What I love best about my job is opening nonprofit leaders to new and bigger possibilities. Last week was a busy one. I was in Phoenix for part of the week speaking at the Planned Giving Roundtable Conference and then I flew to New York to lead a board retreat at the National Guild for Community Arts Education.
When I am speaking to or leading a group, I love the moment when they move from discouraged, exhausted or burned-out, to energized by new ways of thinking.
At the Planned Giving Roundtable I delivered a keynote address about the power of a theory of change. A theory of change is such an incredible tool for helping a nonprofit articulate what value they provide the community. And once you have articulated that value, a theory of change is a jumping off point to:
- Chart a strategic direction, which guides the action of the organization and focuses limited resources
- Prove the results the organization is achieving, which allows the nonprofit to,
- Attract more support, leading to the holy grail in the nonprofit sector,
- Sustainable Community Change
So the theory of change serves as the fundamental building block in making that process happen, like this:
Because the theory of change is so instrumental, I believe that every nonprofit organization that is working toward social change should have one. Without a theory of change, you don’t know what you are trying to accomplish, how you will get there, or whether you have accomplished it, and you certainly won’t attract the funding necessary to get there.
So once I (hopefully) convinced the group in Phoenix about the importance of a theory of change, I flew to New York City to help the board and staff of the National Guild for Community Arts Education actually develop their own theory of change.
It was so exciting to see the group work together to articulate how their organization puts community resources to work towards community change. It’s not easy to come to agreement about exactly what change an organization is working towards, which is why I think it is important to have an outsider leading that process.
At the end of the day, board and staff were energized and excited about their evolving theory of change and how it could help them chart a new strategic direction, focus resources, and attract more support and momentum.
That is the moment I love. When people who are so passionate and working so hard for community change, can take a step back and articulate how and why they do the work that they do. Because it is in taking that big step back that you can begin to develop a strategy for bringing hoped for change to fruition.
Photo Credit: Dean Morley
In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, I’m talking with Perla Ni, CEO of GreatNonprofits. Perla was the founder and former publisher of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, the leading journal on nonprofit management and philanthropy. Prior to her work at SSIR, Ni co-founded Grassroots Enterprise, later acquired by global public relations firm, Edelman. A frequent speaker on nonprofits and philanthropy, she has been named a “Top Game Changer” by the Huffington Post.
You can read past interviews in the Social Innovation Interview Series here.
Nell: GreatNonprofits is an interesting spin on the growing nonprofit ratings market in that you gather consumer reviews of nonprofits. Why do you think what donors, volunteers, and clients have to say about a nonprofit is important to potential donors?
Perla: We think people with direct experience with a nonprofit, especially the nonprofit’s beneficiaries, are in the best position to tell us about the difference that that nonprofit has made in their life or their community.
In the seven years that we’ve been doing this, we have learned a couple of things about collecting beneficiary feedback. It’s not only the right thing to do – to empower the voice of beneficiaries so that they are treated with dignity – it is also the smart thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do because it is highly correlated with actual program outcome. We’ve seen the linkage between effective outcomes and organizations that collect and listen to their beneficiaries.
Although there are ongoing conversations about the best metrics for judging quality, there is agreement that, for almost every sector, consumer satisfaction and feedback drive quality through transparency and competition.
A trend toward human-centered design, where products are designed and rapidly iterated upon with feedback generated from users, is another example of how client responsiveness leads to improved outcomes.
GreatNonprofits has been collecting feedback about a wide variety of health, human service, arts and education organizations.
Nicole Molinaro, former executive director of Communities in Schools of Pittsburgh-Allegheny County, a Pennsylvania-based dropout prevention program serving at-risk youth, found great value in constituent feedback, “What interested us in being open to reviews from our constituents is really the desire to improve our services. Without hearing feedback about what we’re doing well and what we can do better, we really can’t make improvements in how we serve our kids.”
Due in part to feedback submitted by students, the organization added a student lounge as a safe, accessible place for the students to spend time in before and after programs.
In a recent GreatNonprofits survey of nonprofits, we found that a large number of nonprofits are listening to beneficiary feedback and some are taking action.
- 78% share reviews with board members
- 72% share reviews with staff
- 54% share reviews with volunteers
- 49% share reviews with donors
- 23% share reviews with clients
- 26% say reviews have impacted their operations
In fact, in Learning for Social Impact, a report for donors and foundations by McKinsey & Company, the number one recommendation given to funders is for them to “hear the constituent’s voice.”
