Archive for October, 2014

What is the most often overlooked element of the Ask?

Despite the immense amount of focus we place on understanding the art of asking for support, it continues to keep us treading water and occasionally dipping our heads below the surface. The Ask author, Laura Fredricks, would argue one of the most commonly overlooked elements of the Ask is follow-up—yes, follow-up. Many fundraisers don’t realize that the preparation for and conducting the Ask is 25 percent of the process and follow-up is 75 percent!

Fredricks stresses there is a real method, organization and key sequence of steps to take before, during and after the solicitation. Ask yourself if your fundraising prospects are experiencing consistent cultivation, presentation and follow-up that address your organizational needs.

After the Ask, you do not want to give your prospect unlimited space and time and let her contact you because you need to have a system and timeline after all the cultivation work you’ve done.

Fredricks provides 10 recommended steps after each Ask:

  1. Thank the person immediately after you have discussed and addressed the response.
  2. Convey to the person asked the importance of her decision, the impact it will have, and the reason why it is important to make the gift or investment or decision now as opposed to later (e.g., numbers of people affected). This should relate urgency, not desperation, and should not make people feel guilty. Just lay out the facts of where you are and where you need to be.
  3. Set a time and date when you are going to follow up with the Ask.
  4. Send a personal thank-you for meeting with you and taking the time to consider the Ask.
  5. Call the person the next day and thank him for meeting with you. Ask if he needs any additional information or would want to meet with anyone else in the organization to help make his decision.
  6. Immediately send any additional information requested or data, budgets or testimonials that might be helpful.
  7. Mix up the communication and the communicator to vary who contacts the person and what s/he says.
  8. Tell the person about any new gifts that have occurred while he is deciding to convey strength in numbers.
  9. Try to get the person to come to the organization to meet with your beneficiaries or see a new program.
  10. Stay positive throughout the entire follow-up process and treat the person as if she is going to say “yes.”

Does your tracking allow for follow-up and what does that column look like?

Not following up will waste all your research and cultivation time. So, it is necessary to pick a comfortable number of prospects to work with and develop a system to track everything. Fredricks provides a chart with the following columns to help: name, research, cultivation, pre-Ask conversation, Ask response, follow-up and stewardship. Since follow-up should take 75 percent of your time, as compared to 25 percent of your time dedicated to preparation and the Ask, your column under follow-up should be longer and filled with more activities and points of contact.

You can see if you are treating your prospects evenly with this chart and whether people are bottlenecking at certain stages, such as cultivation, and you need to move them along. Also, everyone involved in the Ask needs to have the time to follow up. If you cannot complete your follow-up, you need to cut out the people you are asking to focus on this more. Finally, the author gives you some trouble-shooting tips that help with situations that involve difficulty reaching the person asked, length of time you should wait (a few months is a long time; a year is unreasonable), a transfer of the decision to family members or an advisor, and more.

We asked Fredricks about follow-up in our author interview:

CausePlanet: There is a surprising lack of literature about the importance of follow-up in donor solicitations. We’re delighted to see you’ve addressed it in your book. What are some important reminders for nonprofit leaders that might motivate them to place a priority on this area?

Laura Fredricks: You are leaving $$$$ on the table because you do not have solid steps to close it. My BIGGEST tip: Donors leave clues and we miss every one of them. Pay attention to how they communicate and the frequency with which they communicate and follow up on their patterns.

Consider your Ask follow-up as part of your pre-solicitation plan. Determine how you’ll keep your prospect engaged with your organization long after they say “yes” or “no.” Learn more about Laura Fredricks’ guidance for the entire Ask process in her book where you can determine how to select the right people at the right time and in the right location to make the Ask. You can also gather solutions to a myriad of responses to the Ask through sample dialogs and apply the author’s guidance on the crucial business of follow-up.

See also:

Fundraising the SMART Way

Fundraising When Money Is Tight

To Sell Is Human

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Build on your organization’s strengths when developing strategy

This is the second part of a two-part article on strategic planning. Part 1 was “Get back to basics with first principle of strategy development.” Part 2 continues with the next two principles: building on your strengths and making decision-making criteria explicit.

My last article covered the first principle in strategy development – Know Thyself – and provided questions to ask to make sure that nonprofit board members and managers share a fundamental understanding of the organization.

Building on that base, organizations should consider two more principles when developing strategy.

Second principle: Build on your strengths

Knowing Thyself is important for many reasons, but the most important benefit is to guide the organization in making major decisions by doing more of what it does best. Human nature is often to fret over our weaknesses. But individuals are more energized, and organizations more successful, when they focus on their strengths. We all know the energy we get from completing something we are particularly good at – the actor at the end of the show, the athlete at the end of the race or the teacher when a struggling student finally aces a test. The principle is no different for an organization – nonprofits come alive when they focus on what they’ve learned to do best.

The best approach to developing strategy is to use the fundamental organizational identity discussed in the first principle – composed of mission, geography, programs, customers and funding – as a guide to select among strategic options. The option that best fits your current identity – that takes advantage of what you’ve already developed as your area of expertise – is often the best choice.

One piece is still missing, however. Another part of self-knowledge is knowing how your organization is distinct from others or how it is unique in your field. In the for-profit world, this is known as the organizational differentiator or, in a term I find particularly useful at challenging nonprofit assumptions, the competitive advantage.

