Monday, March 30, 2009

Organizational Conflict: Blurring the lines between Board Chair & Executive Director

I once worked with a nonprofit organization that had some conflict between the Board Chair and Executive Director (ED). The main issue dealt with who should be doing what (defining roles), and founders syndrome. Never heard of founder's syndrome? Click here and here.

The problem was that the organization had been an all-volunteer organization with a very active board for decades. The organization had grown, and had hired an Executive Director. Unfortunately, the organization didn't really plan well for defining roles and transitioning from all-volunteer to having paid staff. The result was tension and conflict between the Board Chair and Executive Director about who has the authority to be doing what. Some of the specific questions that came up were:

  • Who should be the media spokesperson?

In most cases, it should always be the Executive Director. Now, that doesn't mean the Board Chair can't be trained on how to respond to things, but if there is one person invited to interview about the organization, that person should be the Executive Director. I view the Executive Director's role as being the face of the organization.

  • Who should be in charge of the finances/who should have the final decision making power?

When you have just one paid staff member, deciding who should be in charge of finances isn't as cut and dry as with large organizations. Still, the Executive Director should have the final say. For example, with the nonprofit I was working with, there was an independent contractor that was well-liked by the board. The contractor was let go by the ED, and the contractor held the organization's property hostage demanding a severance check - crazy huh? Well, the ED said not only would they not give the contractor a severance check, but they wouldn't give them their final check until the property was returned (makes sense right?). Well, the Board Chair overrode the ED's decision and gave the contractor their check - before they had returned the property - without telling the ED. This is a great example of what Board Chairs should not do. The Board does have the ultimate fiscal responsibility - but the staff is responsible for the day to day finances and related decisions.

  • Who puts together the agenda for board meetings?

Technically, it is the Board Chair's job to put together an agenda. Although, most organizations rely on their staff to do the agenda. This was totally depends on the organization, and the board.

  • If the Executive Director is salaried, should they have to keep track of their time and tasks in a timesheet (actually write 4-5pm: called donors) for every hour of every week?

No! Please, please don't make your staff do this. This organization did, and it created a lot of resentment between the Board Chair and the Executive Director. Please trust your staff to get their work done. In my opinion, I think all organizations should move closer towards a R.O.W.E. sort of work place.

These are just a few of the many issues that came up with this organization's transition. If you have your own questions, please post them in comments and I will do my best to answer them. Or if you organization does these things differently, please share!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Top 3 Weekly Blog Posts for Nonprofit Workers

1. "Nonprofit Blog Exchange Roundup #26" by Nonprofit Blog Exchange

2. "Dissecting Why a Grant Failed" by Give and Take and "Anatomy of a Failed Grant" by Tactical Philanthropy

3. "Nonprofit Strategies for Tough Times: Economic Stimulus Act FAQ" by PhilanTopic

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A day in the life of a nonprofit worker

There are so many amazing and interesting people that are working in the nonprofit sector, so I have decided to add a new feature to this blog "A day in the life of a nonprofit worker." This weekly post will feature a new nonprofit worker each week that will answer the same six questions. When interviewing participants for this new feature, I was often asked how I would answer these six questions, so to start this feature off, here are my answers:

1. What is your name, organization and job title (can be anonymous)
Kristen Denzer, Owner and Principal at The Advancement Company and blogger at NonprofitSOS.

2. What is the first thing you do when you get in the office?
Office...what office? :) I work from home and usually start my day by checking out Twitter to see what's going on and catch up on the latest news, and responding to emails.

3. How do you spend your lunch break?
Hmm.... I enjoy reading blogs, Working Girl and Intersected are two non-work related, fun ones. I sometimes will catch a show on Hulu, or work on stuff for another company I co-own - Deckci Decor.

4. Which part of your work do you enjoy most?
I really enjoy helping nonprofits in anyway I can. It is really satisfying when I secure a large grant that ensures a program's continuation, or do an evaluation that reveals something surprising or new for program staff. I also enjoy meeting all of the amazing people that work in the nonprofit sector.

