I’m delighted to announce the release of the newest Social Velocity step-by-step guide, Creating a Nonprofit Financing Plan. This guide is designed to help you build a financing plan for your nonprofit and joins the growing list of Social Velocity tools available to nonprofits.
A financing plan, unlike a traditional fundraising plan, is an integrated, thoughtful, and strategic way to help a nonprofit raise enough money to achieve its programmatic and organizational goals. When you finance, instead of fundraise for, your nonprofit you are developing a long-term strategy for bringing enough money in the door to achieve your mission.
Financing means that instead of asking the question:
“How much can we accomplish with what we can raise?”
you start asking the question:
“How much should we raise to accomplish our goals?”
A financing plan differs from a fundraising plan in a number of ways. Unlike a fundraising plan, a financing plan:
- Raises all of the necessary revenue AND capital required to achieve the goals of your strategic plan
- Includes ALL activities that bring money in the door
- Supports the short AND long term goals of your nonprofit
- Funds your programs AND infrastructure
- Employs activities in line with your core competencies and mission
The Creating a Nonprofit Financing Plan Guide walks you step-by-step through the process of creating your nonprofit’s financing plan and is divided into 8 sections:
1. Align Money, Mission and Competence
2. The Financing Plan Framework
3. Create Revenue Goals
4. Create A Capital Goal
5. Create A Fundraising Infrastructure Goal
6. Operationalize the Plan
7. Monitor the Plan
8. Next Steps
With a clear financing plan, your nonprofit will bring more money in the door, in a more sustainable way, ultimately bringing you closer to achieving your mission and creating change in your community.
In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, we’re talking with Kate Barr, Executive Director of Nonprofits Assistance Fund, whose mission is to foster community development and vitality by building financially healthy nonprofit organizations. Kate has led the organization’s growth as a premier resource for training, strategic financial counsel, and financing for nonprofit organizations in Minnesota. Kate enjoys helping nonprofits consider the relationship between their mission and program goals and their financial and organizational strategy. She frequently writes and speaks on nonprofit financial and strategy and is lead blogger for Balancing the Mission Checkbook.
You can read past interviews in our Social Innovation Interview Series here.
Nell: Nonprofits Assistance Fund is all about helping nonprofit leaders become more financially savvy. Why do you think strategic financial management is so important for nonprofit leaders and what holds some nonprofit leaders back from achieving it?
Kate: I think about it this way: if strategic direction in general is important for nonprofit organizations, then strategic financial management is equally important as a component of that direction and vision. When a nonprofit develops a strategic plan they are also adopting a financial strategy. Too often, though, that financial strategy is underdeveloped because the vision and strategic goals don’t incorporate the business model that’s required to support the plan. At Nonprofits Assistance Fund we unpack the financial aspect of a nonprofit business model into four inter-connected components: revenue mix; cost of effective programs; infrastructure; and capital structure. I see the biggest obstacle to understanding financial strategy is the singular focus that many nonprofit leaders place on revenue, revenue, revenue. If we could just raise enough money, they think, it will all work out. In reality the business model is more complex than that. The extreme revenue pressures that many nonprofits have faced over the last few years have uncovered the vulnerability of business models. Fortunately, savvy leaders are stepping back to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their financial strategy and being more intentional about identifying and creating a business model that can work.
Nell: A few months ago you wrote a rebuttal to the Center of Philanthropy’s recent survey that claimed nonprofit managers lack solid financial knowledge. What would you say is the actual extent of financial knowledge among the leaders of the nonprofit sector? And what can we do to improve it?
Kate: Yes, I was critical of the study because the findings were based on an extremely narrow test of knowledge to define financial literacy. As we said in the column, the report did not make a connection between the “lack of financial knowledge” based on the survey and the health and vitality of the nonprofits and their missions in the community. Frankly, the fact that so many nonprofits have been able to respond to huge increases in demand for service without going over the cliff is testament to some pretty remarkable financial skills. The direct answer to the question, though, is that the financial knowledge is mixed. Anyone with financial management responsibility needs to understand the terminology of nonprofit finance and know how to read and make use of financial information. Leaders of nonprofits need to have both technical knowledge – what I would categorize as financial management skills – and leadership capacity to navigate changes to their business models. There has been a lot of progress in building financial management skills as the field has become more professionalized. There are many training opportunities for skill building, both in person workshop and online learning (including Nonprofits Assistance Fund’s training workshops and webinars). Financial leadership capacity requires more than a few classes. It takes experience, knowledge, and guts to align mission, strategic plan, and financial structure in a way that build sustainable community impact. I think the ideal nonprofit leader combines passion for the mission with excitement for the business challenge.
Nell: There is a phenomenon in the nonprofit sector that when business people join a nonprofit board they often leave their financial and business acumen at the door fearing it could muddy the charitable work of the organization. Why do you think this is and what can we do to overcome that tendency?
