Amy Wishnick, Wishnick & Associates

Strategic Planning often feels like a daunting task for leaders of nonprofit organizations because the process has many components. Another perspective is that strategic planning is invigorating because, among other activities, it offers organizations the opportunity to engage an array of stakeholders – internal and external – and learn from their insights.

The board of directors and staff are the obvious and fundamental internal stakeholders. Each has a unique, central role in the planning process. Their reflection on strengths and challenges, articulation of aspirations and goals, and desire to seek the organization’s next level are essential to developing a visionary yet realistic strategic plan.

Another key to a high impact strategic plan is engaging external stakeholders – your funders (foundations and corporations), individual donors, organizational partners, clients, and even those who do not use your services or have chosen not to fund or contribute to your organization – in the process. By asking focused questions and listening to these stakeholders, you benefit from their observations and discover:

Amy Wishnick

Amy Wishnick

* What about your organization they value.

* What distinguishes your organization from others they fund.

* What makes your organization a desirable partner for collaboration.

* Why do they seek your services.

* What are their hopes for your organization.

* What compelling issues their organizations face.

* What critical environmental issues, important to all nonprofits, they cite.

An additional advantage to engaging external stakeholders is that the process builds bridges and fosters closer relationships with these organizations and individuals.

Often organizations contemplate skipping this step in the strategic planning process. Think again. Engage as many external stakeholders as you can. Welcome diverse points of view and new information. Weigh it. Take it for the valuable resource that it is. Decide how it matters to your organization and how best to use it. Finally, enjoy the richness of the strategic planning process.

Amy Wishnick, Principal of Wishnick & Associates, works as a trusted advisor with a wide array of nonprofit clients on projects geared to clarifying priorities and building capacity, such as strategic planning, organizational assessments, and board development. Please visit Amy’s web site and Linkedin profile.

Highly recommend this video.

TED caption:

Activist and fundraiser Dan Pallotta calls out the double standard that drives our broken relationship to charities. Too many nonprofits, he says, are rewarded for how little they spend — not for what they get done. Instead of equating frugality with morality, he asks us to start rewarding charities for their big goals and big accomplishments (even if that comes with big expenses). In this bold talk, he says: Let’s change the way we think about changing the world.

Everything the donating public has been taught about giving is dysfunctional, says AIDS Ride founder Dan Pallotta. He aims to transform the way society thinks about charity and giving and change.

Compared with other sectors, change in the not-for-profit sector seems to occur at a glacial pace. While we see the fads, the players always seem to be the same.  However, that comfortable world is seemingly being washed away bringing new ideas and energy to the sector.

Last week I attended “How to Become an Impact Entrepreneur” hosted by Impact Engine at Google Chicago and learned firsthand of the massive changes our sector is undergoing.   Impact Engine is a 16-week accelerator program that supports for-profit businesses that have a social mission.

A new generation is throwing out the old model of not-for-profit organizations and business and the two rarely shall mix (outside the occasional social enterprise).  With this generation, young entrepreneurs see the 501(c)(3) as one of many incorporation options when starting a business with a social mission. And, yes, they consider everything to be a business, just some businesses have a social mission and some don’t.

Rather than the mission, the personality of the entrepreneur and the business plan are driving the decision how a new business will incorporate.  The perspective is shifting from that of a social service provider to an entrepreneurial model that will drive change social change and create social good.

Consequently, it’s also a different take when it comes to fundraising.   Rather than seek out the usual suspects in the foundation world through written proposals, entrepreneurs are pitching to investors in accelerator programs, such as Impact Engine and 500 Startups.  A new generation has overlaid the venture capital model and placed it onto mission-based organizations.

Experiencing this radically different perspective first hand was rather uncomfortable.  While unsettling this new perspective could ultimately be good for the not-for-profit sector.   We now have new models for program and organizational design and funding that break out of the old concepts.  At a minimum, it certainly brings new people and ideas into our world.

