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April 17, 2012

Nonprofit Board PlanningWhat Should Be Contained Within the Board Mission Statement?

The board’s mission should be a clear and well-documented definition of what is expected of the board as a whole, and the requirements for each member. If you don’t know how to create these expectations for your own board members, you should get help in doing so. This is one of the absolute KEYS to a successful nonprofit board. When board members don’t know what is specifically required of them, what they are accountable for, it becomes a difficult task to measure or evaluate their progress and success.

Of course a primary objective of any board which should be included in every board mission, is accomplishing the goal of providing the financial resources needed to fund the support of its constituent individuals, groups and/or communities it exists to serve. Thus the mission answers the question “What actions will the board take to guarantee that successful campaigns are organized and launched to secure capital, endowment, sponsorship, and underwriting funds. This provides a good topic to illustrate how a board mission statement is used to back the mission of the organization as a whole.


If the Organizational Mission Statement Includes The Verbiage:

“Empower people around the world with a $25 loan” (part of the mission of Kiva, a “microloan” leader)

The Board Mission Statement Could Then Include:

“With the Board of Directors as a whole ultimately responsible for achieving this mission through providing support of organizational marketing efforts and also providing personal outreach that ensures that lender capital is always available to fund customer loans”

What Questions Must Be Answered In The Board Mission Statement?

So the board mission describes WHAT the board exists to accomplish; it essentially asks the question, “What is the board’s reason for existence?” Unlike the organizational mission, it is meant to describe the means, not the ends, of the nonprofit’s board. It is the how, not the why.

And unlike the agency’s overall mission, it should be noted that the board’s mission statement is not designed or revised with direct input from all constituencies. The board needs to define their own mission. Your own statement should also not be arbitrarily compared to the board missions of other nonprofits either – favorably or unfavorably. Recognizing your own unique characteristics and impact on the individuals and groups you serve is vital, so this rule is true no matter how much the apparent similarities of your two organizations might be.

Just some of the questions that could be addressed or answered when creating the board mission statement are:

What are the established boundaries, or “bounds” of the service to be delivered by the organization – and how the board will accomplish their delivery?

Does the language used in your mission statement elevate effort to effect? Words such as try, seek, influence, or encourage suggest exertion that focuses on achieving the results noted in the organizational mission.

Because the measure of the value of a nonprofit’s service is often much harder to define than a commercial business, how will the successful delivery of these services and resources be evaluated?

Is your mission accurate - or does it seek to glorify your organization’s intentions to make yourself sound better, loftier, more extensive or “glamorous” than you truly are?

Is your board mission too broad or too narrow? Does it allow for growth and expansion, but also narrow enough to keep the board clearly and strongly focused? Does it try to be “all things to all people”, or on the other hand restrict the organization from meeting changing needs?

Does your board mission statement use VERBS? If so, is the mission statement really focused on what needs to be done to support goals, instead of the outcomes of the actions, like the organizational mission should do?

Related to Using Verbs, Does Your Board Mission Statement Use Nouns that Signify Activities – the “Means” – Instead of “The Ends”? Examples Include Advocacy, Education, Program, Service, and Others.

Is Your Board (and also Organizational) Mission Statement a Direct Embodiment of the Founder’s Own Vision and Ideas, Typically Based on Personal Experience or Passion? This is “Founders Syndrome” – Where All Others Largely Play a Passive Role, and not nearly as effective.

Does Your Board Mission Use Technical Language or Jargon That Are Meaningless to the Outside World?

Is Your Nonprofit a Federation or Another Type of Membership Organization? What is the Net Value that You Add?

Does Your Board Have Authority Over Other Boards? Does Your Board Mission Statement Focus on How You Will Accomplish What is Unique About Your Organization? How Will Your Board Ensure that You “Stand Above the Crowd”?

Crafting a board mission statement can be a formidable challenge for an organization, but with the right assistance it can be crafted in a way that answers all (or at the very least, most) of these questions. And of course not only will these points of guidance aid in the writing of a new mission statement, they can also be used to revision and rewrite an existing one just as easily.

Unless you have an experienced writer within your organization, you will most likely need an expert consultant to facilitate the basic mission development process with you. Engaging an experienced nonprofit consultant and writer who will fashion the document for you based on your input is of great value to your organization and your board. They can provide the “outside” opinion and perspective that can be critical when crafting both your organizational and board missions.

To succeed in today’s nonprofit “marketplace” - along with volunteers, audiences, donors, and staff - a nonprofit organization must be able to attract high quality board members. Creating an effective board mission statement that outlines responsibilities and expectations can go a long way towards proving the serious focus of the board and their mission.

Your board mission statement is most successful when it clearly and firmly guides the board in making effective decisions about the organization’s future. It motivates and challenges board members to achieve well-defined and shared goals. It is the board’s responsibility of leadership to see to it that the organization always operates within the confines of its mission.

Why Is The Board Mission Statement So Important?

The board mission statement should directly support the mission of the organization, allowing for an action plan to be put into place that is clear, achievable and that board members can be held accountable for. This is a key to every consultancy that I do personally; no session or meeting should end without a detailed action plan to be implemented, so that board members know what they are supposed to be doing. Once again, this ties the board members in unity and clarity – and can help eliminate the issue of simply “chasing money” and thus moving the agency into areas that fall outside its stated mission.

