Essentially, you can brand any item. With so many choices, how could you choose? It’s best that you consider what items are consistent with your nonprofit mission. For example, if your nonprofit focuses on increasing education for youth of vulnerable populations, it might distribute branded backpacks. Below are examples of unique and exciting branded items that may be consistent with many organizations’ missions.
Under each description, click on the link to get prices on the described branded item from my trusted brand provider, ZippyDogs. While we recommend you buy from ZippyDogs, we don’t receive any payment from them when you do. We just have mad-respect for this women-owned business.
Ultimately, branded items should be consistent with your organization’s mission. Thus, when deciding on which branded items to use, think of how you can engage your donors by creatively materializing your mission. It is very easy to do this when you think of branded items as your organization’s accessories.
Giving your staff, volunteers, or board members branded items builds team spirit which further helps each person be a brand ambassador for the organization. For example, distinguish accomplishments and anniversaries of your staff, volunteers, and board members with branded items. Unify your organization by using branded items to celebrate a milestone, complement a tradition, or enhance an event.
Below are branded items that could help any work environment build team spirit.
Distributing branded items is an essential component of outreach, marketing, and team building efforts. Many successful nonprofits distribute branded items to creatively cultivate donors when you find the right balance between price, uniqueness, usefulness and quality.
Each item signifies the bond between your organization and your donor. Branded items allow your organization to deliver customized gifts to donors that can’t be found elsewhere, and this limited accessibility tells each donor how sincerely you value their time, efforts, and loyalty. Also, branded items are great for rewarding and recognizing your team.
Top reasons to use branded items:
If you are still uninspired about branded items, listen to author of Dollar Dash, Otis Fulton, who explains the role of branded items in peer to peer fundraising. In our next blog post, we will review ways to use branded items to build team cohesion with your staff, board, and volunteers.
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Since we just finished up our Strategic Planning series last week, I thought it might be worthwhile to explore the questions you should ask a consultant.
Whether your nonprofit is about to begin strategic planning, board development, or some other major project, choosing the right consultant will be your most important decision. For this reason, it is crucial to thoroughly screen prospective consultants and choose the one you believe will best position your organization for future success.
For this reason, I offer 14 interview questions that will help ensure you find a good consultant in your local market:
Your team has an open position, and you are responsible for filling that position with the right candidate. Like all hiring managers you receive a flood of resumes from interested candidates after you advertise the position on Idealist, Philanthropy.com, or one of the other nonprofit job sites.
Of course, about half of the applicants aren’t qualified for the position and are easy to remove from consideration. Examples of dead weight candidates who are easy to eliminate include:
Even after eliminating candidates the dead weight candidates, you will likely still have a dozen or more candidates who appear qualified. Occasionally, however, none of these candidates will impress you. They seem “okay” but not a perfect fit for the position or the organization.
You now face the age-old question: do you hire the “best candidate” who is not a perfect fit or leave the position open?
As a supervisor, I’ve been in this position multiple times and can attribute my biggest failures and successes as a manager to my decision at this point.
When it comes time to make this decision, there is a lot of pressure to settle for the candidate that seems sufficient but not stellar. A few of these pressure points include:
It’s human nature to take action that makes our pain go away, so the easy “solution” is to hire the candidate who is sufficient but not a good fit. This solution is only easier for the short term, however, and the decision actually causes us more pain in the future. Here’s how:
I have learned the hard way that it is better to leave a position unfilled and continue looking for the right candidate. Of course, I often need to double my recruitment efforts to find good candidates for the position the second time. This may include:
While the position remains unfilled, you and your team will feel pressure from the pain points outlined earlier in this post. There are a few ways to decrease the short-term pain, though many of them require long-term planning:
Leaving a position vacant can be a tough call, and you will feel pressure to fill the position quickly. It’s always better, however, to say “We can’t take the next step in this initiative/program/organization until we fill the position responsible for its achievement.”
When you feel the pressure from direct reports, subordinates, and supervisors, repeat this mantra “Our long-term success depends on finding the right candidate for this position.” Trust me, you will always regret attempting to move the initiative or program forward with the wrong candidate.
