When Executive directors and CEOs of nonprofit organizations share their greatest challenges with me, the list of common frustrations can include- fundraising, board development, and effectively managing personnel. When I start to focus on how to overcome their biggest obstacles, these senior managers begin to realize that one of the biggest hurdles they face was not even on the list, yet it is integral part of all the challenges facing them. The need for data. The need for data leads directly into the “evaluation trap”. The good news is there is a solution to this trap, most of nonprofit leadership is simply not aware of it.
And it wont' blow your budget...When I am speaking to nonprofit professionals, the conversation usually turns to the mission of their organization and the impact it has on the community. The big question is not how can an organization measure their impact and communicate it to private foundations, government ag encies and the community, but on how can they afford not to? An independent evaluation has benefits that cannot be ignored, it can prove the program is meeting its mission, demonstrate that the benefits of the nonprofit are being effectively received, and quantify the impact of resources.
One of the first subjects I cover with nonprofit leaders when we are talking about business models, strategy, fundraising, or a myriad of other topics, is the difference between customers and consumers. I can’t understate how crucial understanding this difference is to nonprofit leaders. I am not one who touts the "supremacy" of the for-profit world over the nonprofit one, but I do see ways that one sector can contribute to another and this is one where nonprofit executive directors and CEOs can benefit. Having clarity on the difference between customers and consumers will enable you to understand the motivations and needs of some of your most important partners, thereby allowing you to more effectively serve them.
Fundraising is a perennial challenge for nonprofit executive directors and CEOs. The typical cycle is: you have a number of projects, you’re very busy, and so fundraising slacks off. Then you wake up at 3:00 a.m. one morning realizing all of the projects you have are sun-setting, so you panic and begin to search for new funders anywhere you can find them- no matter how long the shot. Everything else, including current projects, staff issues, and operations, is set aside to get new funding in the door. Before you know it, you’re back to having so many projects at once that you let your pipeline of funding languish again. As a result, you’re feeling like a hamster on a wheel. Yet there’s an even darker scenario as your projects sunset—you cannot find replacements, and you soon find yourself without revenue and you have to close your doors.
There’s a pervasive myth in the nonprofit world that I like to call the “uber” board. Nonprofit leaders have all heard of it—this incredible body of selfless individuals constantly doing it all - fundraising, advising, leading, volunteering, and supporting. You’re often told in person and via field literature that this is the board you must have, anything less, and your board isn’t fully functional, it is perhaps even dysfunctional, and it reflects on you as a nonprofit leader.