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How an Assessment Propels a Nonprofit Forward

nonprofitSometimes I work with nonprofits that are really stuck.

They have been spinning their wheels for months (maybe years) and can’t seem to get out of a vicious cycle that might include insufficient funding, a disengaged board of directors, struggling programs, or an inability to articulate their value to outsiders. They continue to have the same conversations month after month, wanting to do more and be more, but unable to figure out what’s holding them back.

When that is the case, a Financial Model Assessment can be really instrumental in moving the nonprofit forward.

Last week, I led the culminating meeting of a Financial Model Assessment for one of my clients. In this meeting I bring board and staff together to discuss my findings after a 3-4 month assessment of how every aspect of their nonprofit (strategy, vision and mission, board and staff structure, marketing, etc.) contributes to (or detracts from) their ability to bring sustainable money in the door.

This meeting is always my favorite part of the process because it starts to move a nonprofit forward in several ways:

Taboo Topics Are Uncovered and Discussed
Let me be clear, this is a challenging meeting. Through the course of the Assessment, I often uncover one or two things that are happening at a nonprofit that everyone knows about (and may even be discussing privately) but no one is willing or able to address as an organization. Perhaps the nonprofit is running a program that drags the organization down, or the board is not pulling their weight, or the staff is not structured effectively. In this meeting, nothing is sacred. Anything that holds the nonprofit back is fair game. It can be incredibly helpful to have someone finally put everything out in the open for the organization as a whole to discuss. Because if you don’t articulate and analyze the problems, you have no hope of overcoming them.

Board and Staff Are Energized
Once those problems are out in the open, there is often a palpable energy that begins sparking around the room as individual board and staff members begin to realize that there is a better way. It may not be easy, and it may push them and the organization in new, challenging ways, but it is exciting and hopeful and energizing. Every single time I have led one of these Assessment meetings a noticeable energy beings to build. It’s the acknowledgement among board and staff that they don’t have to be stuck anymore.

A Clear Path Emerges
And the reason they don’t have to be stuck anymore is because the Assessment lays out a path forward that frees the nonprofit from the spinning wheels. Suddenly board and staff have a set of steps and a strategy that they can discuss, analyze, and execute. They may not agree with or integrate every recommendation I make, but they at least have a future path around which they can mobilize.

Change Begins
This meeting, and the Financial Model Assessment that instigates it, can often be the first step in a new direction. It can be the inflection point at which board and staff finally recognize together, as a critical mass, that the status quo just won’t work anymore, and they must come together to chart a smarter, more strategic future course. It is the place where everyone acknowledges that change — true change — is necessary and possible.

If you want to learn more about the Financial Model Assessment I conduct for nonprofits, check out the Financial Model Assessment page here, or download the benefit sheet here.

Photo Credit: Till Krech


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Building a Sustainable Nonprofit: A Case Study

nonprofit strategyI consider myself incredibly lucky because I get to work one-on-one with some amazing social change leaders.

One of the clients I’m working with right now is the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). This is a group of incredibly smart and passionate people who are committed to improving public understanding and policies that impact American Muslims by engaging the government, media, and communities.

The challenges they face as a nonprofit organization are not unique. So I’d like to share their story as a case study.

I met MPAC in 2013. While they had been around for 25 years and aspired to be a truly national organization, MPAC struggled to build a diversified financial model and a donor base beyond southern California. At the same time the organization lacked a coherent strategy for their future work. They wanted to expand their national presence, grow their networks and influence, strengthen and diversify their funding sources, and ultimately increase their impact on a vibrant American Muslim community, but they didn’t know how to get there.

MPAC hired Social Velocity to conduct a Financial Model Assessment to determine what was holding the organization back from growing their revenue and diversifying their funding sources. I interviewed board and staff members and some external constituents to uncover what was holding MPAC back. I also analyzed MPAC’s past financial history, board and staff structure, marketing materials, fundraising activities and more to understand what was working and what was not. I delivered to board and staff a 30+ page assessment that described how MPAC could strengthen their financial sustainability.

One of the biggest things holding MPAC back financially was the lack of a future organizational strategy around which they could rally donors. Upon hearing my findings, the board voted unanimously to undertake a strategic planning process to chart a focused future direction. We then worked over the next 6+ months to develop a 3-year strategic plan to increase MPAC’s impact and financial sustainability.

Because of the new strategic plan we created, MPAC has focused their efforts and resources and are now working to implement the strategic plan and financial model recommendations. They are working to identify outside investors to help fund a growth campaign, expand the board, hire a Development Director, and streamline operations. Board and staff are excited about the new direction and are actively working to bring it to fruition. And to help MPAC in this critical change and growth phase I am coaching staff and board on how to implement the plan and set the organization up for success.

