Archive for July, 2011

Financial due diligence: What grantmakers look for and what you should know about it

Grantmakers are by necessity becoming more selective in how they allocate their resources. Many are looking for data to help inform increasingly difficult funding decisions. Across the sector, we are seeing a genuine desire among grantmakers to better understand how to effectively use financial information as part of the due diligence process. The challenge is that interpreting financial data can be time consuming and complex, running the risk of creating additional burdens on grantmakers and grantseekers and at times drawing incorrect conclusions.

Due diligence, as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “thoughtful research and analysis of an organization prior to a business transaction.” For grantmakers, the due diligence process is a multifaceted one, combining subjective insights and judgments about organizational capacity, governance and leadership with objective data analysis such as financial review. This financial dimension should begin with the examination of audited financial statements and/or IRS Form 990, the current agency budget and some details as to the stability of revenue sources. This information should, in theory at least, help to answer some very basic questions, such as: Did the organization operate at a surplus or a deficit? Does the organization have sufficient cash-on-hand? Is there a healthy reserve base? But it is not always that simple.

Take for example the fact that the total change in net assets (read: surplus or deficit) may include revenues restricted for future use. In other words, what appears to be a surplus may in fact be—on an unrestricted basis—a deficit when you extract those restricted or “spoken for” dollars. Conversely, what looks like a deficit may be an unrestricted surplus if the organization released more restricted revenues than it brought in for the fiscal year. The available cash-on-hand may also have restrictions, rendering it technically illiquid. Or, the unrestricted net asset base may be comprised entirely of property, plant and equipment. Welcome to nonprofit accounting!

The point is it is not an easy task to open up an audit or a Form 990 and interpret an organization’s financial statements. Many of us—nonprofit executives and grantmakers alike—have not had formal nonprofit finance training. In this topsy-turvy world of nonprofit numbers, meaning-making can become overwhelming to the point where the desire is to run for the hills. Yet, there is valuable information to be gleaned from analyzing the numbers. And, for those who take the time to learn how to read and interpret nonprofit financial data, we will have at our disposal a language through which

we can communicate. It is not rocket science, but like any language, it takes time to learn and will likely involve a certain degree of trial and error before getting it right.

When it comes to financial due diligence, there are really only a couple of things to know. First, financial due diligence should provide some insight into whether an organization is at risk of going out of
business. Common indicators of risk include an audit with a qualified or adverse opinion, negative net assets and/or payroll tax liabilities. If you are a grantmaker, these are the kinds of red flags that should give you pause and require follow-up. If you are a nonprofit executive, you should have a well-articulated plan in place to address these issues, and this plan should be communicated proactively to your funders.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, financial due diligence should result in an increased understanding of an organization’s operating model, structure and financial position. It should also result in more successful grant structuring. The documents to review might include one or more years of the following: audited financial statements and management letters, IRS form 990, year-to-date internal financial information, current organization-wide budget, documents describing the status of revenue sources (received, committed, pending) and fundraising plans. If you are a grantmaker, the financial analysis you conduct should lead to insightful questions to ask your potential grantee. If you are a nonprofit executive, you should be prepared to actively engage in this dialogue and impress upon your funder a deep understanding of the financial dimensions of your nonprofit business.

Financial due diligence plays a key role in helping a funder to gauge their level of confidence in “investing” in a nonprofit. But due diligence is not merely a tool for managing risk—it can also be a powerful relationship-building opportunity. As described in Due Diligence Done Well, a guide by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations and La Piana Consulting, the due diligence process can help funders develop a better understanding of the day-to-day realities of their nonprofit partners, and nonprofits gain insight into funders’ philanthropic goals and strategic priorities. When put to its best use, financial due diligence will help to build and sustain a lasting trust between these two interdependent parties. This, in turn, can translate into generating more sustainable sources of revenue for nonprofits at a time when nonprofits desperately need it.

