I don’t know about you, but my twitter feed has a heck of a lot of shoulds directed at nonprofits. It seems lots of folks have lots of certain advice to give nonprofits in this time of a global pandemic and economic shut down.
Me, I’ve never lived through a pandemic before. Well, not as an adult. Or at least lived through one that shut down huge portions of the US and world economies and ways of life.
I was born on the downside of the polio epidemic and remember getting both vaccines in elementary school. Read more
Did you know that only 16% of US adults qualify as an active visitor to cultural institutions? To be an active visitor, you just have to visit something once every two years.
By this definition, a cultural institution is a museum, historic site, nature center, zoo, aquarium, ballet, botanical garden, theatre or science center.
This data and the other data in this post comes via the amazingly informative Colleen Dillenschneider and her great marketing analytics website KYOB. I’m obsessed with this data and share it as frequently as I can. That’s why I’m sharing it with you as you may find a lot of valuable information there even if you aren’t running a cultural institution.
I share a lot of the characteristics of these active visitors… though not all.
Unfortunately, the active visitor does not reflect the diversity of our country. And, active visitors are dying off or aging out of in greater numbers than they are being replaced. Are you on the staff or board of a cultural institution? This data is mandatory reading. Read more
Just as I was getting ready to write this post about the need for more moral capital on your board, the higher education scandal broke in the US. Thirty-eight people taken into custody as of noon on March 12th in this bribery scheme.
It turns out that very wealthy folks from business and the media bribed administrators, coaches, test proctors and others to grease their kids into elite private colleges and universities. I guess their large direct donations weren’t enough?
Shamefully, this was done through Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF), a 501c3 public charity led by William “Rick” Singer who is pleading guilty to the charges against him.
According to its 2016 Form 990, KWF has just three directors: Singer as President and CEO, a Secretary, one other person. (The treasurer is not a director.) And, not only were the donors to KWF offering bribes for college placements, they were likely getting tax deductions for making those bribes through the nonprofit.
You need a philanthropic or moral compass in your organization — and most assuredly within the board. All your well-crafted bylaws, job descriptions, and list of expectations with references to ethics, the rule of law and conflict of interest won’t make up for directors or staff who lack a moral guiding light to do what is right.
People as capital
Talking about people as capital seems to be contrary to discussing your moral guiding light.
But I’ve previously pitched Professor Elizabeth Castillo and her typology of capitals. Using her list, you can begin valuing people beyond their own financial capital when you consider what you need in the way of the human capital you recruit to your board. This moves you beyond just recruiting directors who are wealthy donors and connectors to other money. It lets you value other assets that strengthen the board – e.g. intellectual, social, political, and cultural capital. And yes, moral capital.
And I don’t mean someone who can thread their way through the needle of what might or might not be ethical or legal. I want voices that are steadfast in defense of doing things the right way, with justice in their hearts, courageous enough to call out when something is bad, smells bad or just doesn’t feel right.
Unless our sector stands strong for honesty, truth and transparency, we risk the public’s trust — which has been on a downward slide for many years.
How much moral capital sits on your board?
When I’m working with boards of directors, one of the most requested changes is to help them set up a good process for recruiting new directors.
Process may be one of the most undervalued resources your organization possesses. Would you value good process more if you knew that it was truly a resource – or form of capital — available to strengthen your organization?
I may have spoken to you about my mad love affair with the work of Professor Elizabeth Castillo from Arizona State University. Professor Castillo is on a mission to have organizations begin to value all their forms of capital, not just the financial ones. And I’m one of her apostles.
We recently collaborated on a workshop for the Alliance for Nonprofit Management called Capacity building as capital building. The workshop introduced this idea of multiple forms of capital to consultants, and funders and researchers.
On the exhaustive list of 20 types of capital available to organizations that she has assembled, you’ll find this one: process.
What is capital and why is it valuable to your organization?
So what is capital and why are there so many different forms of it. One definition of capital is “any enduring asset capable of producing additional assets.” If you have money in the bank, you grow interest. Capital can accumulate.
Capital can also morph from one form to another. When you take that money in the bank and buy a building or van with it, you’ve converted it from financial capital to physical capital. Read more
At some point in every Batman comic book, tv show, or movie, Batman retires to the giant batcave under his mansion. And in his “Batcave” he refuels the Batmobile, he gets some food from Alfred the Butler, he uses the giant Batcomputer, maybe he runs some tests in the Batlabratory or synthesizes some antidote.
All of this leads to some massive revelation that refocuses the World’s Greatest Detective on the challenge presented to him in that issue/episode/film. It’s usually the breakthrough moment in the story. Everything else from that point on is Batman winning unreservedly.
