Archive for September, 2013

Reward wisdom and work, not just wealth

“Why do nonprofit organizations go to such great lengths to recruit the best and brightest as trustees, but then permit them to languish collectively in an environment more intellectually inert than alive, with board members more disengaged than engrossed?”

Chait, Ryan and Taylor’s question raises the important conundrum nonprofit leaders must reconcile if their organizations are to flourish. The coauthors’ question also prompted them to write Governance as Leadership, which introduced a groundbreaking trimodal approach to board governance in fiduciary, strategic and generative spheres.

The subject of our currently featured book, The Practitioner’s Guide to Governance as Leadership, is Cathy Trower’s how-to edition, which expands upon Governance as Leadership’s influential work with a wealth of examples of high-performing nonprofit boards as well as insightful tools and guidance on how to successfully operate equally in these three celebrated modes. I asked Cathy Trower to discuss the three modes of governance in our author interview:

CausePlanet: In the book, you discuss the importance of boards utilizing three modes of governance. Will you briefly explain why this model is so effective?

Trower: It is effective because it taps the full brainpower and talent of everyone assembled in the boardroom, rather than just that of the usual, most outspoken members. It’s no secret that thinking, and ultimately decision making, are improved through the airing and understanding of divergent thinking, multiple views and diverse perspectives; respectful challenges to the status quo; and devil’s advocacy and dissent. The model, if well-practiced, allows for all of that. It drives the board up the knowledge management hierarchy from data to information to knowledge to wisdom. It gets the board away from technical problems (which can and should be addressed by management) to adaptive challenges, which are messier because they get to core issues of values and missions. It helps the board remember it is responsible with management for the long-term sustainability of the nonprofit it holds in the public trust while also being responsible for the oversight of the more mundane, though nonetheless essential aspects of the organization (e.g., legal, financial, ethical–duty of care responsibilities). It levels the boardroom playing field that in some nonprofits has been tilted toward the wealthy and powerful having the most say and sway to ensuring the best thinking emerges no matter whose. In the nonprofit board vernacular, the model rewards wisdom and work, not just wealth.

The coauthors’ three Governance as Leadership modes, which Trower discusses in her Practitioner’s Guide, have been repeatedly applied and widely accepted by nonprofits throughout the sector. Nonprofit leaders who recognize they stand or fall based on their enlightened board leadership should leverage Trower’s book as an instructive resource that illustrates an innovative approach with specificity and experience.

See also:

The Board Game

Exposing the Elephants

The Ultimate Board Member’s Book


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Lions, zebras, and the law of the jungle: how markets matter to nonprofits

The law of survival in the jungle is simple: you don’t have to be faster than the lion, just one step faster than the slowest zebra.

The mantra of the under achiever? To the contrary, this is the wisdom of a creature that has figured out what game it is playing–what the threats are, who its competitors are and (literally) what it must do to live to see another day. Likewise, the key for nonprofit survival is market awareness: knowing the larger environment, being aware of who else is competing for space and knowing what you need to do to position yourself to succeed.

Talk of markets among nonprofits often elicits slightly repulsive responses. “We are not about market dominance,” is the refrain. “We are about creating impact.”Markets, after all, are the domain of the McDonalds and Starbucks of the world, those companies in constant search for higher profits.

Fair enough. But without knowledge of the nature of your particular market and your place in it, you may spend unnecessary time and energy trying to outrun the lion instead of finding your survival spot within the herd.

What markets are

A market is the primary domain (defined as a field of action) within which your organization operates. Less formal is the notion of market as “the sandbox” within which your organization plays. In either sense, markets have two fundamental characteristics: a) they are closed and finite, and b) within those boundaries is the collective population of your clients and competitors. In simpler terms, your market is comprised of the people you wish to serve and the other organizations to whom they may go for similar service.

For some, the market is defined geographically, such as a community center whose mission is to serve a particular zip code or sector of town. Competitors in this market are the other sites in the same area that provide similar services, whether or not any one site provides all of them. For others, the market is defined demographically, as in an outreach program to low-achieving middle-school students across a school district. Its competitors are the range of youth programs offered by churches and youth-serving agencies.

