ACN News & Industry Trends

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  • 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.’”

  • 02/03/2020 11:05 AM | Kelli Moore (Administrator)

    By Amy Schiffman, Principal and Co-Founder, Giving Tree Associates

    For nonprofits, the new year tends to bring new resolutions. And I know that, as a former director of development, good committee recruitment and engagement was always one of mine. Easier dreamed than achieved? Maybe. But as we get deeper into the first quarter of the year, now is the time to think about our volunteer committee structures and determine if we have a) the right people; b) enough people; and c) a clear understanding of what it is the committee is tasked with achieving. So, once you have defined your standing board committee structure and determined which committees are appropriate for non-board members, what’s left is a question of recruitment, i.e., “how do I get the right people to serve?”

    Let’s identify the four steps that will help you answer that question…

    1) Develop the committee role description, also known as a committee charge or charter. The committee charter outlines the committee’s role and briefly reviews the areas under the committee’s domain. For example, a marketing committee charter might include responsibilities such as the development of an annual communications plan, an editorial calendar, campaign messaging and a public relations strategy. Decide in advance what this committee will do. This will make the recruitment of committee members easier because people are a lot more willing to volunteer if they know exactly what’s involved and you’ll have a better sense of your needs.

    2) Create an ideal candidate profile. Once you have your charter developed and a strong sense of what you need from your committee, create a document that outlines the skill sets, talents, characteristics and traits of the ideal committee member. Share this profile with current committee members, board members and staff so that they are able to brainstorm with you about possible candidates.

    3) Go out and recruit. I’ve worked with nonprofits that post volunteer opportunities on LinkedIn or Facebook (not a bad idea) and then sit back and wait for candidates to come to them. Recruitment does not typically work this way. When I’m seeking new board or committee members, I share the ideal candidate profile with my network. I then ask those I feel are particularly well networked to sit with me for lunch or coffee and brainstorm about candidate possibilities. I create a candidate tracker in Google Docs that I share with fellow committee members and update the team on my progress. Finally, I meet with those who are referred to me and share the committee charter.

    4) Ask correctly. I have caught myself physically cringing upon overhearing a conversation during which a volunteer is begged, coerced or misled regarding committee or board membership. The manner in which you ask and the picture you create for your committee candidate is crucial to the process. I like to give a candidate a very concrete understanding of what is involved with the role, present the opportunity as an honor (not a chore) and finally, ask in a way that allows them to understand exactly why I want them.

    Please feel free to reach out with questions about committee recruitment at – we are always happy to share resources. I hope these four steps allow you a more productive, positive path toward volunteer recruitment and engagement.

    About Amy: With more than 25 years in nonprofit development, Amy partners with organizations to develop effective fundraising campaigns, build strong leadership teams and empower them with tools to visualize and achieve mission impact. Since co-founding Giving Tree Associates in 2008, Amy has helped clients raise tens of millions of dollars through individual major gifts, foundation and corporate funding. Based in Chicago, Amy is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) and is a frequent presenter at local and national conferences, including gatherings offered by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Forefront, Association of Consultants to Nonprofits, JCC Association of America, and Prizmah’s National Endowment & Legacy Institute. She is an adjunct faculty member at The University of Southern California (USC)/Hebrew Union College’s nonprofit management program and lives in Chicago with her husband and two children.

  • 01/09/2020 9:03 AM | Anonymous

    ACN has a partnership with Forefront, Illinois’ statewide association that represents grantmakers and nonprofits, as well as their advisors and allies. 

    Forefront is a wealth of resources for both early stage and established nonprofits, with opportunities such as an onsite Library housing an extensive physical collection of books and journals on nonprofit topics (plus a newly-added database of ebooks for remote access). 

    They can conduct searches of foundation directory online, provide grants/grantee lists and run wealth profiles and reports. They also provide templates and samples for nonprofit topics such as board policies. And both members and non-members can book a research appointment with one of their consultants. 

    Members can take advantage of job posting opportunities, including salary/benefits research as well as in-person and online professional development on best practices, grantmaking, leadership, fundraising, developing talent, board engagement and evaluation. They also offer an ICAT capacity assessment survey tool (free yearly for members). 

    ACN hosts joint events with Forefront and we also have a special membership category for Forefront members

    We are grateful to Forefront for helping us to empower the local nonprofit community.

  • 01/06/2020 8:50 AM | Kelli Moore (Administrator)

    by Sherry Quam Taylor

    I don’t want to sound harsh, but most New Year’s resolutions don’t stick. The daily demands of life and our natural resistance to change - well, they get the better of us and we don’t get the results we were hoping for.Are you approaching your nonprofit growth plan like a New Year’s resolution?

