Monday, December 29, 2008

My Favorite Blog Posts by Bloggers I Follow on Twitter

This is the time of year for making up lists. This is my list of favorite blog posts by bloggers I follow on Twitter. Twitter? You say. I learned about Twitter along with using the Internet to LISTEN from Beth Kanter at the Kelloggs College of Consultants convening and I am hooked. I’ll be blogging about Twitter during the year, but for now here is my list..

Beth's Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media by Beth Kanter is THE blog for nonprofits to read for using web 2.0 tools. This is an award winning blog and Beth self describes her blog as “A place to capture and share ideas, experiment with and exchange links and resources about the adoption challenges, strategy, and ROI of nonprofits and social media.” It is hard to choose a favorite post at Beth’s Blog but a recent one is perfect for this time of year. “How Can We Make Charitable Giving A Year-Round Habit?” has an idea for each month – great for New Year’s resolutions.
Beth's Blog - How Can We Make Charitable Giving A Year-Round Habit?

Heather Carpenter writes Nonprofit Leadership601. Heather is a PhD student in Nonprofit Leadership and gets to attend many of the major nonprofit conferences around the country. She provides an academic, professional yet young and fresh perspective on nonprofits issues...a blog worth reading. I’m sorry, its shameless, but I can’t deny that this is my favorite post – Heather named me as one of her “Top Next Generation of Nonprofit Leaders You Should Know" list. It is such an honor to be on Heather’s list.
Heather's Blog - Top Next Generation of Nonprofit Leaders You Should Know

Rosetta Thurman is a 26 year old African American nonprofit professional in Washington DC who writes a blog from the perspective of who she is. For us older folks she provides an insider’s peak at how some one from this demographic operates in the nonprofit world. I’ll call it “committed and edgy.” It can be very enlightening. Her recent post, “10 Ways to Become a Better Nonprofit Leader in 2009” is right on target. Great advice – and a little different than what the over 50 crowd would recommend. 10 Ways to Become a Better Nonprofit Leader in 2009

Hildy Gottlieb, author of many books for nonprofits, writes “Create the Future.” Her blog is focused on seeing the big picture and connecting that with the details which allow you to “create the future” rather than just seeing what happens. Hildy is also prolific and writes so many inspiring posts that it is hard to choose just one. Hildy’s blog is not for those of you who are looking for short posts and five point lists. Hildy is more like an opinion columnist. She weaves her ideas through personal experiences and epiphanies and builds a relationship with you. Her blog is for those of you who want to be regular readers not those of you wanting a quick fix on a particular topic. Check out this post – “Building Cooperation” – and make sure you read the comments also. Hildy is great at creating conversation and her blog posts frequently have insightful comments also.
Hildy Building Cooperation

Chris Brogan provides advice on how to use social media and social networks to build relationships and deliver value. His recent post, If I Started Today” gives the best simple, straightforward advice I have seen anywhere for getting started with Web 2.0. Don’t miss this right on target piece. Read the comments – great advice there too.
Chris If I Started Today

Marc Pitman’s, author of “Ask Without Fear!” blog is The Fundraising Coach . Marc is prolific and it is easy to understand why this blog is very popular. The articles are brief but full of good advice and timely topics. “Tips for Fundraising in a Recession” is very timely – check it out.
Marc Pitman Tips for Fundraising in a Recession

The Case Foundation has a new blog with mostly short posts. But their theme and new campaign “Change Begins with Me” has the promise of being stimulating in 2009.
Case Foundation Blog

Another blog that is a great resource but does not have frequent post is the Nonprofit Blog Exchange. Every once in a while Emily posts a “Roundup” of recent posts on nonprofit blogs and it always is a treasure trove of goodies. The blog also has a great blogroll of nonprofit blogs...and you’ll see this one on that list.
Nonprofit Blog Exchange

Enjoy these blogs and...
Have a Happy New Year!


Marion Conway Consulting

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Wishing You a Joyous Holiday and Happy New Year

Silent Night

Dear Friends,

This Christmas Eve I wish all of you a Blessed holiday season. Although this holiday season has some somber overtones as we cope with a distressed economy we also have so much to be thankful for at this time of year when we have our spirits lifted and wish Joy to the World! President-elect Barack Obama in his Christmas message asks us to renew our sense of common purpose as we tackle economic recovery. As Advent, the season full of anticipation for new birth, comes to an end tonight, I am hopeful about the future and our new leadership.

I am again writing this note this year as I take a break from cooking all of those “once a year” recipes. I enjoy preparing, plating on my best dishes and eating traditional foods at Christmas. I am also enjoying the snow outside although the rain is reducing the snow cover and the trees are bare now – no longer snow and ice covered as they were earlier this week.

Later when I attend church I will pray for all of you who read this blog, work with nonprofits and especially those I have worked with. I have all of you on my mind and know your services are especially needed this year and I am wondering if your resources are strained or if people have dug deeper to meet those extra demands this year. I know that we have. My prayers are with you.

No matter which holidays you celebrate at this time of year I wish you the Joy of the Season and a Happy New Year,
Marion Conway Consulting

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Grassroots Philanthropy.....More Than a Great Read.....A Great Philosophy

I just finished reading Grassroots Philanthropy by Bill Somerville with Fred Setterberg and this post is a review. Bill Somerville is the CEO of a medium sized San Francisco based foundation, Philanthropic Ventures Foundation (PVF), and he is well known as an unconventional grantmaker. In this book he lays out his philosophy in detail, provides lots of anecdotes, and detailed guidance on how to implement his philosophy.

The book is well organized and it has a holistic, big picture yet focused on nitty gritty details at the same time feel about it. I guess you’ll have to read it yourself to really understand what I mean.

Bill starts with a simple definition of what philanthropy is – the stuff of dreams made practical and then goes into detail about what’s important for a foundation to do to make the most of its philanthropy. Here’s a few of his ideas:
Find outstanding people doing important work (sparkers, igniters and burners)
Embrace risk – Rely on your head and your heart. Use intuition and trust outstanding people
Focus on ideas instead of problems – Commit to quiet time spent pondering what might be achieved coupled with vigorous ongoing relationships with outstanding people and organizations. The idea being to elevate grantmaking with a sense of hope and possibility.
Move quickly and shred (or is that shed) paper – This is my favorite of Bill’s principles and this chapter is filled with great examples of how they do business at PVF. Empower staff to make decisions and grants and use being in the field rather than excessive paperwork to do your due diligence. You can make grants everyday – not just once or twice a year. Businesses have learned that today everything has to be done in shorter timeframes and the lifecycle of every decision must be reduced. Guess what grantmakers – its time to catch up!

Bill wraps up his book with “Seven Immodest Proposals” which incorporate the ideas presented throughout his book in a simple to do list. But my favorite new idea is his last – Link larger foundations with smaller community foundations to pursue grassroots philanthropy. I love this idea. One of Bill’s basic premises is the importance of being in the field and seeing the actual work being done. Large, national level foundations cannot really do this efficiently but they can partner with community foundations to strengthen the work of both groups. This is definitely an idea worth pursuing.

Grassroots Philanthropy really should be must reading for foundation Board and staff. In fact, I was interviewing Ross Danis at the Geraldine Dodge Foundation for a strategic plan before I started reading this book. We were discussing our mutual interest in Newark when he mentioned Grassroots Philanthropy and picked up a copy on his desk. Their Board had all read the book and they had a lengthy discussion about it. I must admit that this conversation motivated me to start reading as soon as it arrived in the mail and our conversation made me appreciate it more. The Dodge Foundation is highly regarded in NJ and it will be interesting to see locally how they adapt some new ideas.

Interestingly, even the Gates Foundation – yes the Gates Foundation - is adopting some of these principles too. I bet they read this book too. It recently announced grants of $100,000 to 104 scientists in 22 countries. The program called Grand Challenges Explorations had a two page, web based grant application with a turnaround time of about two months. They have 60 people who do the reviews without knowing the applicants and make the decisions. Up to six grantees will be eligible for $1 Million dollar grants based on their results. All levels of scientists are represented, including young investigators who never before have received a research grant. The Gates Foundation called this program high risk but acknowledged that some great science happens in small laboratories by previously unknown investigators.

I highly recommend this book. It is intellectually stimulating and challenging yet written in a down to earth style. It is a quick read at 127 pages. Published by Heyday Books.
Grassroots Philanthropy at Heyday Books Website

Marion' Website

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Year End Online Fundraising Tips - It's Not Too Late!

