Dani Robbins

What Could You Accomplish with a Nonprofit Center for Strategy and Capacity?

In Advocacy, Community Strategy, Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development, Resource Development, Strategic Plans on September 8, 2017 at 10:05 am

I work to make nonprofits stronger; I believe when nonprofits are stronger, communities are stronger. Lately, I’ve been working at the community level, setting theories of change to align the work of agencies, funders and community leaders.

Social Justice is working to change systemic issues. Charity is responding to immediate needs. The need for charity is mitigated by the advancement of social justice, which I believe is more easily advanced when communities are aligned.

What can we do  – and I do – to  align our communities, advance our sector, and all of our capacity to affect change? I believe too few nonprofit leaders receive the training they need to be successful and too few communities set the strategies they need to impact their goals. Would we be stronger if we aligned funding and social services to community needs?  I think we would.

I’m writing this blog post to ask for your help and your feedback.

I’m considering launching a Center for Nonprofit Strategy and Capacity to advance social justice through capacity building of nonprofits and strategy setting in the communities and sectors they serve.

Would something like this be helpful? Would you use it? If so, I invite you to send this post to the leaders in your community that can make it happen?  Better yet, please invite me into the conversation.

Here’s what I’m thinking I want to lead, start, run, develop, introduce, support or build.

At the agency level:

The quality of a nonprofit is dependent on the training its leaders have received, the knowledge they bring and the information to which they have access. There are too few “go to” places for nonprofit leadership. In the gap, the sector is reliant on degree programs fortified by informal mentors, consultants and on-line learning.

At the community level:

Individual agency’s impact goals are not usually aligned with their partners, nor is the funding that they receive. A coordinated and aligned strategy in different subsectors, could improve the systems, programs and impact, to insure the community’s needs are addressed and the lives of its citizens are improved. In the gap, agency, community and foundation leaders set their own goals, which may or may not be aligned, may or may not be in competition with their partners, and may or may not be set at all.


A Nonprofit Center for Strategy and Capacity could fill the gap, work with sub-sectors in a community to set a theory of change, manage a variety of on-line and in person certificate programs and provide training and consulting services. The combination of all will result in a stronger nonprofit sector providing better services to an improved community.

Projected Offerings:

Certificate Programs:

  • Executive Leadership
  • Resource Development
  • Board Governance

Consulting and Training:

  • Board Governance
  • Coaching
  • Organizational Assessments
  • Organizational Development
  • Strategic Planning (at the agency level)

Community Strategy:

  • Theory of Change setting
  • Strategic Planning (at the community level)

I’m thinking of this like an open source program. Sure, now that I’ve put this out there, someone may build such a thing in their community. Good! Like I said above, social justice is more easily advanced when the work of communities are aligned. I’d love you to introduce this idea in your community. Call me if I can help.

I believe this center, which could be virtual or bricks and mortar, will be stronger with a university or a community foundation affiliation. Do you agree? It’s the only reason I haven’t done it yet myself, though my company certainly does many parts of this work already.

What more can I do? What have you done? What else can our field do? I invite your feedback, insight and ideas. If you think I can help, I’d be honored to be included in the conversation in your community.

Please reach out if you’re thinking:

She should talk to ____.

I want this here!

Can you include ____?

Did you consider _____?

As always, I welcome your insight, your answers and your comments.  A rising tide raises all boats. Still, we could rise faster and have greater impact if our leaders had access to training and the work of our community was aligned.

If the above resonates with you, if you have ideas, comments or questions, please email me at dani@nonprofitevolution.com or use the comment box to share.

Thank you for your consideration and your service!


What Can You and Your Nonprofit Do in These Uncertain Times?

In Advocacy, Leadership on August 18, 2017 at 11:30 am

I have been watching and worrying, wringing my hands, furiously reading and posting articles, vacillating between being terrified and sick to my stomach, and occasionally screaming about the current status of our country’s leadership and the crash course we seem to be on toward becoming all of our worst fears. As that is only so productive for so long, I am electing to make a list of things I can do, and our field can do, to affect change. I invite you to join me.


