Archive for September, 2012

So you want more but do you know why?

According to David La Piana and his coauthors, a nonprofit needs a business plan just as much as a business does. “Perhaps more so given the narrower room for experimentation and the high consequences of failure—both of which can be traced back to often narrow operating margins and lack of adequate capital.”

Why do you need a business plan?

A business plan can help you recognize a limited or broken model that may be holding your organization back.

Business planning can also help you assess and prepare for substantial changes in your scope of work.

As nonprofits seek to develop solutions that are repeatable and scalable, business planning becomes the centerpiece of these patterns because you don’t want to replicate or scale up mediocre programs—you want to be sure you’re expanding your reach and your return.

I asked coauthor, Lester Olmstead-Rose about the most important take-away from the book. His answer builds on the reasoning above and challenges you to know why you want a business plan.

CausePlanet: What’s the most important idea you want readers to take away from your book?

Olmstead-Rose: One of the most frustrating things we come up against is nonprofits (and actually, just as often, their funders) saying, “We need a business plan,” but really using the phrase as a kind of catch-all description of a strategy that includes numbers or a program implementation plan or a way to balance the budget. In other words, it has come to mean vaguely, “more.” As in: “I need something more than I’ve been able to describe about planning, growth, how I operate, where I go next, or how to implement.” This book is about demystifying what that more could be around planning, decision making and implementation–and making it accessible.

Olmstead-Rose’s answer reminds me of Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. She wants the golden goose (and everything else she sees!) but doesn’t have a reason. Rather than asking for more, figure out what you need so the business planning process has a chance to succeed.

You can read the complete author interview and learn more about what’s inside The Nonprofit Business Plan: A Leader’s Guide to Creating a Successful Business Model by downloading a Page to Practice™ book summary at

For those of you new to CausePlanet, we aim to satisfy professional curiosity in busy nonprofit leaders through Page to Practice™ book summaries, author interviews and relevant discussion by peer contributors. Download this book or dozens of other titles by visiting our summary store or subscribing to summary library. Or try us out by printing a free sample.

Watch for next week’s Page to Practice™ feature of Chris Zook and James Allen’s new book, “Repeatability,” which builds on what the La Piana Consulting team explores about solutions that are scalable and repeatable.

Image credit, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

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Five ways to make your website content more awesome

Your website is your primary marketing machine on the Internet. It’s the headwaters people go to when they want to swim upstream to find out what you’re really about. It’s also the place where you convert email subscribers, donors and volunteers. This is why your content has to be awesome!

Following are five things you can start doing today to make your website content more remarkable:

1Tell meaningful stories

Have you ever wondered why getting people to volunteer and donate seems so difficult? It’s not the economy is hurting or your cause is uninteresting. It’s about telling a story that moves people. And motion requires emotion.

Creating emotional stories is easier when you keep these  tips in mind:

Bigger Than You–Stories that matter are always bigger than you and your organization. It’s in the eyes of your people. It’s a story like the one GLAAD is telling with their timeline.

    Includes Your Supporters –Stories that matter include the chapters your people have written. Take a look at how Livestrong does this.

      Stay Positive–Stories that matter empower and encourage people. When things seem darkest, that’s when you can brighten your own way by lighting another person’s candle!

        Plot Points–Make sure your stories have a beginning, middle and end (conflict, challenge, resolution).

          Protagonist–Make sure your stories have an underdog people can personally identify with. Use Personas to help you fill in the details about these characters.

            2. Use second person narrative

            Use second person narrative to speak more directly to your reader. The internet is a very solitary medium where individuals not, groups, read content. Rewrite your copy as if you’re writing a personal email to one of your constituents. This is also where Personas will come in handy. Read more about second person narrative here.

            3. Use large images

            Images are steroids for your web pages. They speak the language of the subconscious and keep people interested in what you have to say. Along with video, images are ultimately what cause people to act.

