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GuideStar Blog

Round-up of 2013 GuideStar Blog Posts

Season's Greetings!

The GuideStar Blog will be on hiatus for winter break, and will be back on January 2. Of course there’s still a ton of great content to peruse! Below is a quick round-up of posts that you may have missed or just want to read again:

Philanthropedia Research Results: 18 Top Bay Area Nonprofits Working in Climate Change


Climate change is a terrible problem, and it absolutely needs to be solved. It deserves to be a huge priority.  --Bill Gates

Cultivating the Ultimate Board: Interview with Kay Sprinkel Grace

Kay Sprinkel Grace, author of The Ultimate Board Member's Book, recently spoke with her publisher about nonprofit boards. GuideStar has published an excerpt from the book, and we're pleased to be able to share Ms. Grace's additional thoughts with you.

What's the most common mistake organizations make when recruiting board members?

Not fully describing what's expected in terms of their role and responsibilities. Too often we understate expectations because we want people to serve. That's self-defeating. Full disclosure from the beginning will bring you amazingly dedicated and committed board members. By the same token, understating the requirements ("You only have to come to meetings—the staff does everything else") will backfire and create resentment.

Do You Know Who's Next? Planning for Changes in Leadership

Steve Ballmer rocked the tech world earlier this year when he announced his upcoming retirement. Why was that so shocking (other than Microsoft's being the 800-pound gorilla in that industry)? The news instantly generated more questions than answers, mainly because there wasn't a clear successor. People within Microsoft, those who do business with Microsoft, and manufacturers who rely on their Microsoft products were all wondering, "What's next?" That kind of upheaval is tough to overcome, as evidenced by the continuing dialogue in the media around Microsoft's future.

If you've ever been part of a nonprofit that goes through an abrupt leadership change, you've experienced a version of this upheaval. In the nonprofit world success is tied to relationships and trust. Both take a hit when the leader leaves and there's no clear successor or plan for succession. On the other hand, if there's a plan in place and someone is ready to step in, or there's a defined path to finding the next leader, you've answered many of the questions that supporters, partners, board, and even staff may have about the changes.

Before you work out the details of a succession plan for your organization, it's important that you get the board and leadership to agree on the need for the plan. It should be an organizational decision that is presented in writing, approved formally by the board, and reviewed regularly to ensure the plan remains relevant.

For larger organizations, the ideal situation often is to have one or more internal candidates who can be groomed to take on the top job. Just because a plan is in place, however, doesn't mean that the individual(s) receiving additional training and preparation are "automatic" to get a promotion; that point should be made clear to all. This concern should not be an impediment to developing a plan with an internal candidate and then doing everything possible to prepare that person to take on more responsibility.

The situation with most nonprofits, however, is that they don't have enough "bench strength" to have internal candidates. In this situation, it's even more important to have a written succession plan. In fact, the plan should address two distinct possibilities—what would be done if there were an immediate loss of the leader, and what is the long-term plan as a result of an anticipated departure (e.g., retirement). Call the first option the "Lottery Scenario," where the leader leaves the organization abruptly. In this situation, is there someone (a staff member, board member, volunteer) who could take over on an interim basis? If not, there are organizations and individuals that provide interim leader services for a price. In either of these cases, the solution is temporary, but it can ensure that operations are maintained until a longer-term solution can be arranged.

The longer-term solution also addresses the second possibility, a leader's planned departure. In this situation, the succession plan may call for a formal executive search for the next leader. This process will take time (and probably some expense), but it allows the organization time to go through a thoughtful and deliberative process. That is, the organization should step back and evaluate what traits, experience, and skills are needed to move the organization in the direction the board has determined. If done properly, the search also will cast a large enough net to ensure that the candidates identified have the ability to lead the organization for years to come.

A well-done succession plan accomplishes more than one goal. Certainly it lays out a clear path to replacing lost leadership. It also sends a message to constituents—the organization is in it for the long haul—even beyond the tenure of current leadership. The nonprofit has thought through what to do when it's time for leadership to change and wants those associated with the organization to know that they are doing everything in their power to ensure that the valuable services provided continue into the future.

Bill Hoffman, Bill Hoffman and Associates, LLC
© 2013, Bill Hoffman and Associates, LLC

Bill Hoffman has more than 30 years' expertise in various aspects of the nonprofit sector, having worked at all levels of nonprofit organizations, including serving as chief executive of a $6 million education foundation for 9 years. He and his firm have written and presented on topics ranging from board development to community and volunteer engagement, organizational development and performance, and best practices in national, regional, and state publications and symposia.

#IGive4 Update

Our #IGive4 campaign celebrating donors and the nonprofits they support is going strong. The photos on this page are just a few of the inspiring and creative images people have shared. You can see more on our #IGive4 page or by searching "#IGive4" on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr.

Increasing donor support with Okanjo Nonprofit Solutions

A recent study by the Urban Institute and the Association of Fundraising Professionals had some scary results for nonprofits. While there was a 34 million dollar net growth in charitable donations from 2012 to 2013, 96% of those gains were offset by losses in giving. For nonprofit organizations, a 4% national increase in giving simply isn’t enough.

