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By ACN member Emily Taylor
To many, the word design means nothing more than making the latest sports car or water bottle “look cool.” But design goes so much deeper than aesthetics: It considers human need.
Design Thinking Begins With Empathy
Companies have long followed a process to design products that meet human needs for comfort, convenience, ease-of-use. This process, now commonly known as “design-thinking,” begins with empathy for the user’s experience. Nonprofits can adopt the same process to better design programs for the people they serve.
As I talk to those in the social sector, I find people who are passionate and knowledgeable about what they do but who have yet to step back and thoroughly examine their work through the eyes of their clients or supporters. With all the pressures that nonprofits face to do more with less, it is understandable that this important undertaking often falls through the cracks. But making the effort to conduct “empathy interviews” with your clients and supporters will help your organization understand how to make your work far more effective.
An empathy interview, the first step in design-thinking, differs from a standard interview in that it must be designed to challenge your assumptions. For instance, one of my current clients is having difficulty recruiting volunteers to fill board and other leadership positions. Their assumption is that people no longer have time to volunteer in their community. My job is to interview a variety of people who volunteer to find out why they do make the time as well as people who don’t volunteer to find out if the lack of time is what really keeps them from engaging. The learnings that come from these interviews will go a long way in reframing who the client need to recruit and how they can more effectively engage the interest of potential volunteers.
How One Organization’s Empathy-Driven Insights Led to Better Solutions
Pillsbury United Communities in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is an example of a nonprofit that took empathy to another level in an effort to understand its community. The state health department had asked Pillsbury to figure out why the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) was so greatly underused by eligible families and propose a solution.
In addition to conducting one-on-one interviews with parents eligible for WIC, the Pillsbury team immersed themselves in the WIC users’ experiences. They rode along with them on the bus to get WIC vouchers and then on another bus to get groceries with small children in tow. They witnessed parents’embarrassment at the checkout counter when they discovered they had selected products that weren’t covered by WIC. These empathy-driven insights led them to reframe the problem they were trying to solve. Rather than figuring out how to get families to better utilize the WIC program, they began to consider how the WIC program might better fit families’ lives.
You May Need to Reframe the Problem
In my work, I find this reframing of the problem to be the most exciting but challenging part of the design process. Organizations sometimes resist redefining a problem in which they have invested a lot of time and money to solve. But when a design team can see, hear, and empathize with the experiences of those they serve through observation, a video, photograph, or a compelling story – the passion it can ignite in a team to find a better solution is astounding.
Brainstorm Solutions, Prototype, Test
Once the Pillsbury team defined their challenge, they began the next phase of the design-process— ideation—and brainstormed creative ways to redesign the WIC experience. After some trial-and-error they hit on a big idea: why not build a holistic WIC grocery store in North Minneapolis? The underserved community had high obesity rates, low life expectancies and little access to fresh produce. The store would offer not only healthy, affordable food but a health clinic, healthy cooking classes, and wellness events and services. They were able to create quick prototypes to get further feedback from their users and partners as they developed the concept.
Through small steps of prototyping and testing, the big idea took off, attracting partnerships with General Mills, Cargill and other nonprofits in the Minneapolis area. North Market opened in North Minneapolis in late 2017. Check out this moving speech by Adair Mosley, of Pillsbury United Communities to hear first-hand how design-thinking helped, as he eloquently puts it, “find an equitable solution for a complex problem.”
Empathize with your user, ideate, prototype, test. These are the steps in design-thinking, whether redesigning a water bottle, recruiting volunteers or finding a more equitable way to provide nutritious food to those in need. By discovering the true challenges people face, nonprofits are able to find and test solutions to the right problems.
Emily Taylor is a former product designer and now principal at teenyBIG, which uses design thinking to help non-profits make small changes with big impact. Visit her website at teenyBIG.com.
By Melissa Lagowski
President and Founder, Big Buzz Idea Group
After months of planning for your upcoming annual event, you find that there’s very little time available to work on the volunteer component of staffing the operations. Without volunteers, the event comes to a screeching halt.