See also:

Winning Foundation Grants

Storytelling for Grantmakers

Cash Flow Solutions

Cash Flow Strategies

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Social good by the slice

You love pizza. Why not be purposeful about it? A new company called Naked Pizza agrees. Naked Pizza’s mission is to demonstrate, by example, that fast food can be part of the solution in the global epidemic of obesity and chronic illness by, 1) proving that an unhealthy and popular fast food can be made healthier and tasty, and, 2) making a business case for investment, profit and scale. Naked Pizza’s corporate social responsibility strategy is textbook, or in this case, business book—Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World to be exact. Naked Pizza now shares company with GE and other large companies that are opening up new business markets by blending social good with the bottom line.

According to Do More authors, Crutchfield, Kania and Kramer, one of the six best practices of highly effective donors is to blend profit with purpose. Businesses have a lot to offer as vehicles for social progress, and donors can engage business tools in three ways:

1) They can tap corporate know-how to create direct social impact: They can utilize the knowledge, skills and abilities of employees, as well as company systems and processes; intellectual property such as patents and trade secrets; and other assets. For example, GE used their industry know-how to upgrade thirty-seven clinics and hospitals and retrained local staffs in poor communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America, all without charge. GE continues to open a new clinic every month as part of its $90 million annual budget for philanthropy.

2) They can create shared values through profit-making initiatives that serve social objectives: In the GE example, senior executives saw a tremendous range of opportunities for their business. The company invested $6 billion to develop new, inexpensive products and treatments that meet the health needs of low-income populations around the world with a goal of reaching 100 million new patients every year. GE partners with Grameen Bank, the microfinance institution, to build a sustainable rural health model, reducing maternal and infancy mortality rates by 20 percent.

3) They can use their investment capital to further their social impact: The authors report that catalytic donors are using their vote and their cash to further social issues through “impact investments.” The authors explain a strategy called “shareholder advocacy,” where a foundation can purchase shares of stock in a company in which they wish to have policy influence. For example, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, whose interest in the environment prompted them to purchase stock in Smithfield Foods so they could file a shareholder resolution requesting complete disclosures of environmental impacts. They filed annually, eventually gaining 29 percent of the shareholders’ votes, and the company began to negotiate with the foundation. The foundation brought in their grantees for expertise, which led to the company’s commitment to track and report environmental indicators relating to its farms.

Even more immediate social impact can be accomplished by foundations offering low- or no-interest loans to grantees, which has been done for decades. These loans qualify as program related investments, which means foundations can count these loans as part of their payout requirements. This strategy allows foundations to “recycle” their funds because they can be used multiple times to achieve social impact.

Another example of impact investing is when foundations or donors are willing to be the lead investors in a socially responsible business solution to attract other venture capitalists. Kiva is a great example—in 2010 users lent more than $100 million in microloans. The Packard Foundation similarly was the first investor to the table in their case, taking the risk and lower return in order to fund a sustainability project, which eventually attracted substantial venture capital from traditional sources.

For more examples about blending profit with purpose, visit Joe Waters’ blog

For more information about Do More Than Give, visit or our Page to Practice book summary library.

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Leadership development: Learning by listening

This week, Alice Korngold, author of Leveraging Good Will, weighs in on the important topic of listening. Her remarks inspired me to share fellow authors who agree with her about this essential leadership skill. Seven Page to Practice™ book summary excerpts that highlight good listening follow Alice’s remarks.

I read CausePlanet’s book reviews and articles on a regular basis for their wisdom and to follow the conversation. In preparing to write this post, I perused many recent pieces for inspiration.  Brilliant stuff…. if perhaps a bit head-spinning for most nonprofit CEOs when taken in large doses.  Fundraise this way, establish your culture that way, create a sustainable business model this way, connect with social media that way. And change sure is hard, but here’s how to do it (from my personal favorites – the Heath brothers).  Woah!

My bookshelf is stocked (now my iPad) with many such books and there is often much to gain from them. At the same time, I believe that the best leaders learn the most from listening to the people with whom they work. Unless the CEO walks the floors, encourages people to truly say what they think, and has an open ear, no advice from any book will help. This is surely the case with CEOs of NGOs and nonprofits who are the primary readers of this site.

