Monday, April 14, 2014

The Grant Writing Process – Are You Prepared?

By Jan Allen
CNM Consultant

For many nonprofits, grants are the life-line of their fund development plans. That’s why it is critical that Development Directors, Executive Directors and Board members are all on the same page with the “asks” and expectations.

 In order to do this, it is important to ask yourself the following questions:

1) Are our own “ducks in a row?”
  • Review your case statement – and if you don’t have one, develop one. It is your organization’s personal and compelling rationale for the community needs you are addressing and the unique approach you will utilize to impact real change.
  • Be articulate with how your organization fills a “niche” in the community that is unduplicated by other service providers – or clearly define the fact that your programs are more easily implemented and more comprehensive than others that are available.
  • Be specific about how you will measure progress and evaluate your success. Funders are looking for tangible, long-term impact.
2) Do your priorities truly mirror the funder’s?
  • Don’t slack in your research! When cash flow is tight, it’s easy to just “scattershoot” and hope that something hits the mark. But mission creep only makes it more difficult in the long run when you have to measure and report outcomes that only vaguely resemble the tenets of your mission.
  • Be sure that you know the funder’s deadlines and reporting schedule. It should match your capacity and ability to meet and support their priorities.
  • Seek out possible organizational relationships or associations with the funder’s Board of Directors or other decision makers.  Often, this step can identify whether there is true alignment between you and can help to create a more valuable and intentional collaboration.

The extra time and effort you take to coordinate your grants process between Board and staff can pay off, not only in increased funding, but also in a more effective allocation of the human resources required to raise those funds. 

There are also many great resources available to help you find grants. One resource that can be very helpful is
Online Directory of Grantmakers. This is one of the many perks of CNM membership. Geared specifically toward the North Texas region, you will find an overview of grantmaker activity in Collin, Dallas, Denton, Hood, Johnson, Parker Tarrant and Wise counties. This great resource can be accessed from your office or home computer any time and at your convenience! For more information about the Online Directory, contact Linda McMillan at or click here to visit our website. 

Contact Jan Allen at 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Making Teams Work – What Is the Secret Ingredient?

By Susan Frear
CNM Director of Education

It is rare for an organization not to encourage or require a great deal of team collaboration in order to achieve its annual goals. Teamwork or collaboration is even more essential in the nonprofit sector as we strive to meet mission specific goals in partnership with coworkers, contributors, volunteers, partners and funders. But despite our best efforts, team experiences are not always positive ones. Why might that be the case? And what can we do to make teamwork within our organizations not only a more positive experience for all involved, but also more effective? As nonprofits, we literally are dependent on the effectiveness of our individual and collective efforts to maintain sustainability of our organizations and to move the needle on the areas of concern.

With so much on the line, you would think that teams are an effective solution to dealing with organizational issues. However, in a recent article, Eunice Parisi-Carew of the The Ken Blanchard Company states that about 60% of all team efforts fail to achieve their goals ( The good news is that steps can be taken to help reduce this failure rate.

One of ways that Parisi-Carew cites to help improve team performance is to deal with individual differences. If we can understand why individuals behave the way that they do while on teams, we can perhaps be more understanding of their perspectives while we simultaneously encourage them to understand ours. What are required are not only a strong self-awareness, but also an awareness and appreciation for the uniqueness of others.

A popular way to appreciate individual differences is to do team building exercises with the support of assessments that gauge personalities and styles. But, an even better way to appreciate individual differences is to study and understand why others behave differently.  Our behavioral norms are what we become “famous” for in the workplace. You know the “types” – the coworker that is always finishes their assignments early, the volunteer who seems to know every client and employee, the board member who can always be counted on to give generously and to encourage others to do so too. While we all have different personalities, what we actually “do” in the workplace is what gets noticed and assessed by those that come in contact with us every day.

When we understand the behavioral patterns that we all exhibit, we can better appreciate each other’s unique capabilities and better align everyone to the accomplishment of our missions by putting people in roles where they get to do things that they like to do. For example, if you have an employee that likes to work with people, find team roles that allow them more opportunities to express this behavior. If they like to focus on tasks, there is a need for that too. Effective teams demonstrate any number of preferred behaviors. The difference between an effective and an ineffective team though is that the individuals are “matched” with the types of work and environments they prefer. The more that we can create environments where individuals feel that their unique abilities and preferences are not only needed, but respected, the better we will be at making a difference in our communities.