Nonprofit board members and staff are often reluctant to think about competition because a premium is placed on cooperation. Indeed, nonprofits do and should cooperate. But understanding when and how you compete will give you a real lead in achieving your full potential. To put it bluntly, you don’t deserve to stay in business if your mission is not important enough, or your execution not sharp enough, to attract the resources to carry it out.

Nonprofit competition is different in key respects from for-profit business competition. Both sectors have to consider direct competitors (those doing exactly what you do), as well as indirect competitors (those doing something different, but similar, such as a movie theatre compared to a live theatre). But nonprofit organizations also face resource competition for funding, staff, media attention and board members.

Once you get used to the idea of competitors, then think about your competitors’ strengths. Do they have a program that no one else operates? Have they developed a skill and reputation for working in a community that has been particularly hard to reach? Then ask the same questions of your organization: What is the particular strength we have that differentiates us, makes us unique and helps us make the case that others should support our work? Once you know what your competitive advantage is, do more of it!

I know of several organizations – all in different communities – that had developed particular skills in working with the Latino community. Although the types of services they offered were often similar to those offered by others – health education or leadership development – they were able to develop new strategies that leveraged the trust they had built with the local Latino population by partnering with other organizations. Through this approach, they have been able to generate additional revenue and exert a greater impact in their field.

Although the second principle is to Build on Your Strengths, it wouldn’t be fair to pretend that you should never try to improve where you are weak. At times, organizations must move into a new area to be most effective or to remain financially viable. The point of this principle is that any move to go beyond your basic identity or to develop new core strengths should be driven by the greatest possible necessity and supported by more extensive planning.

Third principle: Make decision-making criteria explicit

Many great leaders make brilliant strategic choices without ever talking about the thinking behind those choices. I’ve heard middle managers in one organization describe a kind of strategic chaos – they do not understand why one program is emphasized over another, or why new programs are taken on. But the CEO and senior managers are credited by everyone in the organization with making remarkably prescient choices. The factors that go into major strategic decisions are somewhat opaque for many in the organization. As a result, the organization has thrived – driven by the decisions of senior managers – but seeds of serious challenges around staff cohesion and succession are readily apparent.

By taking time to identify and communicate the fundamental criteria for decision making, rather than assuming everyone understands these factors, you can build a more cohesive organization and address the latent frustration described by mid-level managers and staff when faced with changing assignments or increased work stress.

These three principles are perhaps simple, but they reflect a lesson we all learned from Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music: “Start at the very beginning.” By naming organizational fundamentals, you can move forward with cohesive guidance for making decisions on a day-to-day basis – or, at the very least, communicating the factors for major decisions throughout the organization.

See also:

The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution

Building Nonprofit Capacity

Nonprofit Sustainability

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Using Real-Time Strategic Planning to evaluate nonprofit partnerships

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Many nonprofits are considering the spectrum of strategic restructuring options, such as partnerships and mergers, as potential strategies to enhance financial viability and achieve greater sustainability. With more than a decade of experience in this area, I have learned one crucial lesson for those seeking a successful partnership: It must be considered within the context of a broader organizational strategy.

In this time of economic uncertainty, organizations may seek a partnership out of expediency without considering how the partnership may advance, or derail, their organizational strategy. Nonprofit leaders may lack the time, resources and data to undertake strategic planning while exploring potential partnerships. La Piana Consulting has developed a research-based and field-tested methodology called Real-Time Strategic Planning (RTSP) that allows organizations to consider their strategic focus effectively and in a fraction of the time required by traditional strategic planning.

RTSP and strategic restructuring

Within the context of a merger or partnership, nonprofit leaders should refer to the following elements of the RTSP process.

Business model

The term “business model” can overwhelm many nonprofit leaders by conjuring thoughts of corporate executives plotting money-making schemes. However, RTSP provides a simple way to think about your nonprofit business model to turn it into an effective tool for decision making. When considering a partnership, nonprofits can define their business model into easily understood and efficiently analyzed themes:

Who you are – your mission and brand;
What is your scope – the geography, activities and clients served;
What is the source and distribution of funding – where funding comes from and how it’s spent.

Once you have a clear understanding of your current business model, it is important to consider potential gaps and opportunities that a prospective partnership may impact, i.e. new geography, clients, funding, or more efficient operations.

Market awareness

Understanding your business model will make it much easier to understand where you “fit” into the market. Therefore, conduct an honest assessment of your market. Ask yourself, is demand for your services growing or shrinking?

Other key considerations include: Who else is providing similar services? With what organizations do you compete or collaborate? What are their strengths and weaknesses relative to your organization? What do they bring to the table that strengthens their position in the market? Look at these competitors and analyze how they compare to you.

Answering these questions will help you better understand your own market position, as well as how a partnership can strengthen your organization and better fulfill its mission


As described above, a large part of market awareness is recognizing your organization’s competition. Although the concept of competition may not be commonly referred to in the nonprofit sector, nonprofit leaders must address competition in order to ensure an organization’s success. Consider the various types of competition your organization faces, including competition for funding, staff, board members, media attention, clients, etc. Understanding competition is a stepping stone to understanding your relative strengths as an organization, and being able to leverage them in support of your mission.


