Last week the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York hosted a conference to learn more from the organizations that have been recognized in the New York Times Company Nonprofit Excellence Awards during the past few years. The morning’s keynote focused on fundraising and featured Naomi Levine, Chair and Executive Director of NYU’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising and Reynold Levy, President, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. A few major points:
- board must be involved in fundraising, both personally and in reaching out to potential donors. CEO must lead fundraising efforts
- explain to the donor the difference their gift will make (and thank past donors by reminding them what their contributions have enabled the organization to achieve)
- despite the recent economic events, ‘you get no credit for predicting rain, you get credit for building arks’
- donors don’t give because they aren’t asked
- in response to an audience question, don’t ever feel that your cause isn’t as important as others – constituents will donate to charities they feel an affinity with, regardless of what other nonprofits are requesting assistance
I then attended a session on strong communications practices. A few takeaways:
- Suvasini Patel, Communications Director of Witness described how they train all staff in how to communicate the organization’s message to the public, not just those in the communications department.
- Richard Berlin, Executive Director of Harlem RBI focused on how the fundraising and communications functions in an organization should work together. In whatever communication medium you use, remember what action you want someone to take. Talk about your nonprofit’s successes.
An interesting exercise gave a few participants one minute to highlight their organization to Bill Gates upon leaving an airplane (after realizing that you’ve been sitting next to him during the entire flight). For your organization, can you get across the essentials quickly and show your enthusiasm for the cause?
At the Nonprofit Excellence Awards I attended earlier this year, Witness was recognized for excellence in communications, including a ‘performance dashboard’ which “uses metrics to measure the organization’s results.” Recently, I read another article on this topic, Warning Lights by Maguire Associates which discussed this topic from the viewpoint of educational institutions.
At my current organization, I generate a monthly report which summarizes key statistics for online fundraising: pledge and non-pledge based events, online donations, memberships, honor/memorial donations and ecommerce. The greatest challenge is providing the information in a compact enough format that executives will read, but which include sall important data.
A good analogy is WebTrends & Google Analytics, which we use to monitor our web site traffic. WebTrends clearly provides more data but requires some ‘digging’ to analyze results. Google Analytics, which redesigned its interface earlier this year, shows graphical reports which are easy to present to executives. (For now, we are using both tools.)
At most nonprofits I’ve worked for, it’s rare that all staff members and the public knows how the organization is doing at times other than when the annual report is issued (which is usually many months after the fiscal year ends). Using regularly updated dashboards is a powerful tool to keep employees and stakeholders fully informed.
Attention vendors: can your product integrate in a way so that statistics can be easily utilized by a dashboard type application? The tool used is not critical (I use Excel); what’s important is that the organization provides consistent data to all.
Earlier this week I attended the New York Times Nonprofit Excellence Awards, sponsored by the NonProfit Coordinating Committee of New York. Best practices discussed included:
- an overall management focus on results
- a governance structure that moves the organization forward
- strong, transparent and accountable financial management
- inclusive and diverse organizational practices
The winning nonprofit organizations included:
- Center for Urban Community Services - nation’s largest provider of social services in supportive housing as well as a comprehensive human services agency that implements new practices, shares knowledge and assists in shaping strategies so persons who are homeless, low-income, living with mental illness or other special needs can live successfully in the community
- Families United for Racial and Economic Equality - organizes low-income families to build power and change the system so that all people’s work is valued and have the right and economic means to decide and live their destinies. 7 full time employees; budget is under $500,000
- Good Shepherd Services - leading youth development, education and family service agency that provides a safe passage to self-sufficiency, serving 18,000 anually, focusing on high-need communities in Brooklyn and the Bronx. (Good Shepherd received the top award for ‘overall excellence’)
- Witness - uses video and online technologies to open the eyes of the world to human rights violation
At the awards reception, I spoke to the staff member at Witness who had been primarily responsible for creating an online dashboard to track how well the organization was meeting its goals whether they had used any special technical tools. No, just common applications like Word & Excel, and the tool can be accessed through their web site. When informed that Witness had won the award in communications rather than the top award, Executive Director Gillian Caldwell said she was thankful because this was an affirmation that they were achieving their mission, even though this award provided a considerably smaller financial benefit than the top award.
Congratulations to all four organizations which provide a model for us to aspire to.