Category Archives: Nonprofit Management

Corporate Team Volunteer Projects: Benefits, Planning and Impact

Post by BVU Staff:  Roseanne Deucher, Director, Business Engagement

BVU: The Center for Nonprofit ExcellenceMore and more businesses are encouraging their employees to get involved in the community. A CR Magazine and NYSE-Euronext Survey of over 300 companies found that 72% of respondents have corporate responsibility programs and that 77% say these programs will expand over the next three years. Businesses see corporate community involvement as an avenue for brand loyalty, employee engagement, and an opportunity to be viewed as good corporate citizen. BVU has seen this trend translate into an increase in corporate volunteer team projects in Northeast Ohio. In 2013, BVU business members completed almost 300 business team volunteer projects, a 28% increase from 2012.

A group project brings together a group of business volunteers to focus their combined energy, skills and talents to address a need in the community. Benefits for businesses and nonprofits are plentiful.

For businesses:

  • Team building for employees
  • Increased morale and retention
  • Opportunity to have a positive presence in the community

For nonprofits:

  • Raise awareness for the organization’s mission and services
  • Form a strategic partnership with the business
  • Complete a task which you might not otherwise have the resources to do
  • Big impact in a short amount of time

Planning is key to a successful team volunteer project. Our process varies, but here are a few components to help ensure that your project is a success for your team.

  • Volunteers need to feel connected to the mission of a nonprofit and the clients they serve. Survey your employees. What are their interests? What is the best time to get the most participation? Where are your employees currently volunteering?
  • Once you have an idea of how many employees will be participating and what their interests are, it’s time to plan your project. Understand that some nonprofits will have a difficult time hosting large numbers of volunteers, so consider dividing into smaller teams. Team building is sometimes better when small groups are given the opportunity to communicate and problem-solve together.
  • Visit with the volunteer site location beforehand and fully understand the nonprofit’s need. Don’t be shy about pointing out other areas where you might be able to help.
  • Details, details, details! To ensure the project’s success, carefully review and communicate details, from where to park to what to wear.

The day of the project approaches and the volunteers have arrived! Now it’s up to the nonprofit to make sure that the volunteer experience is a rewarding one. As the host for the project, you should:

  • Welcome volunteers and provide an introduction to your organization. Explain not only what your nonprofit does, but who you serve. In addition, whenever possible volunteers should have opportunities to connect with the clients being served.  Engage clients in volunteering side-by-side with the volunteers. If clients are not present, show photos/videos and tell personal stories to allow volunteers to connect the task with the people who will benefit.
  • Be clear on what is expected to be accomplished. Be available to volunteers to guide them and to answer questions.
  • As project host, you are expected to keep the project moving smoothly and communicating the importance of the tasks at hand. If a room is being painted, to the volunteer it’s just painting, but you need to remind volunteers that the fresh, clean paint will be seen and enjoyed by all the clients who use the room.
  • Conclude projects with a debrief. After the volunteers have completed their project, recap the day and allow volunteers to share their experiences. Everyone wants to be thanked – especially volunteers. Most businesses are not looking for a plaque. A simple verbal thank you at the end of a volunteer project can go a long way.
  • As follow-up, personalized thank you emails and notes from the consumers create an amazing personal touch. Share photographs and thank volunteer groups on social media. Here is a full list from Realized Worth on additional ways to say thank you.
Quote to be inline with next section. According to Lisa Jackman, Community Engagement Manager, Hyland Software, says, that “by encouraging our employees to use their time and talents to offer help and effect change, Hyland's efforts are much more impactful and meaningful for both the organizations we serve and our employees. Not only does this allow our projects to have a greater impact, it also allows employees to feel a great sense of accomplishment and fulfillment, inspiring them to give more – a win-win for both the nonprofit and the local community.

