With increasing financial challenges and diminishing resources, nonprofits must learn new techniques to make their mission is relevant, engaging and fund-able. Monica Gould, MBA, CMC recently joined us for a webinar in which she highlighted her 10 tips for ensuring your organization’s long term sustainability.
You can watch the full recording below:
Steven Shattuck: OK, Monica. Still with us?
Monica Gould: Yes, I’m here.
Steven Shattuck: All right, great. I’ve got 1:00. Do you want to go on ahead and get started?
Monica Gould: I say that sounds great.
Steven Shattuck: Cool, let’s do it. Good afternoon, everyone on the east coast, and good morning if you are on the west coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for joining us for today’s Bloomerang webinar, Ten Tips to Ensuring Long-Term Sustainability in the Nonprofit Arena. My name is Steven Shattuck. I’m the V.P. of marketing here at Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion. Today I’m joined by our guest, Monica Gould, M.B.A. C.M.C. Hey there, Monica. How are you doing?
Monica Gould: Awesome, how are you?
Steven Shattuck: Good, thanks for being with us. For those of you who don’t know Monica, she is the president and founder of Strategic Consulting Partners. She has over 30 years of senior leadership experience specifically in the financial management and strategic planning arena. She has worked with big companies, small companies and helped out with a lot of multi-million dollar operations. She actually has an M.B.A. from the American University, and she is an award-winning, certified management consultant. In fact, only 1% of management consultants have achieved that designation. So, Monica, this is a real treat to have you here to share all your expertise with us. So thanks again. This should be fun.
Monica Gould: It should be fun. Thank you everyone.
Steven Shattuck: So what we are going to do today, a little bit of house cleaning before Monica takes over, we are going to run through her presentation. As always, we are going to jump into a Q&A session after her slides. So if you hear anything that maybe you like explained or if you have any questions about sustainability or financial planning for nonprofits, anything on your mind for Monica at all, do send those questions our way through the chat box on your screen. I’ll see those and Monica will see those too. We’ll try to answer just as many as we can before the 2:00 hour.
Don’t be afraid to do that and just know that we will be sending out the slides and the recording of the full presentation recording a little later this afternoon. So if you have to bounce early, don’t worry. You won’t miss any content that you can’t watch a little later on. So I’m not going to waste any more time. Monica, why don’t you take it away for us?
Monica Gould: OK, great. Thank you so much for having me today. I’m really excited to be working with you and to be sharing some tips on financial sustainability. So, I’m sure that as many of you that are in the nonprofit sector understand that the nonprofit sector is not what it was two, three, five years ago from a financial stand point. There have been a lot of things happening in our economy that has been impacting that.
So the first objective is going to be to understand the state of the nonprofit sector in today’s economy – what does it look like and what does that mean to you as leaders of those nonprofits in terms of creating long-term viability. So I’d say my number one request from clients when I am working with them on strategic planning is help me figure out how to diversify my revenue, help me figure out how we can be long term sustainable in light of the fact that our funding streams keep changing.
So we will be talking about some of those strategies, some of the things that you can do to develop them and some of the conversations you’re going to have. Clearly this is a huge topic and 45 minutes or so is not going to cover it all, but my hope for you is that we provide you with some realistic things to think about and can come up with a plan so that you could move your organization forward.
We have done a lot of work with various nonprofit organizations including PANO, Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations, and including nonprofits from New Jersey, the Center for Nonprofits in New Jersey. This data in the next couple of slides actually come from them. It has been updated for the current state of affairs. So we’ll spend a lot of time on this. I just think it is important for you to see what is happening from a community stand point.
So, as you notice here, a high level on this slide is that, if you look at the source of funding, the decrease of funding sources is kind of listed by the various type of funding sources. The local government is still funding. The county government is still funding. If you noticed, all government including federal government is decreasing. In fact, I will say that I have seen probably in the last two years more on the federal government and state government decreased than we’ve had in previous years. In terms of organizations to put o private events, whether it be galas or golf events or things like that, we’ve seen reductions on revenues coming from there.
We look at it across the board. Probably corporate donations and private foundations have been hit the hardest, but you will see that, in terms of decreases, it’s coming from every source. Not to scare you, we have ideas and strategy. So the next slide outlines some reactions that organizations have had to these changes. So clearly our first thought is, “Oh, my gosh, we need to get additional funds. We need to get funds from somewhere else, because we lost that state grant or we lost that fundraiser that we used to do. We used to make $5000 or $6000 from it. How are we going to come up with the funds to keep things going?”
