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Hacking Nonprofit Collaboration

Posted By Josh Hirsch, Saturday, May 20, 2017
Updated: Sunday, May 28, 2017

Addressing misery, anxiety, pain, and suffering in the world historically has been the province of nonprofit organizations. But times have changed, and new social good entities and tools are taking aim at many of the world’s challenges. Examples are numerous. Software platforms now coordinate direct contact between donor and cause. Social networks enable people to connect with others to provide immediate help and to organize movements. New forms of digital wallets make giving simple and hassle-free. Companies integrate social good into their core philosophies to increase profitability, and recruit and retain employees. Drones transmit information about people in remote areas who need assistance. Computer systems collect massive amounts of health data and crunch numbers to identify the best possible treatment regimens for people fighting diseases.

These advancements are testing the strength and viability of existing nonprofit programs and business models. Like all sectors, nonprofits will need to increase the pace of innovation to remain relevant. This will not be easy in a sector known for flat or declining budgets, and for having tens of thousands of new organizations enter the field each year competing for funding. Collaboration with other types of social good entities has the potential to greatly aid the ability of nonprofits to effectively and sustainably fulfill their role.

If collaboration is so helpful, why is it not the norm among nonprofits? Historically, nonprofits have used collaboration to keep sinking organizations afloat. Organizations yield greater efficiencies through consolidated administrative functions or more rare structural alignments, such as mergers. Occasionally, to induce collaboration where it might not naturally occur, funders provide grants to entice parties to work together on a project. In my experience, these “hard wired” and laudable relationships require significant negotiation, as well as time and contracts to delineate the responsibilities and rights of the parties. When they are done, they are difficult to undo, and consequently, organizations enter into them reluctantly. Adding to the hesitancy, some charities operate from a position of scarcity—a sense that a finite amount of money will be donated to an increasing pool of organizations. This raises the stakes for sharing by forcing organizations to compete for a larger share of the funding pie to the detriment of others.

What if instead, nonprofits operated from a position of abundance—the notion that working together can achieve more than working alone? In these times of wide-scale disruption, the pace of change mandates that organizations more quickly maximize the potential of existing programs and operating models. At the same time, they should seek to generate new value from a continuing flow of fresh ideas. This requires repeated ideation, prototyping, assessment of what works, and scaling to meet the need. Nonprofits will need cost effective ways to conduct numerous, rapid experiments concurrently if they are to uncover new and better solutions. One way to achieve this is by spreading the risk among many collaborators. While these can be “hard wired” relationships, they will more likely be loosely configured understandings among trusted participants to assure speed, flexibility, and if necessary, impermanence. Finding the right partners and projects is never easy. However, right-sizing the relationship, opportunity, and investment can create time for parties to develop the trust needed to move into more robust alignments and ultimately larger successes.

Here are nine important considerations for nonprofits looking to maximize social impact through collaboration:

  1. Build trust. Nonprofits can demonstrate trustworthiness through good governance, solid financial management and reporting, and communicating truthfully and transparently. Trust is the basis of a strong collaboration. Relationships of all kinds move faster if the parties are trustworthy in the manner they conduct their affairs. In his book, The Speed of Trust, Steven Covey writes, “Trust always affects two outcomes—speed and cost. When trust goes down, speed will also go down and costs will go up. When trust goes up, speed will also go up and costs will go down.” Trustworthy actors may increase expected results and encourage future willingness to participate in other collaborations. In addition, the more transparent collaborations are, the more likely those participants will gain recognition and foster potential future collaboration with other partners.
  2. Have a vision. It’s important to know what you expect will happen to your organization over an established period of time. This requires long-range planning—say, 7 to 10 years—to understand the impending stresses on existing programs and the likely expiration dates of their success. Long-range planning also gives nonprofits the time necessary to organize for success. The longer an organization’s core work is stable, the less risky collaboration with new partners will be. Collaborations among struggling organizations may require greater formality, because the parties have fewer resources available to recover from failure.
  3. Seek to assure the success of your collaborators. When entering into a relationship, it’s important for a nonprofit to know what it expects from the project; it is also critical to know what their partner needs. Parties must understand that for the project to succeed, it must fulfill each participant. Build in regular intervals for discussions about whether the relationship satisfies all parties, and whether everyone is able and willing to continue the commitment. Be willing to adjust responsibilities if justified.
  4. Take stock. Assess organizational assets, as well as weaknesses worth strengthening into assets. From this exercise, nonprofits can create a list of the strengths and weaknesses they are willing to share with collaborators to create something better or different than what they have. It’s easier to collaborate if you know in advance what you’re comfortable investing and possibly losing.
  5. Start small. Short-term relationships that do not require significant outlays of time or money require less process-slowing paperwork, and allow organizations to organically build confidence in their ability to collaborate and in their willingness to trust.
  6. Fail fast, and build rigorous feedback loops. Set specific timetables and identify clear roles and responsibilities of staff. If your partner organization consistently misses due dates, then reassess the commitment to the relationship and, if necessary, move on. Also, if all parties are meeting their commitments, but the project is not achieving expected outcomes, decide quickly if adjustments can salvage it. If not, take the learnings and end the project. Organizations often fail many times before they achieve success.
  7. Take a portfolio approach. A nonprofit’s objective should be to establish a number of collaborations that have the potential to generate new value. These should be based on either current assets that support a partner’s deficiencies or weaknesses on which a co-collaborator can build. Build your portfolio by prioritizing promising projects and collaborators that best match your organization’s values and what you aim to achieve.
  8. Consider non-traditional partners. Collaborations with corporations, startups, social networks, and charities of all sizes, inside and outside of your issue area, may uncover new value generation that you might never have considered.
  9. Keep your donors apprised of your collaborations. These projects may generate new fundraising opportunities. Some funders could be interested in supporting the work of charities engaged in collaborations.