The Center for Nonprofit Management is pleased to offer the nonprofit sector access to a behavioral assessment tool that offers insight into individual differences and helps to address team effectiveness. Shadowmatch is a reliable and valid instrument that has been used to help organizations improve team performance, hire candidates that fit the role and the organizational culture, and to help develop individual performance improvement plans for individuals that desire to hone their skills to become even more effective team members. For more information on how to use Shadowmatch in your agency, contact

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Superhero’s Guide to Environmental Assessment

By Rachel Leventon, MPA, CVA
CNM Consultant

Almost every morning in my household there are superheroes of one form or other solving urgent problems of varying importance while my 4 year old eats his breakfast.  The heroes range from scuba-diving submarine captain polar bears to green-caped super-readers in storybook land, but they all have one thing in common (besides being animated) – they use data-driven decision making. 

Don’t get me wrong, there are no caped crusaders teaching my son how to administer surveys or complete intricate data analysis.  The brilliance of the formula used almost universally in children’s programming is that it encourages children to stop, look, and listen to their environment before jumping into action.  These characters are laying the groundwork for children to think strategically about their problems and gather and use knowledge about their situation to decide how to proceed.

As nonprofits, we can learn a lot from Bob, Manny, and Diego as we make decisions and plan for our organizations.  By stopping, looking, and listening to our environment – our stakeholders, government and institutional influences, our partners, others in our mission area locally and nationally – we can build our plans on a solid understanding of the environment in which our decisions are being made.  This process is called Environmental Assessment.

Environmental Assessment has many components, and not all of these are necessary for every organization.  The amount of time and resources put into your assessment should correlate with the weight of the decision being made or the depth of the plan being created.  Many assessment components can be administered by a knowledgeable individual within your organization, while some benefit from third party administration. Some possibilities to consider in an Environmental Assessment include:
  • Organizational Assessment to determine how well you are applying best practices and how well internal operations are functioning.
  • SWOT Analysis by Board and Key Staff to identify the strategic Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats facing your organization.
  • Member Surveys and/or Focus Groups to determine the satisfaction, needs or expectations of your members.
  • Client Surveys and/or Focus Groups to determine the satisfaction of your clients, evaluate client outcomes, or determine client needs and expectations.
  • Employee and/or Volunteer Survey to determine satisfaction and to provide employees and volunteers opportunities to give praise, voice concerns or offer suggestions about areas of strategic interest.
  • Policy Analysis of local, state, and federal legislation, rules and initiatives that could positively or negatively impact program demand, content or funding.
  • Market Analysis of others offering similar services (or different services to the same clients) locally or nationally to see whether your services overlap, supplement, or parallel those of other organizations to determine opportunities for collaboration, identify growth areas, or determine marketability.
  • Feasibility Analysis to determine the possibility of success prior to starting a new program or initiative.
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis to determine if the benefits of a new or existing program or initiative justify its expenses.
  • Key stakeholder interviews to solicit feedback on potential changes or decisions.
  • Community Needs Assessment to find out what the community needs and how the organization might best meet those needs.

An Environmental Assessment may be completed for a specific program or for the whole organization depending on the type of decision or plan it will inform.  The types of assessment used are driven by a central question – “Would anyone enroll if we offered training at 9am instead of 4pm?”  This is followed by additional questions – “What is different about 9am vs. 4pm for our clients?” “What else is going on at 9am that we might compete with?” “Would 9am appeal to a different set of clients, and if so who?” “How would 9am classes impact our staffing? Our facility?” etc.  Once the questions are asked, the assessment tools above are used to gather the data to answer those questions.  The information collected is then analyzed for results to inform decision-making and planning.

Last week a panda bear special agent taught my son another lesson nonprofits should remember about environmental assessment.  In exploring the jungle all around him while trying to achieve his mission, the agent neglected to focus on his specific purpose and wandered off the path.  So too can we as nonprofits, in an effort to gather all possible information, we can make our environmental assessments too broad.  Targeted assessments conserve resources, provide more usable information, and preserve opportunities for future assessments by limiting demands on clients, staff, members, or the board.   A straight-forward question can have a straight-forward answer when asked the right way.

The final lesson nonprofits can learn from these cartoons is the part that makes them so real and so much fun for kids.  These heroes mess up.  They miss important steps, fail to anticipate surprises, and forget which way to go.  But what do they do when this happens?  They turn to the screen and ask for help – “Can you find Goofy’s green bicycle?”  Then they recoup, regroup and continue their efforts until the problem is solved.

