Friday, December 23, 2011

Wishing You Joy, Courage and Vision

Dear Friends,

I wish all of you a joyous holiday season and a blessed New Year. This holiday letter is being posted both at Marion Conway – Nonprofit Consultant and The Grandma Chronicles.

Especially as I am getting older, Christmas is a time of reflection for me.  It is a time to be thankful for all our blessings, for appreciating family and friends, and for sharing with others.  It all brings joy.  I have turned down the lights in my office, lit candles in the window and am playing Christmas Chant. It is my routine for writing this Holiday message.  I can feel the peace of Christmas as I let go of the busyiness of the day filled with grocery shopping and cooking for Christmas Eve and Day.

This year has again been filled with the joy of grandparenting.  Our grandson is now 2 1/2 years old and he brings new energy to our lives every day.  I enjoy writing about him at The Grandma Chronicles and “shouting out with joy” about all of our adventures together.  This year Zach helped bake Christmas cookies for the first time and he is already a pro – enjoying all the tasks from slicing cherries, breaking eggs, using the electric mixer and spooning cookies on the baking sheet.  My husband had the courage to let him use a knife with supervision and Zach had the courage to use the electric mixer by himself. These pictures show how he approached this all with thoughtfulness. I had a vision of him enjoying baking cookies with Grandma and experienced total joy at the way he jumped in.  In less than two weeks Zach begins pre-school and both he and my daughter Fran, will have to show some courage as they let go of each other.

This past year has been another difficult one for the nonprofit community. Funding continues to be a challenge while demand is strong.  2012 may be the time for nonprofits to take a serious look at their vision and how they can get where they want to be.  I have seen in the last few months a new interest in strategic planning.  I wish you success with your planning – keep it focused on your mission and realistic and also have the courage to try new things.  How nonprofits deliver services, how they build relationships with all their constituents, how they fundraise – it is all changing.  Just as families and businesses are changing how they deal with a changed economic climate, it is time for nonprofits to think beyond a “make it through” mentality and look at fundamental changes that may be in order. 

This year my consulting work expanded to include quite a bit of speaking and I found that I really enjoy it.  Need a speaker in 2012?  Let’s talk.  I worked at blogging at three blogs and hope to blog more often in 2012. I have lots of other goals for 2012 but I’ll write about that at a later date.

Last year I wished you all joy, pride and a spirit of action.  This year, I wish you joy, courage and vision.  It is time to look beyond the coming year and visualize your path to the future.  Have the courage to take some big steps.    

Grandparents, parents, nonprofit friends and the nonprofits you work for will be in my prayers as I attend services on Christmas Eve.

May You Have a Blessed and Joyous Holiday,


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Need a Holiday Gift for Someone in the Nonprofit Community - A Curated List of Books

This is the third year that I am making a list of books that you might want to consider giving to your nonprofit friends. This is a curated list - I asked leaders in the nonprofit community to contribute to this blog post. This year’s contributors to this list are Marc Pitman, Gail Perry, Maria Semple, Linda Czipo, Amy Sample Ward and a few of my own.

Amy Sample Ward
Amy Sample Ward was clearly thinking about new ways of thinking about organizational structure and people working together when she recommended this trio:
The Future of Nonprofits: Innovate and Thrive in the Digital Age
by David J. Neff and Randal C. Moss

The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations (Hardcover)
by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom

Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World
by Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant

These books are sure to give you a whole new outlook about how your organization can be successful in the future.

Linda Czipo, Executive Director of the Center for Nonprofits in New Jersey was also thinking about developing stronger nonprofits when she recommended:

Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability
by Jeanne Bell, Jan Masaoka, and Steve Zimmerman. Linda gives it a rave review with these comments: “It helps guide organization managers through crucial analyses (fund raising profiles, program and organizational viability, etc.) in a very accessible manner. Great blend of user-friendly prose, matrices, and diagrams to help organizations sift through the "tough questions." Very useful.” Every year I add some books to my own reading list as I put this one together and this is certainly a must read for me this year.

Marc Pitman
Marc Pitman has been reading books about human behavior and as the "fundraiser extraordinaire" that he is, he knows that understanding human behavior is a key to successful fundraising. Here are his recommendations:

Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive
by Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin and Robert B. Cialdini. If you read Influence by Cialdini – this is the sequel with lots of examples of the principles.

How We Decide
by Jonah Lehrer. This book describes the neuroscience behind decision making, and is a good compliment to Yes!

Two other good fundraising building block books are by two of the contributors of this list.

Fired-Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion Into Action (AFP Fund Development Series) (The AFP/Wiley Fund Development Series)
by Gail Perry

"Panning for Gold: Find Your Best Donor Prospects NOW!"  by Maria Semple is an interactive e-book with links to 75 websites used by prospect researchers. Vist Maria’s website to download this book.

Encore Recommendations
Books recommended over the last two years and now recommended again include:

Ask Without Fear!: A Simple Guide to Connecting Donors With What Matters to Them Most by Marc Pitman

50 Asks in 50 Weeks: A Guide to Better Fundraising for Your Small Development Shop
by Amy Eisenstain

The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change
by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine

The Pollyanna Principles: Reinventing "Nonprofit Organizations" to Create the Future of Our World
by Hildy Gottlieb

See the links to those posts at the end of this article.

Now for my picks.

I have to include You and Your Nonprofit: Practical Advice and Tips from the CharityChannel Professional Community
- I am proud to be a contributor to this book featuring over 40 contributors with articles on a wide range of topics important to nonprofit professionals. It features practical advice and tips from the Charity Channel Nonprofit Professional Community. This is an excellent on the shelf resource for new and experienced nonprofit leaders alike. There is a 25% discount until 12/31/11 if referred by a contributor. See the sidebar for details.

I’d like to also include a couple of good children's books for your holiday gift list. My favorite is
Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters
by Barack Obama
I reviewed this book featuring stories about American heroes and beautiful illustrations at my other blog – The Grandma Chronicles. This book is one of those that should be on every child’s bookshelf.

Kate Smith Milway has written another excellent book for children: The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough (CitizenKid)
is about a young girl in Hounduras who learns new farming techniques at school, uses them and home, and grows food that can be sold in the local market. This book takes a difficult subject and tells an upbeat story. 

I hope you find a book that is of interest to you on this list. I know that I have. The list goes the gamut from philisophical and strategic to the practical and down to earth. The common thread is the interest these books should have for the nonprofit community.  I thank Amy, Gail. Linda, Maria and Marc for their thoughtful contributions to this list.

Some Related Links:

A Wish List of Books for Nonprofit Folk - 2010
Nonprofit Books That Make Great Holiday Gifts - 2009

Books to Add to Your Reading List in 2010 – The Well Known and a Few Discoveries (2009)
You and Your Nonprofit – Just Published!
Of Thee I Sing - A Letter to my Daughters by Barack Obama

Friday, November 18, 2011

Lets Start a Movement for Small Nonprofit Day

American Express has sponsored “Small Business Saturday” to encourage people to shop in small businesses the Saturday after Thanksgiving for several years. If you haven’t taken advantage of it before – I have– American Express will give you a $25 statement credit for shopping at a small business that takes your American Express card – when you shop on Small Business Saturday. You have to register online first – but, gee, this is a pretty good offer.

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving I have made it a practice to shop downtown in nearby Montclair at a qualified small business. And I always “double up” being a good citizen by making sure that at least one of my Christmas gifts is a fair trade product. Our family favorite past fair trade purchase was these beautiful napkins by Global Mamas. We use them all the time.

Anyway – I have a proposal – lets also make the Saturday after Thanksgiving – Small Nonprofit Day. The lion’s share of giving goes to large nonprofits – for many reasons. This is actually true of my personal giving too because I believe in the effectiveness of large organizations such as Oxfam America.

But I always allocate a portion of my giving to small, more local nonprofits. They may not have fancy websites, a great facebook presence and professional appeal letters. But they are an important part of the fabric of our communities – especially today.  There are more people than ever using food banks, libraries, attending church run programs, etc.

Just as the excellent American Express campaign promoting small business is having an impact on small business, I believe that having it also be Small Nonprofit Day can also be a boom for small, locally based, nonprofits. I hope American Express considers expanding the focus of the day and I hope you – members of the nonprofit community - will join me in spreading this idea.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving and the whole holiday weekend. On Thursday I cook for 20 people, on Friday I recover and on Saturday I shop – locally. Also, I’m thinking about the nonprofits I will be donating too …. on Saturday.

My local favorite is PCCI where I am Board Secretary. PCCI provides after school tutoring and mentoring to children in Newark, NJ by committed volunteers creating a one on one bond with a child and an adult and bridging urban and suburban communities. Our combination of one on one paring of adult and child and being volunteer powered makes our service both personal and efficient. I invite you to support PCCI with me today.

Click here to make your donation to PCCI through Network for Good.  (Note:  I LOVE Network for Good.)

Check out Trade for Change for fair trade items …My Global Mamas napkins are the best and aren’t the little girls dresses the cutest ever.  If you go to Amazon and search on fair trade lots of choices come up too.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Anticipation – Year End Fundraising – Let’s Look in the Crystal Ball and Beyond

At this time of year nonprofits have a lot of anticipation and worry about their year end fundraising. Fortunately, there are a few clues of how things might work out from surveys and results for 2011 so far. In good times they generally predict expected increases. In bad times they predict expected decreases. The good news this year is that the predictions are mixed and also had some good tidbits to take heed of.  So lets look in the crystal ball...and beyond.
This article provides key 2011 fundraising results highlights from three different perspectives. Blackbaud is based on actual giving using hard statistical data - year over year for the same month. Fidelity Charitable conducted telephone interviews with donors and the Nonprofit Research Collaborative (NRC) polled nonprofit organizations. They each have something different to offer and you can read the reports for more details.

I will also be writing a companion piece at the Nonprofit Capacity Building Blog where I’ll write more about the NRC report.

The Blackbaud Index of Charitable Giving
The Blackbaud Index of Charitable Giving reports that overall giving increased by 6.8 percent for the 3 months ending August 2011 as compared to the same period in 2010. The Index is a broad-based fundraising index that reports total giving trends of 1,276 nonprofit organizations on a monthly basis. It is based on actual giving statistics from nonprofit organizations of all sizes - both offline and online. Although there are large variances when broken down into segments this is certainly overall good news. For more details and new results every month, visit the blackbaud website.

Fidelity Charitable
Fidelity Charitable, the nation's largest donor-advised fund program, reports that despite continued economic challenges, the 502 donors surveyed remain committed to charitable giving. 72% of donors plan to maintain or increase their level of charitable giving this year compared to last year. This number is up from 63% in 2010. An additional piece of good news from this survey: 64% agree that charitable tax deductions have no impact on their giving.

Fidelity has no vested interest in online giving or nonprofits using social media so it is of particular interest to see what they found in their survey. Their respondents are people over 18 who participated in a telephone interview and said that they expected to give $200 or more in 2011. The survey was conducted in mid-October 2011 - this is very fresh data. So does the Internet play a role in charitable giving and what online resources do potential donors use? This survey sheds some light on this subject.

42% use online resources to find information about charitable organizations
     31% Internet search engines
     20% Social media sites

Of all donors surveyed, 40% report they are using some form of technology to make charitable donations this year.

25% organization's website

21% personal fundraising web page established by a friend or family member

10% other – including text to give

The importance of face to face has not died just yet. 51% say they will make donations this year by attending, donating to and/or purchasing items at a charitable event.
See the full Fidelity Charitable story here.

Nonprofit Research Collaborative
This comprehensive report provides survey results from 813 responding charities about their fundraising results and approaches in the first half of 2011. This report does not have hard data like Blackbaud but it is loaded with insight about what is working. Some of the key findings are:

Compared to 2010: 44% of responding charities reported increases in funds raised; 25% said giving was the same as in the same period the prior year; and 30% saw a decline.

Almost all methods of increased investment in fundraising saw increased results at about 30% to 36%

The biggest increase was special events, where 46 % of responding charities reported an increase.

Download the full report via Guidestar here.

So what’s the bottom line here. I think all this means that you have the potential to do better with fundraising in 2011 than 2010 but you have to invest in making it happen - it won’t just happen by hoping it will. Invest in online and offline - there is potential in both.

2010 wasn’t a great year for fundraising so increasing from that base isn’t all that great, but considering the continued economic situation it certainly is good news that donors aren’t – and don’t plan to - give up on charitable giving.

A companion piece to this article “Show Me the Money -  Where Nonprofits Should be Looking" at the Nonprofit Capacity Blog covers what the Nonprofit Research Collaborative reported on what nonprofits are increasing their fundraising efforts on and what is working for them.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Board Recruitment –Don’t Expect the “Fully Loaded Baked Potato” at First

This is a companion piece to “Hosting a Board Recruitment Event” at the Nonprofit Capacity Blog at

At this time of year many nonprofits begin to think about recruiting new Board members. When I ask what they are looking for I am usually – usually, not just often, told they want people who have high incomes, who will make a significant personal donation and be involved in fundraising. This is an honest answer albeit often not a reasonable expectation – especially for most small organizations. Such people may emerge from your Board after becoming involved in your organization but it is unlikely you can recruit them as a “fully loaded baked potato.” To attempt to is putting the cart before the horse. Board Members need nurturing to understand your organization in depth and become committed to it. That happens over time as you engage them with your work and your impact. They can develop into a fully loaded potato but chances are they don’t arrive on your plate as one.  A good baked potato takes slow cooking.

So how should we go about Board Recruitment?
Governance Committee – Rather than a separate nominating committee, I recommend that the nominating process should be a function of the Governance Committee. The committee should complete a Board Profile Assessment which provides a profile of existing members including, age/gender/ ethnic profile, skills, professional experience and economic ability to contribute to your organization. The data available to complete this may not be perfect, but it is usually accurate enough to highlight the gaps you want to fill.

The committee should complete a Board Member job description and application. Write it down! Make it clear to potential Board members what your expectations are.

The Board Member description
Responsibilities should include:
  • Attend Board meetings
  • Participate on at least one committee
  • Make a personal financial commitment
  • Participate in fundraising

Include the characteristics you are looking for in Board members including:
  • Passion for the mission
  • Understanding your community needs
  • Team player
  • Good listener


The Board Member application should include:
  • Basic bio and contact information
  • List of skills you desire on the Board – legal, accounting, marketing, technology, property, etc with check off for applicants
  • List of committees with check off for preserences

Hosting a Board recruitment event is a good way to informally meet with potential Board members and give you each a chance to see each other. Key features of the event should be:
  • Informality
  • Social component
  • Presentation about your organization and what you are looking for in a Board member
  • Request to fill out the Board application
  • Absolutely no request for donations - No envelopes in packets 

You can read my article on Hosting a Board Recruitment Event at the companion piece at the Nonprofit Cacity Blog for more detail on a sample format.

The Executive Director or governance committee member can follow up with a one on one conversation and visit to a program. By then the courting should be done and you and the candidate should both know if you are a good match. You can’t start out with the “fully loaded baked potato” but following a formal recruitment and orientation process are important steps towards developing the engaged Board that you want.

What are your ideas for recruiting good Board members. Please comment and share your ideas.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

LinkedIn Gets “Nonprofit Friendly” - Highlight Your Volunteer Experience

I am often asked about how LinkedIn should be used by nonprofits. I have always thought that it is an asset that can be used effectively in a variety of ways. I’ll recap those in a minute. But first I want to tell you about what is NEW at LinkedIn that is of special interests to nonprofits.

A couple of months ago LinkedIn named Bryan Breckenridge to head up LinkedIn services for nonprofits and he has been busy introducing a bunch of new services – some of which are fee based. Now LinkedIn has made a huge leap in providing a basic, free feature of value to nonprofits. You can now update your profile to show causes you support and your volunteer experience. Wow! I just updated mine. It’s simple but not that obvious at first.

Here’s how you do it:

Go to edit profile.

There is a line that says New – Click on add sections.

There are actually lots of new sections you can add and one of them is causes and volunteer experience. I added this new section and filled in the brief summary for each of my current activities. While I was editing my profile I also added a section for publications and added You and Your Nonprofit.

I recommend that everyone update their profiles to include your causes and volunteer experience and that you encourage your Board Members and volunteers to update theirs too.

LinkedIn has had the ability to have organization pages for awhile but it is not an idea that has taken off with nonprofits. With this new feature now may be the time to set up your organization’s page and then if someone sees a profile where you are mentioned, they can check out the page.

I recommend that every executive director and development director have a LinkedIn page and use LinkedIn for everything but fundraising. LinkedIn has a no fundraising policy that you should respect.

So how should you use it?

Join groups – There are thousands of groups and you can find lots of nonprofit specific and cause specific groups. Some of my favorites are Boardsource, NTEN, Google for Nonprofits, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Leader to Leader Institute and Strategic Planning for Nonprofits. All of these groups are active. There are great questions and great answers. I learn a lot from the groups that I participate in and I have added people to my network based in the interaction. Groups on LinkedIn are an incredible but underused resource for nonprofit professionals. You can use groups for advocacy, to promote events and to find volunteers and Board Members.
Ask/Answer Questions – You can ask questions and see answered questions by category and the nonprofit categories get some interesting commentary.

Networking - You can build an impressive network on LinkedIn. You’ll be surprised at how many people you know are on LinkedIn. There are several ways to identify them and it is easy to grow a network. You can send a message to your whole network or to selected connections. You should use this wisely but it can be very useful to so easily reach out to your network.

Apps, Apps, Apps – LinkedIn has a useful set of apps that can spruce up your profile and personalize your home page. I use apps to enhance my profile by featuring my recent blog article titles and presentations I’ve loaded to slideshare. I also use the recommended reading list to feature recommended books. My home page has the blogroll which highlights titles of blog posts by everyone in my network. Interesting articles catch my eye with this feature all the time.

Recommendations – Recommendations for volunteers and board members will be appreciated by those you recommend. Your recommendation will show up on their profile and may influence potential clients and employers. This is an excellent way to thank people for the work they do for your organization.

There’s more, or course. As with any social media platform, click away and learn how to use it best.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Blogging Plan for Nonprofits

I love blogging. In fact I love it so much that I blog at three blogs. I jump head over heels when someone else mentions my blog and when it is someone like Beth Kanter or John Haydon - I feel like doing cartwheels for joy. I think that more nonprofits should blog and I encourage blogging in my social media workshops. I even have my “Easy Approach to Successful Nonprofit Blogging” that causes people to pause and say “We can do that!” If only more actually would!

It is important to start with defining your goals for the blog and then using that for your guide. Blogs should be about building a relationship with your constituencies and that should definitely be one of your goals. Blogging is excellent for developing advocacy and providing education. Fundraising can be a by-product but should not be a primary goal of blogging.
Some blogs are effective because they have a laser focus and stick to the topic.  Some blogs are effective because they cover a lot of ground and feature variety.  This dish of cupcakes does both.  It can be done if you think about it.

Here is my formula for starting a nonprofit blog:

Once a month: Executive Director writes about national trends and issues related to mission of the organization

Once a month: Program Director writes about programs – whether it be an event, an award, or just everyday happenings.

Once a month: Development Director writes about something relating to fundraising – an event, results, a campaign, planned giving….whatever…but only once a month.

Every Wednesday: Participate in Wordless Wednesday – blog favorite with the “mommy bloggers - and post a picture every Wednesday. Include a short caption – no need for an article.

This approach does require an editor who reminds people and perhaps makes suggestions to keep the blog on track and not miss the rotation. The editor can be one of the contributors but does not have to be. If you can establish this rhythm, your blog may just grow from here and be filled out more frequently. You don’t want to have occasional only entries or it will just be ignored.

You also don’t have to re-invent the wheel to have something unique and special happening at your blog. One of my favorite nonprofit blogs is by the New Jersey based Geraldine Dodge Foundation. They are a major supporter of the arts and their annual Poetry Festivals now held in a major venue at the NJPAC in Newark, NJ are well known nationally. The Dodge Foundation blog features video, audio and pictorial clips from its archives on Friday. I am sure that there are many people who visit the blog every Friday for this feature. This ingenious blog approach quietly promotes the poetry festival all year long and works to develop a relationship with its readers.

Building relationships – keep that focus – and before you know it blog idieas will pour forth.

This blog article was inspired by Emily Weinberg who publishes one of my favorite nonprofit blogs – the Nonprofit Blog Exchange  and posted this question in NTEN’s Nonprofit Blogging Community of Practice:

It seems like one of the biggest challenges nonprofits have with blogging is coming up with content to write about. I'd like to start a discussion about this topic.

What type of content do you write about on your organization's blog? What type of content can nonprofits write about?

Thanks, Emily!

Oh and by the way - where else I blog:

Nonprofit Capacity Building at

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

It's Summer - Give Your Website a Quick Facelift

The summer is a good time to get to those things that have been put off during the busier times of the year and for nonprofits it is the time to do some prep work before the Fall fundraising season. One thing that you might do now is give your website a facelift. Here is some great straightforward advice from Firespring. Firespring is a marketing company serving small businesses and nonprofits. In partnership with 17 nonprofits they conducted this survey of 468 constituents to learn what they want from a nonprofit website. This is not a large scale study but the results do ring true and I’d like to share them with you.

Firespring has made an engaging two minute video summarizing the results and you can also download the two page report.  Get both here.

Here are the highlights – as always you get my commentary with it:

1. Concise and Compelling Content - Content about your programs and services, future goals, and how donations are spent ranked highest in interest.

2. Attention Grabbing Design – 91% mentioned the appeal of photos. This is an area that almost all small nonprofits I work with can improve in. All too often they sparse out pictures like they were gold coins or think a picture of a building without any people is okay.  If your picture causes furrowed brows rather than a smile, its the wrong one.

3. User-Friendly Navigation – Being able to easily navigate your website is really important. People came for a reason and they want to quickly be able to find out how to get to whatever they were looking for. Firespring recommends three points of navigation. 89% of respondents said that a site search is useful. This may be really easy for your webmaster to add. If you don’t already have one ask for it. This blog is on – a free platform. The site search is just a free app that is a couple clicks away from being on the website. Depending on the platform you’re using this may be true for you too.

4. Useful Functionality – Having functionality that visitors expect today sends a message that your website is worth visiting. This is a good step in building a relationship online with your supporters. Functionality appreciated by the respondents included the ability to register for an event, sign up for an eNewsletter, and register to volunteer. There are both easy and more sophisticated ways to implement these features. Start by discussing them with your webmaster to find out how easily it can be done.

5. Strong Vitality – Not enough can be said about how important it is to update your website frequently. It doesn’t have to be a major overhaul – just fresh updates. 66% of respondents said that in order for content to be relevant your website must be updated at least once a week. How about posting a program picture of the week. Make sure you call it “a picture of the week” and post it on the same day every week. This type of thing causes people to visit on a regular basis. Making frequent updates to your website also increases your position in search – and that can be important.

If you are redesigning your website these are important ideas to incorporate. If you are not redesigning your website there is lots here you can do with your existing website. Do not wait for some future redesign – get busy today. Here is what you can do today:

1. Fresh new content about your programs
2. Photos – with people in them!!!!
3. Add a Where Your Donations Go page today
4. Ask your webmaster if s/he can easily add a site search
5. Ask your webmaster if s/he can easily add a eNewsletter sign-up.
6. Commit to updating something once a week on the website.

Thanks for bringing this study to my attention to Jocelyn Harmon at the Marketing for Nonprofits blog and @GuidestarUSA for tweeting about it.

You can see the companion piece to this article at the Nonprofit Capacity Building blog at  Read Understanding Your Website from a Visitor’s Perspective  now.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

All About Executive Directors - Results of a New Daring to Lead Study on Nonprofit Leadership

A new national study of nonprofit executive leadership provides a keen insight into and useful benchmarking statistics on the state of nonprofit leadership. Daring to Lead 2011 is a joint project of CompassPoint and the Meyer Foundation. The report is based on responses from over 3000 executive directors and follows similar studies in 2001 and 2006.

I am again writing companion pieces here and at the Nonprofit Capacity Blog at about the study. This piece discusses the results from the perspective of the executive director and the other one the perspective of the Board.  As always, I add my two cents along the way.

Here are the key findings:

Though slowed by the recession, projected rates of executive turnover remain high and many boards of directors are under-prepared to select and support new leaders.

The recession has amplified the chronic financial instability of many organizations, causing heightened anxiety and increased frustration with unsustainable financial models.

Despite the profound challenges of the role, nonprofit executives remain energized and resolved.

The last few years have been challenging for nonprofit executive directors by any measure. Although a grand exodus was expected, more EDs than expected hung in there but not without its toll. Sixty-five percent (65%) of executives reported significant levels of recession-related anxiety. Even with this to deal with, 45% reported being very happy in their jobs, and another 46% reported that they have more good days than bad in the role. The exodus of EDs is sure to pick up pace as 20% of the respondents were over 60. In this study 67% said they expect to leave their present position within five years. Retirement isn’t the only reason.

Here is something for EDs to know when they are new in the job.  By and large the first year is a honeymoon period and EDs' happiness in a job takes a dive in year 2 slowly building - taking over 10 years to pass a 50% rate of happiness with the job.  My advice to new EDs is to take a page from experienced EDs and conjure up all the resilience they can.

EDs do take the time to invest in their own development as leaders. This chart shows the breadth and effectiveness of various strategies employed by EDs for their own development.

They consider executive coaching, peer networks, and leadership programs as most effective and reported that peer networks were especially effective for decreasing feelings of isolation and norming the trials and tribulations of their jobs.

In my year end blog post in 2009 I said that I wished my readers resilience for 2010 as that is what they would need most. It is interesting to me that was a key finding in this report. EDs have remained resilient through the recession and with as much passion and commitment to their causes as ever.

One area of concern that I see frequently in nonprofit leaders they see in themselves: financial management skills.  A significant number of EDs say that they don’t thoroughly understand the financial underpinnings of their organizations. At the same time boards of directors are evermore focused on financial oversight. In my experience financial management issues can be a key point of tension between a board and an ED. In addition to being a primary contributor to executive director burnout, financial instability can threaten an organization’s ability to carry out its mission and its very existence. This report most definitely sends a strong call for more training and development in this area for EDs.

This chart highlights the concern on the EDs part of their own ability in this crucial factor of nonprofit leadership.

40% consider financial management as a “depleting” part of their job.

Although ED’s recognize this as a very important part of their job 36% say they don’t spend enough time on it.

73% say there is significant board financial oversight while only 47% say boards provide significantly to fund development.

So what are the energizing part of an ED’s job? This next chart is fascinating but not surprising. The most energizing aspects of a ED’s job are working with partners, program management and working with individual donors.

What was the career path of the 3000 ED’s that responded to this study? This is another fascinating result. Only 32% were hired from outside the organization and 68% were an employee on staff, a board member or the founder.  A closer look at the data suggest there is almost an equal chance as becoming an ED with a promotion from within as there is as an outside hire. 

A big thank you to CompassPoint and the Meyer Foundation for this insightful report on what makes Executive Directors tick. We have so much to be grateful for – the cadre of nonprofit leaders who have weathered the storm of the recession and kept the ships afloat and righted. Gracias! And some good advice for newer EDs.

See the whole report here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

You and Your Nonprofit – Just Published!

Thursday’s mail brought my copy of the newly published You and Your Nonprofit. I have been waiting for my copy anxiously as I am a proud contributor and it did not disappoint.

You and Your Nonprofit is published as part of Charity Channel's In the Trenches series and features practical advice and tips from the Charity Channel Nonprofit Professional Community. The almost 70 articles cover nonprofit leadership, management and fundraising topics. I have already read many of the articles and I am amazed at how succinct and yet thorough each one is. The editors did an excellent job with article selection, presentation format, and organization. I will be referencing my copy frequently. I particularly like the easy-to-reference format with sidebar practical tips and bulleted lists. You and Your Nonprofit is a must have for your go to reference shelf.

My featured articles are:

Planning a Board Retreat

Getting Your Strategic Plan Working Together and Then Taking It Up a Notch!

Both of these articles were adapted from articles that originally appeared in Charity Channel’s Nonprofits Boards and Governance Review and later on my blog. They also are among my articles that have been chosen to appear in major online databases and receive frequent hits here on this blog.

This is the first time I am published in a book and it is exciting. I’m thinking about how to celebrate locally. Any ideas – please leave comments and share your ideas.

A 25% discount is available through 7/31/11.

Here is the coupon code for the 25% discount: CCPRESS423

Order Now!

Find Out More About the Book

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Making Facebook Work for a Nonprofit - But Which Tool in the Toolbox Is It?

Today I saw the most amazing statistics about Facebook and Idealware just published a great report with lots of hard data about facebook and nonprofits so I said to myself: “It’s Kismet – Write about Facebook!” reported on the results of a study which finds that 56% of content shared online happens via facebook. Wow! Now that’s a big number!  Facebook accounts for 38% of all sharing referral traffic (That’s fancy for a shared link that was actually clicked on) - more than email and twitter combined. The study looked at the sharing and clicking habits of the more than 300 million people a month who pass links with a ShareThis button on over a million websites, producing 7 billion pageviews a month. This data certainly confirms that facebook cannot be discounted - it should be in your toolbox.  But what kind of a tool is it?
Idealware has just published Using Facebook to Meet Your Mission: Results of a Survey. Idealware surveyed 505 nonprofits and interviewed 8 people who said they were having some success with facebook.  Thanks idealware for this thorough and insightful report that all nonprofits can use on their journey with facebook.
You can download the whole report here  and there even is a free online seminar on June 16th to discuss the results.

Facebook is more likely to succeed in attracting constituents that require a lower level of commitment was the overriding finding. Some specific results with nonprofit facebook pages are:

• More than 70% attracted new attendees to events and generated increased traffic to their website.

• 40% had success converting some fans into donors or volunteers

• 66% of respondents from advocacy organizations saw an increase in people taking action like signing a petition.

• 29% saw an increase in donations

• Over 80% said facebook increased awareness and relationships with constituents

Making Facebook Work for a Nonprofit
The study clearly found that putting in a reasonable amount of time and setting goals contributed to having success with facebook:
The average time spent per week reported by organizations who saw
positive impact from facebook was 2.6 hours.

Only 36 percent of respondents reported having defined goals. Almost 40 percent of those reported a generally positive impact from the site, compared to less than 25 percent of those that did not set goals.

So are you ready to get serious about facebook? Organizations who reported success with donors say that it takes a long time to develop donors. Do not get discouraged easily, grow and learn, intereact and follow other nonprofits. It takes some commitment to be successful with facebook so be prepared to make a reasonable commitment.
There are many resources specifically for nonprofits online to help and here are a couple of good basic ones.
John Haydon at  John does these great simple walk you through videos that I can even follow.  I have figured out more than one facebook mystery from John Haydon.
Facebook’s Nonprofit guide  Facebook has a nonprofit guide and a fan page that can help you get off to a good start.  Check them out.
I'd love to hear your experience and questions about nonprofits and facebook.  Please leave your comments here.  And my facebook page to see my blog posts in your news feed:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Being on a Board - What's It All About

I recently gave this presentation at the Grant Professionals MidAtlantic Regional Conference and I thought I would share it here. I was asked to present on this subject because grant professionals frequently get asked to be on boards and some are interested in joining Boards as part of their professional development.

Although this is basic stuff I thought some of you may find something of value here and/or may want to pass this on to others.

The presentation covers the basic responsibilities of being a board member, gives advice on how to be a successful board member and recommends questions to ask before joining a Board. Lots of thanks to Boardsource and Independent Sector for all the good information. In the session we talked about a lot of Board related topics not covered here including Board recruitment, Board orientation and the Board manual. Here are the slides:

What are your thoughts on this subject? What makes a good Board and a good Board Member? Please join the conversation and leave your comments.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Workshop: Donating Online: How to Make it Work for Your Non-Profit

On Tuesday, May 17th, I will be presenting this workshop. The workshop covers basic options for using online donation tools and will help you decide the best option for your organization. We will examine how the donation tool works and compare some popular tools, such as Razoo, Network for Good and Guidestar. We will discuss strategies for maximizing the effectiveness of your online donation process.

Sponsoring Organization and Location:  Volunteer Center of Bergen County
                                                           64 Passaic Street Hackensack, NJ 07663

Date/Time: Tuesday, May 17, 9:30 AM – 12:00 PM
Registration Fee: $45, $35 for member agencies

Audience: Board, Executive, Development

To Register: contact Tess Tomasi, 201-489-9454, ext. 114                             
or register online securely at


Friday, April 29, 2011

Donating Online - How to Make It Work Best for Your Nonprofit

On April 30th (Tomorrow) I will be presenting at the Literacy Volunteers of NJ annual conference.  The presentation is geared for small organizations who are just getting started with accepting donations online.  The presentaion is on and can be viewed here:

Soon I will be presenting a longer workshop on this subject at the Volunteer Center of Bergen County.  For more information contact Tess Tomasi at (201) 489-9454 or email

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Branding for Nonprofits - Professionals Share Expertise at the Fist to Five Series

Some of my most popular blog articles have been about the Fist to Five series for Nonprofits sponsored by Sax Macy Fromm, an accounting firm in Clifton, NJ. Todd Polyniak, a principal, designs and chairs these forums. Yesterday, I attended one of the best yet. Branding for nonprofits was the topic and two experts discussed the branding makeover they did on two very different nonprofits. It was fascinating to learn about the process and the results. There is a lot of interest in nonprofit branding today and it is with due cause. In this day of information overload and internet clutter, it is easy for organizations to not be heard – or worse, not be heard correctly. Communicating who we are and doing it crisply, accurately and endearing passion of our mission is no small task. It is a job for professionals. And Todd interviewed two professionals about their branding work with two very different nonprofits.

Todd first interviewed Walt Guarino, President and Managing partner at SGW and opened with offering this as a definition of a brand: “A brand is a one of a kind promise about who you are, what you stand for, and what unique and meaningful benefits you deliver.” He asked Walt to comment on this as it applies to nonprofits. Walt’s remarks really resonated with my experience when he said, “Nonprofits have a lot of different things to say and when the name doesn’t connect, it takes effort to get people to understand what they are about. Branding triggers reactions and feelings when you see the brand so it is important to get it right.

Todd then referred to marketing guru, Seth Godin’s “Purple Cow” proposition – the purple cow being that which makes an organization remarkable (worth talking about, worth noticing, exceptional, new, interesting) and asked what methods Walt uses to help find “purple cow” in clients?

Walt discussed a specific example of an organization which is over 40 years old and has been home to developmentally disabled individuals during that time. Although the individuals they serve are now adults there are reasons they cannot change the name of their organization which includes the word children. They conducted interviews with a wide spectrum of constituents looking for the nuggets to capture the essence of the organization to use in their branding statement. Involving the participation of all constituents is an important part of the process - to capture the essence of the organization. “Caring haven” is the short phrase they decided on. They also developed a positioning theme: “More than a home to individuals who are developmentally disabled.” This statement invites us learn more about what the “more” is.

Next Todd interviewed David Kessler, founder of Starfish. His general remarks about branding were similar to Walt’s: “Brands are created not only by what it says, but also how people react and interact with it.” I think that when we try to develop our marketing messages from within we tend to stay to much “inside the box” and don’t think about how what we say will capture the attention and heart of those seeing the message. This came through loud and clear in both Walt and David’s examples.

Todd asked David to name the top blunders companies make in branding and David responded citing a briar patch you don’t want to wander into:

1) Brand is not clearly defined and even people within the organization give different opinions about what the brand is

2) Worse thing you can do is send a message with expectations and not meet those expectations

Next Todd brought out a rather wordy plain looking bottle of Dr. Bronner’s all in one soap that doesn’t advertise yet is able to fetch a premium price in stores such as Whole Foods and asked David to comment on why. David’s assessment was quick – It looks “authentic” – that’s the message that people are getting. And when Todd asked about how a nonprofit should go about developing and promoting their brand, David responded with:

1) The nonprofit has to clearly understand what they stand for and actively promote that.

2) Understand your primary purpose, core competencies and the competitive framework you are working in

A brand is an “idea that spreads and to spread it has to be simple, compelling and relevant.” Word of mouth advertising has always existed and today it includes social media and these characteristics are especially important with social media.  The potential today via social media  is greater than word of mouth advertizing has ever been.

David worked with a Newark, NJ based nonprofit which is expanding the types of programs it offers and would like to expand to have a national presence. David worked with them to develop a new name and logo/identity with the following goals:

• Not limiting
• Has stature
• Competes well nationally
• Works in all media – print, web
Coupled with a key line “transforming young lives through the arts and innovation"  the new name and logo captures what they are all about and has a clear, bold look.

The audience was awed by the potential impact the new organization names and positioning statements could make for these organizations. We felt the brands speak.

Here are some great online resources for nonprofits on the topic of branding.

Nancy Schwartz at Getting Attention - Search categories Branding and Taglines for great ideas on this subject. Nancy’s annual tagline contest and report are not to be missed and will inspire your branding ideas for sure.

Kivi Leroux Miller at the Nonprofit Marketing Guide always has great marketing and communications articles including on branding.
An excellent basic article at Guidestar is Nonprofit Branding: Unveiling the Essentials

Just published by Wiley/AFP:
Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding – by Jocelyne Daw and Carol Cone 

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Convio Online Marketing Benchmark Index– Highlights and My Two Cents

There are two new large scale study reports on Nonprofits and technology just released in March 2011 that have quite a bit of noteworthy information in them. I am again writing two companion pieces on this topic:
You can check out my report on The Third Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report published by NTEN, Common Knowledge, and Blackbaud at the Nonprofit Capacity Blog at
This article has highlights – along with my commentary - from the Convio Online Marketing Nonprofit Benchmark Index™ Study. The report uses data from nearly 600 nonprofit organizations that use the Convio Online Marketing platform.

I am often asked in my workshops about what are reasonable expectations for online engagement. This type of large scale study provides some reasonable benchmarks that can be used as goals. Keep in mind that all of these organizations are all at least somewhat established – many are at expert level. If you are just starting out you will need to work to reach these levels.

Here are some highlights:

Online is the fastest growing fundraising channel for nonprofits. In 2010, Convio’s clients raised more than $1.3 billion online, up 40 percent from 2009. Wow! Now that’s a big number!

Online giving is growing fastest for small organizations – 26% in 2010

Median donation size increased from $83.44 in 2009 to $91.94 in 2010

Website visit growth rate was only 2% and website registration rates declined. So don’t feel bad if your web traffic does not seem to be growing by leaps and bounds. The report speculates that some of this is due to emails and social media providing better communication and thereby having less traffic to websites to keep up to date. My opinion – we are all on web overload and trying to pare down anything that is not necessary.
The total number of email addresses grew by 22% in 2010. The number of email addresses on file has a direct impact on your organization’s ability to communicate, cultivate, and drive actions from constituents. However, the quality of your relationships and how email addresses were acquired are both important and a large email file alone will not guarantee your online success. Organizations that are growing their online results are proactive in collecting email addresses at events and at their facilities –with people they already have a good relationship with.

The open rate for email newsletters was 19% this year. Organizations need to continue to refine their subject lines, content, and use of segmentation to resonate with subscribers. There is a strong differentiation between those who do this well and those who don’t. The 3.06% click-through rate for email newsletters was down slightly from 2009 (3.3%) but remains almost double that of email fundraising appeals.

The Convio platform saw an increase of 19% in the number of online advocacy actions in 2010. There is a great disparity in the types of nonprofits using their email lists for advocacy. A big mystery to me is why 27% of animal welfare organizations are using online advocacy and only 2 ½% of human services organizatios did. Are animals worth spending more time advocating for than people? I do hope that more human services nonprofits will begin look past program delivery and to think about the power of advocacy. An interesting fact and nudge - 6.42 percent of online activists also supported the same organization financially online. Encouraging advocacy can be profitable on multiple fronts and I predict it will be a growth area for nonprofits using their online presence.

Convio concludes their report with this list of common attributes of organizations that have had the most success online:

• Success in driving traffic to their websites by optimizing search engine visibility, using paid search/advertising, offering compelling content, and promoting their site via other media including mail, DRTV and social media

• Effective content and incentives to convert website traffic into registered users who can then be cultivated into supporters

• Proven ability to build large email files via online registration programs, list uploads, and viral campaigns

• Effective email communication through compelling content, segmentation, and personalization to sustain interest in their programs

• Engaging online members through online advocacy and developing strategies to engage new audiences through social networking websites

• Timely delivery of critical/urgent fundraising or advocacy appeals which resonate with constituents

• Proactively test methods aimed at optimizing donation form conversion rates.

• Develop strategies for segmenting email audience and developing dynamic ask-strings that go beyond current Recency, Frequency, Monetary models.

