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The Nonprofit Strategist

So You Founded a Nonprofit. Here's a Quick Way to Assess Your Progress

“If tech founders had to do what nonprofit founders do to get startup funding, we wouldn’t HAVE a tech industry in this country.”

Nonprofit founders have it tough, no doubt about it. But as a founder, do you know where your organization stands on its path to sustainability? More to the point, do you know what you need to get there?  It’s about money, yes. But it’s surely more than that, right?

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Why the Nonprofit Sector Needs More Accelerator Programs

We frequently talk with founders of tech and nonprofit startups, and we see a lot of similarities. Both nonprofit and tech founders are entrepreneurial, passionate about their ideas and face countless challenges ranging from the strategic to the tactical and mundane--any of which can rise up to bite the founder in the behind.  Interestingly, the management literature* largely confirms our observations.

You might ask, what’s the biggest challenge facing nonprofit entrepreneurs?  Money, money, MONEY! That’s right, it’s a lack of access to capital. No surprise, but we’re here to say and the literature confirms it:

Nonprofit founders face more challenges in raising capital than their tech founder brethren.  

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Thanks and Thoughts on 2018

Sometimes we’re asked why we do this.

With the news we see everyday, hope seems elusive. What do we do in face of injustice, economic uncertainty for so many, and a planet ravaged by human excess?

On reflection, it’s simple enough. We encounter momentary discouragement, we pause and remind ourselves to have a little faith, for it turns out that hope is an action. Just as love is an action, so too with hope.

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David Reis
2.6% Increase in Giving Masks Accelerating Small $ Donor Slide

The trade press headlines stemming from the most recent Fundraising Effectiveness Report are mixed at best. The good news is that giving has increased by 2.6% so far this year, driven primarily by wealthy donors.

The bad? So far, the number of US donors has declined by 4.3% through September 30th. The overall donor retention rate is down by 5.6%. In particular, new donor retention and lapsed donor recovery rates are down. These negative trends have now continued for several years, and in fact appear to have accelerated.

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Working with Good People Leads to Good Things

The headline seems self-evident, but many of us might admit that the idea is sometimes honored in the breach; not so for us in this recent case.

We’re just back from a six day workshop in London that we designed to help community-based women’s organizations from around the world increase the impact of their anti-slavery, anti-trafficking work. This is an under-appreciated problem—didn’t we solve that in the 19th century? Not quite. Global estimates suggest there are between 20 and 40 million people who are victims of modern slavery, most often as a result of forced labor or marriage, with profits from this sordid business of as much as $140 billion annually.  

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Four Keys to 2019 Fundraising Success

If you have a calendar-year FY, now is a great time to start planning for 2019 - even if you haven't kicked off your formal process yet. 

What’s the linchpin of any successful fundraising plan? Simply put, it’s knowing your donors well enough to make the right strategic investments of time and money. That’s why the most important thing you can do to assure a successful 2019 is to invest in analytics before even thinking about strategy. Here are four key steps you can start taking today:

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FundraisingDavid Reis
Is Your Program Grant Ready?

Private foundation funding (grants) is a great source of income. These gifts have the potential to be much larger than your average major donor’s, can provide stability through multi-year investments, and often open the door to other foundation investments. Yet foundation funders almost always require more of their grantees than a typical individual donor, in terms of recordkeeping and reporting.

You need more than just a good program to attract and keep foundation funding. Here are six questions to help you assess whether your program is ready, and some tips to help you get you there.

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FMS Interviews: Operation Code’s Executive Director Talks About Nonprofit Innovation

It’s fair to say that almost every nonprofit professional I’ve ever met has a passionate interest in doing better, or in a word: innovating. At the same time, innovation is often elusive, especially in under-capitalized smaller nonprofits, but also in larger institutions that have a way of stifling initiative.

We do know innovation when we see it, though, so that’s why we recently spoke with Conrad Hollomon, Executive Director at Operation Code, a truly innovative nonprofit run by veterans that helps veterans and military spouses break into the tech industry.