So you can see by and large that organizations are really looking at seeking alternative funding or coming up with new fundraising ideas are the two biggest growth areas that we see. The other key thing that is important for you to note is that collaboration and partnership have become critical in the fundraising arena in that the collaborations of partnerships really open up the door for a couple organizations to work together that have synergies in their mission and be able to go after and secure funding together. So we have seen that as a huge trend and that has positioned organizations to be viable for the future.
So if you notice the other kinds of things that have happened, less so, as you probably have experienced within your organizations, you do more with less. Freezing salaries is a strategy, cutting staff, but when we do these kinds of things, we have to note that there will be an ultimate impact to our programs, services and the quality of our programs. So nonprofits have been trying to work and figuring out alternative ways to raise their operating budgets so that they can continue.
Next is if you think about how to improve the sector, some of the key things and strategies that are happening right now is capacity building. Most local community foundations and a lot of foundations like Forbes fund and different foundations provide capacity building grants. That’s a grant by which you go in and say, “I’d like to do strategic planning. I’d like to come up with a long term financial strategy. I would like someone to help me to do that, because we don’t have that capacity in-house.”
So a lot of organizations, a lot of foundations are putting money in there because what that does is it builds the infrastructure for the organization for long-term sustainability. The foundation funding and capacity building is really happening in that arena.
So we won’t get into too many details, because I definitely want to make sure we’re spending the time on positive in terms of how we can move it forward. As you have probably experienced for yourself, you have probably seen a demand for increased services especially in some of the service areas, like in the areas of people with disabilities, in the areas of human services, potential welfare connections, domestic violence. Those areas have actually increased in terms of demand. There is a clear link between poverty and issues associated with personal financial sustainability to services that are requested from nonprofits. You probably have seen not only those increases, but then also a simultaneously dramatic decrease in funding and an increase of needs for funds.
That being said, these are the ten tips that I have come up with and I will tell you this is what I use when I work with clients in helping them to move forward in terms of long term sustainability. They may apply for you, they may not all apply for you, but I’d say for the most part, I haven’t seen one organization that these generic tips do not apply to.
So what we are going to do is we’re going actually going to go through each and every one of these in a little bit more detail so you can see what we’re talking about.
The first one, developing a long-term strategic plan. So if you don’t have one, you should really consider thinking about where are going in the next three to five years. The plan actually serves as a roadmap. It should be a living, breathing document. It’s not something that you do, you stick on the shelf and you never look at it again. A lot of complaints that people have with strategic planning is that it’s just this heavy-thinking conversaiction. We really don’t have anything that’s actionable from it. For nonprofits especially, I think it is important to make sure we’re all clear on what your mission is – who are you, who do you serve, where are you located and how do you serve. Do you serve through education? Do you serve through one on one services? All of that is important not only to be clear to your organization but also to be able to communicate potentially to funders, to stakeholders in the future, to potential board members and to current board and staff as to what you are doing.
If you really have a refined and defined mission, it really helps you to make better decisions about what programs and services you provide in the future. When you are up against this huge grant, it’s asking you to potentially add six new programs and services, they are not giving you any extra operational expenses to bring those on and they are just giving you problematic dollars to run those, you have to look at it and say, “Are these programs and services they are asking me to do fit in with my mission? If not, what do I need to do to adjust my mission? Do I want to adjust my mission?” If the answer to that is no, then it’s a pretty easy way for you to say, “This probably isn’t the best fit for our organization.”
One of the biggest challenges I see with nonprofits is they chase the all mighty dollar. When a grant becomes available or they see something that might be available… You guys are entrepreneurs. You really try to do whatever you can to get money from whatever sources. Sometimes we have the tendency to do things that are not in our niche or not in our sweet spot and we end up diverting a lot of time and resources to things that are not mission-critical. So that’s the first point.
The second point is developing that vision – where do you see yourself in the future, where do you want to be three, five, ten years from now. Having that model for yourself in your head as an organization and as a board so that you can then quickly respond to what the marketplace is asking and whether to see if it fits with where you are going.
Many of you have probably heard of the concept of a SWOT analysis – part of strategic planning and part of the thing that you want to do before you ever walk into a door for a strategic planning retreat. You’ve noticed that I said before you ever walk in the door. One of the biggest challenges nonprofits have when they are doing strategic planning is they go, “We need someone to facilitate strategic planning for the day.” They hire a meeting facilitator that can help you to structure conversations and have interesting conversations. However those conversations are often held in a vacuum and they are not based upon anything that is real to your organization.
So we encourage you, prior to, is to do some sort of SWOT analysis. You could facilitate a SWOT conversation at the meeting. So it’s important that you have a clear understanding before you walk in the door, especially if you are a board leadership or you’re a leader in the organization, to be able to see what are the strengths and weaknesses of our operations.
