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.

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.

How should you decide?

When your nonprofit organization faces a significant challenge or a new opportunity, how does it decide what to do?  Do we go with the executive director’s gut reaction?  Or does the E.D. trust the gut reaction of the board chair, hoping that the chair and the board will bail the organization out if the decision turns out to be a bad one?

David La Piana’s book, “The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution: Real-Time Strategic Planning in a Rapid-Response World” creates clarity and a process for:

  • framing the key questions
  • identifying options
  •  evaluating them in light of the organization’s mission, market position, and competitive advantage.

It is well worth reading. (And implementing!)

Here are four criteria you should always consider  :

  1. What is its value to our mission?  Is the proposed activity of high, medium, or low importance?
  2. Will it pay for itself? Does the activity have a dedicated income stream?  Will it generate a surplus or a deficit?
  3. What is our competition?  How will this activity position us vis a vis our competition?
  4. Do we have the capacity? What will it take for us to begin to produce this activity? What kind of strain will it put on our administrative structure?

La Piana suggests we leave the gut behind, create a better understanding of our own organization, generate criteria (like those above) for evaluating options, and hold each opportunity up for careful evaluation.

I believe there will be great long-term value in this course of action for nonprofit organizations that pursue it.

Great Fundraising Letters Do This!

Today’s donors — and don’ters – are being assailed from all directions. How can you make your end of year appeal letter stand out and get the funds you need for your non-profit?

Remember these tried-and-true-but-somehow-not-followed-by-most-fundraisers tips:

  1. Write to a person – from a person.
  2. Make sure the letter fits the addresses. If that person is new to your organization, a line or two explaining what you are doing is needed. If that person is a donor, start with thanks!
  3. Be specific. If you need $10,000 for the new heart monitor, say so. And let them know how close you are to getting it.
  4. Give them limits. If $10 will feed a family of four for a month, ask for that amount – but make sure you also give them the opportunity to feed 3 families or 10 families.
  5. Tell a story – and tug on those heart-strings. Paint a picture about the problem and how your organization fixed it to make your message – and your mission – more compelling.
  6. Add visuals – a lunch bag for food appeals, a child for pediatric research.
  7. Make it scan-able – short paragraphs, simple sentences, vivid words, subheads in bold, lots of white space. Use the word “you” often.
  8. Use colored paper to stand out.
  9. Include your website many, many times. (Most donors will go online to check you out or donate.)
  10. Add a P.S.  This is the most widely read part of the letter. Include the call to action and a deadline. Keep it to a line to two.

Making the Most of Your Volunteers – Part 2

Last month, we shared five ways to involve and properly manage volunteers so that they can add the greatest possible value to your nonprofit today and grow into an even more important role in the future. Here are five more ways to maximize the value of your volunteers.

1. Create a schedule of volunteer activity and stick to the schedule as closely as possible. Frequent changes convey a lack of appreciation for the volunteer’s time.

2. Orient volunteers to the organization, not just to their tasks. Provide training as needed, including periodic sessions covering the organization’s overall mission and programs.

3. Request and value input from volunteers. A true relationship includes talking and listening. You may learn much by listening to volunteers. Provide an opportunity to interact with the Executive Director and the Board, on occasion, to share information in both directions.

4. Engage volunteers beyond their tasks. Invite them to events, hold listening sessions, and include them among stakeholders participating in strategic planning sessions. Provide mission-related education opportunities that volunteers will value as another way of thanking them for their service.

5. Track volunteer involvement and recognize it on a regular basis and at an annual recognition event.

Making the Most of Your Volunteers – Part 1

Volunteers provide valuable support for nonprofits, contributing significantly to their mission impact. Even more importantly, when volunteers are engaged and their experience properly managed, they have the potential to become generous donors and effective board members.

But how do you engage volunteers now for maximum long-term benefit?

Consider these five tips:

1. People volunteer because they are asked. Use “consider” language when asking someone to get involved: “Would you consider volunteering with us? We could use someone with your skills to help out in our XYZ program.”

2. Get to know each volunteer, her abilities, and interests.

3. Outline volunteer opportunities, identify potential matches, suggest and agree on the assignment.

4. Provide a job description and written instructions to remove uncertainty about the assignment.

5. Have one person, a volunteer coordinator, consistently greet volunteers, thank them, and provide instructions. By getting to know each volunteer, the coordinator makes each person feel known, welcome, and appreciated. This will keep volunteers coming back.

Look for more ways to maximize your volunteers for the sake of your mission next month.

Show Donors You Get Results — and Get More Donations

A new survey of 15,000 donors, published in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, says that they want to give to organizations that achieve strong results. Fundraisers need to show their charities are fulfilling their mission.

This is great news for fundraisers because four out of five Americans plan to give at least as much this year as in 2011.

That information should also resonate with the 44 percent of donors who said they could have afforded to give more last year.

Who is most apt to give?

More than any other age group, donors age 65 and up cited nonprofits’ need as a reason to give.

Middle-age donors want to know the charity they give to is the best of all organizations working on that mission.

While donors under age 35 care about results, they care more about building a community of like-minded givers: They want to get their friends and family to support a cause they believe in. They are also more apt to give to new causes. And they plan to give more in 2012 than in 2011.

