Dani Robbins

Archive for February, 2013|Monthly archive page

Forks and Funding Streams

In Resource Development on February 23, 2013 at 10:16 am

I once heard a local Executive Director say that fund raising in a non profit was like a new restaurant looking for investors by asking people to pay for forks. That’s exactly right!  It’s illogical, yet it’s exactly right.

Nonprofits raise money through a myriad of sources, often one part of a program, project or piece of equipment a time.  Then once a year, or more often, we submit reports on the use of those funds.

Grants, which used to fund general operating, are now far more often restricted to the priorities areas of the funding institution.  Major donors fund in a similar way, with fewer restrictions usually, but still often to support a specific program or project and for a specific purpose.

It’s how it’s done, both on the side of the giving, and also on the side of the asking.

Granting intuitions – which for the purpose of this post includes corporate, community and family foundations as well as government awards – fund portions (and occasionally all) of projects, programs and staff; some fund only supplies, capital expenses or materials.

Donors and funding institutions absolutely and unequivocally have the right to support whatever they want in whatever method they choose.

It’s the nonprofit leader’s role to decline to accept funding that doesn’t meet their mission or make sense for their agency.  The caveat to all this, of course, is that those restrictions are not just that one foundation; they’re most foundations and other funding sources too.

Everyone funds like that and we all fund raise like that too- to support forks.  Forks – or in the nonprofit world, programs, projects or things – are important, and so are utilities, rent, staff, and programming.

Please let me be clear -this post is not intended to insult or be in any way disrespectful of the many, many institutions and people that support local organizations.  We are grateful to you!

This post is intended to question the efficacy of the status quo.

I am not naïve; I’ve been in this field for 20 years. I know that part of how we got here was a lack of accountability.  There was a lot of good feeling and a minimal amount of impact. I know there are still nonprofits out there not tracking their programs, not measuring outcomes and spinning their wheels but not advancing their missions.

I also know there are many more non profits that are running good programs, measuring the impact of those programs and being excellent stewards of the community’s resources.  They’re also spending a lot of time and energy to raise money and report on that money; time and energy that is taken away from programs.

When I ran the Boys & Girl Clubs of the Western Reserve, we wrote and usually received (and reported on) around 50 grants a year, we asked many more donors each year for financial support; we received money from the United Way, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the Ohio Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs; we had events and we had an endowment.  A large portion of the money we received was restricted.  We tracked every restricted dollar to ensure we spent it the way the donor intended.  We were transparent in our business practices and followed best practices for finical management.  That is good financial stewardship.  It’s also expensive and time consuming.  It is critically important, and it is not free.

Someone has to track, coordinate and manage all the pots and agencies can usually only charge a percentage of such costs to the grant.  It’s labor intensive.  It’s expensive.  It’s how it’s done. The current nonprofit funding model works. It’s not unacceptable but it is illogical.

I can’t imagine anyone planned it to be like this.  There is no version of a past that I will believe that has donors, foundation, corporate and government leaders sitting around a table envisioning a funding system that has one program being supported by three different grants each paying for a different percentage of the program staff salaries, and a much smaller percentage of the program leadership’s salary, with yet another grant paying for the materials and special event income making up the difference.

There’s got to be a better way.  The nonprofit service delivery system has been greatly improved through technology, professional and leadership development opportunities, improved tracking and a lens that is focused on impact.  Income generating efforts have similarly evolved, with the introduction of social enterprise, expanded efforts to embrace major donors and mergers when appropriate.

It’s time to re-imagine the funding model.  What else is out there?  How else can we ensure financial stewardship, maintain donor confidence and demonstrate our impact?  What else can we do to ensure the nonprofits in our communities have the resources they need to impact their corner of the world?

Let’s come up with a new plan: I’d rather do that than raise money for forks any day of the week.

As always, I welcome your experience, insight and ideas.

Values, Stories and Moving the Needle for your Organization

In Leadership on February 18, 2013 at 7:51 pm

When I was in graduate school, as part of a leadership class, I had to read the book Managing by Storying Around , which I loved.  The idea of it, at least my recollection 18 years later of the idea of it, is that you can paint a picture with a story that is better the anything you can describe.   In the book, the leader of a company collected stories that illustrated their organizational culture and then showed it to anyone who they were considering hiring, both to engage and to weed out candidates.  I have told stories ever since and encouraged my clients to do the same.

Imagine my delight when Ruth Milligan of Articulation, Inc  offered to provide an Influential Storytelling workshop for my clients!  Of course, I immediately said yes – and thank you; the session was last week.

Ruth started by telling us the story of how she became the coordinator of TEDx Columbus.  She then asked if we believed she was credible to facilitate our workshop.  It was the first time that I understood that when I introduce myself,  I’m not just establishing my credibility so people will believe the information I’m presenting, but that I am establishing if I am credible enough to be standing in front of them leading a session.  Huge difference!

Ruth defines a story as the bridge between what I know and care about and what I don’t yet know or care about.

That changes everything!

She said something else that I found particularly poignant.  (For those of you who are also my clients get ready for this point to be incorporated into a future session.)   She said if you want to know about an organization’s culture, have people tell you stories that tie back to values.

Values are at the heart of what I know and care about and what I don’t yet know or care about.

We learned how stories fit into larger presentations, and how to use metaphors to make complex points more easily understood by your audience.   One of the thanks yous I received afterward referenced that point as a favorite.

Ruth showed me that when I can tell a story that taps into emotion, facts and is tied to values and if I can present that story in is a way that has an obviously beginning with a hook that grabs the audience, a middle with stories and reasons that support my core idea, and an ending that includes a call to action, I could be unstoppable.

And so can you!

What’s your story? What are your values?  What is the impact of your organization? How are you communicating that information?

We have a world to change.  Stop presenting and start telling Influential Stories!

As always, I welcome your experience and insight.

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