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Get Your "Nonprofit Judo" On

Nonprofit leaders should make greater use of what Kevin Barenblat calls "nonprofit judo." 

Writing in a recent Harvard Business Review piece, Barentblat recognizes that nonprofits are typically focused on providing services in situations where markets either don't work or aren't working. The best, he says, successfully leverage what would be a weakness in a for-profit context to their competitive advantage. Nonprofit judo, in other words. 

Nonprofit leaders worth their salt know this…

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Four Tips for Putting Your Creativity to Work

We hear a lot about innovation these days. Tech is obsessed with disruption, sometimes to the great benefit of the masses, and sometimes without enough thought to “to what end” and “for whom--and who gets left behind?”. Foundations want to fund innovative ideas (but not without proof, and not with too much risk). Nonprofits that want to stand out and be able to compete for funding may be eager to position their programs as innovative. And some of us are left scratching our heads, wondering what all the fuss is about--our work is already great, after all--and how does one innovate, anyway?

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If Civil Society is Decaying, What Should Nonprofit Leaders Do?

In a recent Nonprofit Quarterly article, Steve Dubb observes that the basic idea that guides most nonprofits is that they exist to plug gaps in civil society, with the assumption that society is "more or less functional".

Whatever one thinks of the current political environment, it is clear that increases in productivity over the last 40 years have generated enormous wealth for a few, while wages for more than 90% of Americans have stagnated. Income inequality continues to grow and even accelerate, as it also arguably weakens and corrupts democratic institutions and norms.

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If You Have a Voice and a Conscience, Now is the Time to Use Them

What’s happening at our southern border is unconscionable. The Trump Administration’s child concentration camps need to be shut down immediately, and these children need to be returned to their parents.  Their parents, many of whom are asylum seekers, need to be treated with respect and dignity, and not arrested for acting to protect their children from harm. No one travels a thousand miles through harsh conditions because they want a new dishwasher. They do it for the safety and futures of their children.

Normally, we talk about nonprofit capacity building in our blogs. But I cannot stay silent.

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Five Things I Don't Like About Lists, And What I Intend To Do About It

Tired of articles and blog posts listing a bunch of things you should do to improve on how you run your nonprofit? Or your life for that matter?

I am. Here’s why.

  1. They’re often irrelevant because they don’t have anything to do with you or your nonprofit.

  2. The folks writing up these lists don’t always have much to say. No offense, but they’re desperate to produce content, and sometimes they’re just scraping the bottom of the barrel…

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Let's Hope They're Wrong: New Study Predicts Decline in Philanthropy Due to Tax Law

A new analysis featured in the Chronicle of Philanthropy predicts that individual giving will decline by 4% or about $16 billion in 2018, with almost all of it attributable to the loss of the charitable deduction and the increase in the standard deduction. Authors Alex Brill and Derrick Choe further show that the most significant impact will be on giving by those with higher income levels, mainly due to the increase in the standard deduction.  Their study is in line with several other estimates projecting a decline.

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Compensating Fundraisers on a Commission Basis is (Still) Not a Good Idea.

We receive questions about incentive-based fundraising on a regular basis, especially with our startup clients who want to be entrepreneurial and really don't have the funds to compensate fundraisers up front. They wonder...why can't we pay based on performance?  

The answer is that you can, but you can't set up contracts that enshrine personal profit as the primary motivation for compliance. In short, DON'T pay commission. A recent NonProfit Quarterly article reminds us again why this is so, but here's a simple, line-by-line explanation:

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FundraisingDavid Reis
What’s All the Noise About Shared Value, Anyway?

We frequently recommend that our nonprofit clients encourage discussion of the potential for shared value investment with their corporate supporters. So what is shared value, and why does it matter?

First articulated by Mark Kramer and Michael Porter (FSG), the basic idea is simple: for-profit companies should invest in developing products for underserved communities that meet social needs, or in economic development--and they will make money in the process.

So what’s in it for you? Better corporate relationships, simply put. And maybe a bigger impact on the problem you’re trying to solve.

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