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nonprofit strategic plan

Charting a Nonprofit’s Future Direction: A Case Study

Engaging News ProjectI guess I am on a case study kick this week. I do think that actual examples of the paths other nonprofits followed in order to become more effective or more sustainable can be really helpful to other nonprofit leaders in the trenches. So in that spirit, I offer a case study of a small, startup nonprofit ready to grow their impact and their sustainability.

The thing I love about my job the most is that I get to work one-on-one with super smart people who are coming up with innovative solutions to making the world a better place. In particular, lately I’ve been lucky enough to work with some groups in the civic technology space, a really exciting emerging area where innovative technology solutions are used to make government, and ultimately democracy, more effective.

One of these groups, The Engaging News Project (ENP) is a startup nonprofit aimed at helping news organizations better meet their democratic and business goals in a digital age.

While ENP enjoyed success and the support of some key funders over the past two years, they were ready to move from the project phase to an established organization with sustainable funding and a long-term strategy for achieving impact on the digital news industry.

So ENP hired me to lead their strategic planning effort. With my guidance, ENP created an advisory group of staff and key stakeholders. I led the group to analyze the external environment in which ENP operates, develop their theory of change, define the audiences they want to target, and articulate the goals and objectives and corresponding financial projections of the next 3 years for the organization. I also helped staff create a year 1 operational plan to help execute and monitor the strategic plan.

The end result was a clear 3-year strategic plan with accompanying financial model and an engaged and excited staff and group of advisors.

Because of their new strategic plan, ENP has focused their project development efforts, clearly defined where and with whom they want to work, and detailed their goals for the next 3-years.

They are now working to implement the strategic plan. They are identifying new funders to help support the growth of the organization, expanding their collaborative partners, creating a formal advisory board, and streamlining operations. ENP staff are excited about the new direction and are actively working to have a greater impact on the future of digital news.

As Talia Stroud, Director of the Engaging News Project put it,

As a new entity, we had been doing more of the day-to-day work and hadn’t taken the time to think about the bigger picture of where the Engaging News Project was headed and how to get there. Social Velocity helped us to chart a future direction, hone our messaging, and develop a clear plan for our organization. By working with us to figure out our targets, potential collaborators, and goals, Social Velocity helped us to systematically figure out a strong path forward. I can’t wait to see what we’ll be able to accomplish with these plans in place.

I’m excited to see where the Engaging News Project goes from here and the growing impact they will have on our democracy.

Photo Credit: Engaging News Project


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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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5 Ways Great Strategy Can Transform a Nonprofit

Nonprofit StrategyI’ve been working with several clients lately to create a strategic plan, and I love the moment when the real value of the strategic plan and the process of creating one becomes blatantly obvious.

It’s the point at which board, staff, funders start to see the possibility that the plan holds for the nonprofit and the social change they seek. They get really excited about bringing that future to fruition.

But that only happens when you create a really smart, thoughtful strategy — a good strategic plan, instead of a poor one.

Smart nonprofit strategy can completely transform an organization, in at least 5 fundamental ways. It will:

  1. Create Momentum
    It’s not the final plan that energizes people, rather it’s the process of analyzing the external environment in which a nonprofit operates, making some hard decisions about where to focus resources, articulating the value the nonprofit provides, connecting the dots between individual actors and the larger vision. If done well, the work done during the strategic planning process really energizes board and staff. And when they start talking with people outside the organization (funders, volunteers, stakeholders) about the plan, those outsiders become energized too. To really tap into people’s potential you must inspire them to larger heights and help them understand their role in reaching those heights. A great strategic planning process does that.

  2. Attract Deeper Funding
    The difference between a nonprofit just scraping by and a nonprofit with a sustainable future is strategy. If you want to attract larger, longer-term funding, particularly from major donors, you simply must have a future strategy in place. People and organizations that make large gifts to a nonprofit are in effect investing in the future of that organization. And if you can’t articulate your future plans in a thoughtful, compelling way, funders won’t make that larger investment.

  3. Filter Future Decisions
    If you create your strategic plan correctly it becomes a tool for analyzing and making decisions about future opportunities. Most nonprofits are regularly fielding new opportunities (new funding streams, new programs to develop, new alliances to forge), but without an overall strategy it’s difficult to know which opportunities to pursue. A great strategic plan doesn’t tie an organization’s hands, rather it becomes a tool — a lens — through which you can thoughtfully analyze future decisions and make the best moves for your organization. One of my clients uses growth criteria we developed during their strategic planning process to determine when and where to add new sites. These criteria ensure that they are growing in a strategic, not reactive, way.

  4. Become a Management Tool
    When done right, a strategic plan can drive the operations of the organization and the activities of the board and staff. At the board level, you can regularly track progress on the goals and objectives of the strategic plan through a dashboard (like the one at top of this post). At the staff level, you can monitor the activities and deliverables of the plan through an operational plan. An effective strategic plan doesn’t sit on the shelf, but rather is a living, breathing guide to the daily work and decisions of the organization. It’s not a final product, it’s a way of life.

  5. Realize More Change
    At the end of the day you operate your nonprofit in order to address a social issue, to see some sort of change to a social problem. But the only way you will truly create that change is if you have a strategy that puts all of your limited resources (money, staff, board, volunteers) to their highest, best, most focused use. A great strategic planning process forces you to do the analysis, conduct the research, make the hard decisions, and track your progress so that at the end of the day you actually are making a difference.

Honestly, I don’t know how you operate a nonprofit without a strategy in place. In an increasingly competitive, resource-strapped world great strategy is less a luxury and increasingly a necessity.

If you want to learn more about what a strategic planning process looks like, check out my Strategic Planning page.