According to Lisa Jackman, Community Engagement Manager, Onbase  (by Hyland), says, that “by encouraging our employees to use their time and talents to offer help and effect change, Onbase’s efforts are much more impactful and meaningful for both the organizations we serve and our employees. Not only does this allow our projects to have a greater impact, it also allows employees to feel a great sense of accomplishment and fulfillment, inspiring them to give more – a win-win for both the nonprofit and the local community.

Businesses are measuring the impact of volunteer projects for its employees with factors such as employee satisfaction and engagement, skill development, and sales, recruiting and stakeholder effects.  How can you measure the impact of your project?

  • Start with the outputs and report the number of volunteers and volunteer hours. But go beyond and address what was accomplished during the project. Equate the number of volunteer hours to a dollar value. The Independent Sector value of a volunteer hour can assist you in doing this.
  • While you were helping the nonprofit, did you have suggestions for increasing efficiency? Is there a way for the nonprofit to use fewer resources – such as man hours or materials – in delivering its services?
  • Did helping the nonprofit increase their effectiveness and success rate of the services it provides? e.g., for a nonprofit fighting homelessness, the percentage of homeless people served that ended up sustainably housed.
  • Did you help increase reach? Did you expand the capacity of the nonprofit to serve more clients or expand programming?

Now, create your impact statement such as:

“If it weren’t for the volunteer team, nearly 100 families and children in crisis situations would ended their day hungry.”

“Because of the volunteer team…the nonprofit saved over $2,000 in staff time. This dollar amount is now being allocated to expand programming, increase client served, etc.”

“Volunteers did the project in 1 day, where it would have taken nonprofit staff 2 weeks to complete.”

What if your project wasn’t a success? Don’t give up! It takes time for us to fully understand the needs of nonprofits and our business members in order to make the perfect match. Take what you learned from this experience and apply it to make the next project a SUCCESS.


Nonprofit Merger and Collaboration: Open the Discussion


Post by BVU Staff:  Brian Broadbent, President & CEO

Two-and-a-half years ago Cleveland-based Business Volunteers Unlimited (BVU) and Akron-based Center for Nonprofit Excellence (CNE) merged into one organization, BVU: The Center for Nonprofit Excellence.  Looking back, this was a positive step for our organizations due to the strengths of each.  Although the merger process was not easy, we are enjoying the fruits of a vision led by our boards.  The CNE board reached out to BVU’s board to get the ball rolling.  A small task force of both boards and senior staff drove the process by openly discussing any roadblocks.  Because of its success, we have been asked to speak on the subject and help other organizations through the process.  Many community leaders want to see mergers happen but sadly they are a rarity.

Why are boards and staff resistant to explore options?  The Chronicle of Philanthropy published an article last month, “Mergers Might Happen More Often If Nonprofits Focused on Workers’ Needs,” authored by Katie Smith Milway and Maria Orozco.  This article gives valuable insights to what we have seen.  While the Great Recession of 2011 led corporations to pursue mergers at a fast pace, the nonprofit world did not follow suit.  They cite two facts: 1.) Few organizations exist to make matches between prospects, and 2.) Little money is available to ensure that the senior staff have financial incentives in that they may lose their jobs.  In 2009, Denise Zeman, President & CEO, St. Luke’s Foundation, and Deborah Vesy, President & CEO, Deaconess Foundation, invited 80 nonprofits in Northeast Ohio to discuss the spectrum of collaborations.  They were concerned about the decreasing availability of dollars from funders and the need to consider alternatives, one of which is mergers. These foundations offered to provide consulting support to nonprofits interested in exploring collaborations. The foundations’ leadership opened dialogue on a sensitive topic which resulted in three mergers and one consolidation.  However, since then it has been quiet.

Why the unwillingness to open this type of discussion?  Is it the loss of leadership roles for board and staff?  The daunting amount of work? Anxiety in negotiating with funders to prevent cuts in funding when two entities are combined with no loss of services?  Founders’ (board and staff) lack of flexibility? Name, mission, and branding of the new entity?  All are emotionally charged issues.  An unwanted outcome is that mergers could be reactive due to a depletion of cash reserves and lack of capacity — rather than being a proactive step.

In the next 10 years, hundreds of baby boomer nonprofit chief executives will retire.  This is an opportunity for new leadership to consider a merger or collaboration.  When conducting strategic reviews, we must always ask the question, “Are there better ways to advance our mission by working with another organization?  If so, what are the possibilities in aligning ourselves more effectively?”    It is up to the board and chief executive to determine if it a merger or collaboration is warranted. Remember that the act of an initial investigation does not equal commitment to moving forward.

The Foundation Center's nonprofit collaboration resource page provides a wealth of information on nonprofit mergers, joint programming, and other forms of collaboration.

The Foundation Center’s nonprofit collaboration resource  provides a wealth of information on nonprofit mergers, joint programming, and other forms of collaboration.

Considering a merger or collaboration?  Where do you start? Best practice is to look at complementary organizations serving different geographies or finding a continuum of services that could be expanded with the same constituency, with both leading to savings in administrative costs.  There are three stages of review.

1.  Feasibility – looking at the ‘fit’ of mission, service offerings, board structure, staff organization, geographic reach and culture.

2.  Due diligence – financial sustainability, HR policies and benefits, by-laws, etc. This is where the attorneys and accountants need to be involved.

3. Pre and post-merger integration – all of the steps that help the board and staff to integrate.

BVU and CNE addressed 66 integration steps.  Although daunting at the time, our merged organization has supported us in growing and delivering on our mission.  A valued, but unanticipated, outcome has been the respect of the community.

Get the Governance Right – It Matters!

Post by BVU Staff:  Elizabeth Voudouris, Executive Vice President

Governance = Strong Nonprofit BoardOne key element of a healthy nonprofit organization is a strong board.  A strong board:

1. Can clearly identify its work and its role for a particular nonprofit at any point in time.

2. Is comprised of people who bring the relevant skills, expertise, diversity, networks and passion to get the job done.

3. Doesn’t just happen. It requires a tremendous amount of attention, creativity, strategy and patience.

Through our work with hundreds of nonprofit boards each year, we see that the strongest boards continue to develop and evolve good governance practices in order to provide relevant leadership.

Strong boards:

  • Focus on the best way to achieve the mission.  A crisis nursery developed a strategic plan that included a significant expansion project to serve more children and keep more families together. The success of the plan was dependent on using the strong marketing and business background of the CEO together with the board, whose duties were to expand networks and visibility of the organization in the broader community. The board also provided sound oversight for the growing programs and finances.
  • Concentrate on the larger opportunities and challenges facing the organization, and allow staff to manage the day to day operations.   A board identified and pursued potential strategic partners to ensure that their mission was preserved; they formed a strategic alliance with a similar organization, and eventually they merged.   Board members with the relevant skills and expertise led this process and ensured their good work continued.
  • Understand the relationship between board and staff, and the significance of a positive and healthy partnership.   Establish structures and practices to work effectively together.  Monthly communications from the chief executive to board members, annual individual meetings to help board members identify new ways to engage with the organization, constructive and thoughtful annual performance reviews, and open and transparent communications to build a culture of trust.
  • Plan for the board’s future.  The board develops annual succession plans and is always grooming future leaders.  Future leaders serve as committee chairs so that they can demonstrate their leadership to the board and staff, learn more about an important aspect of the organization, and determine if they have the time and/or interest to move into leadership.
  • Build committee structures that utilize board and staff time effectively.  Meaningful work is accomplished in strong working committees.  Strong working committees have an effective committee chair, strong staff support, annual calendar of meeting dates, annual priorities, and relevant agendas and publish minutes for the full board to view.  Strong committees are comprised of people who bring relevant experience, expertise, networks and diversity to the work of the committee.
  • Ensure that there is a viable business model and financial systems in place.  If this is not already in place, consider engaging a pro bono consultant.   BVU engaged a pro bono consultant to help a local nonprofit, and the consultant restructured all financial systems and reports, and developed a business model to sustain the organization’s diverse programs.  The pro bono consultant worked closely with the chief executive and the board, and eventually joined the board. This project gave the nonprofit the ability to attract larger grants and sustain programs that meet the needs in the community.
  • Prepare carefully for board and committee meetings.  Agendas and materials go out 4-7 days in advance.  Board meetings do not consist exclusively of presentations by committee chairs or staff, but instead are used to engage board members in meaningful discussions around topics that are relevant to the mission and vision.  Board members leave these meetings feeling informed, engaged, and confident that they are vital contributors to the future of the organization.
  • Regard each board seat as precious. Written board member expectations are clear to all current and future board members.  Board members are held accountable to those expectations annually.  Board member terms are not renewed automatically, but considered carefully based on the changing needs of the organization and interests of the board member.

There is no magic bullet or “one size fits all” solution for stronger boards.  BVU’s work with nonprofits over the years has given us great insight into effective practices and policies that can help strengthen an organization.  Strong boards take work, but by staying focused on your mission, the work of your board, and ensuring that you have the right board members sitting around the table,  your nonprofit can position itself to navigate today’s challenges and leverage future opportunities.

Be a Superhero – Think Pro Bono

Post by BVU Staff:  Judy Tobin, Director, Leadership Development

super hero

It is the start of the day and time to make all that magic happen again. You know that you do great work, you are appreciated and you actually enjoy your job, but at times you may, as we all do, struggle with finding inspiration for your work– day after day. I like to run after a long day at work, and recently an old (some of you may think ancient) song streamed into my ear phones. Although the beat was perfect for running, it almost made me stop in my tracks. In their song, Do it Again, The Kinks sing the following lyrics: “And you think today Is going to be better, change the world and do it again. Give it all up and start all over, you say you will but you don’t know when… Day after day I get up and say com on and do it again…” It made me think. What one thing will I do today that is different, interesting and positive compared with what I did yesterday? Many people find inspiration in helping others. Pro bono volunteerism is one way to feel good and share your area of expertise. The week of October 20th is Pro Bono Week. Taproot Foundation is leading many pro bono providers during this week to educate and inspire individuals and organizations to use pro bono services. Pro bono, which means for the public good, has been around for a long time – but it has been on the rise in the last few years! Nonprofit organizations are in great need of various types of expertise, in the form of volunteer consulting, to help sustain and grow their organizations to meet community needs. Business professionals, retirees and college students are jumping on the pro bono band wagon to find a different level of volunteerism. Typical pro bono engagements may be helping a nonprofit develop a technology road map, marketing plan or business plan, or even coaching a nonprofit executive. Engagements such as these require expertise in the areas of finance, marketing, IT, human resources, architecture and legal. Most projects are defined with a beginning and end in mind. WhatWorkersWant_InfoGraphic_800pxMany studies are showing that organizations that offer volunteer opportunities for their employees have greater retention rates and report higher levels of employee satisfaction. Likewise, many job seekers, particularly younger generations, are attracted to employers who make community engagement a company-wide priority. According to the 2011 Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey millennials who volunteer with their organizations are twice as likely to rate their corporate culture as very positive compared to those who do not volunteer. Net Impact’s Talent Report: What Workers Want in 2012 states that they surveyed individuals who spanned the generations from students to baby boomers and found that workers with societal contributions at work reported a higher level of satisfaction at work (49%) compared to those who did not have volunteer opportunities through work (29%). Net Impact suggests that for job seekers, there are non-negotiable attributes (salary, location) and there are differentiators, such as the organization’s position on community engagement. Often times it’s differentiators, such as this, that will set employers apart, allowing them to attract and retain top talent. So, tomorrow when you wake up to “do it all over again” think about it from a different angle. Is there a nonprofit out there that could use your type of expertise? Where can you make an impact using your skills and expertise? To reference an REM song, which is still old but maybe not as ancient as the Kinks, put a new kind of inspiration into your work and be a Superman (or woman)!

Prepare your Nonprofit for the Silver Tsunami

Post by BVU staff: Elizabeth WInter, Regional Vice President

Prepare your Nonprofit for the Silver TsunamiThe Silver Tsunami is coming.  The Pew Research Center used the phrase in 2001 to describe the wave of retirements that would begin in 2011, when baby boomers began turning 65 years old. While the recession provided a short respite from the wave of baby boomers retiring, the impending Silver Tsunami means that employers, and nonprofits in particular, are facing some interesting challenges.

Nonprofits are especially challenged by the Silver Tsunami because:

  • Two-thirds of nonprofit organizations in the U.S. are led by baby boomers.
  • Two-thirds of nonprofit leaders, whether or not they are baby boomers,  plan to retire by 2016, according to a 2011 Meyer Foundation study.

Despite these statistics and the impending shortage of skilled workers, only 17% of nonprofit organizations have prepared for leadership transition.

When considering leadership transition, there are three options:  got it, buy it or build it.

If you’ve got it, that’s great. You’re among the lucky few.

If you want to buy it, that’s tricky.  Nonprofits and for profits will be competing for the same talent, and few nonprofits will be able to win the bidding war.

If you want to build it, that’s fortunate and an opportunity you want to maximize.  The potential leaders within your organization have a valuable knowledge base and obviously care about your mission. Interestingly, according to T. J. Tierney in The Leadership Deficit, less the 40% of nonprofits fill senior positions from within as compared to nearly 65% of for profits.  One reason may be that staff education and training resources at nonprofits often are the first to fall victim to cost-cutting measures.

So how do you maximize the opportunity to build your next leader from within?

  • Leaders need to make sure they’re sharing their knowledge and experience.  In general, it’s believed that baby boomers could do a better job sharing what they know, particularly the nuances of the organization and the “why” behind decisions, with those who are coming up in the ranks.
  • Assess the education, training and mentoring needs of your potential leaders and develop a plan to fulfill them.  This can be expensive and time-consuming, but much less so than “buying” talent.

Developing a succession plan is one way to thoughtfully and strategically build your next leader and do it cost-effectively. Succession Planning is “replacement planning” for key staff roles in your organization.  At BVU, we recommend a succession plan that addresses all of the key leadership positions with candidates for both short-term and long-term succession as well as a process to implement the plan with time for professional development.

  • Understand the next group of leaders, the millennials.  This will help you to develop a culture that meets the needs and wants of your next leaders, your entire organization and those you serve.

Stay tuned for part two of this blog, Meet the Millenials, to gain a better understanding of who the millennials are as a generation and as employees.

You Can’t Afford to Ignore Social Media

Post by BVU Staff: Elizabeth Winter, Regional Vice President

SocialMediaI heard a great quote the other day: “Social media is free like a puppy is free.”  If you’ve ever gotten a “free” puppy, you understand.  No money changes hands up front, but the minute it’s yours, the bills start rolling in.  The currency for social media is time, and of course, time is money.

Through my work at BVU: The Center for Nonprofit Excellence, I have many nonprofit organizations express an interest in using social media for marketing. Their interest wanes when they realize the cost – in time and effort.

Regardless of the cost, you can’t afford to ignore social media.  It’s an essential component of your organization’s efforts to connect with the community, raise awareness about your mission and build a core of volunteers and donors to support your work.

Consider the following benefits of social media:

  • It’s a great way to build relationships because it’s where you’ll find your community, regardless of age or other demographics.
  • It allows you the opportunity to reach thousands of people quickly and it uses your friends and followers to help spread the word, which provides you with added credibility.
  • It provides you with instant feedback and insight into your customer base.
  • It gives you and your community a common forum to address and resolve issues.

