Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looking back and ahead

For the past five years I have been looking at Critical Issues for nonprofits, both through my quarterly articles on strategy, planning, and organizational development, and through this blog, which has ranged a bit more broadly.
For the past four years I have directed and hosted nonprofit Webinars, offering weekly presentations on all matters related to professional development for nonprofit staff and trustees. Our 400 or so Webinars from over 100 presenters have been seen by over 30,000 people from every state, most Canadian provinces, and scores of countries around the world. 
For the past 2 ½ years Nonprofit Webinars has been supported financially and logistically as a pro bono service of Good Done Great, which has more recently acquired Idea Encore and Nonprofit Direct. Now Good Done Great has packaged its collection of pro bono offerings into 4Good, a new resource sharing and capacity building site, launching tomorrow.
Looking ahead, while we’re learning about—and developing--the potential of 4Good, we’ll be using it also as the platform for several new offerings, including:
·       A resource for RFPs & RFQs:
As noted in Critical Issues #10: Mind Your RFPs & Qs, there is expertise and preparation required to issue a good request for proposals. There is also a need to get it into the hands of the right service providers. In the coming weeks we will be launching a service for guidance in developing RFPs & RFQs, and a clearinghouse for issuing them.
·       On-call advisory and referral services:
We have had a very positive response to our initiation of on-call services for executive directors and board chairs, so we will be expanding and broadening it.

Drawing on our expertise in planning (strategic, program, business, facilities), strategy, and organizational development and change, we have advised in-house strategic planning processes, coached board chairs in developing a more engaged and active board, and provided counsel to
executive directors on a wide variety of management and governance issues.

Our on-call clients have used our services for a 15-minute telephone conversation, a half-hour edit of a strategic plan, or a 20-minute presentation by video to a board meeting, followed by Q&A. They have used an hour of consulting time over several days, or a day of consulting time over several weeks. This has offered affordable expertise in small, client-driven increments

We will expand these services by adding consultants with expertise in other fields (e.g. communications, fundraising, human resources), drawing on the broad array of experts we have invited to present webinars.

As we develop these services and others, we welcome suggestions about specific needs and priorities.
Happy new year.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Finalists in the Fourth Annual Mission Statement Competition

This year I invited four consultants who are excellent regular presenters for Nonprofit Webinars to join me in reviewing entries to the Great Mission Statement Competition:
     Claire Axelrad, Clairification
     Michele Levy, brand strategy consulting
     Dalya Massachi, Writing for Community Success
     Eyal Ronen, Spotlight Leadership

Last week we sifted through the entries and managed to pick six semi-finalists. I presented them last Wednesday in the webinar What’s a Mission Statement Worth?

Help us to pick the winner

Please take a look at the finalists (below) and help us to select the best of the best. To weigh in, submit comments to this blog. You’re welcome to make a case for your organization’s mission statement, but no anonymous comments please. We will consider only attributed comments, and post only ones that make a case for why the statement meets either the criteria for excellence summarized below or your own.

As described in What’s a Mission Statement Worth?, in various posts in this blog (search for “mission” to see prior year winners and makeovers), and in Critical Issues#7: On Mission, a good mission statement articulates the essence of why you exist. It can encompass what you are, but should avoid what you do and how. And it is:

     Simply stated


     Sufficiently broad
     Appropriately focused

The contenders

In selecting the semi-finalists for the competition this year, the judges have offered words of praise, and also suggestions for a few tweaks here and there. First the three impressive semifinalists that missed the final round by a hair:

The semi-finalists

Community Housing Partnership
Community Housing Partnership’s mission is to help homeless people secure housing and become self-sufficient.
     Eyal: Simple, direct, descriptive.
     Claire: It’s straightforward and hints at their underlying values—safety, lasting solution, not a bandaid.
     Dalya asks whether it is perhaps a bit too simplified and dry.

Ovarian Cancer Alliance of Florida
The Ovarian Cancer Alliance aims to ignite the fight against ovarian and all gynecological cancers.
     Michele: This is a short, bold declaration.
     Eyal: The word "“ ignite” clearly marks your particular spot in this effort.
     Claire: “Ignite the fight” is poetic and memorable. The statement indicates a change they’re working toward and the problem they want to eradicate.
     Dalya also likes the energy of “Ignite the fight.”

Sun Valley Lodge
To provide affordable quality living choices for seniors in a trusting environment.
     Claire: [This statement] give[s] a sense of values (affordable, high quality, trusted) and vision (a living option for seniors).
     Michele asks whether “in a trusting environment” belongs in the mission statement.
     Is there another phrase that could be used to give a more distinguishing or memorable characterization of your facility?