You noticed strengths and weaknesses are the internal components. It could be about your staff. It could about your programs. It could about your location. It could be about your volunteer capacity. It could be about your admin support. A lot of different components. We’re looking for whatyou’re your strengths in the organization and what are the weaknesses.
In terms of opportunities and threats, these are external to you. These are opportunities that, “Hey, we have an opportunity that could leverage a relationship with the partnership and enhancing communities. That’s an opportunity that could bring up both revenue and That is something you might want to pursue.
Threats on the other hand are things that make you vulnerable, things that might be out there – maybe a new organization that’s coming into your backyard, maybe a closure of a large funding source, maybe the law system personnel or board members and volunteers. These are things that could happen to you that could potentially create vulnerability in the organization.
The purpose of the SWOT analysis is very simple. It’s helping you to understand the current state of position – where are you, where are their levers, where are their constraints and where are their problems we need to address. Taking the details from the SWOT analysis to see where your gaps are between your strengths and weaknesses and where those opportunities and threats are, this is the basis for your plan. This is how you are going to go address the major components of your plan. This is very critical.
Once you have done that… and I encourage you to do all that before you go to your retreat or at least that analysis component. So we think about strategic planning and the visioning component. The vision is where you are going in the future. You can see that at the top of the pyramid. The purpose of the mission is defining our day to day, “Who are we?” That’s what we talked about. Those two things should be discussed and talked about and at least polled through surveys or focus groups or different things prior to your retreat. We could facilitate conversation around those and refine those – your vision and mission and purpose.
Values, these are your guiding principles that drive your business. What are they? Often they’re value statements. They’re not necessarily just words. I like to look at them as actions and not just as nouns. What are those values and how do they translate into how you deliver service and how you interact with the community and how you interact with your staff and your internal stakeholders. We are ready to develop goals. You will notice then we’ve talked about objectives. Goals are very high-level things. So they would be maybe a goal around fundraising diversity, a goal around program quality, a goal around staff development, a goal around board development. They’re fairly high levels. They’re not smart goals. They’re not specific. The objectives are the four or six or ten strategies, whatever it they may be, that you want to undertake for that goal in order to be accomplished. Those objectives should be stretched over a long period of time.
So if you have a plan for fundraising diversification by the year 2018, let’s say is what you are working on, if your objectives are all front loaded and everything has to get done in the year 2014 and 2015, it’s probably not that solid of a plan. So what we want to do is we want to make sure that we probably have some that are front loaded, some that are ongoing tasks and the ability to add new objectives as your plan evolves. As you start implementing some of your key first objectives, your first year’s objective, maybe adding other additional ones after that year with still tied to the same goal. It doesn’t change your goal, your mission, your vision or your values. It just looks at additional new strategies that you are going to undertake to get to where you need to get to.
Sally goes to X meeting on X date and accomplishes Y by tea time. It is very, very specific and that will be the driving factor behind whether or not you are accomplishing.
That is high-level strategic planning. So we talked about strategic planning as being such a critical part to really knowing where you are going. The second critical piece, the second tip we have here is refining your organizational structure and organizational plan. I will tell you that if you do not have the right people on the bus or haven’t looked at how your organizational structure might need to change as ebb and flow overtime, you’ve missed the boat. Things are changing around you constantly. Funding is changing around you. The needs that you might have within your staff may differ now than what it was maybe two years ago or five years ago.
You should constantly be looking at what is the structure, what is the performance management planning structure. So you evaluate the performance of your people. If you don’t have a performance management plan in place, you should really have something that’s tied to the performance of your people. Do you have the people you need? Do you have the right people and volunteers in your organization?
One of the things that, sort of as a light bulb, has hit me over the last a couple months – really looking at strategic planning with non-profits that are probably not that dissimilar boat than many of you – is stop looking at things from a position of scarcity. Look at it from a position of, “In the ideal world that, if I had enough money to do the things that I needed to do, to do the programs properly, what would I need?” Now not saying that you want to change the world, because of course we all do and we all are doing it in our own ways with the organizations that we work with and for, but just being realistic about what it is that I need in order to do the best job that we can do organizationally.
Building the case for support and fundraising around that is very powerful, rather than saying, “Here is the only money I have. Therefore this is the only staff I can have, but we’re just going to have to try to figure out how to do it with less people. We can’t hire the people we need because that’s all we’ve got.” So that’s how we feel and that is what our budget reflects. If you are going to get into organizational planning, I would recommend that you try to do it not from a position of, not scarcity, but from a position of abundance that you have. You have the resources that you could potentially work towards the resources you need.