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Stop Rolling the Nonprofit Fundraising Dice

Creating a Nonprofit Financing PlanIt happens all too often. A nonprofit executive director called me the other day because they have just completed a beautiful strategic plan with some exciting goals and a new direction for the organization, but they don’t know how to bring the money in the door to make the plan a reality. They don’t have a financing plan for their nonprofit, so they are just hoping for the best.

A financing plan galvanizes board and staff to bring enough of the right kinds of money in the door to make the organization’s goals a reality. It creates a sustainable financial model for the nonprofit so that it can survive and thrive. Instead of rolling the dice and hoping for the best, a financing plan puts your nonprofit’s financial destiny squarely in your control.

But very few nonprofits have a financing plan. Which is why I’m excited to be offering one of my most popular webinars again this month. In the April 24th Creating a Financing Plan webinar I will take you step-by-step through what a financing plan looks like and how to create one for your nonprofit. If you truly want to break free from the exhausting hamster wheel of fundraising and start bringing enough money in the door to achieve your goals, you need a financing plan.

The Creating a Financing webinar will help you create an overall financing plan for your nonprofit, which includes:

  • 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
  • Ways to divide tasks by staff and board members
  • A process for monitoring the plan going forward

Here’s what some past Creating a Financing Plan webinar participants have said:

“This session was one of the best on this topic I have seen…presented in an excellent and logical manner.”

“I loved the reframing of financing for desired results instead of funding for operations… your message to wed money to the mission was a big AHA moment and I am now figuring out how to bring this to life for staff and Board.”

Creating a Financing Plan Webinar
On Demand
Download Now

And remember, as with all of our webinars, if you can’t make this day and time, don’t worry. When you register for the webinar you will gain access to the slides and the on demand recording of the webinar which you can watch whenever you want.

I hope to see you there!

Photo Credit: jDevaun

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Does Your Nonprofit Really Need a Strategic Plan?

The_Long_Road_AheadI get it. The words “strategic plan” have been so abused in the nonprofit sector that they elicit a whole spectrum of negative responses from the bored eye roll to the destructive desire to forgo strategy altogether. But I am a firm believer that charting a future direction for your nonprofit, whatever you want to call it, is absolutely fundamental to success.

A  great strategy allows your nonprofit to:

  • Connect mission and money
  • Marshal ever-limited resources to their highest and best use
  • Make board and staff more productive
  • Articulate the value you provide your community
  • Attract additional funding
  • And, ultimately, create more social change

If you can’t, as an organization, describe your strategy for the future, how will you build the momentum and resources needed to get there?

This month’s Social Velocity webinar, The Value of a Great Nonprofit Strategy, will help you understand:

  • Why strategy is so critical to building momentum and resources for your work
  • What a great strategic planning process looks like
  • How strategy can help you invest funders, engage your board, and make your staff more productive
  • How to make your board more strategic
  • The steps to get there

And remember, even if you can’t make this date or time you can still register for the webinar and get access to the on demand recording, slides and ability to ask follow up questions. I hope you’ll join us!

Photo Credit:


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Stop Beating Your Head Against the Nonprofit Fundraising Wall

wallI was in Atlanta last week speaking at NeighborWorks America’s National Fundraising Symposium. I really love speaking to nonprofit staff and board members who are in the trenches trying to raise money for their organizations. The same thing that happened in Atlanta always happens. The group started out tired, uninspired, worn out with fundraising. But then I started to describe Financing and the light bulb went on. And for the rest of the day when I talked with attendees, or heard them talking to each other, they would try out this new word, this new concept, “Financing.”

But it’s not just semantics. Financing is a fundamentally different approach to every aspect of a nonprofit organization. For the group in Atlanta, I laid out the five main elements of it:

  • Create A Financing Plan
    Nonprofits must create a comprehensive strategy for bringing enough, and the right kind of, money in the door to achieve their strategic goals. This includes revenue and capital, programs and infrastructure dollars, and all funding sources. Money must be understood and used as a tool, instead of feared and sequestered.

  • Connect Mission & Money
    The financial woes of many nonprofit organizations often stem from a misalignment of mission and money. A nonprofit leader who creates a financial engine for her organization that is fully connected to and supportive of its mission (instead of detracting or isolated from it) will enjoy financial sustainability.

  • Diversify Funding
    Relying on only one or two funding sources, particularly foundation grants which make up less than 2% of all the money flowing to the nonprofit sector, is a dangerous strategy in the nonprofit sector. It is far better to create a robust and diverse money mix that fits well with your nonprofit’s mission and competencies.

  • Invest Supporters
    As mounting research demonstrates, donors are increasingly looking to become engaged in the nonprofits they support. And they are looking for impact, not just a place to write a check. In order to attract these donors, nonprofits must articulate their value and convince supporters to become a partner in creating social change.

  • Find Money to Build
    The time for scraping by and never having enough money for the right technology, staff, and systems is over. Instead nonprofits must become savvy about capacity capital and start raising the money they need to build the organization their mission requires.

It is so inspiring to see people who are on the front lines of creating stronger schools, neighborhoods, communities in this country suddenly realize that it doesn’t have to be so hard. You can stop beating your head against the fundraising wall.

If you’d like to have me come speak to your event, group, board or staff about Financing not Fundraising, or any of the many topics I speak about, email

Photo Credit: billaday

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New Guide: Building a Nonprofit Financing Plan

fin plan guideI’m delighted to announce the release of the newest Social Velocity step-by-step guide, Build 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 Build a Nonprofit Financing Plan Guide walks you step-by-step through the process of creating your nonprofit’s financing plan:

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.

Download Now

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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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