These rich, detailed and concrete experiences from people who have actually experienced the work of the nonprofit—been fed by the food bank, helped by the after-school program—are a better way to discover the most effective charities than through tax forms. According to our survey of our users:
- 90% of donors say that reading reviews of clients help them understand the work of the nonprofit
- 80% of donors say that it influences their decision to give
Nell: How does a great customer experience (a review from a volunteer that had a great experience with a nonprofit) translate into a nonprofit’s ability to create social change? Or should or does a donor care about that?
Perla: In the excellent article “Listening to Those Who Matter Most, The Beneficiaries” in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, the authors show that, in the studies about school performance and patient outcomes, there is a high degree of correlation between listening to the student/patient and success.
Donors care about real world outcomes–how is my money helping?
Nell: What do you make of the growing debate about what information donors want and actually use in making their funding decisions? Do you think how donors make their giving decisions and what information they use to make those decisions has or is changing?
Perla: It starts with the donor. Donors want to improve the world, to make a difference. And the donors typically want to spend their time and money effectively. How do you find a nonprofit that is aligned with your passion and making a real difference on the ground?
Well, it requires listening to the voices of people on the ground – the ex-felon in a job training program, the student receiving mentorship, the volunteer who organized the environmental conference, the donor who visited the school in Cambodia – who have seen the first-hand impact of nonprofits.
These are not the usual people that donors listen to – they may be different from us in so many ways – income, class, geography, or race.
And if the donor wants to empower real, tangible changes in the lives of people and communities they want to improve, he/she needs to have the discipline to do that. It’s part of the first rule of philanthropy “don’t do something about me, without me.”
It’s a radical discipline, transparency and accountability that we must hold each of ourselves to, including the donor.
We don’t see this discipline as just funding decision-making. We see this as community engagement. The donor and the beneficiaries needs to be part of this philanthropic marketplace together to share insights on what works, what doesn’t yet and what could help to make a greater difference.
Nell: You were also the founder of the Stanford Social Innovation Review which is currently celebrating its 10th year. 10 years in to this world of social innovation what do you think we have to show for it? Have we gotten better at solving social problems?
Perla: If you Google “social innovation,” you get 648 million search results. This wasn’t at all the case 10 years ago! We pretty much invented that term.
One of the accomplishments, I think, is that social issues are no longer ghettoized as nonprofit issues. It’s not just a nonprofit problem or a business problem or a technology problem. Social innovation, which was always focused on finding new ways to solve problems, agnostic of the approach of the sector, is broadening our framework and ways that we network to achieve our goals. Now published by the incredibly prolific Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, SSIR reaches business people, foundations, technology leaders, and nonprofits. Social innovation is about bringing an open, entrepreneurial outlook to enterprises – start-up and mature organizations alike. We’d also like to think that it helped popularize other concepts such as social entrepreneurship, which has blossomed into an area of study in school, as well as create a new kind of career identity. At the core is a belief in not being complacent, not doing the same old same old, or talking to the same people. It’s really about creating a broad mindset for ideas and different people.
Nell: Much speculation has occurred about what effect millennial donors will have on philanthropy, because of the huge wealth transfer they will enjoy, their large numbers and the new ways they are sharing information about their giving. What are your thoughts on how or if Millennial donors will change philanthropy?
Perla: Millenials are more civic-minded, more public about their giving and more likely to be bifurcated in their giving – give locally and internationally.
They may find the idea of donating to their parents’ alma mater or their parents’ charity as rather stuffy. They are a more connected, shop local, eat local, biking/walk generation – and so they are more drawn to the idea of helping their local community. They are also well-traveled and more connected internationally, so they have a high interest in giving internationally as well.
It’s no secret that nonprofits struggle with money. In fact, the Nonprofit Finance Fund’s most recent State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey found that 41% of nonprofit respondents ran a deficit in 2012. If we really want to rewrite this rule for the nonprofit sector, we need to make some pretty big changes.
So here’s a radical idea.
What if every nonprofit board were responsible for bringing in 10% of their nonprofit’s annual operating budget?
That means that if your nonprofit’s budget is $1 million, your board would be responsible for raising $100,000 each year. They could do that through a combination of give/get activities, meaning they could all write personal checks (at whatever level makes sense for them individually) and then use their unique skills, experience and networks to raise the remaining amount.
