Tag Archive: nonprofit


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.

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.

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

 

Welcome to the Hub

Kevin Sample - npServ Administrator

Walking into NEW’s npServ office, you’re met with the vision you’d expect to see in any IT department, an assortment of tools, computer parts and stacks of keyboards lining the shelves. What you may not realize is that this tiny office and the 4 incredible teammates within are not just the technological hub of NEW and the NEW Center, but of over 50 non-profit organizations. The difference between npServ and another outsourced IT service is simple. They’re a nonprofit too. They understand working on a shoestring budget while focusing on a mission rather than a profit goal. It shows in everything they do.
I was lucky enough to spend a morning with Justin Lunning (npServ’s director) and his team. I noticed a few things that were a bit different than your average IT company.

 

1. No Scripts – Admit it. You’ve called a help desk before. Your computer was on the fritz or your smartphone wasn’t working and you called an 800 number. You were met on the other end of the phone by a technician working off of a script. He or she was trained to use and run a pre-written list of diagnostic tests that led him or her (like a Choose Your Own Adventure book) to some semblance of an answer to your question. It took an hour to get your printer back online and print a report you needed for a meeting 45 minutes ago.

The npServ team doesn’t have a script. They have talented IT professionals that take a holistic approach to IT. “Your printer isn’t working? You need that report for a presentation in 15 minutes? Let’s reroute that document to another printer nearby. Grab it and get into your meeting. I should have your printer fixed by the time you’re done. Good luck and let me know how everything turns out.”
2. No Limits – Yes, there’s a specific set of things that NEW does. Sure, they focus on the basic day-to-day needs of clients, set up servers, and occasionally hold training sessions for non-profit staffers. With most organizations, that’s where the job would end. At npServ, that’s being a “C” student.

Justin and his team realize that they’re the technological life preserver for most of their clients. Most small non-profits can’t afford to pay a full-time IT professional. They may have volunteers and staff who are incredibly dedicated to this task and their mission, but lack the skills necessary to build a technology infrastructure or make important decisions on hardware and software purchases. npServ is always looking to expand their offerings/services with pilot programs ranging from web design to software development. In other words, the npServ team is the team you call when you realize that you have no idea what fundraising software you need and Consumer Reports doesn’t have a listing for Raisers Edge.

3. No Laziness – If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the phrase “that’s not my job”. While I was working with the team, I heard a great story about a non-profit moving from one office to another. The npServ team did something so outlandish that it requires repeating. They actually picked up things and moved them. Imagine that! In order to facilitate their job, the nonprofit’s mission, and the move itself, they physically moved objects from one place to another.

This may seem small and trivial, but it’s far from common. I’ve worked in a handful of corporate environments, and this is not the norm. It just shows the sort of care and personal touch that makes this team different from the others.

Written by Robb Drzewicki.

About Robb:  Robb is the most recent addition to the volunteer corps at NEW.  He’s a stay-at-home Dad with a degree in non-profit management who wants to spend what free time he has improving and expanding as many non-profits as possible.  Working with the team at NEW seemed like the best way to share his experience and enthusiasm with a wide range of non-profit missions.  His series of blogs will explore who NEW really is.  We hope a fresh set of eyes will help us explain the NEW mission to a new audience.

Put Persuasive Storytelling to Work for Your Nonprofit

Most successful communications products, both print and online, have something in common. They begin with a real story about a person or situation that motivates the reader to read on. And, just like a good novel, the story features interesting characters, a rich context and a compelling plot. Think “Anna Karenina,” not Danielle Steel.

Storytelling cuts through the mass of information surrounding us. So, instead of being bombarded with facts, names, figures, and other chunks of information that dull your prospect’s interest, a story lead makes what you’re trying to say seem personal and exciting.

For example, instead of promoting a two-year-old program (and promotion is the first step in fundraising) with a promise of being able to “provide art and music classes for 8,400 children in 450 Philadelphia elementary schools that currently offer none at all,” you can lead with a story like this: (NOTE: This is a fictional scenario.)

“In 2001, fifth-grader Arlene Sherman was one of the first elementary school students in her Philadelphia district to participate in the Art for All program. Arlene, who had never before had art or music classes in school, found that she loved to sing, and had a talent for it. After three years in the program, one of her middle school teachers took Arlene to an audition for a city-wide children’s choir, and she made the cut. After three years as the lead alto in the choir, Arlene is now the student choirmaster, and has started a choir in her own high school. Thanks to Art for All, Arlene now loves music, and has honed her singing talent. Even better, she’s spreading her passion, and her knowledge, with fellow students.”

