Archive for August, 2011

The four great truths of cause marketing

Cause marketing is the talk of the town, and with good reason. Cause marketing,  a partnership between a nonprofit and for-profit for mutual profit,  is a progressive fundraising strategy that can help nonprofits raise money, build awareness and diversify their support from corporate funders. But to succeed with cause marketing, nonprofits need to accept the four truths of cause marketing.

First, the reality.

Cause marketing is a life preserver not a lifesaver. Nonprofits need to be realistic about how much they can do with companies and how much their partnership will raise. The bad news is that cause marketing won’t solve all their financial woes. It will help, for sure, but we’re not talking about a mountain of money. Jocelyne Daw has a good rule of thumb on this: 5-15% of your total revenues: that’s what nonprofits can expect to raise from cause marketing. So, if your nonprofit has a $500,000 budget, you can expect to raise between $25,000 and $75,000. It’s not chump change, but it may not be as much as you expected.

Second, follow the money.

The real money isn’t in the companies. It’s in the customers. People often make a big mistake with cause marketing: they confuse it with sponsorship. They talk about logos and billboards and companies cutting fat checks. For every cause marketing program that is funded by a company, there should be three more that allow consumers to give through or because of a company. The reason is quite simple: you’ll almost always raise more money from consumers.

Third, walk toward the light.

Skip ahead to mobile. You need to jump ahead with mobile technology and tap text messaging, location-based services and QR codes. (Here are some posts to get you started!) Don’t get me wrong, I love traditional tools like point-of-sale and purchase-triggered donations, but the future is in the mobile. And I wouldn’t begrudge any nonprofit that looked ahead instead of over its shoulder.

Finally, forget cause marketing. Really.

It’s about philanthrotunity. It’s not about cause marketing. It’s about nonprofits thinking innovatively about their unique assets and how they can leverage them creatively and lucratively with companies, consumers and donors. Cause marketing is just another hammer in the toolbox. You may need to choose something else to get the job done.

Nonprofits need to reorient themselves to rediscover who they are and what they do to survive. Henry David Thoreau, the father of environmentalism, set off to live a deliberate life in the woods but journeyed just two miles from his mother’s house in Concord, Massachusetts. No matter. Thoreau’s journey was within, not without.

Nonprofits don’t need to sell their souls to save themselves, but they do need to adjust their thinking and work inside out or deny themselves a better future. But it won’t happen by itself. As Thoreau extolled, “Only that day dawns to which we are awake.”

See also:

Fundraising with Businesses

Cause Marketing for Dummies

QR Codes for Dummies

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Mergers and alliances: Check your culture at the door

So often, you find yourself asking why things transpire they way they do in your organization and 9 times out of ten, you can point to culture. No, we’re not discussing pop culture or arts and culture. This culture is the underlying and invisible fabric of how your nonprofit behaves, what the underlying assumptions are and what the organization values. Thankfully, we all are given a free pass on striving for a perfect culture because the truth is, there is no perfect culture. With perfectionism out the way, we can go about factoring organizational culture into one of the more important roles it has to play, which is in an alliance or merger.

With our Page to Practice feature of The Nonprofit Organizational Culture Guide this summer, we learned about the importance of organizational culture and how pervasive it is with everything you do as a nonprofit leader—from hiring decisions and board training to marketing and strategic planning, organizational culture, as the authors Teegarden, Hinden and Sturm say, “reveals hidden truths that impact performance.”

That’s why it comes as no surprise that our currently featured author, Tom McLaughlin, spends some time in his book, Nonprofit Mergers & Alliances, on the importance of taking a “culture check” as one of the preliminary steps for considering collaboration. “Culture is stronger than strategy, so it is crucial to understand and be comfortable with a potential partner’s organizational culture,” says McLaughlin.

He further adds that since people take action and demonstrate behavior every day using underlying values, blended cultures translates into blended value systems that don’t always complement one another. In fact, 75 percent of hospital mergers fail if cultural issues are not taken into consideration, according to McLaughlin.

