From Effectiveness

Feeling blue? Chin up, get to work, there’s lots of thinking and planning to

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. 


13 Secrets of successful grant seeking

Finish lineThis 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.

  1. Design and implement quality programs – that’s what it’s all about, right?
  2. Cherish results and learning  – measure, evaluate, revise, adapt. Funders want to fund organizations whose work is making a difference.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Engage the ultimate decision-makers at family and corporate foundations.
  6. Cultivate knowledge and relationships with your program officer.
  7. Find connections and build relationships with potential funders. Seeing is ususally better than reading.
  8. Find donor value in your programs by discovering hidden value or bundling projects for maximum impact.
  9. Speak to your funder’s world view – understand how they see the world and their theory of change.
  10. Or yes, have a theory of change that is explicit and defendable.
  11. Create newness by incorporating new issues into existing programs, offering new audiences for donor portfolios, or developing new programs from what you have learned
  12. Be a thought leader in your field and communicate like one.
  13. 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?

Other reading:

How we got the grant – Part I

How we gpt the grant – Part II


Measuring the impact of your Arts or Culture program

measuring impact arts cultureIf you’ve been lost about how to measure the intrinsic impact of your arts or culture program on your audiences, remember these five terms:

  1. Captivation
  2. Emotional Resonance
  3. Intellectual Stimulation
  4. Aesthetic Enrichment
  5. Social Bridging and Bonding

These five categories come via Jennifer Novak-Leonard, Research Manager at Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago. Jennifer was in Rhode Island courtesy of Catalyzing Newport, a collaborative project funded by the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities and the van Beuren Charitable Trust.

Jennifer walked us through both a historical and contemporary look at research on arts audiences and their participation (including snapshots of data from from her 2015 study “The Cultural Lives of Californians: Insights from the California Survey of Arts & Cultural Participation,” which showed that folks lives are highly engaged in the arts, but much of that activity is outside of traditional arts organizations).

If you’ve been challenged to assess your value, and have resisted or simply hated being forced into measuring your organization or programming based on its economic impact, Jennifer presented a number of frameworks for assessing impact from the individual to the community.

I particularly appreciated these constructs for measuring the impact of an arts experiences on an individual. The crazy photo above is from our January visit to the Rubin Museum of Art in NYC. I thought I’d apply just one of the measures, Captivation, to my own experience using Jennifer’s questions.

  • How absorbed were you in the experience?
  • Did you lose track of time?

I distinctly remember at least three times during that visit when time did stand still. One was viewing the magnificent Steve McCurry photos, another was watching an entrancing video of a Jain ceremony that involved folks on scaffolding pouring successions of pigments over a towering Buddha, and the third was trying on the video masks representing masks from the collection that you see in the photo.

As you know, I’m one for measuring what matters, and for so much of our sector, what matters is how the lives of individual people get better, even for just a moment in time.

So check out these studies measuring the impact of your arts or culture program. Even if you aren’t working in a cultural institution, I think you’ll find much to think about.

Other reading:

Hope, Dignity and quality of life are also valuable outcomes

Nonprofit evaluation – counting what matters

Governance is Governance

Ken DaytonI was cleaning old files a few days ago when I stumbled across the beloved “Governance is Governance” by Kenneth N. Dayton.

If you are too young to know this monograph, it’s the text of a keynote address to a professional forum hosted by Independent Sector’s Effective Leadership and Management Program given in May 1985 and published in 1987.

I was delighted to find it and read it again. As someone who works with many nonprofit boards and executive directors, the simplicity and clarity of the advice continues to ring true.

Here’s Dayton’s Function of the Board of Directors:
“As representatives of the public, be the primary force pressing the institution to the realization of its opportunities for service and the fulfillment of its obligations to all its constituents.”

And his Function of the President and CEO (that is, chief staff officer/executive director)

“1. Serve as the Chief Executive Officer of the institution, reporting to the board of directors, accepting responsibility for the success or failure of the enterprise. (emphasis added)

“2. With the Chair of the Board, enable the Board of Trustees to fulfill its governance function, and facilitate the optimum interaction between management and the Board.

“3. Give direction to the formulation [of] and leadership to the achievement of the institution’s philosophy, mission, and strategy, and to its annual objectives and goals.”


You can find the full monograph online at the url below.

Reading and discussing this would make for the great start of a board retreat.



Strategic planning – it’s only as good as the thinking

Jon and I facilitate a lot of strategic planning.Crystal ball

In this work, we constantly challenge organizations to think deeply.

To do that, staff and board members need to start their planning with a true sense of inquiry.

So we encourage lots of questions:

  • What do you already know about your challenges, opportunities and needs?
  • What is your dream for your clients? for your community?
  • What is the best work happening in your field? How is that different from what you are doing? The same?
  • Why is it that you do the work in the way you do? What evidence do you have for this?
  • What does your community need — do you really know?
  • What is your special role in meeting that need?
  • What will get you to your community impact the most effectively?
  • How much stronger could you be if you included others in your journey?
  • What values won’t you compromise along the way?
  • What capacity do you need to build to get you where we want to go?
  • How much will that cost? What’s the plan to get there?