When you use a story like this, you must tell the truth. Exceptions are stories that you clearly label as based on imagination by saying something like “Imagine ..”

Well-told stories (or case studies, which for promoting programs and services serve the same purpose) enable your nonprofit to communicate more effectively. Through compelling stories, you:

  • Sound experienced and expert.
  • Present your information in a way that makes people enjoy reading it and remember it more easily.
  • Avoid barriers of excess information.
  • Pull together many independent facts and figures into an easy-to-absorb whole.
  • Show (and not tell) your reader what you’re really delivering.
  • Make your message more manageable.
  • Give your audiences an easy way to understand (even visualize) and explain his participation decision (to volunteer, to give, to serve on the board).to himself and others.

There are nine elements to any good story, whether storytelling lead, novel, or movie. A good story:

  • Is relevant to your audiences. Know your audiences and what they care about. Choose an example, and craft the story, to focus on those passions.
  • Is usually about a person or people. We’re far more attracted to stories about people than stories about machines, ideas, strategies, or the like.
  • Carries an underlying message. The message in a storytelling lead is usually your promise or an idea that leads directly to your promise.
  • Is dense with detail. Details give stories (and promotions) a texture of credibility.
  • Is entertaining, and entertainingly written, as the story builds, and ultimately, surprises. A story about a kid in music class isn’t as exciting as Arlene’s success story. Evolution or adventure makes a good read.
  • Isn’t too long. Ever been to a movie that you felt ended two-thirds of the way through? You probably wanted to (and maybe did) walk out as the story dragged on. If you’re writing a storytelling lead, don’t make your audiences suffer the same way.

So when you’re shaping the messages for your next campaign, annual report, or service/program promotion, see what stories you can find and feature them in your copy. And, take one step further to fortify your stories with photos and testimonials if possible.

When you do, I think you’ll see what a difference a story can make, and find lots of applications for stories in your nonprofit’s communications.
——-

By Nancy E. Schwartz, Publisher – GettingAttention.org / President – Nancy Schwartz & Company -Published in  NEW’s February 2013 edition of  NewsNotes.   Schwartz helps nonprofits succeed through effective marketing. Nancy and her team provide marketing planning and implementation services to nonprofit organizations and foundations nationwide. She is the publisher of the Getting Attention e-update and blog. For more nonprofit marketing guidance like this, subscribe to her e-update.

What is Founder’s Syndrome and How Should Boards and the Founders Handle It?

A founder is a single individual or a small group of individuals, who bring an organization through tough times (e.g., a start-up, a growth spurt, a financial collapse). Often these sorts of situations require a strong passionate personality—someone who can make fast decisions and motivate people to action. Founders often invest significant time and money into the nonprofit. They are used to being very hands-on and drivers of programming and service delivery. But the question is how to move successfully past the founder stage? How can the stakeholders of an organization ensure sustainability of the nonprofit and the mission when the founder continues to play a role while the organization grows and changes?

Just like start-up for-profit businesses, nonprofits require flexibility as the needs for making decisions in the organization change. They need to implement mechanisms for shared responsibility and authority. It is when those decision-making mechanisms do not change while the organization grows that “Founder’s Syndrome” becomes an issue. We see this most frequently with organizations that have grown from a mom-and-pop operation to a $2-10 million community powerhouse, and decisions are still made as if the founders were gathered around someone’s living room. Founder’s Syndrome isn’t necessarily about the actual founder of an organization. The central figure could be the person who took over from the founder. It could be someone who took over in a time of crisis, and led the organization to clear waters. It could be a demonstrative board member there from the beginning who does not recognize the need for changing roles. Or, it could just be someone who has been at the helm forever. It could the person that “birthed” the nonprofit and holds tremendous passion for the mission and possibly has significant personal and financial investment. In other words it could the person to whom everyone seems to defer to out of respect or because this person still holds the purse strings.

Regardless, it is very important for individuals in leadership roles to understand this place in the nonprofit’s lifecycle and lead it to sustainable governance.

