Topic: Consulting

Capacity Building

Image: jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If we ask any of our nonprofit prospects and clients, what is there biggest challenge besides fundraising, the answer is invariably “building capacity“.

Capacity building is a broad term that encompasses “actions that improve nonprofit effectiveness”. According to a journal released by the Foundation Center in 2003 entitled “Investing in Capacity Building: A Guide to High-Impact Approaches”, capacity building can take many forms, including:

  • Professional development for staff and board members
  • Opportunities for peer learning, networking or leadership development
  • Creating or re-examining organizational plans
  • Initiating collaboration with other nonprofits
  • Developing new sources for earned income
  • Utilizing pro bono support for high-impact projects

Many of the community foundations and professional associations for nonprofits with whom we work offer numerous opportunities for capacity building- from grants directly to the organizations to bring on talent, expand knowledge and build strategy; to offering workshops, seminars and conferences from which the nonprofits can learn.

Yet we are still talking about capacity building over a decade later. If we know these things mentioned prior can work, what isn’t working?

Our firm has studied this issue for two years. We have worked with over 1000 prospective clients in trying to establish a solution set that met their needs and their budget.  We’ve heard from each of them as to what they have tried to do on their own and with help from foundations, associations and in some cases universities. What we learned was that for each one, where the process of capacity building fell apart was in execution.

Good ideas, strategy, recommendations, action steps, all are excellent in theory but will fail the nonprofit if they feel unable to execute. Some obstacles to execution are time and resources, confidence and experience, and accountability.

Of the thousands of prospects and clients we spoke with, about 80% were deserving, viable nonprofits. They have neither the resources nor the time or support needed to truly benefit from a contract for private consulting support.

after our study of this issue, we built what we believe to be a game changing answer to the capacity building issue for these nonprofits.

BLOSSOM

When we realized the scope of this problem, we thought, what if we could create a learning lab, curating the best of educational videos, podcasts, journal articles, and books, in which nonprofit executives could reliably and affordably access these tools in an online workspace, at any time. And what if we supported each learner with a private coach, who would have complete access to their learning progress in the lab, evaluating and mentoring them through assignment completion and assessments, and meet with the learner by phone, skype or google hangout once a month for 90 minutes.

And then what if we could provide an upfront assessment for the learner and the coach and learner could identify one looming key performance issue in the organization that they want to create a long term project around, affecting real time change to the nonprofits outcomes.

And finally what if we assembled six learners in a team, where they could interact, share ideas and have rich discussions around topics relevant to the nonprofit industry, effecting their organizations?

Around these assumptions we built BLOSSOM: The Virtual Incubator for Nonprofit Executives.

The incubator is a twelve month program, covering fifteen different nonprofits business topics. Learners start with an assessment on their influence style and on their organizations health. From these assessments the coach will develop leadership learning opportunities and will define with the learner their long term project. The Learner receives an online workspace that has the best of curated educational materials, tools, and templates, along with a resource library of additional information and downloadables. Learners are assembled with five other executives, for teams of six, who meet once per month online to discuss general nonprofit topics of interest. They also hold each other accountable for the progress and completion of their long term projects. The program culminates with a review of real time outcomes acheived, completion of the long term project, and a new network of colleagues and support members to continue the growth and sustainability acheived.

Early feedback was overwhelmingly rejoiceful! Yes, rejoiceful, lol!  Brilliant was one word used, Something I can really rely on for change in my organization was another phrase heard often.

We would love to get your feedback. Request access to the Free Trial Module and tell us what you think!

Email us for acccess to your FREE TRIAL MODULE

roots@harvestdevelopmentgrp.com or call us at 888-586-1103 ex2 to get immediate entry to the trial.

