There was a really interesting interview last week in the Nonprofit Quarterly with Bill Ryan, author of Governance as Leadership, who recently led a study on coaching in the nonprofit sector. Coaching is a form of management consulting where a leader is given one-on-one strategic guidance.
An executive director can be coached to grow an organization, to build a stronger board, to revamp their financial model. Or as Ryan puts it, coaching answers the question: “If my organization wants to get to Point X, what do I, as a leader, need to do to build on my strengths and manage my weaknesses to help it get there?”
The concept of coaching is fascinating to me because, as Ryan points out, in corporate America coaching is much more commonplace than in the nonprofit world. If a CEO needs management counsel, they are encouraged to find a coach, whereas coaching for nonprofit leaders is often deemed a luxury. But, I think coaching is even more necessary in the nonprofit world. Nonprofit leaders, unlike their for-profit counterparts, often lack a management background having made their way to the top through program expertise.
The reality is that coaching for a nonprofit executive director can be absolutely transformative. It can make the difference between a program that is just getting by and a program that becomes financially sustainable and grows dramatically, with an engaged, committed board behind it.
Such is the case with ACE: A Community for Education, a nonprofit early childhood tutoring program. I have coached ACE Executive Director, Mary Ellen Isaacs for over a year since we completed an ambitious strategic planning process. They are now working to triple the number of students they serve and diversify and grow their financial model.
Here’s what Mary Ellen has to say about the coaching experience (or if you are reading this in an email click here to watch):
I believe coaching can be hugely transformative for nonprofit organizations, helping their leaders build the skills they need to grow their solutions far and wide. If you’d like to learn more about how I coach nonprofit leaders, check out the Coaching page of the website.
Photo Credit: wikimedia
It happened again last week. An executive director approached me after my keynote address in Washington DC and mentioned how ineffective his board of directors is. He said it as an aside, as if it were simply a given for any nonprofit. And for so many nonprofits it is — the board of directors is a loose grouping of people who don’t do a lot for the organization. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If managed strategically, your board can be an unstoppable army moving your nonprofit forward.
In working with ACE, an early literacy nonprofit, I helped them revamp their board from the ground up. We did a series of things that helped the board understand its role and get excited and engaged in the work of expanding ACE’s reach, increasing its accountability, and driving a growth strategy.
Here’s how a board of directors, like ACE’s, can be transformed:
Get Clear About Their Role. You must develop board by-laws, a committee structure, individual goals and individual roles and responsibilities. The board as a group must come up with all of these elements (with help) and together decide how they want to work and create accountability for themselves.
Find the Right People. Contrary to popular belief, a nonprofit does NOT want to recruit any warm body for their board. Instead you want to take a hard look at your organizational strategy and determine the skills, experience and networks required at the board level to make that strategy a reality. Compare those needs with the current board and determine where the holes lie. Then recruit people with those missing skills, experience and networks.
Give Everyone Specific Goals. If you are not very clear and consistent with each board member about what their specific roles and requirements are, it is little wonder that they are not performing. You need to set a give/get requirement for each board member and then meet with each member individually at least once per year to talk about how exactly they plan to meet that requirement. And use that opportunity to be creative and strategic about tapping into each individual member’s strengths. Don’t try to make each board member do the exact same thing.
Let Them Be Strategic. If your board meetings are merely a boring recitation of everything that’s happened at the organization over the past month, it is little wonder that there is no passion, energy or initiative on the board. Instead, make sure that each board meeting poses a key strategic issue for them to grapple with. Let your board use their brains and drive the strategic direction of the organization. Begin engaging the board on a much deeper level and start reaping the benefits.
Make Them Lead. At the end of the day the board should be leading the organization. Don’t get frustrated with their lack of leadership and simply take over for them. Encourage the board chair to drive the agenda, to lead the meetings, to ask more of her board members, to raise the bar.
I have seen it happen. A board of directors can be a nonprofit’s most valuable asset, bringing the organization better exposure to key decision makers, access to increased community support, and more effective, sustainable leadership. If you want to learn more about how I help nonprofits transform their board, take a look at my Board Development Consulting Service, or if you’d like to schedule a time to talk further about how I can help your board, send me an email.
Photo Credit: Ashley Dace
Being the leader of a nonprofit can be incredibly lonely. You have a million demands on your time, countless people to keep happy, ambitious (if not impossible) goals to achieve, and few resources with which to achieve them. It can be an overwhelming place to be.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. I have found that if a nonprofit leader has someone to confide their challenges and concerns, strategize solutions, brainstorm new approaches, and hear about alternative options they can emerge with greater confidence, inspiration and energy.
I believe there is a tremendous need for this kind of coach for the leaders of the nonprofit sector. That is why I’ve begun offering nonprofit staff coaching services.
