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nonprofit management

Disciplined, People-Focused Nonprofit Management: Pillar 2

nonprofit managmentThis spring I have been trumpeting the Performance Imperative, a detailed definition of a high-performing nonprofit released by the Leap Ambassador community in March. Today I continue the ongoing blog series describing each of the 7 Pillars of the Performance Imperative with Pillar #2: Disciplined, People-Focused Management.

You can read about Pillar 1: Courageous, Adaptive Leadership here, and you can read my interview with Lowell Weiss, one of the chief architects of the Performance Imperative here.

With this second Pillar, the Performance Imperative obviously makes a distinction between “leaders” in Pillar 1, and “managers” in Pillar 2. There is a note in the Performance Imperative that “leaders” and “managers” are typically two separate people in nonprofits with budgets over $1 million. So this distinction, and perhaps this Pillar, applies only to larger nonprofits.

But I think there is actually application to any nonprofit. In any nonprofit there are leadership tasks (creating the vision, being the cheerleader, marshaling resources) and there are management tasks (making sure the trains run on time, putting each resource to its highest and best use). In smaller organizations both sets of tasks fall to the same person, yet they both still need to be performed well. So I think it behooves any size nonprofit to analyze whether they are BOTH leading and managing well.

Effective managers put organization resources to their highest and best use. They recruit, train and retain the right talent, they use data to make good decisions, they manage to performance, and they are accountable.

You can read a larger description of Pillar 2 in the Performance Imperative, but here are some of the characteristics of a nonprofit that exhibits Disciplined, People-Focused Management:

  • Managers translate leaders’ drive for excellence into clear workplans and incentives to carry out the work effectively and efficiently.
  • Managers…recruit, develop, engage, and retain the talent necessary to deliver on the mission.
  • Managers provide opportunities for staff to see…how each person’s work contributes to the desired results.
  • Managers establish accountability systems that provide clarity at each level of the organization about the standards for success and yet provide room for staff to be creative about how they achieve these standards.
  • Managers acknowledge when staff members are not doing their work well…managers are not afraid to make tough personnel decisions so that the organization can live up to the promises it makes.

The Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) is an example of how strong management is necessary to create a culture of high-performance. CEO employs people entering parole in New York State in transitional jobs at government facilities while helping them access better paying, unsubsidized employment. CEO Chief Operating Officer, Brad Dudding described to me how CEO management created, over the past 10 years, a culture and system of high performance.

Here is his story:

In the early years, CEO focused program performance on meeting individual contract milestones, not a set of unified organizational outcomes. They were proficient in collecting data and reporting it to funders, but did not use data to track participant progress, to make course corrections, and to manage to short-term outcomes.

In 2004 the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation provided CEO with a multi-year capital investment to:

  • Create a theory of change as a blueprint for program intervention and outcomes measurement.
  • Develop a performance measurement system to track progress toward those outcomes.
  • Nurture a performance culture that uses data to understand program progress, build knowledge and correct performance gaps.

First, CEO management had to agree on a theory of change and the specific outcomes for which the organization would hold itself accountable. Next, management shared the theory of change with staff and demonstrated how each staff member contributed to its achievement through an all staff event, follow-up trainings and consistent messaging that the organization was entering an exciting period of change. CEO then adopted a new performance measurement system to reinforce the theory of change.

But reorienting the organization was not easy. Not everyone was ready to embrace a new culture of performance accountability and data tracking. CEO management was initially surprised by staff resistance and responded impatiently with compliance measures. Looking back, not enough time was invested in staff training and promoting the value proposition of new changes. At times it was an enormous effort to get front line staff to track and use data everyday to ensure participant goals were being met.

But the tipping point came when CEO promoted early adopters of the data system to management positions. These new managers were comfortable operating in a data-driven environment and holding others accountable to use data to track program participants’ progress. Once there was a group of strong managers in place, CEO’s performance culture started to take hold and program outcomes improved.

By 2010, CEO was managing to annual performance targets and short-term outcomes through staff’s real-time documentation and data analysis.

In 2012, the results of a three-year randomized control trial showed that CEO’s program resulted in a reduction in recidivism of 16-22%. But the evaluation also uncovered a need to improve CEO’s strategies for advancing long-term employment and for connecting individuals to the full-time labor market. In response, CEO created a job retention unit and developed innovative job retention strategies, including training programs and financial incentives for participants.

In 2013, CEO entered the New York State Social Impact Bond, the first state-sponsored transaction, through which CEO will serve 2,000 high-risk parolees in New York City and Rochester between 2014 and 2018. If CEO hits benchmarks and reduces the use of prison and jail beds by program participants, investors will be repaid their principal and will receive a return of up to 12.5% by the U.S. Department of Labor and New York state.

