Posts Tagged ‘nonprofits’

Donations follow high performing boards

According to board member, Chris Boskin, “A U.S. Trust study found that among high net-worth donors–those with $5 million or more in assets–one of the top four determinants of where they contribute money is respect for the organization’s leadership.”

Stability, growth and impact: Think of the board members you know and the organizations they serve. Now ask yourself who’s raising more money. In the nonprofit world, contributions are king. Donations follow the high performing boards. These boards have core attributes that author Kay Grace underscores in her book, The Ultimate Board Member’s Book, below. When these competencies are in place, Grace says there is stability, the opportunity for growth and the potential for impact. In her words, “Work gets done.”

• Understanding boundaries
• Respecting each other and staff
• Mastering the mission
• Communicating the vision
• Living the values

Recruit with a rudder: Without an organizational plan, board recruitment suffers from irrelevant professional guidance. Recruitment must be a direct response to the organization’s strategic plan.

Four steps to enhance the recruitment process: 1) Your board members shouldn’t leave brainstorming exclusively to the board development committee (a.k.a. nominating committee). Everyone should be a source for nominating ideas. 2) Fellow board members outside this committee should recommend, not recruit. Respect for the process will protect the board and the candidate from any well-intentioned mismatches. 3) Fellow board members should also participate in the recruitment process by getting to know recruits through coffee, lunches, tours, etc. 4) When someone’s officially on board, other board members should reach out. Even if there’s a “board buddy” or mentor program, they should let the new member experience what a friendly organization you have. You don’t want diligently recruited and worthwhile board members to feel disconnected.

What’s in a name? Everything. According to Grace, the board development committee is the most important committee on the board because it determines the vitality of the board, scope of talent and future of the organization. Furthermore, Grace recommends calling this committee “board development” rather than “nominating” because the proper fulfillment of duties extends far beyond nominating names. It includes preparing a policy plan and procedure for recruitment, soliciting potential candidates from fellow board members, preparing a slate and enlisting those elected, running board orientation, shepherding new and flailing board members, and spearheading the board evaluation process.

See also:

The Ultimate Board Member’s Book

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Can you change your culture?

The value of knowing your organizational culture cannot be overstated when you realize the impact it has on everyday management decisions, as well as important benchmarks such as executive transitions, restructuring, organizational alignment and mergers. By choosing to reveal your organization’s culture, the authors of our current feature, The Nonprofit Organizational Culture Guide, say you will be better able to orient new staff and board members, find better leadership matches, better understand and define your theory of change, develop more effective strategies, market and communicate more effectively and make successful choices about restructuring or mergers. In other words, culture awareness increases your effectiveness in almost every leadership choice you make.

The following is an excerpt from our Page to Practice feature of The Nonprofit Organizational Culture Guide: Revealing the Hidden Truths that Impact Performance by Paige Hull Teegarden, Denice Rothman Hinden and Paul Sturm. In this excerpt, the authors explain how you can reveal hidden truths about your nonprofit by exploring its stories. These stories in return will shed important light on how your organization operates, what its norms are and how to mobilize change. We also asked about the biggest mistake nonprofits make when trying to change culture.

Learning through stories

Three kinds of stories are critical sources of information about organizational culture, according to the authors: the creation story, the survival stories and the heroic or successful staff stories. The authors report that these stories are usually filled with images, values and assumptions, and characters who acted on these values and assumptions. They found analyzing these stories to be the most powerful way to surface the “hidden truths” about organizational culture.


The “creation story” is a “thick” or richly described telling of who formed the organization and why, say the authors. The creation story includes information about what the founders hoped to accomplish, who founded it, how they founded it and information about the broader environment. The story reveals evidence of important solutions to problems and uncertainties, which becomes the core belief system and assumptions surrounding the organization.

Survival stories are also thick narratives that focus on life-threatening challenges that the organization has successfully conquered. These are not stories about securing a grant. When you hear a survival story, you should be able to identify the seriousness of the threat and what the organization did to navigate the threat. Because the story is about “life and death,” the story should endure.

Hero or heroine stories have magical and mythical qualities where the central figure becomes larger than life. In this case, you are looking for stories about an uber successful staff person that inspires retelling. Sometimes these stories are

portrayed in the setting of “the way things used to be,” which conveys norms about the organization. These are often internal stories.

CausePlanet: What is the biggest mistake that organizations make when trying to change their culture?

Authors: The mistake is believing that organizational culture can be changed in a wholesale way. Culture is an organization’s DNA. It’s always present – seen or unseen, spoken or silent, explicit or implicit. An organization’s culture can certainly evolve or shift as its internal or external environment shifts. However, attempting to ‘change’ organizational culture is less likely to succeed. This is why we stress the importance of revealing and understanding organizational culture so that it becomes an ally in structuring shifts that enhance organizational effectiveness. Swimming with the current is always easier.

