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Helping Nonprofits Navigate Change

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.

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New Ways To Keep Up with Social Innovation

I am increasingly amazed and excited by the growing Social Velocity community. Social Velocity blog readers, e-newsletter subscribers, Twitter followers, Facebook fans are some of the coolest, most inspiring people. You are nonprofit executive directors and development directors, for-profit social entrepreneurs, passionate board members, engaged philanthropists and on and on.

So, in an effort to tailor content to your specific interests, I’m giving you more options for how you can keep up with the world of nonprofit innovation. I have a handy dandy new email signup form with lots of choices.

For example you can:

  • Sign up for the monthly Social Velocity e-newsletter
  • Get news about new Social Velocity tools or webinars
  • Discover new interviews with social innovators
  • Keep up to date on Financing Not Fundraising
  • Read new nonprofit case studies from the world of social innovation
  • Receive an email every time there is a new Social Velocity blog post

It’s all up to you.

So if you’d like to join the growing Social Velocity community (9,000 and counting) of people passionate about innovation in the nonprofit sector click here to sign up.

I hope to hear from you!

And for those of you who already receive the Social Velocity monthly e-newsletter, you’ll see a new look when it arrives in your inbox next week. As always, I’d love to hear what you think.

Thanks for being part of this great community!

Photo Credit: Library of Congress

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Raising Money to Grow On: Putting the Strategic Plan in Place

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:

  1. An annual operational plan built from the strategic plan, and
  2. 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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Overcoming the Catch-22 of Nonprofit Capacity

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.
  5. Secure Investments: Once the nonprofit identifies this list of prospects, they go out and start meeting with prospects to discuss:
    • 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:

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A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Nonprofit Financing Plan

Financing Plan Guide screenshotIn our ongoing effort to develop tools to make nonprofit organizations more effective, more financially sustainable and ultimately able to create more social impact, we are releasing today our Financing Plan Guide. This step-by-step guide provides nonprofit staff and boards a clear, systematic approach to creating a financing plan for their organization.

A financing plan, unlike a traditional fundraising plan, is an integrated, thoughtful, and strategic way to help a nonprofit achieve social impact in a more sustainable way. The financing plan is a key element of a nonprofit’s strategic plan. It is critical that an organization understand the cost of achieving the goals set out in the strategic plan (expenses) and how the organization will pay for them (revenue). Fundraising, raising money from private sources (individuals, foundations, and corporations), is just one revenue option available to nonprofits. Additional options include: earned income (selling a product or service), government grants, fee for service, and corporate sponsorships, just to name a few.

A financing plan differs from a fundraising plan in a number of ways. Unlike a fundraising plan, a financing plan:

  • Includes ALL activities that bring money in the door in a fully integrated strategy and execution plan.
  • Supports the short AND long term goals of the organization.
  • Funds the programs AND infrastructure of the organization.
  • Employs money-securing activities that are in line with the core competencies of the organization.

With a clear financing plan, your nonprofit will bring more money in the door, in a more sustainable way, ultimately achieving greater social impact.

This 8-part guide is designed to help you build a financing plan for your nonprofit. It is divided into parts and can be completed in a couple of hours, if you have all of the necessary information in front of you. If you would like to include board and staff in the process, you can pause between sections and work through it over a few weeks. The sections of the financing guide are:

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

To learn more about the financing guide, click here.

As always, let us know what you think of our tools and what additional tools you would like to see.

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8 Nonprofit Inflection Points and How to Seize Them

In the lifecycle of any nonprofit there comes a time when something needs to change. Call it an inflection point, a resetting, a fork in the road. I see it all the time. Someone in the organization takes a step back and realizes something just isn’t going to work anymore. It’s a critical point. It’s the point at which you decide whether you are going to take the leap and make this a year of real change.

When that moment comes, and you feel the urge to really do things differently, don’t shy away from it. Take the leap.

Here are eight of the most common nonprofit inflection points and how Social Velocity can help you seize the opportunity they present:

  1. Board and staff are floundering and don’t know where the organization is going:
  2. Everyone is fed up with fundraising
  3. Your approach to a community problem has become too narrow
  4. Your board is not helping to move the organization forward
  5. You can’t effectively articulate your nonprofit’s value to the community
  6. You need money to strengthen the organization, but don’t know where to look
  7. There is a much greater need for your nonprofit’s programs, but you can’t afford to grow
  8. You’re worn out and need to be inspired

Photo credit: besar_bears

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In the Trenches Raising Growth Capital: An Interview with Anna Land

In this month’s Social Velocity interview we are talking with Anna Land, founder of Heart House, a nonprofit after-school program for low-income children with some pretty impressive results and big plans for growth.

Anna and her board are looking to expand Heart House to 5 Texas cities and increase the number of kids served by almost 20 times in the next 10 years. She is currently shopping her growth plan around to philanthropists. Anna has some interesting insights about raising nonprofit growth capital, particularly from philanthropists who have never heard of the concept.  Full disclosure: Social Velocity helped Anna put together her growth capital pitch to prospective funders last year.

You can read our past Social Velocity interviews here.

Nell: You started Heart House several years ago and had great success in Austin and Dallas, serving 500 children each year. What made you suddenly think about going statewide and growing the program to 9,000 children by 2020?

Anna: The leadership has been thinking about this since 2004 when we were at our 4 year mark and felt that we had some compelling, consistent data that indicated that we were on to something, and perhaps should begin working on replicating and scaling to serve more children.

In 2005 I was selected for the Community Sabbatical Research Leave Program, created and administered by the Humanities Institute at The University of Texas, which provided time, resources and faculty advisors in order to study effective growth strategies of successful nonprofits.  I was fortunate to be paired with the perfect mentor, Dr. Sarah Jane Rehnborg of the LBJ School of Public Affairs. We interviewed 10 regional and national organizations at both the headquarters and local levels to discover best practices and essential infrastructure elements.

Next, the staff of Heart House articulated our core values, our vision for the future, and a set of minimum quality standards.  We also began the ever-expanding work of codifying our model.  We plan to complete our “Heart House in a Box” in time for our 3 new centers scheduled to open in 2011.  We also created the Gateway database which allows us to track weekly data across multiple sites.  The Webber Family Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, and the KLE Foundation funded this early capacity work.

Next, in 2008, the KDK-Harman Foundation convened four organizations to develop their growth plans in a peer group environment.  It was fabulous to work alongside Maile Broccoli-Hickey from English at Work, Melanie Moore from Badgerdog Publishing, and Kathrin Brewer from Austin Partners in Education.

And that’s the point in time where I met you, Nell.  The KDK-Harman Foundation paired Heart House with Social Velocity, and you worked with me to turn our growth plan into a growth pitch.  My mentor, Gregg Burt, serial entrepreneur and CEO, agreed to chair the statewide expansion initiative.

Nell: You are currently out raising growth capital, which is a pretty foreign concept to most philanthropists. How are you faring? Is the concept gaining some traction?

Anna: It’s certainly true that growth capital is still a new concept in Central Texas but I’m hearing more and more these days about the need for this investment – that’s encouraging to me.  I think this evolution is thanks to influence from two sectors:  1)  emerging philanthropic funding models from the East and West coasts, and 2) the vibrant VC community in Austin.

In his Stanford Social Innovation Review article, “Money to Grow On,” William Foster suggests that grantmakers follow the approach of venture capitalists when making investments: high performing organizations with proven success should be rewarded with funds needed for ramp-up and to achieve long-term social change.  It may feel that Central Texas is slow to embrace this philosophy, but when I consider the relatively young age of Central Texas foundations, operating with little or no staff, we have some true thought leaders who are actually evolving rapidly in “foundation time.”

So, how are we faring?  Pretty good – we have 40% of the investment needed to get us to the point where the model no longer needs outside investment to support expansion efforts.   We believe we can fill the gap with a small group of investors.

Nell: What do you do to overcome discouragement when you meet with potential funders who don’t understand what you are trying to do? How do you motivate yourself to continue to go out there day after day to raise growth capital?

Anna: I believe that this growth is meant to be.  I believe there are plenty of funds available for Heart House to serve 18x+ more children.  I believe our expansion is a vision and a promise that God has put in our hearts.  And I believe that we can achieve what we can conceive.

The visualization I keep front of mind is that of walking across a vast ocean.  When I and my team walk forward with confidence, the stones rise up in front of us to form the next steps of the bridge.  When we stop walking due to fear, the stones stop rising.  Efforts to monkey around with the walk too far ahead of us also are unsuccessful.  We have a clear sense of direction and purpose, but we do not have to control every element and form the path takes because we know that it will all work out the way it is supposed to.

Doing our part is an important part of this philosophy.  We must remain abundance-minded, we must work hard every day to keep the trust of the donors and the families we serve, and we have to inspire and influence all that we come in contact with.