It seems like the last thing we want to do is revisit the year-end fundraising push.   Even in the best of times, it’s a challenging and crazy time to raise every last dime.   Even so, it’s important to start the year off right by highlighting your achievements and lessons learned in 2012.   Right now is a perfect time for the Board to review a succinct and well-designed report recapping the year.  You don’t even have to wait until the next Board meeting – the sooner the better.
Just a few tips to get you started:
    • Channel your inner artist and create a report with graphs and charts so that Board members can easily and quickly grasp your results.  This is fundraising so it shouldn’t be challenging to understand.
    • Informally “interview” a few Board members so their thoughts on the year are addressed in the report.   For example, they may have found a particular talking points document helpful and they would like that to continue this year.Pie Chart
    • Have a trusted Board member or other fundraising volunteer review the draft report and provide feedback on the document.
    • Celebrate the successes of the Board and other volunteers in fundraising!
    • In your charts, be sure to include comparisons with the last 3-4 years.
    • Most importantly, interpret the fundraising results for the Board members and other readers.   What did you and your team learn during the year?  How will you implement those findings in 2013?
    • The metrics in the report should align with your organization’s strategic plan along with any other reports the Board regularly reviews.   For instance, if the goal in the strategic plan is to diversify funding, you’ll want to report on that with a nice pie chart.
Peter McDowell, Founder/Principal, Peter McDowell Arts Consulting
I thought I would take time to share with you a short list that changed my life in 2012, taken from Howard Schubiner’s excellent book, Unlearn your Pain. Nominally the book is about back pain, but the words below can be used effectively in work and career situations to unblock situations and to help move forward with projects and goals in a positive, healthy way. I have used these with my clients and will continue to do so in 2013. Schubiner’s words are simple, yet powerful, as quoted below:
Peter McDowell
Peter McDowell

“One of the most important aspects of…improving your psychological health is to be kind to yourself. I cannot emphasize this enough. It is very easy to develop and maintain a self-critical attitude. I urge you to take time each day to be kind to yourself. You can do this…by catching yourself in self-critical thoughts, and by doing some things for yourself. If you forget a task or don’t finish all the work or errands on your list, be kind to yourself.

Here are some examples of what I mean by being kind to yourself.

    • Accepting that you are human and that you cannot be everything to everyone.
    • Accepting your faults and realizing that you are a good person.
    • Forgiving yourself for your mistakes, just as you would forgive others whom you love.
    • Learning to say “no” to certain requests.
    • Sending positive and caring messages to yourself.
    • Recognizing that many others have been in your situation and have survived and thrived.
    • Accepting your feeling as being normal.
    • Catching yourself when you send critical messages to yourself and replacing those with kind and understanding messages.
    • Figuring out what you need and not being shy about asking for it or taking steps to attain it.
    • Taking time for yourself to do things just for you or just to allow you to relax and enjoy life.
    • Standing up for yourself.
    • Realizing that you are an important person on this earth and that you deserve to be happy and healthy.”

Read this list everyday, and you will find that certain burdens, fears, or concerns will dissipate, freeing your mind and your energy for active pursuit of your goals and happiness. My best wishes to you for a happy, healthy and productive 2013!

Peter McDowell Arts Consulting offers full-scale Public Relations and Web development services for the arts. We also offer strategic career coaching for performing artists, as well as capacity building and organizational development for small to medium-sized performing arts organizations. and

Eileen Wagner, President of Wagner Design

So, here’s the thing about design: you’re doing it even if you think you’re not. But what are your materials saying about you? What are they doing

Eileen Wagner

Eileen Wagner

for you?

Design matters now more than ever. From corporate giants like Apple to start-ups, to small mom and pop businesses, organizations that harness beautiful, strategic designs are succeeding in incredible new ways.

But great design isn’t just for for-profits. Nonprofits like Feeding America, Charity: Water, ONE International, Product RED, and the World Wildlife Fund have made design central to their work.

These innovative organizations have a profound awareness of the power of design to signal quality, communicate purpose, visualize their impact, and create experiences that inspire and engage audiences, old and new. As attention spans decline, donation options increase, and digital noises proliferate, harnessing design has become one of the most powerful ways for an organization to amplify its influence.

Use design to advance your cause, incorporate specific imagery, color psychology and layout. Images of faces have been shown to attract more donations, because donors want to feel the personal touch when choosing a charity to support. Appropriate colors are key to creating a tone and feeling, consider the urgency of red or the earthiness of green. A well done layout gets key messages across quickly by focusing the viewer’s eye. Let them know what is most important, make them see this first.

Use design effectively. Design is about creating meaningful experiences and sharing your story. Good work deserves good design!

Eileen Wagner, Creative Director and Founder of Eileen Wagner Design, has more than 20 years of experience developing innovative, strategic graphic communications. She has designed and developed successful products for clients in the non-profit, educational and corporate sectors.

All to often, staff and board volunteers consider fundraising revenue as something to fill the shortfall from earned revenue and expenses.   That couldn’t be farther from the truth.   Fundraising activity doesn’t exist in isolation but is an integral part of an organization’s revenue mix.

Here’s a quick example:   a performing arts organization has a short fall in attendance and wants fundraising to fill the gap. Unfortunately, it’s unrealistic for fundraising to fill the gap because current and potential donors are probably among those not attending and so are less engaged in the organization’s mission.   It’s imperative to address and remedy the organization’s business challenges first.

