  • Be realistic. Look at the Foundation’s 990 and see what amounts are typically given. If the average grant is $10,000 don’t ask for $50,000.
  • If this is your first contact with the Foundation start off with a smaller request. You have a better chance to get funds to “get to know you”. A Foundation is not likely to give an unknown organization large amounts.
  • Let the Foundation know where other sources of funds are coming from. The Foundation doesn’t want to be the sole supporter of a new initiative.

Some of these might sound obvious but having seen a number of grant requests-they bear repeating.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Like Mother, Like Daughter-Part 2

In an earlier post, I spoke about the influence that my co-worker at Bee, Bergvall, and Company, had on the community involvement of her daughters. I would be remiss not to talk about the influence that my mother has had on me. So this being Mother’s Day weekend, it seemed an appropriate time.

This past February I worked with my mom serving meals to about 45 adults and students at our youth group’s annual ski retreat at Camp at Old Mill. I arrived Saturday night, but my mom had started on Friday evening. She was assisted by two other friends we have worked with in the kitchen over the years. My mom work up each morning early to fix breakfast, stayed up late to clean up after the evening snack, and slept on the foam mattress in the room downstairs. She loved it. She enjoys the students and talking with the kitchen crew. My mom has done this for about eight years.

My mom’s best example when it comes to volunteerism is her faithfulness to what she committed to. Many years ago when I was four, I would not let her leave me in the Sunday school class. I cried and cried. So she started there as a teacher. And stayed there as a teacher of 4 and 5 year olds for 30 years. The only reason she stopped was because my dad was battling lung cancer and she wasn’t able to attend on Sundays for several months.

A year later she started working with the 2 and 3 year olds and has been with them for the past 9 years. All three things my mom has been involved in have had their rough times. Usually it’s been fun, but from time to time there have been kids that were hard to deal with. She has been kicked and punched (by 2 year olds—not teens). It has been tiring to do the same thing week after week at different periods. But she kept working through the hard times, and overall loves the kids.

Consistency like this is important to organizations. They need to be able to rely on dedicated volunteers who understand their organization and know how to carry out its mission. It builds a strong foundation from which the organization can expand. Thanks, mom for modeling this consistency for me.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Personal Contact

I was talking with a high school senior who was working on a project. She would make brightly colored quilts and then hand deliver them to children at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. Although it was time consuming work she loved seeing the children’s excited faces as they accepted the quilts. Even in the midst of senior activities, applying for college scholarships, and studies she still devoted time to this charity. This student probably would have still made the quilts if she didn’t meet the children, but meeting the children energized her.

As much as possible, we need to provide our volunteers with touch points and contacts with those our organization serves. It will keep their enthusiasm ignited.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Headline News

The day after my last post extolling the benefits of volunteering I was thrilled to see the front page headline in our local paper The IntelligencerLocals Touch Lives a World Away.

Following was a series of four articles that profiled four area residents who traveled to different countries to help AIDS orphans, provide cleft palate surgery through Operation Smile, teach at a school in Tanzania, and work in Japan’s rural countryside. The articles were full of inspiring messages that will hopefully encourage readers to volunteer locally and overseas.

There were great quotes like this one from 23 year old Lisa Talley who taught in a Tanzanian school—
This changes your opinion of people, life, everything….Volunteering is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.
And this one from Barbara Kroberger of Jamison, who worked with AIDS orphans in Uganda—
Sometimes it is just one child at a time, but we all can do something.
I know that I’m “preaching to the choir” here. Most people reading non profit blogs are already enthusiastic about volunteering. But how can we spread this energy? Frequent feature articles like this in local newspapers publicize the rewards of community service. Thanks and kudos to the Intelligencer for making this “Headline News”.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Making Friends in Montreal

A few years ago we went on a mission trip to Montreal with the youth group from our church, Faith Community Church. A ministry called Christian Outreach International organized the trip for us. Our group met for training for several months prior to the trip. We weren’t sure exactly what we would be doing when we got there, but we each prioritized what we would most like to do—work with children, teens, college students, the homeless, etc. We were to rank the categories from 1 to 3—with 3 being the group we would most like to work with. I am embarrassed to say that I ranked working with the homeless a zero. I had a number of prejudices against the homeless. I was adamantly against working with them.

