Latest Entries »

What is a blog? Why blog?

Written by Alysha Schlundt-Bodien, Training and Facility Coordinator at Community Television Network of Ann Arbor

We live in an age where apps, tablets and smart phones are at our finger tips.  It’s hard not to feel sensory overload when looking for ways to grow your nonprofit.  But, one of the best ways to give back to your supporters and the organization is to start a blog.

A blog offers an inside look into a nonprofit organization or business and what it does in the community. For example, the Ann Arbor Farmers Market’s blog highlights weekly goods and healthy recipes in an eye appealing way. And the coolest thing about blogs is that they allow your organization to gain local, regional, national and even global outreach for free! There may be some start up fees like purchasing URL domains.  We’ll talk more about those fees in our upcoming blogs.

A blog is different from a website. Websites offer one way communication to your audience, but many websites host blogs. An example of this is the Ann Arbor District Library’s (AADL) site where the main page is their calendar of events, which allows users to login and post feedback. This makes the AADL site an open two-way communication resource, and a great way for AADL to discover  what their audience is interested in.

Blogs are not newsletters. Unlike newsletters, blogs are fast paced, up-to-date databases that contain full on multimedia content as well as an RSS feed, or  Real Simple Syndication.  RSS feeds allow followers to subscribe to your blog through an RSS reader or aggregate. Each time you post new content, the post is sent right to a follower’s web or desktop reader.  Think of it as an instant email without you ever having to send anything or building a database.  All you have to do, is publish a post!

RSS Icon

The RSS feed icon is orange and has white waves coming out of it.  An example of this is the Michigan Municipal League Place Making blog where they highlight statewide events and stories. When visiting their site, you immediately notice the RSS feed icon,  as well as other social media links, in the upper right hand corner of the site.  This feed allows you to stay connected.

A blog can be as simple as photos or as technical as an article with videos.  It all depends on your audience and the blog’s objective.

I’ve read that 2014 is the year of the blog, especially for nonprofits. Would you agree? Feel free to leave me questions and comments, so I know what you’re interested in and what you would like to learn more about. In the next blog, we’ll look at the different types of blogs. See you then. =)

Alysha has been an advocate for PEG Access and free speech since high school, where she got her start at Rougeview Community Television in Rockford, Michigan. She graduated from Central Michigan University (CMU) with a Bachelors of Arts in Integrative Public Relations studying communication, journalism, broadcasting and multimedia. During college, she was a Promotions Coordinator at Mid Michigan Area Cable Consortium (MACTV Network) and a freelance videographer for the Office of Student Life at CMU. She is currently a Training and Facility Coordinator for Community Television Network of Ann Arbor, President of the Michigan Chapter Alliance for Community Media (ACM) and Communications Chair for the Central States Region ACM. She’s also a Raptor Volunteer at Leslie Science & Nature Center, a nonprofit in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she feeds 19 non-releasable birds of prey weekly. In her free time, she enjoys spending time outdoors with friends and family.

Why Am I Doing This?

Written by Robb Drzewicki

I’m not a health nut by any stretch of the imagination. In short, I love bacon, burgers, and beer. On the same token, I’m also not a spectacular athlete. Not to say that I’m inept, I’m just uncompetitive and never really got into the “fighting spirit” of team sports. That’s why my friends and family were so taken aback when I decided to spend the day of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade running the Corktown 5K instead of simply staring at parade floats while holding a plastic Solo cup of domestic beer. With my bad knee and a generally sedentary winter at my back, I decided to give it the old college try. I learned two things in the course of my challenge. First, I should run more. Second, there’s plenty of time to think on these runs. So, what was I thinking about while braving the 0 degree 3.1 mile jog? You and your nonprofit.
I realized a few things while running along on this cold day. I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts on how it equates with nonprofit management.
1. It was cold – Two years ago, the pasty faced Irish masses were getting sunburns at the parade. This year we had icicles hanging from our beards. When I say cold, I don’t mean that it was a brisk spring morning. I mean a blistering zero degree wind chill and occasional snow flurries. I’ve lived in Michigan my entire life. I don’t normally complain about the cold, but that’s because when it’s this cold out, I stay in my house. It wasn’t an option. The same can be said about the nonprofit environment from time to time. It can be frigid and seem like your donors are giving you the cold shoulder. The moral: You can’t control the weather. Don’t let a poor economic climate break your resolve to get things done in your nonprofit. Just because it’s one of the coldest Detroit winters on record doesn’t mean that it’s not warmer everywhere else. Just keep running. Run your part of the business; run your job; run your life. It’s the only actual control you have over the outcome when the weather is terrible.

