Springfield Metro CARES Articles
Diagnosing Founder's Syndrome
A founder who clings to the original vision of the organization when others are ready to move on can cause great harm and upheaval. The syndrome can traumatize people and literally destroy organizations. There are three classic symptoms of a leader with Founder’s Syndrome: dominance, denial, and short-sightedness...
Women in Nonprofit Leadership Part III
My Advice to 'younger' female leaders would be to hone their strategic skills so that they can become more competitive in the workforce as they move into leadership positions. Effective leaders exhibit both male female characteristics of leadership while staying true to themselves and learning to highlight their own strengths. I would also encourage them to ask for what they're worth! If their board values appreciates the work they do, they will respond appropriately...
Women in Nonprofit Leadership Part II
One challenge is unequal access to informal networking or face time with decision makers. I don’t believe it is intentional, but men tend to invite men to lunch, golf, discussion groups, etc. because it is comfortable. Maybe without realizing it, women are excluded from these informal settings and can lag behind in forming important relationships and partnerships. We must work harder to establish these relationships in more formal settings...
Women in Nonprofit Leadership
There is no question that women are strong leaders; their presence is clear in organizations throughout the nation. About two-thirds (65 percent) of nonprofits with budgets under $1-million are led by women (2014 BoardSource annual report). Women in volunteerism and philanthropy have deep roots. In 17th century churches, women were meeting community needs while men worked. Throughout the years, women in these “do-gooder” roles have been expected to balance these activities with the domestic responsibilities of raising children, supporting a husband, and overseeing the home...
Recruiting Great Volunteers
Some nonprofits use volunteers as their main source of program delivery. Groups like Big Brothers/Big Sisters and CASA rely on volunteers to carry out their missions. These roles are highly rewarding, but can be highly demanding. It's important to create alternative opportunities for those who want to help your organization buy don't have the time or desire to do program work. Consider using volunteers in the office, greeting visitors or answering the phones...
Myths about working in the Nonprofit Industry
Today’s nonprofits are still addressing community problems, but organizations have evolved into much, much more. They are now at the forefront of solving complex life issues and, in some cases, are providing the safety net that once was one of the primary roles of government. As the sector has matured, the men and women who work at nonprofits have evolved as well. Having the heart (passion) is still necessary. But equally important is the head (knowledge) to make sure these important operations are efficient and effective...
'Tis the Season to Receive
Nonprofit leaders understand the importance and potential of the Holiday Season. A study by Charity Navigator showed many organizations raise up to 50 percent of their total contributed income between Thanksgiving and January. According to Causes.com, online donations to nonprofits increase by 42 percent during November and December compared to other months throughout the remainder of the year...
by Dan Prater, The Drury University Center for Nonprofit Communication
January has always been a time for looking back to the past, and more importantly, looking forward to the future. It's a fresh start, a chance to be better.
A 2013 report in the Washington Post says at least half of all Americans make a new year's resolution. Their goals typically center on health—losing weight, exercising, and making better life choices.
January is also a great time for organizations to reflect on the past year and look ahead to the upcoming year. Aiming to be better, healthier, and stronger is a goal for which every organization should strive.
While well-known authors and trainers have popularized goal setting, there is strong evidence that most people and organizations fall short of achieving their goals.In fact, research shows that 80 percent of resolutions are broken within one year.
There are many reasons goals and resolutions are never achieved. One reason is that goals often involve change, and change can be particularly difficult. Ray Williams, author of Breaking Bad Habits, says our brains are protective, and goals that require substantial change in behavior or in thinking-pattern will be resisted. "The brain is wired to seek rewards and avoid pain, including fear," Williams says. "When fear of failure creeps into the mind of the goal setter it commences a de-motivator with a desire to return to known, comfortable behavior and thought patterns."
In other words, it is much easier to do things the way we've always done them, even if those old ways are ineffective or outdated.
Another reason goals are not achieved is because they are often unrealistic or unattainable—cast in the image of perfection. And when goals are not reached, people have a sense of failure and disappointment, which further affects their ability to perform.