What Founder’s Syndrome Could Look Like

Founder’s syndrome decisions often are not made strategically. Usually decisions are simply made by the “Founder.” All other parties merely rubber stamp what the founder suggests. There is generally strong resistance to any change in decision-making, where the Founder might lose his/her total control of the organization. Boards of these organizations usually do not govern, rather they “approve” what the founder suggests. Planning is not done collectively, but by the founder. And plans/ideas that do NOT come from the founder usually do not go very far. In other words, regardless of the size of the organization, everyone who is NOT the Founder is relegated to the role of support staff to the Founder. (If you ever hear a board say, “Our board’s role is just to support the CEO,” that is one of many classic signals that Founder’s Syndrome is likely at play.)

Some may ask, “So what’s wrong with that?” And the answer is simple: If the “Founder” is hit by a meteor tomorrow, the organization is not sustainable, and all the good work the organization has done over the years is in danger of screeching to a halt. This threat occurs because organizations facing Founder’s Syndrome usually have little infrastructure in place because it simply has not been needed. In these situations, the founder IS the infrastructure!

What Founders Need to Know

Once you have birthed it, it is no longer your baby. Just as it is with our own children, once they are born, they are their own people. We can guide our children, teach them, nurture them—but our son or daughter is a person in his/her own right. The same goes for “our” organization. It’s not ours. It is its own thing. We don’t own it. In fact, legally, a 501C3 is owned by the stakeholders.

Once you give a gift, it’s no longer yours. You have created this amazing gift for your community. Now that it is used and depended upon by others—now that you have given this gift to the community, it is no longer yours. It belongs to the community. That’s the definition of a gift.

From these two facts—that the organization is a being in its own right, and that that being belongs to the community, not the founding member—come a number of other facts many founders may hesitate to face.

    1. Along with the decision to bring a child into the world comes the responsibility to raise it to live independently. We all know the old adage “nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Well, the part we do not like to admit to ourselves is that there is another certainty associated with the “death” part—and that is that none of us knows exactly when our day will come. Because we know we are not going to live forever, and we cannot know if our last day will be tomorrow or 50 years from now, it is irresponsible to run our organizations as if we will, in fact, be around forever. It is simply not fair to the organization, or to those who benefit from the work we do. The only responsible approach, therefore, is to raise this child to NOT need us.

 

    1. The world doesn’t owe you anything for having founded your organization. We gave up our lives to create the organization we founded. We went without sleep, sweated, cried and bled for this organization, and in some cases, even went into debt. But the sad truth is that nobody owes us anything for doing that. We did it because we cared. Regardless of which metaphor you use—that of having a child, or that of giving a gift—neither of them provides for a payback. Our “payback” in having children is in seeing them grow and take on the world on their own. And our “payback” for giving a gift is in seeing how happy the recipient is to use that gift, hopefully for a long, long time.

 

    1. It’s not about you. Harsh, but true. It is hard sometimes to acknowledge that regardless of how much we put into nurturing the organization we founded, in the long run, none of that really matters. It is not about our emotional needs—regardless of what those are. It is not about what we have sacrificed to make it all work, or the recognition and gratitude we think we should get. It is about the community—which is why we created this gift in the first place. If we have not prepared the organization to survive (and dare I say thrive?) without our presence and we cannot even think of leaving, as the organization would crumble without us, then we have somehow made it about us, rather than about the community.

 

  1. Your vision isn’t nearly as important as the organization’s vision and the community’s vision. Yes, it was our vision that founded the organization in the first place. But as the organization grows and matures, that vision may not be all there is. The ability for the organization to dramatically affect the community may be far larger than the vision we had when we first opened the doors. Doing things the way they have always been done, and thinking the way things have always been thought is not necessarily the best thing for the organization, nor for the community it serves. It is simply what WE would do. So if we fear the vision would change if we weren’t there, perhaps it’s time to let it evolve while we are still present. In the first year after birth it is time to revisit the mission and the vision. What does the community want from us and what is missing in the community as it pertains to the importance of the work?

So What is a Founder To Do?

First, if you are the founder of a brand new organization and you are just starting out, build it right. Build it to be sustainable for the future. Build it as if you won’t be there to see it through its life. Think about the future while you are creating the organization’s present.

If, however, the organization is an older one, and it and you have become inextricably entwined, then there is work to be done. Some of that work is organizational. Some is personal.