Ultimately, “one of the most reliable rules of thumb for post merger implementation is that the tighter culture always prevails,” says Tom, and the larger organization doesn’t automatically dominate, nor will the loudest or flashiest. So, how do we go about identifying one another’s culture before engaging formally in an alliance? McLaughlin has provided a list of good places to look for evidence of nonprofit culture that we reviewed at the beginning of the month:

  • Composition of board and management team
  • Degree of centralization versus decentralization
  • Demographics of clients
  • Demographics of staff
  • Financial investment policies
  • Financial performance
  • Geographic location
  • Management compensation policies
  • Marketing materials
  • Number and type of management meetings
  • Number of board meetings per year
  • Philosophy regarding staff turnover
  • Process for recruiting and selecting new board members
  • Requirements of major funding sources
  • Size of board
  • Size of management team (especially versus comparable nonprofits)
  • Unwritten/unspoken hiring preferences

Not every item on the list will yield insight and some will produce contradicting impressions. However, if taken together, these areas can help you create a composite of your potential partner’s culture.

See also:

Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World

The Necessary Revolution: Working Together to Create a Sustainable World

Leveraging Good Will: Strengthening Nonprofits by Leveraging Businesses

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Good facilitation, great results


Many of us have sat through stultifying meetings that result in little progress or less than substantive achievement. Unfortunately, they are all too common. This article suggests one solution, facilitation, and explores what it can offer your organization.

Strong facilitation brings engaged dialogue, full participation, active and effective problem solving and a focused process aimed at achieving meeting objectives. As important, great facilitation can also move a group through the less tangible aspects of working together, deepening understanding, building stronger relationships and attending to the “glue” that makes for good working practices.

Why work with a facilitator?

A facilitator brings an impartial observer’s perspective that enables strong assessment of what needs to be addressed. Facilitators create a clear agenda and process and ensure that the meeting maintains focus and momentum, while also observing, listening deeply, and being attentive to the interplay between participants and the multiple nuances in a group. Facilitators also prioritize attending to and resolving issues that block progress.They are comfortable assisting a group in confronting difficult topics, navigating prickly interpersonal issues, and moving through a safe and boundaried process of dialogue to resolution.

Facilitation should keep participants interested and engaged. Depending on the needs of a session or group, great facilitation can be fun and provocative by encouraging active participation, engaging participants in dialogue, and oftentimes, creating opportunities for experiential learning, creativity, different thinking, and working as a group in new ways.

Advantages of facilitation

Provides an impartial observer’s perspective

Creates an open and safe environment

Maintains a meeting’s focus and momentum, achieving closure and planned outcomes

Builds skill and often knowledge within a group

Strengthens relationships and good work practices

Provides empathy, compassion and wisdom to support group process

Ensures an engaging, interesting and often fun process.

The role and function of a facilitator

A facilitator’s key function is usually to work with a group to ensure it has a successful and productive meeting. A good facilitator can play multiple roles, including guide, partner, coach, teacher, problem solver and mediator. Experienced facilitators are quick to think on their feet and have the flexibility to dip in and out of various roles according to the needs of a group.

One of the key advantages of having external facilitators is that their skill set and detachment from the process enables them to look at an issue or situation many different ways and to see multiple possibilities for problem solving or next steps. These abilities translate to the group with whom they are working to help it think creatively. This freedom to think “outside-the-box” of day-to-day work can be liberating for participants.

Skills and attributes of excellent facilitators

Keen observation

Acute listening skills

Strong intuition

Cultural competency

Sense of humor and play

High emotional quotient and ability for self-reflection

Flexibility and nimbleness

Creates a container for the work

Facilitates building trust and stronger relationships

Effectively manages conflict

Understands group dynamics

Uses a broad set of tools and processes

Asks powerful questions

Stages of facilitation

Framing the session: A facilitator will assist a team in defining and clarifying a meeting’s purpose, ensuring that it has clear, strong and attainable outcomes. Here, the facilitator will also help assess who needs to participate.