And here are the finalists.
What do you think?

Every Child's Music Fund
Our mission is to bring basic music education back to every child in our community.
     Michele: It's a bold, simple statement of an admirable and audacious goal.
     Eyal: This is a great mission statement (and a superb mission).
     Claire asks why this mission is important—in other words, she’d like a hint of underlying values and vision.
     Dalya finds this statement to be simple yet elegant.
     Two judges think that “our community” is a bit vague; naming your target area could add vividness for prospective donors. Eyal asked whether the word “back” is accurate—whether every child once had that opportunity. I would ask whether “back” is too remedial a word, which might suggest a limited vision and aspiration. On the other hand, Dalya thinks the word “back” adds a sense of intensity to the statement.

Geneva Centre for Autism
Geneva Centre for Autism works to empower individuals with an autism spectrum disorder, and their families, to fully participate in their communities.
     This is a straightforward statement that states why you exist. “empower”, “participate” and “communities” are the vivid words. “and their families” goes a bit further to suggest the disruptive effect of a family member of the spectrum.
     Dalya finds this statement simple but powerful. She likes the inclusion of families and then the phrase “fully participate in their communities”

Nonprofit Association of Oregon
The mission of the Nonprofit Association of Oregon (NAO) is to strengthen the collective voice, leadership, and capacity of nonprofits to enrich the lives of all Oregonians.
     Claire: The “collective voice” is a nice phrase. It gives me an idea that all members are pulling together to achieve a common vision.
     Dalya: This is very much a “why” statement.

Please join the evaluation and selection process with a comment about any of these three finalists—or about mission statements in general. We’ll post the most substantive comments.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Nonprofit Webinars Fall 2013: The rest of the season

Nonprofit Webinars, the premiere venue for free professional development for nonprofit leaders, is offering some unusual topics in the second half of our fall season, from some great presenters. Next week (October 30) we’ll feature the always fascinating Gil Lazan on meaningful conversations and productive work environments, and newcomer Tom Ralser with a unique spin on fundraising techniques that work in today's economic environment. Then on November 6, Froswa’ Booker-Drew will be addressing barriers to change and Susan Black will discuss key leadership factors for fundraising success.

On November 13 we’ll present the semi-finalists in our fourth annual great mission statement competition during the webinar “What’s a Mission Statement Worth?” (Entries close on October 31; go to http://bit.ly/SyPmission for details) and Linda Lysakowski on involving volunteers in development. November 20 will feature Drew Tulchin on social enterprise and Michele Levy on building a nonprofit brand.

In December we’ll have newcomers Pam Williams on outsourcing accounting and Linda Crompton, former CEO of BoardSource, on “New Leadership.”

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fourth Annual Mission Statement Competition

A clear, concise, compelling, and memorable mission statement is the basis of a strong message, focused strategy, energized stakeholders and effective metrics. Is your nonprofit's mission statement a great one?

Enter the Fourth Annual What's Your Mission? Competition to win publicity and free consulting.
Or enter the Mission Statement Makeover category, and get help in creating a great statement.

There is just one more week before the deadline for entries—October 31.

Over the past three years we've had some great statements, interesting discussions, and very promising makeovers:
     Finalists in the 1st Annual Great Mission Statement Competition
     Finalists in the 2nd Annual Great Mission Statement Competition
     Finalists in the 3rd Annual Great Mission Statement Competition
     Mission Statement Makeover Discussion 2011: Part 1
     Mission Statement Makeover Discussion 2011: Part 2
     Mission Statement Makeover Discussion 2011: Part 3
     More thoughts about mission statements
     Zeroing in on a mission statement

For the entry form go to http://bit.ly/SyPmission

For some thoughts on what makes an effective mission statement, check out Critical Issues#7: On Mission or sign up for our free webinar, What's a Mission Statement Worth?, on November 13. During the webinar we'll announce the semi-finalists and get help from the participants in choosing the finalists.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Renew Enthusiasm

Corporations may not be people, but nonprofits fundamentally are. Everyone involved with your organization cares about your cause. But are you engaging them and focusing their time and talents as effectively as you possibly can? (Answer: No one does.) Here are some things you can do to enhance the satisfaction, morale and devotion of your stakeholders by increasing their effectiveness in furthering your mission.