As an aside, I think the philosophy “an empty seat is better than a bad hire” also applies to the Board of Directors. Don’t fill a board seat just because “we have a vacancy and this person is better than the others we’ve interviewed.”
How to Fire a Board Member
In 2015, Ostrich Place invested heavily in board development after determining that the board was largely disengaged board. Before the board development project began, the board struggled to achieve quorum, did not have functioning committees, and rarely met the requirements established in the by-laws.
During the past three years, they have developed reasonable expectations for board service, created a robust recruitment process, implemented an effective orientation, and supported board members in meeting their obligations as board members.
The most recent recruitment process had 11 prospective candidates apply for 6 open positions. For the first time in years, the board could be very selective about those it appointed to the board, and Ostrich Place used this opportunity to thoroughly assess candidates and obtain references from prior volunteer experiences.
As the freshman class of board members began the orientation process, Ted emerged as an outspoken leader. He would often share his strong opinions and insist that the board procedures were wrong. When orientation ended three months later, Ted’s participation in meetings was clearly disruptive. Nearly every time Ted spoke, people rolled their eyes knowing that he was about to:
The board chair and governance committee became aware that Ted was disruptive when not in meetings. Specifically, Ted would show up at the Ostrich Place unannounced, inspect the facility, and demand to see the executive director to grill her and review his “findings”. The program officer at a local foundation also contacted the board chair about some “disturbing news” they heard from Ted.
Since Ted’s first orientation session, the governance committee has attempted to manage and modify Ted’s behavior. A few of their actions included:
The governance committee met to discuss Ted’s behavior one final time. They agreed that, while every board needs a devil’s advocate, Ted’s conduct moved beyond offering an opposing viewpoint in a healthy manner. He was a bomb thrower who enjoyed wreaking havoc in an organization. He was also disloyal to the organization by approaching external stakeholders (like funders) without using appropriate board channels for reviewing issues that troubled him.
They determined that Ted’s service as a board member needed to end, and they discussed various options for firing him. With their by-laws in front of them, they considered the following options:
#1: Don’t offer the board member an additional term. When Ostrich Place first began its board development project in 2015, they often used this technique for long-tenured board members who were not meeting the new attendance requirements. The Nominating Committee would review each board member’s attendance, committee participation, personal giving, and fundraising from the prior year, and they would not offer renewals to board members failing to meeting the expectations. Since Ted still had 21 months left in his term, this was not a viable option. 21 more months of Ted would have driven away most of the productive board members.
#2: Ask the board member to recommit or recuse. The governance committee used this technique extensively when implementing the new board expectations in 2015. Once the board agreed on the expectations, the governance chair met with under-performing board members individually and asked them to recommit to the new expectations, while also giving them the opportunity to recuse themselves from board service without any hard feelings. The governance committee did not choose this option because they had already asked Ted to recommit to more appropriate behavior or leave the board.
#3: Leave of absence. Last year, a board member’s performance went from “stellar” to “cellar,” and a governance committee member asked the board member if everything was okay. Board members usually know when they are underperforming or engaging in counterproductive behavior, and they will usually explain that work or family has demanded more of their time and emotional energy. Ostrich Place Board offered this underperforming board member a three-month leave of absence, during which time she was not responsible for attending meetings, participating in committees, or other board-related duties. At the end of the 3-month leave of absence, she decided that her family issues would not allow her to continue and resigned from the board. Since she made the decision to resign (instead of being asked to resign or being terminated), Ostrich Place continues to be her favorite charity. Based on Ted’s history, however, the governance committee decided this option was not feasible for him.
