Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What are Your Experiencing? Part 2

This week I wanted to share the board topics that came out of my conversations two weeks ago with two groups of nonprofit leaders. I joined a group of senior fund raisers in Indianapolis to discuss issues within their organizations and the community, hosted at Gleaners.

Thoughts and ideas that caught my attention:

Spend more of your time with board members who “get it” and can help gets things done and help engage other board members.

Ask questions that force board members to wrestle with their values and reasons for being part of the organization. This may be best initiated in a retreat or extended working session. Some will be real and some as preparation for the real thing.

- Define a Gift Acceptance Policy – are there people, businesses, or organizations we would not accept funds from or not want to be associated with?

- What is an appropriate reserve for our organization? How do we feel about putting our funds into service versus setting them aside for the future?

• In one mid-sized nonprofit, the Development Director serves as the recorder for board meetings. She drafts the minutes and then reviews them with the Exec Dir and Board Secretary. This has had, at least, three positive effects – 1) the board members know her and consider her part of the board team, 2) a second staff person is aware of what is happening at board meetings (backup), and 3) it is much easier to recruit a Board Secretary. Perhaps the Board Secretary will take on some of the important, but often overlooked, aspects of that role.

In Cincinnati, I was part of a panel discussion on board leadership for Business on Board, a board training program hosted by the Fine Arts Fund. I joined Rick Pender, Director of Development, for the Cincinnati Opera and Caitlin Wood, Director of External Relations, for Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati on this panel, facilitated by Mike Boberg from the Fine Arts Fund.

Thoughts and ideas that caught my attention:

• The Opera strives to create a “family feel” on their board. The result is that the 80 members know each other and look forward to doing things together. Each member must make a specified annual gift.

• Your best new board members will come from the people who already know you and get excited about your work or potential.

• We assume our new and current board members must know how to present our organization since they don’t ask. Train, Train, Train

• It is critical for new board members to know why they, specifically, were recruited and how you expect them, specifically, to participate.

What are your thoughts? What are you experiencing?

Monday, January 19, 2009

What are You Experiencing?

- NFP News – January 20 and 22, 2009

Last week, I was fortunate to be able to join two groups of nonprofit leaders in discussing a range of nonprofit topics, including board development and fund raising. By inviting you into some of these discussions, I hope you will also find some new ideas and share yours with us.

I joined a group of senior fund raisers in Indianapolis to discuss issues within their organizations and the community, hosted at Gleaners.

Thoughts and ideas that caught my attention:
• All of the organizations represented had seen a strong fourth quarter of donations. A primary concern is that overwhelming negative press about the economy could decrease giving in 2009.
• Though some capital campaigns are being delayed others are moving forward with good results and positive expectations.
• In larger organizations, it makes a huge difference whether they use a current endowment asset balance or a rolling three years to define endowment withdrawals.
• Some are seeing much stronger on-line giving
• Corporate giving is not as strong as it has been
• “Slacker Tracker” is a fun term for a person on your leadership team/board who takes responsibility for holding people accountable for what they have agreed to do.

In Cincinnati, I was invited to be part of a panel discussion for Business on Board, a board training program hosted by the Fine Arts Fund. I joined Rick Pender, Director of Development, for the Cincinnati Opera and Caitlin Wood, Director of External Relations, for Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati on this panel, facilitated by Mike Boberg from the Fine Arts Fund.

Thoughts and ideas that caught my attention:
• People who really care about your work will still support it.
• This is a time to get great deals on advertising through most media.
• In-kind gifts are easier to get from hotels or other businesses that have assets sitting unused.
• It takes more integrity to cut a program than to compromise quality and hope no one notices.
• Mid-sized nonprofit organizations might struggle most in a tight economy because they don’t have as many staff or programs that can be cut and have not yet developed the endowments, reserves, or fund raising clout of a larger organization. Small organizations are more accustomed to living on the edge, surviving on passion, and may find it easier to “step back” to their roots to weather the storm.
• When looking for places to increase revenue and decrease expenses, invite leaders of similar organizations to review your organization and go help review theirs. You will be surprised how many things are staffed or done “because we always have”, not “because we have to”.
• How should a board member respond when the staff comes back with – “We have made all the cuts we can”? From a long-time Executive Director – “There are always more cuts that can be made, but the trade-offs and consequences increase with every cut. Staff should always be able to come back with a plan for more cuts plus some ideas to increase revenue.”

The messages they are conveying to donors:
• We are looking ahead and planning the use of funds responsibly
• We fully expect to be here for the long-term but need your support right now.
• We will not compromise the quality of our programs

What are your thoughts? What are you experiencing?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Nonprofits Should Act More Like Businesses?

NFP News – Jan 13 and 15

In light of so many nonprofits being concerned about declining or potentially declining revenues, I saw an interesting article by Steve Watkins in the January 2nd, 2009 Cincinnati Business Courier. The focus of the article, entitled “Chief Rescue Officer”, was on professional consultants or managers who are brought in as “turnaround” experts when business owners need help. I found many of the comments very applicable to our circumstances in the nonprofit community and thought they might inspire your thinking as well.

Comments from Leonard Eppel, President of Financial Resource Associates Inc.:

· It’s been difficult to find solutions because people have waited so long. Our options are more limited than they have been in the past.