It’s about organizational structure. These are pretty self-explanatory. Can you outsource some things? Are there people that can do some marketing, some Facebook stuff, social media stuff, marketing for you, strategic planning? Do you have to do it all yourself or can you hire experts to do some of these things? Can you share resources with other organizations? Let’s say you’re in the same building with a client right now, but she’s in the same building with two other nonprofits. They share an office. A person answers the phone for all three organizations and you wouldn’t know any different. Are there ways to become more effective and efficient that way? Have you looked at cross-training?
One of the things that I see happen often is that you have these people that get into the niche of what they do well, and then you potentially a core staff person that you need and nobody else knows how to do that work. Now you’re stuck. That resource has left the building and does anyone else know what they did.
Succession planning is a huge part now of the future because of the number of baby boomers that are in the workplace that are retiring every day. I read a statistic the other day that said every five minutes, thousands of baby boomers retire in America. It is amazing. Considering that in the nonprofit arena, the growth of the nonprofit arena came about through the baby boomer generation. Most of the executive directors that are there would say about 80% are in that generation. So as people are leaving the workplace, we need to figure out how do we tap into their collective knowledge.
The last piece under organizational structure is how do we use volunteers versus paid stuff, are there things that volunteers can do that we are paying people to do. I’ll give you a good example. As Big Sisters of the Capital Region, we were asked by the city of Harrisburg to provide staff resources to man-booth these different events, whether it be pro bono or art events or whatever, on the river front. The first year or two, we did. We put a lot of staff time in there and we had some volunteer time. What we realized like we were almost paying out as much to staff as we were getting from the city of Harrisburg, which wasn’t a lot.
So when we restructured and looked at it, we said what a great opportunity for these volunteers that are Big Brothers and Big Sisters and with their Little to actually volunteer at the booth and provide those services. It aligned with our mission. It provided us with valuable resources. It was a great way to get our word out there, a great activity for people to do. We were able to increase our revenues and our take home from that by 85% or something the first year we put those into place. So just being creative and looking at different ways to do things.
The next point is engaging and motivating your staff. The best part about working in the nonprofit community and myself as consultant that was with nonprofits, my favorite clients are nonprofit because it hits me where my heart is. You already have often really motivated staff to do the work of the mission. We know the nonprofit staff is not being paid commensurately with their counterparts in the corporate world. How do we retain these people? How do we maintain them?
The best way to do it is to, first and foremost, make sure everybody that is on your team is committed to the mission. You know that you have team members that are committed to the mission. Here are just some high level tips and these are pretty straight forward. I could do an entire webinar on this point alone. Obviously an honest and open communication, the biggest struggle for you guys as executive directors and leaders is that you are going to have a lot of people pulling you from a lot of directions. It’s really hard to get the word out and to get everything done that you need to get it out. Being open and being honest and making sure that you’re communicating, communicating, communicating so that there‘s not a misunderstanding from staff as to what’s going on.
Include staff in problem solving, they often have better ideas than we do as leaders. Including them, it can be very powerful. Offer alternative benefits. This is like flextime. This is like wearing jeans on Friday. This is, one day a week, you get to work from home. Those kinds of things that don’t cost you a lot of money but can be very, very powerful for staff members. Empower staff to complete key objectives. So don’t give them a task and then take away the power for them to do it and micromanage. Be really cautious about the micromanagement, which is so easy to do especially when we have so much to do with so low resource.
Creating a team environment, working together to come up with great ways to move the organization forward and provide forewarnings for changes. We know, as human beings, we typically really hate change. So in order to facilitate people’s willingness to engage in change, the best thing we can do is to let them know that it’s happening and communicate. I do a lot of change management seminars and training. I have worked across the world on this topic in change management. The biggest thing you can do to make sure people are on board with you is communicate what’s going on, let them know, tell them why, have them be involved in helping you to solve the change and making the changes happen, and then empowering them to do the work. If you can do those simple things, you’ve mastered change management.
The next point is looking at how do we refine our budget and streamline our operations. As I alluded to you earlier, we have to really look, “Are we aligned with our mission and vision?” Looking at where are we putting our money, where are our resources going, where we are getting our money and where we are putting our money are two really important things. Looking at the cost of programs and looking at the cost of events, and did we really get a return on investment.
If you are putting out $5000 to receive $6000 for an event, in terms of revenue, and you put a hundred staff hours in it, clearly you haven’t had a good return on the investment that you put in as an organization. Now there is more than just money that ties into things. Now let’s say you own $80,000 and you put a lot of staff time into it, but you felt that strategically it was a great event because you were introduced to a thousand new potential donors. That might have been worth that investment to you.
