ACN News & Industry Trends

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  • 05/13/2020 8:55 AM | Anonymous

    by Annisa Wanat, ACN member

    “There are super sexy exciting things to think about running a nonprofit, I know no one wants to talk finance, but you have to,” began Megan Angle for ACN’s April Educational Program, “How to Run Your Nonprofit like a For-Profit.” In ACN’s first virtual educational program, Megan, a CPA with Porte Brown, provided useful tips for nonprofits on solid financial management policies and procedures that will impress donors and strengthen your organization. 

    1. Key Financial Policies 

    From an auditor’s perspective, there are four key policies to have in place to demonstrate to your team that your nonprofit is committed to staying financially healthy. First, conflict of interest policy requires any staff and board members to disclose any potential conflict of interest with vendors or suppliers - and remove themselves from the decision-making process involving those parties. Although federal law prohibits retaliation against employees who shine the light on misdeeds, a written whistleblower policy demonstrates your organization’s commitment to transparency. A compensation policy that ideally uses an external source to be sure your salary scale is in-line with other similar nonprofits in your region can streamline the negotiation process with new employees. And finally, a document retention policy will help your entire team understand the importance of organizing files.

    2. Zero-Based Budgeting

    Instead of building your annual budget based on the previous year’s spending, consider planning your expenses from the ground up. This method of budget development requires you to justify all your costs at the beginning of the period. Megan recommends creating a budget this way every year, but if you find it too arduous, every other year would be reasonable. The idea is to be sure you reflect on your plans and to be sure you are doing what is needed, rather than just continuing to operate “the way it has always been done.”

    3. Operations, Capital, and Cash-Flow Budgets

    A financial sound nonprofit will separate its budget plans by category, as well as be sure that anticipated revenues, especially if they vary seasonally, can cover your expenses on a month-by-month basis. A cash-flow budget will help you navigate ebbs and flows in funding, for example, when there is a global pandemic that interrupts the economy. 

    4. Budget to Actual Comparisons

    “Don’t put together a budget and never use it,” stressed Megan. Periodically reviewing your budgets to see if your plans have come in on target can help you understand relationships and patterns for future planning. Also, consider picking a couple of key metrics, such as working capital, savings indicator, and debt ratio and analyze the financial strength of your organization over time.  

    5. Hierarchy of Emergency Liquidity Planning (HELP)

    Understand the HELP so that you can plan for disruptions in your cash-flow. To lay the groundwork for stability, be sure to maintain a savings account with minimal withdrawal fees and keep at least 30-days of expenses in it that will not be touched until an emergency. Second, before you need it, establish a line of credit for another 30 days of expenses. It will be harder to get the loan if you wait until you need it. Be sure to have a plan for what your liquidity should be before you can tap into the savings account or access the line of credit. 

    Megan not only stressed the importance of these five financial management policies and procedures but provided suggestions for how smaller organizations could implement them. If your organization is not ready to hire a full-time financial person, consider outsourcing this to a CPA. Or recruit a board member who has these skills to build up the policies and train staff on implementation. 

    At the end of the presentation, Megan fielded questions from attendees. The full webinar is available on the Porte Brown site.

  • 05/11/2020 1:22 PM | Kelli Moore (Administrator)

    By: Melissa Lagowski

    You might feel like you will never break free from Zoom calls and virtual meetings right now, but we will reach the other side of this “shelter in place” soon. However, the world as we knew it will never be the same. Have you started thinking about what this means for you and your business?

    Some people are passive and have a wait and see attitude while hoping for a return to normal, but times like this are for preparation and innovating. If you actively invest the time now to plan out what you want to achieve on the other side of COVID-19, you are far more likely to succeed. It would be to your advantage to use this time to begin planning for a future that has already been altered.

    At some point, you probably grumbled and mumbled under your breath about a project you didn’t like. Or you wished you could stop offering a certain service or working with specific type of client. This is your chance to re-imagine the possibilities. The market is forcing you to consider a redesign anyway, so this is the time to approach your future with a blank slate.

    Reconnect with Your Why

    When was the last time that you thought about your “why?” Take a moment to think about why you do what you do: Why do you serve the nonprofit arena? Why does your work matter? To you? To your clients? Reconnecting with your why helps re-ignite your passion for your own personal mission, so start by identifying your why and confirming that it is still the same as it was three months ago.