The tenets of a performance based culture — supportive leadership, disciplined managers, goal setting, data collection and analysis to track and improve outcomes — are now fully accepted by CEO staff and reinforced by management. CEO now has a highly developed system of tactical performance management, which allows the organization to know on a daily basis if it is delivering on its promise to its participants.

Photo Credit: Australian Paralympic Committee

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Nonprofit Leaders, Stop Wasting Your Time

nonprofit managementAs a general rule, nonprofit leaders are a self-less lot. You are so driven by your passion for social change that you are willing to perform any and all tasks required to get the job done. But there is a critical calculation that so many nonprofit leaders neglect. And that is to understand the value of their time and allocate that most precious resource effectively.

Yes, you read that correctly.

As the leader of your nonprofit your time is your organization’s most precious resource. Sure, board members, other staff members, and donors are absolutely critical to the work. But without you, there would be nothing. You are the visionary, the cheerleader, the linchpin around which everything (and everyone) revolves.

There are only so many productive hours in the day, so any hour you spend on one task is an hour you don’t spend on another task. You must put each hour of your working day to its highest and best use. As the most important connector for your nonprofit, you should be outside the organization as much as possible meeting with allies, funders, prospects, decision-makers, advocates who can help move your mission forward.

If you are stuck inside your organization updating a database, cutting checks, filing, or putting out fires, you are missing a huge opportunity.

So you need to use your time more effectively. Here’s how to start:

Create a Strategy
When a nonprofit creates and then manages to an overall strategy there is less time spent putting out fires and more time achieving outcomes and goals. So convince your board and staff to create a strategic plan and then manage to that plan. Move your organization’s culture from the reactive to the strategic and watch how you (and your staff and board) get more accomplished in the same amount of time.

Manage To Goals, Not Tasks
Once you have a strategy in place, you can manage your staff to goals, instead of discrete tasks. Whenever possible, delegate whole projects instead of specific pieces. Give a staff person the end goal you have in mind and the tools they need to get there and then empower them to do it their way. Check in on a regular basis to see how they are doing, but resist the temptation to micromanage. In so doing you get more off your plate while giving your staff license for creativity and initiative.

Regularly Meet One-on-One With Staff
I know I’ve said it before, but I’m a HUGE fan of the management power of weekly one-on-one meetings with each member of your staff. There are so many benefits. Your staff interrupts you less frequently because they know they have your undivided attention once a week, you are more willing to delegate because you know you have regular check-in points, staff learn how to problem solve on their own, and (most importantly) you have more time to GET OUTSIDE.

Find Administrative Help
As head of your nonprofit you must free yourself, as much as possible, from paper pushing tasks like filing, database maintenance, accounting. If you have the budget, hire an administrative assistant. If you don’t have the budget, recruit a volunteer to provide office support until you can grow your financial model to support administrative help. And while you are at it, outsource your accounting to a freelance bookkeeper or virtual CFO. Don’t put your administrative support at the end of the list of things your nonprofit needs. The sooner you free up your time, the better off your entire organization will be.

Nonprofit leaders, stop selling yourself and your organization short. Your time has tremendous value. So think clearly about how you allocate that limited resource and find solutions that put your time to its highest and best use. Free yourself to be the connector, fundraiser, and leader your nonprofit so desperately needs.

If you want to learn more about nonprofit leadership, download the Reinventing the Nonprofit Leader Book or Webinar.

Photo Credit: National Archives

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Reader Question: How to Make Time for Strategy

I announced last month that I was recommitting to the Reader Question Series on the blog. I received some really great questions, thanks to all of you who submitted a question. As I read through the questions, I thought it might make sense to combine two of my new year’s resolutions (the relaunched Reader Question series and using more video on the blog) into this new series. So I’m going to start answering the Reader Questions via video. Below is my answer to this great question from a reader:

“The executive director is often so busy putting out the day-to-day fires that they lose time to work on the big strategic goals. How can an ED break the cycle of jumping from crisis to crisis?”

If you have a question you’d like me to answer in an upcoming Reader Question video, send it to with the subject heading “Reader Question.” I look forward to reading your questions. Thanks!

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What Does Your Nonprofit Struggle With?

I launched a Reader Questions series on the blog a little less than a year ago, but I have to admit I have been lazy about soliciting questions for it. The one time I asked for reader questions I got great ones and did a couple of blog posts responding to those questions here and here. But then I got busy and stopped soliciting questions.