 

2. It was long (comparatively) – As I said, I’m not a runner. I’m not even an athlete, nor was I ever. While other guys were trying out for the high school football team I was joining Model UN and debating international politics. In truth, it’s 3.1 miles (not an amazing feat, but it’s not a sprint either). To a guy that’s never done this sort of thing, it’s a long way. Sometimes the mission seems a long way off too. Sometimes, it seems like everyone’s in better shape than you are. It’s going to look like that in the nonprofit world too. You’re never going to feel 100% ready to complete the task. The moral: Stay the course. There are too many clichés and parables to recount here, but it’s true. You just need to keep your eye on the finish line and finish the race. Maybe the best part of getting near the finish line is seeing an actual tactile representation of it. There’s a big sign to run toward that says “FINISH.” I can’t find a better example of an ideal mission statement.
3. Plenty of people will think you’re crazy – My own mother was skeptical of my chances of finishing the race without the help of Detroit EMTs. Plenty of people know me as the one who’ll win a philosophical debate but lose a basketball game, so the assumption of disgrace was palpable. People are always skeptical of altruism as well. “Oh sure, have fun ending world hunger. Here’s five bucks.” The bitter pill to swallow is that you’re running a long race and most people don’t believe you’ll finish. The moral: Let your detractors know your plan and go for it. There’s no sense in wasting your time listening to naysayers. Be confident and keep your eyes on the finish line.

 
4. It’s better if you do it with friends – As I said; I ran this race with a group of my cousins. All of us are at varying levels of health, age, and general desire to run for extended periods of time. It came down to a simple desire to start and finish a race. A pack mentality can be used for good or evil. Think of the average political pundit, bigoted soap-box ranter, or UFO conspiracy theorist; the only reason they’re talking is because there’s someone there to listen to them. It goes the other way too. A group can get together and use a collective support system to achieve their goals instead of just run off at the mouth. I should also mention that many of the aforementioned cousins are founding members of the charity that started me on my journey in the industry. We’re quite accustomed to backing up one another’s outlandish plans and achieving greater success than initially assumed. Your paid staff and volunteers shouldn’t be any different. You’ve all got to buy in to the idea. The moral: A support system isn’t just about getting the best paid employees or the most experienced. It’s also about how all of those pieces fit together. In other words, sometimes “buy-in” is more important than a resume and a team is more important than a group of individuals.
5. Relish your small victories – I’m not exaggerating when I say that I had icicles in my beard. Within minutes of hitting the first water station, I was picking ice cubes out of my facial hair. On top of that, any time there was break in buildings, a crosswind would come in and slap you in the face with snow and brutally cold air. This made the tiny victories even more important. I’d often look for a fire hydrant or trash can ahead of me and just push to reach it. We do this all the time in for-profit and non-profit companies. Our goal may be 3 miles away, but this “sub-goal” can represent a piece of the puzzle. The moral: We need to be proud of every step along the way while continuing to realize that there’s a greater goal down the road.

What Grant Makers Really Want To Know: 4 Ways to Compel Giving

Heather Stombaugh

It’s happened. You received the dreaded decline letter from a funder. However, you know they gave to 10 other organizations in your community. So why didn’t you win?

All grant seekers must remember that foundations and corporate sponsors are philanthropic investors. As nonprofits themselves, foundations have a philanthropic mission they have to meet. They make funding decisions based on guidelines that are framed from their original donor(s) intent. They do not make decisions in a vacuum and are influenced by local and national economic trends. Do not overlook this distinction.

You are asking an investor to put their money into your solution, but you’re not just asking for money: you’re asking for an invested partner.

If you were not funded, perhaps it’s what you asked for and they simply didn’t want to fund that type of project or request. But, it is more likely how you asked for support and, more importantly, how you presented your organization to the funder.

