What I love best about my job is opening nonprofit leaders to new and bigger possibilities. Last week was a busy one. I was in Phoenix for part of the week speaking at the Planned Giving Roundtable Conference and then I flew to New York to lead a board retreat at the National Guild for Community Arts Education.
When I am speaking to or leading a group, I love the moment when they move from discouraged, exhausted or burned-out, to energized by new ways of thinking.
At the Planned Giving Roundtable I delivered a keynote address about the power of a theory of change. A theory of change is such an incredible tool for helping a nonprofit articulate what value they provide the community. And once you have articulated that value, a theory of change is a jumping off point to:
- Chart a strategic direction, which guides the action of the organization and focuses limited resources
- Prove the results the organization is achieving, which allows the nonprofit to,
- Attract more support, leading to the holy grail in the nonprofit sector,
- Sustainable Community Change
So the theory of change serves as the fundamental building block in making that process happen, like this:
Because the theory of change is so instrumental, I believe that every nonprofit organization that is working toward social change should have one. Without a theory of change, you don’t know what you are trying to accomplish, how you will get there, or whether you have accomplished it, and you certainly won’t attract the funding necessary to get there.
So once I (hopefully) convinced the group in Phoenix about the importance of a theory of change, I flew to New York City to help the board and staff of the National Guild for Community Arts Education actually develop their own theory of change.
It was so exciting to see the group work together to articulate how their organization puts community resources to work towards community change. It’s not easy to come to agreement about exactly what change an organization is working towards, which is why I think it is important to have an outsider leading that process.
At the end of the day, board and staff were energized and excited about their evolving theory of change and how it could help them chart a new strategic direction, focus resources, and attract more support and momentum.
That is the moment I love. When people who are so passionate and working so hard for community change, can take a step back and articulate how and why they do the work that they do. Because it is in taking that big step back that you can begin to develop a strategy for bringing hoped for change to fruition.
Photo Credit: Dean Morley
There is a new nonprofit that nicely demonstrates the challenge of identifying a social problem and then developing the right strategy for solving that problem. Code.org’s sole aim is to solve the impending shortage of computer programmers. Because we have grown increasingly dependent on technology in our everyday lives, while our schools have not adequately prepared our children to keep up, we are facing an enormous shortage of people who can create the technology we desperately need.
Projections estimate that by 2020 we will need 1.4 million computer programmers, but will only have 400,000 computer science graduates, creating a 1 million person gap. And 9 out of 10 schools aren’t currently teaching computer programming. This is a huge problem.
Enter code.org. The nonprofit was founded earlier this year with two stated goals:
- Spread the word that there is a worldwide shortage of computer programmers, and that it’s much easier to learn to program than you think.
- Build an authoritative database of all programming schools, whether they are online courses, brick+mortar schools or summer camps.
They have an impressive team and list of supporters, many of the darlings of the technology startup world. And they’ve already attracted the attention of the national media and have a very savvy media presentation including some pretty cool videos.
Code.org is fascinating to me, not just because I agree that connecting how we educate our children with the skills they will need in the future is a huge issue, but also because code.org demonstrates the strategic struggle facing every social change agent. The struggle lies in identifying a social problem and then creating the right solution to the problem you’ve identified.
There are many ways you could attack the problem of a shortage of future computer programmers. You could decide to:
- Advocate for changes to the public education system
- Create new training sites around the country
- Develop coding games for kids
- Create a marketing campaign that encourages more kids to try coding
- Develop a database of available training programs
So far code.org has decided to focus on the last two. But it begs the question, why those two?
In identifying a social problem and then choosing a possible way to attack it, social change leaders must ask the following questions:
- What is the most effective entry point for changing this problem? For code.org they think the entry point is kids themselves, getting them to demand coding training, as opposed to changing education policy or increasing the supply of coding locations.
- How do we use our unique assets to address that entry point? Code.org’s biggest asset is their long list of technology celebrity supporters, so they are tapping into those people (Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg) to show kids how cool coding is. If, instead, code.org had a unique ability to move education policy forward, or proprietary coding software that more quickly delivered results they could have decided to go those routes.
