Archive for June, 2012

You have the power to be a changemaker

Though your tax status may read “not-for-profit,” you’re running a business where the community must profit in social ways. The product you’re selling is change. But how much social change are you really creating? Our rapidly changing world has experienced progress economically, politically and socially. However, author Beverly Schwartz argues while progress mitigates some problems, it exacerbates others. Our planet requires more sophisticated solutions that are produced by effective organizations in the social sector.

Your business models must be relevant and every program clearly connected to outcomes that matter. Whether you are part of a large nonprofit or small one-person agency, you have the power to be a changemaker. Just take a look at the world’s small but mighty examples in Schwartz’s book, Rippling: How Social Entrepreneurs Spread Innovation Throughout the World.

The five sections in Schwartz’s book represent the five ripples in the pond of poverty, inequity and inadequate access to opportunity. The changing system, inspiration, innovation, and local and global impact converge to create what Schwartz calls virtuous cycles of social benefit that begin when people themselves become agents of change. These change agents influence others to do the same. “They set off perpetuating waves of motion that convey transformation both vertically and horizontally now and into the future,” says Schwartz.

Schwartz found all the social entrepreneurs she interviewed for her book possess four inherent qualities: purpose, passion, pattern and participation.

Purpose: These individuals put society above personal interests and firmly focus on fulfillment of their chosen role. They may take many roads to get there but the goal is sacrosanct.

Passion: Schwartz finds passion and purpose are inextricably linked together. Passion connects to the spirit and relates to strength of character, determination and connection to others. She further adds real strength lies not in the physical realm but in an indomitable spirit.

Pattern: These entrepreneurs’ patterns become models or guides for others to follow. Their patterns differ greatly, which affirms their individuality or the nature of an entrepreneur. Schwartz likes to say these people “build a better mousetrap” while at the same time eradicating the need for traps altogether by decreasing the population of mice.

Participation: Changemakers are often unanticipated leaders, says Schwartz. Whether they perceive themselves to be leaders or not, their ability to influence people and have them believe, follow and join is an attribute that is completely natural and a necessary component for impact. It is the quality that attracts involvement and eventually morphs into civic engagement.

Gather inspiration from this list and look around your organization. Do you have a changemaker in your midst who’s ready to take the next step? How can you build on their qualities and spread the spirit of innovation?

See also:

Rippling: How Social Entrepreneurs Spread Innovation Throughout the World
The Search for Social Entrepreneurship
Philanthrocapitalism: How Giving Can Save the World
Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World

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Keys to successful advocacy: compelling local stories and long-term commitment

Working to improve public policy is often the best way to address the underlying problems facing the people many nonprofit agencies serve. It has been compared to “going upstream” to fix the railings on a bridge to prevent people from falling into a river, rather than only pulling them out after they’ve fallen in. In an ideal world we would do both.

The Page to Practice™ summary of Christopher Kush’s The One-Hour Activist: The 15 Most Powerful Actions You Can Take to Fight for the Issues and Candidates You Care About provides excellent advice and outlines specific actions nonprofit leaders can take to move “upstream” and advocate for public policy changes.

While some nonprofits are reluctant to work on public policy, the Colorado Nonprofit Association includes advocating on behalf of constituents, the organization and the nonprofit sector as one of its principles of excellence.

In this article I will expand on two aspects of the advice provided by Mr. Kush:

    Using local information and stories to communicate with and influence policymakers.
    Taking action to build long-term relationships with elected officials.

      Using local information and stories to communicate with and influence policymakers

      Once you have identified the issue or issues you plan to work on, you need to develop a strategy for influencing policymakers to adopt your proposals. Kush offers several pieces of good advice for reaching out to and communicating with policymakers.

      As Tip O’Neill, former Speaker of the U.S. House once said, “All politics is local.” Kush builds on this idea and argues, “Geography is the single most important thing about you and your issue.” He points out most elected officials are very concerned with local trends, the number of people your organization serves and how broader statewide or national policies are playing out in the local community.

      I see this all the time in the Colorado General Assembly, where legislators want to know how a policy would affect either people in their community or Colorado generally. On a bill to limit the use of credit information in hiring decisions, lawmakers wanted to know the number and type of Colorado workers who were denied jobs because of their poor credit history. National data is helpful in describing the issue, but the more local the data the better. Nonprofit organizations often have solid local information and can show how policies affect their communities and constituents.