Really having the opportunity to look at developing a scorecard for yourself, not just for your events but on your programs, sometimes we consciously from mission standpoint subsidize some programs that we know are lost leaders. We don’t get as much money in it but we know we have to provide that service because it is a conduit to other services. I see that a lot in the disability community, a lot in the health and human service community. I understand that. What I’m suggesting is that you look at how many programs are that way and how it fits into the bigger picture, and make sure that overall you’re not in financial losing situation.
Of course the next question comes in, “Can we eliminate events or programs and replace them with higher return activities? Are there things that we are doing that we should be doing differently?” My example, the Big Brothers and Sisters, is a perfect example. We like the event. We weren’t making money on it. How could we change it and make it more profitable and more mission-based for us? So can some services and expenses be donated? Are we paying for services that we might be able to get someone to donate? Are we sharing resources and expenses with others? Maybe someone else in your building, maybe another organization, maybe, in some cases, I’ve seen really active organizations or companies that have been part of the board of directors that have offered free office space to a nonprofit that they are passionate about. So there are opportunities to receive these kinds of leg up.
Are there outsourcing opportunities where you can find other people that can help you to do things more effectively and efficiently than yourself?
I have a lot to cover so I just want to make sure. I’m going to these next few pretty quickly because they are pretty self-explanatory. I’ll make sure that I have time for questions in about ten minutes. Drafting your positioning statement, this is your marketing. This is who are you and how you want people to see you and how are you unique from everyone out there. This is a whole marketing conversation.
If you can’t figure out how you’re different from the organization that is right down the street from you that is offering similar services, you may want to consider relooking at your mission and vision. You may want to consider joining them. You may want to consider how you want to position yourself and where you want to be. This is very action-oriented. It really gives the community an opportunity to know how you want to be known. For example, this is a very brief statement, but United Way says living united. It’s two sentences. You’ve got the little stick people. You know exactly what that means. They want us to live unitedly as a community. So that’s a good example of that.
Fundraising. So this is kind of the crops of it. When we think about funding… Let’s think about your own financial positioning. When you go to a financial advisor, the first thing they say to you, “We really want to look at your cash positioning. We want to look at where you have your investments. It’s important that we diversify those investments. You don’t want everything in one stock,” for example. That’s kind of the way you need to look at fundraising for nonprofits. If you have all your eggs in federal grants and federal grants are being targeted right now, you could be in trouble. You may not be around in the next two to three years.
What you need to do is look at what are the options. Some of these things will make sense and can make sense for your organization. Some may not. Events are what a lot of organizations do to drive the day to day operations and to be able to bring in unrestricted funds. I will tell you that events are very staff-demanding and very labor-intensive. Unless you have a really good event or you have people that are working strongly with you and have a good volunteer base, I would think long and hard about adding additional events without making sure you have everything else covered on the backend, because it’s sneaky and it’s surprising as to how much time and energy goes into them and sometimes how little the reward is.
The number one donor for nonprofits is the individual. If you don’t have an annual campaign now, start one. You can start small. What we’re talking about here is friend-raising. You are trying to raise friends, not funds. So F-R-I-E-N-D-S. How do you raise friends? You invite them to events. You have little things that occur. Maybe it’s bagels and beans like we do for Big Brothers Big Brothers, or some other event that you’re bringing people in the door and you’re letting them know who you are. Bowling is a great example of individual donors for Big Brothers Big Sisters. It’s a great way for people to individually give and not a lot of money to contribute. Every $20 and if you have hundreds of thousands of people that are contributing, it adds up. You’re already familiar with in terms of what funding streams are available.
Detailed marketing and communication plan. Marketing and communication plan, how is different from a strategic plan? I encourage organizations to develop a yearly marketing and communication plan. The first major marketing and communication plan or the marketing and communication strategy – not necessarily a plan, a strategy – is built in the strategic plan. Your marketing plan should incorporate every kind of way that you communicate externally and potentially internally – are you doing newsletters or e-marketing or annual campaigns or social media, what kind of P.R. strategy do you have in place, do you have media partners, are you working with a radio station or a T.V. station – and making sure that you are tailoring the message to meet your different stakeholders.
For example, I want to use Big Brothers and Big Sisters again because I’m intimately familiar with this component here. How we solicit volunteers to be Bigs for our children is different than how we are going to market and communicate to parents about risk children is going to be also different than how we communicate to the children and how we communicate to the community partners and our funders. The message that we are trying to get out and what we are trying to target them to understand may be a little different and what we want to drive them to do may be different by target market.
