Sunday, July 31, 2011

Philanthropy with a Side of Management

Several years ago I wrote an article for Trusteeship ( “To Build or Not to Build?”) about the preparation and due diligence needed by a governing board before a nonprofit should embark on a facility project. I began with a story about how, when a university board let costs on a building project run out of control, Peter Lewis (Progressive Insurance) cut off his giving to every charity in the city until all of the trustees resigned.

Mr. Lewis is in the news again, along with Pierre Omidyar (eBay), in yesterday's New York Times (“Philanthropists Start Requiring Management Courses to Keep Nonprofits Productive”). They have each required beneficiaries of their philanthropy to accept some management consulting services along with their financial support.

Many foundations offer grants for planning services or organizational development, but most do not tie a requirement for organizational development to a financial grant. Over the years I have heard many times from foundations that they couldn't make a grant conditional on accepting “technical support”. It would be interfering with the grantees’ prerogatives, and being imposed from the outside, would not work.

It is also worth noting that sometimes a gift restricted to donor priorities can be a real problem (see “Is Salvation a Kroc?”).

While I can understand those arguments, several organizations quoted in the Times article seem to have found the combination of financial support and organizational consulting to be very effective, even if they had their doubts at first.

In many nonprofits, especially startups, there is strong aversion to thinking like a business. But as I have noted before ( “Business Planning in Nonprofits”), “nonprofit” is a tax status, not a business plan. Budgets must be balanced, people managed, resources used well, if an organization is to be sustainable.

It would be interesting to get a more in-depth sense of how the efforts described in the Times are working, and whether the idea is catching on more broadly.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Nonprofit Webinars (free) Summer Offerings

The summer schedule of Wednesday Webinars is now being finalized, with a mix of popular returning presenters and some great new presenters and offerings. For details and (free) registration, click on the titles in the widget to the right. For the full season schedule, and the archive of past webinars, visit

July 13 1:00 pm EDT / 10:00 am PDT

Strategic Planning Part 1: Cultivation & Organizational Development
Sam Frank, Founder and Principal, Synthesis Partnership

Strategic planning should be a means not only to produce a strategy, but also to engage and cultivate stakeholders, develop leadership, and generate new energy, commitment and consensus around mission. Its primary product is not a written plan, but strategic thinking within the organization through a process of planning followed by a process of implementation. A well-conceived and managed planning process can be the most effective form of organizational development.


  • What benefits to expect from an effective strategic planning process
  • How to approach and structure a strategic planning process
  • How to get broad buy-in in any organization
  • Tools to use for assessing your situation, engaging your constituencies, developing an effective plan, and implementing it

July 13 3:00 pm EDT / noon PDT

Where’s the Return on Engagement? Measuring Social Media ROE
Debra Askanase, Founder and Engagement Strategist at Community Organizer 2.0

Everyone is talking about social media Return on Investment but measuring social media Return on Engagement (ROE) is what matters. New case studies and analysis show that real online engagement drives results. In this workshop, we’ll define status metrics that lead to ROE and engagement metrics, what kind of social media activities give the highest ROE, why it’s so important, and how to use that information to design your programs and social media implementation. We’ll also look at three ROE supportive case studies.


  • What social media activities produce the highest Return on Engagement and how to design higher ROE
  • Concrete examples of organizations implementing ROE-based social media and what they’ve learned
  • How to measure ROE

July 20

Nonprofit Finances: Its Mysteries Revealed–A Primer for Board Members
Alfonso Perillo, CPA, Edelstein & Company LLP

An introduction for trustees to accounting concepts that are unique to nonprofit organizations so that they can better exercise their fiduciary responsibilities.