No one can predict the future, but having a general understanding of the trends facing nonprofits, and your organization in particular, is critical. Consider trends in demand for services and funding. Many nonprofits find themselves in the unpleasant situation of seeing their financial support (from government, donors and foundations) decline at the very time the demand for services is increasing. Nonprofits facing this dilemma should consider how partnerships can enhance their ability to serve more people in the most efficient way possible. Partnerships can offer potential funding opportunities if they are well designed and well promoted.

Competitive advantage

Competitive advantage in the nonprofit sector is defined as “your organization’s ability to produce social value using a unique asset, outstanding execution, or both.” By gaining an understanding of your market, competition and the trends that impact your work, you will be better able to hone your organization’s unique strengths. Again, understanding your competitive advantage and those of your competitors and collaborators is the first step to considering how to build on your strengths or mitigate any weaknesses. Furthermore, combining the strengths of two or more organizations and aligning competitive advantages can significantly enhance an organization’s ability to compete, and minimize each organization’s weaknesses.

Strategy screens

In considering a partnership, your nonprofit organization should create explicit criteria to help guide decision making. A strategy screen is a set of criteria that are applied to any potential strategy to help determine its appropriateness. The decision-making criteria in such a screen are rooted in your nonprofit’s business model and competitive advantages; in fact, you should look for partnerships that build on what you currently do well. A strategy screen can help you to determine the relevance of potential partnership strategies. Strategy screens can also be used as a quick way to determine the appropriateness of a potential organizational partner. 

Putting it all together

Use these concepts when considering a strategic restructuring partnership, whether it is a merger, administrative consolidation or joint programming effort. Like any organizational strategy, partnership development needs to be carefully considered and not just pursued because an exciting opportunity crops up.

Moreover, the initial exploration with a potential partner does not have to take up huge amounts of time or resources. The RTSP process is designed to be quick and efficient, usually taking one or two days of facilitated discussion, with basic information gathering prior to the session.

Wherever you are in the partnership development process – assessment, negotiation or even integration – the Real-Time Strategic Planning process can help you determine if the partnership supports your nonprofit’s organizational strategy and advances the mission.

See also:

The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution

Building Nonprofit Capacity

Nonprofit Sustainability

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Get back to basics with the first principle of strategy development

This article is Part 1 of 2. The second article continues with the next two principles after Know Thyself: building on your strengths and making decision-making criteria explicit.

We all carry unexamined – or unstated – assumptions with us. When organizations initiate strategy development processes, these unexamined assumptions can lead to unsatisfying results: mis-communication along the way, time wasted gathering information you don’t need, or agreement to words that merely paper over differing understandings.

Many of these pitfalls can be avoided by beginning any strategy development process with three principles.

First principle: Know Thyself

Whether as individuals or as organizations, we often forget to remember who we are. For individuals, this might mean spending time with an old friend or a sibling, someone who brings you back to your fundamental self. For organizations, this means reviewing the most basic questions of the organization.

At the beginning of any strategy process, be sure to spend time up front reviewing a few deceptively simple issues with both board and management.

Mission. This is, of course, a common starting point for assessing an organization’s identity, and for good reason. Focusing first on mission reminds us why we have dedicated so much of our time, and even so much of our lives, to a nonprofit cause. Rather than just repeating the words of the mission statement, exercises that describe the mission or the hoped for impact can be more inspiring and also more accurate. Explaining benchmarks your organization will achieve in five years, or on what will change in the world because of your work, are simple ways to refocus on the meaning of the mission.

Geography. How would your board, executives and staff describe the geographic area served by the organization? Sometimes this is an extremely simple question; more often than not, it uncovers nuances about how the organization is focused that are vital to moving forward. For example, in my work with one health care organization, we found that while its literature described a “metropolitan” service area, in fact nearly all their clients came from a handful of inner city zip codes.

Customers. This question can be answered in different ways. First, most nonprofits can describe direct customers: patients in the example of a health care organization above, patrons for arts organizations, recipients of service for social service organizations and so on. However, it’s good to make sure you understand the secondary customers, or audiences, your organization must serve: funders of programs, local political leadership, nonprofit collaborators and more. For nonprofits, defining customers means understanding who you are accountable to – and speaking to those audiences.

Programs. Programs are, of course, the primary vehicle for achieving organizational mission. I have served on the board of a small nonprofit organization for several years, and during that time I have experienced the regular occurrence of a board member reacting in surprise at a board meeting: “Oh!  I never knew we did that!” It can be notoriously difficult for some organizations to educate board members about the details of program work, but it is essential that board members understand the basic category, or “buckets,” of program work before considering questions of strategy – since considering strategy often means redirecting existing programs or establishing new activities.

Funding. Many board members and managers are familiar with their organization’s overall budget, but may be less familiar with the relative importance of different funding streams. A basic analysis of revenue by category – government grants, fee for service, foundations, general contributions – is essential knowledge for nonprofit leaders.

When I work with nonprofits, I sometimes worry that these questions are too simple. But again and again, as we talk through these fundamentals, I discover that they offer a clear definition of an organization’s basic identity. On top of that, I have never once been in a situation where the entire board and management team involved in developing strategy began with a shared understanding of these fundamentals. Walking through this discussion may be elementary for the executive director, but it can be illuminating for board members.

Another way to think about the Know Thyself principle is that for an organization, the entire leadership must be self aware.

