Nonprofit organizations play a vitally important and often under-appreciated role in society. We exist because there are generous and committed individuals willing to sacrifice to make our communities stronger, more inclusive, and healthy places to live. As a nonprofit leader, whether your mission is to help families stricken by a serious illness, provide a place for abandoned pets to thrive, introduce young people to the joys of music or sports, or any one of a thousand other critical missions, you have jumped in and take care of critical needs that the market economy cannot or will not address.
While nonprofits are often looked at as somehow being “lesser” businesses, the management challenges faced by nonprofits are as tough as those faced by any traditional, profit-making firm. Not only do we have to provide a vital service, but those receiving it are generally unable to pay its cost. Therefore, we have two challenges: providing the service and raising the money from others.
In over twenty years of working in and with nonprofit organizations, I have developed skills and expertise to help you excel at your missions. What I can provide falls into three general areas: raising more money, improving the effectiveness of your board, and improving your administrative tools and procedures.
Raising More Money
Obtaining the resources you need to carry out your mission is, in fact, part of your mission. Organizations need to have a well-thought-out and focused fundraising strategy. Not all organizations are the same: some are well-positioned to receive significant foundation grant funding, while others can develop a steady base of small donors. Research shows that groups that try to fundraise in many different ways do not do as well as those that pick a few strategies and get really good at executing them.
In addition to a smart and focused fundraising strategy, successful organizations invest in the right tools, training and process development to support a successful and sustainable fundraising program.
I can help you with these specific activities, among others:
- By working with your leadership, analyzing your mission and field in which you operate and reviewing your current fundraising activities and results, develop a clear, concise fundraising strategy and basic annual fundraising plan. This plan will be achievable, affordable, and have the buy-in of key decisionmakers.
- Selection and implementation of the right Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) tool for your organization. To sustain your fundraising efforts, you need a CRM that is an excellent fit for your organization and fundraising activities. There are at least 20 decent CRM systems on the market that vary greatly in functions, complexity, and cost. Picking the right one for your group is not a simple or trivial task, as many organizations have learned painfully. When done by an experienced person, fully implementing a new CRM takes only a few months and includes system configuration, data transfer, process development and documentation, and training.
- Fixing your CRM. Many of us are saddled with tools that are out of date, were poorly implemented, or a bad fit. Many of them are riddled with erroneous and duplicate data and are sources of great staff frustration. A poorly managed CRM impairs your ability to communicate professionally and efficiently with your donors. The good news is that CRMs are fixable (or replaceable) through reconfiguration, data cleanup, documentation, and staff training.
Boards and Governance
Your nonprofit’s Board of Director plays a critical role in determining the success of the organization. Is your board collaborative and energetic? Are they supportive of the ED and the staff in big ways, like raising money, and small ways, like expressing appreciation? Are they careful to avoid managing and focus instead on strategy, governance, and policy? Unfortunately, for every board that fits this description, there seems to be at least another that is the direct opposite: either too distant and uninformed or intent on micromanaging; uncollaborative and distrustful of the staff; and avoid responsibility for playing a significant role in fundraising.
Excellence in board governance does not happen by accident. It comes about through hard work and intentional effort. Transforming a board into a high-functioning, energetic body that functions in partnership with the staff may not be easy, but it is definitely possible and clearly worth the effort.
The pathway to excellence often looks something like this:
- Educate yourself and one or two key board allies about what a high-functioning board looks like. Envision what your board could be for your organization. Map out a plan for bringing this vision to the entire board. An outside resource who is experienced in this kind of work and who has the independence to speak the truth to colleagues can be very valuable here.
- Start the process of creating a culture of excellent governance. This usually entails writing (or rewriting) your board handbook so that it clearly spells out expectations on all members in the areas of fundraising, engagement, and meeting attendance. It’s not enough just to rewrite the handbook. You have to start using it to guide all board activities.
- Revise your bylaws to ensure they are up-to-date. If they do not already have them, implement term limits. I believe that term limits are one of the most powerful tools for keeping your board healthy.
- Develop a process (and document it in your board handbook) for identifying, cultivating, recruiting, and eventually electing board members. Create a board matrix identifying all of the skills and characteristics you have on your board as well as all of the ones you want to have. Use this to target individuals for recruitment. Maintain a list of potential board members.
Having served on boards as well as worked with boards as an Executive Director, I have worked through all stages of board development. I can help your organization get on the road to excellence with your board.
Tools, Technology, and Equipment
In the nonprofit sector, we are infamous for expecting people to do incredible tools with really bad tools. Whether it is broken chairs, overcrowded office space, outdated computers, or obsolete or just plain missing software, we are often guilty of underinvesting in our own capacity to do the work we need to do. This needs to end. Capacity investments pay off in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. They improve morale and employee retention. Importantly, many funders understand this and are waiting for you to make a clear case for investing in your ability to carry out your important mission.
I think every organization should have:
- A technology assessment and roadmap that outlines where you are today in terms of tools and technology versus where you should be today and where you will need to be a few years from now. The person developing this roadmap with you should have a clear understanding of current and emerging CRM, project management, communications, and collaboration software.
- Tools that help automate and streamline back-office functions. Too many organizations still rely upon spreadsheets or hand-written forms for scheduling, invoicing, and other easily-automated tasks. This is not only unproductive and boring, but it prevents information sharing and collaboration among your team.
- In some unique cases, groups are smart to invest in custom software or custom integrations of off-the-shelf packages. A new generation of software development and software integration tools is making is a much more affordable and important option for organizations.
Prior to joining the nonprofit sector, I spent twenty years selecting, designing, and implementing business management software. I’m prepared to help you understand your technology challenges, develop and get support for a multi-year technology plan, and implement that plan.
Please call or email me to discuss your organization and needs. If appropriate, we will schedule a free, two-hour exploratory discussion. Following that, if we think you could benefit from my services, I’ll produce a work proposal for you.