Let’s start with the personal side:

    1. Acknowledge that some day, the split will happen. The only way to ensure that your legacy is an organization that serves the community long after you are gone is to acknowledge, right now, that you cannot be there forever—and that you never know when that “forever” will occur. Take that to heart and be conscious of it as you plan for your organization’s future, and you will likely put the needed tools in place to survive you. If however you keep a sense of entitlement or make others around you think you deserve entitlement as the founder, then you will have trust problems and you will risk the organizational health of the nonprofit. Do not surround yourself with “yes” people. You need workers and you need people who will debate openly with you for the good of the organization.

 

  1. Get help. Find a professional coach who can help you work out the personal aspects of your eventual separation from the organization, even if you are not going anywhere but are just thinking about ensuring the organization is ready in the event you do. This is especially important for those of you who do not believe you have Founder’s Syndrome, but have heard it whispered.

On the organizational side:

    1. A healthy organization starts with a healthy board. Whether you are a board member or the CEO, if the board as a whole is depending on you for everything from the organization’s vision to the connection to the community, then it is time to begin developing, training and restructuring your board to lead the organization. This will likely take some very strategic recruiting efforts as well—because there is a good chance many of the existing board members were hand-picked by you! (That’s all part of the syndrome.) If the organization is to thrive into the next decade and further, the board will have to understand its role at the top of the organizational chart, and it will have to be populated by people who want to do that job. It is time to really look at governance structures that will allow for sustainability.

 

    1. Codify the vision and values that are at the heart of the organization. Create a working credo that will guide both the board’s future decisions and those made by the staff. There is nothing to say that the credo won’t evolve over time– it likely will. But the core of what is important will remain, and that will be another part of your legacy. Do not disregard the importance of organizational values.

 

    1. Create a succession plan that proactively deals with all the things you (or the board) fear might happen when you leave.
      • Are they afraid that you have been the link to the community, the public image of the organization? Then determine a way to proactively deal with that—perhaps creating a speakers bureau or PR committee.
      • Are they afraid that most of the institutional memory of the organization resides inside your head? Then find a way to proactively deal with that—perhaps by committing that knowledge to paper or video.
      • Are they afraid that you have been the best fundraiser they could dream of? Then find a proactive way to deal with that—perhaps by developing an army of development volunteers with a passion for the mission or a board that understands that 50% of their role will be ambassadorship and fundraising.

      Whatever the fear, make sure your succession plan deals with it proactively to ensure the viability of the organization for the long term. While the main focus of this plan will be succession, the ancillary benefit is that you will be building organizational infrastructure. And that will provide benefit immediately.

 

    1. As part of your succession plan, train someone now who could replace you, even temporarily, in the event something happens to you. This doesn’t mean you are going anywhere soon. You may not be leaving for another 10 years! But if the whole organization relies on you for its survival, and you really are hit by a meteor tomorrow, then what will happen? Find someone you can share your institutional knowledge with, and train them to share the load now, while you still can.

 

  1. When you leave, do not plan to stay on the board of directors. If you move to a governing role on the board, the new CEO/Executive Director will never be able to get out from under your shadow and you run the risk that board members and others will continue to defer to you. You should move out of the way and let the new culture be created.

Conclusion

All nonprofits have a “start-up” phase. If you are in it now and you are reading this article, then you can start to build sustainability with a clear understanding of “Founders Syndrome” and all of the components it entails. For the beginning leadership group, do not rush the process; make sure to embrace achieving clarity of mission, vision, governance structures and norms. Yes, they will change over time, but just like children need to go to school to learn, nonprofit founders and boards need to adapt to change, while learning about best practices for sustainability and high impact.

 

Written by Diana Kern, NEW’s Vice President of Programs, for the December edition of NEW’s Notes.  Diana has a commitment to board governance and strong nonprofits.  She is considered an expert in nonprofit board dynamics and governance.

Check out other stories in this month’s NEW’s Notes here.

Apropos to this week’s National Volunteer Week 2011, and our most recent Spring Into Service event, this week’s blog will cover the topic of volunteer engagement and its contribution to the success of your organization. 

A volunteer is defined as a person who voluntarily expresses a willingness to undertake a service.  In the nonprofit world, recruiting, retaining and managing volunteers is a challenge but volunteers are a great resource that.  If implemented correctly, your volunteer engagement program can create success and will also build a network of supporters promoting the work that your organization does. 

