Thursday, January 27, 2011

News and Nonprofit Technology Mysteries - Is There a Gap? Funding?

I plan to continue to blog here at Marion Conway - Nonprofit Consultant but I want you to know that I am now also a host blogger at the Nonprofit Capacity Blog of the Free Management Library.  The library, also know as is a major resource used by nonprofits and it is exciting to be writing for this large audience.  I was quite surprised when Carter McNamara asked me, and I will be writing two posts a month as does my co-host, Ingrid Zacharias.

Here are the links to my first two posts:

The Nonprofit Technology Gap – Really? New Report Sheds Light on the Issue

I am working on a new newsletter with Strategic Planning as the topic so please sign up now for my newsletter to be emailed soon.


Monday, January 24, 2011

US Government Meets Transparency via Creative Commons

Transparency in nonprofits and grantmaking foundations has been a serious topic of discussion in recent years and every time some baby step is taken there are people like me who write about it and laud it. But now the federal government has taken a BIG step – as big as only the government could take. The reaction has been a little quiet but I think it will begin to roar as people learn about it.

Last week the Department of Labor in partnership with the Department of Education announced $2 Billion in grants to support educational and career training programs for workers. The program has two important distinctions: the magnitude of support for 21st century job skill training and for making grantmaking transparent at a new level.

What makes the grants transparent? The grants require that the training materials, curricula, online courses, and other courseware created by grantees with taxpayer money be made freely available for reuse to the public by means of a Creative Commons License. Wow! Every picture or graphic I use on my blog is from Creative Commons. I always talk about using CC to spruce up your blog or presentations in my workshops. I go to FLICKR, search on a word or phrase and under advanced search choose Creative Commons license only. Its as simple as that.

This means that any nonprofit or institution other than those with the grant can use these materials developed with our tax money in their own training programs – at no cost. The government has paid for them and has decided to make them available for free to anyone who wants them. And it will easily be available at Creative Commons not by some arcane hard to get and know about method. The government has actually been taking quite a number of steps towards transparency with the products of their funding. It is of course in some area a complex issue that cannot be handled with a broad brush everywhere. You can read a more thorough report of other government departments and the steps they have taken here.  
This is big news. And the Departments of Labor and Education should be thanked for taking this step. Besides the practical benefits, it sets a new high note for the power and benefits of transparency. I hope it rekindles the discussion of transparency in grantmaking in the private sector too.

Friday, January 07, 2011

We’re Back So Let’s See Some Action... Resolutions for Nonprofits in 2011

Well, it is a snowy day here in New Jersey and I enjoyed the homemade pea soup I made earlier so now its time for this more serious post. For the last three years I have asked some experts on my LinkedIn network to provide their recommendations for New Year’s resolutions for nonprofits – and people associated with nonprofits. Once again they have come through with such great advice – and quite a diversity of recommendations. There is even a video recommendation submitted by Marc Pitman!
Last year I said the resolutions had a “Lets straighten up and face the future squarely and show them we’re ready” panache. This year they have more of a “We’re back in business so let’s see some action” tone.

I thank all of the nonprofit professionals who contributed to this post making this such a rich set of encouraging ideas that all of us can use as we develop our goals for this year. Click on their names to go to their websites. I’ve grouped them by topic for easy reference.

Amy Eisentstein and Linda Lysakowski offer straightforward, no nonsense advice

Amy says: “Ask More Frequently. Specifically, incorporate an individual giving program into your annual fund and ask at least 10 people for gifts, face-to-face, this year.”

Linda says: “ Invest in development and not expect instant results.”

Building Relationships and Marketing
Maria Semple’s recommendation encourages us to take a more integrated view and develop deeper relationships with key donors:

"Resolve to become less dependent on special events to generate revenue and focus instead on establishing quality relationships with individuals who can make meaningful gifts to your organization. Try doing smaller, more intimate cultivation events that will enable people to learn more, ask questions, and become engaged. Find a way to stay in touch either via email marketing, snail mail, and social media (or preferably all 3!). The social media piece is free, so take advantage of uploading photos and videos to tell your nonprofit's story & successes. If you find it is too time consuming to maintain it yourself, then find a high school student who is looking to build their college resume and help your nonprofit at the same time."

Marc A. Pitman submitted the first ever video recommendation for this list. He says: “I'm really taken by the simplicity of Scott Harrison's message in the video I posted today.
I think nonprofits should resolve to:
(1) Watch this clip and
(2) List out three things they'll change in their organization as a result!"
I watched the clip and you can’t help but be encouraged to action by it.

Elizabeth Clawson suggests an excellent professional development activity for us to learn more about the finances of the organizations we are associated with. I plan to recommend this one to organizations I work with…and it has the makings of an excellent blog article.
"Know your 990. Assuming your organization files one, print out your most recent IRS Form 990 and have staff review it during a meeting. This is a great way for:

1) Executive staff to introduce the form to others;
2) Finance/accounting staff (if any) to clarify part of their work and answer questions;
3) Fundraising staff to understand what grantmakers see when they evaluate funding proposals and highlight recent sources of funding;
4) Communications staff to glean new statistics from the numbers (such as dollars invested in programs, diversity of funding, etc.)
5) All staff to better understand the organization's finances and see the balance sheet that translates their often intangible work into real-world numbers. "

Jean Block has a resolution for the New Normal: "Nonprofits have got to diversfy their revenue this year...relying on traditional funding sources and the same old 'tried and true' fundraising will simply not cut it anymore. We hear lots about getting in tune with social media as the new trend, but I would add that investing in social enterprise (earned income) should be an important part of every nonprofit's tool kit."

Susan Detwiler has a recommendation for us as individuals: "Just for today, I will set a realistic goal to accomplish in the next 8 hours, leaving time to handle the inevitable fires, so I am not sidetracked by them. Repeat."

Hmmmm….sounds simple enough but could be hard for many of us unless we stay disciplined about it.

Finally my own two cents....

Most nonprofits have been through the mill in the last couple of years and many of those who have landed on their feet are in a new place. Carter McNamara recently made a list of trends he sees coming in 2011 and action planning is one of the main trends on his list. I think this is a good trend and doing action oriented strategic planning is my recommended resolution for 2011. Stay tuned for a detailed post on this subject.

This list is not intended to be exhaustive, rather it is intended to give you ideas provided by some experts to consider for your own list of resolutions and objectives for 2011. Thanks again to each of the contributors to this list - you have provided us with an encouraging list of ideas on which to build our 2011 resolutions. I hope you will visit their blogs for ongoing commentary throughout the year – I know I do.
Do you have ideas you would like to add to this list - I'd love to know what they are. Please share your ideas by posting a comment to this post.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Make the 25th MLK Day a Day "On" not "Off" for You and Your Organization

This year is the 25th anniversary of Martin Luther King Day. The theme for this year’s Day of Service is built around Dr. King’s quote, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'" Whether you are looking for something to volunteer at, want to sponsor a project at work that day or are a nonprofit with a project looking for volunteers a good place to start is the official MLK Day website. It is chock full of resources and links with information about where you can volunteer and register your project.

Here are some ideas I posted last year – with a couple of new ones…..

Not a Holiday for You – No problem! Easy ideas for Service on MLK Day – No Excuses
If MLK Day is a work day for you why not see if your employer is willing to sponsor an early quit for a group who volunteers at a local charity or lead a food or winter coat drive at your workplace. It is a good day for group activities and lots of nonprofits are prepared with one day or short time frame projects.

Or how about sponsoring a re-gifting opportunity. Ask co-workers to bring in a holiday gift they got and don’t really want and bring these new items to a shelter.

Nonprofits Take Action – Now!! Today! – MLK Day is January 17th!!!
If you are a nonprofit - right now – not tomorrow – register your projects available for MLK Day at and at any local databases collecting projects such as your local Volunteer Center or United Way. This is a perfect opportunity to introduce your organization to new volunteers and supporters. The projects do not have to be elaborate. Onsite projects like painting a room, cleaning out and organizing closets are popular projects. Don’t pass up opportunities for after work groups to come for an hour or sponsor food or other drives at their workplace. Are you an arts group? Do you need some help working on making sets – a great after work project.

Need Professional Skills? List it in all the databases you can. Ask for help with your website, marketing materials or social media launch. Or how about resume writing and interview coaching at homeless shelters. Would a local beauty salon/barber be willing to sponsor haircuts and a blow dry for homeless mothers? Perhaps a plumber or electrician project is just waiting for the right person to come along and volunteer.

Don’t forget to market your volunteer opportunities….
Your website…facebook for starters.. Consider putting up signs so that current volunteers and passersby can see that you have volunteer opportunities available for individuals, families, work teams, organizational groups, etc. Be prepared that day to give people some information about your organization, get their contact information, and see if they’d be interested in volunteering in the future. How about name tags for existing volunteers with stickers identifying each of them as a “Gold Star Volunteer.” Or have your current volunteers lead the work projects.

It is free and easy to register your projects. You never know - the perfect person may show up on a cold winter morning and begin a lasting relationship. This opportunity is to good to pass up.