I can give to a cause I believe is working for justice. I am already a member of the ACLU and both of my local NPR stations (why we have two is a post for another time, and another blogger) After reading How to Make Fun of Nazis  about a town in Germany in which people pledge to donate to social justice for every step made by neo-Nazis, I made a donation to Planned Parenthood.  In fact, I made it in honor of Cecile Richards, their CEO, who is leading the fight to ensure women, and men, have access to reproductive health care in all its forms.  Go Cecile!

Nonprofits, you can promote your work addressing these issues.  You can engage donors to rally around you. You can engage people to fight hatred in all forms. You can protect your clients. You can solicit donations to execute the suggestions listed below, assuming they are aligned with your mission and in concert with your programming and your Board. If not, I encourage you to support your partner agencies in doing so.


I can call my elected officials.  I (personally) have called Senator Portman’s office so often, I’m on a first name basis with some of the staff. (Hi Eric and Kevin!) If you’re going to call, be clear on what you want. Is it impeachment?  Is it that protestors should not be allowed to carry guns? Is it to protect and defend minority groups? Statements are nice but legislative or judicial action is the only way we’re going to ensure our values are upheld. While it’s true that our personal values aren’t all the same, our country’s values are pretty clear; even as we haven’t always or often lived up the them. This is one more opportunity to be who we wish we were.

Nonprofits, if you’re not already doing so, you can send out posts informing people how to engage elected officials. If you want to encourage a specific view point or recommend a letter be used, depending on the topic, you may have to follow different rules based on your IRS status.  If you’re unsure, check your status before you do.  The rules are different for 501 c 3s and a 501 c 4s.  Both can lobby, but 3s can only do so to a point and cannot support candidates. I also recommend you check with your Board before you set down this path.


I can join together with like-minded partners.  I can join a current group; there are many.  Or I can start my own.  One person is just that. Three is a group. Ten is a coalition. 100 is movement. We can stand together to fight hatred and promote peace.

Nonprofits, we are all stronger together. If there’s a collation you can build or join with your partner agencies to promote an agenda of peace, I encourage you to consider it.  Ten agencies standing together to promote their city as a sanctuary city sends a strong message.  Ten agencies partnering to train people to protect their neighbors does as well.  Again, bring your Board along with you.


I can, live and in person, go to a protest and put my life and my body on the line to stand up for my beliefs.  It is my right and my choice. Yours, too. The only way to be heard sometimes is to also be seen.

Nonprofits, many of our strongest and oldest agencies were birthed in protest.  You can bus people to marches. You can train them on the law and their rights. You can ensure your clients have a political voice and know how to use it. You can also take out an ad in the local paper, write an op-ed piece or post a letter on your website.

Speak Up and Speak Out

Speak out not only to the elected officials or on your computer, but to your family, friends, and neighbors when they say something disrespectful, racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim or just plain stupid, wrong or ignorant. Silence is acquiescence. There are no sidelines and, no (!) both sides do not have equal validity. There’s right and there’s wrong.  Where do you stand?

Nonprofits, you can train people on how to do this.  It’s hard and sometimes it’s dangerous. You can give people tools.

Vote, Support a Candidate or Run for Office

I can vote, as I have done and will continue to do. I can support, financially and with my time, candidates that I believe in.  I can also run for office.  So, can you.

Nonprofits can and are training people on how to run, register to vote and support others.  We can encourage them. We can support them. We can teach them how to raise money, file the paperwork and campaign.  Many of you are already doing it.  The rest of us can promote your work.


We have never healed the wounds of our history. We have never reconciled the hell of slavery.  The history of women as chattel. The cost Native Americans paid. The scars of internment. The vestiges of WWII on its survivors and the families of those who weren’t as lucky. Our past is haunting us. We have some hard questions to face and some difficult conversation to have. Let’s have them. Let’s talk.

If all we have are words and war, I’d prefer words.

Nonprofits, we are already poised to hold these conversations.  We can set ground rules, start the dialogue and begin the healing process.

What I can’t do, you can’t do and we can’t do is nothing.  Our silence will not protect us.

What more can I do?  What have you done?  What else can our field do? I welcome your insight, your answers and your comments, with the understanding that hate will (still) not be perpetuated here.