- How do we structure our organization to deliver the solution? Right now code.org is a website with a series of videos and a growing database of training locations. So they don’t need a lot of staff or structure. If, however, they had decided to set up new training sites around the country or advocate for public education changes in every state, they would have needed a much larger operation with more locations and staffing.
- How will we measure if our solution is working? Code.org has clearly delineated where they need to be. By 2020 they want to see 1 million more computer programmers. So they have to figure out how many more college students they need in computer sciences, how many more high school students they need who can code, how many more middle school students who are dabbling in code and so on. I’m hoping they have metrics all along the way and the ability to see if the numbers are actually growing.
Code.org has very clearly defined a critical social problem and they have marshaled an impressive army of supporters to work toward change. It remains to be seen, however, whether they have asked the right questions and selected the right path for making that change a reality.
I’ve been talking lately about nonprofits needing to make more investments in their organization, in their sustainability, and in their future. Well, I have the perfect opportunity for you to do just that. I’m excited to announce the newest Social Velocity tool — the Financing Not Fundraising E-Course. Over the course of two months I will be leading a group of 15 nonprofit Executive and Development Directors to determine what’s holding them back from raising more money and create a comprehensive financing plan for their organizations.
This e-course will take you from Fundraising to Financing. We’ll start with a fundraising assessment of where your organization currently is in your efforts to bring money in the door, and we’ll end with a comprehensive, actionable financing plan to move your organization forward.
Here’s how it will work:
- We’ll kick off with a webinar to help everyone understand what a fundraising assessment looks like and what it includes.
- Everyone will be sent away to complete the detailed fundraising assessment I will provide them.
- I will then analyze each individual fundraising assessment.
- The 15 participants will be split into two groups. I will lead a 90-minute coaching session with each group to go individual-by-individual to explain what their fundraising assessment revealed and where they should focus their change efforts.
- After the coaching sessions I’ll host an informal Google Hangout where participants can discuss questions, hurdles they are encountering, where they need help.
- Then I’ll lead a second webinar to explain how to create a financing plan.
- I’ll give everyone a Financing Plan template and detailed instructions on how to create their own financing plan.
- Then I’ll analyze everyone’s completed financing plan.
- We’ll do a second round of coaching sessions where I will go individual-by-individual to explain where their financing plans can be improved.
- We’ll end with a final Google Hangout where everyone can discuss, ask questions, get support and move forward.
- And throughout the process you can always reach out to me via phone and email with additional questions or for guidance.
The registration fee for the e-course is $499.
Of course I’m biased, but to me this investment just makes sense. With this e-course you can set your nonprofit on a path to a much larger, more sustainable financial engine. This is about making an investment now in order to enjoy a much larger payoff down the road.
If you’d like to join us, register soon. The e-course is limited to 15 people, and it’s already filling fast.
I hope to see you there!
It 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.”
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 recording of the webinar which you can watch whenever you want.
I hope to see you there!
Photo Credit: jDevaun
In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, I’m talking with Wendy Harman. Wendy is the Director of Social Strategy at the American Red Cross. Her goal is for the Red Cross to be a social organization ready for 21st century humanitarian work. She is responsible for their national social media presence, including the listening program, social content and community engagement.
You can read past interviews in our Social Innovation Interview Series here.
Nell: The Red Cross has fully embraced social media. How specifically has it helped you get closer to achieving your mission?