So I want to reinvigorate the Reader Questions series now. I’d love to more consistently answer questions from readers and turn it into a much more regular series.

And I need your help. I’d love to hear about what issues are really tripping you up, what hurdles you encounter, what you’d like to learn more about.

So send me your questions about:

  • Getting your board moving
  • Being up front with donors
  • Empowering your staff
  • Raising capacity capital
  • Developing a financing plan
  • Finding new donors
  • Creating a strategic plan
  • Articulating your message
  • Growing a nonprofit
  • And anything else…

Whatever you struggle with and want to learn more about. Because the beauty of it is, if you are struggling with something, there are probably 100 other people who are as well, and they’d love to learn from your experience.

So if you start sending me your questions, I promise to be more consistent about the series. You can submit your questions on the Reader Questions blog page, in the comments of this blog post, on the Social Velocity Facebook page, or by sending an email to And don’t worry, if your question is a sensitive one, you can ask to remain anonymous.

I can’t wait to hear your great questions. Thanks!

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New Consulting Video

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!

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New Webinar: Leading Difficult Conversations with Donors, Board and Staff

There comes a time at every nonprofit when a difficult conversation must happen. A conversation, which if avoided, could really cripple the organization and its work. It could be saying “No” to a donor who wants to take the organization away from its mission, or telling a board member they need to start performing, or being honest with a staff member who is not a good fit for their position.

Because nonprofits are so resource-constrained it is critical that they put every resource to its highest and best use. And in order to do that, sometimes you must lead a difficult conversation.

The Social Velocity On Demand webinar “Leading Difficult Conversations with Funders, Board Members and Employees” will give you the tools to approach those conversations with confidence and skill so that you can do what’s best for your nonprofit.

Some of the scenarios covered include when:

  • A board member is not raising money
  • A donor wants to launch a program that doesn’t fit your strategy or mission
  • A board member should be asked to resign
  • A staff member is not performing effectively

This webinar will give you:

  • Concrete language to use with funders, board members, staff
  • A strategy to best approach a challenging negotiation
  • Case studies and examples of difficult situations
  • A process for thinking through future scenarios and focusing on what’s best for your nonprofit
  • A forum for putting your toughest situations to the test
  • The opportunity to hear what challenges other nonprofit leaders face

Leading Difficult Conversations with Funders, Board Members and Employees

The registration fee will get you:

  • A link to a recording of the webinar, which you can watch as many times as you like
  • The PowerPoint slides from the webinar
  • The ability to ask additional follow-up questions after the webinar

So if you struggle with telling donors, board members and staff what they need to hear, try our on demand webinar.

And if you want to learn how to create an overall financing plan for your nonprofit, join us for that webinar on April 24th. Click here to register

Photo Credit:

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Fall Webinar Lineup for Nonprofit Leaders

I’m delighted to unveil the Social Velocity Fall Webinar Lineup. I received an amazing response to my call for webinar ideas last month with lots of really great ideas. Thanks so much to everyone who submitted an idea. Four lucky winners had their ideas chosen and will be receiving a free registration to the webinar they suggested.

Below is the lineup for this Fall. In addition to continuing to add to the Financing Not Fundraising webinar series, we are also adding other nonprofit management webinar topics. These include “Moving Beyond Your Nonprofit’s Founder” about overcoming founder’s syndrome and creating a succession plan for your organization, and “Leading Difficult Conversations with Funders, Board Members and Employees” that will help you be more assertive in telling people what they need to hear.

And remember if you can’t make the date or time of a live webinar, all of our webinars are recorded and available 24-7 as on demand webinars. So you can still sign up and get everything you would get if you could be there live. Similarly, don’t forget to check out our library of past webinars. You can see the entire list of upcoming and past webinars here.

When you register for a live or on demand webinar, you will receive:

  • Access to the live, interactive webinar (live webinars)
  • A link to a recording of the webinar, which you can watch as many times as you like
  • The PowerPoint slides from the webinar
  • The ability to ask additional follow-up questions after the webinar (on demand webinars)

And we are constantly adding new webinars to the list. If you have a new webinar idea email us at

Financing Not Fundraising: Calculating the Cost of Fundraising
On Demand

Key to any smart nonprofit financing strategy is an analytical approach to focusing on your most profitable activities. To do this, you must know how to calculate the cost of fundraising for every revenue-generating activity your organization engages in. This webinar will help you:

  • Calculate the return on investment of all your revenue-generating activities
  • Give you the net revenue raised and cost to raise a dollar formulas you need
  • Analyze which are effective fundraising activities and which are not
  • Articulate to board and staff why this analysis is important
  • Provide case studies of other nonprofit ROI calculations
  • Give you a process for analyzing and categorizing all of your fundraising activities