Well, needless to say, we spent most of the week working with the homeless—serving food at a shelter; making sandwiches and handing out the food at a park (we did this twice); as well as handing out food to random homeless people on the street. We sorted clothes that had been donated to a homeless mission and was available for the men and also sold in their thrift store.

We also did some ministry on the campus of McGill University and some street ministry—but our main work was with the homeless.

A young man with long hair in braids who reaches out to homeless teens with his wife, explained the situation in Montreal like this—
No one in Canada lacks food or shelter, what they are really starving for is relationships.
Indeed we saw this was the case. Many, who came for food, actually lived in nearby subsidized apartments. Some of them spoke to friends on cell phones, while they lined up for sandwiches. We saw a few familiar faces at the different sites where we handed out food.

I won’t digress on the effectiveness of this system. However, what this young man said was true—it was all about the relationships. What the people we met valued and appreciated more than the sandwiches or hot meals, was listening to our youth group sing, watching the skit they did, playing Frisbee with them, and just sitting on the park benches talking to them.

This broke down the prejudices that I had. Regardless of why or how these people got where they were, they were people—“precious in His sight” as the children’s song goes. Our group, teens and adults, saw the homeless in a different light. We were able to see beyond the glazed eyes of drug use or the confused look of the mentally ill and see the person underneath. It was a life changing experience. I would not have believed it, if I had not experienced it myself.

That’s what volunteering does—it stretches you. It leads you to do things you never thought possible. And it leads you to think things you never would have imagined.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Most Curious Answer

In the last post I shared my husband’s answer as to what he thought about community service. In a nutshell, it was for people who had a heart for what they do, better for people with time on their hands, like retired people, and something most people were too busy to do. If someone who did not know my husband heard his explanation they would assume that he had decided that community service was not for him.

Here is why I was surprised at his answer. My husband works about 45 hours a week; he plays softball in the summer, and rarely misses my son’s baseball games. He is pretty decent at helping around the house and helps out with getting the kids where they need to be at different times. He is a typical busy father in the 21st century. He also volunteers anywhere from 6 to 20 hours a week as a youth leader with our church’s youth ministry. He goes on overnight trips; drives the 15 passenger van hundreds of miles to conferences, camps, amusement parks, ski trips, etc. He spends time taking individual students out to pizza, movies, or ice cream. He is involves in three group meetings a week, one of which is a college age discussion group that he leads.

I told him his answer surprised me, since he spends so much time in youth ministry. “That’s not community service” he said. “That’s something I enjoy doing.”

Research observation: Pair someone with something they really enjoy (in my husband’s words—something they have a heart for). Volunteer service should not end up being a chore. It should be something someone loves to do. It seems obvious but it’s a key component of the volunteer process.

The remaining question: How do you find people who love doing what you need them to do in your non profit?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Why People Volunteer- A Family's Perspective

Recently I have spent some time thinking more intentionally about why people volunteer. Why people give is a close second in this line of questioning. I have heard of the recently published book Who Really Cares, by Arthur C. Brooks. I plan to order this from Amazon as soon as I have time to browse for another book to get my order total into the “free shipping” realm. I imagine that why people volunteer will be addressed in this book, as it is probably linked to why people give.

However, I have been thinking about the question for some time, on and off—especially when Boards or organizations that I am part of are looking for volunteers. Recently I decided to do my own research and just ask people what they think about community service.

I figured since charity begins at home, research should begin at home too. So I asked my family. I’ll discuss my children’s answers in a later post but here is my husband’s answer.

Some people have a heart for it. Some people have extra time on their hands, like retired people. If you can get a group together, like a church youth group, it usually works, as its more fun for the people doing community service. People don’t have enough time. They barely have enough time to take care of their own families. Many people work late or work on Saturday’s to take care of job responsibilities or to make ends meet.
I was surprised at his answer for reasons I’ll discuss in the next post.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The Proverbial Bus

Do you have a succession plan for your non profit organization?