How are you going to find hundreds of volunteers to fill the schedule? And when are you going to find the TIME to reach out and find these volunteers? It takes hundreds of hours of outreach, communications, sign-up, tracking, scheduling and follow-up while, at the same time, you are juggling all the other tasks of planning for the event launch.
The solution is radically simple: you can outsource it. With a budget, a few phone calls and a bit of creativity, the magic will happen – freeing up time to focus on your other tasks.
While you might consider outsourcing to a staffing agency, their fees would probably destroy the budget. A better option would be to align your nonprofit with other nonprofits by providing a grant payment to them in exchange for labor. It’s a win-win: they help to staff your event while you help with their fundraising goals!
Nonprofits team up all the time in various ways because collaboration creates win-win situations. In this situation, you benefit from their rich resource (their audience of staff, supporters, members, students, etc.) in exchange for a cash grant payment.
As an example, imagine that your 6-hour annual event requires two 3-hour shifts of 60 volunteers each to operate efficiently, meaning you need 120 total volunteers for the day. You have a total budget of $2,500 allocated toward staffing, so you could afford $20 per volunteer. The volunteer doesn’t earn any cash for their three hours of service—they’re volunteering for your event on behalf of their nonprofit, helping the nonprofit organization (NPO) fundraise via the grant. But it’s a win-win for the volunteer, too: they’ve aligned with TWO nonprofits by generously agreeing to donate their time to one organization and help raise funds for the other!
Simply contact a few local nonprofits (schools and booster clubs are a good start) and inform them of your need for volunteers. If they are able to provide a group of volunteers for the event, you will compensate each NPO with a grant towards their fundraising efforts. The onus is now on each organization to coordinate and recruit 30 volunteers from their pool of students, parents, siblings, neighbors, etc. As long as the NPO can sign up 30 people, they’ll earn the grant. (And we have even been known to pro-rate the grants when NPOs fall slightly shy of their target.)
It’s not difficult to understand the benefits here. Your nonprofit no longer needs to spend hours hunting down 120 volunteers for your event, which means those hours can be dedicated to fine-tuning the details of your fundraiser – following up with sponsors, selling more tickets, confirming suppliers, etc. During that time, the partner nonprofit(s) will do the heavy lifting of soliciting and recruiting volunteers on your behalf. As long as their volunteers sign up and show up for the event to provide a few hours of service, the partner NPO will receive the cash grant.
This also provides your NPO with a fantastic public relations opportunity: you’ve partnered your cause/event with other local nonprofits in an effort to assist THEIR fundraising efforts! And those grant partners can also use the PR opportunity to promote THEIR organization in helping your event! Twice the promotion for your cause. (Yet another win-win opportunity is created.)
Definitely use this opportunity to promote your cause/event and the partner organization(s) via a check presentation, photo op and a press release than you can share with your local media and your distribution lists, while your partners do the same. As wider audiences learn of your event and alliance with other nonprofits, it’ll be easier to find volunteers next year. Not only will your partners sign up again, there will likely be other local nonprofits calling YOU about your grant program!
Buzz Idea Group provides operational support for nonprofits and associations in the areas of administration, communication, event-planning, bookkeeping and database management. For more information, visit http://bigbuzzideagroup.com.
Earlier this fall, an executive coaching client introduced me to the following quote by Existential psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl, which continues to resonate in my mind:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
I can’t get it out of my head! It is relevant and important every day, for all of us. It helps us think before we speak. It keeps us from reacting in habitual ways. It affords us opportunity to shape our lives, to do our finest work, to tackle seemingly insurmountable obstacles, to continually strive to be our best selves. It signifies our maturity.
It is in the pause that I have the privilege of working with my clients – the engagements related to strategic planning, executive leadership transitions, board development, or other organizational development issues are often set off by some stimulus. In the case of strategic planning, it may be as routine as the conclusion of a prior plan or as exciting as charting the course for significant organizational growth. The departure of a nonprofit CEO or retirement of a founder sparks an organization into transition mode and the need to seek new leadership. A nonprofit whose programs and management have matured more quickly than its governance model may inspire a board development project.