Wendy: Our social engagement philosophy centers around using social tools to execute our mission. That is, moving beyond using social engagement for communications and marketing purposes and onto using these tools and our increased ability to network horizontally with huge communities for service delivery. The Red Cross has five main service areas: disaster services; international services; serviced to the Armed Forces; preparedness health and safety; and biomedical services (blood). We have probably made the most headway in operationalizing during disasters. For example, we’ve created the Digital Operations Center (funded by Dell) in order to holistically see and synthesize social conversations from disaster-affected areas. So far, we’ve found three main purposes for the center:
- We use the center to provide real-time and anticipatory situational awareness. This means we can provide all decision makers in the Red Cross disaster services, as well as many of our partners outside the organization, with real-time trends from the affected areas. We can identify gaps in service, the biggest needs, the most talked-about subjects as they relate to the disaster, and more. This helps us know what’s happening on the ground in the moment and also can help our experts anticipate service delivery that will be needed in the coming days or weeks.
- We use it to route needs. When we see an individual tweet that says, “I need a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I haven’t eaten in days because of this hurricane,” we can route this information to our teams on the ground who are organizing our mobile feeding efforts.
- We provide individualized information. We have built a digital volunteer role and now have trained volunteers who can “deploy” in place and help to get information, resources, shelter locations, mobile feeding locations, real time tips, and a bit of confidence and support to people who need it. For example, during tornado warnings we often see a big increase in tweets from people hunkered down in their basements or bathtubs—and they are scared. The Red Cross has a lot of expertise on exactly what to do when you find yourself in this situation, and we’re able to provide those tips in the exact moment people need them. In addition, a big part of our mission is to provide hope and comfort in people’s worst moments, so we’re also encouraging the digital volunteers to offer that hope and comfort via digital “hugs,” or words of support.
Nell: How do you manage the ever-changing and ever-expanding social media environment? How do you determine where to spend your time and when to change your approach?
Wendy: The age of the social web has affected the role of the nonprofit sector in general and the role of the Red Cross, particularly during disasters. We are expanding from an organization that executes discrete relief activities with trained experts and volunteers, to an organization that acts as a platform to connect and mobilize people affected by disasters. We are tool agnostic; the foundation of our social engagement program centers around listening to, engaging with and acting on social conversations. This way we stay nimble in our content, and we can adapt quickly with the public.
Nell: The Red Cross is a huge nonprofit and has more resources to put behind social media. How do you suggest small nonprofits logistically work social media into their marketing mix?
Wendy: Huge doesn’t necessarily translate to big budgets for social engagement. We are lucky to have three staff members dedicated to social engagement, but we’re really trying to work our way out of our jobs. In other words, rather than having the three of us triaging thousands of conversations per day, we’d like to see social engagement become part of every Red Crossers’ workday. My more concrete advice is to do what you can do well—you don’t have to be everywhere, you just have to really be in the places where you say you will be.
Nell: In some ways your role at the Red Cross is to help an aging institution embrace change and the new realities of the world we live in. Why do you think the Red Cross has been open to change when other large and seasoned nonprofits have not?
Wendy: I think innovation and adaptation has always been baked into the DNA of the Red Cross. One of my favorite Clara Barton quotes is, “I have an almost complete disregard of precedent, and a faith in the possibility of something better. It irritates me to be told how things have always been done. I defy the tyranny of precedent. I go for anything new that might improve the past.” No doubt we have built up institutional walls over the years, but at the same time, we have broad recognition of the value of partnerships and collaboration, and we’re working to be sure we make openings in those walls so everyone can participate in the Red Cross network and our humanitarian mission. We’re also getting quicker at adopting new technologies, but I think the openness in our organizational culture to strive to be better is more of a key indicator about our relevancy than our adoption to a particular technology.
Nell: Some nonprofits will embrace social media if they think there is a fundraising payoff, but the Red Cross has obviously found a huge mission payoff as well. How do you explain to nonprofits that are hesitant to spend time building communities what the payoff could be and how to be patient in finding it?
Wendy: This is the million-dollar question. I think my favorite quote about this is from Socialnomics author Erik Qualmann who says, “The ROI of social media is that your business will still exist in 5 years.”
This month’s Reader Question is about convincing people to give. A reader wants to know why it’s so hard to get people to understand that their nonprofit’s work is important.
Here’s the question:
I am tired of trying to convince people who don’t understand the importance of our work to give us money. It’s so obvious that the work we are doing in the community is important. How do I get people to understand?
