Of Metrics and Mission: Data Matters

“A revolution has begun: data are transforming the nonprofit world.” This quote from an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, written by Nicole Wallace, points to a major trend toward the use of data to guide program development, fundraising strategy and many other central elements of nonprofit business.

In truth, the push for better, more meaningful data has been going on for some time.  Funders have been asking for measurable objectives and evaluation plans for over twenty years. And for all of that time, small and mid-sized nonprofits have been wrestling with the challenge of how to quantify their impact on the community, what to measure, and how to afford a proper evaluation process.

In the past month, I’ve heard two new ideas that I think are worth sharing.

1. I met a young woman who has recently taken a new position at a small nonprofit in Montgomery County, PA with the title “program improvement administrator.” Intrigued, I asked her to describe her role.  She is focused 100% on quality improvement.  Her job is to help the organization better understand what they do well so they can enhance it, and, at the same time, understand where there are gaps and how they might fill them. I believe the position has the potential to add great value if only because it will force the organization to systematically consider the impact it is having, the impact it wants to have, and what it can do differently to enhance that impact.

2. At the 2014 AFP Franklin Forum, keynote speaker Marc Morial, President of the National Urban League, shared the outline of an evaluation process he has instituted for his organization and all of its regional affiliates. He provided valuable suggestions to address two of the most common challenges of developing metrics.

First, in response to the challenging question of what to measure, Morial advised that the organization focus on the very purpose of its existence, at the heart of the mission statement, and create ways to measure the organization’s impact on that.  The mission of the Urban League is to enable African Americans to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power, and civil rights. He and his administrative team crafted four aspirational goals related to the mission, including having every child prepared for college, work, and life; every child graduating from high school; every person having a good job that pays a living wage and provides benefits, etc. But each of these goals begs the question of how to measure progress over time.  Compared to what?

The second insight Marc shared goes to that point.  He and his team developed a baseline study that they publish every year that creates an “equality index” comparing the relative condition of African Americans and Latinos to white Americans in the United States on parameters like employment, health, and civic engagement. They developed programs that they believe will directly impact on these parameters, thereby moving the needle on the equality index. And every year they report on how the relative condition of African Americans and Latinos has changed.

The missions of most small and mid-sized nonprofits are not as far reaching as the Urban League’s mission.  If our purpose is to impact our community, or a particular population in our community, we need to consider existing baseline data, or collect our own.  Then we need to be sure our programs are aligned with our desired impact. And, as we measure year after year, we need to consider how we can adjust our programs to enhance our impact and fill in the gaps where they exist.

It is time to take a “do it yourself” approach to the question of measuring impact and come up with a sustainable, meaningful process that will help your organization meet outside expectations and enhance mission impact.

The Junior Board – A Great Vehicle for Developing and Recruiting Board Members

Last month I was invited to provide a training experience focused on strategic planning for the Junior Board Members of Bucks County’s Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA). While I was teaching, I was also learning about this excellent vehicle for developing potential nonprofit board members. Each year, NOVA recruits 10-12 people to its Junior Board for a one year experience. What happens next is a Win-Win-Win.

Win #1: Junior board members receive training at their monthly meetings on a range of topics essential for board performance, from budgeting to fundraising to strategic planning and more.

Win #2: NOVA receives the service of these individuals on several volunteer activities, including an annual fundraising event that is planned and executed by the Junior Board. And NOVA gets to see these individuals in action and has “first dibs” on recruiting them to the NOVA Board if there is mutual interest.

Win #3: Area nonprofits benefit as NOVA helps to connect its Junior Board graduates with organizations that match up with their passions. NOVA doesn’t have space for all of the year’s graduates, so others get the benefit of recruiting these young professionals that NOVA has helped to train.

Every nonprofit could benefit from pursuing a combined learning/recruiting strategy like this one.

