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  • 12/11/2016 10:26 AM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    By: Jim Heininger, Dixon|James Communications
    The potential is so promising: a striking new name, a more relevant promise to customers, the greater ability to enter new markets. All these outcomes can be achieved with the rebranding of an outdated or past-its-prime image. We’re seeing an unprecedented number of companies, non-profits, destinations and even sports teams embarking on efforts to gain this differentiated edge. Assisted Living Concepts rebrands as Enlivant to show more promise in its aging services; the community of Buffalo, New York, rebrands itself as a hockey mecca; and the Washington Redskins football team are under increasing pressure to rebrand what many see to be an outdated and insensitive trademark.

    Rebranding should be viewed as a strategic growth driver. The ability to reposition your business or organization to better capture new growth, attract better talent or more easily globalize is an investment in your future. Remember, when Steve Jobs returned to Apple Computer in 1977 he renamed the company simply Apple, enabling it to launch other technology advancements for consumers. Now it ranks as the globe’s most valuable brand. But the rebranding process, takes time, lots of energy and investment. Just look to Radio Shack whose valiant efforts to revitalize its retail brand are hampered by its struggling financial performance. It finally filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.

    We recently rebranded a senior health care organization whose 90-year-old brand made it challenging to grow revenue in an increasingly regulated and margin-strained industry. The group’s wise strategic plan called for expansion of service lines to younger individuals beginning at age 55 that would support their aging process and develop relationships for a broader range of services. Rebranding the organization with an aspirational name allowed it to tell a contemporary and differentiating client service story. We also coined a new business category of “adult life services” that created context for more lifestyle (education, fitness and wellness) and in-home care services to be marketed over time. The business transformation’s success even surprised client leadership as fellow industry players came calling asking for advice on how they had reinvented themselves in what seemed like an industry stuck in old models. The client has since established a business consulting capability which helps similar industry players transform to better meet the needs of aging Americans. It stands as a good example of how rebranding can open new doors and accelerate growth.

    Our experience with rebranding non-profit organizations suggests you follow these 10 fundamental principles if you want to create a forward-facing organization loaded with opportunity:

    1. Use rebranding to accelerate growth.
    Big changes should deliver big outcomes. Plan strategically and opportunistically to revive your business and its growth.

    2. Update your brand promise. True rebranding is not just refreshing your logo or adopting a new name, it’s the all-encompassing process of renewing your promise to customers and stakeholders, updating the core driver of your organization.

    3. Revisit your mission statement and vision too. Every rebranding assignment we’ve led has included the update of the foundational statements of the organization. Refreshed organizational values will also need to align with the desired new brand behaviors that you want employees to embrace and convey in their work.

    4. Give your new brand elasticity. This is the time to give your brand the ability to stretch and grow as the organization requires. Give it room to support your long-term strategic vision.

    5. Engage leadership from the start. Change starts from the top. An aligned group of management must communicate the business case for change and carry your new banner forward.

    6. Rebrand from the top down, and inside out. Leadership must first embody the new brand values and demonstrate them for employees who become your most important brand ambassadors. Involve and engage your employees in the process and they’ll more actively evangelize the new positioning. Only announce your rebranding once your internal ambassadors can confidently deliver it externally.

    7. Instill the new brand into your culture. Seize the opportunity to initiate cultural changes that reinforce new on-brand behaviors. Rebranding is also one of the rare times that you can work to banish unproductive cultural dynamics and instill desired new cultural rituals and practices. This all-encompassing change presents the rationale to encourage employees to “let go” of long-held unconscious ways of behaving that limit your company success.

    8. Utilize change management principles to align understanding and support.
    Businesses don’t change, individuals do. It’s important to use proven processes for gaining understanding, acceptance and participation in your brand change. In their 2008 assessment of rebranded companies, academicians Merrilees and Millers asserted that because rebranding is an incremental change process, as opposed to a radical change, it necessitates the use of change management considerations, especially at the initial design level of the new vision formulation.