Who Are They, These Kind, Giving, Community-Member-Volunteers?

Community members that voluntarily give assistance to your organization will represent a variety of characteristics (age, orientation to your organization, professional career/specialty), but they will be similar in that they all made the decision to take time to help your organization succeed in the work that you do.  Here are a few different examples of types of volunteers you might hear from or see at your volunteer events:

1)    The Community Volunteer: this volunteer is someone (or a group of someones) who come to support your organization at larger, volunteer-based community events—theater production, meal event, race, building renovation projects such as painting or organizing offices, classrooms or libraries, etc.  They might have found you through community bulletin boards or through an online search Like United Way’s Volunteer Solutions site.  These volunteers can be one-time volunteers or you might see them often.  Both are a consistent contributor to the success of your events in the short term, and to the success of your organization in the long term.

2)    The Long Term Volunteer: this volunteer is someone who has the desire to commit his or her help to your organization for an extended amount of time.  Often this volunteer will be assigned a project like database management, file organization, and other organization-specific projects.  These projects are created by the organization and the volunteer together making sure to have shared goals and expectations.

3)    Your Board! Your board members in particular are the ambassadors of your organization’s mission and vision and serve the purpose of propelling you and your organization towards all the success and recognition that it deserves.  It is important to note that the type of volunteering that board members do for your organization will depend on the age and maturity of your organization, your organization’s internal processes, staff size and mutual expectations between the board and your Executive Director.

Of course, all of your volunteers are ambassadors to your organization and this is extremely important to note as we move into the next section.

A Guide to Working With Volunteers

Above all and any guidelines to utilize when considering incorporating volunteers into your organization’s next fundraiser/5K/dinner event/community speaker/forum/roundtable etc, know this above all else: volunteers are not free help.  There is a structure that must be built around your volunteer engagement program(s) to ensure that both your organization and your volunteers are content with the work being done and the relationships being established.

1)    Empower Your Volunteers: HandsOn Network has tons of resources for developing volunteer programs for your organization that ensures consistency in the interaction between organization staff and volunteer community.  Enabling volunteers to do the volunteer work without too much micro-management is best.  An event that is staffed by volunteers needs to be properly planned to the point where volunteers can feel empowered to do what is asked of them independently (of course, there will always be questions and there must be staff available for this purpose).  Additionally, it is always a good idea to identify volunteers that are consistently helpful, independent, focused and committed to the work that is being done through your nonprofit.  These volunteers can be encouraged to take on a leadership role for future events, and might even have insight on how to run volunteer programs for your organization. 

HandsOn Network has a publication for developing volunteer leaders that can be used as an aid in this process of empowering your volunteers. 

2)    Thank Your Volunteers: This is an integral piece of volunteer program coordination at all levels of volunteer management.  Always keep a record of volunteers who worked at your event or who gave their time to your organization in any way.  Thank yous can be as simple as a card or even an e-mail, and can be as extravagant as a gift bag (gift certificates, t-shirts, mugs, etc.) dependent on the event, your budget, and your volunteer population.

Follow these guidelines, and your volunteer community will increase and recruiting and retaining volunteers will become a more simple and directed process that will lead to a broader community understanding of your organization’s mission, vision and purpose.

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Ilana Schuman-Stoler is an employee at Nonprofit Enterprise at Work at our Ann Arbor office as a Program Assistant.  Feel free to contact Ilana regarding any of the advice, tools or service mentioned in this post by email at ilana@new.org or via phone at 734-998-0160 ext. 221

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Last week we read about lifelong donors and the importance of cultivating such a donor base.  This week, we continue the conversation with resident resource specialist, Ann Gladwin about relationships and the secret to building them:

The Story

I had a nice chat with Marshall Howard the other day.  His book “Let’s Have Lunch Together” has been instrumental in my take on fundraising–though Mr. Howard still had to set me straight about the story.   The story is me, not the mission of the organization. That’s hard for most of us to grasp; we want to extol the virtues of our nonprofit’s impact on the community:  Look at the great strides we’re making… the number of people served!  According to Mr. Howard, this ‘story’ might rate a 6 out of 10–what about the remaining 4? 

I started to understand that it’s my relationship to the person I’m asking for support that is crucial.  Do they connect with the mission?  Perhaps, but it’s the fact that I asked them that is important.  And they are responding to me; I can ask a stranger for a donation to my cause, but I’m not likely to get results no matter for what I’m asking.  Ask someone I know for support?  Much more likely. 