5. Please finish this sentence: If someone wanted my job, they would have to…..
have a lot of time. They would need strong networks, and be willing to do anything and learn anything to get the job done. Obviously experience and education in evaluation, nonprofits, etc helps too.

6. What advice or tips do you have for other nonprofit professionals in your position?
For other bloggers - make sure to cite/link back to your sources. It is very frustrating not to be able to see the original material where a post came from. Also, get on Twitter. It is an amazing resource and tool for networking.
For other nonprofit consultants - be online. Take advantage of social networking. Check out the hundreds of awesome posts with tips for consultants and contractors. Also, always deliver more than you promise in less time that you say.

If you would like to be featured, please email your answers to these questions to -

Monday, March 23, 2009

Social media isn't as prevalent as we all think it is

The 2009 Massachusetts Non-profit Social Media Report was recently released by Talance, a web design and development company that focuses on helping organizations understand technology better. While the report focuses on Massachusetts, I would bet that it's findings could be generalizable to many if not most states. Here are some highlights:

  • The most popular form (26%) of social media that organizations used was social networking (facebook, linked in, etc), while the least popular was microblogs (3%)
  • 80% were unfamiliar with microblogs (like Twitter)
  • Not everyone thinks social media is important for donor engagement, 48% said it wasn't important
  • No one (79%) has an internet marketing plan
Monique Cuvelier, CEO of Talance took a few minutes to answer a few questions I had about the report and social media.

1. A very small percentage (0 - 5%) received individual gifts through online solicitation, why do you think that is and how can nonprofits change that?

This question about online solicitation was designed to uncover if respondents had any kind of formal programs designed around social media, and we chose fund development because it’s comparatively easy and accessible to set up an online campaign. The fact so few are accepting online donations is a very clear indication that non-profits aren’t quite sure what to do with social media. They’re not thinking in terms of application: creating a Facebook Cause to raise funds, sending out Twitter alerts for blood drives. There are many programs and services out there that make accepting online donations easy and affordable – it really doesn’t have to be any more sophisticated than making a big red button that says “DONATE” and linking it to a PayPal account. Of course there are more sophisticated tools out there, but this would be a solid first step.

2. If a nonprofit only has time to do one thing online, to only use one form of social media, which would you recommend and why?

You have to be where people are looking. If you sell mattresses, you want to be listed in the local yellow pages. If you have a young constituency, then you probably want to be on Facebook. It’s very hard to think of a one-size-fits-all solution, but if a non-profit is willing to make the time investment, a blog is the way to go. Good bang for the buck. It’s a way to deliver messages, open up communication and increase online presence.

3. What was the most interesting thing your report found? What was the most shocking?

The most interesting thing we found was the dichotomy between how valuable people believe social media is and how little they use for real programs. For instance, 80% consider social media either very important or somewhat important for peer-to-peer networking. By contrast 31% find social media unimportant to their business and marketing strategy. Without a doubt the most shocking thing was how 79% of the respondents said they had no Internet marketing plan at all. They’ve got to start thinking about using the Internet as a way to communicate with the public.

Please share what form(s) of social media your organization uses, and why you think it is important.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Top 3 Weekly Blog Posts for Nonprofit Workers

1. How Memes Can Help Your Nonprofit Blog by Wild Apricot

2. Valuing volunteer time in your grant application, an addendum by 79 Grant Writing Resources

3. Not really a blog post, but still a fun read -25 Random Things that Make the Nonprofit Sector Great by the Fieldstone Alliance

Free long as your funders approve what you are saying

Have you ever had a grant rescinded? How about, have you ever had a grant or donation rescinded because of something your organization took a position on?

Well, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) knows what its like. The California Wellness Foundation disagreed with the NCRP's recent report that said foundations should have half of their gifts go to "poor and other disadvantaged people", so the foundation cancelled their membership and sent a letter asking for their $10,000 grant back.