· He is seeing some problems so late that the only solutions are to sell or liquidate the business. That’s never been that way before. The downturn has caught a lot of people in shock mode.

· We teach businesses to plan for their cash flow. One client now routinely runs 12 week projections of cash needs.

· Some businesses don’t recognize they are bending over backwards to serve customers and have to realize they can’t afford to give dramatically more than what they are being paid for.

· He tells business owners that the key now is to manage to the current situation, not what they hope the economy will do. Project revenues conservatively. Plan manpower based on revenues.

Comments from Don Feldmann, President and CEO of Winton Associates, a capital advisory firm:

· Financing is hard to get. That puts a premium on identifying problems early.

· A common pitfall: Don’t cut back on marketing and sales.

· Some businesses realize they don’t know why their customers buy from them so they don’t know how to continue sales in tougher times.

· Sometimes, cutting costs means laying people off – that’s tough for many owners. One trick is to set a date by which you will cut people if things don’t improve to a predetermined point. Then find someone who will hold you to that date.

· Company owners don’t know all their costs in many cases and should track every expense.

Read full article http://cincinnati.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/stories/2009/01/05/smallb1.html?b=1231131600^1754913

How does this strike you? Can you see some parallels? We would love to get your feedback.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Charitable Advisors and the Not-for-Profit News in the New Year!

Bryan Orander, President – Charitable Advisors and Not-for-Profit News (Jan 6 and 8, 2009)

We are excited about the possibilities that come with the dawning of a new year, yet cautious as we also face uncertainty – a key source of revenue, job advertising, is down by more than 50% from this time last year and we are hopeful that it will rebound in the months ahead.

New Opportunities and Needs

In recent articles, I have shared my perspective on what nonprofits can be doing to prepare and respond to current situations and we are constantly looking for trends where we can respond within our arena of service:
• Not-for-profits will have increasing needs to build their capacity and strengthen their organizations, but fewer dollars for consultants or outside assistance.
• Being connected and informed will become even more important to nonprofits and staff.
• More job seekers will be pursuing fewer full-time openings.
• More organizations will be considering part-time staffers and contractors in place of full-time.
• Many funders, associations, and nonprofit support organizations will be seeking ways to make their capacity-building funds go farther.

Our Response - Reviewing and Tweaking

Every year we review our work, look at the most recent reader and client surveys and match those to the current and emerging needs we perceive in the communities we support. We gauge this with the need to be financially self-supporting. Our approach has most recently been labeled a “Social-Purpose Business”.
• The newsletter format has been refreshed and rearranged. The ability to “Jump to” the segment of the news you want to read is more clearly emphasized.
• The weekly article has been moved to the top and linked to our blog to increase interaction.
• We will occasionally link to our newly created Discussion Board.
• All three of our websites are being rearranged and linked to each other.
• Dropping our Nonprofit Calendar – due to low traffic and other internet community calendars.

Bigger Responses/Changes

We can either downscale and conserve resources or jump in and build on our strengths to make a difference to our communities and, hopefully, repay the investments when the economy improves.

Not-for-Profit News Responses –

1) Seeking Collaboration or Merger Partners - We are combining the free Swap Meet and Volunteer Opps into a broader posting forum to include requests for agency partnerships. Not sure if you want the whole world to know? – we offer a blind e-mail address for a small fee.
2) We are adding a new section to the newsletter to allow part-time job seekers and contractors to post their skills and availability for a small fee. This will help organizations seeking niche personnel solutions to make a quick connection and, if successful, supplement our revenue.
3) We are researching the financial feasibility of “Job Board” software to allow job seekers to post their information and employers to post their full job descriptions and search resumes.
4) We are exploring partnerships to quickly build opt-in subscriber lists for the NFP News to launch editions for Southern Indiana and Northern Indiana this spring or early summer.

Strengths of Charitable Advisors consulting – we feel we have developed a good reputation for our work in Executive Transition, Succession Planning, and Capacity Building plus putting the interests of clients and communities above our own.

Our Responses –
1) We are translating more of our consulting services and expertise into “fixed-price engagements” and workshop formats.
2) We are assembling more “Do-it-yourself” capacity building tools to support organizations that cannot afford a consultant. More info below.

Strengths of www.AllAboutBoards.com training materials and on-line assessments – People regularly express their appreciation for how we put important information into short and understandable language. In the coming months we will surpass 25,000 of our “Too Rushed to Read” board booklets sold to nonprofits all across the country – probably in all 50 states. Since 2007, we’ve processed dozens of on-line Board Self-Assessments at 1/3 the cost of BoardSource.

Our Responses –
1) Executive Director/CEO Development Survey - In our trainings, we continue to find that less than half of the Executive Directors of smaller nonprofits receive any type of performance review or evaluation.
2) Strategic Planning Survey –Great for kicking off the New Year or preparing for a planning retreat or process. Two alternatives – 1) standard and 2) customer-defined questions.
3) Staff Survey –This survey focuses on the mission and how the work of the organization can be strengthened. Two alternatives – 1) standard and 2) customer-defined questions.

We are excited about these changes and hope you are as well. We welcome your feedback.

Bryan Orander, President
Charitable Advisors