Wow – that’s powerful!

Real Life Example

Mark Zuckerberg’s gift to Newark, New Jersey public schools serves as a real life example for this theory.   

Mr. Zuckerberg, 26, who grew up in Westchester County and now lives in California, has no particular connection to Newark. But in July, he and Mr. Booker met at a conference and began a continuing conversation about the mayor’s plans for the city, according to people familiar with their relationship.

From The New York Times

There’s that key word again, relationship.  I would treat it as a synonym for success.  

Get Connected

Another proponent of relationship building is Terry Axelrod, founder of Benevon (and guest writer on our blog last week).  She will present a Get Connected workshop for NEW in Detroit on Wednesday, April 27 (9am-10:30am).  This “Relationship Building for Fundraising” is yours to attend for free.  Sign up today!

Also visit Marshall Howard.com to find a multitude of free resources, including his blog. Get a fresh look at a tried and true method for bringing people into your organization.   

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Ann Gladwin is Resource Specialist for Nonprofit Enterprise at Work at our Ann Arbor office.  Feel free to contact Ann regarding any of the advice, tools or service mentioned in this post by email at agladwin@new.org or via phone at 734-998-0160 ext. 218.

You can contact Ann with questions on any aspect of nonprofit management.  Call for an appointment to use the Foundation Directory Online at either the Ann Arbor or Detroit office of NEW.

About NEW
NEW’s mission is to help nonprofits succeed by strengthening nonprofit management and offering solutions to issues facing our nonprofit community.

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By Diana Kern, Vice President of NEW

My favorite line in the nonprofit world is, “If you’ve seen one nonprofit board, you’ve seen one nonprofit board.”  Having served on many nonprofit boards and working with over 50 boards a year in southeast Michigan I see a lot of variations.  Depending on the mission, the board chair, the revenue situation, the strength of the board’s committees and many other assorted factors, I witness effective and productive boards, unengaged and completely detached boards, and all types in between.

 

Boards that stand out for me are ones that:

  • Have board chairs that create cultures of accountability (meeting attendance, committee work, returning emails, etc.)
  • Have passion for the mission
  • Partner with their top executive and think about ways to relieve pressure from that person
  • Make a meaningful, unrestricted annual donation
  • Are real ambassadors for the services, programs and mission of the nonprofit in their personal spheres of influence
  • Focus on their own productivity, succession and ability to affect mission accomplishment
  • Embrace training and education

What Area Executive Directors Say

In 2009 I engaged in an informal survey of executive directors in southeast Michigan.  I asked them, “Besides fundraising, what is the most important thing you need from your board members today.” Keeping in mind this was at the height of the recession and all of executive directors I spoke to wanted boards that would embrace fundraising, what I heard was really interesting.

 

They ranked their top three needs in the following order:

  • Passion for the mission
  • Be engaged (come to meetings, read your board packet before you come, provide vision)
  • Be an ambassador

 

In some cases I had executive directors tell me in confidence that they work around their boards because they provide no real value to mission.   I also had executive directors that are burned out from having to lead their boards through every step.   Sadly, I had many tell me that many of their board members do not even make a personal annual gift to the nonprofit.

Board’s rank a C+

The BoardSource Nonprofit Governance Index 2010, a survey of approximately 1,750 nonprofits from across the country, reported that chief executives give their boards a C+ on overall performance.  I don’t know about you, but if I ever came home with a C+ I would have had to spend evenings and weekends hitting the books!  Where did board members get the most failing grades?   They got poor marks for commitment, engagement and attendance, being ambassadors in the community, engaging in their own self-assessments, recruiting their own peers (building succession for the board) and of course, fundraising.  Interestingly, this national study mirrored my informal responses from southeast Michigan.

[The full report can be downloaded here ]

If you think about it, many of us have professions that require continuing education classes annually so we can continue to be at the top of our games.  However, to be a nonprofit board member you can just move from one board to the next, year after year, with no training.  You might have no idea what it means to be a good board member, what the best practices are today for boards or what the IRS and others are suggesting supports quality governance and transparency yet you could be responsible for oversight of thousands or millions of donor dollars.