And listening doesn’t mean much unless your organization is successfully engaging and retaining people from a variety of generations, backgrounds and perspectives. While it might seem messy and at times inconvenient to have a blend of personalities – even more so when they are ardent advocates of the cause – the magic and energy of the organization is in that very passion and diversity. Without that, a nonprofit environment would be sterile; it would lose its heart and soul.  It would also miss the variety of stories and sharing of experiences from the people at the organization who make the world a better place.

Yes, by all means, NGOs and nonprofits need to envision and embrace many changes and indeed many do.  These changes include more business-like approaches in establishing new revenue models, capturing and fully engaging young new talent, creating and then leveraging the power of great websites and social media, and doing many of the things that the experts advise on’s valuable pages.

The best leaders learn how to listen to the different perspectives, appreciate and engage everyone who brings value to the table, celebrate passion, inspire the team to embrace the greater vision, and lead forward with enthusiasm.  And leaders learn by listening.

Taking a cue from Alice Korngold’s thoughts on listening, I have listed seven different Page to Practice™ book summary excerpts below that feature an emphasis on the importance of active listening:

Do More Than Give: The 6 Practices of Donors Who Change the World by Leslie Crutchfield, John Kania, Mark Kramer

Empower the people

Catalytic donors view individuals as “essential participants” in the process of solving problems for themselves. Listening to stakeholders is a powerful engine for change because of the ideas that emerge and the solutions that result from brainstorming.

Working across Generations by Frances Kunreuther, Helen Kim and Robby Rodriguez

Exercise: Understanding each other

Understanding the differences among generations starts with listening to what each generation has to say about what shaped them. This exercises asks participants to identify important events in their past and assess their accomplishments and disappointments.

Step 1: Review Key Events for each decade (these can be found in the book, or you can add your own).

Step 2: Answer these questions for each decade:

  • What were your or your generation’s accomplishments?
  • Challenges and disappointments?
  • What would be helpful to share with other generations?

Step 3: Discuss these debriefing questions:

  • What key events and experiences that have influenced you stand out?
  • In what ways have they shaped how you view the world and how you approach your work?
  • What would be helpful for others to know to better understand you? How would you share your story?

12: The Elements of Great Managing by Rodd Wagner & James K. Harter, Ph.D.

Seventh element: My opinions seem to count

Small actions by employees can create meaningful differences for an organization. The Gallup research shows that improving the proportion of employees with Seventh Element scores from one to five to one in three substantially impacts customer experience, productivity, employee retention and safety—all of which create, on average, a 6 percent gain in profitability. Listening to and using employee ideas have two benefits: 1) The idea itself is usually a good one; and 2) Because the idea comes directly from the employee and not management, the employee is much more likely to be committed to seeing it through. Incorporating employee ideas also helps employees feel more included.

Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits by Leslie R. Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant

Master the art of adaptation

All the nonprofits in this book have adaptive capacity—or, the ability to perceive changes in the environment and develop new approaches in response. When they perceive a gap between their vision and their results, they aren’t afraid to modify their approach to have more impact. These nonprofits have learned how to balance creative innovation and structured execution. They have mastered what the authors call “the cycle of adaptation.” Specifically, they must be able to effectively listen to the environment, experiment and innovate (either for product or process improvement), evaluate and learn what works and, finally, modify their approaches on the basis of new information.

Listen to the environment. Adaptation begins with listening for external cues in the environment and looking internally for opportunities to increase impact. Organizations that focus on working with and through other sectors of society are more adept at listening and perceiving opportunities for change.

The Nonprofit Marketing Guide by Kivi Leroux Miller

Listen to the world around you

According to Leroux Miller, no matter where you are, your nonprofit doesn’t operate in a silo; it’s essential to formalize your listening so your marketing is relevant. Listening should include in-person and online tools as well as third-party and custom research. There are online tools that allow you to observe and listen to conversations about your issue and specifically, your organization. (See Page to Practice™ section for listening strategies.)

The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine

Listening, engaging and building relationships

Effective listening is critical to getting your bearings online, making sense of data, identifying network leaders and leveraging your message appropriately. Listening to large numbers of people can easily be accomplished by using tools such as Google Alerts, Technorati blog mentions, RSS readers, Twitter search, Delicious tags and Boardreader. Kanter and Fine like to think of listening through these tools “as an investment in relationships”—not time taken away from other tasks. Transitioning from listening to actively communicating with people online is the secret to engaging an audience according to the authors.