Process and preparation: Attending to the following elements can produce a vital, focused and productive work session:

Determine the meeting elements, including knowing what work must be accomplished, planning next steps and actions, defining roles and responsibilities, delineating a clear decision making process and describing how information will be shared.

A strong agenda is critical for the success of any meeting, including flow of topics, presenters, time allocations and pacing, and breaks.

Tools and processes are chosen to match a meeting’s needs and move participants through different aspects of work and engagement. The field offers a diversity of innovative tools and processes, including The Circle, Theory U, Appreciative Inquiry, World Café, and creative exercises drawing on performing and visual arts. Aspects to consider are varying activities, small or large group or pair work, and group culture.

Ground rules can be helpful at meetings and facilitators will help create them, acknowledging differences in real or perceived power, e.g., between Board members and program staff. For example, a team might want to establish a safe meeting space with open dialogue, signaling that participants can take risks in engaging each other without distraction or fear of rejection.

Logistics required for each section should be identified and someone tasked with attending to practical needs, e.g., acquiring meeting space, meeting supplies, food and beverage, audio-visual needs.

Communicating with participants before the meeting is important to provide meeting logistics, the agenda and any preparatory materials, and preparatory work that is expected from participants (e.g. reading, presenting, critical questions).

Opening: A strong start is important to get participants energized. Depending on a meeting’s focus, how well people know each other, and organizational culture, a facilitator may want a group to engage in an opening exercise. For example, with a newly formed group, a relationship-building exercise can help participants get to know more about each other and begin interacting, setting the tone for a lively, engaging session.

Listening and synthesizing: Great facilitators bring a well-developed capacity for listening at the individual and group level. When participants are heard, they can more fully participate and listen to others. Listening at the group level combines with intuition and an understanding of group dynamics to help the facilitator effectively work with the group, specifically during troublesome spots. The capacity to synthesize is important at key moments to summarize progress and test that everyone has reached the same understanding or agreement.

Decision making and closure: At a facilitated meeting, groups work through a process to achieve closure and develop solutions or goals and outcomes for future work, while experiencing effective decision making and building skills in these areas. At this stage, next steps with clear actions, timelines for completion, prioritization, and team assignments can be agreed upon and unresolved issues acknowledged for future attention.

Wrap up and reflection: At the end of a meeting, facilitators build in time for reflection to allow participants to think about and learn from the process and their engagement. There are many ways to do this, and questions such as these can be helpful in prompting reflection: What worked? What didn’t work? What might we do differently next time? What successes did I experience? What challenges did I learn from? What did I learn today about myself?

Often a facilitator’s best work is hidden behind the scenes and subtly in the room. However, these are the direct indicators of a successful session: the process has gone well and seamlessly, participants have left beaming and energized, critical decisions were made, next steps were described, individual responsibilities were clarified, relationships were improved and a new shared understanding was developed. The facilitator is content and another group has successfully arrived at its destination!

See also:

Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making

Death by Meeting

The Weave: Participatory Process Design Guide for Strategic Sustainable Development

Facilitating Reflection: A Manual for Leaders and Educators

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What’s your return on effort?

When considering a nonprofit merger or alliance, we tend to agonize over identifying all of the joint possibilities, which is a task in of itself. While it’s important to consider what you bring to the table as well as what your potential collaborator can offer, Nonprofit Mergers & Alliances author, Thomas McLaughlin, would add that sometimes it’s helpful to draw upon a laundry list of benefits and take the ones that fit.
See McLaughlin’s list below:
  • Acquire intangible assets (e.g., a prized board member or brand name)
  • Acquire tangible assets (e.g., a building)
  • Add breadth and depth of services to meet consumer need.
  • Assist in repairing a damaged brand.
  • Capitalize on a chief executive’s departure.
  • Change the organization’s name.
  • Change staff compensation patterns.
  • Create more varied career options for employees.
  • Create operational efficiencies.
  • Ease the transition from a founder-led organization.
  • Expand the programming continuum.
  • Gain cost savings in order to add program resources.
  • Gain greater visibility in the community.
  • Gain market share.
  • Gain more clout with the national office (federated organizations only).
  • Improve fundraising.
  • Improve prospects for a new service.
  • Increase political clout.
  • Rejuvenate the organization.
  • Make it easier to satisfy lender requirements.