    Evaluate Your Work and Your Desires

    Businesses were forced to make unexpected and immediate changes over the past couple of months. As an example, some of us may have already been set up to work from home (with little change other than the increase in virtual meetings), while others had everything turned upside-down. Regardless, the adjustment happened so quickly that most people haven’t really had the chance to think about the new normal and analyze the entirety of its effects.

    So now is the time to make a list of the pros and cons of your life before COVID-19 and your life after COVID-19. You may have some surprising findings. For example, while I miss meeting with people in person, I love the short commute times of these virtual meetings, which means I can be home for dinner every night with my family. As you work to “reset” your life, personally and/or professionally, feel free to select the best of both worlds to plan for your future as you think about what comes next. You now have the ability to adjust your services, your roles, your processes, etc., as you move forward, so don’t miss this opportunity that could make your work and your life more balanced or more meaningful.

    Innovate for Growth

    “Crisis is the mother of invention.” We have heard it before, but today is proof that it still rings true. Opportunity truly exists when we realize that it is not just our roles that have drastically changed, but our clients and potential clients have had to adjust their needs and processes, as well. What monumental shifts have they been forced to take? Why not use this time to connect with your clients and other nonprofit organizations and ask them? What is their current pain? What is their greatest need? Is there something that you could offer them to help?

    Look for the gaps in your industry and any gaps in your services. After such a large disruption (that is still evolving), this is an ideal time to identify what is missing for your industry and/or clients. Is this an adjustment that you make? Is the need something you could offer? Crisis is a time to identify how you might make shifts in your work to better serve your clients. You may uncover something you never thought of before that could increase your relevance (and revenues) in the future.

    Re-establish the Vision

    Now that you have taken inventory of what was working and what was not, it is time to re-establish your overall vision. Again, this is the time to hit the reset button to design what life after COVID-19 will look like. Write about it in detail. What services will you offer? Who will you serve? How will you make them feel? What do you want to be known for? Why will your clients need you? How will you improve the nonprofit world? How will that make you feel? What lessons have you learned that you want to apply, and how will your life be different as a result? What will you offer that you hadn’t before? What will you discontinue offering because it no longer serves you?

    You get to keep doing what has served you well and put changes into place to improve the parts of your work that have not been serving you well. Personally, I have identified many things in our company that need to be simplified. I have also identified services that we no longer want to offer, and we are creating some new ways to assist nonprofit organizations in need. This pivot is reinvigorating our team and increasing our excitement about the future of the company.

    Today offers the biggest opportunity of your life to hit the reset button, so do the work now to create intention for your future. It will provide the clarity you need to move forward when we are able to proceed with our lives again.

    Promote Yourself

    Finally, prepare to promote your services. It may be human nature to shrink when we are afraid or uncertain, but now is not the time to play small. To overcome the effects of the coronavirus on your business, you need to be ready to announce what you are offering and why it matters. Plan now for how you can promote yourself and any service adjustments you are making for the future. It is important to share the news to show that you support those who will benefit from what you are offering, so plan accordingly for how you will do this for the greatest effect. Do you need to make tweaks to your website about new services? Share an announcement? Post the news on social media? Have a bold plan ready so that you can quickly move as the shelter in place mandate is lifted.

    And if the quick adjustments of mid-March have taught us anything, they have shown us to be scrappy. The rollout of new services or service adjustments don’t need to be perfectly packaged, and often, a desire for perfection results in paralysis. We have all learned that you can create something and continue adjusting the offerings or the packages as you go. After all, we were all fumbling with Zoom and virtual technology in the beginning, but now people have learned how to change their virtual backgrounds and use the system far more effectively with time and experience. So, there is no need to aim for perfection here; just aim to get the information out to those who need it, knowing that you can continue to improve it in the future.

    In Conclusion

    We may be living through the only time in our history when we can hit a reset button on life, so don’t let this opportunity pass you by. Invest the time to really analyze your company and your purpose so you can properly position yourself for greater success and satisfaction after the new normal of COVID-19 sets in. Even the slightest adjustment may provide huge benefit to you and your clients.


    Melissa is CEO/Founder/Queen Bee of Big Buzz Idea Group. Big Buzz provides operational support for nonprofits and associations in the areas of administration, communication, event-planning, bookkeeping and database management. 