I just received Network for Good's eNewsletter and the information is so good and timely about year end giving online that I decided to post on the subject. An excellent article by Mark Rovner reveals this interesting statistic: Network for Good processes 40% of online donations for nonprofits in December.

Network for Good's Secrets of Holiday Fundraising Online are:
1. Inspire your donors. Re-connect them with the passion and vision that inspired them to give in the first place.
2. Blaze trails to your donate page. Make it easy for donors to give by making it easy to find your site and your Donate button.
3. Optimize your donate form. Make it short, simple, easy, safe and inspiring.
4. Test drive your online donation process. Sit down a few friends and watch them try to give. Learn. Fix problems.
5. Create a “Why Donate” page that makes a case for why someone should care - and explains what happens when someone gives. Endorsements and ratings are good.
6. Thank your donor at least three times - when they complete a donation, when they get your email receipt and when they get your full thank-you via email a few days later.
7. Provide a warm welcome - an orientation email is a nice idea!
8. Launch a cultivation plan. Re-inspire your donors monthly and listen to what they say. Build a relationship through conversation, not appeals.
9. Measure and test throughout the year.
10. Avoid procrastinating next year! Have a plan. (Yeah, right.)

I've written in detail about some of these recommendations over the last two years and if you click on the technology topics you'll find more detail.

One that I haven't covered in the past that I want to strongly recommend right now if you do nothing else - #4 Test drive your online donation process. Sit down a few friends and watch them try to give. Learn. Fix problems. I can't tell you how important this is. The fixes can be super easy but a small problem can keep a donation from flowing through or a donor from being treated the way you want them to be treated. Make sure you follow the process to the donation being received so that you know that the whole process works and how long it takes. Marc Pitman at his blog, The Fundraising Coach, has an excellent post about his own experience that is worth checking out.
Marc Pitman's Blog - The Fundraising Coach

My favorite one on this list is #7 - Provide a warm welcome - an orientation email is a nice idea! This is a great idea for beginning to build a relationship - more than just a thank you. Yes - I've admitted in the past that I think the emphasis on saying thank you is overdone but that just has to do with my personal needs. I am, however, an information junkie so I really like the idea of an "orientation email."

In a bonus tips article Network for Good recommendations include: People want vivid examples of how their donations will be used and Emotion motivates. My recent posts about re-igniting a passion for your mission dovetail well with these ideas.

If you have some time before the end of the year, look over this list and do some tweaking to your online fundraising efforts. Visit Network for Good's fundraising resources website and sign up for their regular eNewsletter and webinars.
Network for Good's Fundraising 123 web site

Marion Conway Consulting

Sunday, December 07, 2008

More on Re-Igniting a Passion for the Mission with Some Ideas from My LinkedIn Network

Last month I wrote about the importance of nonprofit boards and staffs having passion for their mission and focusing on that during this season. I wanted to continue to write about this subject so I posted the question, “What are your ideas for how nonprofits should demonstrate a Passion for their Mission?” on LinkedIn and got some thoughtful responses that I’d like to share with you today.

Jane Garthson, a well known Leadership and Integrity Consultant to Non-Profit Organizations based in Toronto encourages us to demonstrate your passion for the cause by truly working to achieve the cause – and measuring your progress towards achieving your mission. I plan to write about measurement in 2009 and I will come back to Jane’s message again when I do.

Kristy Alberty, Executive Communications Manager at the National Indian Child Welfare Association writes: “We recently added a new column in our quarterly newsletter, The Heart of the Matter, which are member testimonials. However, it has generated unexpected outpouring of personal stories (not membership-related service stories) from people impacted by our topic. I've occasionally shared those personal stories at our all-staff meetings to remind staff why we are here, who we serve, and the realities of issues/problems. It gives staff first-person perspectives, strong emotional input, and reminds staff of our mission and purpose.“

Leslie Birch, President of Human+Nature, a company which develops video/media for Nonprofits shared this great project: “My friend's non-profit recently did a quilt with seniors and students that was also available as a "virtual" quilt on-line. You could click on a square and hear a story about a senior. Fun stuff!” What a creative idea!

In my last post I discussed my plans for an activity at the annual meeting of the nonprofit whose Board I am Vice President of. We wanted to take some time to re-focus on our mission this year. At table groups, individuals shared their personal stories of why they have a passion for our mission and then highlights were presented to the whole group. We learned about the father who brings his children to events in the inner city that we sponsor and how this has been enriching for his family. The lawyer on our Board surprised me when she said she mentioned Friendly Fuld to her grandmother and she was a participant in our programs many years ago. A retired teacher told of how she had initiated community service at the private prep school where she taught and it grew into the strong relationship with our programs that it is today. A father told of how his son was a student doing community service and it had such an impact on his son that is what led to his own involvement. The exercise was a great team builder as we learned more about each other and our personal stories that weave us together in our work to help strengthen children and families in Newark.

I think it was helpful for each of of us to remind ourselves why we are involved with the nonprofits we love. I recommend this type off exercise for your Board and staff groups and a re-charge.

Passion for the mission is critical - its not the whole thing you still have to pay the bills - but it is a critical ingredient in making your nonprofit who you are.

Read more about those whose thoughts I’ve shared with you today:
Jane Garthson's website

National Indian Child Welfare Association


Marion Conway Consulting

Monday, November 24, 2008

Re-Igniting a Passion for the Mission – The Importance of Storytelling in this Season

It isn’t even Thanksgiving yet (although preparations for it are about to get into high gear around here) and I am tired of thinking, talking and writing about he economy and fundraising this season. So I am blogging today about a much more upbeat and important topic...Having a passion for the mission of your nonprofit.

This year especially when nonprofits are so concerned about the impact of the economy on their own economy the basic to get back to is not how to craft the perfect appeal letter but to make sure that you are doing everything to keep the passion for your mission alive. What you need to keep out there front and center is not how much you need the funds this year but rather how wonderful you are.

Passion for the mission is the unifying “glue” that keeps us together when we are struggling for scant resources. So if spirits are down and the flame isn’t burning as bright as it should around your nonprofit it may be time to re-ignite the passion for your mission with staff and board and others.

Our mission defines what we do, and it should also be a motivator to keep us going. A good way to bring attention to our mission is through storytelling. Consider storytelling rather than reminding people about the economy in your communication next month... you've already done that and they already know about it. Remember to reach out to all of your constituencies....Volunteers, Beneficiaries, Donors, Funders, Staff and Board. Center your communication around spreading passion for the mission. What to include:
•Personal stories - answering the question of “How it made a difference” or “What it enabled me to do.”
•What are your year-end events, how they may be personally involved and what is upcoming in the first quarter
•What are your results that increase the knowledge level of everyone – For example: Number who attended performances or classes but also what attendees appreciated. Be sure you address the qualitative results as well as the quantitative results

With your communication you should be building a relationship and understanding of what you do that goes beyond the numbers. People do not get passionate about numbers. They get passionate about how they can help real individuals and make a difference in their life.

The nonprofit whose Board I am Vice President of has an annual meeting as part of our by-laws where we elect officers and approve a budget. In the past year we have been especially focused on budgets and fundraising as we have had to make some tough decisions and adjustments. I offered that I thought we should take this time to re-focus on our mission this year. I will be facilitating an activity (There will be about 40 people attending) where at table groups, individuals will share their personal stories of why they have a passion for our mission and then it will be fed back to the whole group. I know some of the stories so I know it will be an inspirational exercise.

Leave a comment and share your thoughts about re-igniting a passion for the mission this year. Oh and...Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Marion Conway Consulting

Thursday, November 13, 2008

How Can We Possibly Stay Afloat in These Tumultuous Times?

This morning I attended a breakfast presentation offered by the accounting firm, Sax Macy Fromm in Clifton, NJ. One of their specialty areas is nonprofits and they offer a lecture series for their clients and business partners. The topic Todd Polyniak discussed was ”“How Can We Possibly Stay Afloat in These Tumultuous Times?" Todd offered five suggestions to consider, noting that this was not meant to be all encompassing, but a start.

I have two previous posts addressing the economic downturn but hey – this is coming from a CPA. Todd is a no nonsense accountant which may be just what the doctor orders for some of your organizations. Here are some of the highlights of Todd’s five suggestions:

1.Lighten Your Load – Todd talked about the need to identify your mission critical versus nice to have projects and the need to slim down while making sure you keep your mission critical projects. He enumerated people, program and process – all areas of cuts that may be difficult but necessary. I especially like his reference to “Lean and Team” using consolidation, collaboration and mergers as a way to continue to offer vital services in a more streamlined, efficient way.