Everything starts with mission. Is your mission statement simple, memorable and inspirational? (If you have any doubts about your statement or its importance, read Critical Issues #7: On Mission)

  • You can capture the interest of prospective donors and volunteers (including board members) with your mission statement, and pre-dispose them to invest in the organization.
  • If your mission statement sticks in the minds of your stakeholders, it can shape the way they think and speak about the organization, enhancing their own efforts and the likelihood that they will be effective ambassadors to others.
  • By building a brand identity around your mission statement—see CI#9: Brand Identity for Nonprofits—you can project the inspirational effect of your mission further through programs, staff attitudes, communications and facilities.
Inform and Engage

If you can move all stakeholders into just a little more engagement with your organization—from wherever they are—you will get an enormous cumulative boost.

  • Nonprofit boards have been characterized as “ineffective groups of effective people.” Make sure that board members have full opportunity to contribute their strengths to the organization, through clarity (orientation and a board manual), structure (effectively designed and implemented committees and meetings), and an explicit annual commitment (individual service plan). See CI#4: On Boards.
  • Make use of the insights and the front-line experience of your staff by assuring that two-way communications are open and active with them. Empower them with ample opportunities to drive improvements, and to feel that the organization is theirs.
  • Communicate with all stakeholders regularly about issues that are important to them, without barraging them with so much information that they tune out. Monitor their email open and click rates and other indices to assure that they are receptive, and adjust as necessary.
  • Entice the least engaged stakeholders into marginally more engagement through regular surveys designed to be two-way communication on selected issues. It works. See CI #2: The Secret Life of Surveys.

Ongoing professional development for both staff and board is essential for the acquisition and maintenance of the knowledge and skills they need to support the organization.

  • Whether or not you have a budget for professional development, make use of the excellent free resources on the web, starting with the three weekly free offerings of Nonprofit Webinars and its extensive archive of past presentations.
  • The most effective vehicle for professional and organizational development is a strategic planning process. If the process is conceived and conducted well, it will also develop a new generation of leadership. See CI #1: Why Plan?.
  • Every board meeting should have some discussion at least partially directed toward professional development. See CI#4: On Boards.

“We manage what we measure” is not just a corporate adage,it addresses individual psychology as well. To that we could add, “We do what we commit to,” and “We feel good when we are working effectively with others.” A good evaluation system sets clear expectations and facilitates not only effectiveness, but satisfaction with one's own work and one's work environment. See CI #8: The Measure of Success (http://bit.ly/SyPci08)

Staff and staff departments, and board officers, committees, and members all need to:

  • have written job descriptions regularly updated to reflect the strategic priorities of the organization.
  • set annual goals based on job descriptions and coordinated with the goals and objectives of the strategic plan.
  • discuss their past performance as they set goals for the next year.
For more on the board version of this process, see:Refresh

Nonprofit staff and volunteers are driven by a personal commitment to the organization's mission. And by a personal interpretation of it. This can make development of the consensus needed for change especially difficult. However, when successfully managed, needed changes can release enormous new energy from existing stakeholders and new ones. See CI #14: Managing Change.

  • In an organization that does advocacy, adaptation to the opportunities provided by social media will likely involve a generational shift of empowerment, and a relinquishment of some hierarchical prerogatives, but may offer vast new opportunities See one of the sidebars in CI #14: Managing Change.
  • In a smaller organization with unfulfilled promise, it can be more effective to develop a whole new approach to identifying, attracting and recruiting new board members, rather than trying to coax a new level of performance from existing members, who may not be ready to do more than they have been doing.
  • When a new CEO is needed, especially on the retirement of a founder, it is critical to know where you stand and to have a good strategic plan to guide the redefining of the job and the courtship of the right candidate. See “Succession”.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Tips for new initiatives

Nonprofit staffs and boards are mission-driven. It can be tempting, when encountering a compelling issue related to your cause, to take on a new program or service, demographic, geographic area, or approach (e.g., research, education, advocacy, direct service). How can you make the right decision in any given situation? Here are some questions to ask:

  1. Does it really fit within your mission? “Mission creep” is a common problem among nonprofits. The new initiative may be very appealing, but does it further your core mission or diffuse your attention, energy and resources at the expense of more mission-critical activities? A clear mission statement (see Critical Issues #7: On Mission) and a well-articulated brand identity (see CI#9: Brand Identity for Nonprofits) should offer some guidance. Beyond that, a well-developed and structured organizational strategy will provide the best support for good decisions (see CI #1: Why Plan?, CI #5: The Structure of Planning, CI #11: The Case for Integrated Planning and CI #17: Fear & Loathing of Strategic Planning).
  2. Has your board brought their experience to bear on a rigorous review of the initiative? An experienced board, well versed in the operations, aspirations, and capabilities of the organization, can be enormously valuable in this role. (See CI #4: On Boards CI#4: On Boards) If you don't see your board as being up to that task, it is time to develop the understanding of current board members and/or develop the identification, recruitment, and orientation of new members. (see blog post)