Having just read this list, you’re saying, “You’ve forgotten the most important benefit!” If you haven’t guessed already, “saving money” was left off of McLaughlin’s list. McLaughlin cautions readers who contemplate this savings logic. Here’s why: The first blush response to the 2008 recession among nonprofit leaders was to seek out administrative collaborations where two or more charities could find savings in the least painful way, which usually meant administrative spending cuts. He notes that the problem with this strategy is “that it is guaranteed to fall short of the desired outcome” because of the mathematics behind administrative budgeting.

When two or more organizations find ways to cut expenses in an administrative line, it’s likely to be modest—let’s use a respectable 10 percent savings, for example. “A 10 percent savings on a line item that itself is likely to be no more than 10 percent of the total administrative spending amounts to a fraction of a fraction, says the author. While every amount of savings helps, this is a small win for a big effort. McLaughlin reminds us that collaboration is a powerful tool, but the return should match the effort.

Email us at for a free article by author Thomas McLaughlin, “The Cost of A Merger.”

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Hallmarks of effective collaboration

In early 2010, the idea for the Colorado Collaboration Award was born. Last week, the final selection committee decided on a recipient for the award from a pool of nearly 200 applications from across Colorado, representing a very diverse range of collaborative work. I had the honor of being involved in this process from the first meeting through the final selection and learned a great deal about effective collaboration along the way. Overall, there is some incredibly impressive and successful collaborative work taking place across Colorado and through this process, five things stood out as hallmarks of effective collaboration:

Effective leadership

Effective collaboration requires a different mindset than one operating a single organization. Leaders who are over time able to shift their thinking and behavior to work as part of a group to move beyond their organization’s walls are an essential factor in building effective collaborations. Some of these intangible leadership skills include the ability to see the bigger picture beyond a single organization’s mission and programming, willingness to be flexible, ability to work cooperatively as part of a group, and willingness to give up power and control on a regular basis for the good of the collective effort.

A collective vision for the partnership

Whether a collaborative effort is focused on improving the delivery of direct services in a small community or seeking significant change at the system level, partners who have a vision for the future of their work together are achieving the most success. Overall, the most impressive applicants for the Colorado Collaboration Award have been successful because the partners had a vision for creating something that is more impactful than a single organization’s work could ever be and then have worked toward achieving that collective vision over time. In the nonprofit sector, we often think about resources as being fixed – we compete for a slice of a pie that has a fixed size. For these groups, they are instead working together to enlarge the pie by bringing in new ideas, resources and solutions.

Willingness to give up control and power

One of the finalists for the Colorado Collaboration Award is a group of organizations that are consolidating some of their major donor work, believing that if they identify and cultivate donors together, they have the potential to raise significantly more because of the inspiring nature of their collective vision. In casually discussing this approach with colleagues, the almost universal response has been in the vein of “we could never do something like that” or “our donors are our donors.” While it represents traditional practice in the nonprofit sector to protect one’s programs and fund development prospects, the willingness to give up some power and control to achieve something bigger than a single organization could alone consistently showed up as a sign of success.

The right motivation

Funders are often essential partners in building and sustaining effective collaborations. In considering the pool of finalists for the Colorado Collaboration Award, one consistent theme is the role of funders as partners, not as drivers. Sustaining a successful collaboration often comes from building buy-in and commitment that is driven by something other than funding or a funder’s directive.