See also:

The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution

Building Nonprofit Capacity

Nonprofit Sustainability

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Arts and culture mergers: Trends, challenges and benefits

Mergers and other forms of partnerships between nonprofits have been on the rise for the past decade, particularly in the last five years. The reasons for this trend are numerous and include cuts in foundation and corporate funding, as well as in individual donations; a desire on the part of nonprofits to have a greater impact, which is often easier to do by joining together; and the retirement of many executive directors and the difficulty of finding replacements, which leads to organizations merging with others that have strong EDs and/or boards.

While these factors impact the nonprofit sector in general, sub-sectors have been affected to varying degrees and differ in their proclivity to enter into partnerships. As a result, mergers, in particular, have been more prevalent in some sub-sectors than in others. Until recently, most mergers were in the health and human services sub-sectors, which for many years have been severely challenged by competition from for-profit entities and by a decline in government funding. The arts and culture sub-sector, on the other hand, has been slower to embrace mergers. However, in the past few years, we have seen an increase in mergers among arts organizations.

What are some of the factors underlying this trend, as well as the unique challenges faced by arts organizations seeking to establish such partnerships? What are the factors for success, and which factors can potentially derail a partnership? This article looks at the trends and challenges of mergers, and provides examples of negotiations that resulted in a successful merger and of situations where a merger was determined not to be the right option.

Factors underlying the trend

The reasons for the increased interest in these partnerships are multiple and include:

A significant decline in government (federal, state and county) funding for the arts, which has come to rely heavily on these sources of income.

Similarly, a decline in corporate funding due to mergers and acquisitions in the business sector, as well as tighter profit margins for small businesses; typically, local businesses have provided significant support to artistic and cultural programs in their local communities.

Natural disasters, such as the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, which have drawn funding from individual donors and foundations that might have otherwise gone to the arts.

Economic challenges in general, which have led to a shift in giving and funding priorities to basic health and social services.

The increased pressure on the educational system to raise academic standards and test scores, leading to reduced emphasis on arts and other “non-academic” programs.

Aging of the population that forms the core audience for traditional arts programming (ballet, symphony, musical theatre, etc.), coupled with a decline in the development of younger audiences for this programming—which leads to less demand and, in turn, less earned income.

Other forms of entertainment have proliferated, and the quality of this programming has increased dramatically due to technological advances, as well as affordability and accessibility.

In general, the public has less leisure time and more options for how this time is spent.

Challenges for arts organizations in considering a merger

These trends are converging to create a crisis of sorts in the arts and culture sub-sector—and to push the sector to consider creative approaches to addressing these challenges in order to remain sustainable. However, these approaches are sometimes difficult to embrace, regardless of the necessity to do so.

Stumbling blocks include:

One of the greatest challenges is in aligning and/or defining “arts and culture.” There are many definitions, and organizations feel very strongly about their particular emphasis.

Related to this is “artistic direction”: An arts organization is defined by its artistic direction and may feel that it will lose its identity and unique branding in a merger. It’s not an absolute, but arts organizations that have the most difficult time in negotiating a merger are often those that are involved in “direct” provision of art (e.g., performing arts, visual arts, etc.), as opposed to those that are advocacy and/or educational in nature.

The “culture” of merger, in particular, is alien to many arts organizations. While they are used to collaborating, they may view a merger as a competitive strategy in the sense that it excludes others.

Unlike health and human services, where government funding is the major form of support, arts organizations rely heavily on individual donors and foundations. A fear exists that when two organizations become one, these funds will be reduced. To alleviate this fear, organizations need to cultivate and communicate with donors and funders to help them understand that the motivation for the partnership is not to have to do more with less.

Mergers typically do not involve a significant reduction in staff positions, other than needing only one ED. However, positions may also be consolidated in arts organizations that provide direct services where each has an artistic director. It can be difficult to overcome resistance to this.

When a merger was not the best option

A merger is not always the optimal partnership option. This is often revealed through the process of considering a merger. So, while the decision may be to not proceed, the process is beneficial and avoids the cost of moving forward—only to discover problems after the fact. In addition, these discussions often lead to forming other types of partnerships, such as administrative consolidation, which can result in significant cost savings, without incurring the cost, bad feelings and negative publicity of trying to force a merger that wasn’t meant to be.

The well-publicized merger of the Jewish Museum San Francisco and the Magnus Museum is a case in point. Despite the significant potential benefits of a merger, the organizations were unable to implement their decision to merge due to a lack of compatibility in artistic direction and significant cultural differences between the organizations. Unfortunately, these problems did not emerge as barriers until the merger was implemented.

Another example is the potential merger of the New York Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall. Among the factors leading to the decision not to merge were the perceived loss of the Philharmonic’s identity and the potential decrease in donations from supporters of both groups.

Falling short of a merger, the recently publicized consolidation of the back-shop and box office operations of the San Jose Repertory Theatre and the American Musical Theatre is viewed as a possible first step towards a closer working relationship between these financially-challenged organizations. At a minimum, this partnership should help stabilize their operations.

Successful arts mergers

Despite the obstacles, arts organizations are increasingly finding the benefits of a merger to be greater than the challenges. Some of the most successful arts mergers that we have observed are those between advocacy organizations. In general, the objectives of these organizations are to increase visibility and funding for the arts and help the arts to have a greater impact on society in general. Recently, the Michigan Association of Community Arts Agencies and ArtServe Michigan merged. Although they had some differences in their areas of emphasis, these nonprofits realized that their missions were basically compatible and that a merged organization would have greater visibility and impact—and, therefore, better outcomes for art, artists and the public at large.