So is the answer to forget making resolutions or setting goals? Not for most of us. John Norcross, a professor of Psychology at the University of Scranton, found that people and organizations that explicitly set goals are 10 times more likely to attain them than equally motivated people who do not.
It's been said that he who aims at nothing hits it every time. Rather than make no goals for fear of failure or fear of change, I offer four broad, attainable goals that every organization should strive for in 2014:
- Improve your organization's transparency and accountability
Members of the community trust nonprofits to handle donations and to do the work that needs to be done. That trust is nurtured through acts of transparency and accountability, but is destroyed through acts of secrecy and deception.
Publish and distribute an annual report that includes important information such as year-end financial statement, major donors, board members, program successes, etc.
Annual reports come in all shapes and sizes. Some are slick, full-color publications with impressive photography and graphic design. Budget-strapped organizations can produce a much smaller, simpler document that communicates the essential elements. If necessary, it can be a simple one- or two-page black/white document or a PDF posted on your website.
- Conduct a financial audit. Financial audits tell the world (including your stakeholders) you are serious about fiscal excellence and accountability. An examination of your records, accounts, and practices demonstrates to current and potential donors your commitment to managing contributions with care.
Independent audits, those conducted by a CPA not affiliated with the organization, can be quite costly. An alternative for smaller organizations with tight budgets is to have a "remote audit" which means that the auditors conduct the audit without a site visit. Another growing trend is to have CPA/auditors provide a financial statement “review.” A review examines the financial statements but does not conduct an examination of the nonprofit’s internal controls.
Improve employee retention rates
Retention has long been a major concern for nonprofit organizations. Employees' hours are long, the pay is small, and the pressure can be immense.
Increasing employees' pay and benefits may not be an option. But there are cost-effective steps every organization can take to elevate employee morale.
One of the easiest ways to improve employee retention is to create a workplace culture of understanding and compassion. Don't fall into the trap of treating your organization's clients with more dignity and respect than you show your own employees. Allow employees time off for important activities, and be flexible so they can attend to family issues and other personal needs.
And don't forget to remind your employees how much they mean to your organization. Those who feel valued and needed are much more likely to stay around than those who feel unappreciated.
Be a better listener
Nonprofit organizations cannot function without the support of and input from the community. When we take time to listen to various voices throughout the community, we can learn how to be stronger and more effective.
- Listen to the public: What do other nonprofit organizations in the community think about your work? How could you be a better partner?
How does the general public feel about your organization's brand? Find out answers to these questions by conducting focus groups, online polls, and paper surveys.
- Listen to your own people: Make sure you are asking your own employees, volunteers, and board members for their ideas and input on a regular basis.
- Listen to experts: There is a lot to be learned from others. In addition to the mountain of information available on the Internet, read books, attend conferences and workshops, and meet with colleagues every chance you get. You are sure to gain some valuable information that can help your organization.
- Listen to the public: What do other nonprofit organizations in the community think about your work? How could you be a better partner?
Make new community connections
Many times, families receive help from multiple agencies; housing, food assistance, education, and medical. So it only makes sense that nonprofits work in partnership whenever possible.
Make it a goal to form new connections with other organizations—even if your missions don't perfectly align. Meet their leaders, learn about their programs, and see if there is a way to collaborate rather than compete.
There are many ways to lock arms with another organization. It might be possible to form an alliance, sharing administrative resources within the same building. Or maybe you could assist one another through trainings and staff support. Or it could be something as simple as having coffee once a month with other industry professionals to talk about common challenges and opportunities.
- Improve your organization's transparency and accountability
Good Will toward all Nonprofits
by Dan Prater, Drury University Center for Nonprofit Communication
Unless you live in a cave, you are keenly aware that it is here—the holiday season has arrived in full force.
This time of year means different things to different people. For some, it's a time of dear traditions. For others, it a sacred religious time, a season of frenzied shopping, a time of joy, or a time of complete anxiety.