      Kush also argues the best way to communicate the effects of policy proposals is through personal stories. Again, this is very consistent with my experience. A compelling personal story helps legislators put data and statistics into context. Using the credit information bill as an example, testimony from workers who struggled with inaccurate credit reports and had problems getting jobs because of poor credit helped legislators see how the issue affected real people. Conversely, testimony from business owners who explained why and how they used credit information to screen job applicants helped lawmakers better understand their side of the issue. You need to be prepared to offer compelling stories to help make your case, because you can count on your opponents using stories to help make theirs.

      However, it is important to put the stories into the broader context. Many times opponents will try to dismiss one person’s story as the result of bad decisions on his/her part or chalk it up to a single incident. Presenting data showing many people face similar problems or having experts attest to the broad scope of the problem makes it harder to discount one individual’s story.

      The power of a personal story was brought home this session when we worked on a bill to allow students to get college credit for training they received at work, in the military or through other experience before enrolling. We presented background statistics and studies showing how this policy would save students money and help more of them graduate from college. However, it was the testimony of a long-serving veteran who told about the difficulty he had in getting colleges to give him credit for the training he received in the military that won over the committee members. They were so moved by his testimony they passed the bill out of committee unanimously and several agreed to speak for it –Democrats and Republicans–when it was heard on the floor.

      Taking action to build long-term relationships with elected officials

      Mr. Kush correctly points out a key to being successful in public advocacy is cultivating ongoing, long-term relationships with elected officials. Most policy issues take many years to play out and are often not resolved with a single piece of legislation or in one legislative session.

      Even if you are successful in getting legislation passed, you will need to stay engaged to see it is implemented properly. Many times, the legislature will give a state agency broad authority to work out the specific details of a policy proposal and how it is to be implemented. Nonprofits need to monitor and participate in this process to ensure the policy as implemented is consistent with the intent of the bill as passed.

      Several years ago, we worked as part of a coalition to pass legislation reforming payday loans. After the bill passed, we testified at a public hearing and submitted written comments during the Attorney General’s proceedings to write the rules implementing the law. This paid off as the rules adopted were consistent with our interpretation of the legislation and more favorable to the borrowers than those pushed by the payday lenders.

      Kush offers excellent advice for developing long-term relationships with elected officials, such as maintaining regular contact, inviting them to visit your organization and attending lawmakers’ town hall meetings. As Kush writes, it often takes several meetings over a number of years before legislators have a strong awareness of your organization. “The dividends come but none of this stuff happens instantly.”

      Kush’s advice is a good starting point for your entry into the world of public policy advocacy. In our experience, engaging in public policy and making the effort to go “upstream” and fix the railings pays off in the long run.

      See also:

      One-Hour Activist

      Social Change Anytime Everywhere


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      What qualities do leading changemakers possess?

      If your nonprofit business model is unsustainable, outdated or simply not making the difference you projected, gather inspiration and ideas from this author’s numerous examples gleaned from all over the world.

      Find out why they all point to five consistent principles:

      restructure industry norms
      change market dynamics
      use market forces to create social value
      advance full citizenship
      cultivate empathy

      Beverly Schwartz’s new book, Rippling: How Social Entrepreneurs Spread Innovation Throughout the World, reads like a compelling story in each chapter while arming you with a roadmap for creating your own path to systemic change. Few books motivate you to step back and rethink your business model. Schwartz’s featured “changemakers” embody a new call to action: think differently and act accordingly.

      I asked Schwartz about the qualities of these social entrepreneurs and here’s what she said in an excerpt of our interview:

      CausePlanet: It’s remarkable how many of the social entrepreneurs possess little or no expertise in areas we as nonprofit leaders would deem essential. Instead, they demonstrate an even more critical set of skills, such as the inability to accept things the way they are or a predisposition for reframing old thinking or defying convention. What have you found to be the most consistent among these vital traits in changemakers?

      Schwartz: Hands down, it is the ability of social entrepreneurs to have faith in themselves and to always see problems in terms of creative and new solutions. They recognize a problem and understand its nuances intimately, but don’t get caught in its intricacies. They are laser focused on not only working with, but being a part of the community they are serving, and persistence (with a dash or two of stubbornness) can always be found in abundance.

