With a little help from my friends

It is a common occurrence in my life for a non-profit organization to call and want The Healthy Non-Profit (aka me) to fix their problems. Of course, these problems run the spectrum:

  • Revenue issues (e.g. our revenue model isn’t working, our fundraising campaign is in decline, etc)
  • Board engagement issues
  • Staff issues
  • Org culture issues
  • Systems issues (e.g. donor database, etc)
  • Facilities issues (e.g. expansion of space)

Sometimes, I am happy to jump in with both feet and get to work. However, before starting to frame/contract the engagement (and depending on the issue), I oftentimes will ask:

“What have you done so far to address the issue?”

What I am looking for is an answer that aligns with Joe Cocker’s classic rock-n-roll song “With A Little Help From My Friends.”
In other words, has your organization reached out to others in your community to ask for help/advice? Friends such as:

  • United Way
  • Community Foundation
  • Donors
  • Other non-profit executive directors
  • Board members
  • Former board members

Supporters of your organization can and should be seen as much more than just ATMs. In addition to contributors, it is wise to ask supporters during challenging times for:

  • Time
  • Advice
  • Influence (aka door openers)

Your organization is part of a larger ecosystem full of talented individuals and other organizations. Accessing those resources is a healthy first step before doing anything else.
Think of it in terms of your personal life. How many times have you personally ended up in a difficult place and reached out to family and friends for advice or help? I can think of a number of examples in my life.
Please don’t misunderstand me.
I recognize that during difficult times, it feels appropriate to pull-up the draw bridge of our organizational castle and not let people who support us (either with time or money) see our struggles. However, the reality is that people close to us typically can see things for what they are even if we are trying to shield them from those issues.
While “full disclosure” and letting the entire world see the “sausage making process” might not be in your best interest all of the time, you might not have to go that far. After all, you are in control of what you share and how much you share. Right?
Have you ever pulled together a task force of supporters to brainstorm solutions to challenges your organization was facing? If so, please use the comment box below to share you experience. How did you frame the issue(s)? What was the result? What would you have done differently in hindsight? We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

Advice to my younger-fundraising-self about delegation and collaboration

blog carnivalThis month DonorDreams is hosting the nationally acclaimed Nonprofit Blog Carnival, and this month’s theme is: “If you could go back in time and give your younger-fundraising-self one piece of advice, what would it be?” As I’ve done each of the last three year’s when I’ve hosted the carnival, I plan on focusing this month’s DonorDreams blog posts on the topic as a way to help inspire other non-profit bloggers to submit posts for consideration. The April 2016 Nonprofit Blog Carnival is scheduled to go live on Thursday, April 28, 2016. So, mark your calendars because you won’t want to miss what other non-profit bloggers have to say on this topic.
Today’s time machine post involves a younger me who learned valuable lessons about how not to delegate and collaborate with others. Enjoy!

I am embarrassed to admit how many times I made the same mistake before finally learning how to effectively delegate and collaborate. In the following two sections, I will share examples where my younger-fundraising-self goofed up. In the final section, I will share with you what I’d tell my younger-self if I could go back in time with a few pieces of advice.
Annual campaign management
is anyone out thereAs a young Boy Scout professional in the 1990s, I was just starting to learn may way around fundraising principles and best practices. While I previously had helped out with a few special events and written a grant proposal for another organization, I never helped plan-organize-implement an annual campaign pledge drive, which is what I was being asked to do with a group of Friends of Scouting (FOS) volunteer within my district.
With the help of the council’s Finance Director, I easily plowed through the early deadlines in my backdating plan. I nailed the pre-campaign tasks such as volunteer recruitment, setting FOS unit presentation dates, identifying community donor prospects, running pledge cards, goal setting, etc. I remember thinking early on how easy it all seemed.
And then the official “kickoff meeting” happened . . .
All of my volunteers gathered before work for an early morning meeting I sold as the “FOS Kickoff”. For slightly more than an hour over coffee and donuts, I walked my team of fundraising volunteers through training, review of materials, and even prospect assignment exercises. Everyone walked away from that meeting knowing the who, what, where, when and why.
Or so I thought.
Four weeks after the kickoff, nothing was happening. The signed pledge cards weren’t coming back to me with pledge amounts. Six weeks passed . . . still nothing was occurring and no one was returning my phone calls. Finally, I started panicking at the eight week mark because there was only one month remaining before the end of the campaign. It didn’t look like we’d come anywhere close to hitting our overall goal.
What I didn’t understand was that while I might have delegated all of those fundraising solicitations to volunteers, I still owned all of those tasks even though someone else had agreed to do them.
Grant reporting
deadlineFast forward a number of years into the future when I was a first-time executive director for a Boys & Girls Club.
After the resource development director, who I had inherited from the previous CEO, had resigned, I hired a replacement who had good pledge drive and event planning skills. Unfortunately, he lacked grant writing experience. I quickly concluded that I was the organization’s best writer, and I took over grant writing responsibilities.
As a former newspaper editor in a previous life, I knew how to write and took to grant writing like a baby duck takes to water. In short order, I fell into the routine of “research, cultivate, write” (aka rinse, later, repeat). And when we received funding, I turned everything over to one of my direct reports who was responsible for operations.
Whenever I handed over a grant, I always sat down with the operations director and reviewed the grant deliverables. I clearly explained what needed to be done (e.g. hiring, program planning, scheduling, kid recruiting, program promotion, outcomes measurement, etc). I also shared reporting deadlines from the funding partner.
As with the aforementioned annual campaign story, I walked away from those meetings knowing the who, what, where, when and why were as clear as possible. Everyone knew what needed to happen and by when.
Or so I thought.
I’ll never forget the first time a funder called me asking where our close-out report was and why we had missed the last few quarterly deadlines.
Even though it had been a few years between the lesson I had learned with my annual campaign volunteers and the staff supervision story pertaining to grant management and reporting, I still had obviously not learned the simple truism that delegating action items doesn’t mean I’m allowed to wash my hands of them.
Where is that time machine when you really need it?
delorean time machineSometimes when I daydream, I see myself standing outside my house in the street with Dr. Emmitt Brown (aka Christopher Lloyd’s character in Back to the Future), waiting for the lighting storm so I can jump into that DeLorean Time Machine. I know exactly where in the past I would first point myself.
It would be either immediately before my first FOS annual campaign kickoff meeting. Or it would be right before one of the staff meetings when I handed off grant materials to the operations director. <sigh>
I also know exactly what I’d say to my younger-fundraising-self if I had the opportunity:

  • Never remove deadlines from your calendar even though you might delegated reporting to others
  • Use your Microsoft Outlook task list and set future reminders to yourself about checking-in with employees who were tasked with reporting
  • Include campaign goal amounts + deadlines + meeting dates/times in the campaign volunteer description to help set expectations during the recruitment process in order to help volunteers determine whether or not they are able to do what you’re asking them to do
  • Schedule in-person “report meetings” every few weeks throughout the annual campaign where volunteers are asked to share their progress (or lack thereof) with each other
  • Email campaign reports illustrating how the overall campaign is performing as well as how individuals are doing compared to each other

<Sigh> If I only knew then what I know now.  😉

If you are a non-profit blogger who wants to participate in this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival and submit a post for consideration on this month’s carnival theme, click here to read the “call for submissions” post I published last week. It should answer all of your questions and clearly explain how to submit your entry. If not, then simply email me and I’ll be happy to help.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

Best practices for building non-profit partnerships and collaborations

Last week I decided to attend a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Binghamton located in Binghamton, NY. The Club was celebrating construction of their Education Center (underwritten by donors like the Decker Foundation) and the future home of the Pejo Theater (a performing arts space underwritten by donors like board volunteer Dr. Samuel Pejo). So, I thought I’d share a few pictures as well as a number of best practices as it relates to creating collaborative partnerships.
In the picture above, you see clients, staff, board volunteers and donors officially cutting the ribbon for the new programming space.
In the picture above, you see executive director Marybeth Smith amplifying the stewardship messages from the event to the community via news media.
In the picture above, you see UnitedHealthcare distributing insurance information to the community outside of the Boys & Girls Club. Stated another way, you see the organization sharing its big day and the stage with another company for the benefit of families and neighbors.
In the picture above, you see neighbors lining up for food from a local food bank affiliated with Feeding America. As with the previous picture, the Boys & Girls Club is sharing its big day with other non-profit organizations for the benefit of families and neighbors.

As I walked into the clubhouse and throughout the entire ribbon cutting ceremony, everywhere I turned I saw collaboration and partnership in motion. Having once worked on the front line of a Boys & Girls Club, I walked away from my time with this Club marveling at all the hard work they obviously put into building partnerships.
Collaboration is something that donors LOVE to see because:

  • they see it as proof that community support is being leveraged
  • it feels like “economies of scale” are being achieved
  • it is perhaps proof that services aren’t being duplicated and costs (at least efforts) are being shared

Of course, collaboration and partnership sounds easy, but in reality it never is. So, I thought I’d share a few best practices and links to resources to those of you wanting to replicate the successes you see in the pictures I’ve posted. Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Sit down with potential partners, talk through the issues and put the plan in writing
  • Formalize and codify your collaboration in a written “memorandum of understanding” that spells out who has agreed to do what
  • Maintain routine communication with each other after the planning phase
  • Involve as many stakeholders in the dialog before, during and after the collaboration/partnership (e.g. volunteers, board members, staff, clients, donors, etc)
  • Build into your partnership routine evaluation/assessment opportunities and commit to a continuous cycle of learning and self-improvement
  • Celebrate your successes — TOGETHER

Interested in reading much more about how to design and implement productive collaborative partnerships? Here are a few resources I found online and think are awesome:

Does your non-profit organization do a good job with identifying, framing, implementing and evaluating partnerships and collaborations with others (e.g. non-profits, for-profits, individuals, etc)? If so, what do they look like? What has worked for you and made these efforts successful in your opinion?
Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

Does your non-profit practice data sharing?

data1Last week I was in Reno, Nevada at Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s (BGCA) Pacific Leadership Conference. This week I am in Mashantucket, Connecticut at BGCA’s Northeast Leadership Conference. The common denominator is that I am helping organize and facilitate a training track for executive directors and school superintendents. One of the sessions in the training track addresses the issue of data sharing, and I thought it would be a good topic to discuss today with DonorDreams readers.