Outside guidance is sometimes critical to moving an organization forward. As Salam Al-Marayati, MPAC’s President and CEO put it:

Nell’s assessment illustrated how we were wasting resources and not connecting prospective donors with a clear message. After the board and staff read the report, we all decided to proceed with a strategic planning process. That exercise, which spanned over 6 months, opened everyone’s eyes. We now have buy-in from our most important stakeholders in the organization – the board – for change. We realized that in order to achieve growth, we have to change internally. Nell helped us to navigate the road to becoming a national organization by changing how we operate internally. Nell’s experience in nonprofit management and fundraising proved to be invaluable in our planning process. We are now beginning to implement the strategic plan are excited about this new era for the organization.

It doesn’t have to be so hard. The mission your board and staff are so passionate about can be achieved in a sustainable way.

You can learn more about how I work with nonprofits on my Consulting page, and you can read more case studies on the Clients page. If you’d like to discuss how I might work with your nonprofit, let me know.

Photo Credit: Evelyn Simak

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Financing Not Fundraising: Assess Your Nonprofit’s Financial Model

moneyI am amazed by the reaction of some nonprofit leaders when faced with a budget shortfall. Some simply shake their head in innocent confusion, some blame an “inexperienced” development director or a “checked-out” board, and others throw together a knee-jerk fundraising event in order to stem the tide.

But a much better approach, when you don’t have the money your nonprofit needs, is to step back and assess the viability of your nonprofit’s overall money function, which is the topic of today’s installment in the ongoing Financing Not Fundraising series.

If you want greater, more reliable funding for your nonprofit, you must get strategic. And the first step to any real strategy is analysis.

Instead of viewing the money that flows to your nonprofit as a side note, or worse, a completely uncontrollable force, you must view money as a very necessary and integrated function that is just as important as your nonprofit’s programmatic function. And in order to determine how well your money function operates and how to transform it, you must assess it.

A transformative financial model assessment uncovers how all aspects of the organization contribute to or detract from money flowing through the doors. It analyzes the financial impact of 7 areas of the organization, like this:

  1. Strategy
    Does your nonprofit have a long-term strategy that integrates money, programs and operations? Does your strategy help articulate the value your nonprofit provides the community in order to compel outsiders to invest? Does your strategy include measures for whether that value is actually being created?

  2. Mission and Vision
    Does your nonprofit have clear, compelling vision and mission statements? The two statements are not “nice to have” marketing language, rather they articulate the very essence of why your nonprofit exists. Does your vision paint a bold description of the social change you seek? Does your mission describe the day-to-day work towards that vision?

  3. Board and Staff Leadership
    Does your board have the skills, experience and networks necessary to execute on your strategic plan? Are they engaged and invested? Are they actively connecting the organization to people, resources, partnerships? Does your staff have the knowledge and experience necessary to make money flow? And are they structured and managed effectively?

  4. Program Delivery and Impact
    As a nonprofit you have two sets of “customers.” Those you serve (or your “clients”), and those who fund those services (or your “donors”). Without a compelling and effective delivery of services to clients, donors won’t fund those services. Is your nonprofit strategic about which programs to grow and which to cut? Do you measure the effect of your programs on clients? Are your programs financially viable, or are too many of your programs mission-rich, but cash-poor?

  5. Marketing and Communications
    Do you make a compelling case for your work and for support of it? Once you’ve made the case, are you using the right marketing channels (website, social media, events, email, etc.) to attract and engage your target funders, volunteers, advocates, board members and other supporters?

  6. External Partnerships
    In order to move the mission forward and in order to attract funders, volunteers, advocates you must be strategic about building alliances that make sense. Do you have the necessary external relationships to execute on your strategy? Are you constantly working to strengthen or grow the right partnerships in the right ways?

  7. Financial Model
    And only now do we look specifically at money. Because without all the previous elements (thoughtful strategy, compelling vision and mission, strong leadership) money simply will not follow. Does your funding mix fit well with your mission and core competencies? Are there other revenue streams that make sense to pursue? Are there fundraising activities that are actually costly rather than profitable?

When money isn’t working the way you want it to, don’t stick your head in the sand. Wrest the money sword from the beast of chance by taking a hard look at your nonprofit’s money function.

If you want to learn more about the Financial Model Assessment I provide clients, click here. And if you want to learn more about the Financing Not Fundraising approach, download the newest e-book in the Financing Not Fundraising series, Financing Not Fundraising volume 3.

Photo Credit: Pen Waggener

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Could Your Nonprofit Raise More Money?

Can Your Nonprofit Raise More Money?It is the ultimate question isn’t it? But often one that a nonprofit leader can’t answer on her own.

I see it all the time. A nonprofit leader wants to expand services to meet growing demand, or she is frustrated with a stalled fundraising effort, or concerned that a key revenue source is drying up, or lacks the staff or expertise to analyze where to diversify their fundraising efforts. She wants to raise more money, but she doesn’t know how to prioritize resources to do so.

But a Financial Model Assessment can turn the tide.

A Financial Model Assessment can be eye-opening and, ultimately, game changing. It can give your nonprofit a deep understanding of where you need to focus your efforts and a clear road map for growing the financial viability of your organization.

A Financial Model Assessment is for nonprofits that want (or need) to raise more money, but don’t know how to get there.