When done correctly this process is of great benefit to the overall success of the organization and will certainly have a strong impact on its long-term sustainability. We should note that this concept of documentation and accountability included here are also addressed throughout this entire series, especially so when we reach Board Essential #8.

With a well-conceived and crafted organizational and board mission statement, the first and most critical step in the process of building a successful nonprofit board has been achieved. But also as noted this is a process that never truly ends for the best nonprofit agencies, as their mission statements are periodically reviewed to ensure that they continue to remain true as guiding forces that can move the organization forward.

Next Up: Essential #2 – Selecting the Right CEO

Posted by Tiffany Applegate on April 17, 2012 at 9:16 AM
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March 27, 2012

Creating a Mission StatementCreating an Organizational Mission Statement

As we begin our framework of steps that you and your board can take to ensure the maximum success and level of benefits that you can provide to your constituents, we start with our first essential: Determine the Mission and Purpose of the Organization, and also of the Board of Directors.

Though it may seem remedial, in reality this is where many nonprofits are tripped up. As important as missions are, nonprofits frequently go off in ineffective directions by relying on mission statements that can be little more than slogans. Many are too lengthy and ambiguous. And to be useful, they must be accompanied by vision statements and lists of values, goals, principles and objectives – which unfortunately many organizations just haven’t developed.

The organizational "mission" for a nonprofit is analogous to "profits" for private sector companies. In the private sector, corporations achieve their goals by carefully designing business operations that are reflected in a budget and then regularly reporting on how actual profits compare to that budget. And if mission accomplishment is as important as profit attainment in this ultra-competitive economic environment, why do most nonprofits not spend equivalent time in mission creation and monitoring?

This is because many mission statements have not been carefully constructed, and thus they cannot be used for regular and critical analysis, as is the case with corporate revenues and profits. Furthermore, many nonprofits do not instill the discipline within their organizations necessary to use the mission on a systematic basis as a tool to make daily decisions and achieve goals. The complete opposite is true of the revenue and profit budgets of successful corporations.

The organizational mission should make a compelling case for the need the nonprofit fills, the manifestation which outlines the reason for its existence. It should also clearly state the outcomes that you wish to achieve. The mission must be short and memorable, and appropriate for a variety of organizational stakeholders including staff, volunteers, funding sources and served constituencies. It must also be guide the creation of the mission statement for the Board of Directors.

However you should not fall victim to assuming that brevity suggests simplicity, which can lead to the conclusion that the process required to create or to rewrite a mission statement a brief exercise. That is far from the truth. But most mission statements err on the side of being too lengthy, with primary points buried in rambling, padded paragraphs – which greatly weakens its power.

The complexity of your mission statement and the delicate balance between too brief and overly long means that outside guidance in helping to create a new mission or revising an existing one can be of vital assistance. The process of creating a mission statement, often as important as the final result, may take several months. However, though the process is deliberate and comprehensive, it can be done in a way which creates a mission statement that will last for many years. This once again is why an experienced expert who can facilitate its creation and guide you through the process can be critical. This individual can help you take into account the core values and the outlook for the organization, which is the mission that the board is committed to achieve.

Nonprofit Board Mission & StrategyCrafting Your Mission Statement

A mission statement must clearly describe the nonprofit's positioning and strategy. When we discuss the word “strategy," we are defining what makes the nonprofit unique in the marketplace. In the private sector a clear and effective strategy (i.e., "uniqueness") facilitates attraction of customers, and that results in a profit. In a nonprofit a clear and effective strategy facilitates attraction of funds and provides the ability to take smart action. An effective strategy provides competitive advantage.

A well-defined mission statement is used as a tool to decide between various courses of action, a statement which is understood by employees and the general public in the same way over time and from location to location. It allows an organization to operate with focus and discipline, providing consistency in decision making over both time and geography. Is should be simple and clear to understand, not subject to multiple interpretations.

The process of creating this effective mission statement is just as important as the end result. Why is this? Because the staff and the board will have embraced this definition of strategy, and the statement can be used to create the board mission statement discussed below. Over time it is the board that is the keeper of the mission statement and the board should challenge the organization frequently to ensure that the statement is being lived up to just as the board of a private-sector corporation will monitor profit.

A great example of a nonprofit that has successfully implemented a strong statement is the Nature Conservancy, which states their mission is "to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive." The organization has been highly successful over the years, thus their mission has remained unchanged for a long period of time. This is because their stated mission is simple – only 26 words - crystal clear and compelling.

For a nonprofit, making the right choices and actions are equivalent to making a profit for a commercial enterprise. As much time, resources and energy should be devoted to crafting your mission statement as that which is used to create a sales and profit budget. And your mission needs to be reviewed regularly on a set schedule, such as annually or even bi-annually to ensure that it is still accurate. Missions may changes over time, and the mission statement should be updated to reflect this.