The desire to grow and make a greater impact is a prime motivation for many nonprofits to merge. In general, organizations that have similar missions and that serve similar stakeholders, but that operate in different geographic areas, find a merger to be a cost-effective way to achieve this outcome. This was the case for Young Audiences of San Jose & Silicon Valley and Young Audiences of the Bay Area, which merged in mid-2004 to form Young Audiences of Northern California. In part, this merger reflects a general trend in the sector for chapters/affiliates of national nonprofits in contiguous service areas to merge.


Although arts and culture nonprofits have lagged behind other types of nonprofits in embracing mergers and other formal partnerships, trends in the sector in general and those specific to this sub-sector are putting these options in a more positive light. When the partners are well suited for each other, these partnerships can have significant benefits both to the individual organizations and to society as a whole.

See also:

Nonprofit Mergers & Alliances

The Nonprofit Business Plan

The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution

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Mergers: A cautionary note in difficult times

The current economic climate has everyone scrambling – looking for ideas that will help them weather hard times. Many in the nonprofit sector are looking to mergers as one solution. Mergers are often a good strategic move for nonprofits. This is especially true when the merged organization is able to more fully realize its purpose – greater social good. However, there are also ill-conceived mergers that represent setbacks for those the nonprofit exists to serve; in the midst of this heightened interest in mergers, nonprofit leaders should weigh both the motivation for pursuing a merger and the expectations regarding what a merger should accomplish.

What can we learn from the for-profit sector?

Nearly all of us have experience with mergers. In the financial sector, small local banks have been gobbled up by ever bigger banking systems now stretching coast to coast; Macy’s has become the ubiquitous department store in the United States.; US Airways and America West Airlines (AWA) merged as they and other legacy carriers were being challenged by new low-cost airlines. These mergers have brought some advantages – it is likely that US Airways would not have survived without the merger with AWA. Macy’s has greater “buying power” than the smaller retailers that it absorbed, and that may translate into better prices for consumers. For a time, bank mergers boosted the value of bank stocks, providing a benefit to many individual investors. However, there have also been some significant trade-offs as a result.

Most of these trade-offs relate to the underlying reason for nearly any for-profit merger. It’s a strategic move to enhance the financial value to the owner or shareholder. This is often accomplished through gaining market share by eliminating a competitor. When competition is eliminated, customer service can be compromised. For example, in the post-merger period, there may be some opportunities to reduce redundancy in staffing, but employees are often cut – sometimes to the point at which there is direct impact on the consumer – in an effort to trim costs in order to boost the bottom line. The shareholder’s or investor’s interests are being served even if the consumer’s experience isn’t better – and with fewer competitors for customers to turn to, there may be little downside for the merged corporation. As a consumer, you have probably experienced some of this firsthand.

What’s different about mergers in the nonprofit sector?

Nonprofit corporations exist to serve a very different kind of bottom line. They are in business to provide a social good – to feed the hungry, protect the environment, seek social justice or protect human rights. Nonprofit organizations that are better able than others in their field or community to deliver on their social goals should pursue any legitimate path to position themselves to do more good – including mergers or other forms of partnerships.

Merger is often a wise move that accomplishes both greater impact and achieves greater efficiency when the underlying motivation is to better protect the environment or provide a stronger social safety net. We have repeatedly seen that merged organizations are ultimately more stable; they have larger staffs with more diverse skills and greater sophistication in management; they are able to access more sources of funding and are able to attract the most talented board members. Much of their greater effectiveness and efficiency comes as they reach a scale of operation that allows specialization and more robust administrative systems.

However, we have also seen organizations approach a merger with no goal beyond survival. The organization may accomplish this goal, but it is at times done through cuts in programs and services or through a geographic expansion that simply spreads the same level of programs/services over a larger area. Just as there are exceptions in the for-profit sector – especially when a business is foundering, but a single unit remains viable – there are exceptions in the nonprofit sector. There are mergers that are the nonprofit equivalent of the “friendly takeover” in order to preserve a much needed and successful program in an organization that is otherwise not viable.

Questions to consider

There are a number of questions that nonprofit leaders can ask themselves in contemplating whether a merger or some other form of strategic partnership is a good move for their organization. Is there an overlap in consumers, funders, geographic area served and programs between your organization and others? Who are those organizations and do any share your mission and hold similar values? You may think you know the answer to these questions – and perhaps you do – but this is a good time to take a more thorough and perhaps more objective look at other organizations in your “market.” Talk to your funders and others in the community – what do they think of these organizations and can they imagine you working with any of them? Consider ways you might better serve your shared constituencies by working together. Would a merger allow you to provide administrative services in a more cost-effective manner that will allow you to channel more resources to programs and services?

Ultimately, the measure of success in a nonprofit merger is not whether the organization simply cut costs and survived (as it might be in the for-profit sector), but whether the merger resulted in its mission being better served. For us, that’s the bottom line.

See also:

Nonprofit Mergers & Alliances

The Nonprofit Business Plan

The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution

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What qualities are essential in the person who makes the Ask?

Most, if not all of us, are in the business of asking for something every day. That’s why we’re determined to identify the best way to go about persuading one another. This topic has been widely developed within each sector, yet author Laura Fredricks has built a bridge across all sectors by explaining the Ask using universal principles, making it easy, enjoyable, meaningful and rewarding.