Deep collaboration is difficult. The most successful collaborations are often focused on very difficult work that takes time. Having the systems in place to resolve conflict and maintaining the ability to weather difficult times by staying focused on the collective vision have proven to be essential to long-term success.

See also:

The Power of Collaborative Solutions

When People Care Enough to Act


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What’s in a name? Everything.

Having recently finished Tom McLaughlin’s terrific second edition of Nonprofit Mergers & Alliances, I find myself looking at collaborations with the benefit of his helpful lexicon. And now that I have an improved working knowledge of the many shapes, sizes and formalities in which collaboration can be formed, according to his C.O.R.E. model, I have a greater respect for the robust effort behind them. What’s more, this book gave me clarity on the existing partnerships I have. If you have ever considered a collaboration or are currently in one or more, I encourage you to read on. You’ll find it very interesting to see how your personal definitions are realigned by McLaughlin’s perspective. Before we take a look at McLaughlin’s mini-glossary, let’s take a brief look at his model.

The C.O.R.E. Continuum

According to McLaughlin, the C.O.R.E. model is based on the premise that different forms of collaboration affect different aspects of the nonprofit. The four aspects affected are: 1) Corporate, 2) Operations, 3) Responsibility, 4) Economics. By corporate, the author means the legal entity of the nonprofit corporation or the business structure that has an official purpose: board of directors, officers, bylaws, etc. Many collaborations affect the operations, or the heart of the nonprofit’s unique reason for being, often referred to as programming. Responsibility in this model means the backbone that makes the organization run or oversight of program activity such as paychecks, paying bills, etc. Lastly, economics can be affected by collaborations and can be as simple as bartering free office rent for services or as complicated as establishing a jointly owned company.

Applying the model is best explained by stacking the acronym vertically with “C” at the top and “E” at the bottom. This silo of letters, representing each affected aspect in collaboration, shows the earliest and easiest area of impact at the bottom (Economics) and highest, most powerful choice that takes the longest to achieve, a single entity in the marketplace (Corporate). Collaborations involving any or all three of the O, R and E levels are alliances. Those involving all four levels of the C.O.R.E.™ Continuum are mergers.

What each level of collaboration on the C.O.R.E.™ Continuum looks like

Economic-level collaboration is characterized by sharing information or bidding jointly, for example. Sharing information is quick, easy and inexpensive. However, disadvantages include: there are no guarantees of gain, there are no structured means of following up on any gains and any gains are hard to document. Responsibility-level collaboration means sharing management and administrative chores, and it requires standardization, replicability and scale. For example, United Way standardized and centralized their campaign pledge forms through a national electronic system. Another example is referred to as “circuit riders” or professionals who travel from one partner to the next, performing the same task for everyone, such as accounting. Operations-level collaboration is the level of integration that ultimately means the most for any merger or alliance of nonprofits because without success here, nothing else matters. This level of cooperation looks like shared training, joint programming and/or joint quality standards. McLaughlin notes that, “Good programmatic collaboration requires excellent planning, patience, and time.” Corporate-level mergers experience the most profound level of change. It carries the identity that our programs use in their interactions with the outside world. It is also the basis of accountability and the reconciler of conflicting demands on resources. And, it is the level at which partners will integrate at the structural, governance, and board levels, including ancillary boards and committees.

McLaughlin’s Mini-Glossary further illustrates the different points of collaboration along his continuum:

Affiliation. The lowest level of collaboration. Requires little more than meetings and good faith.

Alliance. Collaborations that entail change on any one or all three of the C.O.R.E. levels.

Collaboration. Our generic term for what happens any time two or more nonprofits work together in some formalized way.

Merger. A collaboration that entails change on all four C.O.R.E. levels.

Network. Another name for alliance, or a shortened reference to integrated service network.

Partnership. A legally binding agreement between two or more entities that is intended to produce economic benefit for both that is to be shared in some predetermined fashion. Partnerships can operate at any level of the C.O.R.E. continuum because they are simply legal vehicles for collaboration.