    Without a plan, your nonprofit’s revenue growth isn’t that different from New Year’s resolutions. To raise more money and secure larger donations, you need a growth mindset and a plan to get the results that got you so excited in the first place.

    Resolution #1 Become Proactive

    It’s easy to get stuck being reactive in nonprofit. But there comes a time when a leader has to make a conscious decision to press pause and put a proactive plan in place that will grow the organization and its funding.

    Is it time to pause for planning? Have you truly established your organization’s financial need—one that would actually propel growth? Do your top donors know your true need and their crucial role in your organization year after year? Do they understand your funding structure? Are you presenting your financials to donors on a regular basis?

    Push into these activities and lean into investment-level conversations with your donors this year. Then you’ll see investment-level results.

    Resolution #2 Become Aware of the “Competition”

    Nonprofits don’t usually think of themselves as “competitive,” but right now, there are dozens of other nonprofits in America with similar missions to yours. You are competing for donor dollars. So, what makes someone give to you over another organization?

    You must set yourself apart by providing a satisfying donor experience and conveying your uniqueness. Donors want to give to an organization that serves their interests. Serve your donors! Focus on what their investment in the mission can do through your organization.

    Resolution #3 Become Disciplined

    Most growth initiatives fail when they’re not given the time they need to succeed. Implementing development systems doesn’t happen by magic--you have to take the time to do it, over and over. Simply put, development is discipline.

    Take another look at your budget. Your income goals should direct how to spend your time. For example, a typical organization should hope that 50-75% of their revenue is coming in from their Top 30 individual gifts. With this, your revenue-generating staff should spend a comparable amount (50-75% in this example) of their time on this activity.

    This is where I see nonprofits get stuck - spending too much time on activities that yield small dollars. Watch that you're not spending a disproportionate amount of time on things that don’t generate significant revenue.

    Make A Resolution...With A Plan

    What about you? Dreading the thought of climbing that fundraising hill again? Wondering where you’ll find new donors in 2020? You’re not as bad at fundraising as you may think. Perhaps you’ve never had to do it in your previous career . . . or you've never been taught how to do it.

    Start here with my HOW TO: Find Major-Donors in 2020 Guide. You’ve got this!

    About Sherry Quam Taylor

    Sherry teaches nonprofit leaders how to pivot from spending only time on low-dollar activities to investment-level opportunities. The leaders she works with are experts in their field, but when it comes to individual fundraising, they’ve simply never been trained how to do it, so it feels frustrating. She helps them learn how to solicit in a way that involves less dread and gets results. She does this through her private coaching and 90-day fundraising accelerator. Website:

  • 12/23/2019 12:43 PM | Anonymous

    One of the highlights of 2019 was, of course, our 30th Anniversary Celebration and Annual Meeting at Chicago Architecture Center. But there is much more from this year that we are proud of, including the following highlights. 

    We were engaged

    • Overall program attendance grew 5-10%
    • Established two new committees, Finance and Nonprofit Relations Committee
    • 30% of our members currently volunteer on the board of directors or on a committee
    • Membership is growing and set to break our current record

    We helped you grow your business

    • Shared a record number of RFPs with members (55) 
    • Created ACN member badges for website and email usage
    • Increased frequency of guest blogs and introduced a new blog series to promote member collaborations (Collaboration Corner)
    • Offered the opportunity to apply to be a speaker for Forefront and Chicago Cares educational webinars and workshops

    We were social

    • Launched a private Facebook group (almost 50% of members have joined)
    • Upped our social media presence on LinkedIn and Facebook
    • Launched a GivingTuesday campaign to promote our members and nonprofits

    We collaborated—and made an impact 

    • Established a relationship with Giving DuPage and hosted our first collaborative networking event 
    • Co-hosted networking events with local like-minded organizations, such as Social Enterprise Alliance Chicago
    • Partnered with local nonprofits, such as Burst Into Books, to add a “give back” element to our quarterly Connecting for Good and Coffee Connection networking events 

    We look forward to connecting with more members and nonprofit organizations in 2020 as we continue to build on ACN’s 30 years of success!

  • 12/02/2019 7:54 AM | Kelli Moore (Administrator)

    Membership organizations, like associations, have special challenges.These organizations need to appeal to a variety of member types, each with their own needs, wants and aspirations. This calls for a strategy!

    The key to a successful member engagement strategy is relevance to prospective, new and current members. This is where segmentation – tailored approaches and messaging -- comes in.


    Make a great first impression.