Still yet, a market may be defined by the mandates of a specific industry, such as a government funded youth-service agency. While the organization exists to improve the lives of youth, what it actually does for the youth is determined by what the state is willing to pay for.

How markets matter

It should be obvious that markets do matter in the formulation of nonprofit strategy. But how do markets matter? First, it is impossible to develop a strategic position without an understanding of the type of market you are in. Second, it is difficult to assess your standing within your market without knowledge of those you are “trying to outrun.” That is, you can’t differentiate yourself within a market unless you know who your competitors are. And third, program shifts often unwittingly throw nonprofits into markets for which they are unprepared to compete. To illustrate, consider the case of Harvest Home, a residential facility for youth with behavioral health issues.

Harvest Home has been in the same location for over 100 years, doing basically the same thing for the same population. But it is not a “local” nonprofit. Why? Because its clients and its funding both come from

counties around the state. In fact, less than 10% of its clients come from its county of residence. Thus, it would be a strategic mistake for Harvest Home to strengthen its market position by trying to raise local awareness of its work. Instead, it has chosen to strengthen its market position within the behavioral health industry by demonstrating low-cost, relevant outcomes to the state agency that funds its work.

In recognition of its market, Harvest Home is left to deal with the reality of declining state support for residential treatment, its core strength. Its strategic response to these changing external conditions is two-fold. First, it adapted its treatment model so that it can be offered in non-residential settings, such as the family home. Second, and more to the issue at hand, Harvest Home decided to take its core expertise in the provision of intensive therapy and offer it to the general population.

What are the implications of this strategic move? The most significant is that it has now entered into a new market. Or, if you prefer, Harvest Home is now playing in someone else’s sandbox. To be successful, Harvest Home must be able to differentiate itself from. i.e., compete with, the numerous mental health centers, clinics and private therapists in the local community.

Indeed, Harvest Home has encountered a second lion.


The key to survival for the zebra is its ability to blend in with the herd. That is, its basic survival strategy is to confuse the predator through the absence of differentiation. And it is designed to do just that. Paradoxically, the exact opposite is true for nonprofits. But without recognition of its actual market and subsequent differentiation within it, nonprofits are unable to design a strategy that, in the long run, may be the difference between survival and extinction.

See also:


Blue Ocean Strategy



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Raise your hand if you think planned giving is hard

“If planned giving is so good for both nonprofit organizations and the donors who support them, why don’t more organizations have a planned giving program,” asks Michael Rosen, author of Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing. This question is rhetorical because Rosen knows the answer. When Michael and I recently spoke on the phone, he said he likes to ask his audiences to raise their hands if they think planned giving is difficult. When the majority of the room responds, he’s never surprised. His goal with training groups and in his book is to simplify and demystify the process for fundraisers.

Nonprofits are missing major opportunities to cultivate funds due to the planned giving myths of perceived complexity and difficulty of implementation.

Missed opportunities

Rosen says, “First, there is a significant gap in what traditional planned-gift marketing is achieving and what people are willing to consider. Second, traditional planned-gift marketing is just scratching the surface of planned giving potential.”

Debunking the myths

Michael Rosen gives detailed steps to market your planned-gift program to inspire donors. He emphasizes tapping people in their prime and focusing on their motivations. He addresses active recruitment, stewardship and much more. He provides you with an explicit plan to move forward with a planned giving program.

Join us on Thursday, Oct 17, at 11:00 am CST

Register now and join us for a lively discussion about how to simplify and incorporate planned gift marketing into your daily fundraising efforts with expert and author Michael Rosen.

Questions in this interview will touch on the book’s following highlights:

Identify who makes planned gifts and assess your organization’s potential for planned giving.

Understand planned gift donors’ motivations and how these fuel the author’s recommended approaches.

Explore how to educate and cultivate planned gift prospects and professional advisors.

Engage in effective asks and stewardship practices.