Email us at for a free article by author Thomas McLaughlin, “Management Company Model: It’s a Nonprofit Merger by Another Name”

For more information about Nonprofit Mergers & Alliances, visit Jossey-Bass Publishing or our Page to Practice book summary library.

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Three tips for getting buy-in

If you have a good idea, whether as small as what flavor of cake to serve at your best friend’s birthday party, or as large as what company to merge with, and you want to help create strong buy-in among relevant others, you can take the following four simple steps, which will save you time, boost your confidence, and greatly improve your chance of success.

1. Take Stock

First, take stock of where you are and make sure you have not forgotten anything obvious.

It never hurts to double check the plan: have we really listened to feedback carefully and incorporated any good suggestions into the proposal?

Review what communications (if any) have already gone out about the plan (one-on-one talks, meetings, memos, e-mail), and evaluate how much buy-in has already been achieved. Be careful here. People tend to overestimate how much others understand, much less embrace, a good idea. Do you really know who needs to buy-in and how much they already have? What concrete evidence is available?

Ask yourself: What else has been done already of the sort that communication specialists recommend?

Have you made sure your idea is crystal clear. Can you explain it to someone in an elevator ride up to the top of the Empire State Building?

Has anyone talked to likely supporters about the material before going into a broader discussion with the relevant community.

If some supporters are in a more logical position to address some of the attacks, have they been asked to do so.

Is there an overall plan about when and how to best communicate to relevant others.

If the plan calls for a face-to-face meeting, as in the Centerville story, have you tried to role-play the meeting in advance with other supporters acting as attackers; you then try to respond, immediately, as you would have to during your actual meeting.

Never forget that a good rule of thumb is that it’s impossible to over communicate, using different settings and using different modes of communication (a good communication’s professional can probably add another dozen ideas, so consider asking one).

2. Brush up on this book

Think about the key messages of this book: the four attack strategies, the overall response strategy, and the 24 specific attacks and responses.

Remember that there really are just four basic attack strategies:

Fear Mongering
Death by Delay
Ridicule and Character Assassination

And there are only a few elements in your response strategy.


Let the attackers into the discussion and let them go after you.

Keep your responses clear, simple, crisp, and full of common sense.

Show respect, constantly. Don’t fight, or collapse, or become defensive.

Focus on the whole audience. Don’t be distracted by the detractors.

Prepare for the inevitable attacks, with more preparation the bigger are the stakes.


And remember: there is no reason to memorize the 24 specific attacks and responses.

USE THE 24 ATTACK/RESPONSE PAGES IN THE BOOK. If the stakes are small, there are few people that need to buy-in, and you don’t have a dozen distracters, a quick flip through those pages might be helpful. And after sufficient use, you will start to remember the most common attacks and responses. As the stakes and the numbers go up, brainstorming the possible attacks is more worth the time investment.

3. Brainstorm possible attacks

If the stakes are big enough, always set aside time for one or more brainstorming session. As with any creative session, it is preferable to have a small group, not you alone. It’s ideal if the group includes fairly creative people with differing outlooks. It’s very helpful to go through the list of 24 generic forms of attack, and, for each, try to anticipate tough attacks of that general type, but in a form that is specific to your particular situation. Often when scanning the attacks, you will think of a 25th or 26th that is a slight variation on our list. A good response will probably also be a slight variation on our response.

This is actually easier than it may at first seem, because at any one time, some of the attacks won’t apply, and some may be quite obvious and won’t need much thought. But for those that are relevant—could be 5, could be 14—creative brainstorming will be golden. You will uncover potential attacks that otherwise would have been missed, and you will discover the joy of having a respectful, effective response at your fingertips when you really need it.

