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