Beyond the lights, food, and festivities, the season brings an elevated sense of good will. And nonprofit organizations know that feeling of good will often results in some of the biggest and best donations of the entire year.
In fact, a report by online fundraising software company StayClassy shows that donors give on average 80 percent larger gifts in December than in other times of the year. And approximately 33 percent of all online gifts are given in December.
To leverage the season of opportunity, most organizations accelerate their efforts by doing an appeal letter, sending an email or electronic newsletter, and holding a special event.
While these are all fine, if you want to harness the charitable hearts in your community, make sure each message, regardless of the medium, is carefully crafted.
Here are four simple tips that will help your holiday season messages return good cheer:
Employ Journalism's Five Ws
Journalism 101 teaches that good news stories should ask (and answer) Who, What, When, Where, and Why. Who do you want to communicate to? What do you want to tell him or her? When is the best time to say it? And last but not least, why are you communicating?
When asking who you want to reach, don't say "everyone." The days of mass media, where one message reached everyone, are long gone. Messaging should be very specific with a clear person or type of person in mind. Consider your target's age, education, occupation, habits, and hobbies.
Answering the "what" requires you to be concise, because you don't have enough time or space to say everything about your organization or cause. The way you shape your message depends on how you answered the "who." Words and images that move grandma likely won't work with a college student.
Determining "when" is simplified during the holidays. The time is NOW, because that warm and fuzzy feeling will dissipate quickly, and the days for tax deductions are numbered.
The purpose or "why" your organization communicates during the holiday season usually centers on raising funds. But keep in mind that now is a good time to thank previous donors and to tell them how important their contribution is to your work.
Beyond clarifying why your organization is sending messages, try to answer "why" the audience would care. WIIFM or what's in it for me, is an acronym often used in advertising. Why would the donor care about your organization? What motive might the donor have to make you his or her choice for a year-end gift?
Determine your Differentiator
It's a given that practically all nonprofits are thinking the same thing this time of year — strategizing on how to benefit from the wave of charitable hearts. This means the general public is going to be flooded with appeal letters and other requests for support.
Your "differentiator" is that thing that causes your organization to rise above others. It's the unique trait or asset that would cause a donor to choose your group over some other organization with a similar cause.
You can discover your differentiator by asking, what is it we do that no one else does? Or, what is it we do that is more effective or efficient than any other group?
Once you determine your unique value proposition, be sure to articulate that in your messages. And do more than say it; show it by giving real-life examples of how the world is better because of your nonprofit organization.
Utilize Multiple Methods
The power of technology is undeniable. Yet amid the buzz about the most recent software or electronic gadget, a good old-fashioned printed letter sent through the mail remains a very effective fundraising tool.
When you combine printed letters with email messages, your website, and face-to-face visits, the results will be more memorable and impactful than if you employ only one method.
Regardless of which method of communication is used, research shows that 65 percent of all donors will visit your website before making a donation. While they are in the giving mode, make sure you make it easy for them to donate. Your button to give should be bold and easy to find. One study says donors must be able to spot the giving button in two seconds—or they will get frustrated and abandon the idea of giving.
Show where the Money Goes
Donors like to know how their money will be used. Be specific about how dollars are spent, and remind them what significance each dollar given has in helping you accomplish your mission.
Consider using a well-known third party endorsement, such as GuideStar or Charity Navigator, to show your level of professionalism and accountability.
The need for donations is too critical not to use every possible technique to deliver clear, captivating messages that will compel your audience to give generously this holiday season.
How to Hire an Executive Director
by Dan Prater, Drury University
When Anne joined the board of a local nonprofit, she was eager to become active in helping the organization succeed. She was confident her skills as a business owner would be a great asset to this small operation.
Six months after joining the board, Anne was shocked when the organization's long-time executive director announced her sudden resignation. The other board members, recognizing Anne's business savvy and passion for the cause, asked her to temporarily take over the organization's day-to-day activities while they searched for a new director.
Six weeks later, Anne was still serving as the interim head of the nonprofit, and seemed to be handling the responsibilities without any problems.
