Monday, December 24, 2012

My Wish for You this Year - Merge Strong Traditions with New Vision

Our New - First - Artificial Tree

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.
Every year, I take some quiet time to reflect on the year that is coming to a close and the one that is ahead.   I am so lucky to have my grown children live nearby and to be able to see my grandson several times a week. We made it through Hurricane Sandy unscathed.   I have been busier that ever with strategic planning and board retreat clients this year.  With family, nonprofit clients and summer community responsibilities I have had a very full year. 

Traditions are important to me but adapting to change has to merge with traditions.  Since my daughter and son both spend Christmas Eve with their other families, I had my family traditional Christmas Eve dinner last Sunday featuring an extensive antipasto, favorite fish dishes and special desserts. For the first time this year our tree is a small artificial tree (I love the prelit lights) instead of a large real one.  Adapting tradition and giving it a makeover is working out just fine.

For the nonprofits I work with this has been a year of adapting to the new normal.  This has meant adapting programs to new funding realities, new forms of fundraising, getting serious about social media, and new staff finding their sea legs and bringing new perspectives to organizations which -  like me –  are steeped in tradition.  There has been an increased serious interest in strategic planning and desire to discuss vision for the future.  It has been a privilege to work with nonprofits as they navigate through these changes. I have been in awe of the leaders of so many organizations I’ve worked with.  I have seen difficult situations dealt with and stronger organizations emerge – even if they don’t recognize that yet themselves.  It has been inspiring.

I definitely have to get the piano tuned.
On a personal level, it has been a year of change for me too.  My son has become engaged and we are welcoming a new family member.  She brings a new culture to our home and this morning my son called and wished us Feliz Navidad. My daughter and her family live just a mile away. My grandson is now 3 ½ and change is constant for a child this age.  He is independent, curious and full of life.  It is rejuvenating and exhausting at the same time.  It is such a joy to still be a big part of his life.

For nonprofits 2013 will beckon more change and adaptation.  Nonprofits are becoming more nimble and finding their own voice.  There is less of this “you should run more like a business” and more of “we need to establish priorities and focus on what we do best.”  I see a new energy among Boards and readiness to try new approaches.  Like me, many Boards have strong ties to traditions but we both must realize that traditions must find new ways to manifest themselves.

Each year I offer a wish for you in the new year.  This year my wish is for merging strong traditions with new vision.  Let’s use our imagination to make it happen.  Imagination is on my agenda for forging a Happy New Year with joy and courage to face what the world brings us.  And this is my wish for you.

May You Have a Blessed and Joyous Holiday,


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Take Your Personal Philanthropy to a New Level... Giving with Confidence

I have just finished an excellent book which gives us a lot to think about in developing our own philanthropy plan. Giving With Confidence: A Guide to Savvy Philanthropy is written by Colburn Wilbur, former CEO of the Packard Foundation with Fred Setterberg co-author of Grassroots Philanthropy and Grantmaking Basics.  Their goal is to assist donors who give $5000 to $500,000 a year and trustees of family foundations.  People and foundations who give more have access to professionals and have expertise and methodologies in place to ensure responsible giving.  This book is for the rest of us.  It is chock full of ideas –  they believe that donors who approach philanthropy with imagination, courage, energy and persistence can teach all of us how to be better givers.

Giving With Confidence reinforces some of my own philanthropy style and concerns but it also has made me think about expanding my horizons.  At the end of this article I’ll discuss my personal giving and what I plan to do to improve it.
Here are a few of Colburn and Fred’s suggestions:
Jump in first – The hardest funding is the first one.  Once someone takes the plunge others are willing to consider a project.  Ask any nonprofit executive about this and they will tell you how true this is. It takes courage to knowingly support something unproven.
The value of the undramatic gesture provides a great shout out for what is called “Your Best Investment in the Nonprofit Sector:  General Operating support”
Exceed your giving comfort level – everywhere – Add a zero to the amount you are giving. Colburn and Fred say that we can all give much more than we do and tells us to imagine ourselves as a much bigger donor than we currently are.  
Make your giving courageous, inspiring and imaginative.  Imaginative?   I’ve never thought of my giving that way but I was really inspired by the great real life examples .  
One of the most important concepts I appreciate about this book is the section on establishing values for your philanthropy.  Colburn shared the values of the Packard Foundation:  Integrity, respect for all people, belief in individual leadership, commitment to effectiveness and the capacity to think big. 
Lastly, the chapter entitled “Making Generosity Contagious” deals with such an important concept.  I have written and spoken about children and philanthropy and passing our philanthropic values onto them, but the authors suggest passing on your philanthropic values to everyone by talking about them.  I especially like the example of a woman who starts up conversations while waiting in line about what people volunteer for and give to.  She is making people think about their own giving just by talking about it.