In her second edition of The Ask: How to Ask for Support for Your Nonprofit Cause, Creative Project or Business Venture, Fredricks not only addresses how to ask for support for a nonprofit, but also her advice extends well into the for-profit arena, offering guidance for those who are soliciting investments in business ventures or creative projects. Her book details how to make the most effective Ask in philanthropy, business and everyday life.

This week, we’re focusing on the qualities of the perfect asker. Laura Fredricks explains the higher Ask amounts require a higher leader to do the asking. If the Ask amount is high, the CEO or a board member would be an ideal asker. After you’ve enlisted the CEO and/or board member’s time, consider the ideal characteristics of these people:

An ideal asker:

  1. is known, liked, admired and respected by the person being asked
  2. has played a major role in the cultivation
  3. is comfortable, relaxed and confident with the Ask
  4. has given at the same level that is being asked
  5. has given at a level in relation to his abilities that is comparable to the level being asked of the person in relation to her abilities
  6. has demonstrated a strong commitment to the organization and is fully knowledgeable about the organization
  7. knows the details of the gift opportunity and can clearly articulate the need for support
  8. has the time (or has set aside time in the calendar) to prepare for the Ask, do the Ask, and carry out the necessary follow-up (three times the amount of time necessary for the preparation and the actual Ask) to the Ask
  9. has kept everyone involved with the fundraising process fully informed on the details of the Ask and the follow-through
  10. has fun doing an Ask and can feel the rewards of asking for money for the organization.

“When you ask for money you are not taking something away; you are giving someone the opportunity to feel good,” says Fredricks. How do we create those good feelings? Fredricks says that we treat every donor as a mini campaign. Devote special and individualized attention to every person.

See also:

A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members

Fundraising and the Next Generation

Fundraising the SMART Way

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Build your best LinkedIn profile with the “Brandraising” approach

LinkedIn is all about connecting with others who share commonality. This, of course, can be said of all social networks, but if you want to maximize your professional network, building a personal brand is essential.

Most nonprofit leaders make the mistake of waiting to build a profile when they need it, but the best time to build a profile is now. Additionally, it should be an ongoing “campaign” of networking so when you need a specific connection, your network is ready and waiting. Tommy Spaulding, author of It’s Not Just Who You Know, calls it “netgiving” rather than networking. This is a terrific approach to building your LinkedIn profile. Try reaching out to your initial contacts by looking for ways you can help others, rather than the “connect-with-me-because-I-need-you” approach.

How do we effectively build a brand? Let’s consult Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications. Durham’s definition of “brandraising” is a great way to get in the right frame of mind for building your profile.  I’ll customize her organizational definition for the purpose of profile-building: Brandraising is the process of developing a clear, cohesive identity and communications system that supports your goals and makes it easier to express your purpose effectively and consistently.

Here are seven steps to building a better profile:

1.       Picture your contacts in the room. Picture yourself in a meeting and introduce yourself similarly on LinkedIn. Sarah Durham talks about “audience-centric communications” in her book. The same rules apply here. Write in your voice as if you were talking directly to someone in the room. Don’t cut and paste your resume.

2.       What is your tagline? The line of text under your name is the first thing people see in your profile. It follows your name in search hit lists. It’s your brand. Try to distill your professional personality into a more eye-catching phrase. Durham recommends making a short list of organizations similar to yours and, if your tagline could apply to them as well, keep working at it until it’s specific to your nonprofit. The same rule can be applied to your tagline on LinkedIn.

3.       Make your summary section work for you. Put yourself back into the meeting room and think about your elevator pitch when you introduce yourself. This blurb goes in the summary box to engage your readers. You have five to 10 seconds to capture your reader’s attention. Durham discusses the importance of developing a messaging platform in the identity level of her brandraising model. The messaging that you create about yourself should include an introduction, key messages about you and, of course, the elevator pitch. Use elements of the messaging platform throughout your profile to build a more impactful impression.

4.       Specialties = SEO. Think of the Specialties field as your personal search engine optimizer, a way to refine the ways people find and remember you. This is where your social sector buzzwords belong. Personal values you bring to your professional performance and humor or passion always add more personalization. Durham explains a fun exercise in her book when you need to isolate the personality of your brand: Ask what mascot could represent you. When you land on the answer, think of words that describe that mascot. These words will help you pinpoint what personality you want to convey in your profile.

5.       Chunking copy helps. When you explain your experience, break down each company or nonprofit you’ve worked for into visual segments or chunks with a short description about what the company does. Make it easy to read and consistently formatted.

6.       Improve your Google page rank. Pat your own back and others’. Get recommendations from colleagues, clients and employers who can speak credibly about your abilities or performance. Think quality over quantity. According to Durham, your messaging platform is shared with board members and staff so everyone is consistently sharing the same message about your organization, thereby building a consistent and more powerful brand. In the case of your LinkedIn profile, your connections are your message carriers so make sure your tagline, summary and additional information fields portray your brand (and personality). Chances are they will reference your profile to make the recommendation.

7.       Build your unique brand. Use the Additional Information section to round out your profile with a few key interests. Add websites that showcase your abilities or passions. Then edit the default “My Website” label to encourage click-throughs (you get Google page rankings for those, raising your visibility). If you belong to a trade association or interest group, help other members find you by naming that group. Awards, recognition by peers, customers and employers add prestige without bragging by listing them here. This strategy looks much like what Durham might call your “experiential level” of brandraising, because this level is where your potential supporters or, in this case, connections may find you. Try to optimize the number of channels in which you can reach people by referencing your affiliations and acknowledgements.