            Another thing about images: Awesome images on each of your web pages are more important than ever with the emergence of Pinterest. And if they’re awesome, they’ll get pinned and re-pinned. And the more re-pins, the more traffic you’ll get to that webpage!

            4. Edit your title tags

            Awesome website content gets found more often on Google. Help yours get found more by making sure your title tags are optimized for search. An effective title tag is one that encourages people to click on it once it does show up on the first page of a SERP. Learn more about the nitty gritty of editing your title tags here.

            5. Use bigger fonts

            A study conducted by Stanford University revealed that font size influences the credibility of a website. And when you think about it, it makes sense. I mean, who trusts fine print? 16 is the new 14.

            Go forth and be fruitful.

            These are tactics you can do right now! Yup, you can stop reading this and start making your website more awesome today.

            See also:

            Content Marketing for Nonprofits

            The Networked Nonprofits

            Measuring Networked Nonprofits

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            What’s the best reason for reinventing your business model?

            Many of us recall David La Piana’s Nonprofit Strategy Revolution, which pushed past our traditional notion of strategic planning and brought more time-sensitive, relevant thinking to the forefront. La Piana acknowledges that even while Revolution was being published, clients began to raise the common questions surrounding the economic and operational implications of strategic decisions. Specifically, how could they effectively connect their strategy with an execution plan that would truly grow the organization? Answering this question involved developing a rigorous methodology for connecting mission, strategy and execution.

            The methodology described in The Nonprofit Business Plan roots strategic decision making in a strong financial analysis. Known as “DARE2 Succeed,” the principles in the methodology have been repeatedly tested in La Piana’s consulting practice to ensure the book represents practical and workable approaches to improving your organization’s outcomes. I asked coauthor, Lester Olmstead-Rose, about the most common reasons for pursuing a new business model. I loved his answer so I’m sharing it with you.

            CausePlanet: You explain every nonprofit should engage in ongoing strategic planning but the “deeper dive” of business planning depends upon your circumstances. What is the most common reason nonprofits should consider formulating a business model?

            Olmstead-Rose: The most common need for business planning is when you know or discover your business model is broken. An obvious example of this is when you can’t pay for what you are doing and you need to come up with a new approach to pay your bills.

            We had an executive director come to us who had a really descriptive phrase about why she wanted to enter into a strategy development process followed by business planning. She said, “I can’t keep raising a million and spending a million!” Isn’t that what so many nonprofits do, living right on the edge all the time and under constant threat of collapse? It means their economic logic isn’t working; they haven’t created a good mechanism to pay for the extent of work they have taken on. But in considering a broken or stressed business model, don’t forget it is not just a question of money. Any part of the scope of your program or organization may be challenged–for example, the population you serve has changed dramatically or your geographic reach is too big or too small.

            Beyond addressing a problem in the business model, business planning is also a great tool to use when thinking about expansion. We get organizations coming to us saying, “We do this great work, now we want to take it to scale.” Business planning can identify the avenues for doing that and let you know if it’s viable, or if you’re going to lose your shirt and undermine the good you’re already doing.

            We’ve had an organization approach us that wanted to start a capital campaign to build new facilities and then use those new facilities to both expand current programs and start new work. Business planning is a perfect approach for them to make sure they can sustain those programs in the long run.

            You can read the complete author interview and learn more about what’s inside The Nonprofit Business Plan: A Leader’s Guide to Creating a Successful Business Model by downloading the Page to Practice™ book summary. Or try us out by printing a free sample.

            Image credit, AustinArtist, via

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            Business planning is the new black

            In our monthly Management Café discussion, I was reminded about our current Page to Practice™ feature because the executives on the call were discussing how they constantly evaluate the financial impact (earning power or appeal to donors) of their programs.