That’s a crazy idea, right?
I don’t think so. Here’s why.
The Board Must Really Understand the Money Engine
A board of directors simply cannot separate themselves from the financial engine of their nonprofit. The entire board must fully understand and contribute to how money flows to the organization. They cannot argue that money is the purview of the staff; money HAS to be part of the board’s job. Until we make the board really participate in making the financial engine run, they won’t be able to have substantive conversations about how to raise or spend that money.
The Board Must Share the Burden
I’m so tired of silly, small board fundraising goals. Does a 15 member board that brings in only $15,000 out of a $1 million budget really make a difference? Absolutely not. That’s pennies. If they are truly going to lead the nonprofit that they serve, they must share the financial burden. Ten percent of the operating budget starts to make a significant dent, so let’s start there.
The Board Must Tap Into Their Unique Assets
I am not suggesting that we force every board member to ask individuals for money. Far from it. Rather, I’m arguing that nonprofits start getting really strategic about tapping into each individual board member’s strengths and assets in order to make a bold fundraising goal a reality.
But you can’t just turn to the board and tell them to bring 10% in the door. Some things are going to have to dramatically change in order to make 10% a reality.
Here’s what you have to do:
- Work one-on-one with each individual board member to create an annual plan for how they will meet their part of the goal.
- Give the board lots of different ideas for how they can meet their goal.
- Provide the training, materials, and education they need to execute on that individual plan.
- Hold each individual board member accountable for their individual plans and goals, check in with them every month to see how they are progressing.
- Have the board report at every meeting about their progress on the 10% goal.
If we really want to see a shift in how the nonprofit sector is funded, we need to make some pretty radical changes to business as usual. So start to entertain the idea. What would it look like if your board brought in 10% of your annual budget?
If you want help transforming your board, check out the Board Engagement consulting services I provide.
Photo Credit: Richard Matthews
May was about the “era of adaptation.” We are living in an age where change is a true constant, and we must adapt. We must adapt how we use technology, give money, get educated, use data, and the list goes on. It is an exciting (if sometimes overwhelming) time filled with opportunity.
Below are my 10 favorite social innovation reads in May. But, as always, add your favorites to the list in the comments below. And if you want to see my expanded list, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or my newest addition, Google+.
You can see the 10 Great Reads lists from past months here.
- The Era of Adaptation is upon us, so says Antony Bugg-Levine from the Nonprofit Finance Fund, and as such “adaptation requires nonprofits to invest in building and sustaining their organizations, not just running programs.” Amen to that!
- And how people give is definitely undergoing change. A really interesting article in the Wall Street Journal profiled Laura and John Arnold and their scientific approach to giving away their billions, while hoping to redefine philanthropy in the process.
- Google announced a new giving app that allows users to give $1 donations to nonprofits. Doesn’t sound like much, but nonprofits should keep an eye on this. As Google continues to be everywhere, this is an innovation where you may not want to be left behind.
- Warren Buffett and his sister Doris are doing something pretty interesting this summer. They are offering the first ever philanthropy MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). Over six weeks, participants will learn about philanthropy and then some participants will be given money to give away to nonprofits.
- As women increasingly control wealth, Anya Kamenetz from Fast Company asks the question, “Will Women Billionaires Make Better Philanthropists?”
- And then there’s technology and all that it is changing. Writing as a LinkedIn Influencer, David Kirkpatrick describes the coming of age of the Millennial generation and the opportunity (and burden) of deciding whether to use the gift of technology for the greater, or just their own, good.
- Big data has the potential to create enormous change as well. Regardless of your politics, Obama’s reelection team included some really great minds and one of them is now working on using big data to solve social problems.
- And how about higher education? Ben Thurman breaks down the growing innovations in higher education on the Dowser blog. From online courses, to apprenticing, to Silicon Valley’s growing interest in higher education innovations.
- Writing on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog John Gillespie provides a very useful set of 5 questions nonprofits should ask themselves to determine if they are truly ready to scale.
- In a thought-provoking two-part series (here and here), Caroline Fiennes explains why nonprofits should monitor, but not evaluate, their work, and the role social scientists play in the evaluation of big ideas. Hers is a great distinction, but I’m not sure how we execute on the concept in the real world.
Photo Credit: AngryJulieMonday
The nonprofit sector and the philanthropy that funds it have been changing dramatically over the past several years, and there’s plenty more change to come. This month’s Social Velocity webinar, Embracing the Future of the Nonprofit Sector, will help nonprofit leaders and board members understand how the sector is changing and what they can do to keep up.
