Monday, March 30, 2009

Great new information on what makes a good website for donations

Here's some great material from Jakob Nielson's Alertbox on
Donor Usability on your website. A must read for anyone who is seeking to increase online donations...and who isn't?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Australian Nonprofits

Had two great days with small groups of nonprofit staff in both Melbourne and Sydney, under the auspices of the Not-For-Profit Network. Thanks to both Glen Ramos and Steve Bowman for all their help with the logistics.

The people were predictably great, and their stories fascinating. In general, Australia has not suffered as bad an economic spin as the US and Europe, although today it was announced that the AUS unemployment rate was at a 4 year high....still nothing like our 20 year high in the U.S.

One significant difference here is that nonprofits here hardly ever require their board members to do any significant fund raising (good for them). Other than that, their issues sound surprisingly familiar.

So, Chris and I are off tomorrow to Auckland to see our daughter for 10 days. Our sons will arrive Saturday. It will be good to be together.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Heading out....

My wife and I are off today to New Zealand to see our daughter who is doing a semester abroad in Auckland. I'll be mixing work and fun, doing two gigs in Australia and one in Auckland during our time in Oceania. My sessions are being sponsored by the Not-For-Profit Network, based in Australia.

I'm really looking forward (professionally) to meet nonprofit staff and board members from both countries and to hear their stories and challenges.

Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing Caitlin, and to having her brothers down with us as well. It will be a fun time, just being together. And, I've never known anyone who traveled to NZ or AUS who didn't both love the people in both countries and have amazing stories to tell.

At least some of mine I'll share here.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

What to do now, Part V

This is the final post in a five part series on What to do now? as our economic crisis deepens. You can see Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV if you need to catch up.

In this final post, we'll look at a list of leadership questions. As the leader of your organization in a crisis, you have to make sure you're doing the best possible job of leading, not just being there. Here's my leadership checklist.

1. Am I asking the hard questions?
You need to be asking questions such as these: "Am I looking at all possibilities, even those I don't want to contemplate, such as merger, closing a program, laying off staff? Am I questioning things that have been assumed for years, like our business model, or if there's another nonprofit that can do what we do better in this situation?" These are hard, hard questions, but in a crisis, everything is on the table to keep producing mission.

2. Do I have the information I need?
Probably not enough of it, or as much as you would like.....and here's the rub: you need to share information, ask everyone their opinion (see below) but then it's your job to decide--remember in the last posting I said you needed "drop dead dates" after which you act? Well, waiting for "just a little more information" is often the death of organizations in crisis. Get as much information and input as you can, but on deadline day--decide.

3. Am I sharing information widely?
John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco has this great line---"No one of us is as smart as all of us." While I cautioned you earlier to only share what you KNOW, not what you THINK, getting as much input into your key decisions as possible will only help. Don't take all the responsibility on yourself. Ask for others' ideas.

4. If staff take a pay cut, am I taking a bigger one?
In some cases, you may go to staff and ask for everyone to take a 5 or 10 or 15% pay cut to save jobs. If that happens (and it's really tricky) and you possibly can, take a bigger cut yourself. I know everyone is in a different place financially, but the leadership value of this is unbelievable. And here's the best part: Don't tell anyone. Why? In most organizations, they'll figure it out. And if they don't you'll know what you did, and it will help assuage the guilt most ED's feel when they ask people who are already probably underpaid to take even less. Think about this.

5. Am I putting mission first?
As I said when we started this series, surviving a financial crisis is not about having the least change, the lowest job loss, the smallest's about providing the most high quality mission possible AND coming out of the other end of the crisis in the best shape possible to continue doing that. I often hear boards or ED's say---"No matter what, we don't want layoffs". Well, neither do I, but if 80% of your expenses are related to your staff......

Mission first. Use it as your beacon, your rallying cry, your ultimate metric.

6. Am I listening to everyone?
Remember John Chambers, and then remember this: There's a big difference between listening and waiting your turn to talk. Get out among your staff, let them have opportunities to talk, share, ask questions, and focus on them. Don't be checking your crackberry, or gazing off into space. Listen. They need that now, and guess what? You might hear a great idea!

7. Am I taking care of the leader?
It's really easy to stop exercising, or eating right, or sleeping at night. Although it may seem egotistical and self-centered in a crisis--you have to take care of you. That's a decision that can save your mission--so schedule you time, however it works the best. For me, in the two horrible financial upheavals I've gone through, what helped me was always one of two things-going for a run and being able to clear my head, or spending time with my kids, and having to focus on them. What works for you?