And here’s my response:
You can see other reader questions and my responses on the Reader Questions page of the website.
And if you have a question you’d like to see me answer on the blog, submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Reader Question.” I look forward to hearing from you!
As I mentioned earlier this week, I participated in a Chronicle of Philanthropy Live Chat on Tuesday with Karina Mangu-Ward from ArtsFwd. We were talking about how to connect money and mission. The Live Chat was a lot of fun, and we got some great questions from the audience. Below is an excerpt from the Chat. If you want to see more you can read the entire transcript of the chat at the Chronicle site here.
Here’s an excerpt from the Chat:
TB Asks: How would you suggest starting to rein in an organization what has started to chase dollars vs. trying to fulfill it’s mission? In my organization’s case this includes having acquired multiple other programs and is looking to take over more. They are good programs, but the alignment to mission is marginal and that ability to be financially stable as an organization is threatened. The CEO is all in, the board is apathetic. As the development officer I’m not sure what I can do to get the train back on the tracks. Thoughts?
I would start by bringing everyone together with a theory of change…
A theory of change articulates how a nonprofit translates community resources into change to a social problem…
Without that you will just be chasing dollars and programs. A theory of change can also excite and inspire a disengaged board and staff…
It can serve as a rallying point for the organization to determine what they are trying to accomplish and what resources they need (financial model) to be able to accomplish those things.
TB – One of the things that I’ve seen organizations struggle with the most…
is having difficult conversations….
conversations that require staff and board to let go of the old way of doing things….
to challenge their assumptions about how much money they need and for what…
i completely agree with Nell that having a framework for change is essential…
change doesn’t happen quickly. It’s incredibly difficult work, and acknowledging that it’s a process that organizations must learn and get good at is essential.
You can read the transcript of the full chat here.
Photo Credit: Chronicle of Philanthropy
The Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) today released the results of their fifth annual State of the Nonprofit Sector survey. This year almost 6,000 nonprofits responded and the results point to a nonprofit sector that is shifting fundamentally, where traditional funding sources (like government dollars) are shrinking, while demand for services is increasing. Nonprofit leaders must adapt their business models in order to keep up.
As NFF CEO Antony Bugg-Levine put it:
Nonprofits are changing the way they do business because they have to: government funding is not returning to pre-recession levels, philanthropic dollars are limited, and demand for critical services has climbed dramatically. At the same time, 56 percent of nonprofits plan to increase the number of people served. That goal requires systemic change and innovation– both within the sector, and more broadly as a society that values justice, progress and economic opportunity.
With demand increasing and traditional resources drying up, something has got to give. Nonprofits are finding that they must get more strategic about using money and determining the impact of their work.
Some of the most interesting findings from the 2013 survey are:
- 42% of survey respondents report that they do not have the right mix of financial resources to thrive and be effective in the next 3 years.
- Over the next twelve months, 39% plan to change the main ways they raise and spend money.
- 23% will seek funding other than grants or contracts, such as loans or investments.
- For the first time in the five years of the survey, more than half (52%) of respondents were unable to meet demand for their services last year (up from 44% in 2009), and 54% say they won’t be able to meet demand this current year.
As one survey respondent put it, it is time to move from the reactive to the strategic:
Our greatest challenge is financial stability and sustainability. We must be more effective to raise 50% more money than we did two years ago—with the same number of staff members, but using all the skills and talents each staff member brings to the table to maximize our efforts. Our budget is to the bone, and our staff is overstretched….We…must learn how to work proactively and strategically… and stop playing catch up, as we have for most of our existence.
Because NFF has been doing this survey for the past 5 years they can start to look at trends over time. They’ve developed a pretty cool Survey Analyzer Tool that lets you slice and dice the data by geography, sector, budget, and more.
I encourage you to dig in and take a look at the data. You can find all of the survey reports and tools at the Nonprofit Finance Fund website here.
Photo Credit: Nonprofit Finance Fund
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