2. Redefine Your Identity – It may be time to look at your mission and make sure it meets the needs of the community. Make sure that your message and program content have the right focus for today and the future.

3. Just Ask – Ask early, Ask often and Ask Now was his theme. In hard times there is “a flight to quality.” People reduce giving but they continue to give to those organizations they are passionate about. Do you qualify? Todd asked. Good question. His recommended approach is something we can all do today – Go to your top 20 donors thank them first, state your case and ask when is the best time to approach them for a gift – now, at year end, after the 1st of the year.

4. Make Sure You Are Not Flying Upside Down – Make financial management a priority with regular review of financial reports and FREQUENT budget adjustments. If income is not coming in as expected, then you can’t go all year with the budget you made in October. Plan on making continuous adjustments to the budget. In this category Todd recommends updating your strategic plan and making sure your funding sources are diversified. Flying upside down? Make sure your direction is an ascent - not descent.

5. Remain Calm and Enjoy the Ride – Manage with transparency and avoid surprises. Think decisions through carefully but remember that waiting is not making a decision. There can also be some great opportunities in these tumultuous times.

This was a serious group of people in the room this morning. My guess is that more than one benefited from this “tough love” message. Perhaps you can to.

Sax Macy Fromm

Marion Conway Consulting

Thursday, October 30, 2008

This Year Use Online Tools to Give Your Holiday Giving Campaign a Boost

I usually wait until much later to blog about using your online tools during the holiday giving campaign. This year when nonprofits are shaking in their boots about their year end giving campaign, I decided to get an earlier start. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but here are some ideas for using your online tools to give your campaign a boost this year.

Online giving remains a small factor for smaller nonprofits, but it is growing rapidly and it is worth giving attention to this year. A Convio survey conducted in September had some noteworthy findings. About half the people surveyed said they planned to donate online this holiday season. There was some variance, but this is true across age groups 21 – 64. Forty-one percent of those who plan to donate online said they intended to support groups such as food banks and homeless shelters. This will be great news to these charities as their industry is one of the few that is booming.

My suggestions:
Update Guidestar – Guidestar is gaining in popularity. It will be featured in newspaper and TV segments as a resource to learn about charities. It will be linked to as an authoritative resource from more places than you know – everywhere from American Express to the Fidelity Gift Fund websites. For free – you can update your information to provide much more about your organization than what is on your 990. Do that today!

Update your website – Of course you already have Donate Now capability so I am not going to discuss that. Do you have any special holiday programs? Pictures from last year’s event? A wish list? It’s a good time to make sure your website is fresh and current – everything from event postings to the contact list.

Network for Good gift card - Check out the Network for Good gift card and recommend that people give them as gifts for the holidays. They even have a custom program for businesses to be able to customize gift cards with their business name.

American Express – AE has year round ability to give online with your American Express card but it is buried at their website. During the holiday season, they feature this capability and send emails about it to their card members. Using the Guidestar database, you can contribute to any charity in the database using your credit card. Its easy and efficient. There also is a gift card available. An American Express Gift Card for charity verses a Network for Good one may appeal to a certain clientele. Consider suggesting it in your appeal letter or email or on your website. This is a great one for those of you able to segment your list.

Use technology to reach younger donors - Technology is so ingrained that you have to use it to get to this group. Now may be the time to get a start with using Social Media. Activate your younger donors and ask them to put a charity badge(widget) on their Facebook and MySpace pages for your organization. I’ve just posted mine here on my blog. It took a few minutes to put together at Network for Good. CAC provides vital services to children in the inner city in Newark and like with many nonprofits this year the demand for services is increasing as funding is in jeopardy. You can help by clicking on my charity badge and making your donation now.....See that is how simple it is. This is also a great idea to request of your younger employees who have MySpace and Facebook pages.

Even the Salvation Army has a new program aimed at younger donors. You will be able to text message to a number on the red kettles and a $5 donation will be put on your phone bill. I’m impressed – the Salvation Army is embracing text messaging. What can be next? I guess I'll be writing about that next year.

Are you planning any holiday events? Set up a laptop and give people the opportunity to donate online from your website. You may just catch a few new donors or those in the celebrating mood who give more.

Have more ideas – please post your comments now and share with all of us.
Create your own charity badge at Network for Good under My Profile

Marion Conway Consulting

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Facing the Economic Downturn – Paying Attention to Business Details and Making Tough Decisions

In May my son finished his full time education and started a great job at a great company with an excellent starting salary, profit sharing bonus structure and health benefits. As any parent of someone in their twenties will tell you, I felt like I personally had caught the brass ring. So far he has experienced business travel, formal training, the summer picnic, fall barbecue, free stuff with corporate logo and a tuition aid plan. Feel jealous yet? Yesterday they had a whole facility meeting where he learned about the austerity measures they are taking to deal with the loss of sales. He asked me if I could guess what they were. After working for a Fortune 100 company for 30 years I had no trouble naming all of them. He was surprised. I was glad to hear that layoffs were not on the list...yet. I know about the yet part pretty well too.

The list included no more catering, high level approval needed for business travel, limited attendance at conferences, freeze on hiring, overtime and training and a small, if any, bonus. Forget any more freebies. Seems like small stuff, right? Yes it is but it all adds up. There is no silver bullet.

Nonprofits can’t wait to see how badly their year end fundraising will be. It will be bad. You need to look at expenses now and begin to take action before the actions you have to take are more painful. This list from my son’s employer is a very basic standard starting point.

Many nonprofit leaders are much better at dealing with program services than business management. However, paying attention to business may be a critical component of survival in the year ahead.

If you have reserves, now it the time to figure out how much you are willing to go into your reserves for next year’s budget and how much you may have to cut back on expenses. This will need to be revisited regularly.

If you don’t have reserves, you will almost definitely have to reduce expenses. Here are some tough choices to consider.
•Take a look at your services and figure out which ones you can’t afford to still offer no matter how wonderful they are. Plan a smooth phase out at the end of a program phase – such as the end of the school year. Planning will make it have less of an impact than if the decisions are made hastily.
•If you have multiple locations and can consolidate space to reduce expenses or move to a less expensive location begin planning now before a lease expires. Or perhaps a lease renewal at a lower first year rate is feasible. That may be negotiable if finding another tenant will be difficult.
•Keep tabs on your level of service and staff levels and make adjustments in a timely manner. Rather than layoffs you may be able to handle adjustments with reduced hours or eliminating overtime.

Plan your expense cutting in priority order. Do the simple things like my son’s employer did immediately. Analyze your income after the year end campaign and see if there are bigger steps that you have to take.

Seeking new revenues is not out of the question. Remember foundations have just taken a huge hit in their portfolios and are not the best source at this time. The experts say reving up your individual giving is probably the best bet.

It’s a good time to look at how the big guys have dealt with the downturn – consolidation, merger, acquisition. If you are one of those fortunate organizations with reserve funds you may be an excellent suitor for a complementary organization. The time may be right for a great strategic move. For those of you on the other side of the coin, merger, consolidation, acquisition may be what will keep you in business. Now may be a good time for some bigger, stronger, more robust nonprofits to emerge.

Marion Conway Consulting

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Visionary Leadership Workshop in Two Weeks and See Marion’s Article at Network for Good’s Fundraising Resources Web Page

I will lead a half day workshop entitled "Visionary Leadership"on November 5th.

In addition to program management, financial management and fundraising skill, Nonprofit leaders are also expected to demonstrate Visionary Leadership. This interactive workshop will focus on what it takes to be an effective visionary leader and you will have the opportunity to work through a series of exercises and group activities to develop your own skill.

Offered by:
Volunteer Center of Bergen County
64 Passaic Street, Hackensack
Cost: $45
Registration: Tess Tomasi 201-489-9454 ext.114 or

My Article at Network for Good
Network for Good has posted the featured article in my October 2008 newsletter and given it a flashy new title. This article was based on two recent posts here on my those of you who read the saw it first.

A Match Made in e-Heaven: Your Strategic Plan and Website Working Together

You can find other great articles for nonprofits with a fundraising theme at Network for Good's Resources web page.