We have all heard it—what would happen if you got hit by a bus? Could your non profit continue without you?

Many non profits have sufficient staffing and leaders at various levels so that they could continue. Many other non profits would struggle. Either their non profit is small and the executive director wears many hats to keep the organization going OR the executive director is vested with a number of leadership responsibilities.

If you recognize yourself in the second situation, what can you do?

The Center for Nonprofit Advancement in Washington DC has a nice Emergency Succession Plan template. The procedures to follow in the event of an emergency are nice, but the key information listing near the end of the document is an invaluable resource. It prompts you to list the location of all the organizations important documents and critical contact information.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Transparency in Financial Statement Reporting (Part 5 of the Holding the Hammer Series)

Your audited financial statements are governed by Generally Accepted Accounting Standards established by the Financial Accounting Standards Board. The framework for the statements is designed so that users can compare entities to each other. Along those lines there are some limitations as to what you can do to communicate to financial statement users. There are some things you want to make sure you do and some options you have to “personalize” your statements.

  • Make sure that donations that are donor restricted have been properly reported as temporarily restricted
  • Consider if you have projects that the Board has committed to in the coming year. If funds for the projects are not already donor restricted, they should be reported as Board Designated
  • Make sure the description of your organization in the footnotes clearly conveys your organization’s mission
  • Consider the use of supplemental schedules to break out revenues and expenses by program

You should also consider preparing a one or two page financial summary that would be more user friendly than your audited financial statements. This summary could be posted to your website or sent to donors. The summary should easily agree to your audited statements, but since the summary does not need to follow accounting guidelines, you can modify the format to highlight the financial information you want people to know.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Yay for Us!

Keep your accomplishments in front of your donors frequently. Communicate in these meaningful ways.
• Graphs and pictures
• Data: number of people served, number of books purchased, and number of families counseled. Think of creative ways—tonight 30 families are putting their children to sleep in their own bed, in their own home because of you—is more effective than—you helped 30 homeless families
• Stories

And while we frequently mention sharing with donors, make sure to share stories with your staff and Board as well. We sometimes think the staff hears of the successes in the course of their day, but often they don’t. Celebrate even the small successes. They will appreciate the encouragement.

Be clear in your communications. Make sure any pie charts and graphs are easily understandable. Test them out on someone outside of your organization.
Don’t try to obscure bad news by making your data difficult to understand. It will frustrate donors and make them think you are hiding something. Its better to explain the situation with a footnote, as in, services to homeless women declined last year because of turnover in staff personnel. Then explain what you are doing to improve—new staff have been hired and we look forward to reaching out to provide homeless women with the resources they need to become self sufficient.

Talk to your donors and grantors and find out what key information they want to know about your organization. Make sure this information is communicated to them at various points of contact in concise ways. You can communicate this in donor appeal letters, your newsletter, on your website, and your donor thank you notes. We receive so much information today that clear repetition is the best way to ensure that your message is heard.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Dear Donor (Part 3 in the “holding the hammer” series)

At a client’s office I saw thank you notes like this one.

Dear ……

My son loves the after school program at the Boys and Girls Club. His grades have improved because of the homework help. He has fun with the staff and his friends and has learned new games. Because he gets his homework done at the after school program, we have more quality time as a family in the evening. My son is too young to be home alone after school and we could not afford after school care that other organizations offer. I don’t know what we would have done without this program. Thank you so much.

Letters like this are why your donor gives to your organization. Your donor wants to know they are impacting lives. This letter tells them they are. Whenever you can, ask the people you serve for feedback or personal letters and pass them on.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Plugging People In (Part 2)

In our area there is a great website at Doylestown Alive, under Community Service. If you are interested in volunteering, you fill out a questionnaire noting what areas you would like to volunteer in, how frequently you would like to be involved, and who you are (individual, family, student, etc.) Then you receive results listing the name of the organization, a link to their website, a description of the volunteer opportunities they have and contact information.

Organizations can register on the site for a nominal fee.

