Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Why you want your nonprofit to fail

posted by
Chloe Silva,

Program Coordinator
ASU Lodestar Center
In a society fundamentally rooted in capitalism, how can nonprofits argue their worth when their work cannot be translated into a monetary sum?

Increasingly, nonprofit organizations are looking for new ways to measure (and thereby validate) the importance of their work. Our organizations have been measuring outputs in one way or another for as long as there has been philanthropy. This is not without good reason. We measure to ensure that our practices are effective, and to demonstrate that to any number of stakeholders, from the donors who fund us to the constituencies we serve.

Many have focused on uncovering new ways of gathering this data and new metrics for analyzing it. Now the discussion is shifting to moving beyond outputs (e.g. number of people served) to impacts (e.g. what difference it made in those people’s lives and the community as a whole). Social impact models seek to move beyond basic performance measures to better understand and illustrate what has been accomplished and, more importantly, what it meant. When faced with shorter attention spans and more critical oversight in today’s fundraising landscape, having numbers that speak to the value of your organization can give you an important edge.

But what happens to all this meticulously compiled data after the marketing materials have hit the printer and the results have been uploaded to the website? While more robust marketing and fundraising plans may seem like the most beneficial uses for social impact data, we should be using this information to inform ourselves as much as others. These studies have great potential for identifying areas for growth within our work, but inviting such feedback does not come easily. However, without allowing the space for reflection and critique we run the risk of stifling innovation. Creativity requires risk, and can often end in failure. So there is that dirty word, failure. We cringe when we hear it. Despite this, some cutting edge organizations and nonprofit professionals are responding with creative ways to accept and even embrace failure.

These ideas are not new. Anyone with a Pinterest account can point to dozens of misquoted notables singing the praises of falling with style. Moreover, this is part of a larger ongoing conversation within our society.

Social impact measurements are quickly becoming the gold standard in calculating nonprofit effectiveness.  This opens up the opportunity to use this information to transform how we approach our work. Social impact studies should not exist solely for marketing and fundraising purposes. While measuring social impact be a positive tool for showing just how much your work matters, in some ways it only really shows us an image of the past- what we have done well. However, when these metrics are designed with a grander purpose in mind, they serve as sneak peeks into our future, showing us new challenges and opportunities.

In order for this information to really impact our practice, our organizations must be spaces where a failure is not just tolerated but celebrated. This could (and does) look a lot of different ways, but is fundamentally about shifting away from a “blame and shame” method that forces us to hide failures. We must instead allow ourselves to fully acknowledge and process unsuccessful ideas and give ourselves the space to brainstorm how we might do things differently.

What would happen if we took a hard look at our shortfalls and used social impact measurements to identify our gaps? We cannot do this in a vacuum- we must begin with a broader culture of evaluation and creativity within each organization. We must ensure that our organizations are innovative and responsive spaces if we want to make the kind of transformational changes that our communities need and deserve. 

Chloe Silva is a graduate of the Social Justice and Human Rights Master of Arts program at Arizona State University (ASU), where she studied critical theory and Indigenous self-determination. Prior to attending ASU, she worked for Teach For America * Memphis. Currently, she serves as the Program Coordinator for the ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation and spends the weekends exploring the desert with her dog.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

My Inner Voice Can't Stop Comparing

posted by
Derya Kaya
Program Officer
Women for Women's
Human Rights-New Ways
Whenever I leave Turkey, I can't stop myself comparing everything to home. The things I compare the most are related to my work.

The United States and Turkey are completely different when it comes to the nonprofit sector. The conditions that created and expanded the nonprofit sector in the U.S. are non-existent, inconsistent or immature in Turkey. Naturally I cannot explain all the differences and similarities in the nonprofit sectors of the two countries in this post, but I wanted to share a few insights and observations that caught my attention.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Four Online Fundraising Pitfalls—And How to Avoid Them

posted by
David Clain
Camelot Campaigns
More and more nonprofits are shifting their fundraising focus online—and for good reason. Online fundraising platforms are making it easier than ever for donors to contribute when and how they want to, and they eliminate some of the costs of direct mail solicitations and in-person events.

Data published last year in the Chronicle of Philanthropy shows this trend clearly: online donations to nonprofits increased 14% in 2012 relative to 2011, while overall donations increased by only 1.5% in the same period.