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“Letting Go” and “Do More Than Give” share views

An interesting article was brought to my attention this morning by a tweet from one of our CausePlanet contributors, Michaela Hayes. Published by the Stanford Social Innovation Review and written by Kristi Kimball and Malka Kopell, “Letting Go” highlights a handful of ways that foundations are getting in the way of their grantees’ work. Micromanaging is just one of the ways that foundations undermine the work of their recipients, say Kimball and Kopell, who work within the foundation world.

In fact, the first problem was described as “foundation-designed solutions.” Crutchfield, Kania and Kramer discuss this problem in Do More Than Give. The Do More authors describe number four of their six best practices as “empower the people,” which explains that when foundations or donors sit shoulder to shoulder with recipients and even the communities’ served at the same table, creating social change becomes more collaborative and results-oriented rather than the give, spend and report cycle, we typically see between grantor and grantee. Crutchfield, Kania and Kramer say that catalytic donors view individuals as “essential participants” in the process of solving problems for themselves. Listening to stakeholders is a powerful engine for change because of the ideas that emerge and the solutions that result from brainstorming.

Another problem Kimball and Kopell expose from their view inside the foundation world is that funders typically make grants with “tunnel vision.” They choose one organization to make the change they are looking for in the entire system. “Instead of letting 1,000 flowers bloom, they think they can afford just one variant. But focusing narrowly on one solution is a fragile strategy, particularly in complex, unpredictable environments,” say Kimball and Kopell. Do More authors would agree by sharing best practice number three, which is “forging nonprofit peer networks.” Instead of focusing on a few grantees, donors are in a unique position to look at an issue in its entirety and call for convenings among all nonprofits who focus on the same issue to benefit from information sharing and collective impact.

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Blending profit with purpose

Do More Than Give is an important read for many reasons. Here are two: 1) This book takes a rare and intelligent look at what the donor can do beyond selecting a good cause and 2) Each of the donor recommendations fuels your imagination to explore how you can cultivate the catalytic behavior in your followers, friends and philanthropists.

Also worthwhile in this book are the case studies of individuals, corporations and foundations—large, small, private and community—who have played a unique role in advancing a larger issue with nonprofits at the table. For those who haven’t read its predecessor, Forces for Good, you can read a summary of best practices in the book’s appendix, which essentially means two books in one. Overall, the book contains a great deal of innovative thought and approaches to working collectively with donors.

This week, I’m highlighting Crutchfield, Kania and Kramer’s best practice #2: blending profit with purpose, thanks to a recent blog post I read today at

The post is called “Cause Marketing versus Sponsorship – What’s the difference?” and is coincidentally written by one of our featured authors, Jocelyne Daw, who wrote Cause Marketing for Nonprofits.

According to the authors, businesses have a lot to offer as vehicles for social progress, and donors can engage business tools in three ways:

1)   They can tap corporate know-how to create direct social impact: They can utilize the knowledge, skills and abilities of employees, as well as company systems and processes; intellectual property such as patents and trade secrets; and other assets. For example, GE used their industry know-how to upgrade thirty-seven clinics and hospitals and retrained local staffs in poor communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America, all without charge. GE continues to open a new clinic every month as part of its $90 million annual budget for philanthropy.

2)   They can create shared values through profit-making initiatives that serve social objectives: In the GE example, senior executives saw a tremendous range of opportunities for their business. The company with a goal of reaching 100 million new patients every year. GE partners with Grameen Bank, the microfinance institution, to build a sustainable rural health model, reducing maternal and infancy mortality rates by 20 percent.

3)   They can use their investment capital to further their social impact: The authors report that catalytic donors are using their vote and their cash to further social issues through “impact investments.” The authors explain a strategy called “shareholder advocacy,” where a foundation can purchase shares of stock in a company in which they wish to have policy influence. For example, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, whose interest in the environment prompted them to purchase stock in Smithfield Foods so they could file a shareholder resolution requesting complete disclosures of environmental impacts. They filed annually, eventually gaining 29 percent of the shareholders’ votes, and the company began to negotiate with the foundation. The foundation brought in their grantees for expertise, which led to the company’s commitment to track and report environmental indicators relating to its farms.

4)   Even more immediate social impact can be accomplished by foundations offering low- or no-interest loans to grantees, which has been done for decades. These loans qualify as program related investments, which means foundations can count these loans as part of their payout requirements. This strategy allows foundations to “recycle” their funds because they can be used multiple times to achieve social impact. Another example of impact investing is when foundations or donors are willing to be the lead investors in a socially responsible business solution to attract other venture capitalists. Kiva is a great example—in 2010 users lent more than $100 million in microloans. The Packard Foundation similarly was the first investor to the table in their case, taking the risk and lower return in order to fund a sustainability project, which eventually attracted substantial venture capital from traditional sources.