It’s an easy way for anyone regardless of age or time available to get involved with area non profits.

And in the spirit of collaboration, the site is sponsored by Univest Bank and maintained by the Central Bucks Healthier Community Team which is a committee of the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce. The power of partnering!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Plugging People In (Part 1 of the Holding the Hammer Series)

The more opportunities that you give to allow people to be involved with your organization “hands on”, the more connections you strengthen with current and prospective donors. You also can reduce the work that your staff needs to do. The challenge is that you need someone from your organization that can manage the volunteers.

The process of involving volunteers can be daunting. There may be training involved; you need time to get to know the volunteers to make sure they are qualified; and you want to provide volunteers with a meaningful opportunity to make a difference with your organization.

Here are some pointers:

1. Develop policies for the volunteer process

  • What training is necessary for the volunteers and for those who are managing the volunteers
  • What clearances or approvals do volunteers need
  • What do those who supervise volunteers need to know

2. Try to find opportunities for people to serve at various commitment levels

  • Ongoing regular service on a weekly or monthly basis. This could be helping sort clothes at a thrift shop, stuffing envelopes for a monthly mailing, etc.
  • Annual commitment for a specific fundraiser. The volunteers could serve on the committee to plan and execute the fundraiser and/or assist at the event.
  • Assistance with certain aspects of program delivery. You may need volunteers to assist with yard work twice a year on low income properties, to answer the hotline phones, or to deliver meals.
  • Consulting commitment to serve on your Board or Committees. Your committees do not necessarily need to have only Board members on them. Opening up the committee to non Board members gives you the opportunity to involve past Board members or others who may want to help you but don’t want a full Board commitment.
  • Consider a “junior Board” for younger adults (late teens to mid twenties) to participate in. Determine what rights this Board would have and what Board meetings they would attend. This is basically a Board in training from which hopefully you will develop future board members. Make sure that input from this Board will be valued by the “Senior” Board.

3. Brainstorm a list of every task that someone could help you with. After you are done brainstorming, go back and cross off items that you absolutely cannot assign to a volunteer.

4. Divide up the tasks in the different categories noted above

5. Delegate managing the volunteers to those involved in the various areas-fundraising, program delivery, consultation.

6. Make sure everyone—the volunteers, those who are supervising the volunteers, and staff working alongside the volunteers understands your policies for volunteers.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Reaching a New Generation

At our seminar series the speaker offered an analogy along these lines.

“the older generation was glad to give money to a larger foundation (such as United Way or the American Red Cross or Rotary) so that they could give it to a worthy charity so that that worthy charity could purchase a hammer to rehab a house for a low income family; the next generation wanted to give money to the worthy charity directly, this generation wants to hold the hammer”.

Charities need to look for as many opportunities as they can to give donors the opportunity to “hold the hammer”. This can be accomplished in a number of ways:
• Setting up a variety of opportunities for donors and volunteers to be involved “hands on” with your organization
• Sharing personal stories from those you serve to build a connection with donors
• Being transparent in reporting accomplishments to allow donors to evaluate how effective you are
• Being transparent in financial operations to let donors see how you are managing your financial resources

The next several postings will look at each of these in more detail.

Friday, March 2, 2007

The Power of Conflict

I recently came across excerpts from an article written by Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld in the September 2002 Harvard Business Review on “What Makes a Great Board Great”. As one who dislikes conflict I was struck by two of his points on great boards.

1. A climate of trust and candor. They share difficult information, and they can challenge one another's conclusions coherently.
2. A culture of open dissent. "Respect and trust do not imply endless affability or absence of disagreement," writes Sonnenfeld. "Rather they imply bonds among board members that are strong enough to withstand clashing viewpoints."

