Tagged Effectiveness

Nonprofits: Build Yourself A Batcave

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.

3 data sites to help benchmark your revenues

Are you curious what the revenue profile is of organizations similar to yours? Finding good data on other organizations is challenging. It can be frustrating as well as its not always possible to really compare apples to apples. The only really good way to get the detailed level of data you might be looking for is to call your colleague at another organization and ask if they’ll share detailed information about their revenue streams. Not everyone may, but we’ve found that organizations can be quite generous in their willingness to help a colleague.

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You can’t hurry love… or collaborative fundraising

A collaborative capital campaign created an entire new arts and business district in Cleveland. Photo: Gordon Square Arts District

Collaborative fundraising takes time and trust. That’s what we heard over and again in our interviews with seven nonprofit executives in Rhode Island, Boston, Cleveland and Spokane, each of them successful collaborative fundraisers.

We looked into the topic at the prompting of our friends at New Roots Providence and presented our early findings at a New Roots workshop on January 19.

The short version of what we learned from our informants:

  • Successful collaborations flow from a deep process of trust-building among the partners. The right partners may take years to self-select, discover their shared goals and commit to combined action.
  • Detailed legal agreements help establish trust and smooth functioning by exploring and resolving the partners’ deepest worries in advance. (These also take time)
  • At the same time, good partners must be ready to make commonsense adjustments to agreements when they create unfair or unproductive results for some partners.
  • Long-term and permanent collaborations need to form an independent organization to fundraise and distribute revenues. (Another time-consuming process.)
  • The collaborative case must promise more than the sum of its partners: new funders respond to a transformative vision.
  • Truly successful collaborations can reach more and larger funders and generate more income at lower cost than the two partners could achieve separately.

Our cases covered five forms of joint fundraising: grants, workplace campaigns, events, capital campaigns, and, finally, our elusive ideal of truly integrated annual fundraising. We’ll tell you more about three very interesting cases in future posts:

  • The YWCA and YMCA in Spokane, Washington created a fully integrated capital campaign to build new shared buildings in two locations.
  • The Gordon Square Arts District in Cleveland, Ohio brought two theater companies together with a community development organization to build not just theaters, but a whole theater-oriented arts district with major economic benefits for the city.
  • The Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts began by building new shared performance space for the the Nora Theater Company and the Underground Railway Theater. The partnership then went on to take on all fundraising, business and back office operations, leaving both groups free to focus on their artistic missions alone.

If you have had a good – or bad – experience with collaborative fundraising that you think could help others, please send me an email. We’d love to hear from you.

Time for a Guidestar status check?

As I was checking out a nonprofit profile on Guidestar.org, I noted that Guidestar now had a “Quick View” review for each nonprofit.

Notice those checks, stars and caution signs?

Clearly these are meant to serve as rating systems for viewers. Missing a check or star? The system implies that your organization may not be 100% up to snuff –or else it might be hiding something.

While I’ve done my ranting about rating systems (see my posts  below), I’m afraid that your organization is stuck  with this new configuration.

By now I’m sure you know that Guidestar is a go-to site for the media, funders, bloggers, benchmarkers like me or others individuals who are curious about your nonprofit. Online donation sites like Network for Good, Facebook Causes or Change.org link up and pull their data from Guidestar.

So, get thee to Guidestar.

Login (you’ll need to register if you haven’t, the basic edition is free), Read more

Measuring impact like the Gates

So let me say I was cheering when I read the three principles that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation says guide their approach to measurement: “1. Measurement should inform specific decisions and/or actions. 2. We do not measure everything, but we do strive to measure what matters most. 3. The data we gather help us learn and adapt our initiatives and strategies.”

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