Non-profit professionals need to take a page from the Wizard of Oz

oz the great and powerfulThis last weekend the Redbox near my house finally had a copy of “Oz: The Great and Powerful” in stock. I love the Wizard of Oz and couldn’t wait to see the prequel to this iconic film. My childhood is full of memories of watching the original movie around Thanksgiving time every year. I also remember all of those Wicked Witch induced nightmares that would follow. However, this time around . . . I walked away with some non-profit and fundraising thoughts.

Without spoiling anything for those of you who haven’t seen “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” it should come as no surprise that there are parallels between the original movie and the prequel. For example, in both movies as the Wizard and Dorothy make their way to the Emerald City for the first time, they meet up with a cast of characters who join them on the journey and play valuable roles down the road.

Another parallel comes at the end of the movie. In the original film, the wizard presents “The Three Gifts“:

  • The Scarecrow get his diploma in lieu of an actual brain
  • The Cowardly Lion gets his medal in lieu of actual courage
  • The Tin Man gets his heart shaped clock in lieu of an actual heart

A similar scene occurs at the end of “Oz: The Great and Powerful“.

Some people might conclude cynically that these are acts of a powerless person who is posing as a great and powerful wizard and relying upon his background as a con man and traveling circus magician back in Kansas. I am not of this opinion and invite you to refresh your memory of how things went down by watching this short YouTube clip of the scene in question:


What I see is a smart man who knows his limitations and is doing a masterful job of working within those limitations to give deserving people what they want and need.

While watching the parallel scene in “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” I had a fundraising revelation. It was rooted in a conversation I had with a fundraising professional last week. She was concerned about a few board volunteers who are always chirping about how their non-profit organization needs to be run more like a for-profit business and how greater attention must be given to concepts like “return on investment” for donors.

While program outcomes and community impact are on the lips of many non-profit professionals nowadays, the reality is that not all non-profit organizations are the same. For example, it is probably easier for a non-profit youth development agency to demonstrate outcomes and impact than a domestic violence shelter for women. It is also most likely easier for a non-profit health clinic to show ROI than an art museum.

ignore the man behind the curtainIf your agency is not in a position where you can make your donors’ wishes come true, then you better have skilled staff who possess talents and skills like The Wizard.

Just to be clear . . . I am NOT suggesting that you need to hire snake oil salesmen. What I am suggesting is that you identify and hire talent staff who:

  1. understand what you donors need and want
  2. understand what the agency is capable of and not capable of providing
  3. have the ability to identify similar things that can be provided in lieu of what the donors desire

In the movie, The Wizard knows that he can’t give the Scarecrow a real brain. So, he gives him a college diploma instead. He also gives a wonderful explanation of why it is as good as having an actual brain.  In the world of philanthropy, your non-profit staff may not have good impact data on how much less violent the world is for women because of your shelter, but you do have wonderful stories to share with donors about how for one night you made a world of difference in one woman’s life.

If you go back and watch that Wizard of Oz YouTube clip again, I suspect you will see many important skill sets — traits —

tin man heart

characteristics being demonstrated by The Wizard that are equally important for fundraising professionals and non-profit staff:

  • persuasion
  • well-spoken and clear in thought
  • thinking fast on your feet
  • great storyteller
  • showmanship

On a side note, I also just love that scene in the movie because of how it relates to our work as fundraising and non-profit professionals. Did you catch what the wizard said to the Tin Man when presenting him with his pseudo-heart? If not, here is the quick transcript:

“Back where I come from there are men who do nothing all day but good deeds. They are called phil….er…..phil…er…er….good-deed-doers and their hearts are no bigger than yours, but they have one thing you haven’t got! A testimonial! Therefore, in consideration of your kindness, I take pleasure at this time in presenting you with a small token of our esteem and affection. And remember, my sentimental friend, that a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.

LOL . . . phil….er…..phil…er…er….good-deed-doers . . . I LOVE IT!!!

Does your non-profit organization have a “wizard” working behind the curtain of your donor communications program? How are you determining what donors want to see and hear? How are you still giving them what they want when it may not be realistic? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts. We can all learn from each other!

For those of you who are big Wizard of Oz fans like me, I wrote a multi-part series of blog posts two years ago with a Wizard of Oz theme. I will re-blog those posts this week. I hope you enjoy this week’s trip down the yellow brick road.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Outcome measurement madness

Today’s DonorDreams post is from a guest blogger, Rose Reinert. Rose is a young non-profit professional who happily serves in the trenches and grapples with our sector’s newest challenges as they relate to data, impact, and program outcomes. When it comes to data systems, she has experience with membership management databases, financial management software, donor databases, and program outcomes measurement systems.