Marion Conway Consulting

Monday, October 06, 2008

Take Strategic Planning and Using Technology Up a Notch with Real Time Strategic Planning and Social Media

Last month I wrote about integrating your strategic plan and website. Today I am writing about “real time strategic planning (RTSP) and social media. You can think of it as my original post on steroids or my original post for the next generation or just an old fashioned next step.

Last week I was privileged to attend the first convening of the Kellogg Action Lab College of Consultants in Minneapolis. I attended workshops presented by David LaPiana author of The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution and Beth Kanter, the foremost expert on using social media in the nonprofit world. Here are some highlights of what I learned:

David LaPiana is inspirational in his approach to strategic planning. David’s new book is the result of a four year research project (well funded, I might add) to develop an alternative and better way to do strategic planning. The subtitle says it all – “Real Time Strategic Planning in a Rapid Response World.” It is more than just strategic thinking. He provides a straightforward model with this framework of questions:
•Where we are?
•How did we get here?
•Where do we go next?
•How do we get there?
The model can be used to address a “Big Question” facing your organization and doesn’t require going through a whole organizational analysis. David defines strategy as “a coordinated set of actions designed to create and sustain a competitive advantage in achieving a nonprofit’s mission.” This understanding of stategy as action rather than a goal is central to the RTSP model. His presentation was stimulating and I highly recommend his book which I began reading on my way back to Newark from Minneapolis.
Find David LaPiana's books here at Fieldstone Alliance

The most surprising and thoughtful thing I learned from Beth Kanter is the concept of using Social Media to listen. Listening is an important leadership skill and I had not thought about listening on the web. But now I can hardly wait to start! I listened to Beth about using Facebook, Twitter, Google Alerts and even your own blog to listen. You can help me listen by posting your comments – I’d really appreciate it. Visit Beth’s Blog where she provides lots of details on this subject.
Visit Beth's Blog

Marion Conway Consulting

Update: This article was adapted for publication in the comprehensive You and Your Nonprofit published in July 2011 by Charity Channel press. See the special discount offer and link for more information in the sidebar.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Accountability – It’s Exciting and Not Just About the Money – But That Counts Too!

With all the financial mess we are dealing with on a national level today it seems like a good time to talk about accountability. Accountability is essential for effective governance and it’s about more than the money.

Accountability is an important, strong sounding word but it is also one of those words that leaves a lot unsaid. What should a nonprofit board be accountable about anyway? Effective governance requires that a nonprofit Board review and approve the mission and strategic direction, budget, financials, compensation policies and fiscal and governance policies.

Try to recruit new board members with this line? You’re more likely to put them to sleep or see recruitees run away. But all of these functions are important governance responsibilities. Let’s break it out and discuss it so that we understand it as the energizing charge it should be rather than the dry responsibility that it sounds like.

Developing the strategic direction for an organization is an exciting venture. Determining the vision of the organization for the future and the values you will have as guiding principles is exciting and uplifting. Making that happen with fiscal responsibility is the accountable and just as important ingredient in the journey.

Board training should include the role of accountability and the Board should understand that its accountability is to the community – that is who is counting on you. Just as parents are responsible for their children, the responsibility is more than to pay the bills – it is to lead, set a good example, expose our children to new experiences and possibilities, to help them make their dreams come true.

This is the exciting part of a Board’s accountability. But just as we must balance our budget at home and invest in the future at the same time (paying college tuition, funding an IRA) doing so is important for the Board of a nonprofit. You will undoubtedly have to take some risks, but they should be reasonable risks grounded in both confidence and facts – not just one or the other. I am an officer on two nonprofit boards and I always face financial decisions as I would if it were my own money. That means I vote against some proposals based on my own financial risk/value to the community assessment. Other risks I am willing to take because of my assessment of value to the community.

What’s important in understanding your Board’s role in accountability is that you see the whole picture. Too many people just look at the financial responsibility or the desire to fulfill the mission only. Accountability comes in to play when you balance both roles.

So today, if you were thinking about where is the accountability in the bailout plan, take some time to also think about your own accountability as a board member.
Marion Conway Consulting

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Nonprofit Leadership 601 Blog Names Marion a Top 50 Leader - Wow!

One of the blogs I visit (see sidebar list of links) is Heather Carpenter’s blog - Nonprofit Leadership 601. Heather is a doctoral student in Nonprofit Leadership and hence the name of her blog. She blogs on a personal level about working in and with nonprofits, nonprofit leadership and management and the newest approaches to more effective leadership. I always find her blog invigorating, encouraging and intellectually challenging.

Yesterday visits to my blog spiked and today I received two emails congratulating me on being named to the Top 50 Next Generation of Nonprofit Leaders You Should Know list on the Nonprofit Leadership Blog. Wow!!! I visited Heather’s blog to see what was going on.

Heather noted that the Nonprofit Times had just published its list but they were all people associated with serving large nonprofits and that 77% of nonprofits have a budget under $1 Million. So she developed her own list of people serving small nonprofits and there is my name on this list with people who really are leaders in serving small nonprofits. This is truly an honor! I just had to share it with those of you who read this blog.

Visit Heather’s blog today to read her recent post on the theory of leadership and see her whole list of the “Next Generation of Nonprofit Leaders.”
Heather's Blog - Nonprofit Leadership 601

Marion Conway Consulting

Monday, August 25, 2008

What Your Strategic Plan and Website Should Have In Common – Each Other!

I blog about strategic planning and technology for nonprofits. Today I want to talk about how they should work together. When in the implementation phase of strategic planning, communicating to all constituencies is very important including using your website to communicate your mission, vision and strategic goals and accomplishments.
Today, I want to suggest you take it a step further. If you are updating your website, integrate your strategic goals into the design of your website.
Let’s take a look at a few examples:

I’ve never worked on a strategic plan where there weren’t fundraising goals, but they are different for each organization. If you want to increase individual giving having a donate button on every page is of course the simplest approach. Read my blog post on summer reading and go to the Donor Digital article for advice on the fine details. If you want to increase grants, you should do your homework about what might help you with your potential funders. Funders will check out your website. Some basics are:
- List your grantors with an optional link to their websites
- Your home page should clearly state your mission.
- Have a page with your strategic plan and goals.
- If you will be making grant requests for a particular program make sure the web information on this project has pictures and updated information.

If advocacy is one of your goals design advocacy into your navigation and have strong tools to support it. Provide brief position papers that your supporters can understand without having to be familiar with all the nuances of the issues. List who you want supporters to write or call. Provide email links so that a message can be sent straight from your website.

If education is one of your goals, include a resource section. This can include information papers, videos, publications for sale and links to other websites.

Program Marketing
Many nonprofits fail to use their website for marketing effectively. Build your navigation so that visitors can clearly see the opportunities. Show the schedule, fees, who to contact for more information, event dates, etc.

Relationship Building
Your website isn’t just about providing information and collecting donations. It is an important tool in relationship building. Keep it fresh and updated. Consider using web tools such as blogging, social media, video and widgets. If one of your goals is to build relationships with the millennium generation, you have to get your feet wet with these approaches.

If volunteers are important to your operation, make sure you feature this section on your website. Keep it updated and feature changing volunteers with a brief bio, what they do when they volunteer and quotes from them about their volunteer experience.

Your strategic plan and your website are both important. They both become more effective and powerful when they work together.

Marion Conway Consulting

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Sizzling Summer Technology Training Offers – Don’t Wait

Before the summer ends check out these great technology training discount offers available right now.

The International Commission on Workforce Development (ICWFD) has teamed with TechSoup Stock to offer discounts on its e-Skills360° computer-based courses in information technology and professional development. Over 500 courses are available from the getting started basics to more advanced topics. These computer based courses can be taken from your workplace or home. Some courses include an exam which if passed a certificate will be issued.

You can purchase a package of 10 registration PIN codes, each of which allows one person to take one of these courses. The same person may take different courses, or different people may take the same course. This 10 course registration costs only $80. This a a great buy with a retail value of $1000.
TechSoup Stock Training

Idealware offers excellent webinars on technology topics for nonprofits at the very reasonable cost of $40. Now through August 22nd you can get recordings on all topics including online donations, eNewsletters, CRM and Web Analytics for only $16 each. With your purchase, you receive unlimited personal access to play back the full audio and video of a recorded live seminar through any Internet browser.

Don’t delay. These are two great opportunities. See you soon….I’m headed over to Idealware right now……
Marion Conway Consulting

Monday, August 04, 2008

What's in a name? Nonprofit? Community Benefit Organization? Independent Sector?