As nonprofit Board members we need to recognize the danger with complete unanimity all the time. A respectful culture that encourages dissent will bring the best value to the organization as people’s viewpoints are honed and sharpened.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Random Reminder

It’s been some time since these guidelines were passed with Sarbannes-Oxley but we still run into non profit organizations who don’t realize that this applies to them. So here is a reminder.
Document Destruction - all organizations should have a written, mandatory document retention and periodic destruction policy. Such a policy also helps limit accidental or innocent destruction. The policy should include guidelines for handling electronic files and voicemail. Electronic documents and voicemail messages have the same status as paper files in litigation-related cases. The policy should also cover back-up procedures, archiving of documents, and regular check-ups of the reliability of the system.
Whistle-Blower Protection - all organizations should develop procedures for handling employee complaints. A nonprofit must establish a confidential and anonymous mechanism to encourage employees to report any inappropriateness within the entity's financial management. No punishment - including firing, demotion, suspension, harassment, failure to consider the employee for promotion or any other kind of discrimination - is allowed. Even if the claims are unfounded, the nonprofit may not reprimand the employee. The law does not force the employee to demonstrate misconduct; a reasonable belief or suspicion that a fraud exists is enough to create a protected status for the employee.
The National Council of Non Profit Organizations has a nice sample policy at these links. for a whistleblower policy and for a document destruction policy.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Like Mother, Like Daughters

People often wonder—how do I promote volunteerism in my child? Another way to phrase this—how do I develop a heart for the community in my child? The difference—the heart connotes an internal change that will naturally produce the outward actions. Aiming to provide your child with volunteer opportunities will certainly influence the way they feel about their community. In the process though you need to make sure they truly care about what they are doing. Their community involvement is more likely to last into adulthood if this has been cultivated.

So how do you develop this heart? The old adage-children learn by example-is the key. Our marketing director, Liz Vibber has volunteered for numerous organizations. She assists with the school’s annual fundraiser, was instrumental in securing funding for new playground equipment for the school, and organizes the school’s after school club program. Is it any surprise that her daughters have started philanthropic endeavors of their own? Just this year, as part of a Brownie project, her 3rd grader wrote a note to the office to ask them to purchase candy to raise money to buy supplies for the local animal shelter. However, the candy wasn’t the typical box of fundraiser candy—it was her own Halloween candy. After raising the money and purchasing supplies, in good fundraising fashion, she wrote a thank you note “You are an angel to the animals”. Her other daughter, a 7th grader, approached the principal of their school with a friend. They wanted to start a reading program for the younger children at the elementary schools.

These are just two of several examples of the girls’ concern for their community. Why? Because of their mother’s example.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What I did with my snow day

There is something magical about a snow day--even when you are a grownup and spend the day working from home. We had been eagerly anticipating the first snow day. Our school district had not even experienced a two hour delay yet, this school year. This storm looked promising—snow, changing to a wintry mix of ice. And indeed it was. School was closed. There was enough ice to convince me to stay in and work from home. Thanks to the wonder of technology I accessed the office through the VPN, signed on to AIM in case anyone from work needed to “chat”, and worked on and off throughout the day.

Being at home had its advantages, I made heart shaped pancakes in honor of Valentine’s Day for my two teenagers who still appreciate corny sentimental stuff like that; I reminded my son to shovel the driveway before my husband got home from work (thank you to the neighbor across the street who used his snow blower to clean out the end of the driveway); and I helped my daughter with some history questions in preparation for her midterm on Friday. As the kids have gotten older and busier, it was nice to be together for the whole day.

I was also able to get this blog started. Our CPA firm,
Bee, Bergvall & Co., P.C. has been working with non profit organizations for over 25 years. About 6 years ago, with the encouragement of our enterprising marketing director, Liz Vibber, we started a non profit newsletter and a non profit management seminar series. This past summer we launched the Bucks County Center for Non Profit Management. Through the seminar series we have met many wonderful non profits and have been energized by the exchange of ideas. A number of us at the firm serve on non profit boards and are always asking each other questions and sharing ideas. Clients talk to us about accounting and tax issues; auditing issues; strategic planning; and grant writing issues. We talk about how we want our kids and teenagers to develop a heart for the community. The benefits to this exchange of information increases exponentially.

So with this blog we are taking these discussions to the web in hopes of sharing information that will help other non profit organizations; inspire individuals to make a difference in their corner of the world; and generate discussion.