Outcome measurement madness

By Rose Reinert

In a former life, I served as an Executive Director of a youth serving organization. As you can imagine, as in any non-profit, the heat was on illustrating short-term and long-term impact. These efforts, of course, were to show that we were fulfilling our mission of preparing young people to be contributing citizens. Unfortunately, more often than not, we focused on short-term impact in order to keep funders and donors engaged and happy so they would renew their investment.

lotsofdata1One of those funders, who I would work at keeping happy with their investment of money and time, was my board of directors. I used to love packing my board book with tons of statistics “showing” our hard work. I would use pretty graphs and pie charts, comparisons from the previous year, week, minute.

I was so proud of those thick board packets!

Now, the tables have turned and I serve on a board of directors for another area non-profit. In a recent board meeting, as I was overwhelmed with pages of statistics I sat thinking, “So what! What does this all mean?

Oh the irony!

When I was leading my organization, we used to measure anything that moved. We were swimming in pre- and post-tests. By the time we closed out one session, we were at it again with pre-testing.

There were days, amongst the insanity, where I would have moments of clarity. I realized how many opportunities had been lost. We were caught up in the “Outcome Measurement madness“. We lost opportunities to truly, without defense, use the data to assess how we were doing and if we were moving the needle.

What would happen if we got off the hamster wheel and took a step back? What questions could we ask about our outcome measurement strategy?

One great tool that I found to help re-frame and create a strategy is a publication titled Intermediary Development Series: Measuring Outcomes at

lotsofdata2If you are just starting or if you could use a fresh look, these questions can help:

  • Where should we focus?
  • What do we want to accomplish?
  • Who is on the team, and how do we involve others in organization?
  • What resources will you need?
  • Do we need additional help?
  • What is our timeline?

Taking a step back to reframe, or create a strategy to ensure that we are measuring what matters is critical. There is no escape from outcome measurement, and there shouldn’t be. Data is critical; it guides decisions, informs investors, and points out areas for improvement. However, you can measure a lot and still have no clue.

How have you found clarity in the outcome measurement madness? How does your organization involve all levels in developing the strategy and executing it? How do you share your data with stakeholders?  Please share your experiences in the comment box below.
rose draft sig

Outcomes, impact and criminal prosecution — A harbinger for the non-profit community?

jailAttention non-profit professionals . . . are you paying attention to the news? There is a news story developing in Atlanta, and it may be a harbinger of things to come for non-profit agencies who take money from the government. This made-for-cable-television-drama involves a school superintendent, dozens of teachers and administrators, and a conspiracy to change thousands of standardized tests. All of this was done in the name of maintaining government pass-through funding.

Click here or on the YouTube window below to get a better explanation of what is going on, and then we’ll talk about why I believe this is relevant to the non-profit sector.


When I heard this story, my mind immediately turned to the countless number of non-profit organizations that are struggling to develop a community impact and program outcomes model. The intent behind these efforts usually include:

  • evolving with their local United Way community impact initiative,
  • becoming more competitive when it comes to foundation and government grant writing, and
  • being able to show individual and corporate donors a return on their investment.

Of course, one of the central questions at the center of this struggle (as well as at the center of the No Child Left Behind debate) is:

“Who cares if test scores go up if it doesn’t result in solving the greater community need?”

For example, there is some evidence that shows students doing better on standardized tests, but more and more of incoming college students are enrolling in remedial classes their freshman year because they didn’t learn what they needed to learn prior to applying for college.

Isn’t it the same question for non-profit organizations?

How many youth development agencies are running child obesity programming with government funding and using pre- and post-test methods to determine if the participant was able to digest and regurgitate the program curriculum. Of course, knowing that I shouldn’t eat Cheetos and actually not eating them are two different things. Right? So, what is the donor really paying for and are we measuring the right things?

The bigger question being begged by the Atlanta school district news story is:

“If we tie student test performance to school funding, then aren’t we creating a situation where institutions are tempted to bend rules and even cheat the system?”

As I asked earlier, isn’t it the same question for non-profit organizations?

Do I believe there are non-profit organizations who “fudge” their program outcomes evaluation in order to keep their United Way happy? Sure I do!

Do I also believe there are non-profit organizations who do the same thing with their government grant deliverables? Yes, I believe there are a few.

You can chalk this blog post up to my cynicism. Or you can use it to ward off temptation to game the system. I suggest the later and not the former because there isn’t any difference between what the educators in Atlanta did and a non-profit organization misrepresenting its outcomes data to a local, state or federal funding source.

If you buy into this line of reasoning, then keep your eyes on the Atlanta news story because I predict the plot will thicken and jail time could be in a few people’s future.

Does your agency have policies in place that help protect against any of this happening (e.g. ethics policy, whistleblower policy, document destruction policy, etc)?  Are these policies just on paper or are their routinely used? Does your organization have shared values? If so, how are those values integrated into the hiring process to ensure that you’re hiring ethical employees? Do you believe the Atlanta school story is a harbinger or am I just over reacting? Please weigh-in using the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847