  • 05/06/2020 12:20 PM | Anonymous


    In honor of National Volunteer Week (April 19-25), we would like to share our gratitude for the contributions of our board of directors and committee volunteers, who work behind-the-scenes to help our members grow their businesses and better serve the nonprofit sector. 

    Hear why our members volunteer with ACN and how it has positively impacted them. 


    Belinda Li of CiTTA Partnership

    How long have you been volunteering with ACN?
    Almost 6 years, currently serving on the Programming Committee.

    Why did you choose to be an ACN volunteer?
    To bring educational and networking opportunities to fellow nonprofit consultants, helping us all develop professionally and connecting with like-minded individuals.

    How has volunteering with ACN impacted your career or business?
    Being involved with ACN, in general, has helped me develop new partnerships with other consultants—resulting in opportunities to work with fellow ACN members on client projects. And being a volunteer for ACN helps raise my and my company's profiles, among consultants as well as nonprofit leaders who attend our events.

    Jill Misra of Impact Solutions

    How long have you been volunteering with ACN?
    4 years, current ACN President and serving as the co-chair of the strategic planning task force

    Why did you choose to be an ACN volunteer?
    The strategic planning task force is a focused opportunity to support the future direction of ACN. I was interested in this work as it aligns with my practice areas and also affords opportunity to learn from like-minded peers.

    How has volunteering with ACN impacted your career or business?
    Volunteer work for ACN offers exposure to colleagues that I otherwise may not encounter. It challenges my thinking while allowing me to contribute in an area where I feel comfortable.

    Donald Raack of AltruNext

    How long have you been volunteering with ACN?
    Almost 1 year, currently serving on the Nonprofit Relations Committee.

    Why did you choose to be an ACN volunteer?
    I felt a desire to serve the community of my chosen vocation.

    How has volunteering with ACN impacted your career or business?
    I volunteer for purposes I believe in. I volunteer for activities that fuel my passion. I volunteer not for the benefit of me, but for the benefit of others; when others benefit, I in turn benefit. Without some positive impact for someone else, I would find volunteering to be empty.

    Jim Stoynoff of Synthesis Solutions, LLC

    How long have you been volunteering with ACN?
    Almost 5 months.

    Why did you choose to be a volunteer?
    It is an opportunity to assist non-profit organizations that are especially vulnerable in this challenging time, and to work with other folks who also share a commitment to do our best in this regard.

    How has volunteering impacted your career or business?
    It has provided many opportunities to help non-profits of all sizes to successfully fulfill their mission and thrive, and at the end of the day it feels great!

    Emily Taylor of teenyBIG

    How long have you been volunteering with ACN?
    1 year, currently serving as VP of Nonprofit Relations.

    Why did you choose to be an ACN volunteer?
    It is a great way to understand the various skills consultants have to offer and begin to collaborate with others in the field.

    How has volunteering with ACN impacted your career or business?
    I've been able to run several speaking events for nonprofits and am learning more about aspects of the social sector I was less familiar with.

    Lidia Varesco Racoma of Lidia Varesco Design

    How long have you been volunteering with ACN?
    3-1/2 years, currently serving as VP of Marketing & Communications.

    Why did you choose to be an ACN volunteer?
    I originally joined the Marketing Committee to meet fellow members and become more involved in ACN. After serving on the committee, I decided to join the board of directors so that I could help bring more awareness and engagement to ACN.

    How has volunteering with ACN impacted your career or business?
    The largest benefit of being an ACN volunteer has been connecting with fellow consultants who have complementary businesses and collaborating on projects. Since I work with association clients, the experience of being “on the other side” of association life has also been very valuable. Also, since I work mainly solo, being on the ACN board of directors and managing a committee has helped me grow and develop my leadership skills (shoutout to my awesome Marketing Committee, by the way!)

    Annisa Wanat of amw solutions 

    How long have you been volunteering with ACN?
    Approximately 5 years, currently on the Marketing Committee

    Why did you choose to be an ACN volunteer?
    I thought working with the marketing committee would be a great way to network and hone my skills.

    How has volunteering with ACN impacted your career or business?
    Volunteering with the committee has exposed me to the different ways other consultants approach marketing which I have been useful clients. Also, I have developed stronger relationships with other ACN members.