    9. Align all communications and actions behind the new brand. Every piece of communications, marketing and visual identify must reflect the new visual identity. Likewise there must be a noticeable link between your products and customer service with the updated brand promise for stakeholders to believe your new positioning. Once you’ve complete that, plan new signature events that uniquely activate your revitalized brand.

    10. Formally launch your new brand. Set a date to flip all branding elements simultaneously for maximum impact. This helps you build anticipation internally and leaves little doubt that you’ve committed to this exciting, all-encompassing change.

    Approach the process with this level of engagement and substantive change and you are more likely to set a solid foundation for future growth and expansion.

    Best of Luck.

  • 12/11/2016 10:24 AM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    By: Delia Coleman, Forefront
    I’m really excited to be a part of ACN’s Annual Meeting and celebration of the sector – this has been a tough year for the nonprofit sector and any day spent sharing our successes and learning from each other is an important one. But our successes don’t exist in a vacuum. Our gutsy wins exist in an openly hostile budget environment, a competitive field, and within a city and state struggling with big problems.

    And that’s the environment we already know about. What about the issues the sector is only just barely aware of? How are we supposed to get ready for those? What are the strategic decisions our sector, and individual organizations, are going to be forced to make?

    And what if we could anticipate those decisions and prepare now?

    While the primary external factor for Chicago nonprofits today has been around funding and budgets, there are other issues looming in the distance: the further privatization of services, nonprofits losing out to for-profit providers, the cultural taboo against talking publicly about mergers & acquisitions (or other types of strategic partnerships) while outside pressure mounts for the sector to do more work with fewer resources.

    These outside pressures force a moment for our sector. It’s not a moment to rethink our purpose, no. We are still here to turn places into communities through education, healthcare, arts and culture, youth development, protecting our environment, or caring for the most at risk. But perhaps it is time to think about what place-making and community-strengthening need to look like in a future that is rapidly approaching. Our programs, our partners, our business models – all of this may need to look and perform differently if we are going to remain the invisible hand holding up our communities.
    Maybe we won’t be so invisible, then. And then things can really start changing.

    These success stories at your Annual Meeting are more than success stories – they’re bellwethers for a sector that needs to find a way to move nimbly from mere Survival and Sustainability to Thriving in a highly competitive environment.

    I can’t wait to see these stories grow and take root. I hope I’ll see you there.

    Delia Coleman Vice President, Strategy & Policy Forefront

  • 12/11/2016 10:22 AM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    By: Amy Wishnick, Wishnick & Associates, LLC
    Infrastructure: “The underlying foundation or basic framework (as of a system or organization)” as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Not particularly alluring.

    The esteemed panel of nonprofit professionals speaking at the ACN’s 2015 annual meeting shared many worthwhile insights about current issues and trends in the nonprofit sector. One in particular that resonated was the importance of infrastructure. The point made in the discussion was that, to paraphrase, infrastructure should not be ignored; it is imperative for mission fulfillment.

    Mission fulfillment – programs and services – now we’re talking. Yet, without support, the infrastructure, they would not be as significant and might not even exist.

    Highly developed programs and services can only go so far if any aspects of an organization’s infrastructure are less developed. Why? Because all aspects of an organization are intertwined. Let’s use a restaurant as an example. We all have had an experience at a restaurant with a terrific chef, a stunning menu, and a beautiful room that, sadly, had a slow kitchen, a disinterested wait-staff, and – you fill in the blanks. If we think of a restaurant’s concept and food as mission and program and the rest as the infrastructure, we see how critical these things are to success. Without a solid infrastructure – a smoothly functioning front of the house, a knowledgeable and dedicated staff, the right kind of visibility in the community, and attention to the bottom line – no restaurant will survive. Divine food alone cannot ensure success.

