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Building an Effective Board
In my work over the years with the boards of hundreds of nonprofit and social impact organizations, it is clear that one of the most important determinants of success is the quality of leadership – at both the board and staff levels. Patrick Lencioni, in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team lists the five behaviors that hold groups back from achieving high performance. I’ve adapted his approach slightly, because I prefer to focus on the positive traits that are necessary for success.
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What Every Board Member Should Know
What is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and how is it different from a for-profit corporation? Most people’s initial answer has to do with a nonprofit’s tax-exempt status – it doesn’t pay taxes on its earnings, and contributions to the organization qualify for a tax deduction for the donor. While true, that’s just part of the story.
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Strategic Thinking
I’m not a big fan of doing a strategic planning process if it’s seen as just a means to an end. What I am a big fan of, however, is using the process to develop strategic thinking skills. Too often, strategic planning plays out as a process of canned exercises aimed at developing a wide range of hopeful but unrealistically ambitious goals. The output usually gets cleaned up and memorialized in a 64 page document which then goes on a shelf, never to be looked at again. No wonder powerful women shudder and strong men weep when they hear their executive director say “it’s time for strategic planning.”
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Think


Business for Good
For years, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has held itself out as the “voice of business.” Politicians court their approval and, when it comes to crafting business-friendly legislation, elected officials ignore Chamber lobbying at their peril. But the U.S. Chamber really only represents a certain kind of business: big. And for years, big businesses, whether they are in the financial sector, manufacturing, energy, retail, services, or tech, have focused primarily on one thing – maximizing short-term profits.
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Nonprofit or Business? Do You Have to Choose?
It's not just businesses that are trying to figure out ways to boost revenues. Increasingly, nonprofit organizations are putting their creative energies into developing earned income streams, whether from activities related to their programs, or from straightforward business opportunities.
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Strategic Thinking
I’m not a big fan of strategic planning. What I am a big fan of is strategic thinking. Too often, strategic planning plays out as a painful process of canned exercises and platitudes that get translated into a 64 page document that then gets put on a shelf and never looked at again. No wonder powerful women shudder and strong men weep when they hear their executive director say “it’s time for strategic planning.”
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If the IRS Comes Calling, Can You Bare It All?
Funding has always been a challenge for nonprofit organizations. Today, times are even tougher than usual. Private donations could well decline as slow growth in personal income, coupled with high prices for everything from food to gasoline, forces consumers to make difficult spending decisions. Declines and uncertainty in the stock market have reduced the value of donor and foundation investment portfolios. Slowing economic activity lowers tax revenues for all levels of government, at the same time the pressure to fund expanded services is increasing.
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Thinking Inside the Box: Keeping a Strategic Focus to Guide Decisions
The world is full of opportunities, but which are the right ones for your organization to pursue? Thinking inside the box can help maintain your focus.
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Vision and Mission Definitions
A vision is a guiding image of success formed in terms of a contribution to society. If a strategic plan is the
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The Next Generation of Nonprofit Leaders: Will There Be Enough?
A perfect storm is brewing in the nonprofit world — one that promises to rock the boat for nonprofits and the communities that they serve. At a time when the sector is rapidly expanding (between 1995 and 2004, the number of nonprofits grew at a compound growth rate of 69%), baby boom executives are retiring and the available labor pool will soon be insufficient to meet demand.
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Getting Your Nonprofit Board On-Board
One of the great things about nonprofit boards is the passion they bring to their volunteerism. But passion alone is not enough to develop, plan, and provide the leadership necessary to have an effective, high-functioning organization. Board members of successful organizations are constantly challenging themselves to improve their approach to fulfilling the legal, fiduciary, and management responsibilities of the position.
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A Culture of Learning
Today's knowledge workers are a lot different from workers of past generations. Well-educated, highly-experienced specialists often coming out of big corporate environments, these are not really employees in the traditional sense. Just as a company's capital may be held in buildings, equipment, inventories, brands, and proprietary processes, a knowledge worker's capital — their intellectual property — is held inside their heads.
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What Gets Measured...
It's been said that, "What gets measured, gets managed." But how does one determine what should be measured? Should all measurements be objective or is there a place for the subjective as well? Measurements — both subjective and objective — are critical for an organization to maintain alignment between its strategic goals and its day-to-day activities.
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Culture and the Bottom Line
What does a successful wine business looks like? Most of the measures wineries focus on to steer their success tend to be hard and quantifiable: gross margins, price points, sales volume, market share, distribution clout, or direct sales percentages. How can something more qualitative, like your organization's culture, determine success?
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Baby You Can Drive My Car
If we can’t get Americans to give up our cars, then one approach is to make cars that are more energy efficient and non-polluting.
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Act


Darfur, Soccer, Sting, and Triton the Lion
A real world example of a social venture that is pushing into new territory is the One World Futbol Project. A hybrid organization made up of a for-profit Limited Liability Company (LLC), registered as a B-Corp (Benefit Corporation), along with a nonprofit 501(c)(3) foundation. With help from NewLevel Group, the founders developed a business plan, secured start-up funding, and launched the business during the World Cup, quickly earning great buzz for the project.
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Energy Vampires - Fact vs. Fiction
They lurk in every corner of your house and office, constantly feeding in trickles of insatiable demand. By day and by night, draining your wallet and your energy. They are the countless appliances, computers, entertainment centers, and conveniences that continue to draw small amounts of electricity, even when we think they’re turned off. It’s been estimated that energy vampires collectively cost us about $3 billion each year. An article from environmental blogger Lori Bongiorno explains ….
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Donor Surveys: What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You
A donor who has consistently supported your organization for years does not respond to your latest appeal. The same donor declines to attend your next fundraiser. Why? Has she stopped supporting your mission? Has she heard negative comments about your agency? Has she had a financial setback and cut back charitable giving? Has she found a different nonprofit to support? Well, there’s only one way to find out why donors give, don’t give, or give for a while and then stop. You need to ask.
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Beyond Eeyore: Building Accountability into Your Workplace
Eeyore is a sometimes loveable, always pessimistic donkey in A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories. "There are those who will wish you good morning,” Eeyore says in typical fashion. “If it is a good morning, which I doubt." Eeyore’s name comes from the sound of the donkey’s signature bray, and his disposition is much like that noise—repetitive and annoying. Eeyore always assume the worst is going to happen, and wanders around in a constant state of negativity.
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Finding the Perfect Grant: Nine Keys to Successful Grant Writing and Development
We've all heard about the so called "elevator pitch" a scenario in which you're in an elevator with a prospective client or donor and they ask "tell me about what you do." You have about 20 seconds to grab their attention.A friend of mine just ventured into the world of online dating. When I asked her how it’s going, she said it was “exhausting.” “First,” she said, “you have to create a profile that will appeal to someone you might find attractive, then you have to exchange messages to see if you are both compatible and interested in dating, and finally you still have to decide if you want to invest the time and energy and try to build a relationship.”
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5 Tips to Boosting Workplace Creativity
Looking for ways to inject a little creative thinking into your day-to-day activities at the office? Here are a few tips to try...
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Going Green: A Sustainable Change
Small and large, nonprofit and for profit, many organizations today understand the benefits of going green. In addition to a positive impact on the bottom line from reduced energy costs, instituting green standards can result in improved employee morale, greater brand strength, enhanced marketing opportunities, and increased client loyalty. However, it's not enough to simply talk about being ecology-minded; organizations must demonstrate their environmental values by implementing changes that are effective and sustainable something that is easier said than done.
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Head-off Holiday Party Harassment: Ten Tips for Managers
Office parties are meant to reward employees and build team spirit, but harassment complaints can result if expectations for party-smart behavior aren't made clear. Ensure that your holiday festivities go smoothly by following these Ten Tips for Managers.
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Building An Effective, Sustainable, Impactful Organization
While there is no one formula for building a high-performance social sector organization, there are attributes and processes that all effective organizations have in common. The following is a checklist of some of those basic components.
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High Satisfaction Days TM: Leading Indicators of Results
Have you ever measured the doneness of cookies baking in your oven using the smoke detector instead of a timer? When the smoke alarm goes off, you certainly know the cookies are done, it's just that the information isn't very helpful at that point. That's an example of what economists call a "Lagging Indicator". While most successful organizations use performance measures to gauge results, the majority of the measures they employ — financial reports, sales results, 360° reviews — are lagging indicators. That is, they tell you with some accuracy how you did, but not until after the fact.