Here are a few questions board and staff need to ask:

  • How do we maximize ALL revenue from all tactics (ticket sales, contracts, classes, major giving, special events)?
  • What are the returns on our investments in each of these revenue streams?  For example, is our marketing working?
  • Is there a revenue stream that will ultimately drive fundraising? Or, what is the portal that can generate earned revenue and is ultimately a source of donors in the long-term.  For example, a performing arts organization will need to build an audience before creating a committed corps of donors.   A great example is the Old Town School of Folk Music that uses its classes for earned revenue in the short-term and as a source of identifying donors in the long-term.
  • Are expenses in line with our revenue expectations? Trust me, if your expense are unsupported by your business model, fundraising won’t fix the problem.
Bonnie Massa, Founder and President of Massa & Company


I can hear you now. “Bonnie, are you nuts? I have to get everything I can for free! Someone volunteering to build my database would be a dream come true.”

In 27 years of working with NFPs, I’ve seen too many organizations jump at getting a free database, only to “get what they paid for” a few years later. Here’s a real life example.

A volunteer programmer built a donor database for an organization. There were a few problems. He created it in an obscure programming language no longer in use four years later.  Staff could put information into the database but only view it on-screen. There was no tool for searching the data and no reporting. For any printed reports, the staff had to call the volunteer.

The  volunteer also built a separate database for a 1,500-item auction fundraiser. However, it didn’t connect with the donor database. Donors could exist in both databases but this could only be discovered by manually cross-referencing the two.

The NFP was willing to live with this situation, because the database was “free.”

But during the 2007 auction, the volunteer had a heart attack and died.  There was no backup for the database, no documentation, no business rules, no staff who knew how to access information, and no one who understood the programming language. This organization ending up spending $30,000, at one time, to start over with a single database for donors and the auction with reporting and queries that made them self-sufficient.

Data capture and storage are essential to your work. I believe your database is your second most important asset-right behind your people. Please treat it with respect by not allowing volunteers or well-meaning programmer friends to create your database at seriously reduced rates or for free. The money you invest in building and maintaining the right database will prevent a crisis, allowing you to focus on your mission and fund your organization.

Massa & Company understands the needs and budget constraints of not-for-profits. We use a proven process to take the mystery out of fundraising software selection and donor database management so you can focus on your mission!

As a Board member, I understand the role Board members can play in fundraising and the limitations of those roles.   As a staff member or consultant, it’s all too easy to forget that Board members primary concern is their family, their career and hopefully than their volunteer efforts.   It’s imperative to remember those priorities when working with Board members.
Here are a few quick tips for directing your Board members to the right projects.
    • Provide discrete time-defined projects for Board members, such as strategic, marketing and fundraising planning.
    • Give Board members very specific tasks such as calling a prospect or facilitating a meeting and then following up with that Board member.
    • Create specific goals and timelines for the Board members to follow for the project.   Or, focus exclusively on creating those goals and timelines at the beginning of the project.
    • Appoint a committed and qualified leader to champion the project.
    • Regardless of the project, set specific expectations for communication between Board and staff.
Pitfalls to Avoid:
    • Avoid appointing Board members to ongoing projects such as overseeing the grants calendar. Board members rarely have the time or focus on maintaining something this important.  However, feel free to delegate tasks from the calendar to a Board member.
    • Avoid projects that are somehow politically charged unless the Board member absolutely understands the challenge and is ready to navigate the political waters.
    • Avoid projects that are not a good cultural fit for the Board member.  Don’t put a business professional type with others who are “grass-roots” types.

I had the pleasure of learning from Ray Odom, National Director of Wealth Strategies at Northern Trust, at a recent planned giving seminar sponsored by Northern Trust and Advocate Charitable Foundation.   It was fascinating to learn more on how wealth advisors approach their work and the language they use with families and individuals.   For those of us on the not-for-profit side, it gives us a “heads up” to how our donors are being advised by attorneys, accountants and other wealth advisors.

According to Ray, all wealth will eventually be transferred whether we like it or not (yes, you will die).   That wealth can be categorized as the Three C’s:  Consumption that must be quantified; Confiscation (taxes or unintended beneficiaries) that must be minimized; and Contribution which must be optimized.  In this world, Contribution can be to a charity or a family member. Hopefully, the donor understands what the charity will do with the gift and that applies to non-charities as well.   For example, the donor may give to a family member to attend school or fund long-term health care needs.

Those contributions use the ABC method, as outlined by Ray, in this chart.   All too often, we don’t think about a donor’s intent in such a structured manner.   Among the questions we need to ask ourselves before approaching a donor:  how does this gift help fulfill his or her closeness with family and their community?; how will it further his or her spiritual growth?; and how does it celebrate their own achievements?

Ultimately, the gift is not really about the organization, but about the spiritual and emotional needs of the donor.   If we ignore that in our conversations with donors, we’re only short-changing the organization and its mission.