Get started now by submitting questions for us to address in the interview on October 17. Simply use the “Reply” box below to submit your question.

See also:

Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing

Relationship Fundraising


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Dare to be different: Dare to dream

This is an excerpt from Kay Sprinkel Grace’s book-in-progress, Dare to Dream.

Lately, it has been hard for organizations to dream. Instead, we have worried. Through the recession and into the post-recession, we have felt dreaming was a luxury. And yet, our organizations were founded on dreams: improved education, compelling drama, accessible music, alleviated suffering among vulnerable populations or the cure of the chronic and life-threatening diseases.

We begin with a dream but what happens after that first dream has been turned into a thriving organization? What happens after those first founders move on? What happens when we go into maintenance (or recessionary decline) and we begin the perceptible shift from dreaming about what might be possible to believing that a successful year is one in which we “get back to zero” or balance our budgets?

I believe we begin to lose our edge of excellence. We begin looking in the mirror instead of through our windows. We always do what we’ve always done because we are successful.

But what if we dare to be different? What if we dare to dream? What if we could strengthen our core while also pushing the boundaries of our thinking to say, What is coming in our community? What is the next big dream we need to have?

It does not cost anything to dream. You can hold on to a dream while still maintaining your commitment to sound fiscal practices and execution of your strategic plan. This is not an either/or–it is a both/and.

Negative messages

The impact of the recession was both financial and psychological. It continues to influence the philanthropic investment decisions of many donors. To compound that problem, an alarming number of organizations still struggle with messages that border on begging for funding to keep their doors open and their services sound. These messages come not from a sense of the impact the organizations are having and can have, but from a sense of fear that they will not make their budget and will have to make cuts. These messages fan the potential donor’s fears about the economy and the result is a pervasive syndrome called “psychic poverty.”

I believe that even in the worst of times, people harbor dreams. And, I believe that organizations, even those whose budgets are strapped, need to set aside time to dream.


Our sector is about risk. We see a need in the community, and we risk our initial seed money (and engage others to risk theirs) to meet that need. In times of uncertainty we are less willing to take risks. The boundaries of risk are fear and dreams, and when we are fearful about our future we simply cannot dream. And we do not risk. Like many of our donors, we have felt deep psychic poverty as we juggle the uncertainty of the future against our present needs.

So, how can we project an image that says we are aware of the boundaries of risk but we will not succumb to fear, which inhibits both risk and renewal? Do we remember that embedded in every organization is a dream that is powerful and compelling? While we have rightfully become more strategic, let us not forget that dreams are what capture the imagination of both donors and our communities. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did not say, “I have a plan,” when he spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. He said, “I have a dream.”


We must inspire dreams. Two recent comments from leading philanthropists offer us little comfort and great challenge. Jean Case, commenting after the 2012 White House Conference on Philanthropy, said that high impact investors are sitting on the sidelines. More than $12 billion are under management for donors in charitable funds operated by large investment firms and community-based foundations. When will more of that money reach the organizations in your community? I believe it will be when we come up with big ideas, big dreams and engage others in big solutions to the growing problems in our society. Carlos Slim Helu, the richest man in the world, commented at the Forbes 400 conference in September, 2012, “We have seen thousands of people working in nonprofits, and the problems and poverty are bigger. They have not solved anything.” I absolutely do not agree with that, but I have to attribute his belief to the fact that we continue to talk about the needs we have, rather than the needs we meet. We fail to focus on impact. We focus on what we want for our organizations instead of what we want for our communities when we convey our vision.

Do you inspire your donors to think big with you, or is “getting back to zero” considered an achievement? Are there times during the year where the board and staff dream together? Where they take a hard look through the windows and ask where the next big opportunity is coming from and whether they are ready?

Dreams are a renewable resource. I think more of us should hang a Native American dream catcher in our windows. It would remind us that philanthropy itself began with a dream and that each of our organizations is the embodiment of someone’s dream to make this world a better place.