As a specific example of the creative process, consider attack #16, “Tried that before and it didn’t work”. If you can imagine that coming up, think about specific failures in the past that an attacker could point to in this way. The generic response is “That was then, this is now”. But it will be very helpful for you to have at top of mind what is different now on this specific issue – preferably things that are simple and clearly true—and be prepared to express this in a way that is not disrespectful and is easily understood by the people who will be listening.

This homework needn’t take long, but it is more than worth the effort because very few of us can respond well in real time to unexpected attacks. To put it another way, how often have you walked away, frustrated, from an encounter and thought “if only I had said…”.

And—because preparation makes you more self-confident, and self confidence that is based on something solid, not wishful thinking, you are often able to reflect faster, in the heat of a battle, when hit with an unexpected attack.


Finally, be sure to actually use the method we describe in this book and the responses that you devise in the brainstorming process. This point seems ridiculously obvious, yet people read and even refer to books all the time but don’t really use them when needed. The barrage of tasks, information, meetings, and so on that clog our days get in the way. Don’t let that happen to you.

And never forget: don’t run away from attacks, go towards them. It will save good ideas. With significant proposals, this method may even—at least once in a while—make the world a little bit better, for us and for future generations.

See also:


A Sense of Urgency

We would like to thank Kotter International where this article was originally posted.

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Mergers and alliances: Are your cultures compatible?

We recently spent some time focusing on organizational culture in June with the Page to Practice feature of The Nonprofit Organizational Culture Guide: Revealing the Hidden Truths that Impact Performance by Teegarden, Hinden and Sturm. The value of knowing your organizational culture cannot be overstated when you realize the impact it has on everyday management decisions, as well as important benchmarks such as executive transitions, restructuring, organizational alignment and mergers.

By choosing to reveal your organization’s culture, the authors say you will be better able to orient new staff and board members, find better leadership matches, better understand and define your theory of change, develop more effective strategies, market and communicate more effectively and make successful choices about restructuring or mergers. In other words, cultural awareness increases your effectiveness in almost every leadership choice you make.

The importance of culture couldn’t be more evident when considering compatibility during a merger or alliance. “There are many good places to look for evidence of a nonprofit’s culture. The key is to look in as many as possible and to assemble what you find into a coherent portrait of the organization,” says Nonprofit Mergers & Alliances author Thomas McLaughlin. McLaughlin further says that not everything listed below will yield insight, and some will contradict others, but overall the list represents a usable roadmap to the nature of culture.

Where to see culture at work, according to McLaughlin:

•         Composition of board and management team

•         Degree of centralization versus decentralization

•         Demographics of clients

•         Demographics of staff

•         Financial investment policies

•         Financial performance

•         Geographic location

•         Management compensation policies

•         Marketing materials

•         Number and type of management meetings

•         Number of board meetings per year

•         Philosophy regarding staff turnover

•         Process for recruiting and selecting new board members

•         Requirements of major funding sources

•         Size of board

•         Size of management team (especially vs. comparable nonprofits)

•         Unwritten/unspoken hiring preferences

Our upcoming feature this month, the second edition of Nonprofit Mergers & Alliances by Thomas McLaughlin was completed when the nonprofit sector witnessed the largest and most spontaneous burst of collaboration interest in our social sector history, according to McLaughlin. This focus on collaboration is the result of the nonprofit sector’s typical two-year lag on economic downturns, pointing upstream to the recession in 2007 and the fall of the subprime mortgage market in 2008.

McLaughlin notes that the more specific reason collaborations are in the spotlight is that the recession was the means for revealing which nonprofits had a weak financial or programmatic structure. Systemic results of the economy coupled with the explosive growth of the number of nonprofits in the last decade have compelled nonprofit leaders to examine the benefits of collaborating. No longer will strategic planning sessions be focused on programs and services; rather mergers and alliances will be the strategic planning of the 21st century.

Email us at for a free article by author Thomas McLaughlin, “Merger Myths: 6 Reason the Package Really Is On the Truck”

For more information about Nonprofit Mergers & Alliances, visit or our Page to Practice™ book summary library.