Kate: I’ve seen two different dynamics when this happens with board members: wishful thinking and misunderstanding. The wishful thinking problem arises when board members believe that nonprofits operate outside of the market and that their good work can be performed with minimal cost and simple revenue streams. The misunderstanding is just another version of the “nonprofits should operate more like businesses” myth. Nonprofits are businesses. This “advice” underestimates the complexity of nonprofits as business enterprises. Board members can’t be effective unless they understand how the enterprise works and what the board’s role is in planning and governing. Overcoming this tendency starts with board leadership and carries through recruiting, orientation, and ongoing board development. The executive director or CEO has an important role to work with the board chair or governance committee to prepare and support board members’ ability to understand and build the business.
Nell: One of the most exciting developments in the last year or so is the growing interest in and experimentation with social impact bonds, or pay for success bonds, a public/private funding vehicle for nonprofits based on outcomes. Minnesota has already begun to experiment with a $10 million pilot. What, if anything, has Minnesota learned so far and what do you see as the future for this new financial vehicle?
Kate: There is a lot going on in efforts to develop models and financial structures to pay for results, including social impact bonds, pay for success contracting, and the Minnesota pay for performance pilot. The Minnesota state legislature approved a $10 million state appropriation bond to test a pay for performance approach for some state funded programs. The Minnesota pilot is the first experiment to use an actual bond offering as the financial structure. The advisory committee started meeting early this year and has just issued a Request for Information for nonprofit service providers in workforce development and supportive housing. What we’ve learned so far in developing the Minnesota pilot is that every question leads to three more questions. Part of the complexity stems from the goals. In each of the models in development there are actually multiple goals: identifying program designs that work; saving the state money; attracting new funds; and sharing or transferring financial risk. Any one of these goals requires capacity to deliver and appropriate measures for success. Combining all four goals, as most of the models do, creates something of a bear to design and evaluate. Some of the open questions in Minnesota include: the methodology for the economic measure of success; the role of evaluator; the time-frame for measuring and valuing ROI to the state; access to the data that will be used for monitoring; the market for the bonds; and the appropriate level of risk for nonprofits to bear. The Minnesota pilot does not transfer the financial risk to the bondholders in the same way as the SIB model so there is also a working capital gap for the service providers. We are assessing what will be needed for our loan fund to help with that. As for the future, while there is great enthusiasm for these ideas and pilot projects we have to keep in mind that this is all still early stage with lots of lessons to be learned before we even know if these can attract significant new funds.
Nell: One of the big debates in the nonprofit sector centers around a distinction between program and administrative (or “overhead”) expenses. Rating agencies are just starting to realize that this distinction is damaging to the nonprofit sector. But how do we really move beyond this and get a majority of funders, regulators and others to recognize the danger of evaluating nonprofits based on how they spend money versus how they achieve results?
Kate: Is this even really a debate anymore? There’s pretty universal agreement that the functional expense ratio doesn’t measure nonprofit effectiveness, efficiency, or accountability. The challenge now is communication and education. This one ratio has so dominated every nonprofit financial measurement that we are forced to try and undo decades of practice. Nonprofits bought into the ratio, too, and reinforced it with pie charts and donor messages about how “every dollar goes to program”. Is it any surprise that donors listened and believed us? It took years to create the “standard” that expense ratio is the most useful measure for nonprofit financial results. Unfortunately it’s going to take time to re-educate. We have to start within the nonprofit field itself. There are still many nonprofits that promote their low overhead ratio in fundraising because, they claim, it helps them to attract and retain donors. It’s easy to calculate and communicate. Rather than battle the monster that we helped to create, I think we need to change gears, replace the ratio with more meaningful information about impact and financial health, and raise expectations for results. I really appreciate that Financial Scan, the new product from Guidestar and Nonprofit Finance Fund, doesn’t even include the functional expense ratio on the financial health dashboard or accompanying analysis reports. None of the other ratios – that are much more useful – are quite as simple, though. We’re going to be having this “debate” for some time to come.
I announced last week that I’m launching a new series on the Social Velocity Blog. At least once a month I will answer a reader’s question on the blog. You can send me questions about social innovation, philanthropy, financing, fundraising, nonprofit management, strategic planning, you name it. This first time around I received so many great questions it took me a long time to choose. But I finally settled on a great one from Kelley Nicoloff.
I love getting your questions, so if you have a question you’d like to see answered on the blog, send it to me at email@example.com, post it on the Social Velocity Facebook page, or send it to me via Twitter @nedgington.
Here’s Kelley’s question and my response.
How do you determine a good budget for your non-profit when you are just starting out and have no funding? Right now, I am writing a grant and the grant is requesting statistics on the capital necessary to reach growth goals for the next three years. This is in reference to scalability and opening new sites across the country. Thanks!
Kelley Nicoloff, Uteam4u, Inc.