Engaging Celebrities in Fundraising

The B’more Gives More campaign on Giving Tuesday 2013 effectively engaged well known Baltimore personas, like the Mayor, as leaders of the charge to get people to make a gift to charity on December 3rd (Giving Tuesday).  Even more exciting was their strategy to ask celebrities who hailed from Baltimore to retweet information about the campaign to their followers on Twitter. B’more Gives More raised an astounding $5.7 million for 300 local nonprofits on Giving Tuesday 2013. (http://bmoregivesmore.com/)

I wondered about the likelihood of getting celebrities to retweet posts about nonprofit organizations that may be connected to regions or causes they care about.  A post by “EngageYourCause.com” offers great advice on how to get your tweet retweeted by a celebrity.

1. Do your research. Celebrities, especially those with very high follower counts, are inundated with requests to “Please retweet”. Find out what topics the celebrity tweets about and whether or not that meshes with your cause….

2. Engage before the ask. There are many ways to engage a celebrity before asking them to retweet a post. Build a relationship with them. While people with millions of followers don’t often have time to respond to every tweet they receive, they do read them. They also notice who is retweeting their posts on issues they care about. Take the time to do a few retweets of your own and talk to them like you would other non-celebrities on Twitter. It will go a long way to showing them that there is a human behind your cause.

3. Be prepared. Is your server ready to handle the traffic if the tweet goes viral? There’s nothing worse than getting the exposure, but not being able to capitalize on it due to poor planning. Also, think about the landing page people will hit after the tweet. Unless the cause is extremely compelling, people are not going to want to make a donation if this is the first time they’ve heard about your organization, but this would be a great time to point them to a pledge or an email sign-up form to get their information and engage with them again.

4. Don’t put all your eggs in one celebrity basket. While getting a tweet from a celebrity is great, it should be considered a bonus and never the end goal of any strategic plan. Who else are you working to engage on Twitter? Try to find people with 10k-20k followers who are talking about your cause. You might find that engaging with those “influencers” is more valuable than chasing the holy grail.

For more, check out http://www.engageyourcause.com/resources/2012/06/21/how-to-get-a-celebrity-to-retweet-your-tweet/.

What quiet leaders bring to nonprofit boards and organizations…

I’ve been enjoying “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. Though I am an introvert, the book isn’t for introverts alone.  There are some interesting reflections for nonprofit organizations considering questions of board/organizational leadership, board engagement, and board recruiting. Here are a few:

On Board/Organizational Leadership: Cain writes that some of the most effective leaders of organizations are introverts.  She quotes Jim Collins who said “We don’t need giant personalities to transform companies.  We need leaders who build not their own egos but the institutions they run.” An introverted leader is more likely to listen to the ideas of others, making it more likely that good ideas will bubble up to improve the organization overall.

On Board Engagement: Groupthink is a major concern for boards that may realize there is little dissention or true discussion at board meetings. Cain cites research in support of this concern. She writes: “Peer pressure, in other words, is not only unpleasant, but can actually change your view of a problem. These early findings suggest that groups are like mind-altering substances. If the group thinks the answer is A, you’re much more likely to believe A is correct, too.” Cain suggests that we should find multiple ways to engage people and elicit ideas and information from them in settings where group dynamics don’t always rule.

On Board Recruitment: Cain’s research seems to suggest that nonprofit organizations should be sure to recruit introverted board members.  She writes: “Make the most of introverts’ strengths – these are the people who can help you think deeply, strategize, solve complex problems, and spot canaries in your coal mine.” So, while they may not be the most gregarious or likely to work the room at a fundraising event, there are many strategic advantages to having introverts on the board.


Events – Smaller is Better

When planning events, most nonprofits think “big.”  How can we get more people to attend and spend more money to net more revenue? But that kind of thinking often results in spending more money, using more labor, and having less quality interaction with event participants.

When it comes to events, smaller is often better.  A small dinner with 10 guests can provide more personal involvement and greater investment in your organization over time.

These events are likely to be much less expensive and much less labor-intensive. But, most importantly, they provide a better opportunity for personal interaction with guests that can lead to a strong connection to the Executive Director and current Board members (your true believers) — and a clear mission connection to the organization.