For example, a local ballet company has a mission which states they are “dedicated to developing a ballet company, and to helping expand public awareness of, participation in, and appreciation of a broader range of the arts through dance.” While this may have been accurate upon inception – they no longer have any plans to develop a ballet company. Because the mission statement hasn’t been reviewed or revised in many years, this is the mission that must be used on all grant applications and all marketing. It creates a real problem when trying to communicate what the organization is all about. It’s confusing for staff, leadership and the general public, since this stated mission has nothing to do with their current status as an organization. Don’t allow your organization to fall victim to the problem of not periodically reviewing and revising your mission statement(s), and thus sharing information about itself that is unclear or perhaps downright puzzling to potential volunteers, donors and other community supporters.

Once you have created your organization’s mission statement, it’s time to create your board mission; as you will see, it is a different concept. Instead of what you are and want to be, it should be focused on actions – what your board will do to ensure that the organization meets its goals.

How the Board Mission Statement Differs From the Organizational Mission

If the nonprofit organization’s mission statement declares ‘why’ an organization exists, the board mission statement defines how the board will support the organizational mission. It is a foundation upon which a long-range strategic plan for the board is created; how the blueprint for carrying out the organization’s ‘business’ can be developed.

The long-range strategic plan, with its clearly stated and defensible programmatic initiatives and their respective costs, allows for the creation of the fund-raising plan from which specific fund-raising campaigns are organized and launched to secure annual, capital, endowment, sponsorship, and underwriting funds. An organization’s mission statement and board mission statement are at the CENTER of it all.

This first Essential is so critical because it then guides each of the others, without which a nonprofit can begin down a road which they don’t truly want to go. “Mission drift” can occur when clear boundaries are not established, which can lead to simply chasing money, and pursuing projects outside the original goals of the organization. Having well-defined and articulated mission statements gives the board and other leadership the permission to say “no” and refer inquiring constituencies outside of their scope to other resources, which can keep the nonprofit on track and not splinter its focus. And organizations with long histories can still benefit from taking the time to review, refine or rework their organizational and board missions and stated purpose to better align with how they exist in the present.

After the missions have been determined, it’s critical that all activities and priorities be centered on this mission and also vision (where the nonprofit is trying to go) of the agency. You should also develop a visual representation of how the organization should work (i.e. a logic model), and research case studies of similar (and successful, obviously) nonprofits across the country. However, remember once again that this relates to the overall functioning of the organization, not the board mission statement – which is unique onto you. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask. The investment you will make here at the beginning of the process can make a HUGE difference in the overall growth and financial sustainability of your organization, and the impact you will end up having on the individuals or groups that you support.

Our next article in the series will examine the board mission statement, and what it should (and should not) include.

Next Up:Essential #1, Part 2 – The Board Mission Statement

Posted by Tiffany Applegate on March 27, 2012 at 1:56 PM
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February 24, 2012

There are a number of pitfalls when beginning the graphic design process that a non-profit can avoid if they consider a few key issues.

1. Know Who You Are (Or Want To Be) Before You Begin To Design

It is absolutely critical to address this component before starting any design process. You need to truly understand your marketing message and voice internally before you attempt to communicate externally.

A really big mistake that non-profits and many businesses as well can make is to allow their new logo, theme or look to define who they are as an organization. They jump directly into the excitement of the design process without much consideration for how they would like to integrate the overall character of their non-profit with their new logo, look or feel, and the message it will truly convey.

Your design work should always reflect who you already are as an organization, never the other way around. A graphical style that works well for a large, multi-national non-profit may not work at all for a local grassroots organization. Even the highest quality, most impactful graphic design work should always come second to the message and voice of your organization.

you cutting edge. And a more “homey, down-to-earth” design style won’t transform your non-profit into that type of organization, either. If your design work doesn’t support your organizational beliefs, you’re sending mixed messages that can confuse the audience you are trying to draw in. You’re wasting time and resources (read: money) creating a look that doesn’t really fit your organization.

A great example of this is the recent trend in creating Web 2.0-style designs and websites, with 3D-looking logos, featuring “bubbly” graphics, gradients, and drop shadows. (Think of Twitter, Skype, PayPal, Flickr, Facebook) This style may work well for a Web 2.0 website or tech company, but may not be effective for other kinds of brands including your non-profit.

Remember that having great technology and utilizing new, sophisticated communication platforms - which you should absolutely be doing in 2012 - is very different than how your graphic design defines your organization. You can convey your advanced technology and communication channels by focusing on them within your marketing message, but your graphic design work itself should represent what you are (or want to be) and your values as an organization. Realize that a “cutting edge” logo, website or overall marketing theme won’t actually

2. Stop Using Words Like “Cutting Edge” To Provide Better Artistic Direction

Now that we’ve told you not to attempt to be “cutting edge” in your design work if it doesn’t fit your organizational philosophy, we’re going to tell you to stop using the concept in the first place.

There is no definition of “cutting edge” to begin with, as it is completely subject to the person who is saying it. And this provides no real direction to your graphic designer, the most critical component of a successful design project. The more information you can give your designer upfront the better. When a designer doesn’t have any clear artistic direction or preferences in hand when he or she begins the process, they must simply begin with a shot in the dark.

This obviously can lengthen the overall design process, increasing the resources and time spent on the project. It can also get you started down a path that isn’t the best fit for your organization, but that you continue on simply due to momentum. This means you need to take the time to consider the personality of your organization and what specific elements of your current design that you’d like to change, or what you’d like to see in a new one, before the creative process begins.