What’s in a name? Lately I have heard a number of leaders in the nonprofit sector take exception to the word “nonprofit.” Linda Czipo, Executive Director of the Center for Nonprofits in New Jersey, talks about the contribution of our sector to NJ’s economy and the need to portray a stronger image that reflects who we are and what we do. She says that we are the only group that defines ourselves by what we do not do rather than what we do do.

Hildy Gottlieb, a leading edge nonprofit consultant and author, says, “Community Benefit is why our organizations are granted tax exemption. Community benefit is what we do. It is our purpose.” She recommends renaming nonprofits community benefit organizations.

The organization dedicated to being a resource and forum on issues for “nonprofits” boldly calls itself Independent Sector. The Annie E. Casey Foundation writes extensively about community building and as a foundation to making the kind of change in people’s lives that nonprofits strive for. I was especially proud of my son when he received an award from a nonprofit called the Community Builder Award for his Eagle Scout project in which he provided 200 sleeping bags for inner city children to take to summer camp.

Guy Kawasaki of Apple fame (It used to be Apple Computer but they changed their name to Apple) has a great blog. Once a revered Apple Fellow, he is now a self described “venture capitalist and democratizer of information.” Many of his philosophies aimed at invigorating the techie business are applicable to nonprofits to. Straight from a Guy Kawasaki blog post entitled “The Art of Creating a Community” here are a few basic bits of advice:

•Create something worth building a community around.
•Welcome criticism.
•Foster discourse.
•Publicize the existence of the community

This is all something to think about in how we describe ourselves – our talks, website and written materials. Are we really “Nonprofits in the Nonprofit Sector” or are you a “Community Benefit Organization in the Independent Sector.” You can’t change the common name of a whole sector overnight, but I think it is a great idea to begin to introduce these more positive images into how we describe ourselves.

This post is inspired by Hildy Gottlieb’s recent newsletter. Her website is chockfull of free resources and you can read her recent article on this subject here too. Hildy also has books and other resources she has developed for sale on her site.
Hildy Gottlieb's Website

Marion Conway Consulting

Monday, July 21, 2008

Blue Avocado Article Provides Good Advice If You Have Immigrant Employees

In May I wrote about the new Blue Avocado newsletter and this is a quick post about an article in their most recent issue. Entitled Ask Rita: Facing an Immigration Quandary by Ellen Aldridge, this article will be of interest to those of you with immigrant employees.

Ms. Aldridge gives advice about not panicking if you get a letter from Immigration saying certain social security numbers do not match those in the government’s database. The article covers a 120 day process to resolve the discrepancy. That's right - 120 days - so don't take immediate action you'll be sorry for later.
You can read the whole article at:
Blue Avocado

There are links to pages on the Social Security Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement websites that deal with this specific issue.

And, one of the things I like about Blue Avocado is the value added comments made by readers. A reader has added a link to the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), a nonprofit organization and leading expert on SSA No Match issues and the E-verify system.
Marion Conway Consulting

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

My Summer Newsletter Features a "Summer Reading List"

My Summer newsletter is being published today and you can see it either by subscribing to the newsletter in the column on the right or visiting my website.

This newsletter features a “summer reading list” of some longer reports. There is something for everyone on the reading list. Whether you are interested in board leadership, finance, fundraising or technology you’ll find something of interest to you. Some of reports I have already blogged about and some will be featured here soon – but check out the newsletter and get the whole list.
The reports featured include:

Ten Essential Responsibilities of Foundation Board Chairs
Free White Paper by Boardsource

The Appropriate Role of the IRS with Respect to Tax-Exempt Organization Good Governance Issues
Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities Report

Please note that this is the second of several reports included in this pdf file and begins on page 83 of the file. The report is entitled “The Appropriate Role of the IRS with Respect to Tax-Exempt Organization Good Governance Issues.”

Giving USA 2008
Annual Report Released by Giving USA Foundation

Perfecting Your Page: Can donation page optimization boost online giving?Produced by Donor Digital (DD) in partnership with Amnesty International
Donor Digital Report

Philanthropy Journal Professional Development Series 2008
Philanthropy Journal Professional Development Series
Marion Conway Consulting

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Giving USA 2008 Highlights Are Now Available

On Monday (6/23), Giving USA issued a press release providing an overview of this year’s annual survey. The report is based on a survey of 366 charities conducted by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. It is considered the authoritative resource on this subject. Since it has been conducted annually in a consistent manner it also provides excellent data about trends in giving.

The biggest finding is that charitable giving in the United States exceeded $300 billion in 2007 for the first time in history and that giving increased in every subsector studied. Giving USA 2008 suggests that a strong start to the economy in 2007 helped lift giving but there is concern among charities that such issues as rising prices and the housing and mortgage crises will affect 2008 giving.

One interesting finding is that giving by living individuals increased 2.7 percent in 2007, and at $229 Billion, represents nearly three-quarters of all giving in the U.S. But, charitable bequests are estimated to be $23.15 billion - a much higher increase of 6.9 percent. This would seem to indicate the growing interest by charities in planned giving, including wills, designated annuities and other creative ideas is taking traction.

Unfortunately the full report is pricey with various options including hard copy book, ebook, presentation only, CD of presentation, newsletter, etc. The price range is about $70 - $270 depending on what you sign up for.

In the interest of transparency I must say that this blog post is based on the press release and other news reports. I have not read the full report – I am just providing an overview here. You can visit their website for purchase details.

Giving USA

Marion Conway Consulting

Monday, June 23, 2008

Visionary Leadership and the Critical Skill of Listening

Recently Philanthropy Journal issued a Special Report on professional development for nonprofits and covered three topics:

Fundraising: Basics, training and mentoring
Leadership: The art of listening and explaining
Management: Understanding the nuts and bolts
Philanthropy Journal Professional Development Article

The report inspired me to write about Leadership and Listening. Gene Tempel, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University is quoted “Leading is not just having a vision and pulling people in a certain direction. It involves a lot of listening, as well as explaining….. When people articulate a vision and it works, it's because it resonates with those who hear it. That means you've listened carefully to a lot of people and they see themselves in there."

These comments dovetail well with my favorite author on leadership and nonprofits, Burt Nanus, who said that “Good leaders are good askers as well as great listeners." In ”Leaders Who Make a Difference” he discusses the importance of shared vision and says: “The right vision will reflect the distinctive character and culture of the organization and will leverage its history and network of connections.”

I firmly believe that listening skills are essential for a visionary leader and critical for weaving the right tone into a shared vision. It isn’t always evident that a visionary leader has great listening skills because listening skills are “quiet” and don’t jump out at us like being a good speaker does.

Here are a couple of exercises that can help develop listening skills:

1. Don’t multitask when listening. I know that this is hard to do and I am personally a serious multi-tasker. But I do know that if I am checking email when on a conference call I am not listening at the level I should be.

2. Acknowledge the person speaking to you with a nod of a head or “I see.” You can also summarize your understanding of what has been said.

3. Ask clarifying questions.

4. Don’t feel that you have to fill up a momentary silence when someone pauses to think for a moment.

These cues signal that you are listening and interested will encourage the speaker and help you stay “tuned in.”
Marion Conway Consulting

Monday, June 16, 2008

Advisory Board Weighs in on New 990 - A Must Read for Those Interested in Nonprofit Finance and Governance Issues

By now everyone knows that the IRS has adopted a new 990 Form. It has a series of questions that pertains to governance issues that are not legal requirements. The IRS went through an exhaustive process in developing the new form and maintained a website for months where anyone could post their comments. You can check out my post in August 2007 on this topic or my Fall 2007 Newsletter for more details.

Marion Conway Consulting Newsletters

The Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities (ACT) which has a formal advisory role to the IRS has weighed in on the new 990 in a 112 page report:
Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities Report

Please note that this is the second of several reports included in this pdf file and begins on page 83 of the file. The report is entitled “The Appropriate Role of the IRS with Respect to Tax-Exempt Organization Good Governance Issues.” Here are some highlights:

ACT acknowledges the IRS’s legitimate interest in governance issues as they relate to compliance with the law and applauds the transparent and open process used to develop the new form. But it expressed concern and urged the IRS to approach governance with caution. First of all ACT recognizes that the same set of governance standards cannot be a one size fits all applicable equally to a small food pantry and large hospital yet the same questions apply to both. ACT challenges the premise that having specific governance practices results in greater compliance with tax laws. Some highlights of the recommendations include:
•The IRS should continue to work collaboratively with the tax exempt community in connection with its governance initiatives. Specific governance practices should be mandated only in limited circumstances.
•The closer the nexus to tax compliance, the more appropriate the governance inquiry or recommendation.
•The IRS should explain the specific relationship between tax compliance and each governance practice about which it is inquiring or which it is addressing.
•Consistency and fair treatment is critical.
•Education, implemented thoughtfully, is more appropriate than pressuring change.

