January 27: Proposal Budgeting Basics (webinar)
January 29: Building a Board that Works (webinar)
January 27: Proposal Budgeting Basics (webinar)
January 29: Building a Board that Works (webinar)
You run an amazing nonprofit. You have a great team and you do great things for a great cause.
But how do you get the word out?
Benjamin Packard, founder of Retainer Media, would argue that videos are just as necessary for a nonprofit as a website. As a “megaphone for your message,” a promotional video may be exactly what your organization needs to connect with potential donors and/or participants. People are 17 times more likely to email a friend a link to a video than a link to an article! Working with a nonprofit budget, however, may mean seeking creative alternatives rather than hiring a professional company to do the work for you.
A diverse collection of representatives from a wide variety of organizations and experience levels gathered at the Foundation Center San Francisco (some joined remotely from home by livestream) to enjoy Benjamin’s lively and interactive presentation and get some concrete advice on the subject.
Here’s a little recap of the quick tips we learned to get you inspired:
And for further proof that an eye-catching video doesn't have to be a huge production, here's Benjamin's own Balloon Hat Video: an example of a video made entirely of photos, which was featured on Oprah's blog.
Look forward to seeing your video featured next!
Four Stages of Organizational Development
Adapted, with permission, from the Institute for Conservation Leadership, www.icl.org
Many organizations begin as “kitchen table” groups: a bunch of neighbors sitting around somebody’s kitchen, trying to solve a common problem or meet a community need. These folks share a passion for the cause and a willingness to roll up their sleeves and do the work.
They're seldom skilled in nonprofit governance, and, frankly, they don’t even think about that stuff. They just want to fix what needs to be fixed.
Sometimes these informal groups continue for years or decades without growing or changing significantly, and their familiar leadership structure continues to serve them well. For example, I belong to an all-volunteer organization that has had no staff for most of the past 75 years – and yet the work gets done.
Taking “The Leap”
In other cases, these groups want to expand their impact, so they decide to hire employees and open an office. My colleagues at the Institute for Conservation Leadership call this stage “the leap,” and it’s filled with peril. Organizations hiring staff for the first time must address issues such as the following:
At this stage, other problems may surface. Board members who originally got involved with the organization because they care about the issue or cause are suddenly responsible for personnel policies, staff supervision, a more detailed level of planning, and greater responsibility for fundraising.
The visionary leader(s) who founded the organization may be unwilling to share power with the staff, which can lead to conflict, confusion about roles, and employee turnover. Or maybe the board breathes a collective sigh of relief, backs away, and abandons its responsibilities, assuming the employee(s) will do everything.
As you can see, the skills needed to start a group are not the same ones needed to take it to the next level of effectiveness.
The Sweet Spot: Moving to Shared Governance
As nonprofits continue to grow, expand programs, and hire more staff, the board’s role continues to change. Because organizations become more complex, board governance also becomes more complicated.
In the next phase, sometimes called “shared governance,” board and staff share power and responsibility, are clear about their respective roles, and have systems in place to create orderly transitions as people leave and new ones come in.
At this stage, the board has explicit written agreements that define what is expected of each trustee and what he or she can expect in return. These groups have a culture of accountability and mutual respect; they also have fun together and celebrate their shared accomplishments.
Clearly, board requirements and behavior must evolve as organizations develop and change. The board you need to start something is not necessarily the same board you need to grow it to maturity.
So if somebody tries to convince you that there is only one correct model of board governance, beware! No single “right way” will be relevant to all nonprofits, or even to a specific organization at different stages in its life.
To learn more about how to develop and maintain an effective board at every stage of your organization’s life cycle, join me on Thursday, January 29 from 1:00-2:00 pm ET for the Foundation Center webinar “Building a Board That Works.” I’ll share tips for recruiting the right mix of board members for your nonprofit, ensuring that they fundraise successfully, and keeping them motivated and accountable.
Andy Robinson is a consultant and trainer based in Vermont. He is the author of six books, including the new Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise Money. Learn more at www.andyrobinsononline.com and www.trainyourboard.com.
This post is adapted from Great Boards for Small Groups, published by www.emersonandchurch.com. Used with permission.