Use this checklist as you work your organization through the coming months. It will help you make sure you're doing the best you can in a tough, tough time.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Are you Visible and Transparent?

In tough times, more and more nonprofits are trying to raise funds from new sources, from old sources, from any sources. And, since so many people are in "wait and see" mode, your organization has to remain visible to them day in and day out. That way, when the do decide to get back into donation mode, you'll be top of mind.

Of course, when any donor looks at you, you want to have nothing to hide. You need to be as transparent as possible....letting people see you fully, and in the best possible light. It's kind of like having company--you want people over to your house, but you also want to straighten up a bit before they arrive.

This month's Mission-Based Management Newsletter is about Visibility and Transparency. Take a look for some ideas.

Tomorrow, we'll talk about the Leadership Checklist in the fifth installment of our series on What to do Now?"

Sunday, March 01, 2009

What to do now, Part IV

In the last post of this series, (Part III) we looked at strategic responses to difficult financial times. In this posting, I'll go over some tactical actions you can take.

Most readers will say "FINALLY!" since we all want to start with tactics in a crisis. As managers, CEOs, Executive Directors or board members, we want to fix stuff and fix it now. But, as we noted in the first three parts of this series, you have to stop, breath, think through your strategy first.

That was then...and this is now, so let's talk tactics. Here are my things to consider doing once your strategy is in place.

1. Form a task force of board, staff, and even an outsider or two that is charged with thinking through the crisis. This group is formed now (not earlier) since the strategy evaluation should be done by the entire board.

2. Run cash flow projections every week. I'm assuming you're taking a (perhaps big) financial hit. Cash=Oxygen. Run a six month cash flow projection (Receipts versus disbursements) on a two week basis revised every week. So, if you do this on a spreadsheet, you'd have two columns for each month (May 15, May 31, June 15, June 30) and lines for every kind of receipt and every kind of disbursement. At the bottom, you'd have a running "cash on hand" total. I understand that the further out you get in time the less accurate the cash on hand will be, but what you're looking for here is trends and early warnings. In terms of tactics, this is the single most important tool you'll have. Do this.

3. Inform the staff, board and service recipients early and often. Communications is key in a crisis. Tell people as much as you can as early as you can, but only what you KNOW, not what you THINK, fear, or have heard through the grapevine. Facts, not conjecture. If you say "Well, we don't want to, but there's a small possibility that we may have to cut salaries or staff down the road" in an effort to be upfront with your employees, what staff will hear is "WE'RE ALL GOING TO BE FIRED TOMORROW!!!!"

The rumor curve is your worst enemy. Just the facts. ma'am.

4. Read your contracts. Actually, have the task force ALL read ALL your contracts. Find out what your lease says, your funding obligations are, etc. Know where you are flexible and where you aren't. Can you cut your lease or if you do is there a big penalty? What if you end one program that is city funded....does that impact funding for a second program?

5. Develop best-case, worst-case, middle-case scenarios. And be conservative.

If the best case shows you need to cut staff or programs now, do it. Now.

In bad situations you have to have deadlines (commonly called "drop-dead date"--a terrible term, but there it is) that are something like "If we don't have a check from funder x by this date, then ____ happens." As you develop these, you have to stick to them---and that's hard. We all want just a bit more time, a little more information. But waiting will only make things worse.

Trust me-I've been in this situation and waited far, far too long.

6. If layoffs are contemplated, check state labor laws. If you are like most nonprofits, with more than 80% of your costs related to staff, some cutbacks, either in FTE's or salaries, are probably inevitable. Thus, you want to know what your limitations are, and what's the best practice in the areas of layoffs, or salary cutbacks. Remember: while "white-collar" workers may be able to take a % cut, you can't cut a minimum wage (or living wage) worker's pay.

7. Communicate your plans with vendors and creditors. Once you have a plan, let the people you owe, and the people who sell you things (landlords, office supply firms, banks) know your plans. If you have to stretch payments, let them know, but....let them know. ANY creditor would rather hear that you are going to pay something every month (even if its much less) than not hear anything at all. Communicate. Let them know you have a plan.

8. Lead optimistically. I know you're concerned, scared, terrified, exhausted and probably all of those emotions at least ten times per hour. But you have to lead now. And, leading optimistically does not mean being a Pollyanna. Telling staff:

"I know this is scary. I'm scared too. But I believe in our team, I believe in our mission, I believe in all of you and we're going to get through this the best way possible." ,

is not Pollyanna. And, be around to talk to staff, out where they are. Don't hide behind your open door policy. Let them see you, talk to you. You're the icon now, so lead from the front.

Speaking of leaders, in our final post on this topic, I'll give you a leadership checklist.