When prompted by any of these stimuli and myriad others, nonprofit leaders need to respond. The hope is that before responding, they take advantage of the space that lies before them. Too often, when facing these triggers, an organization’s leaders may be inclined to plow through, perhaps because they work in such high-tempo environments. When leaders respond without taking advantage of the space, there is the likelihood of overlooking or missing the potential or opportunity. But when they seize the space between stimulus and response, not only do they find growth and freedom, they can become exceptional leaders.
by Lidia Varesco Racoma of Lidia Varesco Design
Since 2000, I've been helping my clients brand and market themselves so I know the value of marketing. But I also know how easy it can be to let your marketing slide when you are busy with client work— and how this can negatively impact your business and cash flow (hello, dry spell!)
When I was several years into my business, I initiated “Friday Afternoon Marketing”—an afternoon dedicated to working ON my business, instead of IN my business. After my first child was born, my marketing time became limited so I had to find a way to do more marketing in less time.
I was pleasantly surprised with how much I could get done in small chunks of time. I started sharing weekly “10-Minute Marketing” posts on my blog—these were tried-and-true marketing, branding, client outreach, public relations and social media tasks and branding that could be accomplished in a half-hour or less.
Here are my top 5 tips for getting more marketing done in less time:
1. Make a list of your marketing essentials
What are marketing essentials? The marketing channels that bring you the most return on your investment of money and especially, time. With so many ways to market yourself—and so little time—it’s best to focus on no more than 3 marketing techniques that are working, instead of trying to do it all.
Here are some examples of marketing essentials:
Printed promotional materials
Cold calling (or emailing)
2. Write your positioning statement:
Your positioning statement details what makes your business unique and why your audience should choose you. It’s a crucial part of your branding and marketing and should be used as reference before doing any type of client outreach, such as drafting website copy, writing a blog post, or planning a marketing campaign.
Your positioning statement can be broken down into the following:
What unique service or product you provide
Who you provide it for
Why they should trust or believe you
Example: Since 2000 [WHY], Lidia Varesco Design has been helping education-focused organizations [WHO] share their mission through strategic branding and marketing [WHAT].
3. Survey your clients
How often do you ask your clients questions? I know how easy it is to get caught up in projects, but if you stop to ask questions it can offer insight into how you can enhance your projects and relationships.
Here are a few questions to ask your clients:
What do you need?
What are you struggling with right now?
How can I help?
How can we improve upon our working relationship?
How else I can help you?
To get your answers, you can simply call or email them, or send out a short survey (I recommend SurveyMonkey or Typeform). I also like to keep a running list of client inquires or pain points in Evernote to refer to as needed.
4. Make a list of places to share your story
Sharing your story or expertise is a great way to get the word out about your business and to position yourself as a thought leader. I regularly contribute to small business blogs, as well as HARO (Help a Reporter Out) requests.
Here are some places to share your story:
HARO (Help a Reporter Out)
uPitch or other PR apps
5. Share a project on social media
Sharing a recent project is a great way to connect with potential new prospects or strategic partners. Remember, many of your social media followers may not know exactly what you do.
And yes, it’s OK to toot your own horn on social media—as long as you mix it up with useful, non-salesy posts. Make sure to include a link to your portfolio page or better yet, direct them to a case study or blog post you’ve written about the project.
I would love to hear how these quick marketing strategies work for you. Connect with me @lsvdesign on Twitter or Facebook.
Lidia Varesco Racoma of Lidia Varesco Design in Chicago helps education-focused organizations share their mission through strategic branding and marketing design. Read more branding and marketing tips on her blog Educated Design. www.lsvdesign.com
Now unless you established a practice with a few other colleagues, not only do you get to be CEO/Founder and Principal Consultant, but you are also tasked with being the VP of Sales….and probably Executive Assistant; to yourself. More often than not, it’s the latter two roles that become the consultant’s Achilles Heel. As a sole practitioner, no other title you hold matters unless you’re successful as your own head of sales. According to the US Small Business Administration, less than 50% of new private practices are able to stay open more than 5 years. To stay on the positive side of that statistic, let’s explore 3 ways I’ve seen independent consultants be successful with a pipeline of work coming in.