      CausePlanet subscribers: Register for our author interview with Schwartz on July 11 at 11 a.m. CST.

      See also:

      The Search for Social Entrepreneurship

      Philanthrocapitalism: How Giving Can Save the World

      The Search for Social Entrepreneurship



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      Naming and claiming the nonprofit business model

      What’s this I hear?

      Over the years, I’ve observed executives tend to view their organizations by function. Staff departments and board committees are organized in a similar fashion–programs, finance, fundraising and marketing. Nonprofits also frequently track and report their results in silos. It’s easy to organize our work and solve problems this way when we are not accustomed to an alternative.

      As organizational stewards, boards of directors need to focus on the whole organization as well as its strategic direction. They want to focus at that level but often struggle to do so. Why? They don’t understand their nonprofit’s business model. For many, their subject matter or industry expertise doesn’t necessarily relate to the organization overall or even to the nonprofit sector. So, they find themselves drilling down into the tactics. It is important that if you start a nonprofit organization that you start by obtaining a 501c3.

      The end result? Boards struggle to understand how their organizations really work and where their expertise can aid in setting direction and ensuring sustainability. Executive directors and staff members find themselves frustrated, and board members become less engaged than desired or needed. People go back to doing what they know how to do–approach organizational challenges and opportunities from a functional perspective.

      Nonprofits and for-profits alike have business models–a means by which they deliver goods and services to customers and earn revenue in the process. Ultimately, companies and nonprofits seek to achieve sustainable advantage in the marketplace. Business model design is one tool to achieve that goal.

      The challenge for many nonprofits in particular is a lack of awareness of their unique business models. Without widespread understanding among the executive staff and board of directors, it is difficult to create a more sustainable business model.

      The time has come for a business model framework specifically designed for nonprofits. Why? Sustainable nonprofit organizations are designed upon a fundamental premise–a business model that works.

      What can we learn from the research?

      In a recent study published by the IESE Business School on the business model concept, researchers found the term “business model” became more widely used in academic and practitioner-oriented journals with the advent of the Internet in the mid 1990s, and its use increased exponentially between 1995 and 2009. The IESE research on business model literature revealed several interesting findings. It discovered scholars do not agree on what defines a business model–there is no singular definition or framework that is widely accepted as the definition or framework. Nonetheless, common ground is surfacing, most notably:

      The business model serves as a new unit of analysis.

      The business model provides a system-level, holistic approach toward explaining how organizations do business.

      The business model seeks to understand how an organization creates and captures value.

      What can we conclude? Clearly there is strong interest in business models, especially among practitioners. For executives striving to improve their business models and consultants guiding them in that work, a “holistic unit of analysis” provides a tool for identifying and testing adaptations and innovation potential. But it does something even more important. It provides a common language and framework. From common language, an organization can develop a collective understanding of how it really functions and more importantly, where untapped potential lies.

      How can we think about the business model of nonprofits?

      A business model serves as an essential framework for understanding and analyzing a nonprofit. It provides a comprehensive organizational description of how a nonprofit does business. Central to the business model is the concept of value creation–what a nonprofit does to create and capture value for its customers and stakeholders.

      Definition of the nonprofit business model–What an organization does as summarized by: program development, financial resources and community engagement.

      Time for a new paradigm

      The 21st century calls for a new paradigm in nonprofit business models. Based on years of experience in the sector, I created the Synergistic Business Model™ framework to assist nonprofits in building stronger, more unique, and more sustainable business models. Two features make the Synergistic Business Model™ innovative. First, it fully incorporates community engagement as a component of equal stature with programs and funding. Second, it is designed to help nonprofits achieve true synergies within their business models.

      Introducing Corona Insights’ Synergistic Business Model™

      The business model framework has three interrelated components:

      Program development: Achieving the mission with intention and results–A set of programs collectively designed to achieve the mission with clear outcomes and the data to back them up. An overarching philosophy summarizes the nonprofit’s approach to programs, referred to as the Agency’s Way. Programs leverage core competencies. Partnerships and collaborations are well defined.

      Community engagement: Engaging the community with the mission–A comprehensive approach to engaging the community with the nonprofit to elevate visibility, engage with the brand and invite participation. Nonprofits take a holistic view of their constituents and foster deep interaction with volunteers, board members, funders and the community at-large.