The world is moving too fast to keep pace alone. We are past the time for debating whether collaboration makes sense. Nonprofits should consider all options for mission advancement, and collaboration is an important piece of the success equation.

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Nonprofits: Are You Branding Your 404 Page?

Posted By Josh Hirsch, Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Updated: Saturday, May 27, 2017

The branding of a museum is nothing to be taken lightly. In fact, other nonprofits could learn a thing or two from those that carry it through even to their nonworking pages.

An error page on a website is generally pretty standard. You know the drill: a “page not found” banner accompanied by a 404 error message. But, in truth, those who land on such a page might be people you’d rather not lose to the universe of unbroken links. In fact, your 404 page could represent the “who” of you so people don’t go away in a pique, thinking you just don’t care.

Hyperallergic reports with many intriguing examples of some museums getting creative with their 404 pages. Among New York City museums, the New Museum’s 404 page, for instance, features a Maurizio Cattelan horse with its head implanted in a wall.

Another Cattelan piece, featuring a Pinocchio floating face-down in a boat, sometimes graces the 404 page of the Guggenheim, which rotates a set of upsetting images.

The Natural History Museum’s 404 page sports a stegosaurus skeleton and the tag, “That page may have evolved or become extinct.” Houston’s National Museum of Funeral History has a simple but elegant coffin, accompanied by, “You have made a grave mistake!”

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How to Attract Corporate Partners with Your Nonprofit Website

Posted By Josh Hirsch, Friday, May 12, 2017
Updated: Saturday, May 27, 2017

Speed ahead six years and I think it's safe to say that most companies - like consumers - are researching nonprofit partners before they ever send them an email or call them on the phone. Of course, nonprofits know this, but their websites often lack the content businesses are looking for to move them through the sales funnel from awareness to consideration to partnership.  

Fortunately, I ran across a great nonprofit website that has a lot of the content a potential business partner would look for from a nonprofit partner. I was impressed, and you will be too!

If I was a business in the United Kingdom, I would partner with Marie Curie in a heartbeat.

Never heard of Marie Curie before? I hadn't either until I stumbled upon their site thanks to my go-to peeps for all thinks British, Howard Lake and Johnny Five.

According to their website:

Marie Curie is the UK’s leading charity for people with any terminal illness. The charity helps people living with a terminal illness and their families make the most of the time they have together by delivering expert hands-on care, emotional support, research and guidance. Marie Curie employs more than 2,700 nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals, and with its nine hospices around the UK, is the largest provider of hospice beds outside the NHS.

The first thing I loved about the Marie Curie website was the homepage. It immediately grabbed my attention and confirmed that I was looking at an organization that knew how to market itself. If I was a potential corporate partner visiting their website for the first I would definitely think I was on the right track.

First impressions matter, right? I did a quick search of a similar palliative care organizations here in the states and I found this website. Hmmm....not quite the same impact.

I realize that I may not be comparing apples to apples with these two organization, but I think you get my point. Most nonprofits don't think of their websites as calling cards for their donors - and especially not for potential corporate partners. But they should.

Marie Curie only has three main tabs at the top. As I was looking for info on how to get involved with them I clicked the last one, Get involved.

In the drop-down box, I clicked on Become a Corporate Partner. The page it took me too had another great image. In addition to having a Contact us button, I had four choices that included a link to How we can support you. What?! A nonprofit that's interested in my success. How many nonprofit websites have this?!

Of course, I clicked on this first. This page had some great information, including how Marie Curie would support the corporate partner. The benefits included:

  • A dedicated account manager who will set out objectives for the partnership, inspire you with ideas and be in regular contact keeping you informed on all aspects of the partnership. [Wow, a direct contact person just for me!]
  • The knowledge and expertise of the corporate and commercial teams across Marie Curie's head office, 45 regional offices and 438 community fundraising groups. [These folks have some experience and breadth. Good for me.]
  • Our social media team, who will help you engage with our 500,000-strong Facebook community and over 54,000 dedicated supporters on Twitter. [I won't just be talking to my customers. I'll be talking to their donors.] 
  • Tailored fundraising materials, from collection tins and T-shirts to posters and balloons. [This is a turnkey program!]