No one in Gotham ever sees this. To them, Batman is the Caped Crusader running around at night responding to the Bat Signal and being a superhero. There’s no boring laboratory Batman, or Batman hunched in a desk chair flipping through databases. Batman is all action and impact, and the strategy and thought are invisible. They don’t see the most important part, they only see the outcome.
Why am I talking about Batman on a blog that’s meant largely for nonprofits and consultants?
We get into charity work to make the difference, to be heroes in our own way. There aren’t superheroes in real life, there’s only advocates and activists and dreamers. We see these people making their difference, and many of us jump in with both feet expecting to make the same difference. And many of us fail.
It’s because we don’t put the time into building our Batcaves. The part people see is only half the work. As much, if not more, time and resources go into the Batcave as the crime-fighting. If you want to be smart, if you want to be performing your mission for years to come, you need a database. An Alfred to fuel up the Batmobile. The place where you examine and reevaluate your strategy.
You need a Batcave.
Innovation and Scaling for Impact won the Terry McAdam Book Award in the fall of 2018.
The pair have been studying innovation for years. When asked by a large international foundation to help them assess the capacity of NGOs for continuous innovation, they had to ask why this is even a desired goal. We all find that funders and business leaders are pushing nonprofits to “innovate” more.
Not so fast, say Seelos and Mair.
Innovation is hard.
- Quoting James March from Stanford University: “Most new ideas are bad ideas.”
- If your NGO expects success immediately from innovation you are likely to be frustrated. But if learning is a key objective for your attempts at innovation, you will not fail.
- Innovation and scaling are not the same.
- It is not innovation that creates impact, but the scaling of the innovation.
- Understand how innovation is part of a long term strategy.
- Push back against funders that are too focused on quick fixes and too much innovation. Help funders understand organizational realities.
- Be a good scaler first.. stay close to the problem, fine tune it, prototype changes, assess them, keep looking for reasons why it might not work, keep your eyes open to unintended consequences, positive and negative.
Within any innovation process there are six types of uncertainties to pay attention to:
- Problem and context: Do you really understand your problem? Do you really understand the circumstances surrounding your problem?
- Solution: What resources and requirement are necessary to support any solution.
- Adoption: Will others take up the innovation?
- Consequence: What are the side effects? Are there unintended negative or positive consequences of the innovation?
- Identity: Perhaps the innovation is successful, but it distracts your organization from its core mission, from addressing the problem you were attempting to solve.
Try to clear the hurdles or pathologies of innovation to open possibilities in your organization:
- Never starting
- Managing too many bad ideas
- Stopping too early
- Stopping too late
- Insufficient exploitation, e.g. not scaling and learning from the scaling.
- Innovating again too soon.
While the examples are from South Asia, the book is worth a read for any nonprofit.
Thank you to the Nonprofit Support Program of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving for hosting a great workshop yesterday with Lindsay Bealko of Toolkit Consulting on the strategy of nonprofit technology.
I think it is safe to say that none of the consultants in the room needed a lot of convincing to recognize the impact of quickly shifting technology innovations on our clients. For smaller nonprofits, it’s always a challenge to keep up.
But Lindsay reminded us not to get caught in the maelstrom of products and approaches.
Focus on the strategy of your technology first! As Lindsay said, the “so what” of technology matters — and this slide quickly illustrates what the point of using technology should be.
Can you think of an area of nonprofit functioning where technology doesn’t enhance or hold you back? I’d include finance, fundraising, program delivery, measurement and evaluation, community engagement, communications both inside and outside of your organization, media relations, revenue collection, even governance.
We found Lindsay’s 3 level framework for investment extremely compelling:
- Start with your basic infrastructure. Does it work? Is it secure? Do you have ongoing investments needed to stay stable. Then,
- Integrate technology to enhance your service delivery. Then, if you have the bandwidth,
- Innovate. How can technology to create greater impact for your mission?
Beware our clients! We’ll be ramping up attention to technology in our strategic planning work. It’s always been included, especially as we do fundraising planning, but we are going to push you harder in this area of your strategy and planning.
Many kudos once again to NSP for not only hosting this workshop for consultants, but for providing nonprofits in the Greater Hartford area with the funding and technical consulting to assess their technology needs and develop strategic technology plans.
The Terry McAdam Book Award is given annually. It honors an innovative book that advances the field of non-profit capacity building. Books chosen for review have been published in the last two years, are not textbooks and are available commercially.
And the 2017 winner is:
Innovation and Scaling for Impact by Christian Seelos and Johanna Mair. Stanford University Press.