Instead of using generalized words and phrases like cutting edge in your artistic direction, spend some time researching what you like and don’t like about your current design, or what you’d like in a new one, and why. Be prepared to explain in detail what feelings or thoughts you are really trying to convey to your target audience(s) and what responses you are trying to illicit in them with your logo, website and overall design.

3. Understand Your Logo

Your logo is the image that will define your organization more than any other. Remember that the goal is recognition. When working with your designer to create a new logo, the key to making a popular and recognizable logo is to combine all of the elements listed here: size, style, color, typography, and originality.

Realize first and foremost that the simpler the logo, the more recognizable it will be. Start with the most complicated version of your initial design or brainstorming ideas, and distill from there. You and your designer shouldn’t get carried away with Adobe Illustrator, Freehand, Photoshop or any other graphic design programs, filters and effects. Of course, experimenting with these to see if they can enhance the logo is fine, but keep reminding yourself that simplicity is key.

A logo has to look good and be legible at all sizes. A logo is not effective if it loses too much definition when scaled down for letterheads, envelopes, and small promotional items. The logo also has to look good when used for larger formats, such as posters, billboards, and electronic formats such as TV and the Web. The most reliable way to determine if a logo works at all sizes is to actually test it yourself and see if it looks legible and clear in all potential formats.

Choosing the right font type and size for your logo is much more difficult than many beginner designers realize. If your logo design includes text, either as part of the logo or in the tagline, you will need to spend time sorting through various font types and testing them in your design before making a final decision. Try both serif fonts and sans-serif fonts as well as script, italics, bold, and custom fonts.

You should avoid the most commonly used fonts, such as Comic Sans, or run the risk of being seen as amateurish. You should also strongly consider a custom-created font for your design. The more original the font, the more it will distinguish the brand. Examples of successful logos that have a custom font are Yahoo!, Twitter, and Coca Cola. Make sure the font is legible when scaled down, especially with script fonts. One font in your logo is ideal, and avoid more than two. Once created, you should not use your logo fonts as headlines or text. Doing so will take away from the impact and stand-alone nature of your logo.

Color theory is complex, and something that your designer will probably have a more nuanced understanding of than you do, but a good rule of thumb is to use colors that are near to each other on the color wheel in your logo. In addition to color, your logo should look good in black and white and grayscale as well. As we will discuss in the next tip, adhering to your brand standards at all times, including the use of your precise Pantone/CMYK/RGB color designations in your logo, is very important.

There are lots of other things that your designer must keep in mind when crafting your logo. One example of this is the fact that logos aren’t always seen “head-on” in real world situations, like on the side of a bus or a billboard that you drive by. So your logo should be viewed from all angles to ensure that it’s recognizable from any direction. Work with your designer to understand each of these elements and how they will affect the creation and future use of your logo and overall design.

4. Use Brand Standards

Once you’ve created a new logo and/or design, it is of great importance to keep it consistent at all times. Repetition is your best friend. Don’t forget that your marketing is often the only thing that represents your brand to certain audiences. Using a consistent image projects the utmost professionalism and polished branding and messaging at all times.

Having the same colors, themes and designs (along with taglines and marketing messages) in addition to your logo can build your brand by conveying identity and unity. This generates greater levels of awareness within your target markets, and builds loyalty to your non-profit brand from external supporters and throughout your own organization.

Your brand is what consumers and supporters “connect to”, and is of increasing importance as you grow as an organization. Especially when there are multiple individuals and/or designers responsible for creating marketing collateral, having a consistent brand is one way to avoid the mistakes that some non-profits (and many other companies and organizations) commit, such as:

Inappropriate or indiscriminate use of their logo, taglines, use of photos and design elements

Different logos, aspect ratios, taglines, colors and layouts on promotional materials

Different handling of the brand in general, causing confusion among supporters or the possibility of being perceived as unprofessional or inexperienced

Discrepancies in brand elements, without cohesion or harmony throughout the organization, which lead to inconsistent messages and lost opportunities

The best way to ensure your brand is consistent is by creating and using a branding style guide or standards manual. If you need help in crafting your own brand standards rules, consult an expert. The style guide should be shared with anyone who is designing materials for your organization.

The style guide should include primary (and secondary, if appropriate) logo guidelines, the proper use of trademarks, photo image policies, organizational fonts, the color palette, aspect ratios and sizing, rules for printed collateral such as letterhead, business cards and signage, and other important details related to the overall look and feel of your organization.

An added benefit is that your brand standards manual can contain other critical items such as use of taglines, media releases for supporters and event participants, legal requirements necessary to ensure compliance, sponsorship and vendor guidelines, general print and online marketing guidelines and tips, and much more.

5. Don’t RUSH The Project If It Isn’t Really A Rush

Many creative firms and artists will provide discounted rates and special deals to non-profit organizations. Unfortunately, too often these same firms and artists will work furiously to meet deadlines set by the client only to have the client not respond or provide feedback and approvals in a timely fashion, letting these deadlines pass by.