Watch for more Do More Than Give highlights during the month of April. You can also visit For more information on this book and other features, visit our Page to Practice library or follow us at Twitter and Facebook.

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We’ve been successful so why change?

How many times have you heard this phrase in the title or something similar to it? In this month’s Page to Practice book summary about Buy-In: Saving Your Good Ideas From Getting Shot Down by John Kotter and Lorne Whitehead, we asked Kotter “If naysayers typically deploy four different attack tendencies such as death by delay or fear mongering, is it ever necessary to prepare for someone displaying multiple attack strategies or do people generally stick to one?” Here’s what Kotter had to say:

Kotter: Yes, it’s absolutely necessary to prepare for someone deploying multiple attack strategies. Naysayers most often do employ more than one tactic at the same time, as I mentioned before. The best way you can prepare for this is by becoming thoroughly familiar with the four basic strategies and the 24 generic questions and their responses, which will enable you to effectively address even the more complex combinations.

Take, for example, the attack, “We’ve never done it that way before.” I think this attack is a combination of numbers 1 (We’ve been successful, so why change?), 12 (If this is such a great idea, why hasn’t it been done already) and 20 (It won’t work here, because we’re so different). A smart response incorporates tactics that will diffuse all three. First, do not treat the people raising this attack as moronic for not seeing the need for change. Acknowledge their concern, but remind them that life evolves and to continue to succeed, we need to be open to adapting.

Second, remind your audience that someone has to try a new idea out for the first time, and if we are the innovative organization we claim to be, why shouldn’t it be us? Third, remind them that while your organization is unique, it’s not different from others that are seeking to change for the better. And incorporate a simple, specific example that your audience can relate to. More often than not you’ll face an attack like this – one that combines elements from several different attacks – so it’s important to understand how to respond most effectively.

For more information about Buy-In and other great books, follow us on Twitter and Facebook or visit our Page to Practice book summary library.

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Engaging hearts and minds

Yesterday I experienced the equivalent of a “runner’s high,” except that my legs weren’t moving and my arms weren’t pumping. In fact, I sat very still and engaged my…ears. This wasn’t a calorie burning adventure; instead, it was an adventure of the mind.

I sat between two very inspirational nonprofit organizations during a session led by Perla Ni, CEO of Great Nonprofits, about the importance of great storytelling. Perla said, “The nonprofit sector is very fortunate when it comes to storytelling. You don’t need million dollar commercial budgets to create stories that make burgers or cars feel exciting. You are nonprofit organizations and you have many noble and compelling stories about the people and the causes you serve.”

Perla asked each of us to tell our own story to one another during a table exercise. While my mind spins and my pulse quickens when I can help a nonprofit leader with a helpful book or best practice on my website, my story was merely the warm-up act for the organizations that were at my table. On my left were Micklina and Mike with Community of Sudanese & American Women/Men, an organization dedicated to helping survivors of the Sudanese genocide, and on my right were Emily and Lisa with CASA Child Advocates, a nonprofit that gives a voice to children in court when neglect and abuse is involved.

Though each one of us has a compelling story to tell, there are specific strategies you can act on that will help it spread and grow. Here are some take-away thoughts from speaker, Perla Ni:

How to get started with integrating good storytelling in your organization from Demonstrating Your Impact: Engaging Hearts and Minds:

A good story will include a protagonist, a problem and overcoming the problem (sometimes, not overcoming the challenge).

Consider the personal stories you have about your organization’s impact from the perspective of an individual client, staff member, volunteer or member in the community.

Who tells the story is important: 90 percent trust product recommendations from friends, 70 percent trust recommendations from online consumer recommendations, (Nielson, 2009) and only 6 percent believe in advertisement claims (Forrester, 2009).

Think about how you can back up this story with data you have that relates to the program or setting where your story takes place. If you don’t have the data, engage a local university student who is interested in a research project.

If you have multiple programs about which you can share stories, choose two or three that highlight your strongest program. Those stories will eventually shed light on the other programs.

Develop those two or three stories and circulate them at the board and staff levels so they are shared consistently. Don’t be afraid of telling and re-telling on many platforms such as annual reports, brochures, email campaigns, and social media in particular because of networks’ potential, such as Facebook and Twitter, to spread your story more quickly and efficiently. Include photos and video whenever possible.