The next piece is formulating strategic alliances. I can’t tell you how critical this is. If you haven’t looked to partner with other nonprofits in your community, I would encourage you to do so. This can be very, very powerful for you. Big Brothers Big Sisters in the Capitol Region recently had partnered with Dawson County. We’ve partnered with school systems. We’ve partnered with Messiah College. We’ve partnered with fraternities – male fraternities, African-American male fraternities in particular – who can help us to bring volunteers to the table.
So you could provide similar services or complimentary services. I would encourage you to do this. If you are doing partnerships and they are effective partnerships, you can really drive funding to you. Foundations and government entities that are looking to fund absolutely and utterly love strategic partnerships. So it’s something I would encourage you to do. I think we’ve talked about sharing of staff services and all that kind of stuff. Corporate alliances… Let me give you an example. Big Brothers and Sisters does a cooperate mentoring program where we partner with, for example, Highmark, and they provide ten volunteers that the kids are brought to the facility or the volunteers go to the kids’ school and they mentor them once a month.
That’s a great example of Highmark saying, “We’re really excited about mentoring. We want to support you in a big way. We’re going to tap into our human resources and see if we can get to ten or fifteen mentors to mentor these kids.” For the same token, we’re going to give you a little bit of cash to make sure that we can follow up on these matches and make sure they’re good. Because it costs us money, it’s not just getting the match across this money but following up and making sure it fits the program. That is an example of a way that you can align with cooperation.
Number nine, engaging your board and volunteers. The best way to engage people is through your mission. That’s why people are there. That’s why people join it. Make sure your board members are tied to the mission and are interested in the mission. Talk to them about what it is and I suggest that in order to engage people on the board in a meaningful way, that’s meaningful not just to you but to them, is making sure they understand what you are expecting of them.
Communicate what you want them to do, ask them what you need from them and then cultivate a relationship. Each board member should be looked at as a potential resource, not only give personally but also to connect you to their network and to be an extension of your team to talk about your mission. So if you have board members that are showing up to meetings or not even showing up to meetings and that’s one whole heck of a lot, it’s because they’re not engaged. There are a lot of things you can do around that. Again that’s probably a whole other seminar. The key here is communication with them and really being clear as to the expectations and connect them through your mission is really what’s going to make it happen here.
Don’t forget to reward and thank people. Just having simple things like thank you for your service, or having… The Chamber of Commerce does a jubilee day every year and there are about 150 volunteers for the longest running street fare in America. Who would have thought that in this teeny little town that I live in there would be a 100,000 people that come to this thing? There are 150 volunteers that participate. At the end, two weeks after the event is over, we always do a thank you banquet and an award banquet. It’s not fancy. It’s pizza at the local sub shop, but a volunteer event to appreciate what’s happening.
So, the next one, the last one, monitoring results and refining. So we talked a lot about how to put yourself in the position to create sustainability. Sometimes what we forget to do, we put all these systems in place and we don’t really monitor how. So the last tip is monitoring. Look at it on a regular basis, on a monthly basis. Not just your financial documents. We have a tendency to just print out our financial documents and go over it with our board. It’s beyond the financials. Let’s look at some metrics – how many kids do we serve, how were the problematic outcome compared to what they were the previous year, did we drop the number of kids we are serving in a particular area and why is that happening. Really looking at a balanced score card and a return on investment.
So we had some criterion before. We talked about are we getting a good return, and we made some assumptions. Now we put it into place for a year. Let’s see if it’s actually working for us. So conducting that return on investment every year or after each event, I think, is really going to be critical. Not being afraid to pick that plan up, whether it be your communications plan or your strategic plan, to look at what are some of the short-term things that we need to do so that we can meet our long-term goals.
So we can retool pretty quickly as long as we know what’s going on and we look at it. If we completely forget about it, put it on the shelf and then look at it next year and then say, “Oh crap, this thing didn’t work very well. We didn’t have the time to retool and to do something differently.” So I encourage you to do that more frequently than not.
Bringing it back full circle is making sure that we’re engaging stakeholders. A defining of these objectives… Stakeholders being staff, board, volunteers, clients. Not in every component. Don’t try to do the plan on your own. Make sure you are incorporating others to help to move it forward and you are looking at stakeholders outside of yourselves as the leaders.
So that’s for you, the ten tips. A lot of information. Any questions from the group? I see there a few up here.
Steven Shattuck: Yes, we’ve got a few. That was awesome, Monica. Thanks for sharing all that advice with us. Wow, that was some great information. So if anyone has been maybe sitting on their hands wondering something, do feel free to send some questions through the chat. We’ve probably got about ten minutes for questions honestly. You’ve got a heck of an expert here at your disposal for the next ten minutes, so ask away. I see we’ve got one from Sherry. Sherry is wondering, with an all-volunteer board that has full time jobs, how would you best manage communicating with those people? Is it through email, social media, text? What advice would you have for communicating with the board?