  • Accrual vs. cash basis accounting
  • Concepts unique to nonprofit financial statements
  • Basic tools to understand an organization’s financial health
  • Understanding your state’s regulations relating to nonprofit organizations
  • Basic concepts about internal controls
  • Basic fraud prevention techniques

July 27

New Numbers on “Nonprofits” and Philanthropy
George McCully, CEO, Catalogue for Philanthropy

New numbers from Massachusetts prove that “nonprofit” is far from a synonym for “philanthropy”, and that the numbers we all have accepted are wrong by a factor of 10. If “philanthropy” is “private initiatives, for public good, focusing on quality of life, and engaged in public fundraising”, then only 3,500 out of the 38,500 Massachusetts nonprofits are philanthropic. George McCully will discuss the revolutionary data produced in developing the Massachusetts Philanthropic Directory.


  • “Nonprofit” does not mean “Philanthropic”
  • Philanthropic studies are about to be revolutionized
  • Professional philanthropists need to re-think their fields
  • Better data and knowledge will produce better control in understanding, management, and fundraising
  • Philanthropy is entering a new age

Volunteer Engagement
Multi-Generational Boards
Advancement Best Practices
Non-Profit/City Parnerships
Social Media Fundraising
Strategic Planning (part 2)
Get Your Board to Fundraise
Stewardship as Revenue Enhancer


Writing for the Web
Sharing Knowledge

For the full season schedule, and the archive of past webinars, visit

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mind your RFPs & Qs, Part 3: Process

The most important part of the RFP process is the work that goes into preparing to write the RFP. That’s when you articulate your needs, put them in context, resolve any internal differences of opinion, research comparable projects, and set a budget.

At that point the focus shifts to sharing the RFP with one or more service providers. You may choose to work with a provider in whom you have confidence from previous experience. In this case the purpose of the RFP is to frame the project as described above. This can save time and money and enhance the quality of the result, by briefing the service provider on your intentions and expectations before the beginning of the work.

Or, you may use the RFP as a briefing tool with a few service providers that have been recommended to you.

If you decide to use it as part of a competitive process, however, it will be bearing more weight as a stand-alone source of information. In this case the issues discussed in previous posts on Purpose and Structure & Content take on greater importance, along with considerations of process.

For a complex project, an RFP is usually not the best initial communication with prospective service providers. Developing a detailed proposal for a complex project requires significant investment by a service provider. You may not attract the best of them by asking for a lot of work before you have made the effort to learn whether they are the match you’re likely to want. You may be looking for a low bid, regardless of quality, or for a different approach from that taken by the provider. A busy service provider will choose to respond to prospective clients who come to them with more intentionality.

You may wish to start with a Request for Qualifications (RFQ). This will bring you preliminary information from service providers who may be interested in the project, and will give you enough information to narrow the field down to a small number for further consideration.

The best next step is often an interview. What you learn in an interview about approach, attitude, and personal chemistry will be another filter, giving you a second dimension of selectivity. If you interview three to five prospects and emerge with one to three candidates, you will be in a good position to ask your finalists for a detailed proposal, and to get their best effort in describing how they would configure the work, how long the project should take, the allocation of responsibilities, the deliverables, and the costs.

If you decide to solicit competitive proposals—with or without these preliminaries—there are some rules of protocol that will produce better results:

  • Be as open as you can with information and any needed clarification, both to attract the best providers and to enable them to give you their best (and most comparable) proposals. Give at least a budget range and/or a very precise scope of services (many good providers simply don’t respond if they would have to guess about the realism of your budget expectations). Reveal the number of providers you are asking for proposals. Mention the amount and kind of work you expect to be able to do in-house (by staff and/.or volunteers).
  • Give a date until which you will accept clarification questions from prospective providers, and note that you will share all questions and your answers with all prospective proposers.
  • If you have any positions on critical contractual provisions, you may want to share them with prospective proposers to make sure the ground rules are understood by all. And later you should make the RFP an addendum to the contract.
Depending on the kind of services at issue, there are many variations and details that could be added to this overview. But an understanding of these basics will offer a much more promising start to the process of procuring professional services.