I coach executive directors to:
- Create a more effective, engaged board of directors
- Structure your staff to better meet your goals
- Implement and monitor your strategic plan
- Establish or strengthen key external relationships
- Better communicate with and engage staff
- Develop dashboards for reporting progress to board and funders
- Raise growth or capacity capital
- And much more
And I coach development directors (and executive directors who also wear the development director hat) to:
- Create an effective annual financing plan
- Launch a major donor campaign
- Engage your board in fundraising
- Use social media to recruit donors
- Develop compelling fundraising letters, proposals and materials
- Streamline donor cultivation and stewardship
- Develop more efficient and effective back-end fundraising systems
- And much more
I provide phone, email, and in-person coaching to nonprofit staff to help gain new perspective, try new ideas, get unstuck and move their organization forward. You can download the Coaching one sheet here.
The duration and price of coaching depends on the level of counsel your staff needs. You can purchase a package of coaching hours to use over a month, several months, or a year. The more hours you purchase, the lower the hourly coaching rate. Coaching prices range from $250 for a single hour of coaching to $10,000+ for 50+ hours of coaching.
And if you’d like to schedule a free consultation to learn more about how coaching might work for your nonprofit, email email@example.com.
Photo Credit: JPtHart
One of my resolutions this new year is to add more video to the Social Velocity site. I love watching video, and I’d love to see more nonprofits using the medium, so I thought I should probably follow suit. A few months ago I created a Social Velocity YouTube channel and will continue to add video to it over the course of the year. I also plan to do some video blogging this year, which I’m pretty excited about.
But today I want to introduce my new consulting video. Here I discuss how I consult with nonprofit clients. If you are reading this in an email, you can see the video by clicking here. Take a look!
There is a way off of the exhausting nonprofit hamster wheel of trying to do more and more with less and less. If your nonprofit can articulate the value you provide, strengthen your organization, develop a groundbreaking board, chart a strategic direction, and attract more support, you will set yourself up to achieve the holy grail of the nonprofit sector: lasting change to a social problem.
It’s a process where your nonprofit assembles 5 building blocks that each build on the next one:
- Articulate Your Nonprofit’s Value
It is no longer enough for nonprofits to do “good work.” Funders, policy makers, board members, and others are increasingly demanding that nonprofits explain what value they provide a community and what change they exist to create.
- Strengthen Your Organization
Once you know your value, you must build your organization. Nonprofits can no longer scrape by without the staff, infrastructure, technology and systems they need to deliver results-driven programs. They must create a plan to strengthen their organization and raise capacity capital to implement it.
- Develop a Groundbreaking Board
A strong organization requires a groundbreaking board to lead it. A nonprofit’s board of directors is absolutely critical. Without their leadership, investment and excitement it will be impossible to build community support and create change. A groundbreaking board provides strategic direction, brings money in the door, connects the organization to key decision makers and ultimately leads the organization to success.
- Chart a Strategic Direction
But without a clear future direction a nonprofit is living in the world of just doing good work. A nonprofit that puts together a thoughtful, comprehensive plan for the future will attract more support, increase staff and board investment, and ultimately create more social change.
- Attract More Support
Once these four elements are in place, a nonprofit is ready to attract more support. In an increasingly competitive funding environment it is more important than ever that nonprofits develop a long-term financing plan for their organization. A plan that determines how the organization will bring enough money in the door to achieve their mission.
These 5 elements build on each other and, once assembled, look like this:
The consulting services I provide are tailored to assist nonprofits wherever they are in this process. From developing a theory of change, to raising capacity capital, to revamping the board, to creating a strategic plan, to developing a financing plan. I help nonprofits make the leap from just getting by to creating sustainable social impact.
In order to help you determine where you are in this process and where you need help, we have organized the Consulting page of the Social Velocity website by this 5-stage process.
But there are also nonprofits that are so new or so small that they simply aren’t ready for outside help. Over the past two years I’ve been developing a whole suite of tools for these smaller, younger nonprofits. The e-books, webinars, and step-by-step guides on our Tools page all fit into this 5-stage process as well. So you can determine where you are in the process and what you need in order to move forward.
Photo Credit: Trey Ratcliff
Over the past few weeks I’ve started using video more often on the blog. My plan is to do even more of that. So today I’m excited to share the below video with you (click here to see the video if you are reading this in an email.) It explains how I help nonprofit organizations, of all shapes and sizes, navigate dramatic change in their organizations so that they can raise more money, engage their board, achieve their mission, and ultimately create more social change.
I have launched a Social Velocity channel on YouTube, and I plan to add additional videos and even video blog posts in the coming months. I encourage you to check it out and subscribe to the channel if you are interested.
I believe very strongly that in order to fix a broken nonprofit sector we must change how things are done. But it is not enough to change only the larger structures of the nonprofit sector (IRS regulations, public perceptions about “overhead expenses,” funder requirements). Individual nonprofit organizations must also change how they operate in order to survive in this dramatically changing environment.
At Social Velocity, the nonprofits I provide consulting to have all reached some sort of inflection point. They have realized, for whatever reason, that they can no longer continue on the way that they always have. They have decided they must revamp their financial model, restructure their board, dramatically grow their services, or chart a new strategic direction in order to stay relevant and achieve their missions.