      Financial resources: Creating financial resources to advance the mission–Includes funding for annual operations as well as long-term growth and sustainability. Annual operations are funded by contributed and earned income. Strategic growth is fueled by working capital, funds available to invest in new or improved services and infrastructure. Fundraising and financial management are tightly integrated.

      The relevance and strength of the Synergistic Business Model™ have been confirmed by a study of and reflection on business models by scholars and fellow practitioners. Corona’s framework was designed to serve as a unit of analysis at the organizational level. It emphasizes comprehensive, system-level thinking about how the nonprofit works and it can be enhanced for strategic relevance and sustainability. Corona’s model addresses ideas raised by fellow nonprofit consultants, in particular the recognition that the components are interdependent and that each element must be solid for the business model to function effectively.

      Too many nonprofits have business models that are not optimal for sustainability given today’s realities, demands and opportunities.

      What do you think? Learn how to use the Synergistic Business Model™.


      Our overarching goal is to create a helpful tool that advances the nonprofit sector.

      Karla Raines would like to acknowledge the contributions of the following organizations, colleagues and entities for guiding the design and development of this framework: Susan Kenny Stevens, PhD; Patricia Sterner; Kimberley Sherwood; Rose Community Foundation and the BOOST Initiative; Rebuilding Together Metro Denver; Qualistar Colorado; CWEE; The Women’s Foundation of Colorado; and South Metro Health Alliance. Karla expresses her gratitude to all of Corona’s customers who have shaped her thinking on nonprofit business models and to her fellow consultants and peers who have encouraged her along the way.


      Bell, Jeanne. “Beyond Financial Oversight: Expanding the Board’s Role in the Pursuit of Sustainability.” The Nonprofit Quarterly (Spring 2011): 10-15.

      Stevens, Susan Kenny., and Lisa M. Anderson. All the Way to the Bank: Smart Money Management for Tomorrow’s Nonprofit. St. Paul, MN: Stevens Group, 1997.

      Zott, Christoph, Raphael Amit, and Lorenzo Massa. The Business Model: Theoretical Roots, Recent Developments, and Future Research. Working paper no. 862. Madrid, Spain: IESE Business School, 2010.

      See also:

      The Nonprofit Business Plan

      Nonprofit Sustainability

      Building Nonprofit Capacity


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      The man, the museum and the dream

      There is chatter suggesting what leaders do to lead nonprofits is different than what they do to lead for-profit organizations. According to George Sparks, the CEO of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the only difference is profit-focused organizations have shareholders and nonprofits have volunteers.

      George would know the difference. Born in a small coal mining town in West Virginia, George left his hometown to attend school at the Air Force Academy where he became a pilot flying B-52s. Despite his dream of an academic career in the Air Force, George went to work for Hewlett Packard. George worked in many of the HP business units including marketing, sales and management and as a business unit leader. The year he turned 45, George woke up and took account of his life. His HP career was satisfying, but he knew there was another dream as lofty as the sky where he flew his Air Force planes. That vision was to run a major nonprofit organization by the time he was 55. As dreams sometimes unfold, 55 wasn’t the exact age but pretty close. George went into the consulting business with Rollie Heath (another community leader with great things to teach), and for ten months the two ran a practice that helped organizations identify their

      visions and missions as well as create strategic plans that would bring their visions and missions to life. One day, Rollie’s phone rang. It was a call about the CEO job opening at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Rollie told the caller he knew exactly the right person for that job and gave the phone to George.

      A beloved institution

      George became the leader of the museum in 2004. The Denver Museum of Nature and Science is a beloved Denver institution. Literally millions of school children have had their first museum experience there among the dinosaurs, dioramas and special exhibits housed at the museum. Residing in Denver’s City Park with glorious views of the mountains, the museum employs 450 staff and utilizes the services of 1,750 volunteers who show up every week, each for a half day. These volunteers, if paid, would account for five million dollars of labor expenses. They, along with the staff, help each visitor have an incredible time at this institution. The museum has 65,000 household memberships. That includes more members than any other national nature and science facility. Another impressive number is the museum is the fourth largest natural science museum in the country.