Must-Haves, Wants and Needs

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It’s so very easy in our personal lives to live by imperatives — those must-haves we need to exist, to enjoy our lives, to be successful, and to be fulfilled.  Some of my own imperatives for my personal life include: the need to have good food, well prepared meals, and someone to share them with; the need to have laughter and social situations that inspire laughter; the need to have a partnership with someone I love and admire; the need to communicate clearly and be understood; the need for shoes . . . ok, that’s more of an obsession than a need, but I NEED to have a wide variety of fashionable and sometimes comfortable footwear to feel inspired! You get the picture.
However, when we leave our homes, apartments, schools, and move into our professional life, our imperatives for the organizations we lead and work for can become somewhat murky. I’ve watched many capable nonprofits struggle when it comes to defining their imperatives. They wrestle with the needs of their group, their culture, their operations, their mission. They have a difficult time determining difference between an imperative, a strategy and a tactic. Defining your imperatives for your organization must start with a look into how you and others perceive your work, your mission, and your outcomes. It must review where you are successful  and where you have failed. And it must be objective, taking into account the inherit strengths and weaknesses of the organization.
Given a deep dive into these areas, you may discover that you need talented marketing people, employees or volunteers.  You might need to recruit board members who bring specific strengths to the organization or executive leadership experienced in a specific industry. Or maybe you just need more space to do your work, or an area to call your own. Imperatives can be complex or simple, but universally they are truths that, if denied, ensure certain failure for your effort. Take the time to determine your organization’s imperatives today, and allow them to drive your actions and outcomes to success

In Defense of your Board . . . Let Them Lead.

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One of the most prevalent challenges for the nonprofits we work with is board development.  The conversation usually starts like this: 

ED: “I really need help with my board.”
HDG:  “What kind of help?”
ED: “They don’t actually do anything. They come to the meeting, I give them reports, they listen, then they give me ideas that I can never implement and they go home. And they don’t support us financially at all or not nearly enough.”
HDG:  “So what do you want them to do?”
ED: “Raise money:”

In defense of your board, you cannot expect them to perform at level that has not been clearly articulated.  The first steps toward rectifying this situation is a review of the organization’s board governing documents, processes, major giving program and cultivation events, and the board’s understanding of their role in the organization.

And, this is what we often find:

  • No role and responsibility documents outlining what each board member is expected to do, when, how, and with whom.
  • A role and responsibility document is in place, but it does not state how much the board member should give, nor what they should be doing or how they should help fundraising.
  • A role and responsibility document that is visionary, but not concrete i.e.”The board member will advocate for the organization in the community.” Huh?
  • A board agenda that has the Executive Director talking 90% of the time.
  • No, or very few, sub committees to do the heavy lifting of the board.
  • A board that is led by the Executive Director, who makes the agenda, sets the tone and runs the meeting.
  • A board chair who has no idea why he or she is there, and what to do once they have arrived.
  • An organization that has not developed a strategy for how their board will govern, and what outcomes and outputs they will expect and measure from the board.
  • A board that is not allowed to lead.

So often we hear from organizations that are challenged by their board’s inability or unwillingness to lead and govern or get involved in moving their organization forward. Most of the time, though, we find that it is the organization that is at odds with what to do with its board. There is a fine line between a board that governs and one that meddles. But even their meddling is often just their way of trying to be relevant in a situation that leaves them feeling lost.

Getting a board development strategy in place, and getting your board working effectively requires only four components:

1. An articulated vision for why your board exists and what you want them to achieve (outputs) and impact (outcomes).

2. A relationship (shared partnership) between you and your board chair. Build this together.

3. A set of governing documents that not only covers legal requirements,  but also communicates your expectations.

4. Programs that give your board freedom to engage Now back away and let them lead.

That’s it. Building your board as a program, with strategy, actions, timeline, expected outcomes, immediately strengthens your board’s position and their leadership role in your organization. Taking the time and investing the resources in board development can, quite often, be the most important thing you do for your nonprofit’s mission.

Empower your board to lead. Free yourself. Improve your results.

It’s All About Principle and Method

Clients come to Harvest Development Group with a variety of challenges facing their nonprofit organizations, but the underlying reason they need our help boils down to two simple aspects of their operations —  Principle and Method.

Principle and Method are the key elements of our work. The principles and methods may differ from organization to organization, but both are required to reach successful outcomes. Let’s put this into simple terms and examine the principle and method for getting dressed in the morning.

A Principle is a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning. Principles are established through trial, error, and observation. There are some common principles in getting dressed: one has to believe and agree that being dressed is important. An article of clothing is required to be classified as being dressed. To be accessible, the garment needs a place to reside when it’s not on our body. The garment also needs to be the right size and shape to fit our body. Finally, we need to be trained to assemble and secure the garment, learning techniques like buttoning, zippering and tying.