The board members were impressed with Anne and decided there was no need to look at other candidates. Instead, they offered her the position. She accepted the job and became the new executive director.
Within six months, things began to unravel for Anne. She had never managed a staff, and she had no experience doing public relations or fundraising.
This nonprofit scenario is not uncommon. Organizations—especially smaller ones—have a tendency to hire the first person who is willing to fill the position, even though the candidate's credentials may be less than impressive. The board fails to take the proper steps required to find the right person for the job. This process failure can lead to ambiguity, unmet expectations, and high turnover.
Every organization, regardless of their size or the nature of their work, should exercise utmost caution when hiring an executive director (or whatever title you assign to the job). The position is simply too critical to take any other approach.
Here are seven important steps that will help ensure you find the best candidate:
1. Don't rush the process.
Too often boards rush to hire the first warm body that walks through the door. In an effort to bring stability and leadership back to the organization, boards don't allow ample time to conduct a proper search.
While the hiring process can be painful, it pales in comparison to the pain of having the wrong person attempting to lead the organization.
The amount of time needed to locate and hire a good candidate varies from organization to organization. But generally, allow a minimum of 4-6 weeks for the process.
2. Develop a Search Team.
A CEO search is a high-risk venture that requires input from many individuals. A Search Team may include staff, board, HR professionals, community partners, and volunteers. In some cases, a funder may also sit on this team.
This structure provides a lot of “buy-in” or distributed engagement in the process, as well as providing many people to shoulder the work of the search.
3. Figure out who you need.
Develop a profile of the person you want, identifying the skills, knowledge, and characteristics you feel best match your organization—then proactively search for this individual rather than simply hoping the right person sees the vacancy and applies. Don't be shy about asking someone who is already leading a different organization. You never know who might be considering a career move.
By determining precisely the kind of person who could best lead your organization, you will be able to quickly sort through candidates. It is likely that many of the candidates applying for the job will have appealing qualifications. But with a clear list of desirable traits, your organization will be able to find the person who comes closest to having the unique set of assets that your agency needs.
4. Look inward and outward.
Many companies have a policy of promoting within. While this approach has benefits - especially for organizations with young, promising leaders, it can also create dilemmas.
Moving from one role to another can be difficult for everyone, including those that may have to view a once-colleague as the new boss.
Another downfall of hiring within is incestuous intelligence. Some organizations fear change and go to great lengths to avoid progressive thinkers who might challenge their traditional way of doing business. To "protect" themselves from outsiders, they hire only those who look, talk, and think just like they do. All others are shunned.
There are, however, potential advantages to hiring an insider. The person is likely to understand the organization's culture, and have developed relationships of trust with current board members and community leaders. With this type of individual, the transition period could be much quicker and smoother than it would be for someone with no previous institutional knowledge.
5. Provide a clear description/expectations.
Most nonprofit leaders, especially those in small organizations, will tell you their job responsibilities are "doing everything" from raising money to stuffing envelopes or taking out the trash!
It may not be possible to have a job description that encompasses everything (that's why we insert "and other duties as assigned"), but the clearer you can be about the job expectations, the better chance the candidates will have of understanding if the job is the right match for their skill set.
If your organization is in need of someone to clean up the accounting, you'll want to be clear about this. Or if you really need a dynamic public speaker or someone who can write grant proposals, make sure this is stated and understood by the candidates.
6. Be transparent.
You and your board are eager to hire the best person, so it is only natural to portray your organization in the best possible light. Yet there is an ethical responsibility to disclose to candidates (not in the initial interview) the organization's true condition. This includes information on finances, legal issues, personnel issues, history and reputation in the community, and any other matter that is pertinent to someone who may step into the organization's top position.
It is unfair to hire someone under false pretense, failing to provide an accurate and honest snapshot of the organization's condition. It's much better to get everything out on the table than to trick a person (who once hired will discover the truth and resent that this wasn't disclosed in the interview process).
7. Conduct background and reference checks.
Hiring a new employee—especially one who will be the face of the entire organization— requires a thorough background check. As an employer, you have the right and responsibility to learn as much as possible about this person BEFORE offering the job.