Here are the steps I go through in a Financial Model Assessment:

Interview Board, Staff, Funders
I conduct in-depth, one-on-one interviews with the executive director, revenue-generating staff, key board members, and some funders and others outside the nonprofit to understand what is working and what isn’t.

Analyze the Current Organization
I analyze all organization documents, policies, procedures, financials, systems, and materials to understand the internal and external processes for raising money. But because a nonprofit’s ability to raise money depends on much more than their fundraising efforts, I look at six areas of the organizational structure to determine how well they contribute to fundraising effectiveness, these areas are:

  • Mission and Vision
  • Overall Strategy
  • Board and Staff
  • Program Delivery and Impact
  • Marketing and Communications
  • Infrastructure and Systems

Uncover Opportunities for Current and Potential Funding
I look at all current and potential funding streams to uncover opportunities for increases. I also review all aspects of the organization’s back-end functionality for raising money (such as donor database, materials, systems, technology) in order to uncover areas for increased efficiencies.

Provide a Road Map to Grow Revenue
I create  a 20-30 page detailed analysis with recommended actions for increasing funding streams. I present the assessment and recommendations in-person to staff and board for an engaging session of questions and discussion.The nonprofits that receive the completed Financial Model Assessment hold in their hands an in-depth analysis of where they need to focus time and resources in order to increase the funding flowing to their organization. Often the Financial Model Assessment is the catalyst for big insights among board and staff and sets the organization on a path toward fundamental changes to how they bring money in the door.

It doesn’t have to be so hard. With a clear road map, your nonprofit can move from financial insecurity to financial sustainability.

To learn more, check out the Financial Model Assessment consulting page, or email me at to discuss whether a Financial Model Assessment is right for your nonprofit.

Photo Credit: Images_of_Money

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What’s Holding Your Nonprofit Back From Raising More Money?

It is the ultimate question for many nonprofit leaders. But often one that they can’t answer on their own. Perhaps because nonprofit leadership may be so mired in the weeds, or so used to doing what they’ve always done, or simply lack fundraising expertise or  knowledge of new trends and tools. The end result is that they simply can’t figure out how to raise money in new and better ways. Which is where a revenue assessment can turn the tide.

Let me give you an example.

Institute for Human Services (IHS), a large social service agency for homeless men, women and children in Honolulu, Hawaii, enjoyed success in government grant funding, but had been unable to diversify their funding as much as they would like in individual and corporate areas. At the same time, their small fundraising staff was over capacity and struggled to keep up with the volume of work. The board of directors was eager to help fundraise but didn’t know the best way to get involved.

The organization knew they had the opportunity to raise more money, but didn’t know how to prioritize their resources to do so.

IHS hired Social Velocity to conduct a revenue assessment to find opportunities for growing their funding. I interviewed board, staff and external funders to get their insights about fundraising at IHS. Then I reviewed organization financials, materials, technology, staffing, planning, and other processes. From this analysis, I wrote a 30-page analysis with specific recommendations for improving fundraising in each revenue area and presented my findings to the staff and board.

With Social Velocity’s revenue assessment, IHS has hit the ground running making improvements to their fundraising function. They have already hired a new Development Director who has been able to shoulder more of the responsibility for fundraising, freeing the Executive Director to participate in more donor relations activities. They are looking forward to reviving past donors through more targeted fundraising strategies, caring for existing donors and creating broader opportunities for constituents to support the mission more personally. The staff and board are energized by the specific fundraising role and responsibilities I outlined for them. The assessment really turned the tide for them, as executive director Connie Mitchell explained:

The analysis and recommendations turned on the light bulb for me about how an investment in one key development staff could multiply our results over a short time. We’re also confidently using our resources more wisely for a better ROI when it comes to fundraising tools and media strategies.

A revenue assessment is for nonprofit organizations that know they want (or need) to raise more money, but don’t know how to get there. Here are the steps I go through in a nonprofit revenue assessment:

  1. Interview Stakeholders. I conduct in-depth, one-on-one interviews with the executive director, key staff, key board members, and key funders and other external constituents to understand what is working and what isn’t.

  2. Review Documents. I analyze all organization documents, policies, procedures, financials, systems, and materials to understand the internal and external processes for raising money.

  3. Assess Organization. I look at 6 elements of the organizational structure (mission and vision, strategy, operations, etc) to determine how well they contribute to fundraising effectiveness.

  4. Analyze Revenue Streams. I look at all current and potential revenue streams to uncover opportunities for increases.

  5. Review Fundraising Infrastructure. I review all aspects of the organization’s back-end functionality for raising money (such as donor database, materials, systems, technology) in order to uncover areas for increased efficiencies.

  6. Deliver Analysis and Recommendations. I write  a 15-20 page detailed analysis with recommended actions for increasing funding streams.

  7. Present Assessment. I present the assessment and recommendations in-person to staff and board for questions and discussion.

It doesn’t have to be so hard. A revenue assessment can give you a clear road map for moving your organization from financial insecurity to long-term financial sustainability.

To learn more about Social Velocity’s revenue assessment, check out our Revenue Assessment Consulting Service, or email us at

Photo Credit: Julia Manzerova

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