Listeners will need to hear a story, on average, eight times before they sink in. In cases where direct quotes are involved, do not correct grammar. The idea is to maintain the authenticity of the storyteller’s voice.

Though funders may limit proposals (i.e. foundations) to specific Q &A or data, use the site visit as an opportunity to share stories.

In the case of public policy, bring the storyteller to the legislative session if possible. If you don’t have a good storytelling prospect within your organization, enlist a peer organization for help.

See also:

Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog for posts about storytelling

More information about Kivi’s book, The Nonprofit Marketing Guide, which includes a chapter on storytelling

Download an executive summary of Kivi’s book to learn more about what’s inside The Nonprofit Marketing Guide

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Doogie Howser was on to something

Last week I sat in a room filled with hundreds of interesting stories. I attended the National Philanthropy Day Luncheon in Denver, Colorado, which is presented by the Colorado Nonprofit Association. This luncheon celebrates individuals, organizations and companies who demonstrate leadership by example in the spirit of philanthropy.

Despite the fact that only a dozen shared their personal road that led to recognition on stage, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What are the back stories of all these people in the audience who share a passion for creating change in the world?” In other words, we all have a story to tell. And my curiosity to hear all of them was a testament to the power of storytelling. An even greater demonstration of the love for narrative was the audience’s commitment to each recipient’s remarks. Everyone wants the ability to logically connect effort with desired outcomes, and we never tire of hearing how someone has made it happen.

In fact, CausePlanet’s featured author of The Nonprofit Marketing Guide, Kivi Leroux Miller, stresses the importance of storytelling in everything we do because stories generate authenticity and demonstrate transformative ideas and change in people. Additionally, author of Believe Me, Michael Margolis says, “We are hardwired to seek and make sense of the world through narratives. Anthropologists contend that 70 percent of everything we learn is through stories. Even as we grow into stubborn adults set in our ways, we fundamentally remain a storytelling species. This is just one of the reasons why 175,000 new blogs are started every day.”

If the storytelling two by four hasn’t hit you over the head yet, it’s time to get busy and figure out how to convey your worthy nonprofit efforts through storytelling. Doogie Howser was the first televised blogger when he ended every episode with an entry in his digital diary. If Doogie can do it, why can’t you?

Learn more about Kivi Leroux Miller’s The Nonprofit Marketing Guide or our current feature of Festen and Philbin’s book, Level Best.

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How to make a change: A conversation with “Switch” authors

In the last two weeks, we have explored highlights from our July Page to Practice™ feature: Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. Join us for an excerpt of a conversation with authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath with special thanks to Fortier Public Relations.

Fortier: What was the most surprising discovery you made about change behavior?

Heath Brothers: That self-control is exhaustible, like a muscle. We’ve all experienced this—you have a stressful day at work, and you come home and you snap at your partner, or you have one drink too many. You burned up your self-control at work. And this is critical for change, because all change requires self-control. Not just in the sense of resisting a temptation, like a cookie or a drink, but in the sense that you have to manage your behavior deliberately. So one implication of this is that you shouldn’t pile on too much change at once—don’t pick six New Year’s resolutions, and don’t overhaul every aspect of people’s routines at once at work.

Fortier: In the book, you say we often overcomplicate change. What do you mean by that?

Heath Brothers: When change doesn’t happen, we almost always blame it on the people—people who are too “resistant” or “lazy.” But what looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. For instance, we tell the story of a manager named Amanda Tucker, who got poor ratings on “communication” from her employees. The problem was that, when they’d come in her office, she’d often get distracted by email and try to multitask while they were sitting there. Is Tucker a bad manager? A poor communicator? Well, no. She rearranged her office one afternoon, so that she couldn’t see her monitor, meaning that she wouldn’t be distracted. And—poof—her communication scores went way up. It wasn’t a problem with Amanda, it was a problem with her environment. And the environment was a lot easier to fix.

Fortier: What do you mean by “shaping the path” for change?

Heath Brothers: Small tweaks to the environment can have a big impact. Think about Amazon’s one-click-order button. They have “shaped the path” to an order, making it as easy as humanly possible. Many of us are blind to how much our situations actually shape our behavior. Our surroundings have been carefully designed to make us act in a particular fashion. Traffic engineers want us to drive in a predictable, safe way, so they paint lane markers and install stoplights and signs. Banks got tired of us leaving our ATM cards in the machine, so we have to remove them before we can get cash. We can also act as our own engineers, tweaking the environment so that the right behaviors are easier. A friend of ours lays out his jogging clothes before he goes to bed, so it’ll be just a bit easier to get started the next day.

Find more information about Switch at Random House, visit our CausePlanet summary store or subscribe to our monthly Page to Practice summaries. Keep up with what we’re reading on Facebook and Twitter.

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