Amazingly there are still organizations today that fail to do adequate checks, only to discover later that the person has a problematic background.
A thorough background check should include credit history, criminal record, past employers, and personal references.
Each state has labor laws dictating what an employer can check. Most laws generally require the employer to make certain disclosures to the applicant to be checked, and to obtain the written or electronic consent of the person to be checked prior to conducting the check.
While these seven steps cannot guarantee your next hire will be the perfect employee, they can provide a framework for navigating this process and finding you a strong leader for your organization.
Counting What Counts
by Dan Prater, Drury University Center for Nonprofit Communication
Albert Einstein once said, "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
Einstein may have been right, but even so, funders want to know if their investment of dollars is doing what it is supposed to do. For them, counting really does count.
There is a growing pressure on organizations to prove their effectiveness and impact on social and environmental issues. Changes in the economy and funding sources, as well as media reports and public perceptions, have forced nonprofits to re-evaluate their business model.
Attempting to do good is no longer good enough. Performance matters. It matters to foundations, individuals and businesses that provide support. It matters to civic leaders and government entities. And it matters to those who rely on the services of the organization.
Grantmaking foundations, in particular, are placing greater emphasis on measurement.
Well-known philanthropists, such as Bill and Melinda Gates, are influencing all organizations to think more strategically about performance measurement.
Historically, nonprofit organizations have not done a very good job of demonstrating the effectiveness of their work. In fact, most have failed miserably. But this failure does not necessarily mean leaders don't see the value in it. Nor does it mean they don't have a desire to measure their organization's performance.
Performance measurement can be costly and can require dedicated staff time and expertise—and both are in short supply at most organizations. Mario Morino, author of Leap of Reason: Managing to Outcomes in an Era of Scarcity, says many nonprofit leaders are not managing to outcomes today but are strongly predisposed to do so. "They inherently know what their outcomes are and very much want to assess and manage to them. But they are severely hamstrung by the lack of funding available to do this hard work.”
Performance assessment is an important way of determining the health and effectiveness of your organization. It is also a way to demonstrate to those outside your walls that you are doing what you promised you would do.
OUTCOMES, OUTPUTS, & IMPACTS
In Performance Measurement, Harry Hatry makes this excellent point: "Unless you are keeping score, it is difficult to know whether you are winning or losing."
One simple way of determining if your organization is "winning or losing" in program delivery is to examine these three areas:
Outputs:These are the activities done by your organization (feed the hungry, house the homeless, protect the innocent, clean up rivers, provide training, etc.).
Outputs are usually quite tangible and are easy to track and measure.
Outcomes: These are the observable, short-term effects of the outputs (program activities). Children have full tummies, or people are no longer sleeping on the streets.
Impact: This is the degree to which the outcomes observed by a nonprofit are attributable to its activities. Impacts are the long-term results of the work you do. They are more visionary than outputs and outcomes and can be difficult to measure.
Think of it like this: When children have adequate food, they are better able to succeed in school. The impact of the food served (the output) is the degree to which the reduction in hunger has on children's overall success, and in time may increase the employment rate, improve the economy, lower the crime rate, and elevate the overall well being of an entire community.
CHALLENGES OF EVALUATION
Measuring what you do (output) is easy, but quantifying the actual change made is not so easy. In addition to the aforementioned issues of money and resources, nonprofits face other obstacles when it comes to measuring their impact:
Maintaining contact with those helped by an organization can be nearly impossible.
Most organizations have access to clients for a limited time. Whether they enter a program voluntarily or are mandated by a court to attend, access to them is for a restricted period. Once they receive services or complete a program, they are gone.
With no way to contact these men and women, it is extremely difficult to determine the long-term impact of the organization's services on their lives.
This is true for organizations that have one-time contact with people, as well as for organizations that help people on a long-term basis.
True change in human behaviors and attitudes takes time. And measuring this in neatly-packaged intervals of six or twelve months rarely works. But to accommodate funder's reports, and to stay within a promised window of time, most organizations are forced to take this approach.