      A customer focus

      Every life experience George has had culminates in running this fabulous place. His vision is clear: Love nature so to take care of the world; love science so young minds enter the science professions. To enact that vision, George describes Museum 2020 with its goal of raising $170 million dollars. With these funds the museum can be positioned to be a museum of the 21st century. That future museum will have the visitor creating his/her own experience. Customer focus is a unifier between the nonprofit and for-profit world. As in most organizations that excel in customer service, the museum is in constant touch with customers. This contact is done through the process of formative and summative evaluations. As they leave, many visitors are asked about their experience. That data is analyzed over time, creating summative data that drives new activities at the organization. Conducting these processes involves three full-time staff and 40 volunteers. This data not only determines what programs or interactions a visitor might desire but also tracks who the visitor is. As a southwestern city, Denver’s demographic is changing to a Hispanic majority. That shift portends a different museum. By asking questions now, the museum will be relevant far into this century.

      Taking care of the troops

      George’s leadership style was learned in the military. His leadership credo involves accomplishing the mission, taking care of the troops and creating new leaders. This approach to leadership honed in the military applies to any organization. For George, accomplishing the mission in a for-profit organization is making profit–that is the scorecard. In nonprofits it is knowing and realizing the vision. Taking care of the troops and creating new leaders mean the same in for-profits and nonprofits. Successful employees with the next generation of leadership identified create organizational sustainability and the future of the vision. Recently George, with support from the museum trustees, made a bold move to eliminate the entrance fee for school groups coming to the museum. That means 400,000 children and the school districts they represent can visit the museum more easily. Those visits tie students perfectly to the vision of loving nature and science.

      George exemplifies powerful lessons for the next generation of nonprofit leaders. George’s greatest lesson is to dream the dream; give it ten years; and then live, execute and believe the dream is possible.

      See also:

      The Leadership Challenge

      12: The Elements of Great Managing

      Ordinary Greatness

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      Millennials give more through circles, tiers and partners

      According to Fundraising and the Next Generation author, Emily Davis, nonprofits should be cultivating Millennials and Gen X because of their sheer size and long-term potential for philanthropy.

      Wealthy Gen X donors give more and are increasingly more aware of charitable causes than earlier generations when they were the same age. Also worth noting, these two generations are more educated than prior generations, and there is a direct correlation between education and level of philanthropy.

      A study at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University reports a college degree increases annual giving by an average of $1,900. Additionally, younger donors tend to be driven more by the cause than by the notion of philanthropy itself.

      Circles: Giving circles are a strategy Davis mentions to cultivate the next generation of donors. Giving circles are comprised of people who pool their donations and decide collaboratively how to impact an agreed-upon social cause. By leveraging your volunteer or board development strategies with fundraising know-how, Davis claims you can create giving circles within your own organization.

      Tiers: Another strategy Davis mentions in her book is creating donor tiers that are sensitive to each age group’s ability to give. For example, Women Give San Diego uses this strategy for its annual giving campaigns. Members under the age of 40 are asked to give a minimum gift of $250 versus the Founding Members who are asked to give between $1,000 and $10,000 per year.

      Partners: Yet another strategy for engaging and cultivating younger donors is partnering with a young professionals group (like or organization that naturally draws a younger demographic.

      What are you doing to engage the next generation of philanthropists? Asking the Gen X and Y staff members in your organization is a great place to start.

      CausePlanet subscribers: Don’t forget to register for our interview with Davis on Thurs, June 14 at Noon MST.

      See also:
      Fundraising and the Next Generation
      Liquid Leadership

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      Hire from within for your best evaluation team

      One of your funders wants to see hard data, and another set of stakeholders needs touching stories that aren’t just cherry-picked anecdotes. You know you should evaluate your program. In fact, you genuinely want to know what’s working in your program and what needs to be tweaked. But you have a slightly queasy feeling in your stomach because despite your best intentions, you simply don’t have the time or expertise to conduct extensive program evaluation. Here’s the good news: you may already have the resources to do program evaluation right in your office.

      Take a minute to list all your key staff, volunteers and hands-on-type board members.

      Here’s the next step: See if any of them match any of these descriptions:

      Clear thinker: someone who really “gets” the program.

      Go getter: someone who doesn’t mind face-to-face interaction with perfect strangers and who knows how to just be aggressive enough to engage people without turning them off.