These smaller events are much more valuable to the organization than big “fundraisers” for building relationships that can lead to sustaining, unrestricted funding and meaningful involvement over time.

Take Time to Think in 2014

Happy New Year!  To start 2014 off right, I’m brushing off my favorite resolution from years past:  Think.

There’s been a lot written about the power of thinking. Book titles like “The Power of Positive Thinking” and “Think and Grow Rich” come to mind. And there’s a bunch of research about how our thoughts affect our ability to accomplish our goals – emphasizing the need to change your thoughts in order to change your life. But even knowing all of this, most of us rarely devote any time or energy to purposeful thinking.

In our fast paced world of stimulus overload and constant interruptions, we spend most of our time acting and reacting. Many of us probably believe we don’t have time to think.

My resolution for 2014, and I hope you’ll make it yours too, is to think. Dedicate some energy each day to purposeful thinking. Quality thinking is a time-saving, change-making, goal-realizing skill.

John Maxwell has written a book about thinking called “Thinking for a Change: 11 Ways Highly Successful People Approach Life and Work.” In this and other books, Maxwell recommends daily uninterrupted thinking time. He suggests finding a regular place that is conducive to thinking and keeping a notebook for writing down both the topics for future thinking time and the breakthrough thoughts that come to you during that time. When I do this, I find this time is some of the most valuable of my day. It seems to put me into a more thoughtful, purposeful and strategic mode for the whole day.

If you’re not used to this practice, it may be difficult to get started. But it is totally worth the effort. Purposefully work to build a thinking habit. Schedule one half hour of thinking time at the same time each day for two weeks and keep that appointment with yourself.

Some of my best thinking time takes place when I find myself at my children’s guitar or karate lessons with a notebook, a problem to consider, and no e-mail or phone interruptions. A good idea comes to me and I can actually think it through – because it’s not an option to jump up and take action at that moment. Hint – a good idea can get even better with some additional thought. Stay in your thinking place for at least 20 minutes. You’ll be amazed at what you come up with – and how much more productive and effective your actions will be when based on clear, purposeful thought.

Sometimes I’m surprised by how difficult it is to stay with one activity (thinking) for even a short period of time. Rapidly changing activities has become a habit for me and my brain seems to demand it. When I try to stay with one thing for a while, I get antsy – feeling like I must be missing something. And I start checking e-mail. I find I have to redirect myself to the task at hand. It helps if I turn off the computer and the smart phone as the extra effort it would take to turn things on again is enough to remind me of my original intent.

At other times, we are stopped in mid-thinking by questions that pop up and seem to need an answer before we can go on. Whatever you do, don’t go to Google! Internet browsing time is not quality thinking time. Soon you’ll be checking e-mail, making an online purchase, and all of your thinking time goes right out the window. If there’s something you need to research, just note down the question and make it a task for later in the day – before your next thinking session.

Taking time out to think each day can help you achieve great things, including making great leaps forward in pursuing your goals in 2014.

#GivingTuesdayBucks 2013 a Success

The success story that is #GivingTuesdayBucks 2013 goes well beyond a story of gifts made and donations received; beyond a story of increased awareness of needs in Bucks County and the important role that nonprofits play in meeting those needs; and beyond a story of numerous local nonprofits that ramped up their individual capacity to participate in a social media campaign and benefit from online giving.  It is a story of the successful collaboration of more than 80 organizations from all parts of the County that attracted attention far beyond expectations and put Bucks County, Pennsylvania on the national map.