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Doing Good: Marketing Social Causes
Ben & Jerry's does it. So does American Express, Home Depot, and Avon. In fact, one need not look any further than our own backyard to find a number of Napa Valley wineries doing it. What is it? Sometimes referred to as Cause Marketing or Values Led Marketing, this new breed of corporate philanthropy is becoming as common as Chunky Monkey®.
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Tough Times Call for Strong Leadership
Funding has always been a challenge for nonprofit organizations. With today’s economic challenges, times are even tougher than usual. Private donations are likely on a downward trend as slow growth in personal income forces consumers to make difficult spending decisions. Declines and uncertainty in the stock market have reduced the value of donor and foundation investment portfolios. Slowing economic activity lowers tax revenues for all levels of government, at the same time the pressure to fund expanded services is increasing.
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Save money and reduce waste
Sustainable Napa County has launched a series of pioneering programs to help nonprofit and public sector organizations reduce costs by conserving energy and resources.
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Sustainability: Economic, Environmental, AND Social Equity
Update on a program Sustainable Napa County introduced in 2007 to help nonprofit organizations conserve energy and resources, reduce costs, and put more of their money back into programs.
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Communicate


Add a New Twist to Your City Council Retreat: Ask the Community, “How are we doing?”
Many city councils in western cities now conduct an annual “retreat.” This is typically a full-day session, often offsite, in which the council can talk with the city manager and key staff about long term goals and near term priorities…without the usual press of immediate administrative and land use matters that fill up the typical agenda.
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Green is the New Conference
Think back to the last conference you attended. What was it like? Were there lots of handouts? Were they printed on both sides or just one? Was the food sustainably farmed and locally sourced? Were plastic water bottles used?
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Do you know your iPod from Your IM?
Webinars, podcasts, instant messaging, viral distribution, blogs, social bookmarking, MySpace, Facebook, You Tube, Web 2.0 – do you feel like you’ve landed on a different planet? I do, and it’s inhabited by beings half my age, all speaking a strange language. If we’re going to survive in this strange, new world of nano-second communications, we had better get up to speed and pronto.
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How to Maintain (and Build) Your Brand in a Weak Economy
Common sense might dictate that organizations reduce expenses – especially discretionary ones like marketing – in an economic downturn, right? Well, at the risk of disappointing every thrifty CEO looking to improve the bottom line, research suggests that not only should you maintain your marketing efforts, you should (dare I say it?) spend more in recessionary times.
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Sticky Ideas Share Six Basic Traits
From the book, “Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die: Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath
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Are you for Real? Effective Marketing in the Internet Age
Authenticity: A Requirement in the Information Age Being authentic in your approach involves raising awareness about benefits over manufacturing interest or intentionally hiding the parts that aren’t glamorous.
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Three Keys to a Quick, Powerful Message
We've all heard about the so called "elevator pitch" a scenario in which you're in an elevator with a prospective client or donor and they ask "tell me about what you do." You have about 20 seconds to grab their attention.
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Making the "Ask": Six Fundamentals of Writing an Effective Fundraising Letter
The reason many donors cite for giving money? They were asked! One of the most common methods that nonprofits use to raise funds is the appeal letter. Not only can an appeal letter bring in much needed funds, it can strengthen the connection with current supporters, reactivate lapsed donors, encourage more donors to become major donors, and increase the size of major donor gifts.
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5 Tips to Getting Media Coverage
Journalists are barraged with hundreds of emails, phone calls, and faxes every day from well-meaning business owners, nonprofit executives, and public relations professionals who pitch story after story without any regard to what the journalist really needs: something his or her readers will find interesting. Here are a few keys to get the media to pay attention to your story...
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What's in a Name?
"That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet." Shakespeare may have been a great playwright, but he would have failed Branding 101. A powerful name is a key component to a brand's success and especially critical in today's densely crowded marketplace. A rose by any other name would perhaps smell as sweet but, more importantly, would it sell?
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Comparing Apples, Coffee, and Donuts
What do brands like Apple, Starbucks and Krispy Kreme have in common? Sure, they all have great logos, creative advertising campaigns, and powerful PR strategies, but their success is due to something much less tangible and often misunderstood — the emotional connection the customer has formed with the brand.
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Tough times? A compelling message brings opportunities
While the immediate reaction to the challenges nonprofits face may be to slash marketing budgets and eliminate investment in communications and outreach, nonprofits with staying power will focus on connecting with their audiences in new and powerful ways.
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