Next, I clicked on How you can support us. This page had a bunch of options for business fundraisers because as Marie Curie explained at the top "Every business is different – so each of our partnerships is too." Businesses want want programs that fit and work for them, and this page provides lots of great thought-starters.

The final link I clicked on was Our Partners. On this page I could check out all the different corporate partners, of which Marie Curie had quite a few!

One of the best parts of the Marie Curie website were all the case studies they had of their corporate partnerships. On every page I visited I could access cases studies of their successful partnerships.

These case studies are awesome! They include video, testimonials, program details and results. The number one thing I see lacking on most nonprofits websites are case studies on successful business partnerships. These are important for the consideration stage of the funnel. Companies want to know what success you've had with other businesses. That will give them the confidence to work with you.

Looking at Marie Curie's corporate partnership pages, you can't help but leave with respect for the organization and admiration for its partnership efforts. That's just how a potential corporate prospect should feel when they visit your site.

Key Takeaways

Companies just don't call you up and strike a partnership deal with you. They go to your website first for their own Zero Moment of Truth. To build awareness and consideration for your cause and land corporate partners, you need a website that engages visitors and builds confidence.
If a corporate prospect plugs your URL into Google, what do they see first? What kind of impression does your site make? Does it look amateurish? Uninspiring? Boring? Cluttered? That needs to change.

If you've worked with corporate partners before - or hope to work with them - you should have a tab for partnerships.

Follow Marie Curie's lead and have a How we can support you section. Fill it with things you can do to help partners achieve their goals. Remember, good partnerships are win-win.
Let companies know that you want to work closely with them to choose and execute a fundraiser that works best for them AND you.

For every corporate partnership you execute you should have a case study that shares the details, challenges and dollars raised. Just don't use text to tell this story. Use video, images, testimonials and anything else that will communicate a powerful and persuasive story.

Marie Curie's website is great, but it's not the only one out there. What other organizations are doing a great job attracting corporate partners with their websites? Share them in the comments below or with me on Twitter. I'd like to put a Pinterest board together of good nonprofit websites that can serve as models for partnership success!

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Kimberly Luchina - Why Are You Participating in Rising Leaders?

Posted By Josh Hirsch, Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Updated: Thursday, December 29, 2016
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Nonprofit Leadership Strategies For Attracting And Retaining Talent

Posted By Josh Hirsch, Thursday, May 4, 2017
Updated: Saturday, May 27, 2017

As nonprofit leaders know, investing in employees is crucial for attracting and retaining the best talent for complex nonprofit jobs. It’s also needed to maintain a culture of value, inclusion and engagement. Many employee investment strategies fall under the broader heading of leadership development. By offering a variety of leadership development opportunities, you can effectively meet the diverse needs of your employees. Here are some strategies to try at your organization.

Mentorship

Mentorship, often considered for individuals just starting out in their careers, can be a great tool for employees at any stage. Mentoring and coaching allow individuals to succeed by doing and emphasize active learning more than the typical on-the-job training. At Goodwill Industries International, we run a mentorship program that pairs employees based on their career development interests and experience. We also connect mentees and mentors across departments to expose individuals to new and different perspectives within the organization. An inclusive and effective mentoring program offers broad solutions to leadership development.

Lattices and Ladders

When considering growth opportunities for your employees, it’s important to include both lateral and upward growth opportunities. Lateral growth is in line with leadership development; it increases employees’ knowledge about the organization and allows them to grow their skill sets. Lateral growth also gives employees a chance to work with new people at the organization and learn new strategies for addressing challenges. If you overlook lateral growth, you risk having talented employees hit their vertical growth limit. Employers that invest in their employees’ professional development are also investing in the long-term sustainability and success of their organizations. Both types of growth are important to develop emerging leaders and foster a culture of learning.

Continuing Education

Continuing education is another opportunity to fulfill to your team members’ desire to learn and grow within your organization. Continuing education might include tuition reimbursement or in-house programs offered by your organization. Leadership development programs should consider adult learning styles in the education approach. We run a leadership development program that prepares existing Goodwill executives to become chief executives at local, independent Goodwill organizations. Executives in this program follow leadership tenants designed for the Goodwill social enterprise and learn through the 70-20-10 philosophy.

Market-Driven Compensation

Although a sensitive topic in the nonprofit arena, competitive compensation and benefits also play a key role in hiring and retaining valuable employees. As nonprofit organizations know, the challenge is aligning market value with expectations of your funders and communities. As you mentor and educate your employees to become the best leaders they can be, it is important to meet the value of their skills to manage retention rates. Lack of investment in leaders can lead to high turnover and hurt organizations’ sustainability and mission impact.

Investing in your employees is an important attraction and retention strategy to sustain high-functioning nonprofit organizations. By tailoring your leadership development practices to meet the unique needs of your organization, you can create value for your employees and promote a culture of continuous learning.

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