1. Subcontracting – Some consultants are hesitant to add an additional layer between themselves and their clients, but what is gained by doing this is that the role of VP of Sales is filled by someone from a firm with an established brand and network. Sure, you will have to agree to a lower rate than you would charge if you earned the business yourself, but another way to look at is that you now have someone generating business for you and you only pay when they actually deliver! That’s a pretty good deal if you ask me.
2. Mining – It’s probably a safe assumption that the work you were doing before you took the plunge into being your own boss is related to the work you’re focusing on as a consultant. If that is the case, the people you associated with and the network you built are rich with opportunities that are a perfect fit for your particular skill set. Or, they themselves may have a need best met by contracting a consultant with your expertise. Since these people know and trust you, there is immense value in mining this resource and cultivating them into a referral network that brings opportunities to you! Think of these connections as your own business development department and liaisons. Being independent does not mean being alone!
3. Collaborating - Being a consultant is amazing….and it is also a lot of work! Especially when going it alone. Collaborating is the power in banding together. Not necessarily in terms of establishing a formal business with partners, but rather, in persistent professional development through collaboration on projects, aligning with other experts who compliment your offerings and augmenting each other’s bandwidth. Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many consultants work so hard to make it on their own that ultimately, they burn out or end up failing altogether. Fortunately though, I’ve also seen many successes thanks to groups like the Association of Consultants to Nonprofits that bring people together for the very purpose of collaborating for the greater good of all parties involved!
If you’ve recently established your own consulting practice or are considering doing so in the near future, I applaud you. I also encourage you to be realistic and humble as it takes a lot of effort to get to do the work you’re passionate about. To that end, it is my hope that the above three points prove helpful in getting prospects, and converting them into clients!
After all, an independent practitioner without clients is not a consultant; they’re out of work!
Author: Jonathan Eisler
Managing Director, Perspectives Organizational Consulting Group
President-Elect, Association of Consultants to Nonprofits
By: David Steven Rappoport, Millennia Consulting
For the last few years, I’ve noticed an unexpected trend: although the projects I work on have objectives related to the social good, they frequently don’t sit cleanly in either the nonprofit or for-profit sectors. A few recent examples:
My research suggests this is not unique to my practice, but part of larger trends:
1) Although the economy has improved, many non-profits and public sector agencies continue to face tough times.
A few years ago, when the Great Recession was at its apogee, the Urban Institute wrote:
The nonprofit sector has been growing steadily, both in size and financial impact, for more than a decade. Between 2001 and 2011, the number of non-profits has increased 25 percent; from 1,259,764 million to 1,574,674 million today. The growth rate of the non-profit sector has surpassed the rate of both the business and government sectors.[…]
But, as nonprofits face devastating recession-driven revenue shortages and projected budget shortfalls from many state and local governments, this could reverse the trend as donors cut back, contracts are cancelled, and foundation endowments shrink.
During this period, a Philanthropy Journal article stated: “From 2008 to 2010, annual private giving dropped by $13 billion, and foundation giving fell 13 percent during the recession.” An article on arts funding reported, “public agencies of all kinds are facing severely constrained budgets as a result of the ongoing effects of the recession, escalating public debt, and slow economic growth.”
Although the economy has improved, nonprofits and public sector agencies are still facing tough times. For example, about six months ago the Denver Post reported, “the Great Recession is over, but nonprofits in Colorado and across the nation still are struggling to reverse fundraising declines that began in 2008.”
The Economist states that as of 2011, consulting in the for-profit sector was slowly returning to pre-recession levels. However, the focus was on “mundane” work rather than “strategy consulting.”
A 2013 study by American Express of small business bidding for federal government contracts concluded that bidding activity has “decreased significantly over the past five years” although “entry into the procurement marketplace is getting easier.”