In my experience as a local, state, and federal grant reviewer and as a professional grant writer for the last 14 years, I have gleaned that grant makers care about four fundaments when they consider investing in a nonprofit:

1. Credibility – of your organization and leadership (especially the CEO, of course)

2. Capacity – do you have the right infrastructure/facilities/people in place to do what you say you want to do?

3. Evidence – of both your need (local, recent statistics) and your chosen solution (i.e. best practices or evidence-based practices)

4. Sustainability – diverse and obviously well-planned and tested revenue streams

In practical terms, that means:

DO include bios in your requests. Use credentials, advanced degrees, and specialized training to your advantage here. Also, consider the length of employment for each person you highlight. For instance, one of my clients has a five-person leadership team who have all been with the agency for more than 25 years. That shows amazing credibility to potential funders, and we language about their longevity in every proposal we write. It pays off—we’re at 206% of our grant-seeking goal this year.

DO address your facilities, your staffing, your volunteers, and your information technology system in your proposal. As a reviewer, it is glaringly simple to weed out high-capacity organizations from low-capacity ones. Too often, organizations lose points in review because they simply didn’t speak about their capacity even when they have it.

DO use statistics from your own agency in your Statement of Need. If you use external statistics about your work, choose only the most localized data you can find. Any statistic you use in a proposal should be no more than two years old. If your organization uses a best practice, say you do. If you modified the best practice to fit your community, say how you modified it and how you tested the modification to ensure you still provide meaningful results. That’s what this element is all about: meaningful results that show a real, measurable impact in your community.

DO include a description of a comprehensive approach to fundraising. As a reviewer, I want to see diverse revenue streams for your proposed project as well as your organization as a whole. I want to see how much you raise from special events, individual donations, corporate sponsorships, government sources, fee-for-service income, etc. If you have a formal development plan, you should cull information from it to use in this section. I do not just want to hear about grants here (although you should highlight that stream as well). Give reviewers a full picture of how you fund your work.

Help foundations want to invest in your work by focusing on the fundamentals. When your organization is grant ready, it will have the capacity, credibility, evidence, and sustainability that will compel grant makers to give.

On Thursday, April 17, Heather will present “Grant Writing for Beginners” at the NEW Center in Ann Arbor.  Click here for details.

 

How Do We Remove A Disruptive Nonprofit Board Member?

Written by Diana Kern, NEW’s Vice President of Programs

We frequently get calls from a frustrated officer of a nonprofit board or a CEO that wants to know “how to get rid of a disruptive board member.” What constituents being disruptive? This can include obvious things like rude or abusive behavior and foul language. But it can also include someone that refuses to relinquish the floor for others to speak, someone that continues to grand-stand on topics, or displays argumentative body language on a consistent basis. Board work is group work and not for people with unchecked ego’s, personal agendas or those that consistently demonstrate a sense of entitlement or inappropriate group behavior.

Boards that ignore disruptive members are damaging the effectiveness of the nonprofit and hurting sustainability and board development. By allowing someone to hijack the meetings your good board members will stop talking to avoid confrontation and will eventually withdraw to the point of quitting.

So, what should the board officers do? First, you need to refer to your bylaws and articles of incorporation to see what you are authorized to do to remove a board member under these documents. These are your legal governing documents and must be followed. Normally when we get the call and ask the question…“what do your bylaws say?”…no one has consulted them, or they are mute on the topic. Each state has legal precedence on this topic so if your bylaws are mute you must seek legal advice from an attorney with nonprofit experience.

Find out how many other board members are concerned about the behavior/issue. If one person is, usually many more are bothered as well but have not spoken up. The board chair should seek them out in private.

For Nonprofits in Michigan we suggest the following steps:

Step One – Talk to the Person
Start with a one-on-one discussion with the disruptive member. This conversation should occur with the chairperson/president of the board, not the chief executive of the nonprofit. Since it is not appropriate to allow conversations behind the volunteer board members back about their behavior the chair needs to jump on this as soon as concerns arise. Outline the concerns and inform the person that multiple people are concerned but DO NOT provide the names of other board members. Give them corrective steps they need to take and by when in order to avoid further issues with the productivity and trust of the board. Remind the individual that board work is group work. They agreed to this when they were elected and group dynamics and norms must be followed to ensure productivity and full engagement of all board members without fear of intimidation or in-fighting.