    1. Develop a brand that is well-respected in your industry.

    Your brand is your best recruiting tool. More than a logo and tagline, it represents all the experiences with your organization. It needs to communicate your value, mission and vision. Developing a compelling and durable brand requires research, strategy and planning.

    2. Know (don’t assume) your target market.

    Who are your association’s main prospects? What business problems do they have? What benefits do they seek? Understanding the answers will help you communicate your value.

    3. Produce effective membership materials.

    Do they “speak” your prospects’ language? Are they clearly written with consistent messaging, and do they look professionally designed? Do they show your interest in your prospects’ development.

    4. Consider different levels of membership.

    Having a strategy with a scaled fee and benefits (basic, premium, etc.) can allow you to capture more prospects and generate more income from membership.


    Generate excitement around the benefits of membership and new relationships.

    5. Create an onboarding communications plan.

    Make your new members feel welcome by telling them what to do first and where to go for help. With marketing automation, it’s easy to create a sequence of emails to send automatically based on join date.

    6. Plan a new member orientation session.

    An orientation session will give new members the “lay of the land” so they can take advantage of benefits right away while meeting other new (and current) members.

    7. Host events to introduce new members to current members.

    Networking events, such as “Happy Hours,” create perfect opportunities to connect new members and veterans to each other in fun or unique venues.

    Download our e-book for the final 4 tips on BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS with members … and more on member engagement!

    by Brenda Berman, McKenna Design Group

    About McKenna Design Group

    Founded in 2002, McKenna Design Group specializes in helping trade and professional associations and social impact organizations fulfill their missions through effective branding, marketing and technology solutions. McKenna Design Group: We Are Future Shapers. 

  • 11/20/2019 2:49 PM | Anonymous

    ACN Founding Member Kelly Kleiman

    In this our 30th anniversary year, we are grateful for our longtime members—some who have been with us since the very beginning, when ACN was just a handful of people that met casually in a lakefront park.

    Much has changed in ACN over the years, including our name and the size of our group. One thing that has stayed consistent is the focus of our membership: 51% of ACN members have been a paid consultant for 6+ years and 91% have worked in the nonprofit sector for 6+ years (2019 ACN Member Engagement Survey).

    ACN Founding Members

    • Kelly Kleiman, NFP Consulting

    “When we started ACN we were still trying to get nonprofits and funders to understand that consultants to nonprofits weren’t just the recently unemployed. I hoped it would grow and help its members grow their practices, but I never envisioned the magnitude of the growth. Referrals from my ACN colleagues, exposure in the online directory and RFPs have all been essential in my sustaining a healthy consulting practice for 30 years.” 

    Kelly Kleiman
    Principal, NFP Consulting, ACN Founding Member

    ACN Members of 15+ Years

    • Elizabeth Richter, The Richter Group – BOARD MEMBER
    • Margaret Hennessy, Hennessy Consulting Inc.
    • Amy Cornell, Cornell Consulting, Inc.
    • Carol White, CBWhite – MEMBER ENGAGEMENT TEAM
    • Steve Pratapas, Pratapas Associates, LLC
    • Amy Wishnick, Wishnick & Associates, LLC - COMMITTEE MEMBER
    • Joyce Golbus Poll, J.G. Poll & Associates – COMMITTEE MEMBER

    My initial ACN membership coincided with my launch into independent proposal writing. Fast forward fifteen years and I am still involved. Why? ACN’s member network continues to be a rich source of referrals. Nonprofit executives find me on the ACN website. There is access to RFPs and strong educational programs. ACN and my consultancy practice—they go hand in hand.

    Joyce Golbus Poll
    J.G. Poll & Associates      

    ACN Members of 10-14 Years

    • Wendy Siegel, Millennia Consulting, L.L.C.
    • Gail Straus, GKS Consulting, LLC – COMMITTEE MEMBER
    • Jan Stempel, Stempel Consulting
    • Mary Morten, Morten Group, LLC
    • Laura McAlpine, McAlpine Consulting for Growth, LLC

