From the Nimble Nonprofit: "The reality is that every organization has a culture: a distinctive mix of attitude, atmosphere, norms, and values. There are no right and wrong answers, but an organization’s culture will bear heavily on the people it attracts as staff, supporters, and partners, on what kind of work it excels at and what it sucks at, and on its success. And the executive director and senior staffers have a disproportionate influence on what that culture looks like."
Figure out how to write grant proposals and grant reports that meet the needs of the foundations you are pitching, and get on with your work. This advice extends to another commonly voiced criticism about foundations: “That group isn’t doing very good work but they are getting all the funding, while we are doing great work and can’t even get the funders to return our calls.” To put it bluntly, you can’t expect foundations or any other potential donor to fund your organization just because you do good work, or just because you believe your work is better than that of another group. Foundations fund whomever they want for their own reasons. If you want to get in on it, stop complaining about how they aren’t paying attention to you, figure out what their needs are, and learn how to tell your organization’s compelling story in a way that aligns with their view of the world and their funding priorities.
Meetings can have real value, and, especially because so much work in so many nonprofit sectors is collaborative, it’s important to make time to touch base, brainstorm, sort through issues, and secure buy-in. But meetings can also suck up incredible amounts of time and energy. There are scores of ideas out there for making your meetings efficient and effective.
It doesn’t really matter where you get the ideas from—as long as you regularly read and explore outside of your own discipline. Cultivate a practice of engaging in conversations with people who tend to think differently about the world. Poach ideas, steal techniques, and imagine how other ideas might strengthen your own. Add vigor and creativity to your perspectives by regularly traversing beyond the usual suspects you engage with on a daily basis.
FROM THE NIMBLE NONPROFIT: The key to being great isn’t emulating “the private sector,” but, rather, learning from the best practices across all sectors. (Blindly mimicking “the business world” can be just as hazardous as ignoring it.) But when it comes to successfully running a nonprofit, the differences between the two sectors matter less than you might think. Your nonprofit will measure success by its social impact rather than by the financial return, but your fundamental mission is the same: produce a high value return on the investment made by funders and customers. Some or all of your revenue may come from sources that don’t involve selling a product or service, but, for most nonprofits, the bulk of the income comes from providing value, which might include a tax deduction, a sense of satisfaction for supporting a worthy cause, a splashy magazine, a service of some kind, or access to particular social or professional networks.
FROM THE NIMBLE NONPROFIT: How do you make it clear that you support innovation? Actively encourage new thinking, speak up about your expectations, and implement a new process of asking questions. Recognize and support leaps by your colleagues. When you see someone toying with a new idea or approach, reinforce and encourage their experiment. You can establish an expectation that your staff will look outside of their own circles for ideas. You can institutionalize questions like, “how have other people done this?” and “what approaches to this type of problem have you seen in other arenas?” as part of the project planning process. And if you really want to drive a culture of creativity and risk-taking, penalize those employees that only rely on the tried-and-true instead of testing new ideas.
Free usually sounds like a great price, and, because you are a cost-conscious nonprofit director, you may find that the chance to meet a need or take advantage of an opportunity without having to spend your donors’ money is tough to pass up. But “free” is never free.
FROM THE NIMBLE NONPROFIT: "Maybe you have an amazing board of directors that has perfect chemistry and does five times more than you could imagine asking of them. They support you and the organization, they hold you accountable, they challenge your thinking and broaden your horizons, and they raise more money than you budgeted. (If that’s the case, feel free to skip this section.) But if your experience running a nonprofit is anything close to average, your board of directors will be one of your greatest frustrations. As Boardsource reported, “[a]ccording to chief executives and board members themselves, nonprofit board performance is mediocre at best.” Or, as nonprofit consultants and researchers Richard Chait, William Ryan, and Barbara Taylor ask in an oft-cited book on nonprofit governance, “Why is there so much rhetoric that touts the significance and centrality of non-profit boards, but so much empirical and anecdotal evidence that boards of trustees are only marginally relevant or intermittently consequential?”"
Excerpts From the Nimble Nonprofit: Overhead is like cholesterol. There’s good overhead and there’s bad overhead. For a variety of reasons, overhead spending has become a widespread measure of nonprofit organizational efficiency. The reasons for this are mostly bad, and the implications are mostly detrimental. Why? Overhead seems simple to measure and easy to compare across organizations. Here’s the problem: much of what gets called “overhead” is actually quite important to the long-term capacity and health of your organization.