Memorable Nonprofit Messages: What’s Crucial but Unknown?

How to make social sourced reviews work for your nonprofit

Think about the last time you bought something online. Did you look at Amazon or Google reviews first? Did you use use Yelp to find a great local restaurant? TripAdvisor to help coordinate your last adventure? CitySearch to find a hotel?

1 Billion Reasons to Love GuideStar

What is GuideStar's Impact?

How does GuideStar talk about itself? Depending on the audience, we talk about our mission (transparency and better decision-making), web traffic (10 million visitors annually), our specialty (IRS Form 990s), or our size ($10 million), among many other operational measures. But we don’t typically talk about our impact.

Saving Time with Simplify

New Rankings: Top 16 Nonprofits Working in the Field of People with Disabilities

Collectively, people with disabilities constitute the nation’s largest minority group, and the only minority group of which any of us can become a member at any time. What’s more, people with disabilities are among the most marginalized groups in the world.

-- Disability Funders Network

Four Volunteer Predictions for 2014

Technology and demographic shifts are changing how nonprofits engage volunteers. If you're not ahead of the curve, then you may be missing out on golden opportunities to expand your volunteer network.

Cornerstone donor

Does your organization have a cornerstone donor? Someone who gives generously, understands your culture and your financial landscape, offers good advice and encouragement, and is willing to imagine with you the next phase of the organization’s growth?

Make the most of charitable giving this December

Although year-end fundraising plans are mostly finalized for many non-profits, it isn’t too late to incorporate a few additional best practices into your existing strategy.

Follow-up to Brandraising Webinar

Below is a follow-up by Sarah Durham, principal and founder of Big Duck, to a handful of questions submitted by participants during the webinar titled “Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications," and a cross-post of our Tumblr posts here and here. To view the presentation or listen to the recording of the webinar, please click here.

Little-Known Funding Sources: Where to Find Them?

It's always exciting when a funder or group of funders announces a new initiative. Often these announcements involve millions of dollars being pledged to "help stamp out ________ [fill in the blank]" or generate a whole new way of looking at a particular social issue.

But what I find just as exciting are those moments when I run across a foundation or business program, or even a government program, that is little known and completely catches me by surprise. To see people giving to people and causes, at all levels, and in many different ways, is so very gratifying.

Lately I've been doing a lot of research around philanthropy and national and international associations. I've been taking on this research because I record a podcast each week (about three minutes) that highlights these unique and sometimes difficult to uncover grantmakers. And I have found some real jewels.

For example, the Toy Industry Foundation, which is part of the Toy Industry Manufacturers Association, is the focal point for the philanthropic efforts of toy manufacturers. The foundation collects toys and funds from companies across the toy industry for the benefit of children in need.

The foundation held its most successful one-day toy collection in its 10-year history this past February. They gathered more than 42,000 toys and games worth over $400,000. This big collection of toys was held on the last day of the American International Toy Fair, an annual event.

A number of toy manufacturers participated in this collection, some you may have never heard of such, as Little Tykes, Timeless Toys, and the Tin Box Company,and others that are household names, such as Mattel.

These manufacturers donate everything from bikes and outdoor toys to dollhouses, action figures, puzzles, and books, and a lot of other items as you can imagine. (And some of which you'd have to be a toy manufacturer to imagine!)

These toy industry champions give globally as well as in their own communities to a pre-selected list of about 1,000 carefully vetted charities across the country that support military youth, foster children, impoverished communities, disaster-stricken neighborhoods, children battling illness, and many other populations in need.

Another interesting association is the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, which offers an unusually diverse set of products that can be useful when offsetting typical budget items for some organizations—things like diapers, medical supplies, electronics, furnishings, a whole array of medical/health care products, even transportation-related products.

The beauty of these types of giving programs is that the association lobbies their members for donations. They ask them to contribute excess inventory and other items, and then the association helps deliver the products to nonprofits in need of these items.

These are just two examples of hundreds of such associations that have giving programs. Start doing a little research, and you'll uncover a small gold mine of potentially new funders for the work you do.

Cynthia M. Adams, GrantStation
© 2013, GrantStation

Cindy Adams is CEO of GrantStation, a premiere online funding resource for organizations seeking grants throughout the world. Providing access to a comprehensive online database of grantmakers, GrantStation helps nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and government agencies make smarter, better-informed grantseeking decisions. GrantStation is dedicated to creating a civil society by assisting the nonprofit sector in its quest to build healthy and effective communities. GrantStation has a holiday sale going on right now and also offers a weekly podcast, Talk2020, that discusses the U.S. and international grantmakers in its database.

What to Do When You're Without: Interim CEO and Chief Development Officer Options

Today's nonprofit news is full of articles about CEOs and chief development officers (CDOs) leaving their nonprofits to move on to new positions or new careers. In fact, more than one-third of CEOs say they are burned out, and half of CDOs anticipate leaving their current positions in the next two years (Nonprofit Compensation & Benefits Survey and Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising).