    Tiffany Williams of TJ Marie Consulting and Givly Inc. has been volunteering on the Nonprofit Relations Committee.

    Why did you choose to be an ACN volunteer?
    I'm passionate about strengthening nonprofits and offering services that help support their missions and expand their impact. Volunteering is my way of sharing and connecting with other consultants and nonprofit leaders.

    How has volunteering with ACN impacted your career or business?
    Volunteering has helped me better understand and provide services that speak directly to the needs of the nonprofits we serve.

    Thank you to all of your volunteers—we appreciate you and your service to ACN!

    ACN Members: Are you looking to share your time and talents? Learn more about volunteering with ACN.

  • 03/30/2020 2:54 PM | Kelli Moore (Administrator)

    by Amelia Kohm

    Each of us has a number of tools we use regularly in our consulting practices. A well-worn item in many of our toolboxes is the survey. Whether we are doing strategic planning, marketing, organizational development, or evaluation, we often need information best gathered through a survey of current or potential clients, participants, audience members, board members, staff, etc.

    It’s easy enough to create a survey on Survey Monkey or the like. It's harder to get an adequate number of responses. And even when you do, the respondents might not fairly represent the larger group you want to know about. But let’s say you get past these hurdles. There’s still a major hurdle ahead of you: extracting meaning from your data.

    Surveys include different types of questions. Perhaps the most common one is the Likert scale question which asks respondents to indicate how much they agree or disagree with a particular statement using a five to seven point scale.

    Many consultants and organizations will assign numerical values to response options (5 for strongly agree, 4 for agree, 3 for neutral, 2 for disagree, and 1 for strongly disagree) and then compute averages across respondents. But there is so much more information in those numbers than averages can tell you, including:

    The extremes: Averages can’t tell you what were the lowest or highest ratings on any given statement.

    What most respondents said: Let’s say an average response is 3. This number doesn’t tell you if most people responded with a 3 or if half responded with a 5 and half responded with a 1. More broadly, averages can’t tell you how spread out the data is. Are there similar numbers of responses at each point in the scale or do they bunch up around certain values?

    What subgroups think and feel: Even though the overall average might be high, the average might be low for some subgroups within your group of respondents. Perhaps respondents from a certain neighborhood, for example, had very different opinions than the group overall.

    You can extract and show this type of information using data visualization tools like Tableau. Compare this simple list of averages of responses to several survey questions . . .

    . . . to the chart below which shows the range of responses to each survey statement, the proportion of responses for each rating, and the overall average across survey statements (the gray vertical line) in addition to the averages which appear in the gray circles.

    Moreover, the interactive version allows you to “drill down” into the data and see if whole group results hold for subgroups.

    If you are going to go to the trouble of conducting a survey, make sure to squeeze all of the information you can from the data you collect.

    ________________________

    Amelia Kohm, PhD, is the founder of Data Viz for Nonprofits and has more than 20 years of experience studying, funding, and evaluating human services. Data Viz for Nonprofits (nonprofitviz.com) delivers high-quality, low-cost visualizations that help organizations to quickly grasp their data, improve their work, and show their impact.

  • 03/27/2020 10:14 AM | Kelli Moore (Administrator)

    by Heather Eddy 

    Assessing your team and infrastructure is an item leaders often have on the “to do” list, but likely keeps getting pushed to the bottom.

    NOW is the perfect opportunity to tackle the task.

    When we look back on the COVID-19 situation, bold leaders will have used the lessons learned during this time to strengthen their organizations and teams. Here are some things you can review to prepare for short- and long-term operational needs when things do return to normal. (And they will return to normal.)

    • Annual goals and targets. What will they look like at 100% / 75% / 50%?
    • Budgeted numbers (projected and actual). Determine which fixed costs are a must and which soft costs can be deferred, reduced, or eliminated.
    • Job descriptions. When were they last updated? Do they clearly outline performance objectives and expectations?
    • Policies and procedures. Are they current? Do they accurately reflect how your team operates?
    • Members of your team. Who brings exceptional skill? Who is the most versatile? Who always jumps in, and who regularly objects? Who has evolved with the job, and who has steered the job to fit them?

    With this data fresh in mind, outline your ideal team structure for January 2021. Look at the ideal pre-COVID-19, the “leanest” option now, and what falls in between. Defining these frameworks will help in the coming months.