The goal of most nonprofit programs or services is to bring about change, to improve someone's life or create a better situation. This change or improvement is often brought about through a series of positive interactions, involving many different people or organizations. It is nearly impossible to credit any one person or agency with bringing about change without acknowledging the contribution of others.
When you work with children and families that have multiple needs, access multiple systems, and require multiple years to show progress, the traditional evaluation approaches simply don't work.
Lack of Support
While many foundations and government agencies now require performance measurement of organizations, few providing funding for such activities. This lack of support creates a hardship for organizations attempting to satisfy the requirements of funding sources.
To further complicate the task, many funders as well as the general public consider a nonprofit successful only if the vast majority of the organization's budget is allocated directly to program delivery rather than on administrative costs. With this mindset, it is no wonder organizations avoid spending precious few dollars on measurement.
It is clear that measuring and evaluating performance is challenging, but it is a necessity.
Gathering data simply to complete required reports to funders is insufficient.
Leadership must believe in and financially support the power of measuring performance.
Research proves significant benefits of measurement in terms of helping staff to focus their time and energy on important goals rather than simply on outputs.
If you have never attempted to measure outputs, outcomes, and impacts (or have done so in a haphazard manner), it is never too late to get started.
Start simple—collect only that data which will help to make better decisions, and build in discrete blocks of time to reflect on the data as it comes in.
Start early—determine what types of data you will need before you implement a program. If you wait until after a program or service is completed, you have waited too late.
With some valuable data in hand and proof of your effectiveness, your organization will be in a better position to seek funders who recognize the value of measurement and reward good outcomes.
Beyond pleasing funders, strong performance measurement will help you better understand your services and strengthen your organization.
by Dan Prater, Drury University
There was a time, long ago, when it seemed nearly all organizations were thriving. Even nonprofit growth was rapid and sustainable.
Then the bottom fell out of the economy.
With government funding drastically reduced or eliminated, and as corporate dollars dwindled, nonprofit organizations were forced to re-evaluate their business model.
To avoid cuts in services to clients, reductions in staff, or even dissolution, many organizations are now considering a merger. In fact, 12 percent of organizations responding to a recent national survey (McLean & Brouwer) about the effects of the economy in the nonprofit sector said they had restructured or merged with another organization to reduce their budgets.
What is a Merger?
Quite simply, a merger is when two or more organizations become one entity. The assets, staff and programs of the two organizations are joined together. The new alignment operates under the name of one of the existing merged organizations. In many cases, the board and executive leadership of the "surviving" group manage the new formation.
Mergers typically fall into one these models:
- Consolidations - Two or more separate organizations combine to form a new corporate body. The assets, staff and programs of the two organizations are joined together, as are the liabilities and obligations of both organizations.
- Alliances - No change to formal structure of the organizations, rather a sharing of administrative and programming services to accomplish similar missions.
- Asset Acquisition - One organization dissolves by selling and transferring assets to another organization, which then assumes the liabilities for the transferred assets.
Many leaders choose mergers to improve efficiency, build capacity, or simply to survive.
Some nonprofits find they can take the best of their programs, governance, and organizational cultures and create a new, more successful merged organization. In addition, mergers can strengthen the organizations’ ability to deliver on their missions and increase the depth and scope of services they provide.
Another advantage of merging is increased community visibility. A recent Chronicle of Philanthropy reports suggests more than 100,00 nonprofit organizations will fail in the next couple years. In many cases, these are smaller, relatively unknown groups that have limited ability to raise funds. A merger with a larger organization, or creating a new high-profile group, could create synergy and help leverage large donors.
Communities can benefit from well-planned and executed mergers that result in stronger services. Limited resources can be used more effectively and efficiently, services can continue, and nonprofits can become more sustainable.
Those who have studied and participated in mergers warn that cost savings should not be the sole reason to merge. While mergers can result in efficiencies and new management practices, money should not be the principal motivation. For that reason, the merger of two financially unstable organizations is unlikely to succeed.