            This month’s Page to Practice™ feature of The Nonprofit Business Plan: A Leader’s Guide to Creating a Successful Business Model underscores the discussion of financial impact by addressing the economic logic of your nonprofit business model. In other words, business planning is the new black. Authors David La Piana, Heather Gowdy, Lester Olmstead-Rose and Brent Copen argue that business planning is not strategic planning. Rather, it’s the next step after strategic planning—a way to test the economic viability of your strategies. I asked Nonprofit Business Plan coauthor, Lester Olmstead-Rose, to discuss the difference between strategic planning and business planning as well as how they interact. Here’s what he had to say:

            CausePlanet: Your book discusses the difference between strategic planning and business planning. Can you briefly touch on this?

            Olmstead-Rose: Strategic planning is focused on articulating a strategy or creating a response to an organizational opportunity or threat, which is something organizations need to do all the time. A strategic planning process might identify a business model that isn’t working, such as where the mission impact is low or the organization is not able to pay for its work. But the emphasis in strategic planning is on how you will coordinate your activities and coordinate them to what end.

            Business planning specifically tests the operational and economic viability of a major change. It is true that a business plan may pick up where the strategic plan leaves off. Your strategic plan might say, “We need to develop sources of earned revenue.” You can then use the business planning process to identify and test options for doing this. The value of a business plan is in the rigor of the process you go through to test the proposition that a particular undertaking–a program, partnership, new venture, growth strategy, or the entity as a whole–is economically and operationally viable.

            CausePlanet subscribers: Don’t forget to register for next month’s live author interview via webcast with Lester Olmstead-Rose about this book.

            See also:

            Rippling: How Social Entrepreneurs Spread Innovation Throughout the World

            Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability

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            Building a social purpose brand: the new nonprofit imperative

            If the 2000′s was the decade of “why,” 2012 and beyond will be about social purpose and creating a clear value proposition for your nonprofit organization. How do you create this and engage your stakeholders in your social purpose and the value you create for society? It starts with discovering and expressing your organization’s higher purpose and focusing on outcomes, not activities!

            Organizations that stand for a clear and inspiring social purpose and bring commitments to life through outcome-driven action will deepen relationships, foster loyalty, build sustainable organizations and achieve positive social change.

            To infuse asocial purpose into your organization, define and demonstrate a three-dimensional brand value proposition:

            • Head: Articulate your leadership position–Identify what your organization stands for—the unique, differentiated idea that sets it apart and explains what the organization does better than others.
            • Heart: Express your social purpose–Forge an emotional and personal connection with your core stakeholders. Elevate your leadership position to a higher purpose with specific outcomes—something bigger than organizational activities, something your constituents care about and believe in.
            • Hands: Rally your community–Use your social purpose to create a sense of community–inside and outside of the organization–to rally and inspire action. Unite people around shared commitments, values and interests that add meaning to their lives and help change our communities and the world for the better.

            This new approach requires a profound shift in philosophy. It calls for a deep commitment to ensuring that what your organization stands for–its social purpose–is communicated and lived through every stakeholder interaction. This is a shift from:

            Standing for everything to articulating a clear purpose: In an effort to satisfy multiple stakeholders, nonprofits often try to be everything to everyone. To truly break through, a nonprofit finds and expresses what it stands for–its higher social purpose. It uses that bigger purpose to tell an enduring story that helps unify its actions from year to year.

            Reporting activities to demonstrating outcomes: There is an old saying that states, activities tell and benefits sell. Rather than just reporting on activities, a BNB (Breakthrough Nonprofit Brand) focuses its communications on the benefits and outcomes that deliver value. By issuing compelling, personally relevant offers, a breakthrough organization makes association with its brand a top choice over all other alternatives.

            Undertaking transactions to building relationships: Traditionally, nonprofits emphasize annual numbers and dollars raised. An organization that invests in and rewards staff for building long-term relationships will break through. It takes the time to engage in a meaningful dialogue with donors. This ongoing conversation helps illuminate what the organization means to its supporters and what their involvement says about them to others. It creates a true community of believers.

