Best practices for social change and environmental action

Getting the board to talk math

In Finance, Fund raising, Money management, Nonprofit management on June 25, 2012 at 6:37 pm

It’s a rare board member who can really get into a nonprofit’s operating numbers. Yet, every board has to know where the money comes from…and how it’s used.  Moreover,  it’s essential that the board understand – at strategic, tactical, and priority levels – what the organization needs to meet its goals and live up to its mission.

The trouble, of course, is that such discussions can devolve into dreary dog and pony shows.  How much more effective would it all be if you could flip the model to get the board talking, taking notes, and running some numbers themselves?

Fund raising guru Gail Perry, author of Fired Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion into Action and the excellent Fired-Up Fundraising blog has some good thoughts on that.  It essentially comes down to asking three questions:

  • Where does our money go?
  • Why does it cost so much?
  • What do we need to invest right now?

She gives some excellent real life examples in her article over at the Guidestar site: What’s the Math? Three Questions Your Board Members Really Need to Know. (The article is reprinted from the blog.)

It seems so simple…at first…but it really made me think.

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Mission statement haiku

In Communication, Nonprofit management on June 22, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Considering the amount of time, thought, and debate  that go into most mission statements, one would think that the results would always be elegant and compelling. Yet, most mission statements still manage to be both over-wrought and irrelevant.  That’s why the great ones stand out for their simplicity, clarity, and meaning. Every word has a purpose, and there is a sense of wholeness throughout.

Writing in the Nonprofit Quarterly, Christopher Finney of The Nature Conservancy likens the best mission statements to the poetry of Haiku.  He notes that, while not necessarily limited to the classic 17-syllable structure of Haiku, an effective statement can andshould convey the essence of the organization’s work with no extraneous words.

As a proponent of “small words, big ideas” in all communication, I think it makes sense.

Not surprisingly the article is short and to the point. You can read it here.

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Social sector branding is about mission … not money

In Best practice, Communication, Marketing, Nonprofit management on June 22, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Among business concepts, the idea of “branding” must surely be the most overused and misunderstood.  Interpretations range from simplistic matters of graphic design to highly nuanced, multifaceted strategic plans.

In the private and corporate sectors, branding is an essential element of marketing and, as such, naturally focused on the for-profit bottom line: making money… and jobs.

Branding is a bottom line issue in the social sector as well. The trouble is that far too many nonprofits and NGOs get confused when they too focus it on money  –  through fundraising and development – while ignoring its importance to the true bottom line: mission and impact.

Considering the current fiscal challenges of the social sector, this should not be too surprising. After all, it’s difficult to achieve much of an impact, or even remain viable, without adequate funding. But the danger is that a narrow branding emphasis on fundraising can lead to a perception that the organization has really become just about the money and has lost its sense of mission.  That perception may not be fair but it is becoming more common.

The irony, of course, is that applying professional-caliber branding to the organization’s operations , methods, and outcomes is probably the most effective way to raise money.  It’s more challenging, and it takes a lot more work,  but it is the best way to illustrate organizational effectiveness.

Nathalie Kylander and Christopher Stone of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government  have explored this dynamic in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.  Their article, The Role of Brand in the Nonprofit Sector offers a provocative framework for bringing the benefits of good branding to good work.

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