Naturally, as a human, I have days where I am discouraged, tired or fearful, but when I stay in abundance, finding this capital becomes a combination of a hunt and a matchmaking game.  When a donor says no, I mentally thank them for being one more no that puts me one step closer on the path to the perfect donor.  And when I feel particularly sorry for myself, I reread the biography of someone like Elizabeth I or John Adams.  What do I have to fear compared to the challenges they faced?   I am lucky to be able to do this fun and engaging work alongside such talented and inspiring cohorts.

Nell: What do you think holds other nonprofits with a great model back from undertaking dramatic growth?

Anna: Fear is the biggest growth inhibitor.  If it has been determined that growth is a sound strategy, but the leadership does not want to undertake that growth, I would say that that leadership believes that the risks of growth– real or perceived – outweigh the reward.  The larger your vision, the larger your exposure to failure – sometimes very public failure.  An organization has to be ready for grand success as well as some skinned knees.

Other growth inhibitors can be broadly categorized as lack of financial capital or human capital.  Specific to the Heart House model we have:

  • Lack of available space that meets our minimum clubhouse location standards
  • Lack of efficient and scalable infrastructure — To date, Heart House has put 85% of its policies, procedures, and practices into our “Heart House in a Box” implementation kit.  However, we still must refine and tighten the remaining infrastructure elements by end of 2011.
  • Lack of funding specifically for growth groundwork, quality control, and other central services, often thought of as “overhead” by philanthropic funders (but not business funders)

Nell: What does it take to prepare an organization for growth? What are the elements required to scale?


  • Leadership with vision, accountability and integrity
  • Commitment to and resources devoted to maintaining the highest quality across the organization
  • Repeatable processes and procedures
  • Efficient and scalable infrastructure that supports dramatic growth
  • Broad, diverse and sustainable funds for growth
  • Recognizable and influential brand presence

Nell: How do you balance the day-to-day running of your nonprofit with your other full time job of planning, raising money for and executing growth?

Anna: I tried that for a while, and it was unmanageable.  We now have city leaders (known locally as executive directors) that report to me directly, and manage the day-to-day operations and fundraising, while I and a small staff plan, raise money for, and execute on the critical elements listed above.

Nell: What needs to change in the nonprofit sector and in the philanthropy that funds it in order for more growth of successful solutions to happen?

Anna: Putting in place the strategy, infrastructure, funding, and, above all else, the leadership required successfully scale organizations.  Why is the investment in growth seen as “overhead” for nonprofits, but a no-brainer for for-profit companies?   As Nancy Roob and Jeffrey Bradach point out in their article, “Scaling What Works”, the effect of this bias is “an organizational form of chronic fatigue syndrome that burns out nonprofit leaders and compromises their ability to address social problems…There is no more powerful way to address many of society’s most important challenges than to harness what we now know works and make sure those solutions reach those who need them.”

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Echoing Green Call for Social Entrepreneurs

Today Echoing Green launches their annual search for budding social entrepreneurs to invest in. For over 20 years Echoing Green has provided $30 million in seed funding and support to nearly 500 social entrepreneurs – including the founders of Teach For America, City Year, College Summit, and SKS Microfinance, some of the darlings of the social entrepreneurship world.

Echoing Green invests in and supports outstanding emerging social entrepreneurs to launch new organizations that deliver bold, high-impact solutions. Through a two-year fellowship program, they help visionaries develop new solutions to society’s most difficult problems. These social entrepreneurs and their organizations work to solve deeply-rooted social, environmental, economic, and political inequities to ensure equal access and to help all individuals reach their potential.

This year Social Velocity is a search partner for Echoing Green to help them find fellowship applicants. In the Spring of 2011 Echoing Green will award between 12 and 20 fellowships to early-stage social entrepreneurs.  Fellows receive up to $90,000 in seed funding over two years, operational and technical support, and access to a powerful global community of fellows and alumni. The online application opened today and will close on November 12th.

If you think you might qualify, check out their eligibility requirements and assessment criteria and their 2011 Application Handbook.  You can also take a look at some of their past fellows.  They are an impressive, engaging, inspiring group. In fact, one of Social Velocity’s clients, English at Work, is led by Echoing Green Fellow, Maile Broccoli-Hickey. You can read their story here.

The Echoing Green Fellowship is a fabulous opportunity for an aspiring social entrepreneur to not only receive a couple of years of funding and assistance, but also gain a lifetime membership to an elite network of leaders of the social innovation movement. And any past Fellow will tell you that that brings countless opportunities to make things happen.

Good Luck!

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