Posts Tagged ‘nonprofit operations’

Creating Meaning

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

As human beings, we crave belonging and seek to find a meaningful existence. Very often, that feeling of meaning comes from helping others. One of the many reasons that people start nonprofits is to give meaning – to life, to a memory, to a person, to a cause.  Having a nonprofit creates a structure and a platform from which one can elevate a message and aim for a solution or a cure or an answer.

There are nonprofits staffed with some of the most eager and idealistic people the world has to offer. Nonprofit work is not easy, but it can be incredibly rewarding. In the best situations it causes people to look at the world differently, to find solutions beyond the obvious and to work harder on behalf of those whom the organization represents. Nonprofits, in their very purest form, can create meaning.

However, nonprofits are plagued with the same challenges as any other organization in the global marketplace. Every day there are new nonprofits competing for the same donor dollars. Generally, nonprofits’ intents are purse Most of the motivation is selfless. So what causes one to create lasting meaning while another is left behind?

Last week, I attended a seminar by marketing guru Seth Godin. He spoke on his new book, Linchpin, and the new economic marketplace. His focus was on individuals, but some of what he said (and what is in his book) resonated for me in regards to creating meaning as a person and as a nonprofit organization. In his book, he writes of the new “American Dream”:

Be remarkable. Be generous. Create art. Make judgment calls. Connect people and ideas.

He writes that the new dream is about “vision and engagement.” As nonprofits we have an already have a vision, or we wouldn’t exist. Most nonprofit organizations seek to engage the world to come together to create art (solutions). We celebrate the remarkable. We generously give money and time and information to those whose lives we seek to improve.  We make judgment calls – determining how we can attain the most good for the greatest number of people with the limited resources we have.  By virtue of working to serve some sector of the population, we aspire to connect people and ideas.

Organizationally, we might (at least on paper) have it right. Yet how many of us who work for nonprofits are engaged in the same path of creating meaning? How many of us have a vision? How many of us seek the things Mr. Godin suggests? Do our employees exude the same passion that our brand does? Do we seek to create real, tangible meaning in our day-to-day work behind the scenes?

Or do we settle for average?

I thought a lot about it as I read Linchpin. A nonprofit organization doesn’t set out to be average. Average doesn’t change people or save the world or find cures or save the whales. However, while the organization’s vision may not be average, it will only truly fulfill its vision if the people behind the scenes are extraordinary.

Mr. Godin has this to say about that very thing:

“The only way to win is to race to the top … An organization of indispensable people doing important work is remarkable, [successful] and indispensable in and of itself. What the [organization] really wants is an artist, someone who changes everything, someone who makes dreams come true. What the [organization] really wants is someone who can see the reality of today and describe a better tomorrow.”

What the organization really needs is people who are as committed to creating meaning as much as the organization. Together, with a solid vision and a group of employees creating real, tangible meaning each day – we have the opportunity to truly change the way things get done. To have more resources, more bandwidth and more ability to impact our neighbors, our communities and our world.

How do you create meaning at your organization?

The Whiteboard Meeting

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

The Only Difference is Zeros: 10 Steps to Improved Nonprofit Development and Fundraising

Step #7            Go to the Whiteboard!

With the information you have now gathered, from both your own research efforts as well as your just-completed Exploratory Meeting, you are now prepared to begin what may be the most important step, and the most energizing and fruitful. It is now time to gather your troops together to generate solicitation and opportunity ideas for the individual donor, foundation or company you are going to present a proposal to.

To make this process as efficient, effective, and fun as possible, first reach out to those members of your team, or to Trustees or Advisory Board members, that are creative, intuitive, experienced, and wise to the ways of “how donors think”, or may have a personal relationship with the potential donor, foundation or company. Formally invite them to participate in what will become known over time as a “Whiteboard Meeting,” to be held in an office or conference room that has a whiteboard in which to write on.

There is something very magical that happens when ideas/thoughts/comments can be documented instantaneously on a whiteboard, where each participant can view them.

The very visual recording of an idea on the whiteboard energizes others to contribute their own ideas or add to the ideas of other participants. Somehow the whiteboard process creates energy, motion and momentum.

The timing of the Whiteboard Meeting can also be advantageous. I have found that Whiteboard Meetings held earlier in the morning yield the best results, even if held earlier than normal business hours. A Whiteboard Meeting held from 7:00 AM-8:30 AM provides fresh thinking, less distractions, and a fun camaraderie amongst the participants. A shared feeling that the “early bird does get the worm.” Assign one of the team members to supply the donuts, bagels, and beverages—it is always appreciated and gives members an energy pick-up when needed.

Also assign one of the members to serve as the scribe for writing on the Whiteboard, and another member to record what ultimately ends up on the Whiteboard.

To begin the Whiteboard Meeting process, and perhaps in advance, provide the participants two pieces of information:

  • First, provide basic background and information on the potential donor, foundation or company that has been researched and gathered.
  • Second, provide basic information on what the donor, foundation or company is looking for or trying to accomplish, again based on research and the Exploratory Meeting.

The next step of the Whiteboard Meeting is brainstorm ideas, programs or initiatives that would clearly match what your organization can offer with the desires/wants/needs/objectives of the potential donor, foundation or company.

This part of the process should look at two buckets:

  1. Are there existing assets (activities/programs/initiatives/strategic partnerships) that your organization currently has that would serve as a solution to the desires and objectives of the potential donor, foundation or company? In other words, are there ongoing/activated assets in your organization’s quiver that would be of immediate interest?
  2. If not, what is the new/yet-to-be created ideas, programs, or initiatives that your organization could formulate and execute on behalf of the donor, foundation or company?

In both of these parts of the process, encourage the participants to use this piece of advice: Big ideas that execute simply! While there is no shortage of ideas, there are generally limited resources, based on funding and staffing. So the focus should be on great opportunities that will not drain your organization of money and people!

The true purpose of the Whiteboard Meeting, in addition to providing a laboratory for great thinking and creative ideas, is to generate those strategies and tactics that will generate the guts of the formal proposal. The results of the Whiteboard Meeting ultimately translate into showing the donor, foundation or company that your organization has spent time thinking about them!

It is also through this process that your organization arrives at what contribution amount you are going to propose. Once you have clearly defined what measurable impact your organization brings to the donor, foundation or company—in other words, clearly answer the question, “Why associate with us?”—you should now be as confident with the level of financial commitment/contribution you are going to propose.

The Whiteboard Meeting generates the ideas that translate into the formal proposal. The formal proposal should then say to the potential donor, foundation or company, “By making this level of contribution to this organization, and seeing how my dollars will be put to work, I can clearly see my donation’s impact is multiplied many-fold.”

And all parties walk away thinking, “This is a great partnership.”

Next Installment: Step #8: Create an Emotional Atmosphere

This is the 7th part of a 10-part series The Only Difference is Zeros: 10 Steps to Improved Nonprofit Development and Fundraising.
-Don Stirling