The authors examine these two concepts in more detail, making important distinctions between them.
Here’s what the review Committee said about this book:
“In their eye-opening book, Seelos and Mair bring clarity to the differences between innovation and scaling, as well as the relationship of one to the other. While still encouraging levels of appropriate risk, they argue persuasively that nonprofits should focus far more resources on scaling programs they know have positive outcomes than on innovating where uncertainty about outcomes could drain resources.
“The authors provide guidance and worksheets to help leaders determine where innovation is appropriate. They identify types and levels of uncertainty, and incorporate lessons learned. They also emphasize the importance of scaling successful innovations for the benefit of an organization’s constituents. While case studies focus on larger international NGOs, leaders of smaller and domestic nonprofits will also find this book valuable.”
Past winners have included some books you may know:
- The Sustainability Mindset: Using the Matrix Map to Make Strategic Decisions by Steve Zimmerman and Jeanne Bell
- Content Marketing for Nonprofits: A Communications Map for Engaging Your Community, Becoming a Favorite Cause, and Raising More Money by Kivi Leroux Miller
- Measuring the Networked Nonprofit: Using Data to Change the World by Beth Kanter and Katie Delahaye Paine
It was a privilege to serve on the committee. The choice of a winner was not easy as there were quite a number of valuable books. Over the next few weeks I’ll share a few other books you might want to put on your reading list.
Yes, the election left me gobsmacked.
But this is no time to act like a deer in the headlights. Hundreds in my community and across the US are already thinking and planning to prepare to act strategically.
You don’t have to be for or against the incoming administration to recognize that a lot is going to change.
As a board and strategy consultant, I’m troubled that very few of the boards with whom I’m working are talking about planning for scenarios that might be heading their way. While front line advocacy organizations are already moving forward, I’m not seeing discussions happening in very many other sectors.
I understand that there is considerable uncertainty. I recognize that it might feel like a waste of time to talk about the unknown.
But isn’t that your job as a governing board? Shouldn’t you be considering best case, worst case and starting to prepare a plan of action? Haven’t you enough evidence of the policy changes that are likely to be made to start planning for those changes?
Your board has a lot of thinking and planning to do.
Need an example? We’ve already in a profoundly new world order. Jobs are vanishing fast, not necessarily because of global trade, but because what can be automated will. And there are very few jobs that can’t be automated.
What does this mean for your clients? What about your donors? Your community? Your employees?
Here’s another: How is the shifting landscape of philanthropic giving affecting your organization, where the rich are giving more and the rest of everyone less?
And the big one: What policies have the new administration and the majority party been championing over the last eight years or eight months? How will that affect us?
If there was every a time for both strategic and generative thinking, it’s now.
When the proverbial sh*t hits the fan, it may be too late to mobilize a satisfactory response.
- I’ve felt that way at least three times before in my voting life. But yes, this one seems completely different. Having been a member of Amnesty International for more than four decades, I’ve read the stories on how democracy can be lost seemingly overnight.
This week I’m teaching successful grant seeking in my Management of Cultural Institutions class at Brown University.
While perusing materials from a number of trainings Jon and I have taught on the subject, I found a handout entitled Secrets of Successful Grant Seeking.
You may have heard grant proposal writers say that 80% of the success in grant seeking happens before you ever lay fingers to keyboard. Just sending an out -of-the-blue proposal into cyberspace is usually like playing the lottery.
Here are a lucky 13 strategies that will help raise your potential for success.
- Design and implement quality programs – that’s what it’s all about, right?
- Cherish results and learning – measure, evaluate, revise, adapt. Funders want to fund organizations whose work is making a difference.
- Build strong peer relationships and partnerships: because it’s the right thing to do and because funders often turn to them as references for your organization or proposal.
- Keep your promises to your funders. Most funders understand when new programs may not achieving their desired results. But they are not very tolerant when you don’t do what you said you would do, especially if you haven’t communicated with them.
- Engage the ultimate decision-makers at family and corporate foundations.
- Cultivate knowledge and relationships with your program officer.
- Find connections and build relationships with potential funders. Seeing is ususally better than reading.
- Find donor value in your programs by discovering hidden value or bundling projects for maximum impact.
- Speak to your funder’s world view – understand how they see the world and their theory of change.
- Or yes, have a theory of change that is explicit and defendable.
- Create newness by incorporating new issues into existing programs, offering new audiences for donor portfolios, or developing new programs from what you have learned
- Be a thought leader in your field and communicate like one.
- Think and plan ahead — grants funding cycles are long and future oriented.
And when you do get to writing your proposal, follow the funder’s required format.
What’s on your list?