Turning 25: It’s a Big Deal for Nonprofits

The twenty-fifth year may not seem like an essential milestone for nonprofits, but it is a critical juncture at which many organizations either begin a slow march toward decline or pivot toward new, more effective ways of doing business.

To survive (and thrive) during this transitional point, organizations should look at these three things:

I. Leadership

II. Branding

III. Delivery

I. Leadership.

Who is in control? Is the organization’s founder still at the helm, or is a senior staff member who has been there for more than 10 years in charge?  After twenty five years, fresh perspective is essential for growth. Celebrate the visionaries who have organization so far, but bring in a leader who has the growth mindset and energy to make positive change.

II. Branding.

A clear, fresh brand is critical to reposition an organization and its image in the communities where the organization exists and which it seeks to influence. Step outside of the organization and look through the eyes of public. What does the nonprofit’s image, communications, mission statement, and overall aesthetic look like? Ask yourself what this impression means and how it impacts those who receive it. There are numerous companies that specialize in branding. A worthwhile investment for a nonprofit is to work with an outside firm that doesn’t see things through the same lens as the staff or board of directors. A fresh perspective will allow the organization to expand beyond its current branding limitations.

III. Delivery.

Take this moment in the organization’s history to look at delivery. How are the programs delivered? How are you acquiring the constituents you serve? What is the impact? Is the impact what is most needed in your target communities at this time?  Often, there are better ways to deliver your product. But it requires the courage to break the norm and change the organization’s processes, procedures, and staff.

Reevaluating leadership, branding, and mode of delivery can set your nonprofit up for positive change that invigorates donors, funders, community members, and those served by the organization. How will your organization evolve?

Girls in Tech: Hacking for Good

Girls in Tech – a nonprofit dedicated to empowering girls interested in technology – is taking a bold step and hacking for humanity.

The organization just kicked off a new series in Melbourne designed to generate innovative solutions to social issues through “hackathons” that involve teams of tech-savvy women competing to produce forward-thinking digital products.

Girls in Tech’s goal is to “create prototypes for technology that can address complex social problems. The hackathons are aimed at using technology to benefit charities, while also encouraging impassioned women to engage in innovation and entrepreneurship.”

More hackathons are slated to occur across the globe, tapping the energy and creativity of 60 chapters and more than 50,000 members of Girls in Tech. Hacking teams have recently tackled issues including hunger, supporting at-risk youth, and clean air.

The White House is even jumping into the gender-side of the STEM conversation, supporting  two new laws: The Inspire Act introduced by Representative Barbara Comstock and the Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act.

The former is said to “promote STEM fields to women and girls, and encourage women to pursue careers in aerospace.” The latter authorizes the National Science Foundation to support entrepreneurial programs for women.

The effort to level the playing field within all industries is no fad. It is an absolutely necessary task that supports economic growth while contributing to financial and gender parity.

Nonprofits: When is Organizational Transparency a Detriment?

How necessary is transparency?

The National Council for Nonprofits states that “charitable nonprofits embrace the values of accountability and transparency as a matter of ethical leadership, as well as legal compliance.”

But what happens when transparency endangers the lives of those who fund and staff a nonprofit? What if the founder uses a different name other than her/his legal name? Are they violating the trust of donors who contribute to their organization?

These questions are emerging as more nonprofits are formed to help refugees, immigrants and historically marginalized demographics. Should the founder of a nonprofit that builds homes for refugees in Iraq risk his life by using his legal name? It is a perfectly reasonable question – the socio-political contexts in Iraq and Syria are complex, with different factions holding ethnical standards across the spectrum. Think about the nihilistic violence of ISIS and its targeting of foreign aid workers. What may be a moral necessity in Pennsylvania could be a mortal mistake in Aleppo.

Do donors really care about transparency if it risks the lives of those who are working to serve a greater purpose?

Recently, two peacekeepers went missing, presumed to be kidnapped in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nonprofit work is not always risk-free. The price for transparency in their case may very well have cost them their lives.

How Nonprofits Can Leverage Virtual Reality

Virtual reality presents incredible opportunities for nonprofits. Schools, museums, and performing arts organizations are leveraging its use everyday to teach empathy and cultural understanding, empower people to experience faraway places, and provide the public deeper immersion into the arts. Through virtual reality, mixed reality, and augmented reality, nonprofits can extend their reach beyond their website, social media presence, and physical location. They can be anywhere and share their mission with anyone.

Here are several trailblazing organizations leveraging this experiential technology.

Global Nomads Group. This organization is making an impact by connecting middle- and high-school students with their peers around the world, breaking down barriers separating youth from the global community.

Classical Music Reimagined. Faced with aging audiences and declining interest in classical music, the industry may have just found a way to leverage new engagement strategies through Classical Music Reimagined, demonstrating value to brand new audiences.

Guggenheim. Last year the Guggenheim took a leap and collaborated with Google to enhance the museum experience with virtual reality.  They speak of an enhanced experience not as a replacement but as something different, “a virtual experience of a museum will, necessarily, be fundamentally different from a visit to the physical building, and we trust that those differences can be strengths when in the hands of an engaged public and teachers.”

Think outside of the box – or put the box over your eyes – and ask, “could this technology take my organization to the next level?”

Humane Society Fights Another Battle for Wildlife

When we hear The Humane Society, we think of cute, sad puppies and kittens that need adoption. We also think of slaughtered horses, abused pets, and mutilated lab animals.

The Humane Society of the United States fights everyday for the rights of pets and wildlife, a battle they’ve fought in conjunction with the wildlife scientists of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for years.

In a hasty move last month, the U.S. House of Representatives overturned a rule designed by wildlife management professionals that prohibits and sanctions the killing of hibernating bears and young wolf pups in dens.

Following the vote, President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States Wayne Pacelle stated:

What the House did today should shock the conscience of every animal lover in America. If the Senate and President concur, we’ll see wolf families killed in their dens, bears chased down by planes or suffering for hours in barbaric steel-jawed traps or snares.

Backers of the measure claim it is a states’ rights issue.

Fighting legislation takes significant resources and The Humane Society for the United States will be in full-on fundraising mode to ensure that the organization serves its mission to protect animals.

The new political era has introduced a host of threats that directly impact nonprofits. Organizations will continue to run up against unexpected issues that require quick action and a reserve fund to tap. We in the nonprofit sector are going to see more call-to-action funds over the next few years. How will this shape the fundraising climate? Will donors heed the call?

In short: get ready for a shake-up in fundraising strategy compared to the past eight years.

Mar-a-Lago Red Cross Gala Raises Questions

(The gates of luxury: outside of Mar-a-Lago)

Does it matter where you host your charity gala?

The days following Trump’s January 27 executive order were chaos. Customs and Border Protection agents were abruptly tasked with barring Syrian refugees’ entry to the United States indefinitely, blocking all other refugees for 120 days, and preventing the entry of all citizens of seven mostly Muslim countries for 90 days. The plan was ill-defined and generated immense consternation among those enforcing it. It also created tremendous backlash, bringing protesters out to airports in support of refugees and in opposition to the targeting of a single religion, Islam.

A familiar charity – the Red Cross – was at JFK Airport in New York, providing basic provisions to those impacted by the order, just as they have done since 1881 for others dislocated by major events.

According to the American Red Cross’s 2015 990, the group received over $46 million in government grants. Not a significant amount when factoring in annual gross receipts over $3 billion. But is it a conflict of interest to accept funding from a government that creates duress for those the nonprofit is supposed to serve?

Consider this: The American Red Cross recently hosted its annual charity gala at Mar-a-Lago, a Trump property, which has become known as the Winter White House. The Trumps attended the gala and offered praise to the organization.

Optics matter. Nonprofits should be mindful of the potential repercussions of their actions. Fixing with one hand what the other breaks isn’t going to make any real progress.

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