Why include this topic in a training track focused on collaboration? Because data sharing is an important part of developing any successful partnership.

In the Boys & Girls Club universe, schools and Clubs share data with each other for a number if reasons including:

  • It is a way to measure success.
  • It is a way to improve programs.
  • It is a way to demonstrate ROI to donors.

Of course, if sharing data was easy, everyone would be doing it. Here are a few obstacles participants identified:

  • Time
  • Limited staff
  • Untrained staff
  • Lack of reasons for needing specific data
  • Client privacy
  • Trust

data2The following are just a few key strategies identified by participants that will help any non-profit organization sustain data sharing agreements with its partners:

  • Develop a memorandum of understanding (MOU) clearly spelling out roles and responsibilities.
  • Seek to understand your partner first before seeking to be understood.
  • Have a reason for needing the data for which you are asking.
  • Be mission-driven and focused when it comes to your partnerships and data needs.
  • Regularly scheduled meetings are communication opportunities.
  • Make data sharing part of your non-profit culture.
  • Use the data for which you’re asking and share the aggregated results with your partners.
  • Use the data for which you’re asking to make important decisions thus demonstrating the importance of it to all stakeholders both internal and external.
  • Have your data analysis plan written and in place before you collect the data because collecting data for the sake of collecting data is frustrating and stupid.

The following are a few great online resources pertaining to data collection, sharing and usage:

I walked away from the three different symposiums that I helped organize and facilitate this month with the following big take away:

If you want to measure the depth and strength of your collaboration, then look at your data sharing efforts.

What does your data sharing efforts with other partners look like? What best practices and key strategies can you share with others? If you don’t share data with your collaborative partners, would you be willing to share with us why not?

Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

Non-profit mergers aren’t the “easy way out”

At the end of 2011, I wrote a series of blog posts focused on predictions for the upcoming year. It seems as if my post on December 28, 2011 titled “2012 Non-Profit Trends and Predictions: Contraction Continues” hit a nerve with some of you. There isn’t a week that goes by without someone engaging me in a discussion around collaboration, strategic alliance, merger, acquisition, and outright sale.

None of this surprises me for all of the reasons I wrote about back on December 28th. However, the thing that is a little interesting has been the manner in which people are talking about the subject. At least in my conversations, this subject has been framed as the “perfect solution to get out from underneath our financial problems“.

While it is true that most non-profit mergers and acquisitions are inspired and motivated by financial crisis, it is important to remember that there isn’t a large group of non-profits sitting on the sidelines with a large wallet of cash just waiting to bail you out.  Let’s please get real for a moment.

  • There needs to be “benefit” on both sides of the merger equation. Figuring out what motivates each party is important, and it is one of the first steps.
  • Mergers don’t happen overnight. A due diligence process must be established with representation from all sides. This process will include discussions ranging from developing a case for change to addressing how to integrate systems (e.g. payroll, tech, etc) if the project gets green-lighted.
  • While discretion and confidentiality are important elements in such delicate discussions, there needs to be clear lines of communication with staff and both boards.

Engineering a merger is tough and takes a lot of time. It is NOT a quick fix nor is it the perfect solution from getting out from underneath your agency’s problems. The math supports this position. The Bridgespan Group published a paper presenting data and findings from a study that focused on non-profit mergers, and this is what they reported on the rate of success:

“We evaluated 11 years of merger filings in four states: Massachusetts, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina, and found that more than 3,300 organizations reported engaging in at least one merger or acquisition between 1996 and 2006, for a cumulative merger rate of 1.5 percent (number of deals divided by average number of organizations for 11 years).”

Does this mean non-profits aren’t as good at mergers and acquisitions as our for-profit cousins? Nope!

“This rate may seem low compared to the perceived ubiquity of M&A in the for-profit world, but it is not. The comparative cumulative total in the for-profit sector is a close 1.7 percent.”

If your non-profit organization is starting to chatter about collaborations, strategic alliances, mergers or acquisitions, I strongly suggest you: 1)  do your homework, 2) develop a process, 3) hire a consultant to help and facilitate, and 4) prepare for a long due diligence process.

I really like this online white paper by CCF National Resource Center that I found on the United Way of the Midlands’ website. Click here to read more about non-profit merger best practices.

Have you ever been part of a non-profit merger process? If so, what was your experience? Is your agency currently looking for a merger partner? If so, why and how are you going about it? Have you seen other merger attempts in your community succeed or fail? If so, what happened and why? How do you think donors should be included in a non-profit merger due diligence process without causing a crisis of confidence with lasting impact?

Please use the comment box below to weigh-in with your thoughts and opinions. Why? Because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC