Blog

19 Tips for Effective Fundraising With Letters

From time to time, my clients ask me to help them develop and implement effective letter writing campaigns for fundraising. I have shared 19 time-honored strategies that I have used to develop successful campaigns. Please download the PDF and use it for your organization. I’d be very interested to hear some of your experiences afterwards.

19 Tips for Effective Fundraising With Letters by valeriefleonard on Scribd

Webinar Wednesdays

Strengthen your organization’s #GivingTuesday efforts by participating in Webinar Wednesdays.

Now that you understand the nuts and bolts of running an effective #GivingTuesday campaign, what’s next?  Now is a great time to increase board member engagement, strengthen your case for support and make sure your government filings are up to date.  You can then take the information from these processes to increase transparency and strengthen your GuideStar profile–all n time for the upcoming year.These webinars will give you the tools you need to get started.

October 25, 2017
10:00 am-11:30 am
All Hands on Deck:  Engaging Your Board in Fundraising. 

One of the greatest challenges facing emerging nonprofits is engaging members in fundraising.  At the same time, one of the biggest fears prospective board members have is fundraising. This webinar will de-mystify the fundraising function for board members and staff; provide a review of the roles and responsibilities of board members; share strategies for board recruitment and setting board expectations and show you how to hold board members accountable for their fundraising responsibilities. Register here.

November 1, 2017
10:00 am-11:30 am
The Case for Support: The Most Important Document Never Written

One of the most critical documents many emerging organizations will never write is the case for support. The fundraising strategy of choice is to respond to proposals, rather than taking the time to be intentional about who the organization serves; why they do what they do, and why people should invest time, money or other resources in their cause.  This webinar will provide strategies for writing the key components of the case for support, and how it may be used for fundraising, marketing, board recruitment and management purposes. Register here.

November 8, – November 29, 2017
10:00 am-11:30 am
30-Day Compliance Challenge

Over the years, I have seen a number of organizations solicit funds, only to be denied funding because they were not properly registered with the Attorney General’s Office, or failed to  file Form 990.  They are not alone.

Between 2010 and 2017, over 29,000 tax exempt organizations in the State of Illinois lost their exempt status for failure to file Form 990 for three consecutive years.  Most of these organizations have had to pay significant penalties or even dissolve their corporations as a result. Don’t let this happen to your organization–especially not on #GivingTuesday.

Take the 30-Day Compliance Challenge. We will cover the full range of the basic requirements to keep your organization legal within 4 weeks. Your challenge is to participate in up to 4 webinars and make sure your organization’s paper work is current within 30 days of the end of the series.  Review descriptions for each webinar and register here.

December 6, 2017
10:00 am-11:30 am
Increasing Fundraising Through Transparency

Stand out from the competition by using GuideStar tools and your Form 990 to demonstrate organizational performance and community impact. The 30-Day Disclosure Challenge will provide you with an overview of everything you need to know to qualify for the GuideStar Exchange’s Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum levels of disclosure, and ways to increase visibility for years to come. Register here.

Are You Ready for #GivingTuesday?

What is #GivingTuesday?

Entering its sixth year, #GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration.

Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving. Since its inaugural year in 2012, #GivingTuesday has become a movement that celebrates and supports giving and philanthropy with events throughout the year and a growing catalog of resources.

Created by the team at the Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact at the 92nd Street Y—a cultural center in New York City that, since 1874, has been bringing people together around the values of service and giving back—#GivingTuesday connects diverse groups of individuals, communities and organizations around the world for one common purpose: to celebrate and encourage giving. A team of influencers and founding partners joined forces, collaborating across sectors, offering expertise and working tirelessly, to launch #GivingTuesday and have continued to shape, grow and strengthen the movement.

In 2015, #GivingTuesday generated 1.64 million online gifts totalling $177 million in 98 countries around the world. The mean online gift was $107.69.

What is #ILGive?

#ILGive (pronounced ‘I’ll Give’) is an initiative of Forefront, Illinois’ statewide membership association for nonprofits, grantmakers, public agencies, advisors, and sector allies. Forefront works to build a vibrant social impact sector for all Illinois. Through #ILGive, Forefront mobilizes Illinois nonprofits and foundations to increase individual giving across the state. Last year, #ILGive for Giving Tuesday raised $11.3 million for Illinois social good organizations, and their most recent campaign, #ILGiveCommunity, raised $127,795.33 across the state.

#ILGive is a 24-hour digital fundraising event that connects individuals with the causes that matter to them, and empowers donors to give to the local nonprofits that tackle our communities’ most critical issues. #ILGive raises money for communities, brings new donors, and increases awareness about local nonprofits while leveraging the national marketing of #GivingTuesday.

Join #ILGive!

I got the following email from Suzy Lee, Director, Strategic Initiatives, and  Kathleen Murphy, Director of Communications, Forefront (f.k.a. Donors Forum) on August 19, 2017.
#ILGive for #GivingTuesday is November 28! Register early and get a headstart on your campaign.

View this email in your browser

It’s not too early to start thinking about #GivingTuesday

Registration is now open for #ILGive – Illinois’ official #GivingTuesday campaign

Forefront’s #ILGive for #GivingTuesday is back and it’s going to be our biggest campaign to date – we’re aiming to raise $15.0 mil. for nonprofits across Illinois on one single day!

Last year, hundreds of participating nonprofits raised $11.3 million through #ILGive for Giving Tuesday!

In order to harness the growing momentum of individual giving, Forefront created #ILGive to equip nonprofits with the tools and resources to secure new donors and garner increased revenue. Taking place the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (Nov 28 this year), #ILGive for Giving Tuesday is a 24-hour, statewide digital fundraising event that connects individuals with the causes that matter to them and empowers donors to give to the local nonprofits that tackle our communities’ most critical issues.

Three years running, #ILGive for #GivingTuesday raises money for our communities, brings new donors, and increases awareness about local nonprofits while leveraging the national marketing of #GivingTuesday.

We’ve opened registration early this year so you can get a head start on preparing your campaign.

When you register for #ILGive for #GivingTuesday, your nonprofit will:

  • Get listed as a participating nonprofit on ILGive.com. (#ILGive is Illinois’ official #GivingTuesday campaign — if someone visits #GivingTuesday’s website looking for the Illinois campaign, they’ll arrive at ILGive.com.)
  • Get weekly emails full of campaign strategies, content and more to help prepare and implement your #ILGive campaign.
    Get access to a great Nonprofit Toolkit to help you prepare and promote your campaign.upcoming webinars
  • Get free support from the #ILGive team + the GiveGab team!
    Get notified about our  with topics ranging from goal setting strategies, social media, board engagement, retaining new donors, and many more.
  • Get thousands of dollars in ‘free’ marketing. Our partnerships with JC Decaux, the Chicago Sun Times, and dozens of local businesses will get your cause in front of millions of potential new donors.

About ILGive.com and GiveGab

  • Forefront is delighted to again partner with GiveGab this year to make it easier for nonprofits to participate (and for donors to give!) through our website www.ilgive.com
  • ILGive.com has great features like peer-to-peer fundraising pages, monthly donation options, donor data reporting, and more. (See the full list of features here).
  • With its mobile-friendly design and intuitive user experience, ILGive.com offers a fast, dependable, and secure experience for you and your donors. Donors can complete their transaction within 3-5 clicks.
  • ILGive.com provides real-time updates of dollars raised for your organization and the other participating nonprofits across Illinois.
    ILGive.com is a dynamic website that allows for year-round giving, peer to peer fundraising, robust training schedule, direct marketing and much more…
  • ILGive.com offers a valuable customer service support feature that will assist you and answer your questions within minutes,
    Fees associated with ILGive.com are less than other platforms. In 2016, 70% of donors covered all fees related to their donations. Find more information about the fees here.

How to Join the Campaign

To register, visit www.ilgive.com and click Register Now! If you’ve participated in a previous #ILGive campaign, start by searching for your organization.

Register for #ILGive

We’re looking forward to fundraising together on #ILGive for #GivingTuesday! If you have any questions, just reply to this email, and we’ll be happy to help!

The #ILGive Team:

Suzy Lee
Director, Strategic Initiatives
Forefront

Kathleen Murphy
Director, Communications
Forefront

 

 

Nonprofit “U” and #GivingTuesday

Nonprofit “U” is an online forum where nonprofit stakeholders can discuss the latest developments in the sector and increase their capacity to serve their clients and build sustainable communities. The podcast streams live every Monday from 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm CST, from BlogTalkRadio.com/nonprofit_u.Topics include nonprofit management, community mdevelopment, capacity building and organizational development. I will be doing a number of Nonprofit “U” episodes to help listeners prepare for #GivingTuesday.

Teach-In: #ILGive on #GivingTuesday, October 2, 2017-Asha Curran, Chief Innovation Officer and Director, Belfer Center for Innovation and Impact, 92Y; Jason Rosenberg, Program Assistant at the Belfer Center for Innovation and Social Impact at 92nd Street Y; Kathleen Murphy, Director of Communications, Forefront. Learn everything you need to know about #GivingTuesday from the people that started the Movement, including registration, developing your campaign and stewarding your gifts.

Nonprofit Story Telling: Using Your “Why” to Increase Fundraising, October 16, 2017-Daniel Ash, Chief Marketing Offcer, Chicago Community Trust. Learn how to to use your organization’s mission, history and core values to develop a narrative with a sequence of events and heroes that beat the odds to make a difference.

Using Form 990 as a Fundraising and Marketing Tool, November 6, 13, or 20, (to be confirmed soon)-Member of GuideStar staff. You will learn: how to maximize fundraising opportunties for Giving Tuesday and beyond through transparency and disclosure; how to use Form 990 in compliance and marketing; the importance of using your GuideStar profile to differentiate your organization in the marketplace.

Join the Conversation!

Learn about #GivingTuesday and #ILGive from the folks who started the movement. Catch Asha Curran, Kathleen and me on Nonprofit “U” on Monday, October 2, 2017 from 2:00 pm CST to 3:00 pm CST.

Call in live at (347) 884-8121. You don’t need an account to listen, but, if you want to participate in an online chat, open a listener-only account at https://secure.blogtalkradio.com/register.aspx?type=listener to participate in a live chat. Visit Valeriefleonard.com. Archived episodes may be found at http://Valeriefleonard.com/NonprofitU, iTunes, Podcast Chart, Blubrry and Stitcher.

Visit http://www.blogtalkradio.com/nonprofit_u/2017/10/02/teach-in-ilgive-on-givingtuesday today to sign up for a reminder. Visit again on Monday at 2:00 to listen live. Invite your colleages to listen as well.

Webinar Wednesdays

Strengthen your organization’s #GivingTuesday efforts by participating in Webinar Wednesdays.

Now that you understand the nuts and bolts of running an effective #GivingTuesday campaign, what’s next? Now is a great time to increase board member engagement, strengthen your case for support and make sure your government filings are up to date. You can then take the information from these processes to increase transparency and strengthen your GuideStar profile–all n time for the upcoming year.These webinars will give you the tools you need to get started.

October 25, 2017
10:00 am-11:30 am
All Hands on Deck: Engaging Your Board in Fundraising.

One of the greatest challenges facing emerging nonprofits is engaging members in fundraising. At the same time, one of the biggest fears prospective board members have is fundraising. This webinar will de-mystify the fundraising function for board members and staff; provide a review of the roles and responsibilities of board members; share strategies for board recruitment and setting board expectations and show you how to hold board members accountable for their fundraising responsibilities.

November 1, 2017
10:00 am-11:30 am
The Case for Support: The Most Important Document Never Written

One of the most critical documents many emerging organizations will never write is the case for support. The fundraising strategy of choice is to respond to proposals, rather than taking the time to be intentional about who the organization serves; why they do what they do, and why people should invest time, money or other resources in their cause. This webinar will provide strategies for writing the key components of the case for support, and how it may be used for fundraising, marketing, board recruitment and management purposes.

November 8, – November 29, 2017
10:00 am-11:30 am
30-Day Compliance Challenge

Over the years, I have seen a number of organizations solicit funds, only to be denied funding because they were not properly registered with the Attorney General’s Office, or failed to file Form 990. They are not alone.

Between 2010 and 2017, over 29,000 tax exempt organizations in the State of Illinois lost their exempt status for failure to file Form 990 for three consecutive years. Most of these organizations have had to pay significant penalties or even dissolve their corporations as a result. Don’t let this happen to your organization–especially not on #GivingTuesday.

Take the 30-Day Compliance Challenge. We will cover the full range of the basic requirements to keep your organization legal within 4 weeks. Your challenge is to participate in up to 4 webinars and make sure your organization’s paper work is current within 30 days of the end of the series.

December 6, 2017
10:00 am-11:30 am
Increasing Fundraising Through Transparency

Stand out from the competition by using GuideStar tools and your Form 990 to demonstrate organizational performance and community impact. The 30-Day Disclosure Challenge will provide you with an overview of everything you need to know to qualify for the GuideStar Exchange’s Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum levels of disclosure, and ways to increase visibility for years to come.

Cook County Commission on Social Innovation Update

Join Marc J. Lane, Vice Chairman of the Cook County Commission on Social Innovation, and me on Nonprofit “U”, from 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm to hear updates on the Commission’s accomplishments, including the adoption of resolutions to improve regional transit and create contracting opportunities for minority-owned businesses, nonprofits and social enterprises. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/nonprofit_u/2017/08/21/cook-county-commission-on-social-innovation-update

With Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia serving as the Chief Sponsor, the Cook County Commission on Social Innovation was established by ordinance on April 12, 2016. The Commission is comprised of Cook County government department heads, economic development experts and community builders who leverage public and private sector resources to address Cook County’s most entrenched economic and workforce development issues.

Nonprofit “U” is an online forum where nonprofit stakeholders can discuss the latest developments in the sector and increase their capacity to serve their clients and build sustainable communities. Valerie F. Leonard, an expert in community and organizational development is the host. Topics include nonprofit management, community development, capacity building and organizational development. Nonprofit “U” has listeners from 38 countries around the world, on 6 continents.

Call in live at (347) 884-8121. You don’t need an account to listen, but, if you want to participate in an online chat, open a listener-only account at https://secure.blogtalkradio.com/register.aspx?type=listener to participate in a live chat. Visit Valeriefleonard.com. Archived episodes may be found at http://Valeriefleonard.com/NonprofitU, iTunes, Podcast Chart, Blubrry and Stitcher.

Listen here at 2:00 pm, August 21, 2017. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/nonprofit_u/2017/08/21/cook-county-commission-on-social-innovation-update. You may visit this link at any time to sign up for a reminder.

Please share this announcement widely in your networks. Your assistance, as always, is most appreciated.

 


Lessons Learned from the Chicago Bulls, Jimmy Butler and Nonprofits

Photo:  Media.Philstar.com

I don’t pretend to be “up on sports”, but I think the manner in which the Bulls treated Jimmy Butler, and the fallout from his trade are instructive to leaders in general. It is very important to foster a culture of respect, open communication and honesty when dealing with team members and subordinates.

From what I’ve been able to glean from newspaper articles this was missing in the Bulls organization. The Front Office, apparently, was not up front with Jimmy Butler concerning their intentions of trading him. There seems to have been a whispering campaign with a bunch of unconfirmed rumors–some indicating that Butler would not be traded; some indicating that he would be traded. Butler never knew what was really happening until the day he was traded.

Sports show pundits speculated wildly as to what happened, and, for the most part, pinned the blame on Butler, calling him a failed leader, and so on and so forth. The Bulls are in perpetual damage control mode, which is pulling positive energy that could be used to develop forward momentum. The team is more divided than ever, and morale is low. When morale is low, it is very difficult for team members to be motivated to do their best. In fact, they may even consciously or subconsciously sabotage the team performance. There is plenty blame to go around, the least of which belongs to Jimmy Butler.

I have seen this type of scenario play out in a host of organizations over the years, and the end result is not pretty. Left unchecked, cultures of disrespect and lack of trust tend to cripple organizations, and sometimes, even tear them apart. Leaders are unable to get buy-in to their vision, goals and objectives; team members are unmotivated; the top performers leave and turnover is very high. The people who remain tend to lack vision or the political will to “right the ship.” In extreme cases, board meeting attendance drops off and there is no quorum to transact important business. When that happens, the organization is usually on life support.

I’m not saying the Bulls organization is on life support, but, they will never be able to be great again until the culture changes for the better. The first step in their rebuilding process should be re-establishing a culture of trust. It is very rare that anybody gives their all to a team of people they don’t trust. This is doubly true in the nonprofit arena, in which organizations rely heavily on volunteers. Unlike multi-million athletes, volunteers don’t have to show up.

UIC Certificate in Nonprofit Management Grant Writing Workshop: July 13, 2017

One-Day Grant Writing Workshop in Chicago: “Grant Writing for Beginners”

Aspiring grant writers! Join UIC’s grant writing experts for “Grant Writing for Beginners,” a one-day, interactive workshop developed and offered by the University of Illinois at Chicago and designed specifically for those with little or no experience writing grants.

What You Will Learn

In this highly participatory workshop, our expert UIC instructors will guide you through a comprehensive overview of the grant writing process, including:

  • Types of funding sources available to nonprofits today
  • How to research grant opportunities and assess the best fit for your funding needs
  • What your organization must have in place before writing a grant
  • The primary components of a grant proposal and how they fit together
  • How to communicate effectively with prospective funders

What You Will Leave With

Bring your energy, enthusiasm, and ideas, and leave with:

  • Confidence in your ability to prepare a foundation grant proposal
  • Practical knowledge you need to succeed in grant writing
  • Experience working on a team to prepare proposal pieces for a fictional organization
  • A workbook for planning, developing and writing successful proposals
  • A valuable network of connections with instructors and workshop participants (bring your business cards!)
  • A list of the top grant writing resources on the Web

Attention researchers: The curriculum for this course focuses on philanthropic foundation grants, not research grants.

Previous grant writing workshops have filled up quickly. We encourage you to register early.

Meet the Instructors

 

Noah Jenkins

Valerie Leonard

New! Funders Lunchtime Panel
Discover first-hand what funders look for in a winning grant proposal.

Alejandra L. Ibañez
Lead Program Officer
Woods Fund Chicago

Daniel Ash
Chief Marketing Officer
The Chicago Community Trust

Brandon Thorne
Senior Program Officer
WC Stone Foundation

 Register for the July 13, 2017 Grant Writing Workshop

Date: Thursday, July 13, 2017
Time: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Instructors:
  • Noah Jenkins, MUPP – accomplished grant writer, management consultant, and UIC Certificate in Nonprofit Management instructor
  • Valerie Leonard, MM – accomplished executive, community development consultant, and UIC Certificate in Nonprofit Management instructor
Location: University of Illinois at Chicago, Student Center East, Tower Room 713
Fee: $330
Discount: $297 for University of Illinois alumni, employees or current degree-seeking students

Lunch plus morning/afternoon beverages will be provided.

Questions? Contact us. We look forward to seeing you July 13th!

Register-Now

 

 

 


 

One-Day On-Site Workshop or Six-Week Online Course: Which is Right for You?

UIC’s Grant Writing for Beginners workshop is perfect if you are a beginning or aspiring grant writer looking for a one day, in-person overview of the grant writing process that covers the core components of a grant proposal.

UIC’s six-week course, Step by Step: How to Write a Winning Grant Proposal, one of fifteen courses offered through UIC’s Certificate in Nonprofit Management program, is an intensive, six-week online course that gives you the chance to work with experienced instructors to draft the key components of a grant proposal. Visit UIC’s Certificate in Nonprofit Management Web site to learn more about the Certificate in Nonprofit Management online program.

 

Attention researchers: The curriculum for this course focuses on philanthropic foundation grants, not research grants.

Can West Side Tourism Benefit from the Blues?

“Barrel House Bonni” McKeown and blues man Larry Taylor will be guests on the Nonprofit “U” radio blog talk show on Monday, June 19, 2017, from 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm CST.  Nonprofit “U” is an online forum where nonprofit stakeholders can discuss the latest developments in the sector and increase their capacity to serve their clients and build sustainable communities. Valerie F. Leonard, an expert in community and organizational development served as the host. The episode will stream live from BlogTalkRadio.com/nonprofit_u and listeners will have the opportunity to call in with questions and participate in live chats. The live call in number is (347) 884-8121. Nonprofit professionals, blues fans, community advocates, developers and other  community stakeholders are especially encouraged to call in and share their stories. The archived podcast will be available on BlogTalkRadio.com, Valeriefleonard.com/NonprofitU, iTunes Podcast Chart, Blubrry and Stitcher.

“Chicago area heritage musicians still play today, often in obscure holes-in-the-wall for very little money, competing for limited spots in downtown clubs, or exporting their skills overseas.  At home, blues is an undervalued cultural asset”, McKeown lamented not long after a recent discussion of strategies to use blues to jump start heritage tourism on Chicago’s West Side.

“Crain’s business magazine in January pointed out the city is losing money for failure to promote it. Chicago’s West Side has a deeply-rooted history of blues and soul music. What if we could promote it to help develop a local tourism industry?”, McKeown asked.

Building Organizations that Stand the Test of Time

 

Valerie F. Leonard (center) poses with some of the workshop attendees.

 

Valerie F. Leonard, a local expert in community and organizational development, recently partnered with Chicago State University, the Monroe Foundation and the Independent Bulletin Newspaper to host “Lasting Impact: Building Sustainable Organizations”. The information-packed workshop provided an overview of what organizational capacity building is; the current trends in capacity building in the Chicagoland area; the characteristics of sustainable organizations and how organizations can begin to assess their own capacity.

The audience was diverse in terms of backgrounds; they were engaged, and contributed significantly to the discussion.  Participants also had an opportunity to hear about an upcoming luncheon sponsored by Prudential Insurance, as well as an overview of the Inmates for Change program.

Most of the evaluation questions were scored on a scale of 1- 100, with 100 being the highest.  So far, the average response is in the 98 range. Judge Patrice Ball Reed indicated that she found the workshop to be “… concise, clear and informative. Valerie was respectful of our time and kept to the schedule.”

When asked his impression of the workshop, Jeffery Willis, an accountant with the Bobby E. Wright Behavioral Health Center  responded, “I have a knowledge of how to build the organization capacity to make a stronger impact to clients”.

Budder Jones, CEO, Inmates for Change  concurred. “This training session is so well thought-out and presented…, if anything else was done to it, it would be criminal!”

Leonard stated that it is her intent to partner with different organizations around the City of Chicago to have similar workshops. The next workshop will be in North Lawndale, in partnership with Pastors Marvin and Terri Hunter and the New Jerusalem CDC, on June 24, 2017, from 11:00 am to 12:30 pm. The organization is located on the corner of 15th and Kenneth.

“I’m also very cognizant of the fact that, as organizations build their internal capacity, they must also work with local residents of changing communities to build their capacity to take advantage of the opportunities the changes bring”, Leonard said.

There are a number of community planning processes going on throughout the City of Chicago, with varying levels of community engagement and capacity building for community residents.  Leonard indicated that in her role as Vice Chair of the Cook County Commission on Social Innovation’s Social Capital Committee, she gets to hear about innovative planning processes around the City of Chicago and Cook County, including the proposed redevelopment of the old United States Steel site on the South East Side of Chicago and Woodlawn’s comprehensive planning process.

“What I like about these processes is the fact that they have created mechanisms to authentically engage rank and file residents, institutions, public agencies, churches and organizations while actively building local resident leadership capacity to stay in the community as it changes. Rather than hoping and waiting for manufacturers to select their communities and bring jobs, these communities are actively building manufacturing plants and providing specific job training to ensure local hiring.”

Leonard also noted that Alderman Sue Garza of the 10th Ward is working collaboratively  with a coalition of community groups to negotiate a comprehensive community benefits agreement with the developer. At the same time, community organizers are developing strategies around a number of issues, including public safety, public education, the environment, housing, and health and wellness.

“The level of self-determination from residents of Woodlawn and the South East Side of Chicago will make the difference in whether residents are displaced, or whether they can stay in their respective communities as they go through the next phases of development”, Leonard said.  “At this point, it looks like those residents are creating win-win strategies for themselves and the developer.”

Signs of Organizations in Decline

We’ve all heard stories about frogs being dumped in boiling water, and jumping right out and saving themselves, while frogs dumped in lukewarm water that is turned up slowly don’t notice the change in temperature until it’s too late. By the time they realize they’re in boiling water, they are too weak to jump out, and they cook to death. Whether this is true or an urban legend, this is a great analogy for a number of organizations that started off strong, but somehow lost their footing, going headlong into a state of decline. The sad part is, if you talk to the organizational leaders, they may not even realize they are in a state of decline until significant damage is done.   They often mistake “busyness” and activity for momentum and impact. Sometimes they recover, and sometimes they don’t.

There are many reasons organizations lose momentum along the way, including lack of a shared vision, lack of capacity, and the list goes on. Regardless of the reasons, all roads lead to leadership challenges. Outlined below is a list of some common symptoms of organizations in decline.

Deviation from core values.

We’ve all been a part of organizations that have a set of core values on display in their offices, on their websites, etcetera. That is wonderful. However, core values are only as good as the willingness of the organization to adhere to them.

People in organizations in which leaders fail to adhere to their own stated core values soon become disillusioned, and lose motivation to contribute to the organization’s growth. They do the bare minimum to keep from being fired or asked to resign from a volunteer position. Rank and file members get a sense that the leaders lack sincerity, and begin to lose confidence. Once leaders lose confidence of rank and file members, it is very difficult to regain it. People who were attracted to the stated core values often leave organizations when they see that the organization’s culture is one of “do as I say”, but the leaders don’t “walk the walk.”

Lack of Transparency

Decision-making in organizations in decline is usually less transparent than in organizations with forward momentum. Generally speaking, leaders of organizations in decline do not engage in shared decision-making beyond a very small group. Leaders tend to report the decisions that have been made after the decisions have been made, without soliciting authentic input and engagement from the rank and file. Members on the periphery are left to wonder how the decisions have been made and why. Although the leaders may have the best of intentions for the organization, people who are left out of the decision loop tend to feel left out and de-valued. People who feel de-valued don’t stay with organizations very long.

Insular Thinking

Groups on the decline tend to have leaders who come from the same background, “circle” of friends and colleagues etc. Leadership groups that are homogeneous in nature tend to foster similar thinking, maintain the status quo, and engage in “group think.” Group members tend to go along with decisions they don’t agree with, just to get along, even when the decisions are less than optimal for the organization, unethical or unfair. When leaders are not open to new ideas or input from others, they repel innovative thinkers and the ideas and resources they bring. Organizations cannot evolve and go to the next level if the leadership is not open to change.

Failure to Attract New Resources

Declining organizations fail to attract new resources. This includes new blood in terms of new employees and volunteers; new funding sources and new in-kind donations. Sometimes having a constant flow of resources can give a false sense of security. As anyone in the nonprofit arena knows, funders can be fickle, and it is wise to diversify funding sources as well as income generation strategies. The inability to attract new volunteers, funding sources, highly skilled employees and board members is a very strong sign that the organization is in trouble. In fact, it is not unusual for organizations in decline to consistently run financial deficits and experience high turnover in employees, leadership and board members.

Failure to Change With the Environment

Declining organizations sometimes get so caught up in their missions that they confuse the mission with the strategies for achieving the mission. They continue to fulfill their missions using outdated programs and strategies that are no longer relevant. Or, they may continue with the same mission when it has become apparent that their current mission is obsolete, rendering their organizations irrelevant in the current environment.

Mission Creep

While it is dangerous to not adapt to the current environment, it is equally dangerous for organizations to “go any way the wind blows.” Declining organizations are tempted more than most, to “follow the money”, and adapt their programs and services to fit the funders’ priorities, rather than developing their own priorities and finding funders with whom they have shared values and goals. Over time, if the organizations are not careful, they will have drifted from their original mission and intent.

Declining Influence

Organizations in decline will also experience a decline in influence, as evidenced by reduction in attendance levels at community events, public meetings and fundraisers. They will probably be not be viewed as thought leaders or “go to” organizations when it comes to shaping public policy, developing news stories or championing new initiatives pushed by elected officials and foundations.

Declining Engagement of Board Members and Advisory Committee Members

Organizations on the decline experience lower engagement of board members and advisory committee members.  This includes erratic attendance at board meetings and committee meetings.  In the worst cases, attendance is so low that there is no quorum, and business can not be transacted.  This is particularly dangerous when the business at hand involves financial and/or legal matters.

Organizations on the decline often have board members who do not make donations to the organization or participate in fundraisers or other organizational activities and events.  Essentially, they are members in name only, which is a disservice to the organization and themselves. Dis-engaged board members repel funders.

Lack of Self-Determination

Organizations on the decline tend to be unduly influenced by outside forces, including funders, elected officials or other stakeholders with power. I call these “shadow board members.”  It is not unusual for shadow board members to exercise more power than the board members, who are ultimately legally responsible for the organization. A healthy organization will have engaged board members who understand their roles and responsibilities, and will make sure the organization remains focused. They will take advice from external stakeholders, but will not let them control the organization.

What Are Your Thoughts?

These are some of the signs of organizations on the decline that I have observed over the years. I’d be interested in hearing some of your experiences as well. Feel free to comment below.

About the Author

Valerie F. Leonard is an expert in community and organizational development with a mission of strengthening the capacity of organizations to make a positive impact on the communities they serve through technical assistance, specialized workshops, resource and organizational development and project management. She is the host of Nonprofit “U” blog radio talk show and teaches online courses in nonprofit management with the University of Illinois Certificate in Nonprofit Management Program. Valerie has a bachelor of arts degree in economics from Spelman College, and a master of management degree in finance and marketing from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

Tip of the Day: Know Your Fiscal Agent’s Fiscal Status

If your organization has a fiscal agent, you should be getting regular accounting of your organization’s financial reports. You should also be privy to your fiscal agent’s financial statements showing your organization’s activities within the context of your fiscal agent’s finances (usually presented as a line item or program.) If you are a member of a board or organization with a fiscal agent and you have never seen your fiscal agent’s 990’s or recent financial statement, you are not exercising your fiduciary responsibility, and neither is your fiscal agent. The only bad questions are those that are not asked, and those that are asked too late.

About the Author

Valerie F. Leonard is an expert in community and organizational development with a mission of strengthening the capacity of organizations to make a positive impact on the communities they serve through technical assistance, specialized workshops, resource and organizational development and project management. She is the host of Nonprofit “U” blog radio talk show and teaches online courses in nonprofit management with the University of Illinois Certificate in Nonprofit Management Program. Valerie has a bachelor of arts degree in economics from Spelman College, and a master of management degree in finance and marketing from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management.