As part of a national day to inspire philanthropy, #GivingTuesdayBucks did not disappoint. With 52 of the 83 nonprofits reporting their results, over $38,600 in donations were received through more than 360 gifts.  This was only the second year of existence for Giving Tuesday and only the first year of participation by Bucks County nonprofits. Growing awareness is likely to result in increased donations in years ahead. But the impact of this year’s donations is significant and as varied as the scope of the participating organizations. Many nonprofits indicated that the donations they collected will support core operations – an important priority as no organization can exist without such support. Of those that identified a particular need to be met with Giving Tuesday donations, the following projects were memorable: bully prevention for youth across Bucks County; respite vacations for two families facing cancer; assistance with vet bills for an animal rescue organization; repairs to a historic bridge along the Delaware Canal; and support for Camp Courage, a summer camp for kids on the autism spectrum.

Feedback from participating Bucks County nonprofits tells the story of organizations with a wide range of levels of experience with social media and online giving.  More than a handful had no capacity to receive online gifts prior to this fall and pushed to acquire it in order to participate in #GivingTuesdayBucks.  Many more were motivated to build their capacity in social media marketing, generating some of their first Facebook posts, tweets, and YouTube videos to support their involvement. Others used the opportunity to build their capacity to track and better understand the impact of their organizations’ outreach activity on website traffic, online giving, and social media engagement.

Statistics from the shared website of #GivingTuesdayBucks (www.givingtuesdaybucks.org) suggest that the initiative was also a success from the perspective of building philanthropic awareness in the region.  The site experienced nearly 3,200 unique visitors from its launch in mid-October through December 3rd.  There were 799 visitors to the site on December 3rd alone.  Many participating organizations reported that their boards were energized by the experience and they were pleased with the results that frequently included attracting new followers and donors and reestablishing connections with lapsed donors in a very inexpensive way.

Arguably the greatest success of #GivingTuesdayBucks is grounded in the broad-based collaboration of 83 nonprofits representing the full spectrum of diverse causes present in Bucks County. Participants were genuinely interested in putting aside perceived competition for donors and, instead, working together to draw attention to County-wide needs and to engage many more people in the work of making the County an even better place to live. They were led by a committee of 16 individuals with diverse talents who added additional responsibilities to their already full plates for the sake of creating something special. It was because of this unique local collaboration that #GivingTuesdayBucks received surprising national attention, including a specific mention in the White House Blog (http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2013/11/26/celebrate-givingtuesday) and the United Nations recap of Giving Tuesday (http://www.unfoundation.org/blog/top-ten-givingtuesday.html).

None of this could have been accomplished without the support of #GivingTuesdayBucks media partner The Bucks County Herald; website partner IQnection; and the #GivingTuesdayBucks committee. Members of the committee included Laura Biersmith (Mercer Museum), Marissa Christie (United Way of Bucks County), Alex Dashkiwsky (Heritage Conservancy), David Ford (Family Service Association of Bucks County), Eric Jacobson (IQnection Internet Services), Florence Kawoczka (Habitat for Humanity of Bucks County), Jen King (Penn Foundation), Tony Luna (Pearl S. Buck International), Melissa Mantz (Bucks County Housing Group), Jessie Marushak (Bucks County Opportunity Council), Ann McCauley (Bucks County Audubon Society), Jenny Salisbury (A Woman’s Place), Tammy Schane (Heritage Conservancy), Liz Vibber (Catalyst Center for Nonprofit Management), Joe Wingert (Bucks County Herald), and myself, Kathy Beveridge (Spark Nonprofit Consulting).

Plans for #GivingTuesdayBucks 2014 are already underway, and there is every reason to believe that participation and impact will continue to increase going forward.  More than 86% of responding organizations indicated they are very likely to participate again in 2014. Stay tuned, Bucks County.

A Black Belt in Board Development: Ideas to Enhance Productivity and Engagement

One of the reasons I love to meet with nonprofit boards is the fruitful exchange of ideas that always leads to something new and valuable.  In a recent discussion with board members at the Laurel House board retreat, one such idea emerged.

We were talking about the value of including a time in the board meeting for members to share concerns about their processes and interactions. This is critical, particularly as recruiting and retaining board members often hinges on the experience that they have when in attendance at board meetings.  If we improve the board experience, we are more likely to keep good board members, and they are more likely to want to invite good people to join the board.