January 19: Foundation Center Library/Learning Center CLOSED
January 20: Proposal Writing Basics (webinar)
January 21: Grantseeking Basics
January 22: From Year-End Fundraising to Year-Round Engagement (webinar)
Guest Post by Farra Trompeter, Vice President, Big Duck. Be sure to sign up for Farra's Foundation Center webinar on January 22nd: From Year-End Fundraising to Year-Round Engagement!
Eat better and drink less… Travel to new places… Spend more time on that hobby… Read more and work smarter… We’ve all got our New Year’s resolutions, and two weeks into 2015, we may still be full of bright-eyed optimism that we’ll stick to them!
Have you made any resolutions for your nonprofit? January is a great time to rethink how you work, especially how you communicate with your supporters. Many of you are hopefully still feeling the joy of wildly successful year-end fundraising campaigns and a productive #GivingTuesday. Before you dig into your next set of appeals and attempts to get more donations, use this time to take stock and consider what you can do to make your supporters feel good.
Here are three reasons why you should resolve to treat your donors better in 2015:
Want to learn more about how to build better relationships with your donors? Join me on Thursday, January 22, for an interactive Foundation Center webinar in which we’ll talk about how you can evolve “From Year-End Fundraising to Year-Round Engagement.”
At long last, the technology is here and the historic shift to affordable clean energy is underway. It’ll take creativity, the courage to lead, and a healthy dose of persistence, but anyone can make a real difference in ending our dependence on fossil fuels. Sure, more policy change could always help, more awareness could always be raised, yet we need not wait to act. The ball’s in our court.
OpenIDEO's latest open innovation challenge focuses on the potential individuals have to shape our energy future. The challenge asks:
enables people everywhere to help address pressing global issues. Our challenges offer a collaborative space for innovators to build teams, develop prototypes and improve their ideas through feedback and iteration. We’re a place where new ideas become real, and where funders find new solutions and changemakers to support.
The Renewable Energy Challenge offers those interested in climate change a call to action that can bring real change. The challenge recognizes that we are all leaders of the various communities to which we belong -- our neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, and social circles. Sponsored by The 11th Hour Project, the challenge will offer funding, design help, and networking support to help some of the top ideas move forward. No lengthy grant applications need to be completed as part of the challenge, but those who choose to submit an idea should come ready to join a global conversation, test their assumptions and iterate.
While not all OpenIDEO challenges include funding for top participants, we believe using an open innovation platform to match innovators and funders can be highly efficient and effective. Not only does an online challenge environment save applicants and reviewers time, it also enables a more personal interaction that allows funders to get to know potential recipients better. Rather than just meet new organizations on paper, funders can watch applicants respond to feedback, build on new ideas, and discuss potential collaborations that emerge in real time. Our challenges also allows funders to develop their RFP organically, incorporating themes that emerge during our online Research Phase (that precedes our Ideas Phase) and involving an advisory panel of outside experts who help monitor the challenge and establish evaluation criteria as opportunity areas become clear.
For the Renewable Energy challenge, we received almost 350 contributions to our Research Phase. Discussing the themes from this phase with The 11th Hour Project and our advisory panel, we identified five opportunity areas for those submitting ideas to focus on:
The evaluation criteria, used to select top ideas and developed in partnership with The 11th Hour Project, can be found here.
Since designing Apple’s first mouse over 30 years ago, IDEO’s design process has become known for producing groundbreaking innovations. Opening up that process to a global community of changemakers has catalyzed hundreds of on going new initiatives, sparked thousands of collaborations and supported the development of countless aspiring social entrepreneurs around the world. Recent challenges have focused on fighting Ebola, early childhood development, and youth employment. Focusing on renewable energy is a thrilling challenge whose time has clearly come. We hope you’ll join us on OpenIDEO and offer your ideas for helping communities lead this important transition. The Renewable Energy Challenge is open to everyone and is accepting new ideas until January 25.
President & CEO
United Ways of California
This post originally appeared on the GrantCraft blog, where it is one of a series of posts commenting on different aspects of Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2015, the sixth annual industry forecast from noted social sector thought leader Lucy Bernholz. You'll find others here, here, and here.