2) A blurring is occurring between nonprofit and for-profit entities.The concept of blurring between nonprofit and for-profit entities is much discussed over the last ten or so years. James E. Austin of the Harvard Business School began publishing on this topic early in the last decade:
Where once “corporate giving” meant writing an annual check to a favorite charity, more recently businesses and nonprofit organizations (NPOs) have joined forces to achieve their separate, but related missions.
Austin went on to add that, “We’ll see the stark differences between NPOs and businesses diminish, revealing a new world of integrated, rather than independent, sectors.”
A newspaper account of a presentation by David La Piana of La Piana Consulting stated that: “The Great Recession has brought a permanent structural change to many industry sectors, and that includes non-profit organizations.” La Piana references a study his firm did for the James Irvine Foundation, “Convergence: How Five Trends Will Reshape the Social Sector.” One of the five trends is “Sector Boundaries are Blurring.”
Sector Boundaries are Blurring
A sector-blind competitive environment is emerging where Wall Street investment houses compete with local United Ways and community foundations for donor directed funds and a growing emphasis on corporate social responsibility means that social virtue is no longer perceived as exclusive to the non-profit brand.
Meanwhile, as donor demands for accountability and evidence of impact intensify, regulations that once preserved the unique role of non-profits are coming under fire. These trends will seriously challenge non-profits to maintain their tenuous hold on identity as a sector and not just become under-capitalized competitors in an increasingly blended economy. This blurring of sector boundaries creates opportunities for a growing number of public-private and corporate-non-profit collaborations to share learning and innovation. Some organizations are taking things a step further and becoming hybrid organizations, operating simultaneously in multiple sectors.
…501(c)(3) organizations are straying further outside the bounds of traditional service delivery in order to advance their missions. For-profit business ventures are becoming more common as vehicles for generating ongoing revenue, providing new avenues for social impact, generating positive publicity and even helping to attract and retain staff. When planned well and managed skillfully, they can have a significant effect on long-term sustainability. While some organizations pursue these ventures within their 501(c)(3) structures, others choose to set them up as for-profit subsidiaries.
More traditional businesses are also looking to recognize social and environmental outcomes as legitimate pursuits for private enterprise, and an increasing number are seeking B Corporation status as a means to do so…
This blurring, or blending, of the sectors presents rich opportunities for non-profits willing to adopt the role of futurist on their own behalf and critically examine structural options for getting their work done.
As consultants to non-profits, what should we deduce from this?
While our work will continue to focus on advancing the social good, the spheres in which we operate – and the mechanisms our clients use to fulfill their missions – may be expanding. The non-profit sector is growing, but is only 5.4% of total GDP (2010). It may be increasingly appropriate to look to the for-profit sector as a source of potential clients. Typically, these emergent opportunities will come from the new blurred “win-win” partnerships between non-profit and for-profit clients in which financial incentives join with social objectives to advance the social good.
By: Denise DeBelle, Law Office of Denise M. DeBelle
In the last blog, I described certain traps for the unwary non-profit organization if you are politically active and want to avoid risking your 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. Staying non-partisan is key for any 501(c)(3) organization. What about lobbying public officials- can non-profits do that?
Most definitely yes. But because of the risks of violating specific rules of the IRS, some non-profit organizations get nervous about any lobbying at all. This is unfortunate because non-profit organizations have day to day experience with populations needing government assistance, and in-depth knowledge of issues of public importance. The input of non-profits concerning the action of government and the content of our laws, is sorely needed!
What should a non-profit know about lobbying?
First, IRS regulations do not prohibit lobbying by a 501(c)(3).
But second: the IRS does impose limits on the percentage of an organization’s budget that can be devoted to lobbying.
This post will lay out the general rules about lobbying for the 501(c)(3) organization: how IRS defines it, how much is permissible, and how to be able to do more of it and still preserve the tax exempt status of your organization.
Not all advocacy is lobbying. Educating the public, being an expert on a given public issue, or advocating for the enforcement of existing laws, are not, standing alone, lobbying as defined by the IRS.
What are the different types of lobbying?
There are two types of lobbying:
Why is it important to know when your organization is lobbying? Returning to our original point, the IRS limits the amount of lobbying if you are a 501(c)(3) – so you are required to keep track of the percentage of your budget in order to not exceed those limits.