#4: The Legal Route. The governance committee ultimately decided that the only effective option was to recommend terminating Ted’s board membership using the process outlined in the by-laws. They fully understood that this is the most painful option – for the board, for the organization, and for Ted. But they also felt that Ted would continue to speak poorly of the organization even if he remained on the board. In consultation with a pro bono attorney, they outlined the ways in which Ted had violated his duties as a board member and prepared a formal termination recommendation for the board. The governance committee informed Ted that it recommended termination and called a board executive session to deliberate and vote. The executive session had only one agenda item, and the governance committee structured the meeting to efficiently consider and vote on the motion. At the session, the governance committee briefly spent five minutes to present its findings about, and Ted was given fifteen minutes to add any information he wanted. The board then invited Ted to leave the meeting, letting him know that a board member would contact him tomorrow to share the outcome of the vote. The board unanimously voted to remove Ted. The following day, the governance committee chair invited Ted to meet for coffee, but Ted refused. Ted wanted to receive the decision immediately, and the chair informed Ted that the board had voted to remove him from effective immediately. The chair started to thank Ted for his service and express regret that the situation did not work out when Ted hung up on her. Following the phone call, the chair mailed a letter to Ted informing him of the board’s decision.
This is an “extreme case” where Ted was a pariah who threatened to destroy the board and the organization. Some organizations have less extreme cases where a board member just isn’t a good fit or not meeting expectations. In my experience, the best course of option for those cases includes #2 (ask the board member to recommit or recuse) or #3 (leave of absence). Each of these starts with a conversation, and it’s important to be empathic and caring throughout the conversation. A good structure for the conversation might be:
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This is the tenth segment of our strategic planning blog series, and in this final segment, we will discuss overcoming the most common objections to strategic planning.
Objection #1: No one does strategic planning anymore.
Whenever I hear this objection, I ask the person to share the name of one nonprofit that enjoyed sustained growth and impact without a strategic plan. Surely, if no organizations are using strategic planning anymore, then it must certainly be easy to find many examples.
I also note that a lot of organizations have responded to a rapidly changing environment by developing “tactical plans” that are just 12-24 months long. But these tactical plans move the organization toward a strategic direction and are, in fact, an important component of a strategic plan.
Objection #2: We didn’t use the last strategic plan.
The only way to overcome this legitimate objection is to jointly identify the reasons the last plan wasn’t used. After documenting these reasons, work together to develop a plan for addressing the issues. As an example, you may determine that the most recent plan was not implemented due to a lack of tactical accountability. You and the board may then agree that any new plan would have to assign goals and tactical objectives to a specific position within the organization.
Objection #3: We don’t have the time.
Setting an organization’s strategic direction is a core governance function and as important as hiring the executive director or ensuring financial accountability. Just as a board must make time to review the executive director and ensure financial procedures are followed, it must also find the time to establish the organization’s strategic direction.
Objection #4: We can’t afford a consultant to help with strategic planning.
This is a prime opportunity to brainstorm your fundraising options for raising additional funds for strategic planning. Perhaps your most steadfast foundation supporters or major donors can contribute to your planning process. Get the board brainstorming about fundraising opportunities, then ask for their help in executing those opportunities.
Objection #5: We have more important priorities.
Explore the other priorities to determine if they really are more important than strategic planning. If the organization is experiencing a leadership transition or a major crisis, it may be better to postpone the strategic planning for six months. If the “more important priorities” involve a gala in six months, however, then use the response to Objection #3: We don’t have the time.
When you start the conversation about strategic planning, you want to be prepared for objections. While this is not a complete list of all possible objections, it probably represents the majority of objections you will hear from board members and senior staff.
Only the Board Can Hold the Board Accountable
Board service is all about accountability. After all, boards are responsible for holding the CEO accountable; boards are accountable to the organization’s constituencies and to governmental regulations.
Yet the board also has a primary responsibility to hold itself accountable. Other than the rare and infrequent attorney general investigation, there are few outside entities that can hold the board accountable. And no staff member – not even the CEO – can hold the board accountable for meeting its obligations and complying with government regulations.
Boards may side-step holding themselves accountable in two ways. To illustrate these distinct accountability avoidance techniques, let’s use the example of a fictitious board member James. He has served on the board for two years and never completed the annual conflict of interest disclosure document. In January of each year, the board chair distributes the document at each meeting and actually follows up with absent board members by emailing the document to them. Staff are responsible for collecting the completed form from each board members and giving the governance committee a report of submitted documents in the February committee meeting.