Native American Dream Catcher

Room to Read is one of the great success stories of high impact social investment philanthropy. John Wood, the founder, recently offered this comment in a blog in the Chronicle of Philanthropy:

I’ve always believed bold goals attract bold people, and that’s why I said we wanted to reach 10 million children by 2020. We’re doing so well that we’ve moved the deadline forward by five years. To date, we’ve reached 7.8 million children….I’m very much against the adage of small is beautiful. I think small is ineffective.  –John Wood, Founder, Room to Read

I believe there are people out there waiting for us to put forth a dream that will connect with what they have long believed as possible for their communities or for the world.

See also:

The Ultimate Board Member’s Book

Rippling: How Social Entrepreneurs Spread Innovation Throughout the World

Influencer: The Power to Change Anything

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Let impact do the talking in your cause marketing campaign (Audio)

We recently had a live author interview with Jocelyne Daw about her book, Cause Marketing for Nonprofits: Partner for Purpose, Passion and Profits. One of her answers stuck with me and I wanted to share it with you.

Nonprofits and their corporate partners tout the portion of each purchase that goes directly to the cause they support when consumers actually want to know what impact the purchase makes. Daw discussed a cause marketing campaign example where Pampers helped UNICEF eliminate a deadly disease.

Pampers tested their messaging prior to launching their campaign. One message emphasized for every pack of Pampers purchased, five cents would go to UNICEF. The other message claimed for every pack of Pampers purchased, a newborn would receive a vaccination against neonatal tetanus.

Which message do you think resonated more with consumers? Ask yourself what will additional resources actually enable you to do? How can you literally connect the consumer’s purchase with the outcome?

The Pampers/UNICEF campaign started in 2008 and is expected to eliminate a disease that’s been killing newborns or the mothers by 2015. An HBR blog about the campaign highlights four key factors that contributed to the campaign’s success. Among the four factors was “The aligned content between the two brands makes a distinctive competitive message that connects cause, consumer, and choice.”

Look into Daw’s Cause Marketing for Nonprofits and her more recent book, Breakthough Nonprofit Branding. You can also visit Jocelyne Daw’s new website to learn more about her consulting services and books.

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Build your nonprofit network

You’ve heard this many times before. The key to getting your dream nonprofit job or even to be effective in your current position is network, network and network some more. You’ve heard it so many times because it’s true. Before Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, nonprofit leaders actually made connections face-to-face most of the time. These days, technology has made communication much less time-consuming; however, the old-fashioned ways of networking still hold true.

Here are a few ways to build your network:

Attend nonprofit conferences

Nonprofit conferences are the mecca of networking. You get to learn from some of the top leaders in the field as well as build relationships with others in the sector. Of course, conference attendance can get a little pricey, but having the opportunity to meet hundreds of nonprofit professionals in one place is usually worth it. You will meet your peers as well as experienced nonprofit leaders who could be your next bosses! If paying the registration fee is an issue, many conferences will allow you to attend for free if you volunteer the day of the conference to manage registrations, cover it on social media or take pictures. A list of great nonprofit conferences is available here.

Join professional associations

Professional associations are great places to learn more about your field, flex your leadership muscles and build your professional network. Membership fees can be expensive, but sometimes your employer can pay for them or if you are still in school, you can get a student rate. Some examples of nonprofit associations can be found here.

Go talk to people

A great way to expand your network is to set up informational interviews with people who have jobs you may be interested in or work at organizations you admire. An informational interview means you are seeking advice rather than interviewing for a specific job.

When you are setting up informational interviews, let the interview subjects know who you are and what you would like to learn from them. Have three questions available and give those to the person beforehand. Some examples:

• I’d like to move into your sector and have heard you are well-connected. Can you refer me to 2-3 other people?

• I want to work for an organization like yours someday. What do you look for when you are hiring?

• I am thinking about a specific graduate school program. Do you think this type of program would be useful for your type of work?

The person you are meeting with is not a mind reader so tell him/her exactly what you are looking for and there will be less chance of being disappointed. Be prepared to get everything you need in a half hour and count any extra time as a gift.