    ACN Members of 5-9 Years

    • Amy Schiffman, Giving Tree Associates, Inc.
    • Roger (Whit) Shepard, RWS Consulting, Inc.
    • John Davidoff, Davidoff Mission-Driven Business Strategy
    • Jeff Marcella, Marcella Consulting Corporation
    • Meghann Beer, Meghann Beer Nonprofit Consulting
    • Debra Natenshon, DBN & Associates
    • Annisa Wanat – COMMITTEE MEMBER
    • Theresa G. Lipo, Nonprofit and Philanthropy Advising
    I joined ACN after being invited to one of their events by a colleague. I had been feeling somewhat isolated in my practice and knew it was time to start networking and connecting with others in the field. I found the community of dedicated professionals I had been looking for and started to volunteer on committees, ultimately serving on the board for three years. Through ACN, I've had the opportunity to gain exposure to clients, learn new business skills, and grow my network, which has had a powerful impact on me personally and professionally. I'm still grateful for that initial invitation to an ACN event!
    Theresa G. Lipo
    Philanthropy and Development Consultant
    • Rena Henderson Mason, Bold Agenda
    • Jonathan Eisler, Perspectives Ltd. – BOARD MEMBER
    • Belinda Li, Citta Partnership – COMMITTEE MEMBER
    • Barb Vicory, Wg2 Consulting & Management
    • Joseph Villinski, Xseed Fundraising Solutions

    Thank you to our longtime members for being advocates for ACN, as well as your dedication to mission-based work in Chicago and beyond.

    Show your ACN pride

    ACN Members: Download ACN member badges for your website or email signature. Longtime members: we have special badges just for you!
  • 11/13/2019 12:57 PM | Anonymous

    Share your ACN pride! 

    ACN Members: Now you can let clients and prospects know that you’re a proud member of a 30-year association for consultants to nonprofits and that you share our goal of strengthening mission-driven organizations through expertise, education and experience.

    The majority of our members (91%) have worked in the nonprofit sector for 6+ years. Share your nonprofit experience and dedication to mission-based work by posting an ACN member badge on your website or in your email signature. 

    Download ACN member badges

    Note: You must be a member in good standing to access the badges. 

    Longtime members: We have special badges just for you. Download your 10-Year or 20-Year badge and show your dedication to ACN and nonprofit work.

  • 11/09/2019 2:06 PM | Anonymous

    By Amy Wishnick, ACN Member
    Principal, Wishnick & Associates

    The cold open works for Saturday Night Live, not so much for a nonprofit board meeting. Isn’t it respectful of board members’ time to launch directly into the business at hand? Even though it may seem that way, I’m not so sure.

    Nonprofit boards are fueled by many things. Most notably, of course, is an individual director’s connection to the mission. And, effective, thriving nonprofit organizations are led by board members who are committed partners in their leadership and governance roles. To be successful in this endeavor, board members need to trust each other. And, to build trust, they need to know each other.

    My observations, based on attending hundreds of board meetings as a consultant and a board member, suggest that board members tend to arrive ‘just in time’ for board meetings that go straight to business. The push to be efficient may diminish board members’ connection to their board buddies and impact their chance to enjoy the camaraderie of the board room. It bypasses acknowledging that everyone is back together to lead the organization.

    So, let’s imagine ways to foster trust, collegiality, and a companionable atmosphere:

    • Have a meal together, whether supplied by the nonprofit or BYO, if a board meeting takes place over a mealtime. (Don’t get me started about the perils of ‘hangry’ board members.)
    • Begin the meeting with a true welcome statement, rather than jumping directly into the agenda.
    • Go around the table so each board member can share something personal that happened since the last meeting related to the organization or in general.

    Ensuring ways to build rapport increases the opportunity to get to know one’s colleagues. It boosts the satisfaction and geniality that can so enrich the board experience. With the sense of friendliness that accompanies teamwork – and a board is a team – nonprofits reduce the risk of alienating some directors. Board members are less likely to put distance between themselves and the organization when board meetings are framed as welcoming and open, and the members know their colleagues.

    Next time you attend a nonprofit board meeting, take a moment to evaluate the feeling and flow. Make your voice heard and suggest changes to support an atmosphere that fosters connection, which is in everyone’s best interest, board member and nonprofit.

    For more ideas to make board meetings engaging and effective, please check out these other blog posts:

    Amy Wishnick, Principal of Wishnick & Associates since 2004, loves consulting with nonprofits. She works nationally with clients on strategic planning, executive leadership transition management, board development and governance, different types of assessments, meeting and retreat facilitation, and more. She is a past president of the Association of Consultants to Nonprofits and serves on the Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management’s selection committee for the Alford-Axelson Awards for Managerial Excellence. 

  • 11/05/2019 12:54 PM | Anonymous

    ACN supports local nonprofits!
    We know many of our members work with groups that are participating in #GivingTuesday on Dec. 3, 2019 and leading up to this year's giving day we are highlighting campaigns from local and national nonprofits that work with our members.
    ACN Members: To feature your client's #GivingTuesday campaign, please share a tweet/Facebook post via this Google form (you must be a current ACN member to participate).
    Follow us on Facebook and Twitter where we will be curating a list of #GivingTuesday campaigns to support this year. 

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