#1: A board chooses not to follow-up with board members who fail to follow board policy. At its February meeting, Governance Committee members review the staff report on submitted conflict of interest (COI) statements. At this point, the committee becomes aware that James has not completed his COI disclosure document. The committee discusses the reasons why James may not have turned it in with remarks like
Yet no governance committee member is assigned to follow-up with James to ask why the form wasn’t submitted and set a firm deadline. In the rare instance that the board does speak with James about his COI and set a deadline, it is almost guaranteed that he can serve the remainder of his term without ever submitting the document.
#2: A board delegates its accountability role to staff. After learning that James has not completed his COI and discussing the matter briefly, the committee asks the executive director to follow-up with James. Now the executive director is in the awkward position of holding someone accountable when that person has power over her performance review, potential salary increases, or even whether she keeps her job. The executive director can cajole, remind, and request – but the executive director can never effectively hold a board member accountable. This is so important that it bears repeating “The executive director can never effectively hold a board member accountable.”
These avoidance techniques are common even among governance committees that have business executives known for making tough decisions in their professional lives. While people may join a board with a passion for the organization, almost no one joins a board wanting to be “the bad cop”. And they definitely don’t want to be “the bad cop” with another volunteer. It’s uncomfortable, and many feel that it will drive away current and prospective board members.
So what is the solution?
Just being clear about responsibilities and setting an example, however, will not be enough. The organization will also need to recruit one committee member who relishes being the traffic cop – who is willing to say “that person ran a red light and it’s not acceptable”. Ideally this is a diplomatic person who can also have a few difficult conversations without creating too much drama. This may be the member’s primary contribution to the governance committee, but it is a valuable one.
As a strategic planning consultant, there are two questions that nonprofit executives and board members ask me all the time:
The person typically asks about money first and role second, but I always answer the question about the consultant’s role first. I choose to answer the question about cost second because the role your consultant plays in strategic planning will ultimately determine how much they charge for a quality product.
What is your role as a strategic planning consultant?
Let’s explore the three main models of strategic planning consulting:
Consultant as Facilitator:
The consultant merely facilitates the strategic planning process and a core group does the work. So the facilitator provides a general structure, templates and tools, and project management. The work group is fully responsible for the environmental scan and drafting the final product. This is often the least expensive form of strategic planning consulting because the heavy lifting is done by the work group.
Consultant as Planner:
In this model, the consultant is the primary planner. For this reason, the consultant conducts the environmental scan, prepares for the board retreat, and writes the plan following the board retreat.
In the participatory strategic planning process described in this blog post series, your volunteer work group invests a couple hundred hours in the strategic planning process. Consequently, delegating all this work to a consultant also makes this the most expensive strategic planning option.
While I could make more money doing all of the planning work myself, I don’t ever use this model because it isn’t good for the organization. I believe the Consultant as Planner model does not engage the organization’s leadership sufficiently for them to have ownership of the plan’s success, and it certainly doesn’t not strengthen the organization’s capacity.
Consultant as Facilitator and Planner:
This is the most common type of strategic planning consulting, and it allows the organization to rise to its planning abilities while knowing that a consultant will do the work that the organization cannot.
Many different options exist for assigning work between the consultant and the organization within this hybrid model. For this reason, I typically offer three different work-share options to a prospective client, with a corresponding cost. This allows the organization to determine the work they have the capacity to complete, while leaving the rest of the work for me as the consultant.
How much will my nonprofit organization pay for a strategic planning consultant?
This is without a doubt the most common question I get, and my answer is always “it depends”.
A prospective client recently asked me for a strategic planning proposal that ranged in cost from $13,350 to $21,500. The cost would normally be $15,000 - $25,000, but I knew that this engagement would be made easier because they have a high performing board and staff.
You can review each option below to better understand the work included in each:
Option 1: $13,350*
Option 2: $17,500*
Option 3: 21,500*
*Plus travel expenses if the organization is not within a one-hour drive of downtown Atlanta
The prospective client came back genuinely agonizing over the cost; they knew that they wanted the deluxe package but had also received three other quotes at $5,000, $6,000 and $15,000.