Build a frankenmentor

It is almost impossible to find a long-term mentor who can advise you in every aspect of your career. What is more realistic and what I have done for most of my career is find a varied network of support. I have a variety of roles in my position as president of the Minnesota Council on Foundations: recruiter, manager, strategic planner, chief networker, spokesperson and administrator. I have found many amazing women and men with experiences in each of these roles and have relied on them to give me good advice and lots of encouragement as I chart new paths and try new ideas out. For me, there has never been just one great mentor. My mentors are in lots of different fields and have a variety of experiences. Most wouldn’t call themselves my mentor if you asked them but they have always been available when I have needed help.

Your network is your greatest tool when it comes to preparing for the next step in your career. Your network will help you identify positions, give you the courage to apply, and be your best inside and outside advocates to get you that position. Your network can also be a source of support for challenging situations or give advice and support about how to balance it all. Take some time to build your professional network.

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Webinar: The why and how of Millennial engagement

CausePlanet Members: Join us for our next live author interview on Wednesday, September 25 with Kari Dunn Saratovsky when we’ll discuss how to engage Millennials in your organization.

Kari Dunn Saratovsky is coauthor with Derrick Feldmann of Cause for Change: The Why and How of Nonprofit Millennial Engagement. Highlights of the book include:



Examine how Millennials communicate, volunteer, take action, influence their peers and choose to give their time and money.

Apply the authors’ Millennial Engagement Platform in coordination with your marketing, fundraising and strategic goals.

Observe how Millennials view their role in the workplace and how this is reshaping nonprofit culture from within.

Understand emerging Millennial leaders’ motivations and unique approaches to relationships with boards, stakeholders and partners.

Bring your questions for Dunn Saratovsky to the interview or submit them in advance when you register. We look forward to touching on the book’s highlights through your questions.

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An insider’s response to “The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Winning Foundation Grants”

Foundation grants are a key part of the revenue mix for many nonprofit organizations. Even though foundation dollars are only 14% of the total mix of charitable dollars (recent figures from Giving USA), they are important to organizations for a variety of reasons. However, the way foundation grants are made is often a mystery.

The Page to Practice™ summary of Martin Teitel’s The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Winning Foundation Grants provides great advice and insight into the foundation process. As a former program officer, I spent a lot of time nodding my head to many of his points. The CausePlanet team then asked me to respond to Teitel’s insights. I was particularly interested in two topics he covered and wanted to add my thoughts and experience to his. They include:

the relationship between an executive director/development officer and the program staff at foundations

the letter or inquiry and grant proposal.

Foundation relationships

The relationship between the nonprofit organization and foundation staff is complicated, not only due to the unequal power dynamic, but also because of the complicated internal processes at foundations. There is a balancing role for the program officer, who in some senses works for both the applicant and the foundation board. The program officer is responsible for representing the nonprofit organization, researching the organization, creating a deep understanding of the work and knowing the systems within which the programs take place.

As Teitel notes, the program officer is your voice in the decision meeting. Certainly be clear about the information you want to share, but also listen to the advice of the program officer to understand the nuances of funder guidelines. The program officer hears the internal discussions in board meetings and can represent you well only if you provide the information he/she needs, not just what you want to share. Developing a good relationship with your program officer is helpful, but that relationship also has limits. The program officer is not your best friend or a friend that owes you something, but a friend in terms of caring about your work and maintaining a professional distance. Just as you balance the needs of your constituents and your board, so do program officers. Don’t expect special favors or think your friendship will provide advantages. Be kind, competent and courteous and expect the same from the program officer.

The written word

Many foundations are moving their grant applications online, but you will still be communicating in the written, if not printed, word for your letters and proposals. Teitel offers good advice about what to include and acknowledges that writing a good letter or proposal is hard. One thing that cannot be emphasized enough is more words do not equal more money (or understanding). Being more thoughtful and deliberate about what you include, instead of just adding a lot more information, is important to remember. Be certain and concise about the most important points and then synthesize and summarize. The program officer needs to know your programs are based in research, but he/she doesn’t need a lengthy history of your research development. Sharing your range of evaluation tools is more helpful than outlining each step in the evaluation process and how you collect information.