A 2009 report by MAP for Nonprofits identified five common difficulties associated with the process of nonprofit mergers:
Understanding the importance of communication
One of the goals in the merger process is to create a situation where nothing is hidden and there are no surprises.
In other words, organizations must be transparent and make no assumptions. Clarify expectations. The more specific you are in the planning stages, the fewer surprises there will be deeper into the process.
Internally, talk of mergers can create anxiety among employees who fear loss of job, change in leadership, and other conditions beyond their control. To curb this (and to avoid rumors), it is important to communicate frequently with employees in every stage of the process—including after the merger has taken place.
Externally, it is important to communicate with stakeholders and the general public regarding the changes, helping them understand the logic and benefits.
Understanding the importance of organizational culture
John Bonnell, of JD Power and Associates, says mergers fail for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest, he says, is the same reason that marriages do—a clash of personalities and priorities.
The "clash" often has to do with leadership styles. How will staff be managed? Who will lead? How will employees respond to new leadership and new/additional responsibilities?
"Priorities"relate to the organization's mission and vision. When these don't align, there is little chance the merger can succeed.
Understanding the timeline
Most mergers take anywhere from 6 to 18 months to complete. A written plan will help guide the organizations through each step of the process. When there are long, unexpected delays, parties can become disillusioned, costs can increase, and situations can become less favorable.
Mergers almost always cost more than anticipated. In the long-term, mergers may save money—having one CEO rather than two, etc. But up front, there can be added expenses.
Costs may include legal advice, significant facility changes, and PR material redesigns.
Understanding Due Diligence
Mergers are complex business transactions. To help board members and leaders make an informed decision, there must be sufficient inquiry.
It will be necessary to examine IRS records, contracts, licenses, claims or litigation, audits, budget sheets, annual reports, governing structures, organizational policies/procedures, agreements and affiliations, real estate, marketing materials, program services, current and potential liabilities, etc.
It is deep within these documents that an organization's true health can be discovered.
A study undertaken by the Bridgespan Group evaluated over 3,300 nonprofit merger filings over an 11-year period in four states, and identified three market characteristics that are favorable to successful nonprofit merger activity:
- There are a large number of nonprofits in the market, with many small players
- There is a high degree of competitive pressure, with variable performance factors that are measurable, and impersonal funding sources
- There are barriers to organic growth, including asset intensive missions, saturated markets and highly-regulated environments.
While some industry experts believe that a merger is one of the most powerful change agents available to nonprofit organizations, others see mergers and acquisitions as fundamental threats to the core of the population or niche. The truth probably lies somewhere in between these two views.
Should you find yourself wondering whether your organization might be more effective and stable by merging, make sure you and your board approach the process with the utmost caution, understanding both the potential hazards and benefits that may lie ahead.
The Habits of Highly Effective Nonprofit Leaders
Stephen Covey's "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" has been a worldwide success. Since its release in 1989, it has sold more than 25 million copies.
The "Seven Habits" have been incorporated by organizations around the world, including many Fortune 500 companies. Former President Bill Clinton was strongly influenced by the book and invited Covey to counsel him on how to integrate the book's principles into his presidency. Clinton suggested "Seven Habits" was one of three books every American worker should read to dramatically boost the nation's productivity.
In contrast to some management books that emphasize processes, "Seven Habits" focuses on relationships and integrity.
While Covey's book presents a framework for personal effectiveness, the concepts easily translate to nonprofit leadership.
Habit 1: Be Proactive
Proactive leaders are malleable, and focus on continually trying to improve their programs, efficiency and environments. Reactive ones, on the other hand, never maximize the potential of their organization because they avoid change until it’s absolutely necessary — and perhaps too late.
Being proactive means focusing your time and energy on what's important. Since you don't always have control over issues or threats, take time to draw a circle that represents areas of control. Focus on these things.
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Beginning with the end in mind is especially important for nonprofit organizations that are driven by a noble mission - eliminate hunger, eradicate AIDS, shelter the homeless, empower helpless, etc.