Monica Gould: Sherry that is a million dollar question. Good question. Every organization that I have worked with over the last 30 years is different. So what you have to do is you have to engage them in a conversation, about how would you like me to best communicate with you. I am seeing, for example, with Big Brothers Big Sisters, we have three levels of boards. We have a strategic board. The best way to communicate to them is through their office assistant or with them personally through their house. For our core board members, the best way to communicate with them is through email. Limited email but very targeted with really specific subject matters with links to additional information if they want it. We also have a younger board. They love text, social media and everything else. So the reason I’m bringing this example up, because depending upon the board and depending upon how they like to be engaged, it will vary. I will ask them though. It’s a long and short. It’s not a very good answer. I’d be happy to help you with that offline.
Steven Shattuck: We’ll definitely share Monica’s contact info a little later on so that you guys can reach out to her. Vicky was wondering, how do you reconcile, abundance vs. scarcity planning? So if you are operating out of that scarcity kind of mindset, how do you get out of that? How can you shift your focus to that of abundance?
Monica Gould: This is a very interesting question for me because especially in the last probably six or seven years with the downturn in the economy, all of the organizations have been working with or operating off the scarcity tactic. I recently, last week, went to a PANO conference. We were having a different set of questions. The mindset of let’s not talk about what we don’t have but let’s talk about what we need. We were not necessarily in an abundance mode but I think we can talk about what we need to do the jobs that we want to do. If we’re looking at it from that perspective, it’s easy to build a business case from where you are to where you want to go if you can justify what it means – what it means to your program, what it means to your people, what it means to the quality.
With that kind of analysis, you can often justify additional funding for programs for different kinds of things that you’re doing as you’re talking to funders. You are talking about it in the mindset of quality, value and best use of their time and resource, rather than giving you a $2000, “Hey, if you could give me $2000, can you imagine what we could accomplish if we had this? This is what our program would look like if we had that additional money.”
I don’t know if that is helpful in terms of… It is a paradigm shift. It is going to be something that you’re gonna have to talk about and really think about for a long time and really start having different conversations with your board. That is going to be critical.
Steven Shattuck: Great. We’ve got a good question here from Idi. Idi was wondering, what’s the case for spending scarce funds and time and resources on strategic planning vs. spending those resources on your services, your provisions and things like that? How do you balance those resources, understanding that strategic planning is important but you’ve got a lot of scarce funds? What advice would you have for Idi there?
Monica Gould: You guys are stumping me, man.
Steven Shattuck: Yeah, these are good ones. These are really good.
Monica Gould: I guess, you kind of look at it from this standpoint. Let’s take it away from organizations. Think about it when you are thinking about your children and funding things for your children’s future. Do I want to come up with a financial strategy for the long-term so that when my kids turn 20 or 19 or whatever ages they are going to go into a four-year school, wow, I’m going to be able to at least fund half of that.
If you don’t invest in strategic planning, I get it. I know that you’re trying to balance the program. The problem becomes an exponential issue. You might be okay for year one and year two, because you’re taking every dollar you have out of the bank and doing everything that you need to do. When you don’t invest in the future, when you don’t put money aside for retirement or you don’t put money aside for college funds or for those kinds of things, we know that the future is going to be difficult for us. Running your organization is no different than running your own personal finances. You want to diversify your funds. You want to have diversity. Can you do everything you want? Most people will say absolutely not.
I’d love to say I’m in a great position financially for my retirement. I don’t think anybody feels great about it unless you are a multi-millionaire, but I will tell you that I have planned it since the time I was in my first corporate job. So I have money set aside. I put money aside for my kids. I’ve invested in myself and my future in order to make sure I have a good future for my kids and myself.
So I think of it as this. It’s an investment in your future and you have to decide at some point when is that time to figure that. Maybe it’s not a full-blown strategic plan. Maybe it’s, “Let’s have a strategic conversation around these critical components – going after grants for capacity building.” Every time I turn around, there is another grant for capacity building coming up with local foundations. The money is there. It’s all about changing your mindset and saying, “This is important to me. We need to invest in our future.” You’re going to operate today until you come up with a longer term strategy.
Steven Shattuck: Great. We probably got time for one more question. It’s a good one here from Nicole. I know, Monica, you got to get on the road to D.C. so I’m not going to hold you any longer. Nicole is wondering, how do young organizations with a big impact create balance and efficiencies with limited staff? It sounds like she’s got one paid staff member and then a volunteer board that they’re dependent on. What advice would you have for an organization that has that kind of makeup? What advice would you have for her maybe five or ten years down the road?