This brings up two totally unrelated, but important issues: should nonprofits be "punished" for taking positions on issues and should 50% of foundation money go towards poor and disadvantaged people?

My thoughts are that foundations (or donors for that matter) shouldn't be able to take back a gift unless it was misused - which wasn't the case here. If a donor or foundation gives a general gift, then that money is used however the nonprofit deems appropriate. Unless the nonprofit significant changes its mission immediately after the donation takes place, I don't think gifts should be able to be rescinded.

As for the 50% of grants going towards poor and disadvantaged people, I think that since there are many important causes no foundation should be expected to give a percentage of their gifts towards a cause that others deem to be the most important. Is helping the poor and disadvantaged an important cause? Yes. But so is the environment and cancer research and education (you get my point). Which cause is the most important is subjective - it depends on who you ask. Foundations should be able to give their money to whatever cause they want to. It's their money.

Read the full article "Foundation Rescinds Grant to Watchdog Group" in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Are you on Twitter?

Someone just emailed me today and said "Can you believe back in November no one knew what Twitter was? Now even congress is tweeting."

That got me thinking. Even though in the past few months Twitter has grown, there are a lot of people out there that still don't know what Twitter is. I recently telling a friend of mine how great Twitter is, and she was like "What is Twitter?" She had no idea. So, I told her to go home and ask her husband (I assumed that since he was a Director of IT he must know about Twitter), alas, she came to me the next day and said he didn't know what it was either. That shocked me.

I think many people have recognized the value that social media brings into our personal and professional lives. So, if you know someone out there that isn't on Twitter, tell them to join! And please, be patient when they tell you they didn't get it. I was one of those people who didn't get it either just 5 short months ago.

Here are some of my favorite Twitter resources (feel free to post more in comments):

For beginners, there is the "Twitter: A Translation Guide" by The Fundraising Coach.

For beginners and experienced alike, see "14 Advanced Twitter Tips" at Ocean Grand.

Some great advice on how to use Twitter by Rosetta Thurman in her posts: "Remixing Twitter for Young Nonprofit Professionals", "Stop Trying to Be Two Different People", and "Top 10 Young Nonprofit Professionals on Twitter."

Check your Twitter growth here.

For Twitter facts, widgets, and news click here, here, and here.

And my personal favorite, Darren Rowse's (@ProBlogger) TwiTip Blog.

Don't forget to follow me @nonprofitsos on Twitter!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Charitable Lead Trust 101

What is a charitable lead trust?
A charitable lead trust is designed to reduce its beneficiaries taxable income. Some view it as opposite of a charitable remainder trust. With charitable lead trusts, the donor transfers their property to the trust, which pays a percentage of the its value to the nonprofit for a pre-determined number of years and then the remaining assets (plus any growth) are passed on to the beneficiaries.

Why are these trusts appealing to donors?
These trusts are a win-win for both donors and nonprofits. Nonprofits receive a planned gift, and donors receive tax benefits. There is not a income tax deduction when a charitable lead trust is created, plus when the beneficiaries receive the remaining assets, their gift tax/estate tax is significantly reduced and they receive the growth estate tax/gift tax free.

Need more information?

To help you understand how it works, click here for an example.

To learn more about the nuts and bolts, and history of the charitable lead trust click here and here.

This article will help you in "Choosing the Best Charitable Lead Trust to Meet a Client's Needs."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Top 3 Weekly Blog Posts for Nonprofit Workers

1. 5 insights into community management by Intersected

2. Ten Nonprofit Funding Models by Standford Social Innovation Review

3. Saying Thanks Even When It’s Inconvenient or Time-Consuming by Kivi's Nonprofit Communications Blog

Monday, March 9, 2009

Want to know how your nonprofit is doing financially?