Does Your Agency Aspire to Social Justice or Charity?

In Advocacy, Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development, Strategic Plans on May 23, 2017 at 11:40 am

The two questions I repeat the most, in both my classes and in my practice, are these: What’s the goal?  Who decides?

What’s the goal?

Is your agency’s goal to be the best food pantry (or any other service providing/safety net charity)? Or is it to address the underlying issues related to food scarcity (or any other complicated, multi-layered critical issue)?  If it’s the former, that’s charity.  If it’s the latter, that’s social justice.

Social Justice is working to change systemic issues. Charity is responding to immediate needs.  As anyone who has ever taken my class or worked in our field will tell you, we need both.  We’re not going to ignore the hungry child in front of us to work for social justice. Yet, we can’t only get food for those who are hungry, because the root causes are what’s causing food scarcity.

Every person who serves a nonprofit has to decide where to plug in. Every staff member. Every researcher. Every leader. Every volunteer. Every donor.

What’s the goal?

Do we keep fishing cats out of the river, or look upstream and deal with whatever or whoever is causing the cats to be in the river? What’s the goal? (It’s a handy question.)

Nonprofit Boards, in concert with their CEO, set the goal. The goal sets the path. (This could be a great generative conversation for a future Board meeting.)

If the goal is to be the best food pantry, and there’s nothing wrong with aspiring to be the best food pantry –  unless your goal is social justice, and then you’re on the wrong path. The path supports the work toward the goal.

Maybe you want both?  I always did. I wanted to run the best agency I could, doing good work, meeting our mission, with a well trained, dedicated and talented Board and staff, serving our clients with dignity AND I want to work with my community partners to eliminate the need for my agency.

That means dual goals with dual paths. You can be the best food pantry and also work with community partners to eliminate food scarcity.  Food scarcity, and all systemic issues, is a big scary multi layered bucket of issues that include privilege, implicit bias, legal and policy challenges, poverty elimination, racism, sexism, classism, housing, school funding imbalances, and lots of other things that are hard to tease out and even harder to solve.

Being the best is a go it alone, we have the answers, and we’ll get it done model. It’s a bit more territorial and a lot less collaborative, but it’s not ineffective and sometimes the circumstances call for it.

Am I competing against my partner agencies for funding?  Sometimes I am. Does that mean I can’t also work with them to address the underlying issues in our community. Some will tell you it does.  I’m here to tell you it doesn’t.  Where you sit always determines where you stand.

It’s why your values have to match your agency’s policies and its aspirations?  As I mentioned in Reflecting on my Pursuit of Social Justice “saying you value one thing but actually doing another sends a very inconsistent and confusing message. If we want our teams to live our values, then we have to live them and our policies and systems have to reflect them.”

Who Decides?

You do, collectively and individually. You decide at the agency level.  You decide at the community level. You decide at your leadership level- on your team, in your neighborhood.  Every day.  With every decision. Every donation. Every allocation. Every choice.

There was a great piece on NPR this morning  In Some Rural Counties, Hunger Is Rising, But Food Donations Aren’t looking at just this issue. It’s not just SW Virginia.  There are communities across the country that are discussing systemic issues and setting goals for change in their community.  I’m proud to tell you that several of those cities are in Ohio; Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus have been and continue to have these conversations.

I’m hoping it’s a national trend. Even if it’s not yet a trend that has come to your community, you can still move toward social justice.

We each get to decide if we run our agencies to be the best organization alone or if we work together to eliminate the need for all of our agencies, because we addressed the systemic issue requiring our agencies.  How?

By deciding to be less territorial and more collaborative. Call your partners and other leaders in your community who work on like issues and invite them to discuss the options. Are you ready to set a Theory of Change for your community?  If so, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has a great manual on how.

Before you do, you might have to stop being afraid of scarcity and start embracing abundance.  If you’re currently looking at the world and your ability to impact change as a zero sum game –  and it’s how many of us have been trained to think –  I invite you to read Agreements, Vibrancy and Abundance.

We can change our corner of the world alone at our desks or we can do it together.  If our goal is social justice, together will get us farther, faster.

What’s your experience standing in the breech between social justice and charity.  Where did you elect to stand? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

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