    If we substitute mission-driven organization for restaurant, and we were donors not diners, we wouldn’t make a second contribution. If we were clients, we might not avail ourselves of the services again. Not only is attention to infrastructure crucial for organizations, it underscores the importance of the work we do as capacity builders and providers of consulting services focusing on board development, governance, fundraising, strategic planning, finance and accounting, grant writing, marketing, communications, evaluation, volunteer management, operations, human resources, technology, and more. Without these critical aspects, an organization’s mission would have no support. In our experiences as nonprofit consultants, we know how important infrastructure is. In addition to compelling missions and meaningful programs, our clients must have:

    • Current strategic plans to assist in decision making and assessing opportunities,
      Clear understanding of what it costs to run their organizations and sound financial policies to manage their finances
    • Appropriate technology and systems
    • Targeted marketing to spread the word to the right constituencies
    • Cohesive fundraising strategies that ensure diverse revenue streams
    • Regular, relevant evaluation
    • High caliber staff committed to their missions and effectively deployed,
      Engaged boards of directors focused on strong governance and mindful stewardship
    • and more

    We are privileged to be welcomed by our clients, to get to know their organizations intimately and to develop relationships built on trust so that we can work together to safeguard success and sustainability.
    Infrastructure. Not particularly alluring. Imperative.

  • 12/11/2016 10:17 AM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    By: Catherine Siebel, Impact Assessment for Foundations and Nonprofits
    Listening to Kelly Kleiman speak about developing a contract with a nonprofit client is like being splashed in the fact with cold water. At ACN’s fall program “The Nitty-Gritty Details of Running a Consulting Practice”, Kelly pulled many of us out of our kitten-hugging, social justice reverie to remind us that, “Until they’re your client, you have to recognize that your interests are inevitably at odds. You can’t wish for harmony – you have to set up a structure to assure you’re harmonious.”

    An attorney by training and [board development consultant] by trade, Kelly reminded the audience that negotiating a contract with a potential client is both a science and an art. Beyond the obvious elements, a well-structured agreement reflects a number of more subtle efforts on the part of the consultant.

    The Lead-In

    Why goes into a contract?  ACN’s Code of Ethics dictates that our members: 1) Ensure that, prior to accepting any engagement, there is mutual consultant/client understanding of the objectives, scope, work plan and payment arrangements; and 2) Agree in advance with a client on the basis for fees and expenses and charge fees that are reasonable and commensurate with the services delivered and the responsibility accepted. Or, as Ms. Kleiman puts it, to “have a meeting of the minds when we really haven’t had a meeting of the minds yet.”

    As for how it’s structured, Kleiman uses the first paragraph is to listen as closely to what the client said and then try to reiterate it back to them – “It’s a test of my ability to actually listen” –  to make sure that everyone sees the project in the same light. If you can’t get to a contract that you can both agree on, it’s a canary in a coal mine – understand that it’s not a good fit, and walk away.

    What doesn’t go into a contract? For the simplicity’s sake, Kleiman merges her proposal and contract into a single document. A few pieces of advice:

    • Remember that potential clients have a legitimate need to know what they’re buying, but they don’t need to know the specific plan of how the consultant plans to get them there. It’s the difference between scoping it out for yourself (i.e., planning the project) and scoping it to the prospect (i.e., giving away the milk for free). Give them as little as possible for them to understand what you will provide.
    • If a prospective client asks for more details, turn it into a list of references. Your previous clients will remember what got done, but not how.
    • Keep your estimated number of hours out of the contract. You don’t ever want to find yourself in the position of haggling over a fee simply because you’re doing your job efficiently.

    How do you negotiate a price?  Remember that your contract is a negotiating document. If you go in to the negotiations with your minimum number and they counterbid, you’ll feel ripped off. Instead, consultants shouldestimate out how long the project will take – and then add 1/3 for all the contingencies that you can’t anticipate. Ask yourself if the number is both legitimate and something you’d be willing to come down from.  

    One member noted – with nodding agreement from others – is that a peculiar feature of nonprofit consulting is the frequency with which we are approached by potential clients asking for the discounts or pro bono services we offer. When this happens, remind the nonprofit that consulting is not a hobby or a philanthropic endeavor, but rather our career.