Seeking out data, talking to others, grappling with questions, pursuing answers, creating frameworks, crunching numbers — that is the strategic planning.

The written report codifies that thinking to guide your future.

See also:

Five elements of thinking strategically

Improve your strategic planning – WRAP it!

Strategic planning tips from the inventor of the granola bar

Stress test your strategic plan

I was moving to wrap up a strategic plan today with a client, when a board member asked this question:Lift weight

If we “stress test” this strategic plan – borrowing the idea from banking, how would recent decisions our organization made align with this plan?”

Stress testing is a simulation used to test how banks will fare against a series of scenarios. During our planning process, our committee explored future shifts. The suggestion of looking backward against recent decisions was well-received. Check out this Recommended Reading about dealing with stress.

What followed was a robust and thoughtful Read more

Five must-have’s for strategic planning to matter

IMG_2399Yes, way too many strategic plans for nonprofits gather dust on shelves. So here are five must-have’s to prevent yours from doing the same:

  1. A compelling vision of change. First and foremost, of how the world, your community will be different.
  2. The way. While setting an inspirational and meaningful goal is critical, without articulating your path to that goal you’ll not really being strategic, are you?
  3. The will. While plans are more than paper and the planning process itself should unleash new understanding and meaning, you have to believe enough in what you’ve committed to to start acting on your strategy in all you do.
  4. Leadership. This may or may not be a proverb, but I love this saying “the community goat starves to death.” Someone has to take ownership of the plan to move it forward. Hopefully, that’s your board. And your CEO. And each and every person in the organization.
  5. Courage. You’ve probably made some big stretches in your plan. To quote Francis Perkins:

“Most of man’s problems upon this planet, in the long history of the race, have been met and solved either partially or as a whole by experiment based on common sense and carried out with courage.”

If you are starting your strategic planning, here are a few other tips for you:

Strategic planning: where to involve your board. Part 1.

Nonprofit strategic planning: where to involve your board. Part 2.

Strategic Planning: 8 Questions to Consider

Questions to jumpstart your SWOT

Claiming your promise with your mission statement

IMG_3038I read a lot of mission statements. Most nonprofit mission statements are focused on how the organization goes about its work.

Too rarely does a mission statement confidently offer up its promise of betterment for its community.

Don’t get bogged down in all the stuff you do. You don’t need to throw the kitchen sink at your mission statement.

Kevin Starr of the Mulago Foundation threw down a mission challenge in  “The Eight Word Mission Statement” in the September 18, 2012 Stanford Social Innovation Review. The eight words: “a verb, a target population, and an outcome that implies something to measure.”

I agree that “razor-sharp” clarity about where you are going enables you to be strategic, adaptable and clear on where you are heading. That’s why I’m such a stickler for developing a clear theory of change/logic model and include its development into the strategic plans I work on. Plus, I learned long ago, that having a theory of change and logic model upped Read more

A shining example of a nonprofit values statement

NBS SignsA values statement allows a nonprofit to define and codify the shared beliefs that underlie its work. You don’t have to be a church, synagogue or mosque to benefit from a moral code.

Your values statement keeps board and staff moving in the same direction — and away from danger. Imagine the fallout if an environmental group was fined for polluting. The media would crucify an organization that served individuals with disabilities if its annual meeting wasn’t wheelchair accessible.

In developing a values statement, you’ll need to identify your bedrock beliefs. What are you are unwilling to compromise, regardless of the  promise of more money or greater convenience?

You may uncover differences of opinion on what you thought were shared beliefs as you Read more

Budget like a rock band

Bands are businesses, too.

By VectorOpenStock (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Who knew we’d be getting an object lesson in fundraising event budgeting from a alternative music band today? But check out this great article at Medium. In it, musician Jack Conte runs down the  profit and loss on a 28-day concert tour by Pomplamoose the multi-talented California pop duo consisting of Jack and Nataley Dawn. Then ask whether you could track the monetary success of your most recent event as well as these musicians.

Like nonprofits, Pomplamoose is more about the mission – music – than the money. And, like many nonprofits (and quite a few diners), just staying around to do great work from year to year can be a worthy achievement in itself. Pomplamoose has been making it for seven years and seems likely to keep on going, judging from their clear-eyed perspective on the business side of being professional artists.

Their 2014 tour went on to become one of the popular Musicals worldwide. But as it turned out they lost money on the tour. But they know exactly how much: $11,819. And they know exactly why – the $48,094 they spent on bandmates and crew instead of touring as a duo. By delivering a big concert experience, the pair are confident they’ll make that money back on future tours. Pomplamoose could afford the risk because they make most of their income from crowdfunding of their videos and online music sales.

Few nonprofits could similarly justify the risk or tolerate a loss from an event. But any nonprofit can learn from Pomplamoose’s acceptance that to make their art, they must also be a business. And any organization can do the simple math to project future costs and revenues and track net profits from events.

And check out their Pharrell Mashup video – showing how Pamplamoose does great work on a slim budget.