Saturday, October 22, 2011

Writing with Passion

Dalya F. Massachi in her presentation, Writing With Passion and Power discussed a number of great writing practices from her book Writing to Make a Difference: 25 Powerful Techniques to Boost Your Community Impact. One that resonated with me was the idea of two levels of “so what” Her illustration: your organization states that a donation of $100 will buy a new clinic massage table. You ask yourself “so what?” The answer—So our volunteer therapists can provide 50 additional revitalizing, healing massages per week to cancer patients in our community. Then you ask again--”so what?” The second level answer—So they will enjoy happier, healthier, more productive, and longer lives and YOU will be part of making that happen.

The answer to the second level “so what” results in getting to the heart of the impact your organization is making. We saw this illustrated at a recent seminar. Our opening question was “what would happen to your community if your organization did not exist?”

All of the organizations answered the question by describing the programs that the community would no longer have. While true, asking a second level of "so what" questions may reveal that graduation rates would decrease harming the future economy of the area; the quality and length of life for area seniors would be decreased; umemployment would increase harming the future economy of the area; and the culture and vibrancy that made the community an attractive place to live would be diminished.

Second level questioning can assist in directing boards and organizations to think with impact.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Economic Outlook--5 Strategies

We have been to several conferences recently that featured an economic update. The consistent message was that the economy is not likely to improve in the near future and even indicated that it could be another five years. Nonprofits have been hit hard—reduced government funding coupled with increased demand for services.

A few things to do, if you aren't already:
1. Prepare a cash flow projection for 6 months, 18 months, and 3 years. Continually roll it forward. Determine now what changes you will make if you don't hit certain revenue targets.
2. Strengthen your volunteer program. Today's volunteers want to contribute in more meaningful ways and you can expand or maintain your capacity with volunteers. Volunteers are also more likely to give to your organization and to give in larger amounts.
3. Individual donors make up 73% of giving (81% if you count bequests and 87% if you include family foundations). I am still convinced that there are individuals who have not yet learned the joy of giving. Make sure you have a robust donor cultivation program and many opportunities to connect people to your organization.
4. Review nonprofit best practices. Talk with others in your field. Make sure your organization is operating efficiently and employing the best strategies.
5. Look for opportunities to collaborate with other nonprofits or even for profits.
I just returned from speaking at the Grant Professionals Association/Charity Channel summit. My session was Find Capacity, Find Funders, a topic I have blogged about in the past. I will revisit that in a few posts but I first wanted to highlight points from some great presentations.

In Critical Compliance: State Registration of Charities, Helen Arnold from Clearly Compliant discussed the importance of complying with the state registration requirements. Most states require nonprofits soliciting contributions to register. Consultants and fund raising professionals (including grant writers) need to register in many of these states too.

A few practical recommendations from Helen:
-print a list of donors by state. Determine if you received the donation as a result of soliciting in that state. Be careful with the thank you notes to these donors—if you request more funds with the thank you—you are now soliciting in another state.
-most internet appeals are considered as coming from the state your charity resides in—except for NJ, NY, PA and FL. If you receive donations from an internet appeal from one of those states, you need to register there. Again when thanking internet donors, be careful about asking for more funds with the thank you note. Also be careful if you add internet donors to your mailing list.
-if you do have multiple states that you need to file in, there are several compliance services that can do this for you. They keep up to date on the state requirements and can save you time and money. Clearly Compliant offers this service
-the National Association of State Charity Officials has a list with links to all the state oversight offices
-the Unified Registration Statement which is accepted by 37 states can be found here There is also a nice state by state discussion of the requirements in the appendix on their site.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Map out your Future Success

One of the tools we like to use when working with clients on a strategic plan is a cost benefit matrix map. This tool provides a straight forward way to map programs based on both mission impact and financial impact. The beauty of this matrix map is its visual simplicity.

We recently had the good fortune to learn about Jan Masaoka's enhanced version of this matrix map during a training session on "Understanding and Changing Your Business Model in 60 Minutes" while at the BoardSource Leadership Forum. Many of you know Jan from her work at Blue Avocado ( She, along with Jeanne Bell, has just published a new book entitled Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability.

The cost benefit matrix map is a four-square which plots mission impact along the vertical axis and financial impact along the horizontal axis. Jan takes the matrix map one step further by classifying each of the quadrants in the foursquare with easily identifiable visual designations: stop signs, money trees, hearts and stars.

Stop Signs
In the lower left quadrant you will list the programs which produce little or no revenue and do not have an impact on your mission. These are your "stop signs". In other words, unless you are able to revamp these programs so that they increase their mission impact or generate new or more revenue, these are usually the first programs to be cut from an organization as their value is very low.

Money Trees
In the lower right quadrant you will list programs that generate a lot of revenue, but still do not have a significant impact on your mission. These are your ‘money trees’. Often you will find special events or donors in this quadrant. Look for ways to bring your mission message to these events.

In the upper left quadrant you will list programs that have a high impact on your mission, but generate little or no income. These are your ‘hearts’. They often have a very valuable place in the organization, but they are sustained by revenue from other programs. Often these programs reach deep into the community with your mission message. If possible, strategize new ways to generate revenue for these programs.

Finally, the most important quadrant in the matrix is the upper right hand quadrant. The programs in this quadrant have high impact and generate revenue for the organization. These are your stars. When planning for growth, you will want to look first at these programs and investigate opportunities for expansion.

To learn more about the Cost Benefit Matrix Map or other tools to improve your organization’s financial sustainability, feel free to contact Cindy Bergvall, CPA, Catalyst Center for Nonprofit Management.