    How do you ensure organizational buy-in? Once consultants enter into an agreement, they approach the project in good faith, believing that the organization’s leadership has agreed on the consultant’s scope of work and will continue to work toward the agreed-upon goals. As a safeguard, Kleiman suggests a few strategies: asking the Executive Director and Board Chair to sign the contract; expecting partial payment up front; and billing the client monthly (“If they’re paying on a schedule , they’ll work assiduously”).

    Managing Expectations

    Kleiman noted that a peculiar feature of working with smaller organizations that clients may have an outsized expectation for the results that a consultant can produce. For example, less savvy clients may assume that experienced marketing consultants can get secure a story on the front page of the Tribune. The best way to meet – or pleasantly exceed – client expectations is to manage them from the start.

    Remind your client that they are paying you for your best effort, not a specific outcome. Think of it this way: you wouldn’t pay a doctor who promises to cure your disease, or a lawyer that guarantees a win in court. As a consultant, only guarantee that which over you have complete control – e.g., number of meetings, a final report or strategic plan. If you encounter clients who say they don’t want to pay you unless you produce desired results, turn and run. They will  never be happy.

    Failure to Pay

    One of the most difficult scenarios faced by an independent consultant is failure to pay. Obviously, your contract is your first line of defense – your agreement should memorialize their promise to pay you for your services.  Beyond that, Kleiman notes that her contract includes a 15% late fee. While she often refrains from enforcing the clause for short-term delays, she adds that “the unspoken part is that I’ll stop working when you need me the most.”

    Remember that failure to pay is a breach of contract – and your response is stop delivering services if they won’t deliver money. For those of us who become very identified with our client and its mission, this can be difficult to enforce. But. Kleiman, notes, “Do whatever you need to do to make peace with your conscience, but don’t be a patsy.”

    Who does what? When? (And Don’t Ask How)

    During the group discussion, three additional themes repeatedly emerged. First was the notion of scope creep – what do you do when a client “adds 19 other things to the project”?  Again – make sure your contract specifically addresses this contingency. Include a clause specifying that the client and/or the consultant has a right to renegotiate. By appending the proposal to the contract – including what each party is accountable for – you have a specific working document to point to. Anything beyond the initial scope can be discussed, agreed upon, and billed separately. Aside from this, consultants simply have to stand firm to their agreement – “If you don’t want mission to creep, just stop working.”

    A second raised by fellow consultants was the notion of what to do when the client isn’t holding up their end of the bargain – e.g., not producing the required documentation, responding to e-mails, meeting agreed-upon deadlines for specific work products. Kleiman suggests that if you’re not getting what you need from the client, “send a letter where there’s a pressure point” – let the leadership know that they’re paying you for less than they bargained for. Avoid being penalized for the client’s breach.

    And finally – what if a client specifies how a project should be completed (for example, in my line of work – evaluation – clients often begin by saying that they need a survey, without considering what kind of information they want from respondents)? Remember – you as a consultant decide how to get from point x to point y; “If they want to tell you how, tell them you need a 401k and a health plan.”

    As consultants, we are obligated to provide the best possible service to our clients – but not to the detriment of own professionalism, reputation – or sanity.

  • 12/10/2016 12:01 AM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    By: Bonnie Massa, Massa & Company, Inc.
    Non-profit organizations who are interested in securing a product or service frequently distribute a request for proposal (RFP). In response, potential consultants spend hours of non-billable time putting together a proposal, submitting it, and then sitting back and waiting for a response. Experience has taught me that this is an incredibly counterproductive approach that wastes the valuable time of organizations and consultants alike, especially if the work or project an organization purchases is infrequent or never been purchased before.