This can create frustrations or additional stress upon the designer needlessly. Also, having a designer that must tack on “rush fees” so that they can fast-track a project – only to see a deadline missed because of the client – negates the discounted rate that was offered in the first place.

You should treat your designers as well as you would any other donor. As someone who comes to know and believe in your cause intimately, they could potentially become a large donor of either financial resources or in-kind services. Truly invest in this relationship. It will certainly pay off as you work in partnership to create new, impactful design work and marketing pieces that will increase the future success of your organization.

Please contact us via email at: tiffany@applegateconsultinginc.com, call (417) 894-4640, or take just a second to fill out our very quick and easy Contact Form for information on enhancing your brand and image.



Posted by Tiffany Applegate on February 24, 2012 at 10:33 AM
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Categories: Marketing
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February 20, 2012

Nonprofit Board LeadershipFor every nonprofit organization, existing or new, transforming an intangible idea into a concrete asset is a challenging task. This is especially true when facing today’s increasingly competitive economic landscape.

Quick reflexes are required of your leadership and staff now more than ever, to give supporters the opportunity to engage with your nonprofit in relation to events happening in the world around them, from natural and man-made disasters to economic conditions to nationwide calls to service. Organizations must engage and rally new audiences while re-invigorating existing ambassadors. The most flexible and responsive organizations will thrive in this environment.

Thriving requires that organizations be acutely aware of the changing dynamics of community needs and where their supporters get their information. Trends like digital fundraising, micro-philanthropy and social media have emerged quickly, creating opportunities, as well as challenges for nonprofits that have in the past operated using older, more traditional models.

These new modes of communication also mean that the organization’s reputation and public standing are always on the line, and can quickly change based on actions or stances taken by the board on current issues (even perceived ones), both for the positive and for the negative. The importance of considering public responses, soliciting feedback and constantly interacting with stakeholders in this environment cannot be overstated. A glaring example of this lightning-fast shift in social opinion can be found in the recent Susan G. Komen foundation’s disaster involving Planned Parenthood, a case study on mishandling public relations by a non-profit.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure is one of the largest charitable organizations in the nation, with the various Komen Race for the Cure events attracting 1.6 million participants in 2011. The pink ribbons (and many other items in the signature pink) of Komen are now a well-known symbol of support for the fight against breast cancer. Komen's more than 140 races worldwide every year help drive nearly $420 million in donations annually, making Komen a powerhouse among private breast cancer charities.

On January 31, 2012 the Susan G. Komen foundation announced a decision to cut all funding of Planned Parenthood. The change in policy was led by the newly appointed VP of public policy at Komen, Karen Handel, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate who had voiced her strong personal opposition to the mission of Planned Parenthood during her election campaign. This cutting of ties with Planned Parenthood created an instant and passionate uproar, thrusting Komen into the middle of the nation's polarizing debate on abortion.

The new policy stance quickly put the Komen foundation into a no-win situation. Intense outcry from liberal groups regarding the policy change was immediate, igniting a firestorm of criticism that spread like wildfire in traditional and online news sources and through social media, with journalists feeding the flames. The most popular hashtags on Twitter, where hundreds of thousands of tweets were made relating to the story, included #RaceToStopChoice, #stopthinkingpink, #corruptcharity and #boycottKomen.

Story after story cast the defunding as the act of a “bully” and a “battle between women’s groups.” Members of Congress and Komen affiliates accused the group's board of directors of bending to pressure from anti-abortion activists. Anti-Komen sentiment and outright contempt, led by influential liberal commentators, bloggers and online news media, reached fever pitch by the time the Komen board issued a statement reversing its course on the policy three days later. Their statement said “we apologize to the American public for our recent decisions.” This policy re-reversal then encountered harsh resistance and vitriol from many Catholic leaders and a host of other conservative groups which supported the original withdrawal of support to Planned Parenthood.

Handel resigned on February 7, stating "I am deeply disappointed by the gross mischaracterizations of the strategy, its rationale, and my involvement in it." Komen founder Nancy Brinker added that she “made some mistakes” in the case and “mishandled” the controversy.

For many Race for the Cure participants the event is deeply personal and far removed from abortion politics. It’s only about their memories of loved ones lost, their own battles with the disease, and raising money to find a cure and provide health care services in their communities. The public relations debacle however offended Komen supporters on both sides of the abortion issue, each claiming that the organization “caved in” to pressure from the other side. Many previously unwavering Susan G. Komen supporters have stated they will now reconsider their future involvement with the organization due to the public relations disaster.

The policy had been fully vetted by the Komen board of directors before it was announced, and no objections were raised by any members. Not considering what the possible reactions to their new Planned Parenthood policy might be was certainly a major failure by the Komen board to judge the effects of its own actions. The end results of this failure are serious concerns about what the future attendance and enthusiasm of past event participants and donors will be in wake of this very public controversy.

Illustrating this case study has nothing to do with our own personal stance on abortion or any other women’s health issue. The point being made is that the public opinions and support of your organization can change instantaneously in this on-demand and socially-networked world. Though the reaction to your board’s decisions and policies may not be as enflamed as those experienced by Susan G. Komen, you must work to understand as well as you can beforehand, how your actions will be perceived by the general public and your supporters.