The report makes it clear that ACT thinks that the attitude of responsibility and accountability in regard to governance is more important than complying with a list of practices.

The report acknowledges that governance is an appropriate issue in five points of contact with the IRS and provides commentary on each point of contact:
1.Creating standards for exemption
2.Determination of exemption
3.Examination or other compliance initiatives
4.990 reporting
5.Education and outreach

The report has extensive references including an IRS educational publication about the new 990 and the Independent Sector 2007 landmark report on good governance in 2007.
I may cover this in more detail in a newsletter later this summer but that enough for now. Whew!
Independent Sector

Marion Conway Consulting

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Metamorphis of Board Cafe into Blue Avocado

I can't believe that it is a month since my last post. But I do have two excuses - good ones. First I took a 10 day vacation with my husband in sunny Florida and got a "getting started tan" to start the summer in New Jersey right. Then while walking in the park I fell and dislocated my shoulder. I am recovering and although I still have my arm in a sling and physical therapy 3 days a week it is improving and I am trying to get back into a regular work routine. So enough of the excuses...Here's the post:

I frequently have recommended that Board members and nonprofit executives sign up for the free monthly eNewsletter, Board Cafe offered by Compass Point, which always featured one great article. Recently Board Cafe has become part of a larger alliance called Blue Avocado with a noteworthy nonprofit "Leadership Council" and now publishes an "eMagazine" with multiple articles in each issue. One article is always a Board Cafe feature and one is financially oriented. Blue Avocado is for community oriented nonprofit organizations and that encompasses a wide range of large and small nonprofits.

The Board Cafe article in the current issue is "In Search of Unicorns: Finding & Hiring Grantwriters" by Jan Masaoka. This is an excellent article about the pitfalls of trying to hire grantwriters as consultants and other options to consider such as developing that skill in house. Another idea is having program managers write grant requests since they should be best suited and providing support staff for them to do that well rather than hiring a grantwriter.

Another feature I like about the new Blue Avocado format is that comments are posted and there are some great ideas in the comments section also. Asking the funder for help writing the grant is in the comments -- and it is posted by a funder. Collaborating with others making a grant request is a great way to develop skill at grantwriting and shares resources.

Another excellent article in this issue is about budgeting for nonprofits.

Check it out. I'm adding Blue Avocado to my favorite links today.
Marion Conway Consulting

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Volunteer Management Workshop on May 2, 2008

During National Volunteer Week I will be offering a workshop which covers the first two modules of the Points of Light Foundation Volunteer Management curriculum. The remaining four modules will be offered on dates to be announced. The United Way of Passaic County is sponsoring this workshop. Here are the details:

“Increasing the effectiveness of your volunteer program”

DATE: Friday May 2, 2008
TIME: 10am- 1pm
LOCATION: Public Safety Academy
300 Oldham Road, Wayne, NJ 07470

Session will include:
Understanding Volunteering
-Volunteer trends in the U.S.
-Characteristics of effective volunteer programs
-Volunteer motivation models

•Planning a Volunteer Program
-Conducting basic needs assessments
-Creating volunteer position descriptions
-Developing a purpose statement, policies and budget

To Register: Call Karen Colon
973-279-8900 X206
or email:

United Way Of Passaic County

Marion Conway Consulting

Monday, April 07, 2008

Partnering for Nonprofits - Some Thoughts on Nonprofit and Corporate Partners

Recently I had the pleasure of being the speaker at a meeting of the Central New Jersey Non-Profit Network Group. My topic was Win-Win Partnerships and today I’d like to share the gist of that talk.

What is Different About Partnering than Getting Funded?
When you partner, there has to be something in it for all the partners. You not only have to benefit your customers or people you serve you have to show a benefit for the partner. You have to share the good and the bad – the work, resources, glory. You have to be willing to compromise – you may not get to do things 100% your way.

Partnering is a team activity – you win if the team wins and you don’t win if the team doesn’t. Winning requires every member of the team to be committed to the success of the team – not just personal success. You need to consider the readiness of each organization and the individual participants in the partnership to be team players when assessing partnerships

Partnering with Other Nonprofits
Overall Benefits of Partnering with Other Nonprofits
1. Using and leveraging your own resources and strengths
2. Learning from the other organization's strengths
3. Operating more efficient programs
4. Operating more diverse programs
5. Developing new networks and new audiences
6. And of course.....Funders LOVE partnering.

In my talk, I went on to provide some real examples and discuss the critical success factors for the projects. I also covered getting started with partnering by trying out projects such as joint marketing, advocacy for common goals and community volunteer recruitment and recognition. This will give you the opportunity to check out potential partners and who are the people you would like to work with because of their skills, organization, reliability, expanded network, etc.

Partnering with Corporations
If you are interested in pursuing corporate partnerships do your homework first. Start by visiting Independent Sector
and review everything there on this subject. Partnering with corporations is different from partnering with other nonprofits and they each have their own quirks. Understanding the terms of the deal and communication are very important – even if you are a small local organization. The more you have both clarified your expectations in advance the better off both sides will be.

Some key considerations:
1. Ensure that the reputation of the partner is a good one and one that you would want your organization to be associated with
2. Get legal advice and make sure that your organization will not be liable for anything that the corporate partner uses your name for.
3. Have a written agreement which specifies what you are responsible for such as providing written materials, publicity of events, volunteers at events
4. Have approval rights for any written copy about your organization
5. Do NOT endorse any product. Patnership does not mean that your organization endorses a product and service.

Again I went on to talk abut some specific examples – both national and local in nature.

In summary, the keys to successful partnering are straightforward:
1. Make sure the partnership is compatible with your mission, and even better, enhances fulfillment of your mission.
2. Consider all the implications of partnership carefully and make sure it works for you and your partners – commitment to teamwork and common goals, benefits for both parties. Patience, Communication, and Compromise are all required
3. The project should be well managed and conduct periodic project evaluations. Develop Lessons Learned and take corrective action

I invite you to share your experiences, knowledge and lessons learned about partnering with replies to this post and I remind you that I do offer keynote speaking and this is one of the topics available.

Marion Conway Consulting

Monday, March 31, 2008

Planning Advice to Development Officers When Making a Major Gift Call with Board Members and Volunteers

Recently I was asked to answers questions about how development staff can prepare Board Members and other volunteers to make solicitation calls with them for an article in the Major Gifts Report published by Stevenson, Inc. When I received my copy in the mail I was surprised to see that the article was the front page featured article. Stevenson has granted permission to reprint the article and it is posted here in its entirety.

The article has a different slant than most of my posts and so you need to understand its lens. This is advice for a development officer in preparing a Board Member to make a Major Gift call.

Prepare Board Members, Volunteers for Team Solicitations
Before asking board members or other volunteers to participate in donor solicitation calls, know the roles everyone will play says Marion Conway, principal, Marion Conway Consulting (Verona, NJ).

“Does the Board Member represent the link to the potential donor as a friend, business associate or alumni of same college or does the Board Member just represent an added representative from the organization?” Conway says. “Their role may be different depending on their existing relationship with the potential donor.”

In either case, board members/volunteers should share with the prospect their connection with the organization and passion for its mission, their personal relationship with its work and events, how it benefits their family and community.

Discussing major goals of the strategic planning and the vision for the organization’s future is also valuable and appropriate, Conway says.

Meet in advance of the solicitation call to discuss these roles so there are no surprises at the call she says. Cover the type of questions they will answer, and which questions you will handle: “For example, if you have developed a list of program options that the donor might support, the board member or volunteer may help figure out which options are most likely to appeal to the donor.”

If the board member/volunteer has a personal relationship with the potential donor, it is appropriate for him or her to make the ask, says Conway, because it can be done in an informal and personal way. “If the board member/volunteer does not have a personal relationship with the donor, it is better for you to make the ask. In either case you should know what the specific ask will be.