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Into the field

Bees hummed in the purple flowers of the sage, growing wild at the edge of the garden.  From the sandy Colorado soil, rows of lettuce and peppers, frilly carrot stalks, and hardy tomato plants bloomed. Shading her eyes against the bright morning sun, Denise Wanzo extended an arm wide.  “This is my service.  When I ask, Lord how do I move forward another day, He just says, ‘work the garden.’  So I do.”

The fruits of this garden, tended by Denise and other members of the United Church of Montbello, go to the Montbello Cooperative Ministries Food Bank.  The tiny food bank serves over 1,000 individuals each month with donations, government commodities, and, when the harvest comes in, fresh tomatoes, peppers, carrots, and zucchini.

Standing in a circle, listening to Denise describe the garden, are more than a dozen graduate students, nearly all of them employed in the nonprofit sector.  They are fundraisers, administrative assistants, mental health workers, program managers.  A few are looking for their first nonprofit job. Together, they are taking part in a “service-oriented field experience” through Regis University.

For eight days in July, these students from Regis’ Masters in Nonprofit Management Program visited different parts of the Metro Denver community, even spending a night in the mountains in Leadville, meeting with people who were helping to integrate new immigrants into the community.   You can read more about their experience on their Facebook page,

For most of these students, the field experience took them far from their day-to-day work.  After the morning the garden with Denise, they attended a gospel worship service led by Reverend James Fouther, then they spent time talking with his wife Angelle Collins Fouther and volunteers from the food bank, experiencing firsthand the connection between faith and service.  Later, they heard from Kathy Underhill of Hunger Free Colorado ( about the systemic issues underlying hunger in our abundant country.  Finally, they formed “family groups” and cooked dinner using staples similar to those families receive from the food bank.

In reading the reflections on Facebook, the students were profoundly influenced by their experiences.  “Each visit was an addition of knowledge and reminder of the dedication it takes to make a social change, together.”  “Over the last year, I have talked about ideas I have for creating change in the community but I have never followed through with these ideas.  After meeting all of these wonderful individuals, I see that there is no ‘good’ time to start with one of these ideas but that I just need to ‘do’ these ideas.”

Many of us who work in the nonprofit sector spend our time in management and administrative tasks.  In service to our missions, we make phone calls and send e-mails, prepare presentations, compose fundraising letter, manage staff.  Though our ultimate goal may be to make sure more homeless people have shelter and more children can read, the way we spend our days often resembles any corporate white-collar job.

After seeing how the field experiences changed the students in the Regis program, I am recommitted to making sure that field experiences are a part of my life.  While I have a perfectly nice office and access to dozens of stories and videos on the internet from all around the world, there is nothing like standing in a community garden and hearing from a leader like Denise Wanzo about her service.  There is nothing that fires your commitment to social change like mopping the floors after serving meals to a few hundred homeless people, knowing that they have to go out into the heat and I get to come back into the air conditioning.

Fortunately, service opportunities abound in our sector.  Does your organization have time for shared volunteer activities?  Or do you have a segment of your organization that provides direct service, which could cycle in staff from other departments as volunteers on a regular basis?  Many communities have volunteer matching programs through groups like Metro Volunteers…find yours and have them link you to the service opportunities.

Another option is to spend time out in the community you serve, just walking around and talking to clients, potential clients, and regular folks.   If you spend most of your time with donors and other administrators, this can be an incredible wake-up call. Mike Green from the Asset-Based Community Development Institute helped the Regis group take such a walk around the Original Aurora community…identifying and mapping community assets in partnership with residents.  It was a transformative experience.

Even though it feels as if I’m so busy I can’t possibly add one more thing to my list, I know that these experiences will energize me for the work ahead…essentially saving me time that I waste searching for inspiration.  My inspiration will be in the experiences of service, in the eyes and hands and spirits of the people with whom I connect.  I look forward to hearing about how you put service to work in your life.

See also:

When People Care Enough to Act


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