The challenge is to find time for these important insights.  Placing this discussion on the agenda at the end of a long meeting is sure to discourage board members from speaking out for fear of annoying their peers who are ready to go home.

A brand new member of the Laurel House board shared a solution from her work life.  She worked as a “black belt” for G.E. As such, it was her job to gather data and use it to drive good decision making.  (An awesome skill set for a nonprofit to have in a board member!) She recommends that the board have a flip chart and distribute Post-it® notes to members. During and after each meeting, they write up “plusses and deltas” – positive experiences (plusses) and areas for potential improvement (deltas)—on the Post-it notes and stick them to the flip chart on their way out of the meeting. The board chair or executive committee reviews them and tweaks the board processes accordingly.

I hope you’ll share your ideas for enhancing the productivity and engagement of your board members. E-mail me at kathy@sparknpc.com.

A Checklist for Your New Board Chair

If you have ever prepared to take the lead position on a nonprofit board, you know you really want some guidance.  Every bit of wisdom from your predecessor might be the bit that will help avert disaster.

As I was preparing for the Laurel House Board Retreat, board member Patricia Younce mentioned that she and her board co-chair had prepared a checklist to pass on to their successors. It’s a wonderfully practical tool created to pass along the knowledge they gathered, making the transition easier for the new board co-chairs and less likely that they would overlook key items.

These tools are even more valuable when their format can be progressively enhanced.  The next leaders can add to the checklist so it represents the collective knowledge of several generations of leaders.

I encourage every organization to begin this process of documenting key tasks, schedules and lessons learned for the next person in succession.

Send me your version of the checklist or other tools that your organization uses to make succession easier at kathy@sparknpc.com.  I’d love to learn from your experiences and effort.

It’s Not Who You Know

“There’s a lot of wealth in the area, but a lot of it is with younger people who have not come into the giving mode. They need education, and persuasion.”

This quote from H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest appeared in an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday by Peter Dobrin, the Inquirer’s Culture Writer.  In the same article, fundraiser Eileen Heisman, president of the National Philanthropic Trust, comments, “We always have new generations of wealth, but you have to know where it is and figure out strategies to cultivate it, and that takes a lot of very creative work.”

The article has a lot to say about the new generation of donors, what they care about, whether they feel a sense of obligation to give, and what they may or may not be looking for in terms of involvement with the nonprofit organizations they choose to support.  These are all important things to consider.  But what really interests me is the article’s subtle emphasis on the important role of fundraisers. Not just professional fundraisers, but also volunteer fundraisers, i.e., board members.

Too often, board members assume that fundraising is about “who you know.”  If they don’t already have a relationship with someone who makes six figure gifts, they are inclined to think, and to say at board meetings, “I don’t know anyone with money.”  In reality, potential donors are all around us.  And fundraising is not a phone call.  It is a process – one that takes education, cultivation, creativity, and persuasion.

Fundraisers need to educate potential donors (everyone) about the mission and importance of the organization. We cannot assume they know about our good works.  We must talk about them.

Fundraisers need to cultivate relationships with potential donors. When I think of cultivation I think of gardening. You plant the seeds, fertilize, pull the weeds, protect the seedlings, stake up the young plants, and eventually, you get to enjoy the fruit of your labor. Similarly, the fundraising process takes time, care, and dedication.

Fundraisers need to be creative. They need to think about what kind of invitation will make a potential donor say yes, making that first connection to the organization. And once that connection has been made, they need to create a path along which that potential donor is likely to move toward greater engagement with and more giving to the nonprofit.

And fundraisers need to be persuasive. Fundraising is convincing and persuading for a cause.  How will the gift enhance the mission, leverage other donors, and bring value to the community?  What will convince this donor to make this gift on this day?

Fundraising is not mysterious. It is hard work that takes time, thought, and creativity. Everyone can do it.  And if you believe in the mission of your organization, it is well worth the effort.