When I travel, I often rely on my GPS and Google Maps for directions, especially when I venture into new territory. To create a map, two things are required: 1) a starting point, and 2) a final destination. It is impossible to create specific directions without both. It's not enough to tell the GPS you want to travel north or west. It demands specificity.To help shape an ending point for your organization, ask yourself what a perfect world or situation would look like—as it relates to your mission. Once you have identified this, you'll be better able to create a step-by-step roadmap.
Just like when you take a wrong turn and your GPS says "recalculating," when organizations with a clear destination veer off the path, they need leaders who can "recalculate" and help them get back on track.
Warning: This may require making a few awkward twists and turns. In some cases, it could mean driving in the opposite direction you had previously been traveling.
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Most people are driven by the concept of urgency. But to really effect positive change in our personal lives and organizations, we need to restructure the way we spend our time; based on the concept of importance—not urgency.
This means cutting time-wasters and activities that don't relate to achieving your mission. It also means preparing for potential (and inevitable) crises and daily fires.
Nonprofit professionals can gain control of their time management by taking a few simple steps:
- Planning—Long and Short Range. Hoping things simply "work out" rarely leads to success.
- Reading—Expand your mind.
- Devise and implement systems—Structure and organization are essential to success.
Rather than focusing on things and time, focus on preserving and enhancing relationships and accomplishing results.
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
Covey calls this the habit of interpersonal leadership, necessary because achievements are largely dependent on co-operative efforts with others. He says that win-win is based on the assumption that there is plenty for everyone, and that success follows a co-operative approach more naturally than the confrontation of win-or-lose.
In "Forces for Good," Crutchfield and McLeod-Grant found through research that the most effective nonprofit organizations reach far beyond their four walls. In fact, they help the competition succeed, building networks of nonprofit allies and devoting remarkable time and energy to advancing their larger field. They freely share wealth, expertise, talent, and power with their peers, not because they are saints, but because it's in their self-interest to do so.
In the end, when one wins, they all win.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
At first glance, this habit seems to be the simplest, but is possibly the most difficult and least practiced of all.
We live in a society that continuously communicates, but often fails to listen. Facebook, Twitter and other digital tools allow us to tell others about our world, but we don't always know how the message was received.
As Covey says, "Diagnose before you prescribe." Use emphatic listening to create an atmosphere of caring and positive problem solving.
Habit 6: Synergize
One individual can never be as potent as the coming together of individuals willing to create ideas or possibilities, with openness and without letting ego hamper the brainstorming.
Synergy is about valuing differences. Most people look at synergy through one of three windows:
- Shunner—They avoid ideas that differ from their own. They believe their way is almost always the best way.
- Tolerator—Out of respect they listen to others' opinions, but really have no intent to implement their ideas.
- Celebrator—They work hard to bring in varied viewpoints. They believe differences are a strength, not a weakness.
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
Nonprofit leaders are notorious for "crash and burn," draining themselves physically and emotionally until they collapse or quit.
But to sustain a productive life, there must be a balance and a renewal of self. Covey interprets the self into four parts: the spiritual, mental, physical and the social/emotional, which all need feeding and developing.
Here are a few simple methods to avoid burnout:
- Retreat and Review — Find a serene setting away from work to unwind and review your current lifestyle. Figure out if you are spending your time on the right tasks or are making unhealthy life choices.
- Schedule short breaks — Once during the workday, walk away from the grind and breath. Take 10-15 minutes for leisure reading or a walk. Once a week, give yourself permission to do something not work-related. Go to a movie or watch a ball game.
- Spend time with family and friends — There's nothing like playing with young children (or grandchildren) to help you gain a fresh perspective. Suddenly, the emails, phone calls and meetings don't seem quite as urgent.
- Exercise and make good food choices. - Whether you adhere to Newton's theory of "every action has an equal and opposite reaction," or the Bible verse "whatever a man sows, that he will also reap," there is no question that the choices we make today have a direct impact on who we will be tomorrow.