The Board Chair needs to explain that the peer group expects cooperation in behaving correctly and should the issue persist the board may vote to remove them from the board of directors pursuant to the bylaws and/or the State of Michigan precedence for volunteer board member removal. Tell them this will be the only conversation that will occur.

If the issue persists, the board chair should move to step two.

Step Two – Check In with Others Before Holding a Vote for Removal
If the person does not correct the disruptive behavior the Board Chair should talk with the other officers on the board to seek their input in the matter. If the officers agree that action should be taken to remove the board member the officers should inform the board member in question that they feel the behavior is indeed continuing and is counterproductive to the norms of the peer group and is undermining productivity. Ask the person in question to issue their own resignation from the board.

If the individual refuses to resign let them know that the officers will seek a vote for removal in executive session at the next meeting. Ask the person in question to honor all board members privacy and to avoid contacting other board members before the meeting. Let the individual know that the floor will be open to all at the meeting but discussion outside the meeting should not occur. This issue should in no way damage the mission or reputation of the nonprofit. Donors and staff should not be called.

Step Three – Consult the Bylaws for Removal Guidelines
If you have removal steps in your bylaws follow them.

Step Four – Do Not Start Paper Trails or Delay Action
Do not delay action and do not start paper trails or offer extended timelines for correction. Nonprofit boards are made up volunteers. There is no implied contract with a volunteer board member. At this stage if you think you might have an explosive situation with the individual you seek to remove consider contacting a human resources attorney with nonprofit board experience in your area for advice. A problem should not be swept under the rug or ignored. Remember The Second Mile nonprofit.

Step Five – Board Chair Puts Action on Board Meeting Agenda in Executive Session
Since you have indicated to the board member in question that you intend to vote and take action in the next meeting you should begin the meeting with an executive session.

The Board Chair will state simply and without malice the reason for the action and that the officers asked for a voluntary resignation which was not provided. An officer should make a motion up front. “I would like to make a motion to remove Mr. Smith from volunteer service on this board.” The board chair will ask for a second. Another officer should second the motion. The board chair will ask for any discussion on the matter. DO NOT let the discussion linger. Put a time limit on the discussion. Then call for the vote.

With most bylaws, via a majority vote of those in the room, if quorum has been met, the trustee is removed immediately from the board and asked to leave the room.

Ensure appropriate measures have been taken in advance if you expect any type of inappropriate or threatening behavior up to and including having security personal present.

NEW is not legal council and every situation is different. If at all concerned about your situation, contact an attorney to represent the nonprofit board in the matter.   Please reference the State of Michigan Corporation Act.

A NEW Way of Doing Things

Written by Robb Drzewicki

Have you ever had one of those moments where you realize that you were doing exactly what you were supposed to be doing?  I did on January 29th.  NEW was hosting a seminar/workshop called “ Starting a Nonprofit Organization.”  I decided it would be a good time to drop in and get a glimpse of a new program at NEW.  More importantly, I wanted to be there to see Kidada Malloy impart her wisdom on a room full of aspiring nonprofit entrepreneurs.  It wasn’t until I actually walked out of the seminar that I realized what was so great about it and learned the real lesson of the day:  Everybody needs help.  Nobody is an expert in everything. None of my nonprofit endeavors would be successful without the teams that serve as their foundation. More importantly, NEW wouldn’t be able to teach people without the help of the very people we’re hoping to reach.

Most seminars that you go to, especially those that focus on initial questions and basic information, are just a three hour crock pot of word soup.  An individual that is considered an expert of some sort regurgitates dense information while a silent audience stares blankly.  The audience walks out thinking they know something.  They don’t.  The staff walks away thinking they’ve inspired someone.  They didn’t.  This seminar was not that way.  It was full of energy, excitement, and brilliance from all directions.

It’s only fair for me to list off a few of the reasons this seminar was different from others.  In fact, it’s what I do here at NEW.

Energy – Chances are, you start your day off with a pick-me-up of some sort.  Whether it’s a cup of coffee, a jog, or an amazing rendition of “Good Day, Sunshine” in your shower, you need to pep yourself up in the morning.  Kidada has buckets of it and she freely hands it out to her audience.  There’s a certain type of snowball effect when your presenter starts with a bang.  Everybody has that extra bit of pep necessary to fuel the conversation.