This article is being reprinted from The Major Gifts Report with the permission of Stevenson, Inc. To receive a free sample issue, simply call, write, or fax your request to: Stevenson, Inc., P.O. Box 4528, Sioux City, IA 51104. Phone (712) 239-3010. Fax (712) 239-2166.
Marion Conway Consulting

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Wired Wealthy and Online Giving - A New Study Provides a Fresh Analysis

Whenever I write about anything related to fundraising I always begin with the disclaimer that I am NOT a fundraising consultant. However, I do blog about online giving in particular because I see it to be an important and growing trend that many nonprofits have not effectively tapped into. Today's Chronicle of Philanthropy reports on results of an interesting study of wealthy people giving online.

This post summarizes the results of this survey of over 3400 donors who had made gifts of at least $1,000 to a single cause in the past 18 months and donated an average of more than $10,896 per year to charities. 64% of the donors were age 45 to 64, and 57% had incomes of at least $100,000. 23 nonprofits participated by providing contact information for the study.

Here are some highlights of the results:
81% had made an online donation
51% preferred donating online
46% expect to increase the percentage of their giving online

56% say they get too many emails from charities
92% like getting year-end tax receipts by e-mail
83% want to get electronic updates on a charity’s finances and spending
81% dislike messages that take an urgent tone in seeking a repeat donation

The study put people into categories: Relationship Seekers, All-Business, and Casual Connectors. Although all groups are well educated, have good incomes and use the Internet for purchases, banking and other important transactions, their needs and what they respond to is very different.

Relationship seekers want to have a way to be emotionally connected to your organization. They will look for that emotional connection on your website and are much more likely to view a video than those in other groups.

The All-Business group is interested in a well organized website with an easy donation on line process and recognition. They like getting a tax receipt online at year end. They are not interested in reading all the interesting stuff on your website.

The Casual Connectors group is in the middle. They would like to get a thank you and annual report via email. They may do some research other than your website about your organization but they are not really emotionally connected and not really interested in monthly emails.

Another interesting finding - Most online givers thought of the process as efficient for them and for the nonprofit. They are not bothered at all by the 4-5% processing fee. People like to get the donation done when it is fresh in their mind. These givers also noted the benefit in rewards on credit cards as a plus over writing a check.

There is an important lesson to be learned here in addition to "Isn't this an interesting set of statistics?" It may be a good idea to tailor communication with large online donors according to their interests. Some smaller nonprofits I know obsess over written communications with donors who make $1000+ donations. They think it is important that the thank you be hand addressed and never use a label. They may include a hand written note in addition to the typed formal thank you. But we all seem to think that when it comes to email one size fits all is all right.

Why not provide an email thank you with a brief survey and find out what the $1000+ online donors want from you via email - Monthly newsletter, event notices, annual report, tax receipt, etc. Then tailor you correspondence with your online donors to meet their needs. Hmmmmm.....Just a thought.......

Click here for more through for a copy of the full report.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Marion Conway Consulting

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Marion Accepted in Kellogg College of Consultants and Other Nonprofit Consultant Resources

Kellogg Action Lab College of Consultants
I am proud to announce that Marion Conway Consulting has been included in the Kellogg Action Lab College of Consultants initiative. The Kellogg Foundation is an important grantor to nonprofits nationwide and overseas. Nonprofits in the program now have access to capacity building resources provided by consultants in the College. The project is managed by the Fieldstone Alliance and the Nonprofit Finance Fund, and consultants are carefully screened prior to being included in the program.

Charity Channel
Charity Channel has just launched a major new inititative and upgrade of their site. Today, I completed my listing on their new Consultant Registry. This is a good place to check out if you are looking for any kind of nonprofit consultant.
Charity Channel

NPO Central

If you are New Jersey or New York based, there are over 80 nonprofit consultants list on NPO Central. You'll find my name there too. Sue Caruso Green runs this site and has really established a network of nonprofit consultants in the NY-NJ area.
NPO Central

Marion Conway Consulting

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Strategic Planning - Basic Ideas to Start Thinking About It

Yesterday I presented a workshop on Strategic Planning for Nonprofits for a great group to work with at the Bergen County Volunteer Center. I orient this popular workshop for small organizations in particular. The evaluation forms indicated that participants valued learning a step by step process they could use and the resource material I provided. So today I am going to share some of that with you.

I strongly recommend that nonprofits choose a strategic planning model designed specifically for nonprofits. I use the Peter Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management model, now the Leader to Leader Institute, which is built around answering five basic important questions. This is a straightforward and flexible model for developing a plan. Check the link below for more information on publications that can guide you through the process.

My outline for a strategic planning process is as follows:

The strategic planning committee:
•Plans and organizes for developing the strategic plan
•Explores mission, vision, values, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats
•Develops the strategic planning questions and conducts interviews and focus groups
•Researches and prepares an Environmental Scan
•Develops the Findings and Recommendation Report
•Leads a Board Retreat to develop the vision, mission, values, goals and objectives for the final plan.

Staff and Board:
•Support the committee’s work and participate as committee members
•Sets up processes and monitoring to ensure the plan is being implemented
•Communicates the plan to all constituencies including funders
•Connects the plan to program development, marketing and fundraising plans, volunteer and audience development

This past month I have been busy with facilitating board and staff retreats, and a church governance board retreat. In all cases we were doing “strategic planning activities” – not full strategic planning. All of the groups benefited for taking the time to work on mission, vision and values. Even if you are not ready for that full strategic plan, I highly recommend you consider this for a Board Retreat.

Give me a call----let’s talk about it.
Leader to Leader Institute

Marion Conway Consulting

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Celebrations and Using Your Website for Fundraising

Last night I was leading a Board Orientation for new Board members of the organization where I am Vice President of the Board and Governance Chair. I have a chart on the Board and Fundraising with seven bullet points of basic things Board members should do and the last item is a general, catch all - "Recognize opportunities as they arise"

I described an example of two board members with very different personal styles who sponsored a joint social event and invited their friends. Our Executive Director spoke about our nonprofit and information was available. It was a "friendraiser" for one board member and a "fundraiser" for another. With this the ED jumped it to describe an event that just happened - and that's what I really want to share with you today.

Recently, at a birthday party celebrating a major milestone, the host had a laptop set up to our web site so that people could make donations in his wife’s name as a birthday gift. The guests knew that this was requested rather than birthday gifts. We received over $1000 in contributions. Wow! What an easy, convenient, upbeat way to do fundraising.

I have to say that this is My type of social networking. One of the wonders of the Internet is how connections are made and new relationships are built. We had no idea that this was planned. When our Development officer first saw the online giving on a Saturday night he thought it might be a scam or computer glitch causing this unusual activity level. Not at all. In this case the honoree was the daughter of a long ago board member. People weren't just giving they were making choices on our list of choices and browsing throught the website. Even better! I was particularly excited because I led the plan for us to accept donations online and have been disappointed at its low use. This is the experience of many small nonprofits - being disappointed in the effectiveness of their investment in accepting online donations.

But getting your online donation system up really is an investment in the future - not just in immediate fundraising. Besides the ideas that you have, others will figure out how to use it too.

In Summary:
•Make sure you talk about the role of the Board in fundraising at Board orientation
•Be patient with the impact of receiving online donations
•Technology readiness brings lots of new opportunities – even the ones that don’t originate with us
Marion Conway Consulting

Friday, February 15, 2008

My New Website and the Trials and Tribulations of Getting There

I have a brand new website and I invite you to visit by just clicking on the link at the end of this post.

Today I want to share my own technology story of sadness, defeat, anxiety and triumph. I learned a lot going through this with my website and I thought that I would tell my story here on my blog.

I had not been satisfied with my web host for a long time. My email had become inundated with junk mail and my email address used on the website had been pirated to send spam overseas. The reporting feature frequently said "No data to report" even though Google Analytics reported great data. I submitted a trouble ticket in December, and although they claim to have 48 hour response service, I had not heard anything in two weeks so I called again. The rep explained that the company had been acquired, and the platform was being retired since it was old and riddled with trouble. (Something I already knew.) Soon I would get a letter telling me that the service was being discontinued and I had to make a change by the end of March. At this point there was only one employee maintaining the old system and he was on vacation - that was why there was the delay in answering my trouble ticket. Still I suffered in silence and then the discontinuation of this platform email came. Only then did I spring into action because I had no choice. (Is any of this approach familiar to you?)

I had delayed making a change for a long time. My hosting company was inexpensive and had an easy to use template system. This met the needs of my one person consulting business and I didn't want to spend a lot of time or money on website development or maintenance. And so I succumbed to settling for something that was less than satisfactory and no longer the “good deal” I had signed up for years ago.