Now consider the potential problems (challenges?) associated with social media:

  • It’s time-consuming.  To remain relevant and keep people involved you have to post frequently – ideally daily – and your posts have to be interesting and engaging, not just a sales pitch or recitation of facts about your organization.  More importantly, you need to monitor social media daily so that you can respond promptly to any comments, concerns or questions.
  • Per, you could wait months or years to see a return on your investment (such as an increase in number of volunteers or fundraising dollars).
  • This may be the most fearsome thought of all: people may post negative comments.  However, this is an opportunity for you to shine by providing prompt and effective service recovery.  Certainly, there will be those with “keyboard courage” who post nasty comments just because they can do so in relative anonymity.  Don’t worry; others will recognize them for what they are and will recognize your good faith effort to resolve any issue.
  • If you have more than one person posting, be careful that you don’t dilute your brand by different phrasing, tone, etc.

For organizations just dipping their toes into the social media pool, I suggest choosing one or two platforms and doing it really well.  Set aside time each day to work on your social media efforts until it becomes routine.  Then, if you choose to delve a little deeper, you’ll be better prepared to do so.

Without a Succession Plan, The Mission of Your Organization is in Jeopardy

Post by BVU Staff: Brian Broadbent, President & CEO


What is succession planning, and why does your organization need it?  Succession Planning is  “replacement planning” for key staff roles in your organization. Succession planning for nonprofits is routinely overlooked and yet a vital HR process.  So, why is it often overlooked?

Nonprofit boards often don’t want to consider losing their outstanding chief executive. Also, there may be reluctance on the part of the chief executive (especially if he or she is the founder) to think about transitioning leadership of the organization to someone else.  Whatever the reason, in the end, often neither the board nor the chief executive address it.  However, the day will eventually come when the chief executive retires or resigns and then the scramble will be on to fill the void.

A study sponsored by Washington’s Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation found that 66% of chief executives are planning to leave their job within 5 years.  Only 17% reported that their organization had a written succession plan.  Ironically, 33% of chief executives believe that their nonprofit board will hire the right successor when they leave.  I recently spoke with a chief executive who is adamant that he will not prepare a succession plan because he is fearful that addressing his succession might hasten his departure.  Bad answer!

Why should your organization prepare a succession plan?

  1. The mission of the organization is in jeopardy without thoughtful leadership transitions. Strong leadership is a critical component of an organization’s success or failure. The board must be prepared for the inevitable.
  2. The board needs time to choose a successor with not only the right leadership capabilities, but also someone that will fit into the culture of the organization. A broad list of candidates should be considered in advance of a transition. Boards have a responsibility to find the best candidate and conduct a thoughtful ‘non-urgent’ review. They need to be comfortable that no stone is unturned and that internal and external candidates are considered.
  3. Internal candidates need time to develop. My personal bias is to give a person who is already employed at an organization the opportunity to grow professionally for a couple of years. Statistics show that nonprofits chose an internal candidate only 40% of the time because boards fear they don’t have the fundraising or financial review expertise. Nonprofits that commit to succession planning give their current staffs better opportunities for advancement.
  4. Thoughtful community connections need to be developed with organizational staff beyond the chief executive.  I have seen organizations where all of the key donor and foundation relationships reside solely with the chief executive. If the chief executive leaves, the organization may suffer a reduction in funding until the next chief executive builds donor and funder confidence.

At BVU: The Center for Nonprofit Excellence, we recommend a succession plan that addresses all of the key leadership positions with candidates for both short-term and long-term succession as well as a process to implement the plan with time for professional development. Sorting this out early prepares your staff and board for orderly transitions.  Succession plans should be prepared for key staff that have deep institutional knowledge and/or are in complex leadership roles.

Don’t put off addressing this critical process.  It is vital for your organization and helpful for your funders, staff and board to know you are prepared. And most importantly, consider the consequences of not putting your organization in the best possible position to serve those that depend on you.