Conversation – It’s tough to hold a one on one conversation with 18 people.  It’s incredibly difficult.  It’s actually impossible.  However, there certainly are ways to get the ball rolling in that direction from the beginning.  Rarely seen in these types of seminars, our fearless presenter began with introductions of each and every participant.  Ice was broken and we found out that everybody came from varying levels of experience and inspiration.  This initial ice breaker allowed for the free flow of ideas and showed a distinct lack of something… ego.

Lack of Ego – Whether we like it or not, we all think we’re some sort of expert on one topic or another.  The beauty of this seminar is how much it seemed like more of a workshop.  The best part of the event itself was that the person leading it never once thought that they were the de facto answer on anything.  An extra cherry on top of this event was that there were so many people in it to help with answers to some of the more specialized questions.  The second Kidada realized that she doesn’t have a precise answer to an audience question (a situation that was fairly rare), a member of the audience would often pipe in with their personal experience.  For the supremely difficult or unique questions, NEW’s VP of Programs, Diana Kern, was there with the kind of insight only years of experience on nonprofits boards could offer.  For those who were just interested in what it takes to start and run a nonprofit, the treat of the day was the guest speaker.

The X Factor – Normally it would be difficult to cap off this wonderful seminar with a bang.  However, Kidada really took into account what the attendees were interested in finding out.  Every one of the people in that group, at some varied level of knowledge, experience, and research, wanted to know what it actually took to form their own nonprofit and grow it into sustainability.  They got a perfect example in Anise Hayes of Atlantic Impact.  Anise, with help from NEW and her amazing board is a perfect exemplar of what it actually takes to see success in an endeavor.  To be able to start the morning with dense information and work your way up to asking the most important questions by noon, is a feat one rarely achieves.  The perfect ending to a perfect seminar.

We’re not just a bunch of companies out for ourselves, we’re a community of non-profits.  NEW sees it as a major part of the mission to help foster these relationships, impart our expertise, and help the community grow and thrive.

 

Bad Dancing Can Lead to Great Nonprofit Management

By Robb Drzewicki

About three years ago, I attended a friend’s wedding.  It was beautifully executed from the ceremony to the hot cider and doughnuts at the end of the night.  My dance moves that night were slightly less than perfect.  At one point during the night a certain part of my genetics kicked in.  Specifically, the “trick” knee my mother’s side of the family is famous for (famous in certain circles of Orthopedic doctors).  Suddenly, my patella was on the side of my leg instead of where it would normally be found.  It was painful and mildly embarrassing, but ended up being the beginning of one of the most important lessons of my life.

 

My left leg was completely immobilized.  Per my doctor’s instructions, I was made to wear one of those leg braces that extends from the middle of the thigh and proceeds down to the ankle.  The pain was nominal.  It was incredibly inconvenient and, by my estimate, dangerous.  I was a stay-at-home Dad in a two floor condo with a 6 month old to take care of.  Getting up the stairs for bed time and nap time was a feat.  It was tough enough walking or navigating stairs as it was, but now, I had to do it with 20 pounds of wiggling and giggling joy in my arms.  Every time my son Jackson would wiggle on our way down the stairs I’d have a mild panic attack.  I can’t tell you how many times I pictured  Jackson and I tumbling down the stairs into a pile of arms, legs, and tiny little 6 month old baby fingers.

 

Both the master bedroom and my son’s nursery were on the second floor of the house, but the kitchen, play area, and TV were all on the main floor.  I resolved that if I was going to climb my condominium’s version of Everest, I was going to have to climb it as rarely as was possible.  There would be a purpose to each and every step I took.  I won’t go into the details of how I made every trip count, but I think I can offer the moral of the story and let you imagine the rest.  And, I haven’t even bothered turning this into a nonprofit analogy yet.znonprofit

 

Every action needs to have a plan and a purpose.  Don’t waste time on actions that won’t move you toward your final goal.

 

The goal of a nonprofit is simple.  It’s stated clearly in your mission.  Whether you’re trying to wipe out world hunger or provide scholarships for the children of recent immigrants, you’ve got a well-defined mission.  You’ve also got a good idea of where you are now.  The tough part is getting from where you are to where you need to be effectively and efficiently.  At NEW we see hundreds of great missions every year.  What we don’t always see is a well thought out plan to achieve these mission.

 

Let’s turn my pain into your purpose.  Here are a few things I’ve held on to after my endeavor:

 

  • Develop a long-term business plan.  Adding a marketing plan is nice too.  Including a specific development plan is even better (NEW can help)!
  • Take a few minutes to plan at the beginning of your day/week/year and an hour/day/month at the end of the year.  These plans need to have specific short and long term goals, and they need to link directly to your mission.
  • Set realistic goals.  I get it.  You’re going to cure diabetes someday, but what are you doing this year?
  • Reassess your goals as often as possible (at least every year).  This will let leadership, staff, and donors know how you’re doing and reaffirm the mission in the team’s mind.

 

I spend my days on a mission to raise two sons.  It’s easy for me to focus on the daily grind of changing diapers and making peanut butter sandwiches.  In the end, this daily grind reminds me of the bigger picture.  Keep this idea with you the next time you’re collating a presentation binder or stuffing envelopes with flyers – Every action , big or small, is a step toward your final goal.

 

NEW Resolutions

You did it again.  You ate and drank yourself into a frenzy over the holidays.  From Thanksgiving, through Christmas, and until midnight on December 31st, you binged on family fun, the spirit of giving, and probably more wine and food than one person should ever ingest.  You ended the year with a bang and started 2014 with a two-month hangover, 15 extra pounds, and a heaping helping of self-loathing.  Fear not, a new year means a new you, right?  A new lease on life is just what you need.

We know two things about resolutions.  One, they are made for good reasons.  Two, they are broken for silly reasons.  Let’s stop this cycle, for ourselves and (because this is a nonprofit blog) for our nonprofits.   We hope these little tips can help you with both your personal and professional resolutions.

 

  1. The Mission:  Don’t forget what your mission is.  If you’re trying to lose weight or quit smoking, your real resolution is to get healthy.  If you’re trying to raise money for cancer research, your real resolution is to cure cancer.  Don’t get stuck on the minutia of your daily work grind.  Everyone knows that diets don’t work in the long run, only an actual lifestyle change will.  This year, figure out how you’re going to change your nonprofit’s lifestyle.  First step, check egos at the door and put the mission right up front.  It’s a great time of year to remind yourself and your team that they’re not just an administrator, director, and CEO.  They’re people working toward a common goal for the common good.
  2. Dreaming:  I get it.  You read The Secret.  You believe it before you see it.  You’ve set your subconscious mind on the task and you’re looking for the universe to give you the nod.  That’s fine, but maybe you should put some work in too.  Dreaming is something you can always do.  Dream of your mission.  Think about it constantly, but you need to act on these dreams.  If your New Years resolution was to learn how to play an instrument, you’d be a failure if all you did was Google “learn to play…”  You’d only be a success if you went out and bought the instrument, got the lessons, and practiced until you were satisfied that you knew how to play.  In the nonprofit world, we tend to come up with 50 great ideas and act on 1.  This year, take one of your amazing ideas and make it happen.  Take action.  Put yourself out there and make a difference.  I guarantee that  initiative at work will make your career a bigger success than your amateur accordion playing ever will.
  3. Small Victories:  They say “don’t sweat the small stuff,” but I’m pretty sure that only applies to the “bad” small stuff.  You need to revel in your small victories.  Pride is a powerful force, and you can use it to your advantage.  My cousin decided she wanted to lose weight for her 2013 resolution.  She posted her losses on Facebook every week.  One pound or five, she was proud of each step she made (she’s now lost over 60 pounds).  Small victories add up.  It’s no different in your work life.  While you’re primary focus is on the horizon (see #1 The Mission), you need to be proud of every step you make in the process.  This goes for your victories as well as those of your colleague’s.  Nothing makes completion of a task better than some positive reinforcement from your peers.
  4. Auld Lang Syne:  If I were a betting man, I’d wager you butcher this song every year on December 31st.  If I were a smart betting man, I’d bet a trifecta of butchering it, not knowing how to spell it, and not knowing what it means.  No need to worry, most of the world sings it and has no idea why.  Auld Lang Syne roughly translates to “old times” and the acquaintances are what give the song its guts.  We sing it to remember that old acquaintances should not be forgotten.  We do this at the new year all the time.  We think about someone we rarely see and want to rekindle friendships that were formed long ago.  In our personal life it’s really easy to reach out.  We call, write, or message through social networks.  In our professional lives it’s much harder right?  Pssst, it’s not harder.  This January, reach out to those partners you’ve networked with over the years and reestablish your connections.