    An RFP requires potential consultants to provide a description of their deliverables, timelines for completing them, and an estimate of the costs involved. This is akin to doing business at a drive-in window. The organization creates an “order” for exactly what they believe they need, forcing the consultant to take the “order” and create a proposal without knowing the circumstances that led to the need for consultants to be summoned. Fine for burgers but bad for business! An RFP obliges consultants to develop all of these items without affording them the opportunity to get to know the people, problems, and culture that are all part of understanding why the organization is looking for a consultant to begin with. On top of that, a poorly-conceived or poorly-written RFP will inevitably solicit fewer proposals, and/or proposals that are off the mark. In these cases, everyone has wasted their time. Lose – lose!

    RFIs, on the other hand, collect information about the potential consultant’s background, abilities, and experience – in other words, with a focus on the consultant’s skills! The organization uses this information to decide whether to consider them for an upcoming project. By focusing on the most important element of a consultant-organization relationship – the extent to which they “fit” with one another – an RFI demonstrates the organization’s desire to find the right consultant and the organization’s respect for the consultant’s time and resources by requesting only the basic information needed to move forward with the process. Win – win! Why not use this “free” consulting time to talk to two or three consultants and ask them questions that help the organization sharpen its own knowledge and sense of what is needed?

    Here are five reasons why the RFI is a better tool for the organization and the consultant:

    • RFIs incorporate important intangibles. They allow both sides to meet on paper and in person to discuss the project. Getting to know one another, seeing if their styles fit, and ensuring that the consultant “gets” the organization’s need is more productive than just answering a series of questions. It isn’t always about the lowest bid. Folks who can communicate well and respect one another will get better results!
    • RFIs encourage the consultant to share their expertise through an open dialogue. They naturally allow the organization and potential consultant to meet more than once. In general, organizations tell their story more adeptly in person than on paper. And consultants get the chance to ask questions and hear information that leads to a more targeted proposal. The consultant, as the expert on the products and services involved, may have additional ideas on how to approach the project —versus just complying with what’s dictated in an RFP.
    • RFPs are time-sucks and they cheat both sides. In some cases, consultants practically complete the work in creating the proposal. In my area —Analytics—the discovery needed to develop an estimate can take a lot of time, and I am not willing to give that away. I am an experienced professional and should be compensated for the initial work necessary to get a project started. In addition, the organization and I learn a lot in the “paid” discovery process about what is needed—and the RFP cheats us out of this.
    • RFIs demonstrate goodwill from the organization. When organizations use an RFI, consultants can be assured they are taken seriously because they actually get to meet with the organization. This reduces the chance of the consultant being used as the “third proposal needed” from an RFP—so the organization can hire the firm they already plan to. And even in those situations, the RFI process doesn’t take as much of the supplier’s time as responding to an RFP.
    • RFIs are faster, cheaper, and better. Consultants generally can respond more quickly to an RFI, since they can tap existing documents that describe their products, services and clients. They also are happy to meet a potential client. An RFP is a different story. A consultant usually can’t drop everything and devote their time to writing a proposal. If I am given less than two weeks to do one, I don’t bother. A short deadline often is a sign that the organization hasn’t a clue what it takes to respond to an RFP. So how reasonable can I expect them to be about project timelines?

    What I am describing, without actual examples to protect the guilty, is that RFPs don’t work for most organizations or consultants so let’s use a better tool! If you’re a non-profit leader whose goal is to find a partner who can help you reach your goals, then it’s important to share information and really learn if this is a good fit.

    If you’re a consultant, seriously consider whether it is worth your time to answer some rote questions that may not be on target. Next time you get an RFP – ask for a meeting with the organization. If they are unwilling to meet with you to learn about your expertise and your personal style before committing to a relationship, what have you learned about the organization and what it will be like to work for them?

    Bonnie Massa is President of Massa & Company, Inc. and Vice-President of Member Services and Development for Association of Consultants to Nonprofits.

    ACN offers an RFP template on its web site to assist organizations with finding a consultant among its members. If you agree with Bonnie that an RFI is a better tool – let us hear from you below and we will offer an RFI tool on the web site.

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