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Public Allies Chicago : Forum for Nonprofit Leaders NOTES

Public Allies Chicago Presents: A Forum for Nonprofit Leaders
March 25, 2009

What can we expect from the philanthropic community in this new economic environment?

Consuella Brown, The Woods Fund
The bad news:
• Don’t rely on government stimulus money – most of it has been or will be spent to plug up deficits.
• Foundations have experienced significant drops in assets. It’s serious enough that they are having to consider cutting staff. While foundations used to be able to fund staff’s personal favorite projects, they can’t anymore and are using this time as an opportunity to let go of low performers. Recommendations: 1) Expect at-level funding or less from your current funders, 2) Think about how you are communicating your impact, and 3) Get to know foundations’ priorities.
• Individual donors are continuing to give but in lower amounts and in more targeted ways.
• Will likely get worse in 2010 and 2011. Small and mid-size organizations will be hit hardest. Recommendations: 1) Come up with a contingency plan. 2) Don’t pursue stimulus dollars until/unless you’ve thought about how you will sustain growth next year.
The good news:
• Very useful conversations about budget priorities are happening
• Incentive to collaborate with other organizations
• Serve America Act will increase the number of AmeriCorps members

Pier Rogers, The Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management
Recommendations for navigating current economic climate:
• We have to think creatively, in a way we may not have been doing.
• Can’t afford mission drift now. Think ‘what is your core?’
• Collaboration allows us to combine resources.
• Postpone non-essential expenses.
• Clearly communicate strategy and contingency plans to all stakeholders – make sure everyone is comfortable with the way you are handling this crisis. You want your funders to feel secure that you’ve been thoughtful about being prepared.
• Call on board members to govern, be part of strategy making, and bring resources to the table. Being able to say “We have 100% giving from our board, they are completely behind us” sends a powerful message to other prospective funders, and is more important than each board member giving a certain amount – allow members to choose how much they give.
• Consider social entrepreneurship, i.e. ways to bring in revenue, long-term sustenance to your organization.
• This is not an environment where you can come up with quick-fixes (e.g. new funding strategies) overnight.
Question and Answer Session

What does ‘social entrepreneurship’ refer to?
A for-profit initiative with a social mission. It’s been around for a long time but now we’re calling it this. It’s not a panacea.

How do I recruit new board members at a time like this?
Present it as an opportunity to make an investment and be part of problem-solving and strategy-making. It’s good to know whether potential members are interested in this upfront so you don’t recruit dead wood. Think about each potential member as a strategic investment – what will be the ROI? what can they give/get?

How do we cultivate donors in a time like this?
Think 9-12 months for cultivation. Before approaching a donor for the first time, find out if they have recently funded anyone like you, and if not whether they are funding anything new. If a donor says no to you, find out why and learn from it.

Can we still get general operating support?
You can still get a little general operating support, but you have to ask for it (it’s on ‘the back shelf’).

What do I need to know about collaborating with other organizations in grantseeking?
Make sure to write a Memorandum of Understanding. If you’re a secondary contractor, find your way to the table with the primary contractor. Visit the BoardSource website for more information.

What are the considerations and opportunities for building capacity in an era of diminished resources and rising demand for services?

Eric Weinheimer, The Cara Program
What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. 5 Recommendations:
1) Identify your economic engine – what impact(s) does your organization create that will attract investors? Make sure everything you do contributes directly to achieving the impact(s)? Many funders say they are only interested in something new and exciting, but don’t be tempted to follow the dollars.
2) Engage funders in a proactive, creative and moving way, not with the normal email, phone call, and walk through the office. Make sure they engage with the people you serve, not just you or your staff. Send a letter to every funder and prospective funder detailing how you are handling this crisis.
3) Use the culture of your organization to do more with less. Determine with your staff,
what in your culture works (in terms of values and rituals). Embrace these things and run with them. Show that you celebrate your metrics, and share them in a vibrant and accessible way.
4) Go beyond collaboration - consider a merger. It’s not about your organization, it’s about the mission.
5) Get a Public Ally.

Joanne Howard, Metropolitan Chicago Information Center
• Create a strategic plan with a mission, goals, and outcomes with numeric benchmarks. Make sure your whole staff is on board with the plan and revisit it at least every six months.
• Know how to frame your success stories.
• Know your audience – do an external and internal environmental scan. Think ‘what are our assets and liabilities, what do we need?’ Make sure you have board and staff members in place who have appropriate skill sets to accomplish the mission.
• Look at your organizational culture – make sure it is not wrapped up in any one or two people being there. Do plus/delta at the end of meetings.
• Trust and use your data. Consider using graduate student interns to get data together, and bringing in an external consultant to check and analyze the data. For more information visit the websites of the Metropolitan Chicago Information Institute www.mcic.org, the Brookings Institute, etc.

Macarthur Antigua, Public Allies National Office
What do we need to know about Generation Serve?
• ‘Generation Serve’ (a.k.a. ‘millennials’) refers to people born between 1978 and 1993 – they outnumber baby boomers now.
• The percent of teens volunteering has doubled since the 1970s.
• Millennials want this sector to be the place where talent goes (a non-‘pity’ sector).
• They are itching to get in the game, and they look for positions where they can spend 2-3 years developing skills and then move on to another position.
• The Serve America Act will result in many more AmeriCorps members nationwide.
• Think about succession planning at all levels of your organization.
• To attract millennials, create compelling opportunities for them.
• Consider hiring an AmeriCorps member as an opportunity to build capacity.

Question and Answer Session

What are some ways to improve organizational culture?
Have your whole staff evaluate what is working and what is not; determine who is going to own making sure that the things that work continue to happen. Think very seriously about who you hire, and make sure many staff members have ownership of new hires. Also think about things like meeting practices, daily practices, where people are working, and dress. Find areas for spending reduction through collective discussion – the people closest to the work have good ideas. Stay respectful of people (appropriate processes) through these times – this is part of your culture.

How will funders view staff cuts?
Funders want to know that what they have invested in is going to be carried out. Tell the person who reviewed your proposal before you make a public announcement about staff cuts. If you’re in the midst of being reviewed, consider asking for contingency funding (e.g. funding that is contingent on hiring new staff).

How do you recommend we collect and present our data?
There are many ways to collect and present data, and different funders have their preferences. MCIC is a great resource for data collection and analysis. Funders are digging deeper into data now, but don’t make them have to dig. Also be aware that your organizational reputation is often more important than the data you present.

What can we expect from corporate funders in this economic environment?
There is still funding available from corporate funders IF you fall in their sweet spot. (They still have an interest in appearing socially responsible especially in these times.) Think about what you have to OFFER them.

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Comment by Daniel Bassill on March 28, 2009 at 9:51am
Thanks for posting this. Lots of good suggestions, and many point to collaboration.

This is the time for all of us working with youth to innovate ways our collective efforts educate donors who then join with us on line to learn more about what we do and ways they can help. This village chart illustrates the range of people and organizations who should be in this forum talking about social justice, workforce development, poverty reduction, better school, etc.

Use your facebook, blog and other media to tell your story, and to link to this forum and others like it. See how I do that at http://tutormentor.blogspot.com and how Nicole White does this at http://nicolecabrini.blogspot.com/ . If others put links to T/MC and each other on their own media we can all generate more traffic, and donations for each of us.

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