An executive summary of “The Cygnus Donor Survey: Where Philanthropy Is Headed in 2012” is available free online.

You can read the complete article at http://philanthropy.com/article/Many-Donors-Would-Give-More-if/132437/

Who gives online – and how much?

I recently attended the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Franklin Forum where keynote speaker Katya Andresen, Chief Strategy Officer for Network For Good, shared these gems about online giving. For more of this kind of information, check out Katya’s blog: www.nonprofitmarketingblog.com.

Online giving has grown from nothing in 2001 to more than $20 billion per year in 2010. That’s 10% of all of the giving that comes from individuals each year.

For the past several years, the total amount that is given online has increased by 20% or more.

Most online donors (65% in 2011) give through a charity’s website (as compared to giving portals and social networking sites).

Nearly 70% of offline givers check the charity’s website before they make a gift.

More than 50% of Generation Y use their mobile phone as their primary internet access, so make sure:  your e-mail looks good from a smart phone; links can be seen and read; and the landing site looks good when someone clicks through.

Peer networks really matter. Only 6% of people believe the claims of marketers, but more than 90% believe acquaintances – even very distant.

“Slacktivists” – people who click to support of an issue or cause online – are great sources of support. They are: twice as likely as non-social media promoters to volunteer; more than four times as likely to encourage others to sign a petition or contact a politician; twice as likely to take part in an event; and more than twice as likely to ask for donations.

My Chance to Give Back

I always enjoy attending clients’ fundraisers, to meet in person so many of the people who are passionate about the cause and to help them raise more money for mission.

But it was extra-special for me last month, when I won the 50-50 at Libertae’s Spring Fashion Show and Dinner — $400!

I was thrilled to be able to donate the money back to the organization, which has been helping recovering women reclaim their lives and their families since 1973. (Learn more at www.libertae.org.)  I’ve seen others do that and always admired them so much. This time it was my chance to give back. It was a little taste of philanthropy and, oh boy, was it sweet!

One friend suggested that those winnings might have purchased one of the fabulous dresses we all admired so much during the fashion show.  True. But I get a bigger rush of satisfaction picturing a happy mother welcoming her new child (maybe Libertae’s 100th baby born into recovery – coming this fall) because of the generosity of all who attended that event. I’m honored that I got to be part of it.

Communicating with the Board

It is an honor and a pleasure to introduce my first guest blogger on More Money for Mission, my father, Dr. Richard Welsh. Always a source of wisdom and inspiration for me, he is also a brilliant and intuitive nonprofit administrator who has taught me a great deal about problem solving within nonprofits. He also provided me with my first look at the inner workings of a nonprofit as I grew up living on the campus of the Maryland School for the Blind where he was Superintendent. I always credit his influence and this interesting early experience as my impetus for pursuing a career in the nonprofit sector. Thanks Dad!

Communicating with the Board — by Richard L. Welsh, Ph.D.

As a proud father, I have actively followed Kathy’s blog and been naturally impressed with her ability to articulate helpful insights in the area of non-profit administration and development.  After all, I did admit that I am her father.

Having spent most of my career as a chief executive officer of non-profit organizations, I always have opinions about what Kathy writes, and we have had many conversations about the experiences that we have had.  She has invited me to consider writing a guest blog based on one of those conversations.

I have often considered the relationship between the CEO of a nonprofit and his or her Board as similar to the relationship between spouses. In one of my CEO positions, I was definitely attracted to the job by the opportunity to work closely with the man who was the chairman of the Board. However, most of the time, the relationship might be characterized more like that of an “arranged” marriage. The partners may not have chosen each other and may not be “in love” with each other, but they are committed to making the relationship work.

The relationship between a nonprofit CEO and his or her Board, like the relationship between spouses, will work most effectively if it is based on good communication and trust.  Typically, a Board depends on the flow of information from the chief executive to do its job.

Board members are not usually knowledgeable about the technical areas addressed by the nonprofit agency. They are not around the agency on a frequent basis and do not have a good sense of how things operate. When they are there, they often feel that they need to keep an arms length from the staff less they cross a line into inappropriate communication. In most areas, Board members have to depend on the chief executive for the information they need in order to carry out their responsibilities for policy-making and even their responsibility for evaluating the CEO.

To facilitate the Board’s effective decision-making, the CEO has to communicate with the Board thoroughly and effectively. This includes both the good news and the bad.  In my experience, I developed the operating principle that if there was bad news that the Board needed to hear, they needed to hear it from me. This was an important element in establishing and maintaining the level of trust that was needed in order to make the relationship between the executive and the Board work effectively.

Similar to a marriage, there has to be a level of trust that allows a spouse to tell one’s partner even the most difficult truth. Nothing undermines that trust more than the discovery that one’s partner has kept a problem secret. Once a CEO has given the Board a reason to wonder if there are problems that have not been shared or if there is more to the story, it is difficult to put that possibility out of one’s mind in all future communications.

The success of a nonprofit organization depends on a Board that makes correct and courageous decisions in the best interest of the organization. Its ability to do so depends entirely on the trust that it has in the CEO and on the effectiveness of their communications.