But this trend has been uneven. The American Lung Association, for example, received nearly a third of its private donations through the internet in 2012—but the median large organization raised only 2.1% of its donations online in that period. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Is your head in the clouds? It should be: Cloud Technology & Data Drive Success for Nonprofits

posted by
Victoria Michelson
Communications Specialist
Wild Apricot
Nonprofits are organized around data. Whether for membership and volunteer management, communications, promotion, or revenue tracking, the information we collect comprises one of our most critical assets and is central to realizing our missions. Not all data is created equal, however. This is the explanation behind many organizations’ resistance to data collection and management, which is seen as an investment of time and resources that yields little or no return.

 There is an important distinction between more data and better data. What is better data? Information that allows nonprofits to create actionable changes to their workflow and structure.

 Of course, data is only as good as the database used to manage it. Think of your database as your “institutional memory.” Having an excellent memory enables you to measure progress, identify new objectives, and demonstrate results to prospective donors. Data that is difficult to retrieve, stored in multiple places, and very likely to contain errors is relatively meaningless. Accurate and accessible data, however, allows organizations to quantify the effectiveness of their initiatives and adjust their methodology accordingly. It also allows you to do more with less, something a majority of nonprofits are regularly challenged to do.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Nonprofits Pitch for Big Awards

posted by
Sentari Minor
Director of Engagement
and Education,

Social Venture
Partners Arizona
Nonprofit leaders know that storytelling is paramount to advancing their organization’s mission. The ability to tell potential volunteers, donors, and champions your story in a succinct and cogent manner is as invaluable as it is daunting.

But SVP Arizona Fast Pitch presented by Social Venture Partners Arizona (SVPAZ) helps select Valley nonprofits do just that.
Fast Pitch is a fun-filled evening where local nonprofits give three-minute pitches about their nonprofits.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Nonprofit Leadership Alliance: AMI 2014 Reflections

posted by
Lyn McDonough,

Program Coordinator Sr.,
Nonprofit Leadership Alliance
ASU Lodestar Center
Each year Arizona State University’s Nonprofit Leadership Alliance (NLA) prepares students to attend a national institute designed to bring partnering nonprofit organizations and Alliance campus partners together to share ideas, best practices and forward the mission of “strengthening the nonprofit sector with a talented and prepared workforce.” Student seeking the Certified Nonprofit Professional (CNP) credential from over 40 campuses across the country attend workshops, hear from national leaders and provide the host community with opportunities to learn from student case studies.

It is not easy to pull this together for the national organization or the local campus. ASU’s program conducts an annual face-to-face scholarship campaign for financial support to attend the Institute fondly called AMI. This year, the Alliance Management Institute was held in Chicago during the coldest storm on record with -12 to -45 degree weather. ASU made it there and back with no trouble at all when many campuses did not. This was a teachable environment relying on flexibility, trust and the professional qualities needed during changing times.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Priceless Board Members

posted by
Jessie Singer
Executive Director,
American Lung Association
in California
A philanthropist recently asked me, knowing that I’d be looking for new Board Members soon, what types of people I was in need of. He mentioned business CEOs, lawyers, university presidents, HR professionals, marketing gurus, etc. etc. As I sat there and thought for a moment, waiting for one/all of those to jump out at me, I realized that none did. There is something I am looking for in a perfect Board Member that no one can buy (with any financial amount), it’s not something that is needed in a certain type of position nor is it a certain skillset. I am seeking a Board Member who has passion.

Some Board Members can give lots of money, whether it be their own or that from their company, and come with tremendous financial support. Other Board Members feel that their knowledge base or background is sufficient because they are bringing new skills to the organization. The best Board Members, in my opinion, are the ones who bring passion about the nonprofit’s mission and are willing to share this with others.

Sharing passion is something that you can not equate to any financial amount. These Board Members can make introductions to companies, open doors to new sponsors and recruit top-notch volunteers. They do this by sharing their connection to the organization with others and once their passion oozes, it’s hard to stop this contagious feeling. People want to be around others doing great things, right? Well then send these Board Members out in the community because people like hearing from volunteers sharing a story, rather than a staff member pitching for money.


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