Blueprint 2015, Lucy Bernholz’s sixth annual publication predicting future trends in philanthropy, announces a new focus:
From now on, we’ll be looking at the structures of the social economy in the context of pervasive digitization. This is not about gadgets; it’s about complicated (and fundamental) ideas like free association, expression, and privacy in the world of digital data and infrastructure. (p. 5)
Lucy goes on to pose some thought-provoking conceptions of civil society (“the place where we use private resources for public benefit”), digital civil society, and what she sees as three core purposes of civil society: expression, protest, and distribution.
That is, we organize to express ourselves artistically, culturally or as members of a particular group; to protest or advocate on behalf of issues or populations; and to provide and distribute services or products that the market or state are not providing. (p. 6)
In essence, civil society, and in many cases nonprofits, are where people come to put their values into action.
Lucy highlights the promise and peril of digital civil society. Digital tools offer more power to civil society movements and organizations, and with new tools come new expectations. Lucy foresees some danger for philanthropy and nonprofits in the use of digital tools for social good — for example, she predicts a major data privacy scandal involving a nonprofit and several instances of nonprofit apps needing to be pulled because of public backlash regarding user privacy concerns — and some new kinds of benefits, such as donations of corporate data (“data philanthropy”) for use in partnership with nonprofits. She frames some key questions for the future:
The immediate future will bring questions of data ownership and management to the attention of nonprofits, foundations, and others in the social economy…. How to use digital data safely, securely, and in line with your organization’s mission will be questions involving board members, executives, technology advisors, program providers, and legal experts. More organizations will realize that, whatever their social purpose, they need to manage their digital assets with the same care they manage their financial assets. (p. 27)
This will certainly bear out over the longer run, but unfortunately, for most foundations and nonprofits, this challenge is still too far off. The “big data” that would be most useful, and most in need of protection, is in front-line service organizations, not in foundations. These enterprises — health clinics, schools, social service organizations providing case management, schools, and more — have not built the systems they’d need to use big data well. In the for-profit world, tech enterprises like Amazon and Facebook are built on a foundation of knowing and analyzing what their customers want and need. For non-tech companies working hard to gain and use the advantages big data can enable, their progress has moved in at least four phases, from first setting a foundation for capturing and handling all of their own data, then using it to assess their own performance, then beginning to respond to customer preferences, and then beginning to use big data for predictive analytics, to begin to anticipate client needs. Most large-scale social purposes enterprises haven’t yet mastered that first, foundational phase. This is partly due to scarcity of resources, but it’s also partly because of discomfort about the ethics of gathering and using client data this way. Bernholz cites legislation in 20 states to protect data collected on students as one example of growing concerns about discriminatory or improper use of data. But those of us who use Facebook, or a Fitbit, must face the fact that we are the product. These companies capture, analyze, and transfer (or share) our data because it provides tremendous value to them.
I think the nonprofit sector needs to be more aggressive about capturing similar data and using it to push helpful information and services to vulnerable people who need it, as I’ve written here and here. I think the solution to the challenges of informed consent, transparency about methods, and protecting client confidentiality will be found in giving users the ability to know their data is being used, how and by whom, and giving them the ability to withdraw their data from the big data set whenever they like. But we need to work to give them that ability, not foreclose it for them because we fear we can’t be trusted with it.
St. Augustine observed that the innocence of children consists mainly in the frailty of their limbs. Lucy is correct to point out we shouldn’t assume foundations and nonprofits will be immune to temptation to take shortcuts with sensitive data, but in the near term, their most important challenge is strengthening their limbs, building the muscles they need to use big data well and pursue the maximum public good within ethical limits. And when they get there, the groundbreaking work Lucy, Rob Reich, and their other colleagues at the Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society will prove invaluable in guiding them through this thicket.
Lucy is right to turn our focus to digital tech for social good and the governance, management, and ethical challenges philanthropy will confront. She may be too early (as she has been for five years on the coming prevalence of payments via mobile tech), but the future challenges she foresees for philanthropic use of big data can’t come soon enough.
