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Sparking Conversation in the Nonprofit World

By Nell Edgington

NellspeakingFall is here (at least by my calendar!) and that means new opportunities to spark conversation about how the nonprofit sector is changing and how nonprofit leaders, board members and donors need to as well.

In recent months I’ve spoken in Phoenix, New York, Washington DC, Atlanta, and Australia (via Google). And what all of these events had in common is that the audience was hungry for a new way forward.

What I love most about speaking is that it’s a chance to really open eyes to new ways of thinking. And I love, love, love engaging with the audience to challenge their assumptions and former ways of operating.

For example, at an event last month a board member and I got into a lively debate about whether board members should really be bothering with the money raising aspects of their nonprofit. His argument was that it’s the job of the board to focus on big picture mission and programs, not the day-to-day dollar concerns of the organization. My argument, no surprise, is that you cannot separate mission from money and every board member should play a role in the financial engine of the nonprofit.

As we continued to debate, the board member admitted that he actually had helped to open a door to a significant (tens of thousands of dollars) contract for the nonprofit. So in essence he was arguing against what he’d actually helped bring about. Through the discussion he came to realize that if every board member were asked to tap into their skills, experience and networks to accelerate the financial health of the nonprofit (as he himself had already done) it could be transformational.

I love those light bulb moments.

The reality is that often nonprofits exist in a series of catch-22s where board members don’t know how to help, nonprofit leaders don’t know how to get board members moving, funders don’t know the questions to ask, and nonprofits don’t know how to identify their constraints. So we keep having the same conversations over and over again with little change.

Which is why I love to speak to groups and shake up these stale conversations.

Here are some of the most popular topics people invite me to speak about:

Financing not Fundraising

Based on the popular blog series, Financing Not Fundraising, I show nonprofits a new, more effective way to fund their work. I explain concrete ways to move efforts to raise money in a totally new direction, resulting in more money flowing through the doors, a more engaged and effective board, a more energized and integrated staff and ultimately more achievement of mission.

The Future of the Nonprofit Sector

The nonprofit sector and the philanthropy that fund it are changing dramatically. A growing convergence between the nonprofit, for-profit and government sectors is altering how social change happens and increasing competition is forcing nonprofits to shift the way they have always done business. Nonprofit leaders must understand trends and embrace change to emerge stronger and more effective.

The Power of a Theory of Change

A theory of change is an argument for why a nonprofit exists. It is the fundamental building block to creating a strategic direction, measuring your work, garnering more support and ultimately creating more impact in your community. Funders, regulators and others are increasingly demanding that nonprofits demonstrate how their work creates community change. I show nonprofits how to create a theory of change and then use it to drive greater support, engagement and success.

Jump Starting Your Board

A nonprofit’s board is often not doing as much as they could to bring money in the door. I take the fear and inaction out of raising money. I show board and staff how money works in the nonprofit sector, where the board can be most effective, how to get the board excited and engaged in fundraising, and the concrete steps to get them moving.

You can see a more complete list of my speaking topics, past speaking events, and videos on the Speaking page of the website.

If you want to start having new, transformational conversations, invite me to come speak. I’d love it!


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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (, a management consulting firm leading nonprofits to greater social impact and financial sustainability. Social Velocity helps nonprofits grow their programs, bring more money in the door, and use resources more effectively. For more information, check out Social Velocity consulting services and clients.

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2 Comments to Sparking Conversation in the Nonprofit World

David Henderson
September 17, 2013

My thinking has always been the opposite of the board member you mention. When folks ask me to be on their board I tell them I’m happy to advise, but that they are better served building a fundraising board rather than a board of domain experts.

The Edna McConnell Clark foundation makes good use of an evaluation advisory committee, which is a group of evaluators with deep expertise in the areas the foundation invests in. My general rule of thumb is nonprofits should build boards that can raise money first, and bring in subject matter experts as advisers.

I’m guessing you might disagree, that boards should have both expertise and fundraising prowess? If so, I’d be interested in which way you would lean if you had to pick one.

Nell Edgington
September 17, 2013

David, thanks for your thoughtful response. And yes, you are right I would disagree with you because I don’t think it’s an either, or scenario.

Rather, I believe that nonprofits should take a look at their overall strategy as an organization and then build a board whose skills, experience and networks are going to help that strategy come to fruition. So that may mean that they need some subject area experts, some people who can connect them to key decision makers in the area they are trying to make change, etc. There really are no fundraising experts to recruit to a board, rather I believe that nonprofits should take a big step back, figure out the kinds of assets they need their board to bring to the table (knowledge, networks, influence, expertise), get them excited and engaged about tapping into those assets and then think strategically and demonstrate to each board member how those assets can also be critical to the financial model (not just the mission). AND that the two (money and mission) are inextricably bound.

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