There are two ways to compute limits on lobbying applicable to your organization.
The first is the old-fashioned test – an IRS Rule since 1934 – which says that lobbying must be an “insubstantial part” of the organization’s activity. You’re probably asking yourself, What is insubstantial? As you can imagine, this is hard to define. It typically would be stated as roughly 20%, but this is not a true benchmark. Please note that churches and religious non-profits must use this test when lobbying, as they do not qualify for the second rule.
Luckily, Congress enacted a different rule in order to allow more flexibility to 501(c)(3)s. This second test is called the 501(h) election or the 501(h) expenditure test. It is a simple matter to elect this approach. You must submit IRS Form 5768 (a short form which simply requires a signature of the organization’s officer). What it means is the lobbying your organization does must not exceed the applicable percentage of your budget depending upon the level of overall expenditures.
Under the 501(h) expenditure test, the organization may spend the following:
On Direct Lobbying
20% of the first $500,000 of its exempt purpose expenditures
15% of the next $500,000, and so on, up to one million dollars a year
On Grassroots Lobbying
5% of the first $500,000 of its exempt purpose expenditures
3.75% of the next $500,000, and so on, up to $250,000 a year
For non-religious 501(c)(3) organizations, the 501(h) election is definitely worth your consideration. It allows the voices of your constituents, your Board and staff to be heard and to influence the legislators and public officials deciding issues which affect those constituents.
Some of these rules can get very specific and detailed, and there are some other ways to increase your activism but still avoid falling into the lobbying definition. So it is best to consult an attorney in this area if you have more specific questions.
This posting is for information purposes only and is not intended as specific legal advice.
Law Office of Denise M. DeBelle
By: Denise DeBelle, Law Office of Denise M. DeBelle
Can you correctly answer these three questions about how the IRS views your organization’s – or your client’s – political activity?
1. TRUE/FALSE: While it is not okay for my organization to directly endorse a candidate on their website, it is okay for us to link to a site of an organization that does.
2. TRUE/FALSE: For our upcoming fundraiser, we can invite one political candidate to speak about issues of interest, as long as they do not speak about the upcoming election campaign.
3. TRUE/FALSE: We can legally distribute a voter’s guide intending to educate our members, clients, and the general public on issues relevant to our organization, as long as the Guide makes comparisons between the candidates’ positions and that of the organization.
Surprise! The answer to all three of these is FALSE. We’ll explore legal options to these issues at the end of this post.
At its most basic, the IRS prohibits any partisan political activity by a non-profit organization, its staff, Board or volunteers when acting in the capacity of the organization. Do you or your non-profit clients get political? If so, you should know something about the relevant IRS rules.
A non-profit organization incorporated under Section 501(c) 3 is organized primarily as a “charity.” This designation distinguishes this type of organization from other non-profits, entitling donors to these organizations to receive a tax deduction. Political activity is outside of the charitable function of the organization.
So any level of political activity, whether federal, state or local electioneering, is never OK.
What counts as political activity? Organizations should ask themselves: Do we lobby elected officials? Have we ever invited candidates to a forum around election time? Have we taken folks to Springfield or Washington D.C. to meet with legislators?
If the answer to any of these is yes, then the following rules are the basics you must know in order to avoid risking tax penalty or loss of tax exemption:
1. Do make your views known to legislators and candidates, but
2. Do not show favoritism to any candidate for election, or in any way participate or cooperate with any organization which endorses a candidate for public office.
This blog post addresses #2. In a subsequent post, I will discuss #1.
Let’s go back to the TRUE/FALSE questions from the beginning of the post. What is the problem with these practices? Let us modify the above examples to show what the organization can do differently.
1. When discussing issues of public concern on your website, simply do not make a reference to any particular candidate in an upcoming election.
2. It is perfectly permissible to host election or candidate forums. But the organization must invite all candidates for that particular office, and give each candidate equal access to your audience.
3. Voter Guides can discuss the issues in detail even if an election is looming. The key for your Voter Guide is to be sure not to describe the voting patterns of candidates in a way to suggest endorsement or approval of any particular candidate.