In the face of these organization-altering changes, nonprofits are expected to pick up the slack and continue leading and fundraising during the interim period. These circumstances shake up even the strongest nonprofits and often result in further vacancies. As a nonprofit leader, you must be prepared to make quick, smart decisions to keep your nonprofit's programs, operations, and fundraising on track, regardless of your staff turnover.

What Are My Options?

If you are stuck without a CEO or CDO, you have three options:

  1. you can promote a new leader from your current staff;
  2. you can hire someone new; or
  3. you can outsource.

Most nonprofits are aware and informed about the first two options. The third option, which has been around for years, has proved to be an incredibly beneficial alternative.

The Benefits of Outsourcing

Outsourcing nonprofit leadership ensures consistent and stable operations. An interim leader can help maintain focus and momentum, accomplish fundraising and program objectives, and keep donors and staff connected.

Outsourcing leadership also allows a nonprofit to engage experts in the field so that you can focus on maintaining relationships with staff, donors, boards, and prospects. Interim leaders can help you set the right path in order to achieve goals—allowing you to be proactive with your constituents and to focus on achieving your mission.

For example, in September 2012, the Northern New Jersey Region of the American Red Cross hired a nonprofit consulting firm when they lacked a full-time CDO. Shortly thereafter, Superstorm Sandy hit the area. The consultants quickly changed focus to keep the regional team organized and focused, opening lines of communication with national headquarters and recommending tactics for donor relationship management. The consulting team also helped develop a long-term stewardship plan for the scores of new donors who contributed more than $20 million to the disaster recovery.

Long-Term Outsourcing

Many nonprofits experience extremely high turnover at the CEO and CDO levels. This can be a result of a difficult board or other leadership; misaligned expectations; or the need for strategic review or restructuring of the position or nonprofit. If this is the case for your nonprofit, outsourcing your open position on a long-term basis might be a good option.

Long-term outsourcing can make sense when you want to hire a team of professionals with vast and varied experience rather than one full-time employee. The most important thing for an organization functioning without a permanent leader in any area is to create and follow a strategic plan of action. Long-term outsourcing can help your organization both create and implement this plan and ensure that you are spending time on tasks that will be the most beneficial.

For example, Youth, I.N.C. (Improving Nonprofits for Children), a $5 million nonprofit in New York City, has used consultants as a permanent outsourced leadership and fundraising team since its founding 20 years ago. The nonprofit has outsourced both its executive director and chief finance officer functions, which enables the full-time staff and board to focus on managing Youth, I.N.C.'s programs. Additionally, members of the outsourced team provide development management services to fundraise for all of Youth, I.N.C.'s events, including A Celebration to Benefit New York Kids, which raises more than $2 million annually, and Trading Day, which raises more than $1 million in support of Youth, I.N.C.'s mission.

How to Find Consultants for Outsourcing

If you are looking to outsource your leadership position, you can search under the term "outsourced fundraising" against the consultants listed in the Association of Fundraising Professionals' Fundraising Consultants and Resources Directory or click on the "full service fundraising consultants" category in the Chronicle of Philanthropy's Marketplace. Alternatively, if you have relationships with fundraising consultants that outsource, you can issue a request for proposal (RFP) to describe exactly what your needs and requirements are for the consulting firm. This allows your board and senior staff to compare the strengths and previous experience as a means of qualifying consultants to find the best fit.

Emma Kieran, Orr Associates, Inc.
© 2013, Orr Associates, Inc.

Emma Kieran, vice president, Fundraising and Development, Orr Associates, Inc. (OAI) brings more than 13 years of professional and volunteer fundraising experience. Since joining OAI in 2007, Emma has worked with many of OAI's nonprofit clients on a broad range of projects including development planning, capital campaign management, event management and marketing, outsourced development management, board building and management, and strategic planning.

Emma has served as the interim chief development officer for two regions of the American Red Cross—North New Jersey and the National Capital Region. In both roles she led a team of fundraisers through challenging times to reach their annual fundraising goals and implemented strategic fundraising plans for each donor category. Emma worked onsite with the staff to help them refine their fundraising approach and tackle day-to-day challenges. In New Jersey, Emma helped her team raise over $20 million in response to Superstorm Sandy.

Questions I'm Most Often Asked about Winning Foundation Grants

In my decades of running charitable foundations, I read tens of thousands of proposals. Many share the same characteristics I'll touch on below.

Since nearly all foundations are required to disburse some of their funds each year, grants are always made—to someone. Over the years, grantseekers have asked me how they can increase their chances of being among the ones chosen.

Here are answers to the questions I'm most often asked:

How Library Foundations are helping Public Libraries stay open: Insight for the overall nonprofit sector

Like nonprofits, Public libraries have evolved into organizations that provide expanded services to the local community. They go beyond just books and often act as an anchor in the community, providing a full array of educational and social services.

Share your story on #GivingTuesday

Get Corporate Donations in Four Easy Steps

For most nonprofits, corporate donations are only a small piece of the puzzle, accounting for just five percent of all U.S. donations in 2011. However, the benefits of corporate donors extend beyond their monetary contributions. They give your organization a publicity boost, which can spark an increase in donations from individuals and other companies.