Moving Beyond A Nonprofit’s Founder

Founder’s syndrome is a real problem in the nonprofit sector. It happens when the organization’s founder, or a leader who has been there for a long time, becomes the sole decision-maker. And even if a nonprofit isn’t suffering from founder’s syndrome, they likely don’t have a succession plan in place for what happens if or when their leader leaves. The lack of a succession plan or an over-reliance on a founder puts an nonprofit’s future at great risk. Nonprofits must learn how to vest leadership not in one person but in the broader organization. This webinar will help nonprofits to:

  • Determine if they are suffering from founder’s syndrome
  • Move organization leadership from one person to a more sustainable, diversified leadership model
  • Create an effective succession plan
  • Communicate the plan to funders and other external stakeholders
  • Integrate your succession plan into your strategic plan

Financing Not Fundraising: Creating a Financing Plan
On Demand

If you want to move your nonprofit from the exhausting hamster wheel of fundraising to a sustainable financing model, you need a financing plan to get there. This webinar will help you create an overall financing plan to bring enough money in the door to achieve your mission, including:

  • All revenue streams flowing to the organization
  • A strategy for funding programs and operations
  • Opportunities to raise money for infrastructure
  • Tactical steps with activities, deliverables, people responsible
  • How to divide tasks by staff and board members
  • Ways to monitor the plan going forward

Leading Difficult Conversations with Funders, Board Members and Employees

Let’s face it, leading a nonprofit organization can be a very lonely, thankless job. And it often involves really hard conversations like telling a funder you can’t launch that new program, asking a board member to resign, correcting or firing an employee. But in an increasingly resource-strapped environment, your job demands more of these hard conversations. This very interactive webinar will give you tools to respond in these tricky situations. Participants can submit scenarios ahead of time, as well as during the webinar itself. Learn how to approach sticky situations in an assertive, graceful way, while positioning your organization to thrive. This webinar will give you:

  • Concrete language to use with funders, board members, staff and others
  • Case studies and examples of difficult situations
  • A process for thinking through future scenarios and focusing on what’s best for your nonprofit
  • A forum for putting your toughest situations to the test
  • The opportunity to hear what challenges other nonprofit leaders face

Financing Not Fundraising: Creating an Earned Income Stream

This webinar builds on the earlier Financing Not Fundraising: Evaluating Earned Income webinar. It is intended for those nonprofits that have a business idea and are ready to pursue an earned income stream. This webinar, complete with case studies of other nonprofits that have launched earned income businesses, will show participants how to:

  • Pilot a new business idea
  • Find customers
  • Price products/services
  • Project future business income and expenses
  • Create goals for the business and monitor progress on them
  • Report progress on the business to the board


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Better Strategy for Educational Entrepreneurs

I’m delighted to announce that a book I wrote with Peter Frumkin, head of the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service at the University of Texas at Austin, and Bruno Manno, senior advisor for K–12 Education Reform at the Walton Family Foundation, has just been published by Harvard Education Press. The Strategic Management of Charter Schools: Frameworks and Tools for Educational Entrepreneurs looks at charter school case studies and applies management tools (like SWOT analysis, customer satisfaction surveying, balanced scorecard) to analyze what these schools could have done to be more successful. While the book focuses on charter schools, the tools and frameworks can easily be applied to any nonprofit organization.

Organized around three crucial challenges to charter school leaders—managing mission, managing internal operations, and managing the larger stakeholder environment—the book provides charter school leaders with tools and insights for achieving educational and organizational success. In its description of these managerial challenges, and in its detailed examinations of particular schools, the book offers a clear, credible approach to the efficient and sustainable management of what are still young and experimental educational institutions.

Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, says of the book:

The importance of this volume lies not in the prescription of best practices but in the strategic ‘toolbox’ of skills and frameworks that the authors share. For providers seeking better ways to promote both growth and quality, this book will prove invaluable. For policy makers, parents, philanthropists, and educators seeking to understand how to help charter schooling deliver on its promise, this volume will prove an invaluable resource. Finally, the authors’ savvy suggestions for aligning mission, institutional operations, and stakeholders offer a strategic vision that holds promise not only in the charter sector but also for those in traditional district schools.   

Again, although the cases are all related to charter schools, the lessons and insights can and should be used by any nonprofit leader. From better financial management, to stronger mission alignment, to more accurate understanding of the needs of your various constituents, to more effective leadership, this book helps social change leaders create stronger, more effective organizations that will ultimately result in greater change.

You can learn more about the book here.

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