With your listening tools in play, you can begin to engage the public in the following ways:

  • Share information
  • Enter or initiate a conversation
  • Thank people for their efforts
  • Educate and raise awareness about an issue
  • Occasionally ask people to do something
  • Aggregate information for people
  • Clarify misperceptions

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Multigenerational management: Mind the gap

I think that’s why I found our recent CausePlanet book feature especially compelling: Liquid Leadership: From Woodstock to Wikipedia – Multigenerational Management Ideas That Are Changing the Way We Run Things. Managers today have to diversify their leadership approach more than ever to motivate Boomers, engage Gen Y and not forget Gen X in the middle.


Author Brad Szollose says, “Today’s generation gap is permanent and unlike any gap we’ve seen before; it is a chasm. We cannot return to the past any more easily than Dorothy Gale could go back to her black-and-white world unchanged. But we can bridge the gap and make it work under a new paradigm, starting with an understanding of how each of us approaches work. The integration of Boomers and “Netizens” is paramount to our success.”


To stay relevant as a leader in today’s workplace will require a willingness to constantly embrace what’s new outside of your organization and especially, inside among your team members. You might ask how this leadership perspective would be different than any other decade. The answer lies in Szollose’s first of seven laws that “puts people first.” To do so today means understanding how to nurture a productive continuum between enormously different working styles among the Gen Y and the Boomers.


Ultimately, Szollose impresses upon us that the most nimble leaders are the most successful because they realize the business model we’ve depended upon for the last hundred years is dead. Now, there are no rules for your business model. Instead you must stay open to new ideas, new technologies and even hybrids from the past, present and future to keep your organization relevant. You must create an environment where you can look to the smart people you’ve surrounded yourself with and learn from them, as well as pay attention to your marketplace and how opportunities arise.


The following is a Page to Practice excerpt of Szollose’s first of seven laws for managing a multi-generational team.


1st Law – A Liquid Leader Places People First

Szollose believes that flexible leaders begin by putting their people first and in doing so, recognize they are a composite of enormously different experiences and should be led accordingly. The author says that Boomers need to rely on Gen Y because most of the technological practices in use today did not exist five years ago. Instead of resisting the “citizens of the internet (or “Netizens”),” it’s critical to recognize this generation as talent-rich contributors because of their ability to consume astounding amounts of information from being raised on the Internet, resulting in an aptitude for technology. Conversely, Gen Y needs to trust Boomers who rely on strategy and are able to see the bigger picture. They have an eye for spotting talent and identifying potential pitfalls thanks to more experience.


Szollose also recommends putting your people first by setting clear standards of performance for them within a setting of a flat hierarchy, which contributes to a nimble organization and gets everyone involved and aligned to the entire organization’s success. Additionally, this structure allows for direct communication with the front lines so you can eliminate perceived and real barriers that prevent your staff from succeeding. Szollose says that “when the distance between upper management and the rest of the company was the greatest, management took longer to discover internal and external problems.”


Putting people first is also accomplished by redefining your role as a leader. In the author’s words, “For leadership to work these days requires leaders to be more approachable, more flexible, and stronger decision makers who show respect for every member’s contribution to the organization.” Szollose says that organizations that have strict boundaries and hierarchies create a scenario where the leaders are the last to know when things go wrong. Equally important is that this scenario diminishes innovation and ideas are never brought forward, encouraging staff members to hoard information and create silos and redundancy. In other words, this way of business is a waste of money. Instead, close the gap between management and implementers, redistribute decision making and establish an open-door policy.


And finally, putting people first means recognizing that your talent-rich team is progressively becoming more transient. They have laptops and they’re willing to travel. Boomers and Gen Y alike are no longer bound by their location to be creative or productive on behalf of an organization. “Transient” also applies to the status of your staff—you can hire contractors who meet your specific needs for important tasks. Implementers can come and go depending on the timing or seasonality of your projects and programs.


If you were going to add to one of Brad’s immutable laws for being a flexible leader of a multigenerational team, what would it be? Email us at


For more information about Brad Szollose and his book, you can visit his blog at If anyone is interested in a free special report, “Cracking the Gen Y Code: How They Think, How They Work and How They Buy,” email Brad at Include your name, email address and that you heard about his book from CausePlanet.

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Three ways to avoid a social media time sink

Last week, while blogging on vacation, I reflected on the 24/7 pace of social media.  One of my tips for time management was to let your community take some ownership over your efforts. In that spirit, I invited guest posts on this topic. One volunteer was Dana Ziolkowski, Marketing Coordinator/AmeriCorps VISTA for the Oregon Volunteers Commission for Voluntary Action and Service.  Here is her input on avoiding the time suck that social media can be.

Although it’s vital to dedicate time to social media, your social media efforts don’t need to consume your entire day. I thought I’d share a few tips I use to save time, while also delivering strong, comprehensive social media efforts.

Develop your social media plan ahead of time and keep it handy.

I’ve found it both efficient and effective to develop a plan dedicated to social media efforts. Establish social media goals that align with your organization’s strategic goals. Develop the plan with upcoming messages you can anticipate, but allow it to be organic enough to accommodate unexpected but newsworthy content or trends that might arise during the life of the plan. Doing a little planning ahead, and having this map at my fingertips, I’ve found it’s easy to be time-efficient with my social media efforts.

Align your networks on a social media platform

I use a social media dashboard that allows me to monitor and update my networks in one spot. There are free and paid subscriptions depending on your needs. Explore some of the dashboards available—each one varies in cost, which networks they connect, analytics available, and functionality.  Choose the best fit for you. I chose Hootsuite because it best fits my needs. I’ve connected my organization’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, along with my own professional accounts. Depending on my post, I choose the best networks through which to distribute my message. This saves me half the time! Thanks to for compiling this great top ten list of social media dashboards.  (Katya’s note: I also recommend Thrive, which Network for Good will be offering soon!)

Threadsy: Unify your email, social networks
Myweboo: Organize your information streams
Hootsuite: Integrate all your platforms
Spredfast: For teams of social marketers
MediaFunnel: Collaborative, permission-based system
CoTweet: Advanced features for Enterprise users
Seesmic: Free, clean and credible
Netvibes: Share your widgets with the world
TweetDeck: Connect with your contacts
Brizzly, Simplify your updating

Empower your organization’s staff to develop social media content.

Attention-grabbing, relevant content is vital for a successful social media campaign, and it’s hard to gather it all on your own. Empower staff at your organization to send you content suggestions. Be sure to express to them the type of content you’re looking for and emphasize this content should align with your organization and social media goals. For Oregon Volunteers, it’s often funding opportunities, program success stories, event photos or professional development and training opportunities. Qualify the content suggestions you collect and incorporate into your social media plan. Recruiting a team of content developers from within your organization can save you time. Plus, this practice engages the whole organization to feel more connected to your social media efforts.

See also:

Content Marketing for Nonprofits

The Networked Nonprofit

Measuring the Networked Nonprofit

Social Change Anytime Everywhere

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Who really cares? Find out by mapping your stakeholders

The most important piece of advice in Jason Saul’s The End of Fundraising is that we must raise money from people who truly value what we have to offer. As a result, we must all go through the important exercise of identifying the stakeholders who will realistically be interested.
The author defines stakeholder as “any person or entity who has a bona fide expectation of results from your work. By bona fide, I mean legitimate: based on either a contractual, an ethical or a fiduciary obligation.”
Begin by mapping your stakeholders you have identified through these questions: Who cares most if we succeed or fail? Who has a vested interest in our success? Who influences our strategy or agenda? To whom must we report our results?
Next, conduct one-on-one interviews and sometimes focus groups to help identify what stakeholders’ expected outcomes are. These questions will help tease out what they value:

What outcomes do you value most about our work?

How would you define success for the work we do?

Do you think we were successful last year? If so, why? If not, why not?

What’s the ultimate impact you value from our work?

What do you think the project needs to accomplish in one to three years to achieve this longer-term impact?

What data or evidence would you need to see that would convince you our work has been successful?

What type of information do you need from us to demonstrate the value of our relationship?

Is there anything we haven’t discussed that you would like to add?

Now you can define your outcomes, which will be the foundation for value in the social capital market. Again, be careful not to define your activities. Instead, prioritize outcomes from your various stakeholder interviews, focus on those within your grasp and draft each one using active verbs to convey change over time (e.g., grow, improve, reduce, etc.).
Next, you can develop measures that demonstrate your organization’s contribution to these outcomes or ask how much of this outcome you can deliver. Effective measurement in the social capital market involves knowing the difference between:

Activities versus outcomes: Activities describe your program efforts while outcomes are the changes that result from those activities—awareness, behavior, condition or status.

Evaluation versus measurement: Although most evaluations are meant to answer, “Does the program work?” on an absolute basis, performance measurement is designed to ask “How well is it working?” In short, measure relative contribution to an outcome.

Good measures and bad measures: Good measures are credible (believable and accurate), practical (reasonably available, not abstract) and relevant (pass the “so what?” test and are useful in explaining outcomes).

Do you know who your stakeholders are? If not, try Jason Saul’s exercise and find out. For more information about selling your impact, purchase this book at, visit Jason Saul’s website at or visit our Page to Practice library for a complete summary including our interview with the author.

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Raise more by selling your impact

I was excited to read Jason Saul’s new book, The End of Fundraising, because a friend of mine who is the president of a local bilingual school recently heard Saul speak at a conference and found his approach to fundraising very compelling. As chief fundraiser for an organization whose prospects pass through a revolving door because their children eventually graduate, my friend is especially keen to learn about how to engage community stakeholders who find value in what his school is doing. I’m happy to report to you and my friend that Saul’s book presented terrific strategies that are grounded in years of first-hand experience.

The End of Fundraising, is based on his epiphany that we are trying to convince the wrong people to support our organizations. In other words, you can only leverage funding from funders who value what you have to offer. While acknowledging that the emotive or passionate donors will always be part of the constituency mix, you must also consider the people who truly value your work and who economically benefit from the social outcomes you produce. If this were the basis for more donor relationships, Saul argues that we wouldn’t have to beg for contributions. Rather, we would sell our impact and leverage rational decision makers. What’s more, evidence abounds in our communities in support of the real economic currency our nonprofit outcomes produce in every major cause within the sector. Be it education, health care, global development and even the arts, we have yet to embrace the market to its fullest potential despite the fact that the market has embraced our work.

To effectively raise funds in today’s economy, you must transact your social impact rather than dance around the edges with quasi-market behavior. Saul says we don’t need a parallel economy for the independent sector; we need to find a better way to play within the perfectly good one we have. This book will teach you to understand the role of social change in our economy; learn how to engage stakeholders; define your impact by outcomes, not activities; determine which stakeholders value your outcomes the most; translate your work into high-value outcomes; create powerful value propositions to increase your leverage; and improve the success of your pitches to funders.

When I asked Jason how smaller nonprofits that might not be able to produce these high-value outcomes benefit from this End of Fundraising approach, he said, “Selling your impact is completely viable for both small and large nonprofits. In fact, many smaller nonprofits (charter schools and social entrepreneurs) are using innovative strategies to produce extremely high value outcomes. However, there are many nonprofits, small and large, focused on a single activity or a fragment of an outcome, such as providing a free meal or a suit for a job interview. These organizations can increase their value in the social capital market, but they will need to reach for higher value outcomes by extending their services or partnering with others.”

Have you experimented with selling your impact? Let us know about it. The first three responses via this blog or to get a free Page to Practice executive book summary of The End of Fundraising.

Jason Saul’s book will help you:

    Define your impact by outcomes, not activities, and learn how to engage stakeholders.

    Translate your work into high value outcomes and determine which stakeholders value your outcomes the most.

    Understand the role of social change in our economy.

    For more information about selling your impact, purchase this book at, visit Jason Saul’s website at or visit our Page to Practice library for a complete summary including our interview with the author.

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