Beyond these fundamental changes in how non-profits are perceived, how public opinions are formed, and the flexibility required to respond to this environment, today’s board of directors faces a wide range of other organizational goals and challenges. It’s critical that an organization have a very clear vision of who they are and what they represent; what organizational culture they look to create; how they will operate; what their goals are and how they will evaluate their progress; and how their board should perform, among many other components. Working to define each of these components and addressing each of them is vital to the successful board.

The Essentials Of Any Board

So what are the most essential things that a board must identify and act upon to ensure their highest level of success? What must be considered to put a non-profit in the best possible position to individuals, groups, communities and causes that it exists to serve?

There are ten basic responsibilities or steps that a board must address to succeed. For each step in the process, we will take the time to examine the duties of the board, their accountability in relation to each topic, and what actions a board of directors can take to effectively address them.

Addressing each of these topics properly is vital to developing a sustainable organization and a strong brand identity – one which effectively tells your story, gains the attention of donors, volunteers and partners, and fosters critical relationships. We should also note that although these Board Essentials are designed with non-profits in mind, many of the concepts and applications are applicable to all types of organizations and companies that have or are building a board of directors. To get started, let’s review each of the essentials to an effective board:


  1. Determine the Mission and Purpose of the Organization
  2. Select the Chief Executive Officer
  3. Support and Evaluate the Chief Executive Officer
  4. Ensure Effective Planning
  5. Monitor and Strengthen Programs and Services
  6. Ensure Adequate Financial Resources for the Organization
  7. Protect Assets and Provide Proper Financial Oversight
  8. Build a Competent Board
  9. Ensure Legal and Ethical Integrity
  10. Enhance the Organization’s Public Standing

Nonprofit Mission and VisionOur first Board Essential may seem the most obvious of all, especially for well-established nonprofits. However it’s easy to see why this is the most crucial component to begin this list, and how it guides all decisions that will come after. Even for organizations with long histories, regularly taking the time to review, refine or rework their mission and purpose to better align with how they exist in the present can be of great benefit.

The leading nonprofits continuously express this mission, vision and the values that stand behind them through all decisions and actions of the board, staff and volunteers who represent the organization.

Another Essential of building an effective board is defining and documenting the roles and requirements of board members. This process can be of great benefit to the overall success of the organization and can definitely have an impact on the long-term sustainability of the organization. We should note that this concept of documentation and accountability will be addressed throughout this entire series, especially so when we reach Board Essential #8.

We look forward to providing you with a framework of steps that you and your board can take to ensure the maximum success and level of benefits that you provide to the individuals, groups, causes and communities which you support.

Up Next:Essential #1 – Determine the Mission and Purpose of the Organization

*Richard T. Ingram, Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards, Second Edition (BoardSource 2009)

Posted by Tiffany Applegate on February 20, 2012 at 1:44 PM
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January 27, 2012

Nonprofit Marketing Lessons

How often have you sworn you’d never eat fast food again only to be tempted after seeing an ad for the latest burger, burrito, or frozen treat? Most of us know that the food is never quite as good as it looks on the commercial, billboard, or magazine yet we can’t seem to help ourselves. So how do they make the food seem so irresistible? They do it through marketing.

McDonald’s has long been an icon of marketing success. In fact, a 2010 study by Interbrand ranked them the #6 most recognized brand in the world (and the first restaurant on the list). They didn’t get to this position overnight, but they did learn some lessons along the way.

Below are some strategies out of the McDonald’s marketing playbook. Let’s see how we can apply their approach to nonprofit organizations.

  1. Take a franchise model. McDonald’s provides training and monitoring to each franchisee to ensure that all adhere to the value propositions offered to the customer. 

    For nonprofits: You don’t have to have a franchise to apply this principle. Part of McDonald’s success is based on the fact that every franchise owner and employee is trained on the mission (to be the customers’ favorite place and way to eat) and values of the organization. They know what they are providing and how they are serving the customer. Everyone in a nonprofit organization should be trained in the same way. Leadership and staff (paid and volunteers) should all be trained and equipped to share the mission and message of the organization. Are your board and staff members able to clearly communicate what you are doing and the impact you are making? Take a quick survey and find out. If not, perhaps it’s time to train those involved with your organization on sharing your message and mission.

  2. Provide product consistency. McDonald’s expects all franchisees to create a similar customer experience (service, products, facilities, etc.) regardless of the location, time of day, or any other outside factor. 

    For nonprofits: You can walk into any McDonald’s in the United States and know what you will get. Whether you’re dining in Washington or Florida you will find the same menu, food quality, and service (or pretty close) at every location. You will also see the same Golden Arches and red and yellow colors whether you are in the United States, Europe, Africa, or Asia. Can your clients, donors, and volunteers say the same about your organization? Take a few moments and do a quick audit on your brand. Make sure your image (colors, logo, overall design) is consistent everywhere (website, social media, letterhead, direct mail, email). Also, ask for feedback from clients, donors, and volunteers on their experiences. Do they know what to expect when interacting with your organization? Are they satisfied? And do the experiences vary based upon who they talk with or which programs they are accessing? If so, begin working towards consistency. Set expectations, provide training, and begin providing the product consistency that has allowed McDonald’s to attract and keep customers coming back for more. 