A quick word about the consultants who offer to “do a strategic plan” for $5,000. Ideally, you want a consultant with the skills and abilities to earn a six-figure income as a nonprofit executive. And a consultant with the ability to earn that kind of money as an employee with benefits would be very unlikely to charge just $5,000 for strategic planning. The one exception is someone a consultant was an accomplished nonprofit executive and is discounting work during their first year as a consultant to build a client list and reputation.
In general, however, strategic planning is much like hiring a contractor to renovate your bathroom. First you decide how much of the work you can do yourself. Maybe you want the contractor to do everything, or maybe you’ll save money by pulling the permit yourself, doing the demo, and taking care of the finishing touches like painting and installing towel racks.
Then you look at the skill of the contractor (while also considering the cost). You wouldn’t hire the contractor who offers to renovate your bathroom for $2,500 because you know they won’t do a good job.
While my price points range between $13,000 to about $25,000 for planning projects, most organizations should anticipate paying least $10,000 – and no more than $35,000 for the services of a qualified strategic planning consultant. Again – it all depends on how much work you are willing to do as an organization.
So those are the answers to the two most commonly asked questions: How much will this cost? and What is your role as a consultant.
This post is part 8 of a series about strategic planning.
After all the time, money, and effort you have invested in building your new strategic plan, you definitely want to get the most from it. Obviously, you’ll want to use it as a management tool, but you’ll also want your new strategic plan to enhance your public relations, support fundraising efforts, attract visitors to your website and build your social media base.
Of primary importance, you will want to use your strategic plan as a management tool for staff and a governance tool for your board. The plan is ideally suited for staff management and board governance because it includes quarterly goals. Each goal can be assigned to a staff member (or board member if the goal relates to the board).
To report this information throughout the organization, I recommend creating a one page dashboard that is both easy to read and not cumbersome to complete each month. Like most dashboards, you will color code the items being measured:
When color coding the dashboard, it is important to be honest with yourself and the board about those items that are yellow or red. Every organization experiences speedbumps and roadblocks when implementing a strategic plan, and no one should feel embarrassed or ashamed of missing the goal. Instead, the quarterly will encourage healthy dialogue about how to turn the red to yellow and the yellow to green.
If you only use the new strategic plan as a yard stick to determine progress, you will undoubtedly achieve the majority of your goals. But there are six other ways to derive benefit from your strategic plan (described below).
#1: Send a Press Release.
A new strategic plan is a great opportunity to tell the community about your new mission, vision, and key goals. In addition to sending the press release to local media, also consider associations and niche publications that may be interested in announcing your strategic plan. See the sample press release below.
#2: Share The Plan With Funders.
Share the entire plan with any significant funders who typically ask for the strategic plan as part of the application process. When you send a copy of the plan, also ask to schedule a time so that you can share the plan highlights with them in person. This is a great opportunity to meet with the funder without asking for money.
#3: Share the plan with select major donors.
Invite your major donors to one-on-one coffee meetings with the executive director to discuss the strategic plan. Bring a copy of the strategic plan with you (keeping in mind that you may want to remove some of the financial detail before sharing the plan). Your donors will be impressed that you took the time to share this information with them, and this will be another important cultivation opportunity.
#4: Serialize the Plan On Your Website.
While not appropriate for every section of the strategic plan, you can use the plan to create blog posts for your website. The environmental scan might become four blog posts (one about stakeholder feedback, another about the financial history of the organization, a third about the programmatic outcomes, and the fourth about fundraising outcomes). You can also serialize a high-level overview of the goals and tactics. These blog posts will have SEO-rich content because they will repeatedly use the name of your organization and the key words that people are likely to google.
#5: Maximize Social Media Attention.
As you serialize the blog posts, be certain to link them on social media and tag the key stakeholders you interviewed, as well as your board, key staff, and consultants.
#6: Announce a Schedule For Publishing Your Progress.
Select and announce a frequency for publishing your progress to funders, major donors, the media, and your social media followers. If done quarterly, you will have another series of media hits and your funders will be very impressed with your transparency.
By taking just a few of these steps, your organization can gain significantly more benefit from your strategic planning process. In fact, you’ll likely have foundations and major donors asking to give you money based on the successful implementation of your strategic plan.
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