            Being well-known to being well-owned: Being better-known does not equate to being better-understood or valued. A breakthrough organization appreciates the importance of awareness and fundraising but spends just as much time engaging internal and external communities in the higher purpose. It believes in the power of many and meaningfully engages a critical mass of people in its cause. Inclusive, not exclusive, it creates owner-based relationships with constituents and encourages creative engagement. By empowering an army of supporters who call the organization their own, it causes people to take another look and creates waves of new recruits eager to commit to the cause.

            Moving from organizational silos to integration: A high performance nonprofit uses its clear social purpose as the force behind everything the organization does, making it the central management preoccupation for the CEO, board, executive team and all staff and volunteers. It is at the heart of governance, operations and mission achievement. A concerted effort is made to break down internal silos and bring the organization together around the social purpose for operational effectiveness.

            With the leadership of the CEO and senior management, a social purpose brand can become the catalyst for continual self-assessment and innovation. It is a must-do to create a unique organizational identity infused with passion and trust. Forward-looking senior leaders ensure this brand-centric philosophy is embraced by the whole organization. They leverage the brand to strengthen donor loyalty, recruit top executives, rally staff members, meaningfully engage volunteers, drive diversified funding streams and ultimately, make a greater social impact.

            A powerful social purpose brand conveys the organization’s focus, credibility and unique contributions. In today’s environment, it is critical to focus on ways to stand out and win head, heart and hands. This approach maximizes trust, forges stronger relationships and secures a continuous flow of resources to fulfill critical mission objectives. Social purpose branding is the new nonprofit imperative.

            See also:


            Cause Marketing for Nonprofits

            Married to the Brand

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            Don’t make cold calls; make tepid calls instead

            In our recent live interview with “Insider’s Guide to Winning Foundation Grants,” author, Marty Teitel, we asked all of you on the webinar, “How many of you have received a grant?” A surprising 30 percent had never been a grantee. I would have confidently guessed 90 percent or more of you had earned the support of a foundation.

            It’s a good reminder there are many organizations still in their founding years or perhaps securing a mix of earned income and other funds that makes cultivating foundations less critical. For the rest of you aspiring to be among the 70 percent who call foundations their friends, author Marty Teitel is anxious to share his perspectives as a former foundation CEO.

            In our Page to Practice™ summary of “Winning Foundation Grants” by Martin Teitel, we promised you some excerpts of Part Four: “Administering the truth-detector test to America’s charitable foundations.” Teitel offers his best and most truthful answers to some of the questions his readers wanted to know. In the passage below, Teitel addresses the challenge with cold calls.

            Readers: Generally speaking, foundations loathe cold calls from grant seekers.

            Teitel: Please listen carefully, as our menu options have changed: this is true! Whenever my kids leave the house, I’m unable to resist telling them to drive safely, even through it’s a ritualistic mantra of the painfully obvious.  Similarly, I’ve written articles and given talks admonishing grant seekers to review the rules before applying to any foundation, but I think I’ve had little effect.

            Cold calls have consequences.

            One is foundations hire more people to answer the phones. The salaries and fringe benefits of these functionaries are counted as charitable expenditures that could have been grants. Lazy cold callers not only diminish their chances of getting a grant, they also make it more difficult for everyone else to secure funding.

            Second, people like me built elaborate moats. In my time as a funder, I was practically impossible to reach. This is because the majority of the calls that came in for me were an irredeemably total waste of my time.

            Does my behavior run the risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater? Yes – I know I might have missed a call from someone with a fabulous brainstorm. I can only hope those with good ideas read the rules and got to me via the established channels.

            If you nevertheless feel a need to pitch an idea to a program officer over the phone, first send an email explaining what you want to talk about and why there’s value for both parties to talk. This approach has worked with me, although since the call was preceded by a letter, it’s not really cold – more kind of tepid.

            If you enjoyed our live author interview with Marty Teitel, don’t forget to register for our next interview about winning nonprofit business models with coauthor, Lester Olmstead-Rose, who is a senior strategist with La Piana Consulting.

            See also:

            The Foundation: A Great American Secret; How Private Wealth is Changing the World
            Leap of Reason: Managing to Outcomes in an Era of Scarcity

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