  3. Act like a retailer and think like a brand. McDonald’s touts that its marketing efforts focus on delivering sales for the immediate present, but also protect its long term brand reputation.

    For nonprofits: Since McDonald’s was founded in the 1940s, it has grown exponentially. They have had numerous marketing campaigns and made many changes over the years. However, they’ve always fiercely protected their brand and kept their mission central to everything they’ve done. Nonprofits should take the same approach. When developing marketing and fundraising plans you should focus on strategies that will not only provide immediate results, but also enhance the long-term sustainability of the organization. Never do something that will sacrifice your brand, mission, or message - regardless of the immediate pay-off. 

  4. Know your customers. McDonald’s spends millions of dollars each year on market research, studying customer segments, perceptions, and expectations. 

    For nonprofits: I can’t think of a single nonprofit organization that has a marketing budget even close to that of McDonald’s. And for many, the term ‘market research’ automatically generates feelings of anxiety. However, you don’t need millions of dollars to get to know your ‘customers’. Spend time with your clients, donors, funders, volunteers, and other advocates on a regular basis. Find out how they view you and what they expect from you. Listening to your clients and responding to their desires will only strengthen your organization over time.

  5. Understand product life cycles. McDonald’s regularly evaluates its current products and launches new products based upon customer demand.

    For nonprofits: Recently, McDonald’s added new, healthier items to its menu - including salad selections, smoothies, and apples wedges. Over the years, they’ve also eliminated some products that didn’t go as well as expected (The Hula Burger, McPizza, Arch Deluxe, McLean Deluxe). These decisions were the result of customer wants and needs. Nonprofits must take the same approach and regularly evaluate their programs and activities. Some programs start by meeting identified community needs, but the need and support diminish over time. If this is the case, perhaps it’s time to phase out the program and see if there are new services that should be added. 

  6. Know your competitors. McDonald’s is aware of it’s competitors, the products offered by each, and the unique value offered by its organization.

    For nonprofits: Some nonprofits don’t like to think in terms of ‘competitors’. However, the reality is you are always competing with other organizations for dollars, hearts, clients, and support. Look around your community and see what other organizations exist. Determine if there is anyone else providing the same or similar services and then consider how you can partner or support their efforts. Determine what makes you different than other organizations. Are you meeting a need that no one else in the community is meeting? Knowing your competition, understanding how you’re different, and communicating this effectively helps differentiate yourself in the eyes of potential supporters.

McDonald’s has undeniably built one of the strongest brands (and organizations) in the world. Though they are a for-profit organization, their experiences and successes can provide some good insights and ideas for nonprofit organizations. Consider how applying these approaches can enhance the impact of your marketing today.

Posted by Tiffany Applegate on January 27, 2012 at 12:12 PM
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Categories: Marketing
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January 20, 2012

Marketing - Branding Style-GuideCreating a strong brand is critical to the success and sustainability of all organizations. However, there is often a misunderstanding about what branding really is and how to be successful. Therefore, this month, we are going to provide some tips for building and strengthening your organization's brand.

Everything you do or don't do contributes to your organization's brand. Every interaction (phone calls, appearances, meetings) and every point of contact (brochures, website, mailings) impacts how your organization is viewed by those in your community. The perception (valid or not) of these individuals and the community at-large will greatly impact the long-term sustainability of your organization.

Developing an effective, powerful brand will allow your organization to:

  • Efficiently and effectively communicate your organization’s mission and values.
  • Communicate what you do, in a unique way, and convey the notion that no one could do it better or smarter.
  • Build and maintain trust within the community.
  • Greatly increase the number of board members, staff, clients, funders, etc. for your organization.
  • Stimulate word of mouth (WOM) promotional activity.

You can quickly ascertain the general value of your brand by asking a few key questions:

  1. Are those in your community (clients, donors, funders, volunteers, etc) aware of your organization?
  2. How highly do they esteem your organization and the services you provide?
  3. Is your mission and work relevant to the community?
  4. Do they share your passion?
  5. What makes you special or unique from other nonprofits and service organizations?
  6. Is your organization easily confused or mistaken for another similar organization?

The answers to these questions can help you determine whether or not your organization is suffering from a branding crisis. If you are in the middle of a crisis (or to prevent one from occurring) developing Branding and Design Guidelines is a first and very important step to differentiating your organization from other nonprofits. These Guidelines will provide a clear and consistent framework for communicating with a variety of audiences in the community. Without Guidelines and consistency in design, your organization is likely to confuse those in the community. People don’t know what to expect from one experience to another. This impacts the level of trust and engagement from community members.

Think of your own experiences. Have you ever met anyone that presented themselves differently every time you interacted with them? Sometimes they were extremely social and outgoing and at other times they were moody and wouldn’t speak to you – a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type personality. You may be weary of too much interaction and keep a little distance in the friendship. This is the same type of impact your organization makes on a community when you continuously repackage your brand and present yourself differently from one campaign/interaction to another.

Key Elements of Branding and Design Guidelines

1. Develop a Resource Database: Make a repository of acceptable images and fonts for your organization. This should be accessible to all those who are developing marketing/branding materials or communicating with various audiences. This resource database should also include logos and templates (Word, PowerPoint, Fax, etc).

2. Develop Logo Guidelines: Many organizations have several acceptable versions of their logo (vertical, horizontal, with tagline and without). This is a good idea but there should be documented guidelines on when to use each version. There should also be documentation on approved colors and sizes.

3. Determine Page Architecture: Set guidelines for how your ads, newsletters, postcards, brochures, flyers, etc. should be designed and what should be included in each. For example, one nonprofit required that all design materials had to be split in thirds –one-third for text and two-thirds for an image or vice-versa. This provided programs some creativity in their presentation but kept the overall look for the organization consistent.

4. Set Imagery Policies: Develop policies on the types of images that will be used in all design. This may include guidelines such as – Images must have a clean look and set on a white background; Images must be cropped so that only a portion of the complete image is showing. Provide examples of acceptable images in the documentation.

5. Manage Typefaces: Using consistent typefaces (fonts) is critical to branding your organization. Select the fonts that are acceptable for your organization and list them in your guidelines. Also include how each font should be used. For example: NimbusSans will be used for all body text.

6. Choose a Color Palette: Select a color palette (that matches your logo) that can be used when creating all materials. This color palette should be broad enough to allow for creativity, but should be concise enough so that it is easily recognizable. Consider the meanings of colors while selecting your palette. (Read more on the meaning of color.)

7. Direct Copy Writing: Develop a list of words or themes to be woven into all presentations of your organization. For example, words can include things like ‘impact’, ‘build’, ‘go’, ‘live’. This framework will provide a thematic element that makes it easier to write copy for a variety of materials. The words and themes may change slightly for each program or audience.

Though this is not a complete list of the elements to include in Branding and Design Guidelines, spending the time to develop these standards will increase your consistency and impact the reputation of your organization. Please contact us if you would like help developing your guidelines and increasing your impact.

Posted by Tiffany Applegate on January 20, 2012 at 12:34 PM
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January 18, 2012

Nonprofit Board AssessmentBill Weir, ABC’s 44-year old News Anchor, just found out he may not see his 50th birthday. Though Weir believed he was in good health, he had a full body CT Scan while working on a story about the doctor who treated Lance Armstrong and Steve Jobs. After the scan, his doctor told him, “Boy, I’m glad we caught this. You have heart disease and probably within the next five years you would have gone for a jog and dropped dead.”

This news came as a shock to Weir. As it turns out, even though he was exercising regularly, there were other things in his life that put him at risk. The full-body CT Scan exposed these risks, allowing Weir to make the necessary changes to live a longer, fuller life.

Some nonprofit boards are in the same position as Weir. The members believe the board is strong and healthy when in fact there are issues that will ultimately impact the “life” and effectiveness of the organization. Self-assessments help boards identify these issues so they can take the necessary steps moving forward.

The Maine Association of Nonprofits has summed up the importance of board assessments well:

“A strong, vibrant board of directors is a clear indicator of a healthy organization. Yet even the best organizations need a periodic check-up to ensure that they cannot just survive but will really thrive in today’s environment. To check your board’s vital signs, or to put in place practices and strategies for a healthy and energized board, the best place to start is with a board self-assessment.”

Self-assessments impact the health of the organization in a variety of ways; however, we are going to focus on 3 Key Benefits Stemming from Board Self-Assessment:

1. Reinforces Expectations
During a coaching session one of my clients expressed frustration with her board. She shared, “I don’t know what’s wrong with our board. They aren’t doing anything they are supposed to be doing. I need a working and fundraising board, but no one seems to be willing.”

Upon further discussion I learned that though expectations were being communicated to board members, there was no assessment process in place to evaluate board member performance. The goals were being set, but there was no accountability measure in place to make sure they were being achieved. As a result, the expectations were perceived as suggestions rather than requirements. Once the assessment process was implemented, board members understood the importance of meeting and even exceeding expectations.

2. Identifies Challenges
Like Weir’s CT Scan, board assessments can help identify areas of weakness. While I believe in taking an asset-based approach to building the health of your organization, I am also an advocate for identifying opportunities for growth and working to overcome any challenges these opportunities provide. Because of the CT Scan, Weir has been able to make changes to his lifestyle (eating, less sitting through the day, etc) that have the potential to make a great impact on his overall health and lifespan. Assessments can provide the same opportunity for nonprofit organizations.

3. Encourages Discussion
Finally, board assessments provide the opportunity to engage board members in a discussion around expectations and how meeting these expectations will ultimately impact mission fulfillment. During the assessment process, take time to focus on how the board furthers the mission and vision of the organization. Discuss why board service is important and the difference it makes on behalf of your clients, communities, or cause. This conversation can serve to excite and inspire your members on behalf of the organization.

Board assessments are an extremely valuable tool in managing the health of your organization. If you don’t current have a process for assessing the performance of your board, consider making this a priority in 2012.


BoardSource recommends that the board assess its own performance every two years.

Council of Nonprofits Sample Member Self Evaluation

Northland Foundation Board Assessment Survey

Community Resource Exchange Board Assessment Questionnaire

Posted by Tiffany Applegate on January 18, 2012 at 2:13 PM
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Categories: Board Governance
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