Last but not least, make sure your LinkedIn profile link is on your email signature, website and blog. Now, start “netgiving.”

See also:

Married to the Brand

Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding

Measuring the Networked Nonprofit

Marketing Series–Volume One: Building a Persuasive Case, Seven Transformative Branding Principles, Multi-faceted Strategies and Bonding with Brands for Life

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A “people lens” is your answer to budget relief

Volunteerism has returned to its former prominence in the nonprofit sector, except the dynamics have changed, according to the coauthors of The Abundant Not-for-Profit.

Colleen Kelly and Lynda Gerty say our traditional assessment of volunteers’ capacity to add value no longer applies. They’ve coined the term “knowledge philanthropists” to define a new breed of volunteers. These are people who bring a vast set of skills and with those skills come higher expectations of the nonprofit.

What has also changed is the abundant nonprofit’s approach to talent management. If properly recruited, trained and managed under the abundance philosophy, skilled volunteers demonstrate an incredible return on investment. Nonprofits have much more to gain by looking at all positions within their operations as potential volunteer placements (what they call a “people lens”) versus always turning to budget machinations to fulfill the mission.

What does the abundant nonprofit approach look like? Abundant nonprofits:

dispel common myths about volunteers’ potential to contribute meaningfully.

begin with the CEO and board to embrace the abundance philosophy.

focus on human capital to deliver their missions.

transform the way they do business by applying a “people lens” to their leadership.

train salaried employees to lead and communicate with knowledge philanthropists in varying roles such as planners, advisors and facilitators.

enlist and support knowledge philanthropists with training, policies, expectations and key performance indicators.

lead salaried and volunteer talent alongside one another as one collective team.

Characteristics of leaders and organizations pursuing the abundance model

Organizations benefiting from this abundance leadership method are characterized by sound management practices, adaptive capacity and effective communications. Equally important, their leaders are confident people who exhibit an entrepreneurial spirit and are good delegators. We asked the authors Kelly and Gerty to describe organizations that may be poised for adopting this approach:

CausePlanet: In addition to the characteristics of CEOs and board members described in the book, what traits do organizations that are ready to successfully embrace this model all share (e.g., level of maturity, financial stability, size, tradition of innovation)?

Kelly and Gerty: As you’ve stated, the characteristics of the CEO remain a critical element. Those characteristics significantly affect the vision and culture of the organization and largely determine whether or not transformation can happen. An orientation toward abundance, learning, excellence and innovation is tremendously important. Beyond that, there are very few hard and fast rules. We’ve sometimes seen executive transitions catalyze the adoption of this model, as new CEOs are often interested in new approaches and motivated to do things differently. In some ways, small organizations that are going through a growth phase have an advantage, as they are often nimble and able to make change happen relatively quickly. It also can be easier in organizations with a certain cachet, as many talented individuals want to be associated with those organizations. However, we’ve seen many exceptions to those trends and look forward to seeing abundant not-for-profits spring up in all sub-sectors, stages and sizes.

The abundance rationale

The authors emphasize that instead of nonprofits looking through a budgetary lens, which highlights the need to raise more money, they need to look through a people lens, which encourages them to evaluate their talent needs in order to complete their missions. After a history of professionalizing the nonprofit sector, in which paid employees performed strategic tasks and volunteers completed repetitive tasks with their hands, a new day is dawning. The altruistic volunteer, who gave without expecting any return, is waning. Volunteers now expect meaningful experiences that use their skills.

Nonprofits, succumbing to budgetary concerns, have traditionally hired fewer people or people who are less qualified without considering other options. Many salaried nonprofit employees are overworked and underpaid as a result. The authors encourage nonprofits to discard this paradigm and move toward a completely new culture, one that listens to what volunteers want and what organizations need and matches them for a win-win situation. The authors dub this new type of volunteer a knowledge philanthropist because s/he brings knowledge in addition to hands.

The people lens method

An organization with a people lens first tries to develop a strong, well-functioning organization to draw talent. In order to create this strength, an organization needs to begin with the why (vision and mission), move to the what (three to five goals) and then focus on the how (define the time and skills already given by salaried employees and the talents needed and integrate volunteers across all functions in an organizational chart). Subsequently, an abundant nonprofit can create a culture that equalizes salaried and volunteer employees, a plan that includes knowledge philanthropists, a governance model that sees talent as a strategic imperative, processes to hire and develop knowledge philanthropists who will work under salaried managers, and leadership that supports this system.

The authors define a people lens culture in the following manner:

In a people lens culture, it is difficult to discern who is paid with money and who is paid with meaning. This fully integrated talent team challenges the traditional notion that some roles are for salaried employees and other roles are for volunteers. In a people lens culture, salaried employees no longer determine which roles are ‘okay’ for volunteers. Volunteer roles are fully integrated into each level, function and activity of the organization.

Join us next week when we’ll talk about why this management approach is a win-win as well as introduce a case study that dramatically impacted a health services organization.

See also:

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

The Six Secrets of Change

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Five staff responses to change you can’t afford to overlook

As a nonprofit leader, chances are at some point you’ve been involved in either instituting or supporting change in your organization. The question is, if the need for change is so obvious to you, why isn’t the rest of the organization jumping up and down with excitement?