Here are some of the future trends facing the nonprofit sector that we’ll cover in this webinar:
- More Demand for Outcomes
There is a growing demand for nonprofits to 1) articulate what results they hope their work with achieve and 2) track whether those results are actually happening.
- Decreasing Emphasis on Nonprofit “Overhead”
More and more people are realizing that you can’t just invest in programs without the staff, infrastructure and fundraising to make those programs happen.
- More Advocacy for the Sector
as a Whole
The nonprofit sector has long been a fractured grouping of organizations of various sizes, business models, and issue areas. But that tide is starting to turn. We are starting to see the sector organize, mobilize and build the confidence necessary to claim its rightful place.
- Savvier Donors
Because nonprofits are getting more savvy, donors are as well. In addition to an increasing demand for proof of outcomes, donors are starting to realize that in such a stark economic environment those nonprofits that don’t have adequate infrastructure simply will not survive, let alone be able to adequately address the social problem they were organized to solve.
- Increased Efforts to Rate and Compare Nonprofits
We are increasingly evaluating nonprofits based on the results they achieve, not on how they spend their money. And to do that a whole infrastructure for evaluating and rating nonprofits is emerging and will continue to evolve as we get smarter about focusing resources on the most effective nonprofits.
These are exciting times for the nonprofit sector. This webinar will help you understand and embrace these trends.
Embracing the Future of the Nonprofit Sector
A Social Velocity Webinar
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
As with all of our webinars, the registration fee gets you access to a recording of the webinar, and the slides, so even if you can’t make this date and time, you can still register.
I hope to see you there!
Photo Credit: Adolf de Meyer
There is a new nonprofit that nicely demonstrates the challenge of identifying a social problem and then developing the right strategy for solving that problem. Code.org’s sole aim is to solve the impending shortage of computer programmers. Because we have grown increasingly dependent on technology in our everyday lives, while our schools have not adequately prepared our children to keep up, we are facing an enormous shortage of people who can create the technology we desperately need.
Projections estimate that by 2020 we will need 1.4 million computer programmers, but will only have 400,000 computer science graduates, creating a 1 million person gap. And 9 out of 10 schools aren’t currently teaching computer programming. This is a huge problem.
Enter code.org. The nonprofit was founded earlier this year with two stated goals:
- Spread the word that there is a worldwide shortage of computer programmers, and that it’s much easier to learn to program than you think.
- Build an authoritative database of all programming schools, whether they are online courses, brick+mortar schools or summer camps.
They have an impressive team and list of supporters, many of the darlings of the technology startup world. And they’ve already attracted the attention of the national media and have a very savvy media presentation including some pretty cool videos.
Code.org is fascinating to me, not just because I agree that connecting how we educate our children with the skills they will need in the future is a huge issue, but also because code.org demonstrates the strategic struggle facing every social change agent. The struggle lies in identifying a social problem and then creating the right solution to the problem you’ve identified.
There are many ways you could attack the problem of a shortage of future computer programmers. You could decide to:
- Advocate for changes to the public education system
- Create new training sites around the country
- Develop coding games for kids
- Create a marketing campaign that encourages more kids to try coding
- Develop a database of available training programs
So far code.org has decided to focus on the last two. But it begs the question, why those two?
In identifying a social problem and then choosing a possible way to attack it, social change leaders must ask the following questions:
- What is the most effective entry point for changing this problem? For code.org they think the entry point is kids themselves, getting them to demand coding training, as opposed to changing education policy or increasing the supply of coding locations.
- How do we use our unique assets to address that entry point? Code.org’s biggest asset is their long list of technology celebrity supporters, so they are tapping into those people (Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg) to show kids how cool coding is. If, instead, code.org had a unique ability to move education policy forward, or proprietary coding software that more quickly delivered results they could have decided to go those routes.
- How do we structure our organization to deliver the solution? Right now code.org is a website with a series of videos and a growing database of training locations. So they don’t need a lot of staff or structure. If, however, they had decided to set up new training sites around the country or advocate for public education changes in every state, they would have needed a much larger operation with more locations and staffing.
- How will we measure if our solution is working? Code.org has clearly delineated where they need to be. By 2020 they want to see 1 million more computer programmers. So they have to figure out how many more college students they need in computer sciences, how many more high school students they need who can code, how many more middle school students who are dabbling in code and so on. I’m hoping they have metrics all along the way and the ability to see if the numbers are actually growing.