A Method is a particular form of procedure for accomplishing or approaching something;  a simple or detailed organized plan, sufficient to achieve successful outcomes. Some methods are “proven” meaning they have a good track record of success. Others are groundbreaking and innovative. There are many methods one can apply to getting dressed, each one personalized to our desired outcome. I used to watch my children get dressed — one putting one leg at a time into his pants and the other putting both legs into the pants before pulling them up. Each served their own purpose and both reached the successful outcome of wearing their pants. Efficiency and personal preference seemed to drive their actions.

The same concept of Principles and Methods can be applied to the business operations of a nonprofit organization. There are established, researched, well defined principles in program development, board development, philanthropy, recruitment and staffing. There are individualized methods that have been proven to work, and others that are innovative, which are applied to each as well.

When nonprofits contact Harvest Development Group for help, we assess to gauge what is at the root of the problem. With this information in mind, we teach the organization to apply the principles that lend support to these problems, and develop and apply the methods necessary to deliver on the outcomes they desire. So, as you can see, it all boils down to two simple aspects of your operation — Principles and Methods.

It’s Not What You Tell Your Donors, It’s How You Say It

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I’ve seen my share of “donor death” due to the academic delivery of every specific detail relating to an organization’s mission.  It’s not pretty. First the eyes glaze over and the face slackens, the brow slightly furrows, then the fingers fret with each other as the donor begins to avert his eyes. This is quickly followed by phone checking, paper rustling, and long loving glances at wristwatches.  When this happens, there is no question that the end is near.

When a donor goes into this death spiral, the organization must work harder to keep the donor engaged and interested. Hard work requires more resources and additional resources are expensive. It is far more effective for organizations to understand the dynamics of donor engagement before the meeting.  Spending a minimum of upfront time, determining how to tell your organization’s story in an effective and engaging manner rather than reporting your organization’s destination will pay dividends.

Nonprofits as an industry, we are in love with our science. We love the academics and inner workings of our profession. It’s our passion for the science of what we do that drives us to perform. But frankly, for our donors, it’s the pedestrian, everyday results they can relate to that fires their engines.  I am reminded of a 1970s advertisement produced by Crispin and Porter, that illustrates this point (see above). Telling someone you need to get to a destination is uninteresting and even boring when you compare it to sharing with someone your need to connect with humanity, your family, your loved ones. Same message, but a very different emotion attached to that message.

Check your language. Review your letters, materials, your website. Are you alienating and potentially killing off your donors with your technical speak? Are you telling them where you need to be, rather than sharing with them what or who you want to become. They don’t need the details or the destination. They need the information that will spark their emotions, encourage engagement, and keep them excited about your cause.

12 Useful, Well-Designed, Worth-Downloading iPhone Apps Created by Nonprofits

12 Useful, Well-Designed, Worth-Downloading iPhone Apps Created by Nonprofits.

I love what she does.

However with this post, I have a problem.

Not with the post itself, per se, but the idea that iPhone Apps for nonprofits are a valuable use of resources.

I own an iPod, and an iPad.   I can tell you, desktop is prime territory and my GB’s like gold.    I only download apps that I know I will use frequently and will rely on for regular (read daily) access.    And yes, maybe a few fun ones too, that I go to in my downtime periodically.

I don’t think I am that much different from other iTech users.

And so, the thought of downloading an app from a nonprofit doesn’t fit with how I dole out my space and memory.    I just wouldn’t find the function of clicking the app for updates that appealing.  Even the ones listed in Heather’s blog above, while they have the sex appeal, are not pragmatically useful- how many times will I need to know what the bird in front of me sounds like?   Or have an overwhelming urge to find out where in this very moment are animals being abused?   Cool to access once, twice, maybe three times, but not GB worthy.    I could simply bookmark these sites  in Safari and get the same result, maybe more, since apps tend to have a more limited function than a full site.

I guess I could see if I were a board member or staff member of a not for profit organization, I might consider an app a cool tool and something desirable in a way.    But really, for the NPO, why spend thousands on developing an app for a handful to access.    Even a couple hundred, if you are a national or international NPO, doesn’t seem like a good use of resources.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  My recommendation: Spend your money making your website mobile optimized.