I read though this whole book with a highlighter in hand and believe me it has a lot of yellow highlights.  Then I came to the end and there was this neat summary of “Seven Proposals for More Powerful Giving”
1     Give more to what you care about most – and give first
2     Provide general operating support over multiple years
3     Tap intermediaries to reach places you’ll never go
4     Include risky grants in your mix
5     Improve your philanthropic skills
6     Embrace creative technology
7     Create a culture of giving

What an awesome summary for truly giving with confidence.

This book has made me think about my own philanthropy.  I have been proud of my well thought out approach but now I plan to make some improvements.

Here are the tenets of what my philanthropy has been:
  •  Focused on the sectors that I think are most important and underfunded
  • Specific sectors that I don’t fund at all.
  • Systematically divided support among local, national and international causes and different standards of involvement with each.
  • I have personal contact with most of the local charities I support.  My involvement with a charity getting relatively “major” support from me must be personal.  I don’t write a big check – it’s not a big check in the larger scheme of things, but it is for me – without having a first hand connection and involvement.
  • Teaching children about philanthropy is very important to me.  I know that many people say it is best to encourage children to support their own interests whether it is the animal shelter, zoo or saving trees.  But in all honesty, I don’t do that.  Part of teaching children about philanthropy is teaching values and so when we have shared our giving it does include our philosophy and why we give to what we do.
What do I plan to change?
My philanthropy has been effective, researched and safe.  It is very focused on human needs and education in nearby Newark, NJ, in the nation and in the world.  When you go beyond my local charities you will recognize the names of most of my charities.   Effective, yes;  imaginative or courageous - hardly.  Especially because of my connection to Newark and nonprofits there, I have seen how something small can be big.  I have helped a child choose a free book at a book fair and seen their eyes and smile get wide.  I have mingled with high school students and proud parents in programs that I support and been as proud as a peacock myself.  

Now is the time for me to think imaginatively – to do the types of things that have no other chance of funding.  I have been very focused on results.  Now I want some of my philanthropy to also bring joy and I am willing to try to give “courageously.” 

The authors encourage us to give significantly and suggest that once your kids are grown is the perfect time to do this.  Well my kids are grown.  I’ll have to read that section on the joy of “adding a zero” again.  I’ve done that twice and it’s true you get joy in excess of the extra zero when you do it.

I am making a New Year’s resolution for my husband and I to develop a written set of values for our giving.  I think this is something important that we can pass on to our children.
As an older person, I have treated talking about my philanthropy more like I would my personal finances and been private about it.  But our philanthropy is something we should be proud of and willing to share.  I plan to do this too.

If you are interested in putting more thought into how you give, get a copy of Giving With Confidence: A Guide to Savvy Philanthropy today.  It is full of easy, practical and inspiring ideas to better giving.

Monday, November 19, 2012

2012 Wishlist of Books for Nonprofit Folk and GIVEAWAY!!

Update 12/17/14 - See the 2014 Wishlist here...

Update 12/26/13 - Check out the 2013 Wishlist here....

Update (12/7/12:  Thanks to everyone who left a comment and entered to win a signed copy of Building Nonprofit Capacity by John Brothers and Anne Sherman at the blog, facebook and LinkedIn groups.  The winner is Lynette Davis who left a comment at my facebook page - Marion Conway - Nonprofit Consultant.

From My Own Nonprofit Book Collection
This is the fourth year that I am publishing my Wish List of Books for Nonprofit Folk.  It is a curated list and I am sure that you will find something special that will be of interest and value to someone you know working with nonprofits.  A book from this list will make a perfect holiday gift.

I have tapped my nonprofit network once again and asked them to make recommendations for this annual list.   What I love about writing this article is that I always learn about books that I will want to read in the next year and so I add them to my own wishlist.  In the past I have put the books into categories, but this year I am just listing all of them – in random order.  Check them all out – there are some real finds on the list.

This year’s list comes with a special holiday gift.  John Brothers, author of Building Nonprofit Capacity is offering a signed copy as a giveaway.  Read to the end to see how you can win.

