It Takes a Village to Run a Successful Nonprofit Organization

One of the most valuable lessons I learned while working in substance abuse prevention is that good prevention programs can’t operate in silos. What that means is you can’t work alone. You need others to be successful.

Yet, I’ve too often encountered nonprofit leaders who don’t want to work with other organizations. They don’t usually say that, but their actions do. This lack of cooperation becomes extremely detrimental when they pursue grant funding. Funders want you to play nice with others. The technical term they use is to “collaborate.” Every request for proposal you read will ask you to describe your community partners.

Community partnerships take on various forms. The most common form is the use of volunteers. They’re primarily used for programmatic and administrative purposes. Helping kids with homework, setting up for events, making calls, answering phones, making copies, etc.

Volunteers also function in more official capacities like serving on boards of directors. Unlike most for-profit corporations, nonprofit organization’s board of directors are comprised of volunteers. However, these roles require a greater depth of expertise and credentials.

You should also consider going a step further to form steering committees and advisory boards. These can work in conjunction with your board of directors. Many board of directors are for governing purposes, but advisory boards can help set guidelines for programmatic activities.

As the CEO or Executive Director of your nonprofit organization you want to set yourself up for success. There is no better way to do that than by recruiting the right people to help you.

Here are some suggestions to help you do this effectively:

  1. Set some goals. What are three to five key things you need to accomplish with the organization. Think big picture. Consider the long-term, not just immediate needs.
  2. Determine the expertise necessary to accomplish those goals. Who are the experts in your field that you will need to accomplish your goals?
  3. Identify key sectors that need to be involved. Which stakeholders must be at the table? (i.e. schools, law enforcement, churches, parents, etc.)
  4. Develop a recruitment strategy. Check your sphere of influence. What people do you know that can help attract the people needed from each sector?
  5. Articulate what’s in it for them. It could be a big picture appeal or an individual appeal. Some people care about service and making a difference, others are motivated by personal agendas. Find out what those reasons are for each person you approach.
  6. Set the expectations. Knowing what they will be asked to do and for how long will facilitate the decision-making process for them. Most people are already over committed to projects, so their time is valuable. Show the value of your program/organization.

Most people won’t pass up the opportunity to get involved in something worthwhile and that will yield a positive return. Your job is to make sure you demonstrate why your project is worthwhile. Give them a reason to want to help you.

Remember, when it comes to making an impact at the community level, it really does take a village.

A Thin Line Between Right & Wrong

Ethics for Nonprofit Organizations

No matter the industry you choose to work, they all have their share of good and bad. The nonprofit industry is no different. Just because nonprofit organizations are set up for charitable purposes, it doesn’t mean there aren’t people who run them with ill intentions.

There is a story that has been brewing here in Jacksonville, FL for the past year regarding a local nonprofit organization with national significance. The Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) was accused of misappropriating the funds raised for the programs they offer veterans.

I won’t get into the details of the story. Here’s the link to the article featured in the Nonprofit Quarterly –Senate Committee Finds Past Misrepresentation of Finances at the Wounded Warrior Project.  I’m simply using it as a reference.

This story struck a chord with me because it’s cases like this that make me so passionate about making sure nonprofit organizations are set up correctly and that they function with the highest of ethics. Everything from selecting board members to raising funds needs to be intentional and all actions should be beyond reproach.

The Senate Finance and Judicial Committee found that WWP was not guilty of any illegal acts, but they were cited for deliberately misrepresenting the allocation of funds. Technically, what they did wasn’t illegal, but it blurs the ethics lines. Despite the great work they do for veterans this scandal has tainted their organization. Inevitably, this will affect their donations and the ability for donors to trust them.

The reason the IRS makes it so cumbersome for nonprofit organizations to form is because they need to ensure the organizations are legitimate and actually set up for charitable purposes. Every time an organization is brought into question, it makes it that much more difficult for all the organizations that come after them.

As there are hundreds of nonprofit organizations forming every day, you want to make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and that you do it right. So, here are some suggestions to help you:

  1. Do what is legal, but also do what’s right. In the case of the WWP, they were technically within the law to appropriate their donated funds the way they did, but the intentions were wrong. Therefore, it became an ethics issue.
  2. Be selective about your board of directors and make sure they share your values. Have an effective recruiting and retention process for your board members.
  3. Have a set of checks and balances. Make sure to inspect what you expect. If you want excellence in your programs and your finances, make sure you inspect your systems, processes, and the people providing oversight.
  4. Be transparent. Keep donors informed of how you’re spending their funds and ensure you have a Certified Public Accountant and Chief Financial Officer who are accurately and routinely reporting income and donations as required by the IRS. Nonprofits are required to make their financial statements of public knowledge.

These are some basic fundamentals that will ensure overall success. Running a nonprofit organization is no different than running a for profit business. If you keep that in mind then you will be ahead of most people who start a nonprofit.

For more information about how to start a nonprofit organization and run it effectively, then you may want to register for my upcoming class on Tuesday, June 20th – “So, You Want to Start a Nonprofit”. 

Two Problems Preventing Faith-Based Organizations From Getting Funding

When I decided to get into the grant writing field, my initial intention was to help faith-based organizations find funding to support their work.

I know a lot of faith-based organizations that do a lot of good work for the community. They offer after school programs for youth, they feed the homeless, they even work with ex-offenders to keep them out of prison and get them into the workforce.