I’ve been following the nonprofit sector and their discovery of technology for quite a while.    I’ve also lived the experience for over 20 years, from networked databases, to a ‘flashy’ (no pun intended) new website, to internet access for staff- all the various areas of fumbling, bumbling and discovery along the way.   In full disclosure, I am also a partner in a tech start up – Donorfull– for the nonprofit sector.   I believe Nonprofit Apps are one of those “sounded.like.a.good.idea,.cause.everyone.is.doing.it,aren’t.we.hip,but.it.really.is.limited” kind of moments.    Unless someone can come up with an exciting and convincing argument for me as to what possible benefit, goal or stimulating outcome could come of it, I’ll continue to direct and discourage my clients from wandering into this forest.

We’ll all be less ‘appy’ but ‘appy-er’ for it.

Capital Campaigns as Transformative Projects

Capital Campaigns are incredible projects – consuming of immense amounts of resources, but the returns of which can be transformative for your organization.

Capital Campaigns are important strategies to include in your organizations long term philanthropy development plans. Campaigns that are integrated (including all of the organizations’ stakeholders in its design and implementation);  unified (with the goal of raising campaign funds as well as enhancing and improving annual and other donations); and are strategically designed, have the power to change the level and quality of your fundraising forever.

Campaigns have a history of being synonymous with specialized one time fundraising, while the reality is that most organizations today operate campaigns on a regular basis, completing one as they are planning and launching another.  Such is the need for large capital project development for any nonprofit organization, whether you be hospital, school, church or social service. The good news is that this has changed the culture of philanthropy for your donor base. They are more attuned to the segmentation of capital needs vs operating needs for programs and service delivery. And many major donors are considering the next campaign project for your organization, as they prepare their own giving strategy.

Preparing for your capital campaign begins with a feasibility study, six to twelve months before you host your first campaign meeting of volunteers.

Studying What is Feasible

A feasibility study is a specialized process in which analysis is conducted on your organizations ability, capacity and capabilities to successfully operate a capital campaign. Studies show a 92 percent success rate for campaigns preceded by feasibility/planning studies.  A study is traditionally facilitated by a consulting group, such as Harvest Development Group. Through experience with other studies, as well as by providing third party anonymity to study participants, more accurate data is collected and assessed when a feasibility study is lead by a consulting firm, resulting in better decisions in the construction and launch of your campaign. Results of the feasibility study are developed and presented in a report that outlines not only your organizations internal ability to operate a campaign (human resources, data collection tools,  organizational capability to devote time and money to a campaign), but also to the external capacity for campaign success.

How is a Campaign’s Financial Goal Set?

The financial goal of your campaign cannot be determined without a study. Your campaign goal is not how much you need, but by how much you can be forecasted to raise. Taking a measurement of past giving history, donor statistics, environmental issues impacting your efforts, as well as time and human resources available, your feasibility study consultant will project a range in which you can rely on campaign funding, if all activities are implemented as directed. This range is a more realistic and reliable goal than using the cost of your project as a campaign goal. In many cases the goal revealed through your feasibility study will be sent back to your project planning and/or finance committee for consideration, as it will affect the projects scope and funding plans. Without a study to determine how much can be raised, it would be folly to start out a campaign, fundraising to reach an artificial and unknown amount. Worse is to ignore the feasibility study determination and set an artificially increased goal. No organization can benefit from falling short financially on a capital campaign, it does more harm than any of the good from the effort.

Who Do We Ask?

Another outcome from your feasibility study is analysis of your current and potential donor base to the campaign. A well facilitated study will determine best prospects, range of gifts (as a gift chart) and the number of gifts required, and a categorized donor base for consideration. Imagine an infographic outlining who to ask, how much to ask for and when to make the ask. With this information you can confidently move into planning and implementation with a visualization of how you can be successful.

Planning for your Campaign

After your feasibility study is completed, your organization has to take the next step- planning for, launching and operating your campaign. Feasibility studies are time sensitive, because it deals with dynamic data. The data revealed and used for results in your feasibility study has an expiration date, like milk. Waiting too long after a feasibility study is completed for your campaign to begin, can be detrimental to your campaign.  Sometimes waiting too long to launch after a study is completed  results in money being left on the table, because the information used has changed drastically for the better.  It would be horrible to ask a donor for an amount that is too low, because the study was produced with information three years prior! Worse, and more common, is a campaign delayed resulting in missed goals due to donors leaving, other organizations in the community launching their own campaign, project costs increasing, etc. Ideally, study results are valid for about six to twelve months, but no longer. Be certain that your organization is ready to move forward when the feasibility study is completed.