    During both the Dotcom bubble burst (late 90s) and the economic downturn during the Great Recession (2007-2009), we learned that crisis-timed decisions need to be made with short-, medium-, and long-term impact in mind.

    The good news is – we also learned that things do eventually come back. Who you have on your team when that happens will make all the difference. Here are some recommendations when making hard decisions:

    • Culture still eats strategy - even in tough times, and perhaps especially in tough times. Make sure people are adding to a common, valued, shared, and vibrant culture.
    • Strategy does matter. Without it, your team may accomplish a multitude of tasks, but may not reach bigger goals.
    • Longevity carries weight, but last in/first out may not meet your business needs. Staff with less tenure on your team may fill the most current/important need(s) – isn’t that why you hired them?
    • The 80/20 rule. A manager often spends 80% of their time with the underperformers and only 20% of their time with top performers. Who takes up most of your time, and is that time channeled productively and efficiently? If you could achieve more time balance, what outcomes could you accomplish?
    • Ensure your team brings a blend of styles and strengths. KEES uses the DiSC profile for team building. Even if a team member isn’t your favorite personally, that does not mean they are not a valuable asset to the team.

    These challenging times will demand your creative leadership. If you keep your mission and purpose top of mind, knowing that things will rebuild and ultimately thrive again, then short team pain may lead to long term gain.

    _____________

    Heather co-founded KEES in 2013 after serving for 17 years in multiple executive leadership roles with The Alford Group/Alford Group Executive Search. KEES partners specifically with nonprofits to provide an array of executive search, leadership development, interim staffing and HR consulting services.


  • 03/24/2020 11:24 AM | Kelli Moore (Administrator)

    By Laura Weinman

    If you are a Major Gift Officer or other “relationship manager,” you are likely craving human interaction while simultaneously re-imagining years of best practices teaching that face-to-face is always the best way to engage your most generous donors.

    During times of uncertainty, most major donors will want to hear from you – to know you care about their well-being and to update them on what your organization is doing differently (and what remains unchanged!) during this time of disruption. Reaching out by email or phone is fine (don’t stop doing it) – and suggesting that you meet by video conference might be welcomed. While some donors might not be familiar with Skype, Zoom, or other platforms, many regularly interact with children, grandchildren or friends on their phone through FaceTime or other means. They may even be interested in having a view of your home office or some parts of your life that you don’t usually share. (We’re all in this together.) For a laugh, check out this BBC interview from a home office that goes awry.

    Everyone loves an authentic interaction and during times of stress, letting down your personal guard and interacting as a person rather than an employee can go a long way in building trust and bonds with your major donors.

    However, video chat isn’t for everyone…so what are some other options?

    • Ask your CEO, Board Chair, or someone in direct service at your nonprofit to record a short video and share it widely on social media and email it to donors. Something as simple as a 15 second iPhone video is easy to share.
    • Many people look for ways to be helpful and productive during times of stress and uncertainty. Other than giving, ask for specific things they can do. Can they call another donor to thank them? Can they reach out to isolated clients (ensuring you clear any confidentiality issues) to offer a friendly voice? Can they direct people to your good work through their social media?
    • Simply making a phone call to say thank you for your support this year can go a long way in keeping your organization top of mind at a later date. If you can encourage your board and committee members to make these calls, you’re cultivating them too!
    • Consult experts for help with organization-specific cultivation plans or interim support if you need some additional experts on board temporarily to reach all of your donors.

    Laura has 20+ years of Association/Nonprofit leadership experience. Her expertise focuses on development, staff recruitment, staff management, career coaching, grant writing, major gifts, planned giving, prospect research, strategic development planning, event management, sponsorship, volunteer management, and annual fundraising. She has been with KEES since 2012.

  • 03/20/2020 9:10 AM | Kelli Moore (Administrator)

    by Michelle Hunter

    Working at home can cause stress and anxiety, even under normal conditions. This new world of remote working due to COVID-19, however, is a different ballgame—and one with its own unique set of mental health challenges.

    With the unfolding health crisis, many of us likely have more worries on our plates than usual. As members of the nonprofit community, we are deeply concerned about the pandemic’s impact on the populations we serve and our organizations’ ability to function and survive. We also may be feeling anxious about our own health and financial security, or about working remotely while trying to care for children and loved ones.