These are all wonderful acts of service. Even better, they are all fundable activities. Faith-based organizations can get money from private donors as well as federal agencies. Yet, many are unsuccessful in securing funding.

Based on my experience, I believe there are two primary reasons for that:

  1. They aren’t telling their story effectively.
  2. They aren’t demonstrating their successes.

One of the downfalls of faith-based organizations, especially churches, is they don’t always operate their ministries as a business. Fortunately, most of them are aware they need to establish a separate nonprofit organization that operates independently from the church. That’s an important step, but there are still other business practices from which faith-based organizations can benefit.

The chief among those practices is marketing. Marketing beyond the walls of the church. It is important to invest the time in creating a marketing plan that is customized to your organization, and based on your community, access to resources, and your budget.

Sometimes marketing requires spending money on traditional outlets like TV, print, and radio. That’s only a part of it.

The other aspect to marketing is social media. Though social media marketing is key, it’s not everything. Too many organizations think this is all they need to do. So, they set up Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts and that’s their marketing strategy.

That one tactic is not enough. To be successful in fundraising you have to be able to tell your story comprehensively – through various mediums and formats. This includes attending community meetings, networking, distributing newsletters, etc.

The second reason many faith-based organizations aren’t able to get funding from major sources is they aren’t able to demonstrate their success. Major funders will need to see something more than just a good program. They need to see successful outcomes.

Those outcomes have to be based on more than anecdotal information. Funders want to see the data. Unfortunately, many faith-based organizations are not gathering data in a consistent, effective way. Some aren’t gathering it at all.

Major donors want to be assured they’re investing in a program that will be successful and will yield sustainable outcomes. Sustainable outcomes ensure a positive return on their investment.

The only way to demonstrate sustainable outcomes is to use evidenced-based practices and to consistently track the program’s success.

Super Bowl LI…

How I Turned a Loss into a Lesson About Fundraising

It’s the day after the biggest night in sports and I – like many Falcons fans – woke up devastated. Unless you live on another planet, you know the Atlanta Falcons played the New England Patriots for the Super Bowl Championship last night. And by now, you also know my beloved Falcons lost.


It was such a close game. It was a historical game since it was the first time in the 50-year history of the Super Bowl that the game went into overtime.  Obviously, the fourth quarter of the game was an emotionally charged nail biter to the very end. So, it’s understandable that I would be disappointed by the loss.

But what I woke up wondering is why I couldn’t just let it go. I’m not a player. I wasn’t getting any type of monetary gain if they’d won. I had absolutely no skin in this game. Yet, I woke up feeling like I was mourning the loss of a loved one.

Just as I was beginning to blow it off to being a woman and having intense emotions, I read something that shed some light. In fact, it’s very relevant to nonprofit work and charitable giving. Hence, the reason I’m sharing this blog with you. Otherwise, I don’t think you’d care one way or the other about my grief over this game loss.

It was a quote from a blog by Seth Godin. He wrote about fundraising. He explained his theory of why people give to charity or why we buy into a particular brand. Meaning, why we accept the story the brand tells about the organization.

He said: “We love the memory we have of how that brand made us feel once. We love that it reminds us of our mom, or growing up, or our first kiss. We support a charity or a soccer team or a perfume because it gives us a chance to love something about ourselves.”

That last sentence stood out to me. “It gives us a chance to love something about OURSELVES.” Now, I get it. I know why I can’t let this go.

You see, the reason I was pulling so hard for the Falcons goes way beyond my love of the game and my respect for the players. I love the story of the Falcons.

They have overcome some rough seasons to get to where they are now. They got a new coach last season, and this year they were the comeback kids. Going into the game everybody saw them as the underdog.

For me, they represented the classic American story of hard work paying off. They have put in the work as a team. The players formed an unbreakable brotherhood. They played better this year than they have in a long time.

I predicted this would be their year because I felt like they’d earned it. The stars were aligned and it was their time.

That’s the parallel of how I see my own story. I have had some rough seasons in life, especially the last couple of years. Last year I moved to Florida to get a fresh start. Things started out a little rocky, but I’m starting to feel like I’m getting some footing.

A victorious end for the Atlanta Falcons, was a premonition of what I believed was to come for me.

But…that didn’t happen!

The stars didn’t align, and despite all of their hard work, they didn’t win the ultimate prize. They didn’t win the championship.

I made the Falcon’s journey all about me. I had my own hopes and dreams wrapped into their journey. A loss for them was a personal loss for me.

Now, let’s look at this from your perspective as a fundraiser. When pursing funds from a donor, most fundraisers tend to get wrapped up in their own passion.

One writer put it this way: “fundraisers universalize their own passion. Because they’re focused on their mission, they think everyone else is focused on their mission.”

Here’s what you’re probably missing. Donors give “through” your organization to achieve their own desires – to fulfill their own aspirations – to live out their own values. Your organization is the means to the donor’s end. (Nonprofit Quarterly)

Here are the key points:

  1. Fundraising and giving isn’t about money.
  2. Identify the donor’s mission and seek to fulfill it, instead of your own.
  3. Figure out how to solve the problem the donor has identified. If it aligns with your mission, you have a winning combination.

If you can stop focusing on what you can get and instead focus your energy on what you can give, your luck will change. You will likely have more success with your donors.

Until next time…

Peace & Blessings!