But wait: does this mean a 501c3 cannot take positions on issues which may imply criticism of an officeholder, during the height of an election campaign? No! A 501c3 organization, including religious organizations, may lobby to influence legislation and that lobbying need not stop merely because an election is going on.
The next article will explore the rules for lobbying, and how non-profits can “elect” to permit more lobbying.
This is general information and is not intended as legal advice. For more detailed guidance as to your organizations’ practices, an attorney should be consulted.
Law Office of Denise M. DeBelle
By: Laurel O’Sullivan, The Advocacy Collaborative, LLC.
Who does it better?
Consider two immigration-focused nonprofit organizations: “Nonprofit A” devotes their programmatic efforts to serving individuals on a case-by-case basis, helping them as they wade through the ocean of paperwork and red tape. The second organization, “Nonprofit B”, provides similar support, but also devotes a significant portion of their energy to advocating for policy changes that lighten the burden for immigrants trying to gain citizenship. Which organization helps more people?
Too often, the nonprofit sector either undervalues – or worse, avoids altogether – the power of advocacy. Time and again, nonprofits expect a CEO or other staff person to “do advocacy” in their spare time, relegating it as separate from the rest of the organization. This separatist approach – defining advocacy as an “add on” that continually falls to the bottom of the list – represents a significant missed opportunity because high-quality advocacy advances an organization’s mission while achieving impact on a scale not possible through direct service or programs alone. (Perhaps you’ve guessed the answer to our question, above — by adopting a systemic approach to changing policy, Nonprofit B can achieve far greater impact and serve far more individuals than Nonprofit A can by only serving individuals on a case by case basis.)
The separatist approach is also evident in most of the trainings for advocacy and policy. These tend to be narrowly focused on individual skills building – learning the legal rules of advocacy or how to talk to policymakers. Yet research suggests that when individuals are trained about policy and advocacy in isolation from their organization and its context, the organization’s overall effectiveness suffers. In turn, advocacy is further marginalized and organizations remain simply reactive to the policy landscape, rather than proactive.
The truth is, advocacy that is connected to the mission is the single most effective strategy a nonprofit can employ to have impact, because it has the potential to enhance all the things an organization does. By taking a public position on an issue, a nonprofit increases its likelihood of attracting funders, volunteers and garnering more public support for its work. It’s also an opportunity to demonstrate leadership to external audiences including policymakers and constituents.
Successful advocacy requires that an organization recognize that there are certain internal conditions that must be in place to support advocacy. And these conditions need to align with the multiple dimensions or facets of advocacy: the external dimension focuses on the broader policy environment; the internal dimension highlights the organizational, programmatic and individual-level components of policy work; and in between, there are linkages and alignments that must be made among the program, stakeholders, and the internal supporting functions of an organization like communications, finance, technology and fundraising.
What does an advocacy-forward organization look like?
Organizations with a strategic focus on advocacy routinely plan for and prioritize advocacy; it is built it into thee character and culture of their organization. How do they accomplish this?
1. A commitment to advocacy is firmly in place at the leadership level. This includes ensuring the board understands the value of advocacy and how it can advance the organization’s mission.
2. The mission, vision and values of the organization include advocacy as an intrinsic component. Research has shown that the most successful advocacy organizations are ones that have integrated it by sharing leadership, recruiting board members with advocacy knowledge, building a culture of support for advocacy
3. A plan and mechanisms for engaging stakeholders exists including communications devices such as newsletters and social media outlets, technology and databases for tracking and managing relationships with constituents, as well as resources and ready made materials for constituents to take action on specific bills.
In short, similar to any other strategy for achieving effectiveness, advocacy must be planned for in advance to ensure the organizational dots are connected and aligned to achieve maximum impact and the internal conditions for advocacy to take root, grow and be nurtured are in place. Only in this way will advocacy begin to be seen as part of the nonprofit business model.
For more on Laurel’s work, or to contact her directly, check out her website and her ACN profile!
Principal and Founder, The Advocacy Collaborative, LLC.
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.
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