Monica Gould: The exciting thing about being a young organization, Nicole, is that there’s a lot of passionate – it sounds like – around your mission. If you can take that passion, channel it and making sure that you’re utilizing people in the ways they can be utilized, you’d be surprised. Especially if you have a volunteer board and you have people in the community that are excited about what you’re doing, it’s really figuring out how you can utilize these volunteers to maximize their strength. Oftentimes we hire the same kind of board members. Not hire, but we gage the same type of people that are like-minded in the mission that may not be diverse enough from a skills standpoint to bring you more.
So what I look at is I look at who are you engaging through the volunteer component now, how do you engage them, how can you grow that engagement, how can you get them to bring in others.
What you’ve done is you built an incubator for your organization for future success. You’ve builti committees and you have groups of volunteers with different areas of expertise that can then help you to grow strategically along together. As you do that, funding will come and staff will come and build upon that.
So it’s a stair step approach. By really figuring out how best to engage the people who are excited about you now is really, I think, your biggest opportunity there.
Steven Shattuck: Do you think that people should invest in actually hiring full-time staff or just continue on with volunteers? It seems like if your volunteers are working and if you’re managing them correctly, that kind of makeup is fine. When do you think people should invest in full-time staff?
Monica Gould: I struggle with that. Again it’s dependent upon the mission and it’s dependent upon the organization. For example, with Big Brothers Big Sisters, because we are working with children and connecting children to volunteers, we absolutely, from a mission standpoint, have to have paid staff. We need to have accountability and drive accountability back to our staff. We can’t have that match support effort and all of that happen by volunteers. We can have the mentoring occurring by volunteers but all of those accountability components have to be staff members.
So the answer is it depends upon the mission. It depends from what you’re trying to accomplish. I will say that what happened with organizations that are just volunteer-driven is that often it’s driven by two or three key people in the organization. When they burn out, there’s no more organization. You got to figure out… Short-term is fine. Long-term is not a sustainable model in order to insure long-term viability. Every time you get a new leader in there that’s a volunteer or volunteer board member, they change the whole thing. “Oh, we’re going to do it this way now.”
You don’t get any key organizational learning that takes place and the continuity tends to be lost. So that’s a long answer. It depends.
Steven Shattuck: That’s great. This is awesome advice, Monica. Thanks for hanging out with us for about an hour and sharing all your knowledge. I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did. Just a few seconds we’ve got remaining, where can folks find out more about you? I assume people can email you or call you.
Monica Gould: Yes, yes, yes. I have my contact information on the screen. We are located in Central Pennsylvania but I work with organizations across the country, actually across the globe. We have done all kinds of operational and strategic planning assessments and organization assessments for nonprofits on a small scale or big scale. We will work with you for a couple of hours. If you just want some advice and want to talk through something or if you want to go through a full-blown strategic planning process, we can do that with you. We have been very successful in helping the nonprofits we work with garnering funding for our capacity building services. If there’s an interest in that, we’d be happy to provide you with a pretty comprehensive proposal of what that would look like.
Often you can utilize that information to actively go after grant for those services. I would say one out of every two of the clients that I’ve worked with in that capacity has received funding. So don’t feel like you’re out there by yourself. We’re willing to invest with you. If you stir up at least the internal resource, we’d be able to do the work. I will tell you it’s more than just funding and it’s more than just our time. It’s your time, too. So you have to be willing to invest in that to make that work.
Overall we’d be happy to help you. We’re available. You have our contact information. Please feel free to go to our website, too. I don’t have that on there. It’s www.yourstrategicconsulting.com. So you could see Monica but it’s www.yourstrategicconsulting.com. It outlines a little bit more about our company and all that good stuff.
We’ve been doing this for 20 years. It’s our 20th anniversary. We’re excited…
Steven Shattuck: Oh, wow.
Monica Gould: Yeah, we’re turning 20 in September. We’re not 20 yet. We’re still on our teens.
Steven Shattuck: Cool. Do reach out to Monica. Work with her. She is awesome. Obviously you know that after hearing this great presentation. Thanks again, Monica. Thanks again to everyone who hung out with us for a little while today. We do these webinars once a week. We’ve got some really awesome webinars coming up the rest of May. So check out our resources section. If any of those topics interest you, you can register for them. They’re totally free and totally educational. So check those out. Well, great. This is awesome. Thanks again for joining us, everyone. I will be sending out a recording a little later this afternoon, as well as the slides. So look for that to hit your email. Other than that, have a great rest of your afternoon, and we will talk to you next week. Bye now.
Monica: Thank you, guys. Bye.