In closing, I’d like to point out that it doesn’t have to be January for you to change the way you’re doing things.  The change in our calendar reminds each of us that another year has gone by, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all make resolutions in April, July, or October.  Get out there and do something good for yourself and your organization today!

Happy New Year!

Written by Robb Drzewicki

Benefits of Serving on a Nonprofit Board – From A Nonprofit Board Member


Diana Kern, NEW's Vice President of Programs

I’ve gained valuable perspective and made business contacts that help me every day in my job, my nonprofit work and in my personal life.  There is no question that board service has had a positive impact on both my career trajectory and my personal development.

For professionals who want to use their skills and passion to make an impact on a nonprofit organization, there are fantastic benefits to serving on a board:

  • Builds your skill set:  Hone the skills you currently possess while serving on a board whether you work in marketing, human resources or finance, and learn new skills that you can add to your CV/Resume and LinkedIn profile.
  • Grows your network: Meet and collaborate with other passionate and talented professionals while serving on a board and make key contacts for the future.
  • Builds your brand and the nonprofit’s brand: Not only will your professional brand get a boost from serving as a board member, but you can build awareness and endorsements for that nonprofit through your participation.
  • Makes you feel good for doing good: Building social capital will give you that burst of professional and personal inspiration you may be looking for, and there is nothing better than the feeling that you can put your skills to good use.

If you are interested in joining a nonprofit board there are many ways to find service.   I want to suggest however, that you find a cause that you can be passionate about.  Board work is hard work in many cases.  Here are places to look for service:

Written by Diana Kern, NEW’s Vice President of Programs and Governance Goddess

Learn more about serving on a nonprofit board and what’s expected of board members.  Attend our “Serving on a Nonprofit Board Training” on Thursday, January 9 from 5-7 p.m. CLICK HERE to register.

What Should Nonprofits Really Be Thankful For This Year?

I was having a conversation with a “NEW” friend of mine last week.  She recently moved to Michigan from California and is just beginning to feel her first taste of a bitter Michigan winter.  Nestled in with her newfound hatred for temperatures below 50 degrees was a pinch of homesickness for her sunny home 2000 miles away.  I think this is something we’ve all grappled with from time to time.  Feeling miles away from our comfort zone and baffled slightly by the world around us.  To some, it’s a bummer.  To me, it’s a time for our evolutionary fitness to kick in!

The phrase most commonly associated with evolution is “survival of the fittest.”  This phrase has been used to spur competition and to explain winners and losers.  As nonprofits, our fitness lies in one magical word – resilience.

As nonprofits, we should be thankful for this resilience.  Why?

It’s simple.  We (the wonderful members of this club we call the nonprofit sector) are resilient!  Our development professionals are always searching for new ways to raise money in an ever changing fundraising climate.  Our legal teams are hit with new laws every time they turn around.  We lose a major donor and are forced to find two to replace it and we always do.  We do this all with skeletal staffs and budgets that make a lemonade stand look like a Fortune 500 company.

At many nonprofits, staff must be able to wear several hats, like the employee who manages the annual fund while simultaneously serving as the communications director; the accountant who can debug a computer; or the executive director who goes on coffee runs and happens to be the only one who knows how to unjam the copier.

This year, look around your office and be cognizant of the examples of resilience around you.  You’re going to go around your table at Thanksgiving this year announcing what you’re thankful for.  Why not do the same with your coworkers?  Before you clear out your e-mail on Wednesday, take a moment to tell your team how amazing and resilient they are.

Written by  Robb Drzewicki

 

Starting a Nonprofit Is Like Choosing a Halloween Costume

One of the awesome pumpkins carved during NEW's 5th Annual Family Pumpkin Carving night at the NEW Center

 

Every year, in late October, I torment myself. It’s two days before the big Halloween party and I’ve put off my costume until now. Sure, my wife and I talked about it. We even came up with a few ideas. We had plans as far back as September.  We just didn’t do anything about them. Over the last eight years, I think my wife and I were happy with one or two of our costumes. I’m guessing this is pretty universal. People love ideas, but don’t always take action on them.