But it’s not enough to want change, or for just a couple of people within a nonprofit organization to want it. Over the many years I have been working with nonprofits, I have realized that in order for change to really happen, there must be some key building blocks in place:
- A Champion. There must be someone in a leadership position in a nonprofit who is a cheerleader for change. It could be the executive director, the board chair, or a board member. And that person must have the respect and trust of a majority of the organization. If the champion for change is a sidelined board member, an executive director on their way out, or a disgruntled staff member, the effort for change will go nowhere.
- A Need for Change. The champion for change must be able to describe the need for change. There has to be some urgency and a described end goal in order to rally others to the cause for change. It may be that a major funding source is going away, or board members are resigning, or client need is dramatically increasing. The champion for change must make a case to the rest of the organization about why change must happen, and why now.
- Critical Mass. Once a key champion starts pushing for change they must rally enough board and staff members behind the idea. There must be enough people who also want to see significant change in the organization in order to force it out of inertia.
- Funders of Change. A nonprofit could have an entire board and staff ready and willing to change, but without at least a few funders who also believe in that change and are willing to invest in a process for making it a reality (a new financial plan, a growth plan, a board recruitment process) they won’t get very far. You need to identify a few funders who love what your nonprofit does and can be made to understand the need for change now.
- A Navigator. I’m probably biased, but I believe that you need someone to guide the organization through significant change so that it doesn’t collapse in the middle. Without an outsider who understands the change that needs to happen and how to lead the organization there, a nonprofit can easily fall back into their normal ways of doing things. If a nonprofit is really committed to making a serious change, then they need to invest in a competent guide to get them there.
The convergence of the public, private and nonprofit sectors, an economic restructuring, and increasing competition for dollars, among other things, have combined to make change in the nonprofit sector a necessity. Those nonprofits that realize that business as usual just won’t cut it anymore and begin the work of changing their organizations to meet these new challenges are the ones that will survive and thrive.
To find out more about how I help nonprofits navigate change, check out my consulting services.
Photo Credit: Best and Worst Ever
Ask a nonprofit executive director their biggest challenge and most will say securing enough resources. It can seem a vicious cycle: a struggling nonprofit needs to raise money to build their capacity, but they have to have enough capacity in place to raise that money. So they continue to struggle.
A reader of the Social Velocity blog, an executive director of a smaller nonprofit, recently emailed me interested in Social Velocity’s consulting help to grow their ability to bring money in the door. However, the organization is so strapped that they don’t currently have the money to hire Social Velocity. So they are stuck in the vicious cycle: not enough money to raise enough money.
But there is a way out.
The clients we work with are all small and medium nonprofits that are at some sort of inflection point. They too have realized they need to do something different in order to grow their impact and/or become more financially sustainable. Yet, the trouble is they can’t make that change without some outside help.
So they have gotten smart. They have embarked on a series of steps to secure enough investments to hire Social Velocity to help them create a stronger, more effective nonprofit. These are the steps they went through:
- Gather Champions: The executive director identifies a few board members who believe as strongly as they do in the desire for some sort of change to the organization and the need for help to get there.
- Create a Vision for Change: Together these few leaders agree on their vision for change, for example: stronger financial footing for the organization, expanded programs, a more effective board. They may have no idea how to get there, but they all agree on a desired change.
- Make a Roadmap: They meet with Social Velocity to get more clarity around the kind of change they want and what it would take to get there. Once I have a clear sense of where the organization is and what it would take to get them to their vision for change, I put together a detailed proposal listing activities, deliverables, timeline and cost so that they have a very clear roadmap for the investment required to make change happen.
- Find Prospects: The small group identifies 3-5 people (board members, current major donors, volunteers or other friends of the organization) as potential investors in securing Social Velocity’s assistance. These people possess 3 key criteria that make them likely prospects to fund this capacity-building effort:
- Connection: They are already close to the organization, whether as a current donor, volunteer, board member or friend. They know the organization well.
- Concern: They strongly believe in the organization and the work it is doing and want to see the organization do more and better.
- Capacity: They have the capacity to make at least a $3-5,000, one-time investment in the organization so that it can get to the next level.
- The nonprofit’s vision for change
- The plan (Social Velocity proposal) for getting to that vision for change
- The investment required
- Whether they would like to make an investment
The end result has been nonprofit organizations, that had for years been stuck in the vicious cycle of never having enough money to do enough, finally breaking free with a plan and the investment to make some significant changes to their organizations. You can read our ongoing blog series, Raising Money to Grow On, about one of these clients who did exactly what I’ve outlined above. And you can also read a past blog post about how you can make your donors organization builders.
Nonprofits must break free from the idea that they just have to hobble along with dwindling resources, continuing to squeeze another drop out of a completely dry rock. If you have a core group of people who love your work and want to see you do more, you possess the key to building your own capacity.
Photo Credit: HikingArtist.com
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