It’s been a little over three months since on-boarding as E-Resources Librarian here at Foundation Center San Francisco. As I still have plenty to learn about the nonprofit sector, I spent December 16-18 attending our three-day Proposal Writing Boot Camp, led by our in-house expert trainers, Leeanne G-Bowley and Sarah Jo Neubauer, both Capacity and Leadership Development Managers. I sat alongside nonprofit leaders, dreamers, and grantseekers as we covered the proposal writing process from prospecting to packaging.
It was an intensive three days for the attendees. Each full-day session was packed with hands-on exercises—reviewing successful proposal examples, prospecting new grants to apply to, and writing the bulk of an actual proposal. Since boot camp, three points have stayed with me as critical components of grantseeking worth committing to in the New Year: better research, cleaner writing, and deeper relationships.
As our trainers emphasized again and again throughout boot camp, grantseeking is about “the fit.” Finding the right funder is a bit like finding the right partner—“Do we have similar values and goals? Do we know some of the same people? Do we ‘look good’ together?” It’s about lining up the interests and missions of the two organizations in a way that benefits not only the nonprofit, but also the funder. To find the right fit, you have to do your research. Heaps of research. It’s tireless, time-consuming work. But it’s better to spend time on accurate research rather than waste time on proposals doomed for rejection. How can you do better research? That’s where Foundation Center can help. The Foundation Directory Online (FDO) is the most exhaustive, up-to-date, and searchable directory of foundation funding resources. While it is subscription-based, you can access FDO from our library here in San Francisco or at any of the 470 Funding Information Network Partners worldwide. FDO is designed to help you search for the funder who fits. For exclusive research tips and tricks, visit FDO’s blog.
One of the simplest, most effective ways to draft a grant proposal is to review sample proposals. At boot camp, samples of successful grant proposals were included in our workbooks and we were led through several rounds of evaluating the style of each proposal. While all the proposals varied in approach and tone, it was clear that clean, simple, error-free writing was critical to the success of the proposals. Writing is a challenging task for many who are not required to write much beyond the occasional lengthy email. For those who are gifted writers, it can be equally challenging to reign in creativity and write in a simple, straightforward manner. Proposal writing is not about lengthy, richly descriptive language; it's about “the ease of the read”—another bit of expert advice from our boot camp trainers. While you can use facts and anecdotes to tug heartstrings, you must remember to succinctly make your ask and clearly explain your need. Whether you’re an unsure or confident writer, always, always have multiple people read your proposal. Grants experience is not necessary—be sure anyone who reads your proposal can read along with ease. Looking for sample documents to get you started? See our collection here on Grantspace.
My favorite part of the proposal writing boot camp was watching participants connect with one another. Our expert trainers were not the only folks in the room able to offer expertise, anecdotes, and encouragement. Participants reflected a wide range of experiences—from start-ups looking for initial funding to established organizations looking to diversify their model. Attendees were constantly encouraged to interact through peer-review and group discussions.
Beyond establishing relationships between nonprofits, much of our discussion around the proposal process emphasized the importance of creating connections between grantseekers and grantmakers. Grantseekers absolutely should be reaching out to funders directly, or doing everything possible to hunt down a personal relationship between the organizations—whether through board members, volunteers, or even at the executive personnel level. Search websites, FDO, or 990s for the names of staff and board members to run by your CEO or board. If a foundation lists the appropriate contact or program officer for the grant you’re applying to, be sure to make use of it.
Remember that getting the grant does not mean your work with the funder is complete. Create opportunities to deepen the relationship throughout the funding period. Be timely when reporting out on projects and continue to educate the funder on the latest developments in your field. Bring positive news and gratitude to conversations with funders—remember that no one wants to take a call from the friend who only calls when they need something. Need some help getting started? Check out this Grantspace article on cultivating the grantee-funder relationship.
Ready to find the right funding in the New Year? If you want to take your research, writing and relationship building to the next level, Proposal Writing Boot Camp is back in back in session in San Francisco this June. There’s also a half-day Proposal Writing Workshop this February. Please feel free to share your proposal writing resolutions in the comments section below. Best of luck in your grantseeking process in 2015!