Whether you are just starting a new organization or you are 20 years into it you always need a plan for the future with an integrated financial plan. Creating a budget is really step 2, so don’t skip the most important step 1, which is to create the overall strategy. If you are writing a grant that requires growth goals over the next 3 years you need an overall plan for the next 3 years of the organization. So before you write that grant request you need to develop a 3-year strategic plan, which will detail your growth goals as part of an overall organizational strategy.
The strategic plan should include:
- Long-Term Goals. A handful of broad goals you want to accomplish over the next 3 years. Typically, the goals break down into:
- 1-2 program, or mission-related, goals. This is where you determine how you want to grow, where and over what period.
- 1 funding goal that describes how much money it will take to make this growth a reality, this is directly related to your budget described below.
- 1-2 infrastructure-related goals that describe the marketing, technology, staffing, board necessary, this is where you will start to outline what capital improvements you will need for growth to happen.
- Objectives for Each Goal. You need to break each goal down into the steps required to get there.
- An Operational Plan. It’s not enough to have a general sense of the direction you want to go in, you need to make the plan completely operational: include activities, deliverables, people responsible, and timeline.
- A Budget. You need to figure out the costs for all of these goals (expenses) and how will you raise the money to meet those costs (revenue and capital). As part of this you need to create a capital budget for the one-time costs of building an organization ready for growth. Your final budget must be directly tied to the goals and objectives of your 3-year strategic plan.
If you follow these steps and come up with a 3-year strategic plan, not only will you have the “good budget” that you need for the grant proposal, but more importantly, your nonprofit will have put together a measurable, actionable plan for the future. It won’t be just a hoop you had to jump through for this particular funder. You will have a real growth plan that you can feel confident you can actually bring to fruition.
If you want to learn more about creating a financing plan for your organization, check our Creating a Financing Plan webinar.
Photo Credit: Cellular Immunity
Last May I launched a new ongoing blog series that profiles Social Velocity’s work with Charlotte Chamber Music, a small performing arts organization that has a big vision, but lacks the capital to get there. Charlotte Chamber Music enlisted Social Velocity’s help last Spring to create a strategic plan and a capacity capital pitch to raise the money to execute on their big plan. You can read the whole series here.
Capacity capital (or “philanthropic equity”) is the money so many nonprofits desperately need. Capacity capital is dramatically different from the day-to-day operating revenue for which nonprofits are always fundraising. Capacity capital doesn’t fund delivery of nonprofit services (beds for a homeless shelter, new productions in an opera house, books for an after-school program). Rather, capacity capital builds the organizational infrastructure of the nonprofit (technology, systems, administrative or fundraising staff, materials) that allows the organization to become more effective or grow. But you cannot simply go out and ask for capacity capital. First, you must develop a compelling, inspiring, actionable and measurable plan for what you would do with the capacity capital.
After several months of working with Charlotte Chamber Music we had a strategic plan that staff and board were excited about and invested in. But it’s not enough to have a great strategic direction and goals and objectives to get there. You have to make the plan operational. That means you have to tie the big plan to the day-to-day activity of the organization and the price tag need to get there.
The next step in the process was to develop:
- An annual operational plan built from the strategic plan, and
- A budget
To do this, Executive Director Elaine Spallone needed to create milestones for each year of the plan. She needed to articulate what had to be accomplished in each year of the plan. This allowed her to start to break the big 3-year plan into annual chunks. Once she was happy with those milestones, she created a laundry list of activities that had to be accomplished in the first year in order to hit the first milestone. Once she was happy with that comprehensive list of activities, she tied each activity to a deliverable, a deadline and a person responsible.
As Elaine said:
Creating the operational plan was intense in the time investment and level of detail required, but worth every minute spent in its creation. It is especially gratifying to check off items and see the progress made. To be fair, it can also be frustrating to realize what is not moving forward. But the good news there is that those issues are clear, and can be articulated, shared and modified.
At the same time, she needed to project revenue and expenses over the period of the strategic plan. It’s not enough to have big goals, you need to understand the price tag associated with those goals (expenses) and how the money (revenue) will flow into the organization to meet those expenses. So Elaine created a 3-year revenue and expense projection that was tied to the goals and objectives of the plan.
Once she had these two key pieces in place (annual operational plan and 3-year budget) she could begin to put some key monitoring pieces in place to ensure that the strategic plan was being executed on. These monitoring pieces are:
- Each monthly staff meeting is tied to the deliverables of the operational plan that are due that month
- Each monthly board meeting includes a dashboard report on the status of the goals of the plan
- At the end of each fiscal year, Elaine will create the next year’s annual operational plan tied to the strategic plan
- Annual employee evaluations will be tied to an employee’s performance on their part of the operational plan
- Each annual budget will be tied to the costs of the annual operational plan
So now that Charlotte Chamber Music had an inspiring, investable strategic plan and a budget and operational plan to ensure that the plan would actually come to fruition, they were ready to go out and raise the capacity capital they needed.
In the next post in this series, we’ll talk about how we created a capacity capital pitch and a strategy for going after prospective funders.
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