I tried GoDaddy and wasn't happy for a bunch of reasons and so I asked about webhosts on the 501TechClub list I participate on and got several useful replies. Larry Velez, at SINU in New York, recommended (Thanks, Larry) and along with other recommendations I tried them out. I found that also had an easy to use template capability and low cost. Although there isn't live support, the support via email has been Outstanding! They also had features that my old host didn't offer like search the site capability. I think my new site looks more professional also.

Then changing my domain host and pointing my existing website name to the new website at squarespace was another adventure in coordination with unlocking my domain name and waiting two days for this and 7 days for that.

But, I am glad to report that my new website hosted by is up now and I am quite happy with it. It is a low cost solution and it is very easy to use. It meets the needs of my one person consulting business. If you are a small nonprofit and don’t have a website yet, this may be all you need to get started. You can do it yourself with an accidental techie and do not need to spend thousands of dollars to have an initial web presence.

Another lesson learned, if you are unhappy with the service you have, don’t be afraid to see what else is out there. It may be time for a change. You don’t have to wait like I did until there isn’t any other choice.

That's the story,




Marion Conway Consulting

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Opportunities to Get Started with Your Technlogy Goals in 2008

If you have technology goals for 2008 here are some good opporunities to get started with free or lost cost events coming soon.

Idealware has a great selection of hour and a half webinars for $40 each. Check the website for more details.
Choosing eNewsletter Software February 7th
Choosing a Low Cost Constituent Database February 14th
10 Common Mistakes in Choosing a Donor Database February 28th

Free webinar from Network for Good
Visit their website and get their newsletter to hear about when these free events are scheduled.
Bring Your e-Newsletter from Snoring to Soaring February 26th

Free Event - Northern NJ "Executive Briefing" offered by eTapestry at the Montclair, NJ Library
eTapestry and Fundraising March 7th
In addition to a presentation about eTapestry there will be two presentations about fundraising - by two well known NJ nonprofit consultants - Maria Semple and Barbara Lawrence. Let me know if you are interested in this and I'll make sure you get the details.

Network for Good

Marion Conway Consulting

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Time for the CEO or Executive Director's Annual Performance Review by the Board Note: This is my100th Post!

Hiring, evaluation, setting compensation and firing the Executive Director of a nonprofit are all responsibilities of the Board. According to the 2007 BoardSource Nonprofit Governance Review, 74% of nonprofit boards give their ED a formal annual review. My guess is that the percentage is much lower for small organizations and even lower for Founder led organizations. But the Boards of these organizations have a responsibility to provide oversight too. This post provides some basics on providing a formal evaluation for your ED. First of all it is always best to start with what were the goals, objectives for the preceding year as the basis for evaluation. Even if the Board was not involved in setting those goals, most EDs start the year by sharing their goals with the Board so I am going to assume you have something to start with. If you have a Governance or Board Development Committee they can lead the process.

I have used an adaptation of the questionnaire for developing an ED evaluation from Compass Point's, Board Cafe. See the link to the article with questionnaire below. The evaluation form is broken into categories - Program Development and Delivery, Financial Management and Legal Compliance, Fundraising, Administration and Human Resource Management, Community Relations, and Relationship with the Board. We added a category upfront called Strategic Direction since there were major strategic issues that should be an important part of our ED's evaluation. You may have other adaptations that are important for your organization. Okay, Okay, it is a long questionnaire but it is multiple choice (excellent, satisfactory, unsatisfactory and don't know) and doesn't take that long. Ask the executive committee(Board Officers) and the ED to review the questionnaire and suggest any changes. The changes can be incorporated into the questionnaire and add two questions:
1)Add your comments. Provide examples for anything exceptional that should be included in the performance review.
2)Are there specific performance objectives which you would suggest for this year?

You will want to have this open ended feedback in addition to the multiple choise responses. The questionnaire should be distributed only to Board Members who were active during the year being reviewed. This is a very important caveat in seeking input for the review.

Deciding what questions to ask and turning the feedback into a formal review are the key elements of the evaluation process.

The results are summarized and the executive committee meets to prepare the formal review. The summarized data is very helpful in seeing the strengths and weaknesses as a composite and capturing a summary of what the Board sees as the goal for the coming year. The written review includes what the goals are for the coming year and a statement that this year's performance review will be based on achievement of these goals. The executive committee then meets with the ED and provides the review. At the review the president and ED both sign two copies - one for the ED and one for the Board.

An evaluation developed and delivered this way is not punitive nor just "You do a great job - just keep doing what you have been doing" fluff. It is an important process whereby the Board takes stock of how things are going and the ED gets formal feedback about the Board's satisfaction with their work. We take the time to formally praise the ED for accomplishments, establish and re-inforce what the Board's priorities are and let them know what areas we think they need to improve.

This open, honest, comprehensive approach to developing and conducting an ED evaluation is not hard to do and can reap strong benefits in establishing a professional board-staff relationship. A professional approach with clear goals should also provide motivation for excellent performance.

Of course, if there is to be a change in compensation an evaluation is a MUST. Change in compensation should always be based on a formal review.

This is my 100th post on this blog. Thanks to all of you who read this blog - your interest and visits have kept me motivated to keep posting. Thanks to all of you. I really enjoy blogging. It makes me think and stretch my interest and knowledge. Give it a try!

Here's wishing you well with conducting the annual review of your ED.
Board Cafe Article - Annual Evaluation of the Executive Directoring
Marion Conway Consulting

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Blockbuster Post! More Resolution Ideas from Nonprofit Experts!

One of my resolutions for 2008 is to learn more about social networking. So I decided to ask my LinkedIn network: What recommendations do you have for New Year's resolutions for Nonprofits in 2008? Wow! What a great idea that turned out to be. Quite an esteemed group of people responded and I am providing links to them for your reference. Many responses included a statement of agreement with another response. These recommendations will cause you to stretch and make for much better organizations. Consider them all!

Jesse Wiley - Most nonprofits, especially the smaller ones, should spend 25-50% of their time and resources advocating for their cause in some way. Whether through collaboration, coalition building, political lobbying, organizing, communications or any other means, greater impact can only be achieved by advocating large scale, systematic change and providing services/programs.
Jesse Wiley, Acquisition Editor at Jossey-Bass, an imprint of John Wiley & Sons
John Wiley & Sons website

John Wiley & Sons Bicentennial Video on YouTube

Community Building
Hildy Gottlieb - Learn what it takes to focus everything they do on creating more impact in the community they serve. And to further learn what it takes to stop using approaches that go counter to creating more significant community impact.

Learn how to engage more and compete less. Learn how their boards can aim their primary accountability at community results, and only then at organizational means (legal and operational oversight). Learn how to plan within the context of a strong community, working backwards to determine what that means they need to be, both in their programs and in their internal infrastructure.
Hildy Gottlieb’s blog

Hildy Gottlieb’s website

Jane Garthson adds - That community focus and involvement would make more difference than anything else most nonprofits could possibly do.

Jane Garthson - I suggest each nonprofit board resolve to enhance its governance in at least two ways. Depending on what is now missing or weak, that might mean an ED Succession Plan, Board Assessment Process, better recruitment package, an external speaker on governance at least annually, or other such actions. Each member of the senior management team could be similarly challenged to fill two strategic gaps or review two action areas that have been long neglected and allowed to run as status quo even though the world changed.
Jane Garthson’s website

Marc Pitman
- We're storytelling creatures. If we can articulate our mission in a story form, we will make change in government. We will help our volunteers and donors to help us carry out our mission. We will see our vision become accomplished.
Marc Pitman’s blog

Paul Kerness
- Technology makovers should be on the resolution list for many of us. Non profits seem unwilling to view technology as a mission critical strategic asset. They spend 80-100% of their IT resources simply maintaining what they already have. Few or no dollars are spent building capacity. Many simply do not look forward when it comes to IT because they are so busy patching and putting out fires.. Consequently, they do not have the vision to adopt the modern technologies and techniques like virtualization, server consolidation, centralized infrastructures, managed services and some others that our corporate and small business counterparts have been using for years to do more with less.
Paul Kerness LinkedIn Profile

Rick Birmingham - Nonprofit leaders (especially of small mission-focused organizations) need to be making certain that their organizations have good data backup. Add to that up-to-date virus protection and the resolutions would go a long way!
Rick Birmingham,Senior Technology Circuit Rider

Marion Conway Consulting