Have you ever wondered whether your nonprofit is financially healthy? Here are a few quick, easy ways to gain some insight into the financial situation:

  • Defensive Interval

The Defensive Interval is a ratio that will show you how long your organization could survive with its cash on hand. Organizations should have at least 90 days worth. To calculate the defensive interval:

(Cash + Marketable Securities)/(Operating Expenses/365 days)

  • Debt Ratio

This ratio will tell you if your organization is relying too much on funding from others (loans, etc). This should be .05 or less, which means you have sufficient cushion.

Total Liabilities/Total Unrestricted Assets

  • Program Expense Ratio

The program expense ratio is one that most people are familiar with, it is used to answer the question "what percentage of our donation goes towards programming?" The Charities Review Council recommends this number be higher than 70%, but the "gold" standard is considered to be above 90%. To calculate this ratio:

Program Expenses/Total Expenses

  • Working Capital Ratio

This indicates the organization's ability to pay its bills in a timely matter. This should be somewhere between 1 and 2. If it is under 1 then the organization may not be able to meet its financial obligations, if it is over 2, then the organization may need to invest more of its money. To calculate the working capital ratio:

Current Assets/Current Liabilities

To find the numbers for these calculations, you can look at an organization's annual report or audited financials. If you want to have some more fun with ratios, check out the Nonprofit Assistance Fund's ratio chart and info sheet.

Friday, March 6, 2009

8 tasks for board members who hate fundraising

Do you have board members that hate fundraising? Board members that refuse to ask anyone for money or tap into their networks? Well, here are 8 things they can do to help with fundraising:

  1. Sign thank you letters
  2. Include your organization in their estate plan
  3. Help with prospect research (review annual reports, look up addresses, etc)
  4. Make thank you calls to donors
  5. Research foundation/corporate funders
  6. Write an article for the annual report or newsletter
  7. Help with your events (set-up, take-down, staffing a table, etc)
  8. Volunteer to speak at programs/events about why they are involved with your organization

And if they just don't want to verbally ask anyone, then they could:

  • Provide you with their address book
  • Write ask letters for in-kind donations for events
  • Write personal notes for appeal letters
  • Send an e-mail ask to their friends

To see some examples of board commitment forms and board job descriptions:

Samples Week- Board of Directors

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Top 3 Weekly Blog Posts for Nonprofit Workers

1. What Does Your Outgoing Voicemail Message Say About Your Nonprofit? by Step by Step Fundraising

2. Seeing the Forest for the Trees by Balancing the Mission Checkbook

3. Understand Twitter with Twitter: A Translation Guide by The Fundraising Coach and Twitter Like a Pro by Start a Non Profit

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

MESI Wrap-up: Utilization-Focused Evaluation

The session "Utilization-Focused Evaluation: New Directions" was led by Michael Patton, author of Utilization-Focused Evaluation.

The goal of utilization-focused evaluation is to enhance the utility and actual use of evaluations. So, you should identify the primary intended users and make sure the evaluation will be useful to them. Patton believes that no evaluation should go forward unless and until there are primary intended users who will use the information that can be produced. The primary intended users also need to be involved in the process, and the evaluator's job is to help intended users clarify their purpose and objectives.

When using utilization-focused evaluation, you need to make sure you match the evaluation design to the evaluation's purpose, resources, and timeline to optimize use.

MESI Wrap-up: Using Stories in Evaluation

The session "Using Stories in Evaluation" was led by Richard Krueger.

What is an evaluation story? It is a brief narrative account of an experience told for a purpose described by the storyteller.

There are many different ways you can use stories in evaluation, Richard pointed out that you can use them in a non-systematic manner (to provide entertainment, illustrate a point, etc) or in a systematic manner (use social science protocol- sampling, collection, generalizability, verification, etc).

To help you use stories in evaluation, Richard provided an example of an evaluation strategy:

  1. Select the theme
  2. Identify potential storytellers
  3. Plan the inquiry
  4. Systematically collect stories
  5. Convert stories into an evaluation format (coding, etc)
  6. Analyze and identify themes
  7. Report results

MESI Wrap-up: Deliberative Democratic Evaluation

The session "Deliberative Democratic Evaluation" was led by Sandra Mathison.