And if that hasn’t whet your appetite, the contributors to this list include Anne Ackerson, Debra Beck, Kathleen Brennan, John Brothers, Heather Carpenter, Nell Edgington, John Haydon, Beth Kanter, Matt Koltermann, David LaPiana, JD Lasica, and Marc Pitman.

I asked the contributors to let me know about their new publications and books that they recommend.  And Wow!!!! What a diverse list it is!!  There is something for everybody.  Whether you are looking for a straightforward practical book or something philosophical and inspirational you’ll find a great recommendation straight from a thought leader for nonprofits. Here’s the wishlist….

Recommended by me. I wrote about this book in September and how I used it at a Board retreat to do a nonprofit lifecycle analysis.  I highly recommend it and conducting a lifecycle analysis on your organization.   Building Nonprofit Capacity provides a modern, updated approach to an important subject and you won’t find another current resource available specific to nonprofits. The model focuses on growth and sustainability and provides realistic characteristics of organizations at various stages of their lifecycle.

by Howard Rheingold and Anthony Weeks 
Recommended by Beth Kanter. This book will enhance your understanding of digital media and its interconnectedness with all aspects of life.  It captures how to use social media intelligently, humanely and mindfully.  Bring your understanding of the net to a new level.

The Nonprofit Business Plan: A Leader's Guide to Creating a Successful Business Model by David La Piana, Heather Gowdy, Lester Olmstead-Rose and Brent Copen
David LaPiana is known as a forward thinking nonprofit strategic planning expert and this book looks at the economic and operational requirements for strategy to succeed.

The Fundraiser's Guide to Irresistible Communications by Jeff Brooks  

Recommended by Kathleen Brennan and Marc Pitman so it MUST be a winner.  Even the title makes you want to read it. Amazon features 5 star reviews by other fundraising notables.  This is a must have for any fundraiser’s bookshelf.

Leap of Reason: Managing to Outcomes in an Era of Scarcity   by Mario Morino

Recommended by Nell Edgington and Anne Ackerman.  Nell and Anne work with nonprofits to develop more effective organizations.  Their work is outcomes oriented and Anne says that Mario Morino “brings a knowledgeable perspective to the discussion of measuring nonprofit impact.”    Excellent reviews on Amazon too.  Big Bonus – this book is inexpensive and available for free on Kindle.


Measuring the Networked Nonprofit: Using Data to Change the World by Beth Kanter and KD Paine

Recommended by J Lasica.  As long as we are talking about measuring, you definitely want to have this new book by Beth Kanter and KD Paine on your list.  Beth is the queen of the networked nonprofit and KD is of measurement.  Together they can help you bring your social media efforts to a new level by adding the all important ingredient of measurement.

Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications by Sarah Durham
Recommended by John Haydon.
  John is not subtle in his recommendation: “If you run a nonprofit, you need to buy this book. Period. Brandraising is the smartest book written on branding for causes and organizations.” Branding is about a lot more than coming up with a catchy phrase and the right colors.  Sarah Durham demystifies what can be a difficult topic and explains clearly its depth.

Facebook Marketing For Dummies by John Haydon, Paul Dunay and Richard Krueger
Recommended by me.  I was lucky to win a copy of John’s new book by leaving a comment on his facebook page.  If you are involved in working with a nonprofit and their facebook presence you NEED to have this book.  Whether it is understanding your target audience, using applications, engaging fans or measuring with insights you will learn what you need to become an expert with this book.

Recommended by Debra Beck.  Debra says”that this book really brings home the importance of developing, communicating and organizing around a compelling mission.  Particularly useful are the exercises and resources – makes it not only inspiring but practical.”  Thanks Debra – I’m adding this one to my list as this is an important topic in my work.

Recommended by Heather Carpenter. Heather uses this book in college level classes that she teaches. If you know a small nonprofit that wants to get started with using social media but has a limited budget and limited know-how, this book is the must have primer.  This book gets 5 star reviews from people getting started using social media for nonprofits. 

This year, for the first time, there are two eBooks recommended.

Lies, White Lies, and Accounting Practices; Why nonprofit overhead doesn't mean what you think it means By Saundra Schimmelpfennig
Recommended by Matt Koltermann. Matt makes a strong call out for this 20 page ebook and has this to say.The idea that a nonprofit should be primarily evaluated by how much it spends on "overhead" has always frustrated me since it's so easily manipulated.  Schimmelpfennig's 20-page book exposes the reasons why it's an outdated metric and armed me with the knowledge I needed to have informed conversations about why perpetuating this method does more harm than good to nonprofits and donors alike.”