      Accurate and tolerates tedium: a person who doesn’t mind doing slightly monotonous work and does it accurately.

      Sees number patterns: someone who can look at a set of numbers and see patterns.  (You know these people when you see them in action.)

      Sees comment patterns: this person can look at a set of comments and see what they have in common.

      Good writer: a person with writing skills.

      Champion: a person who believes in your program and has the ear of your stakeholders.

      Here are five other requirements for people who help you with evaluation:

      1. They have to be able to commit some amount of time to their work and maintain that commitment.
      2. They have to be willing to put aside their own opinions about the program.
      3. They have to be teachable.
      4. They have to be able to maintain confidentiality.
      5. They have to understand the limits of their evaluation job so they don’t run amuck and make outlandish suggestions to your board just because they’re involved in evaluation.

      Now, here’s a simple outline of a soup-to-nuts evaluation process:

      Phase One: Planning for Evaluation (a two-step process)

      Step 1: Develop a Logic Model (a 1-page description of your program’s activities, intended outcomes and how you think they relate to each other)
      Step 2: Develop an Evaluation Plan (a list of the evaluation tasks you’ll do, such as surveys, focus groups, interviews, etc., that will help you understand your progress toward your intended outcomes)

      Phase Two: Doing Evaluation (a six-step process)

      For each evaluation task you do,

      Step 1: Design the survey (for example)
      Step 2: Distribute and collect it
      Step 3: Enter the data
      Step 4: Analyze and synthesize the data
      Step 5: Write up a report
      Step 6: Use the findings

      Here are six hints about who can help with each task:

      1. Clear thinker can help you with your logic model.
      2. Go getter can help you distribute and collect surveys. With training, he/she can also conduct interviews (if he/she is removed enough from the program to be impartial).
      3. Accurate-And-Tedium-Tolerant member is just the person you need to do data-entry.
      4. People who can see number and comment patterns will LOVE helping you with data analysis.
      5. The writer can help you write your report.
      6. And when it’s time to use your data, you’ll need your champion.

      When you recruit people with these characteristics, keep in mind that people (staff and volunteers) love doing what they’re good at in service of things they believe in. And most people, especially teachable ones, like learning new things. So, while they’ll be doing you a favor, you’re also giving them a great opportunity.

      Here are three caveats.

      1. There’s an additional skill-set which is very specialized: facilitation. If you have a facilitator on your team, lucky you. Put him or her to work running a focus group (if he or she is removed enough from the program to be impartial).
      2. If you have stakeholders who should be involved but don’t have any of the characteristics listed above, it may be a good idea to find an appropriate role for them so they don’t feel left out.
      3. Even with all these great resources, it’s handy to bring in an evaluation expert who can help you anticipate costs and timing and help with designing your evaluation plan and instruments.

      Yes, there’s a lot to think about. But you are already far ahead of where you were 10 minutes ago! Even if you’re not ready to jump into evaluation yet, you can be confident you won’t be diving in alone when it’s time to take the plunge.

      See also:

      Leap of Reason: Managing Outcomes in an Era of Scarcity

      Level Best: How Small and Grassroots Organizations Can Tackle Evaluation and Talk Results



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      Financial endurance: Does your funding strategy have it?

      In Kimberley Sherwood’s blog last week at Co-Strategy, she talked about the importance of defining your funding strategy and went on to cite research by Bridgespan (featured at NPQ), which highlighted a handful of best practices for guiding your strategic financial growth.

      One of the practices from Bridgespan surrounds the notion that “you must break the funding wall by committing to an evolving funding strategy over time. As you consider the next three to five years, how will your strategy need to evolve to ensure your long-term financial security to deliver sustained impact? Where do you take calculated risks?”

      In Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability, authors Jeanne Bell, Jan Masaoka and Steve Zimmerman underscore Bridgespan’s research, encouraging nonprofit leaders to ensure financial endurance and sustained impact through an evolving revenue strategy. In my interview with the authors, I asked them about their view of sustainability as an orientation, not a destination. Steve’s response is fitting for this discussion:

      One of the common comments that I receive from boards when we’re doing strategic planning is that they want a ‘sustainable business model.’ It is often said in a way that implies that sustainability is a destination-–once you get to the nirvana of a sustainable business model you don’t have to worry anymore and money will continue to come rolling in for perpetuity. We know the reality is that nothing is forever. Funding sources come and go and constituents’ needs evolve. So, what is sustainable today may not be sustainable tomorrow. As a result, sustainability is constantly evolving and requires an orientation of monitoring and decision making to make sure that your organization is sustainable at any given point and time.