As with the feasibility study, the planning, launching and implementation of your capital campaign benefits tremendously by bringing in counsel. Don’t try to save money in this area, as a good consulting firm will not only help you raise more money but save you money as well.

Develop our Volunteer Leaders

Your feasibility study will have delivered a list of potential volunteers for your campaign effort. Include these individuals in your campaign committees as well as your board. Begin to inspire, organize and engage your volunteer campaign members immediately after your feasibility study ends, while the experience of being interviewed and the buzz of the study is still fresh in their minds. Preparing your committees and drafting your plan will be a four month project at least, given the busyness and chaotic schedules of volunteers and competing organizational priorities.

Pieces of the Plan

Planning for your campaign requires attention to details in a broad area. Staffing is critical, and plans may need to be developed to increase staffing temporarily to assist with campaign or back office workloads. In addition, operational tools for managing the campaign will be essential- CRM software, Data management, material production, media and distribution lines for campaign materials. Financial forecasts should be developed in collaboration with finance, so everyone invested in the financial outcomes has a schedule of when the funds can be anticipated for use.  Internal policies and procedures for campaign implementation are to be developed as guiding and aligning instruments. Crafting a campaign case statement that is inspiring, informative and catalytic is an early planning activity. Additionally, prospect development and solicitation briefs and strategies set the foundation for your cultivation’s and asks. Good counsel will lead and facilitate all of this and more as you move toward your campaign launch date.

Campaigns Added Benefits

Although campaigns require a significant investment of time and resources – expect to spend about 20% of your campaign goal on the planning and implementation of your campaign- the return in campaign funding, future funding, increased donor base, increased visibility and internal enthusiasm and engagement for your mission is invaluable and well worth the investment. A well organized and operated campaign can change your organization for ever.

 

For further information or to speak about how a  campaign can help your organization reach new heights contact Harvest Development Group, LLC at   roots@harvestdevelopmentgrp.com    or    at    860-575-5132

SHIFT: Meeting Corporate Philanthropy Where It’s Headed- An Introduction

This is the start of a four week series on corporate philanthropy, based on research, best practices and personal experience from the field. We’ll keep it entertaining and packed with good useful information that will help you develop your own Corporate Giving program. To follow along, bookmark and check back daily, or subscribe to the blog using the button at the bottom of this page (left side).  But don’t just follow along.  Ask questions, challenge observations, make recommendations, share your own experience, invite friends to participate.

Many of us have been in the philanthropy industry for years….maybe even decades…and we have much to lean on when we think about corporate giving. We know it is changing, it’s evident around us, and we know it has evolved over time, through some pretty hairy and weird years, to some truly meaningful examples. I’m going to ask us to set all of that aside for the next few weeks.

Let me start with a short, true, story to help us understand perspective and prepare our frame of mind. This story came to me from a friend.
“Years back a group of scientists in New Guinea visited a tribe who believed their world ended at the river. After several months, one of the scientists had to leave, which involved crossing the river. Safely across the river, he turned and waved at the tribesman he had left behind. They did not respond, because they said they did not see him. Their entrenched beliefs about their world had distorted their perception of reality.”

But changing  beliefs can be hard, right?

Let me give you an example.

Look at this door panel of squares. Now stare at the X in the center and think circles. What happens?

The circles that appeared when you thought ‘circles’, are an example of a shift in your perception of reality.
When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

That’s why, in this series on corporate philanthropy, I’m asking you to abandon your old beliefs, your old perceptions about what you think you know about corporate giving, and become open to new understandings. In the words of our old friend Stephen Covey: Seek first to understand.

This month of posts on meeting corporate philanthropy where it’s headed, will help us to understand the influences on corporations as they strategize their giving efforts. We’ll identify influences on the sector. We’ll connect with company  goals and needs, and explore key behaviors in winning partnerships.  Not winning in the Charlie Sheen way, but in the way that provides outcomes and benefits for both the corporation AND the nonprofit partners.

A busy few weeks, but worth the investment if you want to create sustainable, efficient and effective corporate philanthropy revenue streams.

So join in, ask questions, engage, share, learn, enjoy.