Check it out here. 

Since this is Marc Pitman of Fundraising Coach fame, you can get this  any way you want.  Originally, a live seminar in Montreal, you can get this as audio only, audio with PowerPoint slides on a flash drive file or as an eBook pdf file.  Only Marc would give you all of these options.  And no one can be as inspiring and fun to listen to as you learn.
Check it out here

Giveaway Details
If you would like an opportunity to win a signed copy of Building Nonprofit Capacity by John Brothers and Anne Sherman just leave a comment here about a book you would recommend or visit my facebook page and leave a comment with your recommendation on the post about this giveaway.  The winner will be chosen from all comments made by midnight, December 2, 2012. 

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

BoardSource Nonprofit Governance Index 2012

Every 2 - 3 years BoardSource conducts an in depth survey and publishes The Nonprofit  Governance Index.  This important report helps us understand how nonprofits govern,  benchmark our organization and Board to others, and provides updates in trends and recommendations by BoardSource.   My articles about the Nonprofit Governance Index are always popular – and enduring long after they are published.  As always I mix in my commentary along with the objective results – so please don’t blame BoardSource which has diligently reported the data objectively.

Today I am publishing two articles on the 2012 Nonprofit Governance index.  This article covers:

  •  Board Policies and Practices
  •  Board Performance

  • Organizational Characteristics
  • CEO Characteristics
  • Board Composition and Structure

1341 nonprofit CEOs from across the country completed a detailed questionnaire with multiple choice and open ended questions – 66 questions in total.  Large, medium and small sized organizations are fairly represented across all nonprofit sectors. The median budget size was in the $1 - $5 Million range.

So here are the results of all this:

Board Policies and Practices
Adoption of accountability measures has continued to increase since the revision of IRS Form 990, which began requiring disclosure of governance policies in 2009. 96% now have conflict of interest policies and 88% have whistleblower and documentation retention and destruction policies.  81% of boards have a formal written evaluation of their CEO and provide 990s to Board members before filing.  This represents significant progress with accountability by Boards on these  important responsibilities.  Boards are definitely taking their responsibilities more seriously than in the past.

44% of nonprofit Boards meet 4-6 times a year and also 7-12 times a year.  It’s a dead heat.  I am often asked how often is most common and I always say that I have seen every frequency.  This data bears that out.  What is also true is that if there are fewer meetings the meetings are longer.  Boards reported spending 35% of their time on committee or staff reports and 38%  on strategy and policy issues rather than operational issues.  88% of Boards report 75% attendance at meetings or better.  Sounds great but I think they are counting more tele and video conferencing than in the past since 47% say they use these technologies.

55% of the respondents report that they have conducted a formal self-assessment in the past three years, but nearly 30% of respondents report that their Board has never conduct­ed a formal, written evaluation of its own performance.  When I am contacted in the early stages of Board Retreat planning, I frequently recommend conducting a Board Assessment and I have an excellent tool for conducting an assessment.  I am surprised that so many Boards don’t consider this an important thing to do.  ALL of the organizations that I have done an assessment with have found it helpful and it provides an excellent springboard for discussion on how Board performance can improve.  If you haven’t done a board assessment, seriously consider it.

Board Fundraising
75% CEOs report 90% to 100% personal board giving.  This is good news.  However,  while 75% of CEOs say that expec­tations regarding fundraising are explained during recruitment,  40% of nonprofit CEOs report that their board members remain reluc­tant to participate in fundraising activities.  CEOs identify fundraising as the most common area needed for board im­provement, and fundraising is consistently the lowest scoring area on the board report card.  I have seldom met a nonprofit CEO that does not have this complaint. But frankly – no egg throwing now – I think the expectation in small -  especially urban based -  nonprofits is frequently unrealistic.

Board Orientation
This chart clearly shows the value of having formal Board orientation.  Boards that do report having a structured orientation report having significantly more well informed boards.  It does make a difference.

Board Responsibilities
BoardSource asked CEOs to assess their Board’s performance in the responsibilities outlined in the BoardSource publication, Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards. Over 80% of CEOs rated their Boards as having a grade of A or B in their understanding of the organization’s mission and financial oversight.  From there the grading goes down rather precipitously. Once again, as in past surveys, boards received a low grade for fundraising. In fact 45% of CEOs gave their Board a D or F in fundraising. Not very encouraging.