      Smart nonprofits today realize the board can’t bring in a consultant and have a “one-off” strategic planning session. They must commit to an evolving plan that’s responsive to the ever-changing environment. How relevant is your current plan and does it build your financial endurance?

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      Boomers crave purpose: Discover how your cause can deliver it

      An infatuation with younger donors can distract you from the real work at hand: cultivating boomers as they start their bell lap.

      Heed these words from a recent “For Impact” blog posting: “The best time to plant trees was 20 years ago. The next best time is NOW.” This bracing slap, from one of fundraising’s most fervent and useful blogs, refers to the marketing of charitable bequests and other planned gifts. Had your organization made a serious effort 20 years ago to get into the wills of the Greatest Generation, today you would be harvesting large and luscious philanthropic fruits. Not happening for you? Let’s take a look at two common communications lapses.

      This is not a serious effort: Adding a postscript on your direct mail reply device, advising, “If you’d like more information about legacy giving, check this box.”

      This is not a serious effort: Relentlessly mailing to your donors one of those dreadful canned “planned giving” newsletters that only an accountant could love.

      But now? Well, now you have a second chance to get it right…as vast numbers of boomers approach their sell-by dates. Let’s replay the staggering math and lick our bequest marketing chops. There were 76 million births in the U.S. from 1946 to 1964 (source: Population Reference Bureau). I was one of them. And America wasn’t the only nation that went procreatively crazy post-World War II. The UK, for one, is sitting on a rich lode of aging boomers. The first boomers hit the magic age of 65 in 2011. What lies ahead for them? A renewed search for meaning perhaps. Trained as consummate consumers, boomers may now be shopping for something different: a late-in-life sense of purpose…and a way to go out with a bang, not a whimper. In fact, research shows boomers crave purpose. What a lucky coincidence. Philanthropy, as it happens, is all about purpose.

      But enough about them. Let’s talk about you: where are you putting your emphasis these days, on courting (1) the aging or (2) the young? If you’re hunting new donors, almost any donor will do. Young, old, they all come in roughly alike. Or so you might think. But do they stick? There’s a bit of a rub: older new donors tend to keep giving longer than younger new donors. A 25-year-old winkled out by street fundraising will likely be gone in a year. A 40-year-old new donor obtained the same way will continue giving. You see, age matters. It’s not that younger donors are less generous. It’s just that they have so much more to buy: clothes, cars, furnishings, homes, education for their eventual kids. Older donors have been there, done that. A person aged 65 is far more likely to have two things a young adult won’t have: (1) enough stuff and (2) a sense that time is running out.

      Want to set up a really first rate bequest marketing program? Are you ready to get serious and plant trees that 20 years from now will drop into your organization’s lap big, luscious philanthropic fruit? I’d call Richard Radcliffe at Smee & Ford in London. He’ll set you right. And one of the first things he’ll have you do is write up a “vision statement.” It’s like a mission statement, except it’s about where you want to go: i.e., your organization’s destination.

      Here’s an example, paraphrased from Mr. Radcliffe:

      “In 1960, the survival rate for childhood cancer was appalling. It was a death sentence, really. But donor-sponsored research has made tremendous progress since then. Today, four out of five children survive a cancer diagnosis. Still, the job is far from done. By 2020, almost half of our children will face some kind of cancer event, thanks to environmental factors. We absolutely can defeat cancer, with your devoted help. But now we need to push harder than ever. Please include cancer research amongst your bequests. Tomorrow’s children will need your help.”

      Let me break that down for you:

      (1) You show what you’ve accomplished to date.

      (2) You cheer the donors who made it possible.

      (3) You show that new challenges are on the horizon.

      (4) You issue a clear call to action.

      (5) You make a promise (“…absolutely can defeat…”).

      (6) You shift the responsibility onto the donors’ shoulders, where it should be, because that responsibility makes donors feel needed.

      See also:

      Seeing Through A Donor’s Eyes

      How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money

      The Nonprofit Marketing Guide

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