Code.org has very clearly defined a critical social problem and they have marshaled an impressive army of supporters to work toward change. It remains to be seen, however, whether they have asked the right questions and selected the right path for making that change a reality.
Board members sometimes stand in the way of a what their nonprofit needs most. I’ve talked before about the meaningless at best and destructive at worst distinction between “overhead” and “program” dollars. And board members often are as bad as donors at forcing nonprofits to ignore the very real costs of the work they do and their very real need for organization building dollars.
But board members could break this pattern by helping their nonprofit uncover, plan for and fund the staffing, technology, expertise and systems required to make the organization more effective at creating change.
Board members need to put their weight behind organization building. And they can start by giving their nonprofit these five priceless gifts:
- Permission to Talk About Real Costs. Stop asking your nonprofit staff to get by with less and less. Stop telling your Executive Director to lower the salary they can offer a talented Development Director, not to spend money on technology, or to use volunteers when they need experts. Instead, start asking what the real costs of the work are and how much you truly need to raise to accomplish your ambitious organizational goals.
- The Support of the Board. Once you start talking about real costs, you need to marshal the rest of the board to support organization building. Boards are often led by a vocal few who convince the rest to go along with their plans. If you can be that vocal member who articulates the need for organization building, how it will result in greater results over time, and how the board must be the champion of and seed investor in organization building, you can create a stronger, healthier nonprofit.
- A Capacity Plan. With the board in support of organization building, it’s time to put an organization-building plan in place. Ask the head of your nonprofit to spend some time coming up with a capacity building plan that will take the organization to the next level. Then present that plan at the next board meeting for a substantive conversation about what is truly holding the organization back and what it would take to move forward.
- An Organization Building Investment. Instead of asking that your annual donation go to your favorite program, be the lead investor in this new capacity building plan. Organization building dollars are very difficult to find. So those closest to the organization should be the first to step up and invest in capacity. And don’t just give the required amount. Make an investment that is significant to you. If you truly believe in this organization, take out your checkbook and make it hurt.
- Access to More Building Dollars. But don’t just stop there. Think strategically about who you could convince to join you in strengthening the capacity of the organization. Then make the case for why a Development Director, or a strategic plan, or an evaluation study, or new technology will grow the results your nonprofit is achieving. If board members start making a compelling case to their friends and colleagues about the importance of capacity building dollars, the sector could be transformed.
Board members can be an instrumental driver of stronger, healthier, more effective nonprofit organizations. But in order to get there, board members have to understand and embrace their leadership role in making organization building a reality.
If you want a roadmap for making your board more effective, register for our How to Build a Groundbreaking Board webinar.
Photo credit: asenat29
The constantly evolving world of social media can be absolutely exhausting. You want to keep up, but how can you when the number of sites grows every day? And each site competes with the others on look, functionality, audience size. I’ve finally decided to take the advice of many and focus my time on a select few sites. These are:
At first I was hesitant about Google+. Even though Google+ can’t boast anywhere close to the number of people that LinkedIn and Facebook do, it is still very much on my list. Google increasingly controls how people find content on the web, and it is more than likely that the search engine will increasingly reward those who use it (your content will rank higher in searches if you are using Google+).
But in addition to that, I’m pretty excited about Google Hangouts, Google’s answer to online meetings. I participated in my first Google Hangout in April with David Henderson (How to Use Real Performance Data to Raise More Money), and now I’m using Google Hangouts with small groups of nonprofit leaders in the Financing Not Fundraising E-Course. I also have client meetings via Google Hangout. But I think there is huge potential for even more with Google Hangouts.
To host all of this new activity I’ve launched a Social Velocity Google+ page. I plan to host some informal social innovation chats and perhaps move some of my monthly social innovator interviews from written exchanges to live or recorded Google Hangouts. So, on the Social Velocity Google+ page in addition to updates, articles and other happenings in the world of social innovation you can participate in upcoming Hangouts and interact with leaders in the social innovation space. I hope you will join me at Google+. You can follow the Social Velocity Google+ page here.
What are your thoughts on Google+? How effective a social media channel is it for you?
- The Nonprofit Sector and the
Philanthropy That Funds It Are
Find Out How to Keep Up
in our June 25th
Embracing the Future of the
Nonprofit Sector Webinar