Focus your writing on the work the organization needs to do, how you will do it and what the results are from those actions. Period. Teitel also mentions not parroting the foundation’s language, which is great advice. The space spent elaborating on how your organization fits priority areas is space that could be better used talking about results. The foundation board is the final arbiter of whether or not you fit its guidelines, and your paragraph mimicking its wording will not convince the board. Often the grant write really wants the organization to fit the foundation’s guidelines and makes vague statements or untrue assumptions, which do much more damage than good. Share the best information about your organization and issue, and the alignment between funder priorities and the organization’s work will be clear.

Teitel’s advice and information is good, but remember all foundations are somewhat different. There is a saying, “If you know one foundation, you know one foundation.” His book provides solid background, but be sure to ground your work in your own experience and research.

See also:

The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Winning Foundation Grants

Storytelling for Grantseekers

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Highlights from our live chat about collaboration with Tom Wolff (Audio)

“In its simplest form, collaborative solutions means doing together what we cannot do apart,” says author Tom Wolff. If you find yourself in the position of considering collaboration or you discover your organization is lacking a specific competency or resource, consider Wolff’s book, The Power of Collaborative Solutions, your next read. From introduction to index, it’s full of interesting case stories, web-based tools and useful guidance.

Interview highlights

We recently held a lively interview via webcast with Wolff and he answered CausePlanet reader questions. Wolff opened our discussion by highlighting his book, why collaborative solutions are encouraged, six principles for effective coalitions and concerns with our health and human service system.

Sound bite about what’s broken?

These concerns translate to other service agencies, so I wanted to share them with you in a sound bite from the interview with Tom Wolff. You can follow this list below as you listen (the sound bite covers one through eight):

  1. Fragmentation
  2. Duplication of effort
  3. Focus on deficits
  4. Crisis Orientation
  5. Failure to respond to diversity
  6. Excessive professionalism
  7. Detached from community & clients
  8. Competition
  9. Limited and inaccessible information
  10. Loss of our spiritual purpose
  11. Failure to engage those most directly affected

Professionalism versus democracy

Number six, “excessive professionalism,” resonated with me in particular. Wolff talks about how we’re quick to get a room full of “experts” to solve a problem when what we really need is a more democratic process. In other words, involve those most directly affected by the problem to identify root cause and generate potential solutions. Is it messy? Sure, but it will help you arrive at the answers you’re looking for. Wolff says, “When we are facing serious community problems, shouldn’t we just get professionals to solve the problems and avoid the messy process called democracy? The answer to this question is a resounding no.”

One of our interview attendees, Kim Fossey with Louisiana STEM Works, had this to add to our discussion afterwards:

“This was perhaps the most enjoyable webinar I have attended in some time. The concerns for providing comprehensive services and achieving impact are right on as well as the six “common sense” principles.  My biggest takeaway was the need for applying more values-based discussion to our work and use of the six requirements for effective participation.  I see these both as missing –particularly in education-based reforms.  Thanks for a great webinar.  I plan to purchase the book and recommend it to others.”

In The Power of Collaborative Solutions, Wolff says he shares “the ‘highs’ of seeing coalitions gain momentum, attract and hold a solid membership, set a focused agenda, achieve results, gain early, small wins and reach significant changes in program policies and practices. The book also covers the ‘lows’ when the opposition is fierce, the membership dissolves, our best plans collapse and we feel like giving up.” Find out more at

CausePlanet members: Register for our next live author with Kari Dunn Saratovsky when we’ll discuss the why and how of Millennial engagement and the book she coauthored with Derrick Feldmann, Cause for Change, on Wed, Sep 25 at 11 a.m. CST.

Find out more about the book, The Power of Collaborative Solutions or our Page to Practice™ summary in our CausePlanet library for subscribers or the Summary Store.

See also:

Nonprofit Mergers & Alliances



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