 

Board Members Ask Yourself a Question

As a board member myself, I try to focus on how I can add value.   How do I add value to the board and how do I add value to the executive director?  Showing up to a meeting once a month, signing a conflict of interest statement, and writing a $100 check every year is not the behavior of quality board member in my opinion.    I also focus on avoiding micromanaging but I embrace my role as gatekeeper of the mission with the oversight requirements necessary.

 

The BoardSource Index also reported that 70% of nonprofit boards now have term limits.  I am a firm believer in terms limits, but that is a story for an entire other blog on another day.   However, when I join a board and I know that I have six years maximum to provide service I ask my self this question. “When I leave this board in six years can I leave knowing I left the nonprofit and board in a better position than when I got there?”  If I can’t, I think long and hard about accepting the volunteer role.   Being a board member today involves some heavy lifting if you take the role seriously.

 

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Diana Kern is the Vice President at Nonprofit Enterprise at Work.  Diana received the Randolph W. White Memorial Award for Community Service in 2003 for her dedication to ser ving the housing community and she is a certified trainer with the Institute of Real Estate Management.   Feel free to contact Diana regarding any of the advice, tools or services mentioned in this post by email at dkern@new.org or via phone at 734-998-0160 extension 230

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NEW’s mission is to help nonprofits succeed by strengthening nonprofit management and offering solutions to issues facing our nonprofit community.

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We Our Tenant Community!

Love at first sight

The NEW Center in Ann Arbor is located just outside of town, on a beautiful stretch of the Huron River. Our office looks out at running paths, train tracks and is proudly perched on the entryway to the city of Ann Arbor from M-14.  Once a junkyard (see pictures below), the land was re-purposed in 1993 and dedicated to the nonprofit sector by the McKinley Foundation.  Originally, the idea was to have a large building serve as an incubator for nonprofits to build their base and funding and to move on from there to other office spaces or buildings in the area.  Nonprofit Enterprise at Work was identified to recruit local nonprofits to try working from the Center in a new office space-meets-community concept.

NEW (Nonprofit Enterprise at Work) began to develop a strong dedication to supporting the nonprofits in the building and their daily operations through this unique role.  With a shared kitchen and conference rooms, nonprofits decided to make The NEW Center their permanent home.  NEW’s capacities grew out of this role through the realization that not only is shared space good for resource sharing, but that the resources themselves—tailored computer networks, board development programs, resources for nonprofit management and other general nonprofit consulting services, were of great value to the community, and the NEW staff was excited about the prospect of doing this work with a larger scope.  Additionally, nonprofits enjoyed significant savings on things like utilities and other, sometimes unidentifiable amenities—like Artrain, a tenant since 1993, perched on the railroad track adjacent to our lot!

Multi-Tenant Nonprofit Centers (MTNCs)

The NEW Center was one of the first Multi-Tenant Nonprofit Centers, but we are not alone in what we do.  Multi-Tenant Nonprofit Centers (MTNCs) have been around since 2003, and serve to house multiple organizations and provide healthy, efficient, quality, mission-enhancing workspaces.  There are many shared space nonprofit centers around the country, from California where Tides offers space for nonprofits to “come together, share ideas and work to make their visions real,” to Boston where the The Nonprofit Center in Boston, “supports the needs of its tenants with high-quality on-site property management, building engineering, security, cleaning and recycling services.”  Other shared space centers around the country include Makom Hadash in New York and the Denver Shared Spaces Project and there is even a conference coming up in May, 2011 that features sessions on how to build capacity for such a space!

 

We LOVE Our Tenants

At the NEW Center in Ann Arbor, we currently provide space and support up to twenty organizations and we have a unique relationship with each one.  Our current tenants include:

The NEW Center is a hub for board meetings, trainings and is a technologically equipped office space.  Additionally, The NEW Center provides a hub for a variety of community events like Huron River Watershed Council’s annual River Roundup.  From services right in our backyard to helping our national and global communities, The NEW Center is always popping with people coming and going and we love to be party to and to support such a community.

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Ilana Schuman-Stoler is an employee at Nonprofit Enterprise at Work at our Ann Arbor office as a Program Assistant.  Feel free to contact Ilana regarding any of the advice, tools or service mentioned in this post by email at ilana@new.org or via phone at 734-998-0160 ext. 221

About NEW
NEW’s mission is to help nonprofits succeed by strengthening nonprofit management and offering solutions to issues facing our nonprofit community.

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