Over the years, The Management Centre has carried out a significant body of research on, and change work with, a wide range of nonprofit organizations. And we’ve found that there are five core reactions to change that we call the 5 Cs. To be an effective change manager, you need to understand these five reactions in your colleagues so you can anticipate them and adopt appropriate strategies to deal with them.

The 5 Cs: Responses to change and how to handle them

We tend to sell organizational benefits when planning change. But not everyone judges the impact of things through organizational perspectives. To be successful, it’s essential to reflect on how individuals in the organization will react or respond to your change announcement. Be prepared, and plan an approach for each of the 5 Cs:


Champions – perhaps 5 to 10 percent of the total – are those who are prepared to stick their necks out, run with an idea and own what happens. After announcing the change you propose, these are the people who’ll crowd around you smiling and shaking your hand.

Tempting as it is to embrace their enthusiasm, you need to treat champions cautiously. The advantage of their unstinting support for the change is balanced by some serious disadvantages. For one thing, champions generally champion everything – even painting the office in stripes. Their enthusiasm could give you a false impression of how everyone else is feeling. And champions won’t question you closely on the merits of your proposal. You need some challenge to ensure your idea has rigor.

Give champions something practical to do which absorbs their energy. Be careful about using them as advocates; they’re likely to be treated with skepticism by others.


Chasers – 15 to 20 percent of the total – don’t immediately respond positively to your proposal for change. At the end of a briefing, they look around to see who’s signed up. They want to discuss your idea with others before forming a judgment, and will generally look to a key opinion maker or “trigger” person for guidance.

The great advantage of chasers is they give you a more accurate view of how your proposal is going down. When they join, you’re making progress and, once committed, they’ll stay. And the disadvantages? Well, you’ll have to convince the right trigger person to convince the chasers. And that trigger person may well be someone who has social rather than organizational power in your organization. So, you can’t tell them to back your idea. And still, chasers won’t come on board immediately – they may have their own very specific concerns; for example, if you’re going to restructure, what will be the impact on their team?

Identify the trigger person at different levels in your organization and brief them in advance, so that they encourage the chasers to sign up to your project.


At 30 to 40 percent of the total, converts are the biggest single group in your change audience. They listen in silence to the proposed change and don’t ask questions. But don’t confuse their silence with negativity. Converts want solid evidence in favor of the change in order to come on board. They’ll also need reassurance about what impact the changes will have on them. Their passivity means you often have to ask questions on their behalf and then answer your own question – FAQs. They want the answer, but they’re not happy to ask the question.

Converts have two advantages: First, bringing them on board tips a sizable majority of people into the “mostly positive” camp and ensures your change proposal will be adopted. Second, although they can be slow to adopt a change, they are equally slow to let it go. Once they’re convinced, you have momentum.

The main disadvantage with converts is that they may take so long to come round that your initiative loses momentum.

Think about and try to address converts’ concerns before launching a change process. That way you’ll be able to bring them on board more quickly. Try producing a list of FAQs in advance – it shows you’re thinking about the individual as well as the organization.


Challengers – 15 to 20 percent of the total – ask difficult questions initially and then … continue to do so. Their approach is to confront and be awkward, because they have a strong stake in the outcome.

It’s a personality trait not a personal attack, so don’t treat it as an attack. Because challenging is a personality trait, it’s unlikely you can convince challengers that the change will be a good thing. What’s more important is that others will be watching how well you handle the challenger’s interventions.

Despite appearances, there are advantages to challengers: Their questions force you to be rigorous in your thinking. And, because they ask the questions others merely think, addressing their issues may enable you indirectly to reassure others.

The disadvantages are twofold: Challengers can carry on asking difficult questions beyond usefulness. They may also ask questions on areas not up for discussion.

Handle challengers’ queries fairly, however irritated you feel; others are watching. Be firm with them about what’s “off the agenda”; provide ground rules and stick to them.


Changephobics – 5 to 10 percent of the total – will not ever be convinced. They can slow down or even derail change. They cause dissent and are essentially immovable. Changephobics are tough. However, if you’re seen dealing with them honestly and fairly, you’ll gain brownie points from others for being evenhanded. And, however hard it is, keep in mind changephobics don’t oppose because they’re bad people, but because they feel you’re destroying something they hold dear.

Changephobic disadvantages are legion – doing their best to stop your initiative, providing unstinting opposition, significantly lowering morale.

The harsh reality is that you have to get rid of changephobics as quickly and effectively as you can, whether it’s to another department or out of the organization.

When you lead your change process, you will need to consider how you might deal with the 5 Cs. Think about all the different stakeholders in your organization – staff, volunteer, boards and even users. Which of the 5Cs would they fit into? What can you get the champions to do so they feel positive, but stay out of your way? Who do you need to convince to get the chasers on board? What questions do you need to answer for the converts? Who are the challengers? What flaws might they spot? Who are the changephobics? How can you get them to leave or help them go?

As we all know, implementing change is no walk in the park. Preparing for the individual responses to change will certainly help you leap ahead of some of the inevitable stress – if not all of it.

See also:

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster Moving World

Buy-In: Saving Your Good Ideas from Getting Shot Down

A Sense of Urgency (How to Overcome Complacency In Your Organization)

The Six Secrets of Change

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