The same can easily be said about starting a nonprofit. I’d be willing to bet that almost everyone has a great idea to make the world a better place.  We’ve each got a thought in our head that could help to inspire, educate or benefit humanity. We simply don’t all take action on them. In the spirit of the season, I’ve put together a few helpful ideas for both of these conundrums: “What should I be for Halloween?” And, “How can I change the world?”

1. Make Sure You’re Comfortable – First of all, no one wants to be dressed as a “sexy watermelon” when it’s 30 degrees and raining. Choose layers that allow you to go from the cold outdoors of trick or treating to the warm inside of a party. Plus, most adults now understand that putting “sexy” in front of something doesn’t automatically qualify it as a costume.
The same should be said about starting a nonprofit. Be comfortable in your mission. Make sure it’s something you’re really passionate about and be comfortable with the idea of success. Also, make sure to “layer” the ideas you have to raise funds and take action on your mission. Having a few different ways of completing your mission allows you to keep moving forward whether the economy is hot or cold.

2. Don’t Force Yourself to Explain It Constantly – My cousin showed up to this year’s party dressed as Frieda Kahlo. I’m a fan of Latin American feminist heroes and that unibrow certainly gives a big clue as to who it is. But, my cousin spent most of the party explaining that she wasn’t dressed as a Ukrainian hipster.
When a nonprofit calls itself a food bank or a cancer research foundation, you know exactly what you’re dealing with. Wear your mission on your sleeve and make sure it’s easy to explain to everyone you meet. In other words, keep it simple. People will respond better to a group they understand.

3. Don’t Get in Over Your Head – Someday soon, my son will want me to make him a fully functional Transformer costume. I’m crafty, but I’m not a special effects artist. I’ll do my best to put something together that he thinks is still “cool” but doesn’t cost me a quarter of a million dollars in CGI graphics. The trick is to ask what part of the costume he thinks is the best and work from there.
In the same way, we don’t necessarily want to claim our nonprofit mission to be “End World Hunger” or “World Peace”. While these can be part of the greater goal (like a Transformer), there is probably one aspect of the ultimate goal that you could focus on most effectively. Let’s try to facilitate world peace by educating on the topic of tolerance locally, hopefully expanding over time.

4. If You’re Going to Do Something Popular, Be Creative – Every Halloween party is likely to have a handful of mafia gangsters, pirates, and superheroes. The least you can do is modify your popular costume to make it a bit more unique. Are you a policeman or a 1970s TV detective? Are you a ghost or the ghost of Albert Einstein?
There are many nonprofits that try to help the poor and cure diseases. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for a few more. Just understand that if you’re going to do something similar to what another group already does, you need to set your creative bar higher. How do you help people or raise money that is markedly different from the rest of the pack? Do you ask for money to keep the homeless warm or do you have an army of expert quilters that repurpose old clothing into warm blankets?

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask the Experts – If you don’t know how to sew, ask a friend who does. No one will think less of you or your Marie Antoinette costume just because had help making it.
Groups like NEW (shameless plug) are a great source for information on how to start your own nonprofit. They’ve got access to all the information you’ll need and the experience necessary to make sure you’re set up for success. With an expert craftsperson by your side, no costume or mission statement is impossible.

6. You Can’t Always Do it on Your Own – Face it, you’re going to look pretty silly showing up to a party alone dressed as Colonel Mustard. Why not make a few calls and show up with Ms. Peacock and Professor Plum as well? You’ll see that your costume is better explained and multidimensional.

If you’re going to start a nonprofit, it would serve you well to have a coalition before you start filling out paperwork and hosting spaghetti dinners. Having an initial board of directors in place before incorporating will ensure a focused and properly thought out mission. It’s always a good idea to get a second or third set of eyes before finally getting down to business.
Most importantly, make sure not to keep putting it off. You’ll end up with a head full of ideas covered by a sheet. Good luck and have a Happy Halloween!

Written by  Robb Drzewicki

 

Nonprofits @ Work © 2010 All Rights Reserved.