    In times like these, it’s more important than ever to take steps to protect our mental well-being. You’ve likely heard the airplane metaphor about putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs. The same message applies here: you’ll be in a much better position to make a positive difference for those around you if your fundamental needs are met.

    Here are a few tips for taking care of your mental health while working remotely during this unusual time.

    • Stay connected. To combat feelings of isolation, check in regularly with colleagues, friends and family through calling, texting, e-mailing or video chatting.
    • Schedule down time. Try to set clear boundaries between work and leisure time. Dedicate at least an hour a day to activities that help you unwind, such as reading, exercising, taking a walk, making a meal, or watching a TV show.
    • Look for the bright spots. We did not ask for this crisis, but since it’s here, let’s discover what we can learn from it. Every day there are new, profound examples of our colleagues and clients fighting with all their might to keep our work and sector afloat. We should acknowledge the many acts of good we see and glean as many insights as we can—both for our mental hygiene and so the nonprofit sector can emerge from this crisis stronger and more resilient than ever. 

    There is much we are still learning about how to cope with this new and still-evolving reality. While we don’t have all the answers, one thing is certain: if each of us is to deliver on our mission and purpose, we must make our mental well-being a top priority.

    ___________

    Michelle Hunter is a freelance writer and consultant who connects storytelling to strategy. She helps nonprofits find and tell their stories in ways that reach their audiences and support their mission, vision and goals.

  • 03/16/2020 11:13 AM | Kelli Moore (Administrator)

    by David Steven Rappoport 

    I’m as horrified as everyone else about the COVID-19 situation, but I’m not worried about how it’s going to impact my ability to work with clients. This is because I primarily work remotely as a matter of choice. I don’t like the wear and tear of travel, and my clients don’t like the increased cost that travel adds to a project. I completed a project in Los Angeles last week and am working on one in New York state this week, without visiting either place.

    My practice primarily focuses on researching and writing complex, high-dollar grant proposals. This work requires organization, clear communication, and a capacity for research and analysis, but it usually does not necessitate in-person interaction. I used to think it did, but years of working with clients on the phone and internet has changed my mind.

    • Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned working remotely:• Organize the project for virtual work. I have a launch call for all projects which I ask key participants to attend. I present and review an outline of the project requirements, create a GANTT chart detailing the project timeline, and detail all roles and responsibilities. Clear expectations are key.
    • Remember that, whether virtual or real-time, consulting is still a trust business. The work I do is fairly wonky. Client trust is built on a perception of experience and competence, not on personal charm – or lack of it. I find that projecting an organized and knowledgeable persona from a distance builds that trust as effectively as being in the room.
    • Establish a primary contact person. I find it is best to talk to one key person on-site as much as possible and let them talk to everyone else. This reduces confusion. Be careful about side conversations.
    • Be comfortable with your technology. I’m an old-fashioned nerd. Simplicity is sometimes better than complexity. I use MS Office products and have the full version of PDF so I can manipulate PDF documents. I don't use Google Docs because for some, its structure may add to confusion on projects, with many participants making changes. Different systems work well for different consultants and organizations. Find the technology that works well for you and your clients.
    • Hand-holding can be done virtually. Sometimes clients require extra personal attention for one reason or another, and for that, a phone call works just as well as being there.

    Ultimately, some projects still benefit from in-person interaction. For example, a few years ago, I was hired by a philanthropic organization to help a group of stakeholders create a proposal to the state government to address a major restructuring. I arrived on site with an organizational development professional, and we spent several days with the participants, creating a system redesign. The work was complicated and layered with anger and anxiety. Could the process have been done online? Possibly, but it would have been more difficult. Very large and complex projects with many elements and participants also benefit from being in person, which helps to who does what and who knows what.

    *******

    David Steven Rappoport Consulting, LLC works nationally with non-profits; city, county, state, and tribal government agencies; philanthropies; and businesses. The practice primarily focuses on: (1) the development of proposals to public and private funders – often complex and high-dollar; (2) related opportunity research; and (3) related facilitation, research, planning and analysis.