  3. Do you have a well-developed business plan? It has been noted that “nonprofit” is a tax status, not a business model. If you have determined that there is an unmet need that you are in the best position to address, can you can get the financial support required to provide the program or service? If so, the next step is to develop the details of how you propose to do that—business strategy, operations, structure. (See CI #12: Business Planning)

  4. If substantial resources are required for the new initiative, you may be well advised to construct a financial model (CI #6: Financial Modeling) to orchestrate and fine-tune the relationships between streams of revenue and expense.

  5. If you will need new expertise to develop, launch or operate the new initiative, do you have the capability (on board or staff, or through an independent consultant) to define, acquire and oversee this new area of expertise? (CI#10: Mind Your RFPs & Qs).

  6. Both to facilitate success and to appeal to funders, you’ll need to establish quantitative milestones to reach as the initiative unfolds. The initial focus will likely have to be on outputs, but these should translate, as quickly as possible, to outcomes. (See CI#8: The Measure of Success).

  7. New initiatives change the dynamic of the existing organization, and may require further modifications of how you operate. Make sure that you are prepared to manage that change (CI #14: Managing Change).

Friday, June 28, 2013

Nine Essentials for Facility Planning

If you need to build a new facility, or renovate an existing one, early preparation can make the difference between glorious success and disastrous failure. What, precisely do you need? How will you make the case for it? How much will it cost? How can you avoid having to go back to the board for a budget increase?

Here are nine ways to reduce your costs, your risks and your stress, while enhancing the project. Many of these actions are not things that you’d know to consider if you don’t build regularly; some will very likely be overlooked even if you have a full-time facilities department:

  1. Make sure your strategic, program and business planning are current.
    Facilities are long-term investments. Before deciding whether and how to proceed, you should make sure you’ve done your best thinking about needs, resources and alternatives.
  2. Articulate the requirements in a detailed architectural program.
    Enormous benefits can be derived from describing a prospective facility in great detail very early in the process, in a document known as an architectural program. The architectural programs we create for clients run from 50 pages for a very simple building to over 100 for a complex one. In developing the program you will be faced with a broad range of decisions that you hadn’t thought about, and you’ll be able to think them through and develop consensus as needed, without urgent time pressure. If you wait until design is under way, you risk delay, unanticipated and hence hasty decisions, extra costs for change orders, and maybe even a design that does not fit your real needs.
  3. Use the architectural program to develop a firm project budget.
    A detailed architectural program provides a reliable basis for accurate budgeting of the project, so your board can know the full financial implications before incurring the costs of hiring an architect. And you won’t have to come back to them later for more money.
  4. Project and evaluate the full impact of the new facility on the operating budget.
    New buildings bring various kinds of new costs. To avoid nasty surprises later, it is important to identify them from the start and factor them into decision’making.
  5. Make sure that there is the appropriate expertise on staff to maintain control of the project.
    Someone must direct the project (focusing on fiduciary and programmatic decision making, and communications) and someone must manage it (working with and overseeing the contractor or construction manager, and evaluating requests for payment). Given the quite different skill sets required, these roles normally require two different people, though for smaller projects neither may need to be a full time job.
  6. Put in place unambiguous decision-making processes for the project.
    You will need to establish clear decision-making and communications protocols to avoid added costs, stress, and delays.
  7. Develop a contract that fully protects the client’s interests.
    Most often nonprofits use a standard contract developed by the American Institute of Architects. Unless it is heavily edited by an attorney experienced in construction, this contract will add significant costs and risks to your project. Handled properly, a customized and well-negotiated contract better serves the interests of both the nonprofit and the architect.
  8. Follow a thorough and methodical process in selecting an architect and negotiating contract details.
    A well-crafted process will result in a more suitable fit between the architect and client, a more successful design process, and a better building.
  9. Get the right help.
    Don’t assume that because you have an architect, developer or construction manager on your board, or a former contractor on staff, that you can get the most out of the above advice without outside help. Most organizations spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars more than they need to—on a small project—by going it on their own.
These steps will enable an organization to evaluate the feasibility of a project before committing to major expenses, and avoid pitfalls that could damage the finances not only of the project, but of the organization as a whole.

For more information on the facility planning process, see Critical Issues 13: Before you Hire an Architect, or contact me to discuss how Synthesis Partnership can help with any of the above suggestions.