While we don’t offer Superhero Training Camp, the Center for Nonprofit Management offers educational seminars and consulting services to help nonprofit organizations conduct Environmental Assessments for strategic and program planning.  

Contact an expert:

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Event Planning: Ensure you maximize resources and have a lasting impact

By Lenita Dunlap
CNM Development Manager

Too often nonprofits become enslaved to their traditional events, saying “This is how we’ve always done it,” or “We’ve always used that company as our [printer, video, caterer, venue].” Yes, traditions are important to establish longevity, reputation, and stability within the community, but with your loyalty to those vendors, have you received loyalty in return?

Events are a fun way to celebrate with funders, say thanks to constituents, and enjoy the fruit of your labor. When expenses are mounting and the event lacks excitement, what are you willing to do? How can you turn routine into innovation? Consider the following practical steps to plan an annual event as part of your fundraising efforts.

  1. Define purpose.
    • Determine if your event is relevant. What value does this event bring to the community? Does it help accomplish your fundraising goals or does it serve as a public relations opportunity? How many man-hours does it take to put on the event? What is the cost-benefit ratio and is that ratio acceptable?
  2. Cut costs.
    • Vendors are out there, waiting to give you more service than you actually need. Organize an event committee with name recognition, allowing for in-kind services for many of the items you normally pay out of pocket. Does the event showcase your organization’s impact and speak to the things your crowd considers important?
  3. Use volunteers.
    • You need to free up staff to handle guest relations and give them a chance to talk about their work. Recruit volunteers to help with logistics. The key is finding folks who will actually work. Make friends with your local universities or schools. Get some young blood that is simply happy to be there and work with a professor to provide extra credit or some other kind of incentive. Select a lead volunteer that will manage other volunteers, freeing staff to focus on the event itself.
  4. Leave a lasting impression.
    • At times, nonprofits are so busy planning all the details that the event doesn’t accomplish the goals it has set. Ask yourself the following questions:
      • What will the attendees take away from this event?
      • Will they learn more about your organization or will they simply be entertained?
      • Does everything you do tie into the mission of your organization?
      • Will guests walk away motivated to get more involved in your work? 
Value the tradition of your event, but don't let it drive your planning. It is important to make sure that your event has purpose and uses resources wisely. A GuideStar USA, Inc. report stated that nonprofits spend on average 50 cents per dollar raised; it’s the highest cost per dollar than any other fundraising strategy. Keeping events in perspective and making certain they are still relevant allows you to focus on other areas of contributed income that highlight the true nature of your work and engage the community.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

How Did You Do in 2013? Are You Implementing Best Practices?

By Nancy Payne
CNM's Director of Consulting

As we start the New Year, it’s a good time to look back at 2013 to understand where we are as an organization, what we did well, what could be improved and how we want to strategically move forward.

How you prepare for your Strategic Planning process makes a big difference! With so many demands on an organization’s time, many dive straight into a strategic planning retreat with their Board.  Here at CNM, we observe that the most creative and focused strategic plans begin a few months ahead with an Environmental Analysis (what do our customer’s want? What are our competitors doing? Who can we collaborate with? What is changing in our environment?) and an Organizational Assessment (what does our staff, board, volunteers, key stakeholders think we do well?  What do they think we can improve on?).  Coming together, the Board and key staff, with a common understanding of all this information will lead to a well-informed strategic plan.

CNM’s Organizational Assessment is an innovative online tool for your organization to easily assess its progress and highlight areas for growth.  Our comprehensive Organizational Assessment evaluates 14 key areas of nonprofit best practices:

  1. Mission
  2. Programs
  3. Strategic Planning
  4. Marketing
  5. Human Resources
  6. Technology
  7. Legal / Risk
  8. Facilities
  9. Fund Development
  10. Financial 
  11. Operations
  12. Organizational Culture
  13. CEO Leadership
  14. Board Leadership

Making improvements towards best-practice in these 14 areas is much easier when you have completed an organizational assessment with multi-point stakeholder input where you can compare and contrast the responses from staff, board and key stakeholders and benchmark your organization against best-practices…this information will help you identify issues and make connections that will support a great strategic plan.

See what others are saying about Organizational Assessments:  Adelphi University, The Forbes Funds, and Texas Commission of the Arts.

To learn more about CNM’s Organizational Assessment, click here.
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