  • 03/11/2020 4:34 PM | Kelli Moore (Administrator)

    by Liz Duffrin

    Melissa Lagowski, founder and CEO of Big Buzz Idea Group, was surprised at the invitation to be a guest blogger for ACN not long after attending her first meeting. One consultant she met later read the blog posts on her website and recommended her to the ACN marketing committee.

    “I would never have thought to submit my articles to ACN for sharing,” said Lagowski, whose group provides nonprofits with day-to-day operational support and event planning. “The way the ACN the marketing team kept inviting me to share content was meaningful for me. I felt the organization was doing something to support me, and I needed to be part of the community.”

    Lidia Varesco Racoma, a member of the marketing committee and now its chair, was thrilled not only with Lagowski’s blog posts but with the chance to reconnect with her. Years earlier they’d consulted on the same project but had fallen out of touch.

    Once ACN reunited them, Lagowski soon found a need for Racoma’s talents. The Chicago chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners needed to rethink its communications plan. Lagowski, the chapter’s executive director, recommended Racoma, a graphic designer and marketing and branding strategist and founder of Lidia Varesco Design, for the job: “I knew she had a fresh perspective and a process that would be extremely useful.”

    Racoma analyzed the characteristics of the association’s members and divided them into three types—new entrepreneurs, small but established ones, and those grossing $1 million or more each year. For each type of member, Racoma created a profile in a graphic format that was fictional but representative of the group and included a name, avatar, background, pain points, and values.

    Those profiles helped the association better tailor its programming and messaging to the needs of its different audiences, said Lagowski. “It became instrumental in our planning and gave us a solid foundation for marketing that the organization didn’t have previously.”

    Now the two are working on an RFP for a large communications project with ACN member Kelli Moore, principal at Ando Advisors. While Big Buzz Idea Group could have assumed a larger share of the project, Lagowski believes that the diversity of talent that Racoma and Moore bring will make their RFP more competitive and ultimately “give the nonprofit a higher return on its investment.”

    Both said they’re eager to find more ACN collaborators. “I’ve always been seeking partners so that I can participate in larger RFPs or projects,” said Racoma, who joined ACN in 2016. Through her work on the marketing committee, and by serving on the ACN board as vice president of marketing and communications, she’s become familiar with the work of consultants who are potential partners and also colleagues she can refer to clients in good faith. “So ACN has been really awesome in that sense,” she said. “Lately, I’ve been referring people like crazy.”

    Racoma and Lagowski advocate building relationships through ACN events and volunteer opportunities as a way to grow your business. “We are all serving the same target market and the fact that we all do different things lends itself to collaboration,” said Lagowski. “And the opportunity to form collaborations is incredible. It helps you build your bench so that you can bring a whole team, a whole solution to a client.”

  • 02/17/2020 12:26 PM | Anonymous

    By Liz Duffrin, ACN member


    Presenter Monica Kaiser leads a collaborative activity with participants

    The only person nonprofits find more intimidating than an evaluator is an auditor, quipped ACN member and evaluation expert Monica Kaiser of Kaiser Group Inc.

    But at the ACN quarterly meeting in February, Kaiser made the evaluation process seem not only clearer and less intimidating but even fun. During the morning workshop, she led a packed room of nonprofit professionals and consultants through a series of simulation games to better understand what impact is, how a nonprofit can best demonstrate its impact to funders, and how to determine which type of impact evaluation best serves a nonprofit’s needs.  

    Here are a few tips from her workshop on making impact evaluation more successful:

    1.     Create an impact statement.

    “So what do we mean when we say impact?” Kaiser asked the group. “The definition we’re going to walk around with today is, ‘the condition we would like our society or our community to be in because of our work.’”

    A good impact statement, she explained, is measurable, grounded in research, and ambitious enough that your organization can’t claim having achieved it alone. A health services nonprofit, for instance might aim to “eliminate disparities in incidences of chronic diseases,” she said.

    Kaiser also explained what an impact statement is not: It’s not a statistic, such as a percentage increase in a physical fitness score. It’s not a program objective, such as “revise health education curriculum.” It’s also not your nonprofit’s vision, such as “helping all people achieve health across their lifespan.”

    “Unlike a vision, impact has to be stated in a way that could potentially be measured,” she explained. “A vision is our hearts on parade. A vision is a beautiful poetic piece of writing. You can find a clue in your vision. But a vision is not an impact statement.”