Sandra began by explaining what deliberative democratic evaluation is: "it draws particular attention to the inclusion of stakeholders and the importance of deliberation. The purpose is to insure the interests and needs of those who are often disenfranchised are included and that the evaluation process is public, transparent, and contributes to building democratic communities."

This type of evaluation is characterized by three principles:

  1. Inclusion
  2. Dialogue
  3. Deliberation
Sandra's session focused on stakeholder inclusion and deliberation. Stakeholders are those that are involved in program operations, those served by or affected by the program, and the users of the evaluation. Stakeholders can have a variety of roles in this sort of evaluation, they can: communicate results, provide data, develop recommendations, identify the evaluation questions, etc. Once an evaluation is complete, and stakeholders have been involved throughout, it is important that they have the opportunity of deliberation. One of the ways to do this is via a deliberation forum that is moderated. It is important to note though, that deliberation can occur at any time throughout the process (identifying information needs, next step recommendations, etc).

Some of the suggested strategies for including and deliberating with stakeholders are:
  • Forums and open meetings
  • Focus Groups
  • Image based
  • Juries or panels
  • Electronic consultation
  • Electronic voting
  • Personal interviews

MESI Wrap-up: Interactive Evaluation

The session "Interactive Evaluation" was led by Jean King.

The session highlighted some useful techniques for interactive evaluation, and began by highlighting Jean's participatory principles:

  • You should build people's capacity to think evaluatively
  • Participation in evaluation should be a learning experience
  • It is essential to involve people actively in evaluations (helps ensure use)

The technique that I would like to highlight, that exemplifies these principles, is using a data dialogue in evaluation. A data dialogue is a process you can use when you cannot afford to do a focus group. A data dialogue involves the program participants/stakeholders and turns them into the evaluators. You bring together a bunch of participants/stakeholders (the people you are interested in getting feedback from or interviewing), you then put participants/stakeholders into groups of 3- one is the interviewer, one is the recorder, and one is the interviewee/respondent. They then rotate around their group of 3, so that each is interviewed. This gives you useful information for your evaluation, without having a professional evaluator interview them all.

MESI Wrap-up: Developmental Evaluation

The session "Developmental Evaluation" was led by Michael Quinn Patton.

Developmental evaluation is evaluation processes, including asking evaluative questions and applying evaluation logic, to support program, product, staff and/or organizational development. It is used to provide feedback, generate learnings, support direction or affirm changes in direction in real time. It is also used to develop new measures and in monitoring mechanisms as goals emerge and evolve. The evaluator collaborates with those engaged in the change effort to design an evaluation process that matches philosophically and organizationally, and the evaluation will be designed to capture system dynamics, interdependencies, and emergent connections.

MESI Wrap-up: Making the Most of Multi-site Evaluations

The session "Making the Most of Multi-site Evaluations" was led by Jean King and Frances Lorenz.

When conducting multi-site evaluations, there are some key characteristics that will help ensure a successful evaluation. Some of the characteristics are:

  • The evaluator(s)/project leader(s) should be open and receptive to unexpected results
  • Before the evaluation begins, there should be discussion for how the program plans to use the evaluation results (plan for use)
  • There needs to be clearly defined roles between the project and program leaders/evaluators, and open communication is crucial
  • Stakeholders should be involved in the process, and should be kept in mind when reporting on evaluation results

Finally, and most importantly, you should remember that involvement promotes use. Using participatory evaluation can be beneficial when there are multiple sites.

MESI Session Wrap-up

I'm sorry about the delay in posting the wrap-up from this year's 2009 MESI. This year, there were some amazing sessions and speakers at the Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute. Today, I will be posting 6 short posts with tips/highlights from some of the sessions. The sessions I will be posting on are:

Also, I attended the pre-conference session on focus groups. Here are the posts from that session: