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Archive for October, 2009

Boards Need Focus, Boards Need Information

Nonprofit boards of directors work best when they’re focused like a laser on the mission. Whether it’s health, education, human service, arts….each nonprofit board needs to be clear on direction in order to achieve maximum effectiveness.
If it’s clear to us that we’re seeking a cure to a dreaded disease, or that we’re getting butts in the seats of our community theater, or that we’re out to reduce drug or alcohol addiction to a defined population, or that we want to get more kids interested in reading…once we all affirm what we’re going for it becomes easier to make the next level of decisions on strategies to get our goals accomplished.
Board of director meetings that spend their time deciding things that are operational are not making best use of their time. Staff leaders and board leaders need to work collaboratively to assure that meetings are strategically focused, that debate is leading to decisions that are best made at the board level, and that we have ways to measure how we’re progressing in getting to the goals we plan to achieve.
Boards whose members are clear about where they are going, are more willing to engage their resources, their networks, to get the mission accomplished. And this is what the customer or client needs to know is happening. That the leadership is working hard on their behalf to help them recover from an illness, experience quality programming in their venue, know they are getting great education making the tuition and time a worthwhile investment.
At the same time there is clarity around mission focus, staff and volunteers with marketing in their job descriptions should be tuned in to advances in social media. There are lots of great, bright communications stars available on the web through blogs, websites, Facebook, Twitter to check out and learn from. Recently, I read Jill Ward’s article Social Media, Integrated Marketing, and a Morning Out of the Office posted on Connection Cafe: http://bit.ly/1WA1Aa. Jill attended the Mass Comm Week program at Texas State University, and cited the speakers (including David Neff, Director of Web, Film, and Interactive at American Cancer Society) who shared their wisdom. Witnessing and hearing how some of the best in nonprofit management are doing helps stimulate thinking of all nonprofit leaders on how to apply social media to the NPO marketing mix.
Barak Obama was recently at Texas A&M speaking at the Points of Light Foundation which recognizes excellence in volunteers, started in the Bush 41 administration. President Obama was promoting United We Serve, established to grow the volunteer base in the USA. He called for a “public service mindset”: http://bit.ly/3G8AWa.
Each nonprofit serious about growth, and applying the latest in marketing, technology, and social media to advancing its mission should be following these sources of leading edge thinking. So much to learn and so little time.
As I work with nonprofit organizations in New England, I find that the boards who are in sharpest focus, and who have a good diverse mix of skill and experience on board, are usually in the best position to benefit from the resources at all our fingertips.
Check out my previous posts for other links to helpful information that can get to where you want to go. Let me know how I can help you pick and choose from all these great options, and advise on educating and building your board of directors.

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Shrinking the Wide World of Internet

Last time, I wrote about the value of networks and how to more effectively engage them for your nonprofit organization (http://bit.ly/2ByZB). This time, I’ll cover some resources to help you get your staff and volunteers focused on expanding the reach of your mission to folks that’ll be most helpful to you.
A good place to start is Wild Apricot: the blog that introduces nonprofit webmasters and Internet junkies to stuff that’ll help you “do more with less.” Recently, the blog covered Twitter Lists: a way to organize folks you’re following (I’m following 550 people) into custom lists, so you can get right to their tweets instead of scanning hours of postings. It’s coming soon to all Twitter users…stand by if you don’t see it as an option on your Twitter sidebar.
Social Net Daily is a useful blog. Recently (http://ow.ly/uOo5) Glen Gilmore wrote about generational differences in the workplace as well as among our supporters. We need to understand the variations in values and interests between and among generations if we expect to attract and “donor-fy” broader audiences. If only “build it, and they will come” were true.
And if you’re going to open up the gates to social media like Twitter, Facebook and the rest, you likely want to set policies on how these media will be used at work. http://j.mp/2BUet features an article on “social media governance.” I’m comfortable with open usage. There may be some who’ll abuse the priviledge, but there are so many more benefits (in my little mind) than drawbacks. But staff leaders are accountable to a board of directors. And some of these folks are pretty conservative and see social media as a waste more than a plus. We have to respect where our volunteer leaders are and not get too far ahead of them.
Mashable is another trusted blog: maybe one of the biggest in the business. I follow @mashable on Twitter. Nearly always something useful, creative to say. Check out the Social Media Guide: http://j.mp/22oejX.
In my view, there’ll be opportunities for the taking. The more we all play with these social media toys, the more we’ll learn and, I believe, open ourselves to fundraising potential otherwise not accessible to us. Go for it!
And share your thoughts with my readers.
Thanks.

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Engaging Networks for Results

With financial resources increasingly scarce, nonprofit organizations should utilize their other precious asset—their networks—to strengthen their ability to deliver on their mission today and prepare for growth after the recession.The goodwill, future financial support, and contacts developed by networking during this stormy financial period will be the silver lining to emerge when the clouds of recession inevitably lift.Networking is the art of identifying, cultivating, and engaging friends of your organization. These friendships ultimately may yield monetary support, sources of non-financial support, and ambassadors who can, in turn, cultivate more friends. Now is the time to identify these potential friends, hone your messaging, and plan how to best deliver those messages. By getting your staff, board of directors, and other volunteers ready for brighter days, you’ll build your capacity to thrive when recovery comes.The best place to start is a meeting of the board of directors, who must constantly stay mindful of their critical role as emissaries for the organization to which they have committed. They know the mission, they know the goals, they know the good that the organization brings to the community. How do they communicate this value? How do they spread the good news with people they work with, play with, pray with?
Start with a conversation. Take some time at a staff meeting and the next board meeting to talk about reaching out to friends to share your mission. There may be members who are doing this now. Identify them before the next meeting. Ask them to share their techniques with the group. Use their experiences to kick off the discussion. Listen for the ideas that have been most successful. Share a summary of the results with all who can benefit from these experiences.
Continue the conversation. Be sure to put the discussion on the agenda for subsequent meetings. Find out in advance who is trying the new techniques. Ask one or two of the new practitioners to report on what they’re doing.
Engage communications experts to share advice. Do you have a director of communications on your staff? If not, does one of your board members or volunteers have communication expertise? Strategize with this person about your approach to engaging networks. Incorporate messages that are consistent with your brand so your staff and volunteers are talking about your work in a unified and consistent way.
Twitter? Facebook? Blogs? Is someone on your team familiar with social media and willing to show others how to effectively use these tools? It’s likely that this person will be younger than most of the team. If so, this is an excellent opportunity to let an up-and-comer show their stuff. An effective plan for social media can engage people you otherwise might miss who will support your mission once they learn what the organization is about.
What’s your story? Nonprofit organizations have numerous stories about your clients’ great experience with your services. Incorporate telling of stories as part of “conversation time.” A program staff person or a volunteer probably has more than one such story to share. Let your group hear a story or two each time you meet, and encourage your board, staff, and volunteers to retell these stories when they are out engaging their networks.
Begin at the beginning. Gary Stern, a marketing expert based in Portland, Maine, encourages nonprofits to be sure that their mission and clients are in the forefront of their thinking, planning, and doing. “Begin at the beginning” is his first admonition in his pamphlet, “Ten Things Every Board Member Should Know.” In your networking, you want your conversation and stories to be about the people you serve. That way, potential supporters and volunteers will be more eager to join your cause when they realize that it’s more about the people you serve than it is about your organization.
There is a reservoir of good will out there, ready to hear about the good you do. And every day, your volunteers and staff talk with many people who will want to help bring the “good” you deliver to more people. Your organization’s job is to forge links through staff, board, and volunteer networks so you can grow the circle of friends and supporters. When you take the time to apply creative approaches to communication through networks, you engage and energize people for your mission. It takes commitment and work, but it will put your organization in the strongest possible position when the economy inevitably begins to grow.

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