    2. Create a logic model.

    Every organization needs a “logic model” or “theory of change” to explain how its day-to-day work will ultimately lead to impact, Kaiser said. These models can vary in format, but they all serve to organize an agency’s thinking about its work, about the data it collects for funders, and about how it communicates its success.  

    Without a logic model, grant writers are often left to come up with indicators on the fly, she said, and an organization ends up with a laundry list of items to measure “because every grant has a different list based on who wrote it.”

    In thinking about a logic model, a simple analogy Kaiser uses is throwing rocks in a pond, which leads to a splash, ripples and ultimately to impact or “The New Pond.”

    Throwing rocks into the pond represents a nonprofit’s services. “The majority of agencies measure their outputs and put them on their websites as if they were outcomes,” Kaiser noted. “’We serve 50,000 people’ is not an outcome, but it is a measure of your reach which is absolutely critical to eventually being able to talk about your impact.”

    The initial splash is short-term outcomes for participants.

    The first ripples are intermediate outcomes that stem from many short-term changes.

    Outer ripples are long-term outcomes for participants or changes that participants make in others, such as educators raising student achievement. 

    The New Pond is the impact that a nonprofit believes will result from its sustained efforts and outcomes.

    (Click here to see one logic model template Kaiser uses. The arrows in the template “are the key in a good logic model,” she noted. “They hide the research that says, if you do this, then this happens. You don’t get to invent those connections, you need to make them using research.”)

    3.     Understand the difference between outcomes and indicators.

    One of the trickier parts of creating a logic model is making the distinction between outcomes and indicators, said Kaiser. Indicators are specific measurements, such as the percentage of students who increase their score on the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. Indicators do not belong in a logic model, she insisted. “You are going to have too many and something is going to change and you’re not going to want that indicator anymore, but you’ve publicly committed to it.” One nonprofit that used scores on the Presidential Physical Fitness Test as an outcome, for example, was forced to change its message when that test was replaced by another, she said. Meanwhile, its real outcome, “improving children’s physical fitness” hadn’t changed.During the ACN workshop, participants worked in small groups to begin creating a logic model by writing an impact statement based on a sample vision along with program activities that would lead to the desired impact. Next, each got a baggie with outcomes and indicators on slips of paper and tried to accurately sort them.

    Kaiser said that the process of creating a logic model is even more important than having one. “I can walk into an agency, meet with them for two days, and hand them a logic model. That brings no value to that organization whatsoever,” she said. “When that happens, it’s literally just a piece of paper and nobody is going to look at it again.”

    The process of creating a logic model, on the other hand, builds buy-in from participants and a shared understanding of what the agency aims to measurably achieve, she said. “The value is in the conversations.”

    (For a list of Kaiser’s suggested evaluation terms, including more detail on outcomes and indicators, click here.)
     
    4.     Choose an evaluation method that best meets your needs.

    A logic model lays the groundwork for an efficient data collection and evaluation plan. Once the logic model is complete, she said, an evaluation expert inside or outside the agency should assist in coming up with indicators and a plan for measuring the desired outcomes.

    Kaiser thinks of evaluation as a stepladder, with agencies climbing further up the ladder to more complex evaluation methods depending on their needs and resources.

    The bottom rungs of the ladder include tracking the number of people an agency serves and evaluating their satisfaction with those services. These measurements “are critical to being successful in evaluation,” she said. “If you don’t do this well, you can’t climb the ladder.”

    Further up the ladder is measuring benefits to clients. These can be measured qualitatively, based on interviews and surveys. At a higher rung, they can be measured based on standardized, validated instruments, she said. “This is a very solid step to be on, and most agencies really only need to be here.”

    At the top of the ladder are more expensive and time-consuming options. These include comparing outcomes between clients and similar unserved groups. At the very top of the ladder is an evaluation where participants are randomly assigned to receive services or not—the “gold standard” of evaluation.

    At the end of the workshop, groups of participants pretended to be nonprofits of varying sizes and were each assigned a strategic plan goal and asked to choose the best evaluation method based on their needs and resources.

    After the workshop, Kaiser mentioned that she covered as much ground in 90 minutes as she usually does in two four-hour sessions. But ACN participants were enthusiastic and unfazed. “The most common comment I heard at the end,” she said, was ‘My brain hurts, but in a good way.’”

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