Category: How tos

Breaking the Nonprofit Financial Glass Ceiling

The fact is that a financial glass ceiling exists for nonprofits — a limit, which many nonprofits hit, where the money just won’t grow. They may have a great solution to a social problem, but they are unable to attract the money necessary to deliver on that solution. I see this all the time in my consulting practice. A nonprofit has existed at a certain budget level — let’s say $1.5 million — for years and years, and though they have big ideas for how much more they could be doing, they just can’t seem to get past that $1.5 million mark.

2019 | Nonprofit Predictions by Carolyn Appleton

So, what does the future hold for nonprofit organizations? One thing on which most of us can agree is that this year has been a tumultuous one for the nonprofit sector. My predictions for 2018 emphasized the following topics. I elaborate on each and welcome your questions and observations at any time.

I begin with a quote by David Callahan for Inside Philanthropy in his article, “Trump Effect: Six Ways Philanthropy Has Changed in the Past Year” (January 23, 2018). It sums up our situation well at the conclusion of 2018.

“It’s been an interesting time. Many funders have responded with a combination of new work and business as usual, feeling their way along in a fast shifting, and often alarming landscape. Others have radically changed how they think and operate. And then there are some foundations—many, actually—that have kept doing exactly what they were doing before in areas that are quite removed from national policy battles. Overall, it’d be wrong to say that the 2016 election has disrupted philanthropy in any seismic way. But it’s also hard to recall a period of so much anxiety and action within the funding world.”

How to Tell Stories About Complex Issues

Storytelling is one of the greatest tools we have for engaging communities on complex social and environmental issues, in ways that can drive belief and behavior change. People are far more likely to remember information if it reaches them in the form of a story. Good stories also have an incredible ability to reduce counterarguing on divisive issues. And when people are transported by a great story, they remember the events in the story and feel like the experiences were their own. As a result, the story has the power to influence future beliefs on related issues.

Breaking the Ignorance Ceiling

Why this book screamed to be made In the US, as of 2017, there were something like 1.3 million government-sanctioned charitable organizations. It’s a growing sector: at current rates, about 47,000 new US charities are born each year.[1] Is that a lot or a little, for a nation of some 330 million? I say it’s a lot. After all, the same population gets by with… Read more »

“In a billion-dollar campaign case,” she wondered, “where do you stick the ‘letter from the Dean’?”

Ummmmmmm…. Good question, Echo. ¶ In our little world [The Case Writers], where we pretty much get to write and design whatever we think is best, working with a group of clients who want exactly that, every “normal” element is questionable. You start each day with this question, “What if everything I think I know is wrong?” ¶ In other words, if something normally… Read more »

Some Say Fundraising Is Just Sales: They’re Wrong!

Early in my 30-plus year career in the philanthropic arena, I was looking for a major gifts officer for a reproductive health clinic in Los Angeles. Of the many résumés I received, one was from a candidate with ten years of solid experience—but for eight of those ten years, he worked for religious charities that opposed the values held by my organization. Within the… Read more »

The Board vs. Staff Game Replacing Divide and Conquer with Let’s Make Millions Together

It started with a threat, from a board member in the midst of a board meeting.   “If she doesn’t produce in a year, she’s out of here.”   Thirty seconds. Sixty seconds.   Silence hung in the room like fog at dawn.   I was beginning my third job with a nonprofit. The first two positions were highly-sought-after spots with low-pay and high-perks. … Read more »

Why Does Your Board Micromanage? Learn from My Error and Create a Board that Governs

It was a beautiful August morning. Twenty campers and four counselors outfitted in orange lifejackets paddled silver canoes across a glassy blue lake in northern New Hampshire.    We pulled up to a sand spit. As we unloaded, I, one of the junior counselors, muttered, “I wish I had a brownie. We should have brought snacks.”   In response, all twenty campers moaned in… Read more »

Leaders: It’s OK to not know everything

Recently, a CEO confided that the accelerated disruptions occurring in her industry, with the advent of new technologies, new entrants and new business models, were shaking her usual confidence. While an expert in her field, she was doubting her adaptability to the increasingly complex nature of the challenges leaders face today, from work to home life. She is far from alone. More and more,… Read more »

Return On Investment – A new age of business-mindedness dawns for nonprofit enterprises

Suddenly it seems like everyone’s talking about it. Or maybe “finally” is better than suddenly. The Chronicle of Philanthropy has gotten weighty on the subject. On June 7, it featured a scathing article by Amanda Pearce, CFRE, under the headline, “Nonprofit is a Tax Status, NOT a Business Model.” Even US charity watchdogs have admitted they got it wrong. In case no one at… Read more »

Scarcity or Abundance? An Experiment in Collaborative Fundraising

Many of the principles of fundraising I learned early on really are true: listen to prospective donors to connect them to your cause; build relationships to move supporters to the next level of giving; and thank donors more often than you ask for money. These do result in better fundraising outcomes. But based on my recent experience, I’m wondering if the scarcity-based approach of holding your funding sources under lock and key could use an upgrade.

Surviving Vision Block – How to Turn Your Crushing Experiences into Wins

I was pinned under a 200 pound guy, and he had scissors. The volunteer assignment was simple: help a young man with developmental disabilities to learn a new skill, one-on-one.  We were working on learning scissor use.   How did I end up flailing on the floor needing assistance?     I had a clear goal for my college volunteering experience: Explore different ways to help people reach excellence.  … Read more »

My Top Eleven and Three-Quarters Bits of Advice for Winning at Donor Communications… part one in a two-part series

1. Why Eleven and Three-Quarters? Be a little less predictable. “10 Top Tips” is predictable. “11 Top Tips” is a little less predictable, but still pretty obvious. I ripped this idea off, as most of you immediately recognized, from Harry Potter’s Track Nine and Three-Quarters at King’s Cross Station. Steal well. And often. But don’t steal from failures. Which means you’ll have to learn… Read more »

Why Collaborations Fail What lies under the word, “uncollaborative”? Usually, it’s an unaddressed power imbalance

A few weeks ago, the board chair of a great social enterprise called me in distress. A collaboration he had nurtured was in disarray. He’d gotten ahold of an email that called the executive director and staff at his organization “uncollaborative.” He and I tried to figure out what was going on. We talked through the history of the collaboration and ultimately spotted what we… Read more »

The Best Route to Approaching Donors: Hand-Head-Heart

As someone who began her career as a fund raiser and migrated to become a funder as head of a large corporate foundation, I have a somewhat unique vantage point on the struggle many nonprofits endure when engaging funders and major donors to support their cause. In speaking with executive and development officers who are charged with fundraising, I find it most helpful to… Read more »

Successfully transitioning to new leadership roles

In Leading Organizations: Ten Timeless Truths (Bloomsbury Publishing, June 2017),1McKinsey senior partners Scott Keller and Mary Meaney address the ten basic issues facing leaders: attracting and retaining talent, developing current talent, managing performance, creating leadership teams, making decisions, reorganizing to capture value quickly, reducing long-term overhead costs, making culture a competitive advantage, leading transformational change, and transitioning to new leadership roles. “Attracting and retaining… Read more »