• Engaging and converting offline members/donors through online communications

• A high response rate for online appeals, generated by having an effective case for supporting their organization, segmenting and personalizing their appeals, and testing elements of each email, such as the subject line, frequency, and delivery timing

To see the full detailed report with information by segments, click here

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Where in the World Is Marion?

Over the next two months I have a busy schedule which includes some events that you may be interested in. Here are the highlights and registration information.

March 16 –19   Nonprofit Technology Conference, Washington, DC
Almost 2000 people will gather to discuss “everything nonprofit tech” in action packed day and night activities. I’ll be at workshops on blogging, social media, marketing, online giving, and more. I also signed up for a special storytelling workshop and I will be part of the storytelling team reporting on the conference. If you are on twitter you can follow the hashtag #11NTC for commentary and updates on all the conference happenings. Or follow @MarionConway – I’ll be reporting starting Wednesday night.

I know lots of nonprofit technology experts and I am looking forward to this once a year event to see each other in person and also the opportunity to meet new people.

April 5th     Sax, Macy & Fromm Fist to Five Lecture Series
I have been attending and blogging about these events for the last two years. The emcee host, Todd Polyniak, is a partner at this accounting firm and these programs for nonprofits are very well attended. The topic is Branding for Nonprofits and the program will be held in Clifton, NJ. If you are interested in attending you should contact Danielle Atkinson at (973) 472-6250. I’ll be blogging about the program after the event. One of my favorite articles on one of these forums is:

Facing Changing Paradigms – A Nonprofit Accountant in the Catbird Seat

April 6th      Donating Online - How to Make It Work Best for Your Nonprofit
This is a new workshop that I will be offering due to popular demand. The workshop covers the options for using online donating tools and will help you decide the best option for your organization. It includes tips on how to be more effective with your online donation process. This workshop is sponsored by the Partnership in Philanthropy and will be offered in Chatham, NJ. Click here for more information.

April 30th     Literacy Volunteers of NJ Annual Conference
I will be presenting a workshop on Donating Online - How to Make It Work Best for Your Nonprofit at this conference which will be held at Montclair State University, Montclair NJ. To learn more, click here.

May 16th     5th Annual Mid-Atlantic Grant Professionals Conference
I will be presenting a workshop on Being on a Board: What's it all About? at this conference which will be held at the FEA Conference Center, Monroe, NJ. This conference has a very diversified program with workshops on fundraising and nonprofit leadership. To learn more, click here.

I also have clients I am working with on an executive search, strategic planning and board retreats. So if you get an email from me at a weird time of day in the next couple of months you know why.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

From a Foundation Perspective - What Makes An Effective Nonprofit?

Once in a while I like to write about what “the other side” is saying. The “other side” being the foundation point of view. I recently came across this article by the Association of Small Foundations entitled, “What Makes An Effective Nonprofit?” The thrust of this report is that there are five main characteristics that make a nonprofit effective and donors should consider the overall effectiveness of an organization or the potential of an organization to be effective and give a gift to increase effectiveness. So what do they think is important? The basic stuff of course – but here are some interesting highlights:

The five characteristics which are common to effective nonprofits:

1. Clear mission and purpose - The most fundamental quality of an effective nonprofit is clarity about its mission—both what it seeks to accomplish and why this purpose is important.

2. Ability to perform key functions  - Communicate vision, Engage stakeholders’ input , Achieve results and track impact against a few key measures, Plan for the future and be a learning organization.
3. Strong practices, procedures, and policies -  Effective nonprofits also follow good practices in three functional areas: finance, governance, and organizational and program development.  The list in this topic included:

• Solid fiscal management processes are in place including a board finance committee, careful cash monitoring, and regular budgets monitored with monthly cash flow statements.

• Diverse range of funding

• Efforts to establish and maintain a reserve fund, ideally 3 to 6 months of operating expenses.

• A strategic plan is in place and used. It is reviewed annually and adjusted as necessary. Key staff refer to it when talking to you.

• Regular client input is welcomed and used for continual program improvement.

• Other organizations doing similar work speak highly of the organization.

• Staff can articulate key accomplishments, lessons learned, and future directions.

• The organization is recognized as an institution; it is not identified solely with one or two individuals who work there.

• The organization is able to demonstrate measurable outcomes.

4. Good people -  Above all, nonprofits depend on one key resource to fulfill their missions: qualified, skilled, and talented board members, staff, and volunteers. Since people are key to performance, look for nonprofits that invest in their human resources.
5. Ability to mobilize others -  The ability to mobilize and engage volunteers, other nonprofits, businesses, and government agencies is an essential skill for nonprofits seeking to address the root causes of problems and bring about long-term change.

Recommended Due Diligence
In advising small foundations to do due diligence, it suggests looking at things on this list.  In the financial review it recommends annual reports, 990s, financial statements (which I was glad to see they note an audit is optional and not required) and budgets.  It strongly recommends doing a site visit and talks about the importance of meeting with the executive director, assessing the competence and professionalism among staff and observing the interaction with clients.

I find that many small nonprofits don’t publish an annual report and I think this is a huge missed opportunity. In this report it is listed as the first thing that small foundations should look at.  See my companion piece to this article at the Nonprofit Capacity Blog on nonprofit annual reports.

So What Really Caught My Eye
What is most interesting about this report for me were the last two items – Good people and the ability to mobilize others. I personally really value these two characteristics and I think that too often nonprofits that ARE effective don’t emphasize those characteristics about themselves enough. Listen up – foundations may actually be looking at this.

The report doesn’t discourage a donor from making grants to organizations that don’t meet all of these criteria. Rather it encourages donors to consider the potential of a nonprofit and fund the things it will help make them effective. A summarizing quote: “ As a donor, you have not only the power to identify effective nonprofits but also to build and strengthen the ones most aligned with your goals. In other words, excellent nonprofits are often made, not found.”
An interesting perspective…from “the other side.”

Read the whole report here.