Strategic Direction: The Heart of the Matter

Capacity Partners has a unique and successful approach to strategic planning with four key phases:

  • FOUNDATION:  Mission, Vision, Values
  • CURRENT SITUATION:  External trends, opportunities and threats; internal strengths and weaknesses; understanding of constituent needs
  • STRATEGIC DIRECTION:  Short-term vision, goals, strategies and timeframe
  • IMPLEMENTATION:  Annual objectives, budget, work plan

The heart of strategic planning is strategic direction, but what is strategic direction? More than just another planning term, it paints a compelling vision of the future and addresses the key questions “where are we going and how are we going to get there?” Incorporating your mission, vision, and culture, ideology and values, it is an essential part of reaching your grand and important goals.

Strategic direction includes:

  1. A one to two-year strategic plan statement (i.e., strategic vision) that describes where the organization wants to go and what it will look like at the end of the plan period and how stakeholders will be affected. It is a word picture that energizes your stakeholders and describes what you expect to achieve.
  2. Five to seven broad goals that articulates the top critical priorities and what needs to be accomplished to realize the vision.
  3. Strategies, to explain how the organization will achieve each goal.

Together, these components form the strategic direction that will guide your organization for the upcoming 3 years.

For example, in its recent strategic plan, the Montgomery Coalition for Adult English Literacy (MCAEL) set a bold goal of “21,000 by 2021” with this strategic vision statement: “While the coalition of adult ESOL providers remains committed to maintain the quality of programs and instruction and the number of adult learners it serves has increased over the past 6 years, there continue to be tens of thousands of learners who are limited in their English proficiency. By 2021, MCAEL will increase the number of learners who are on a pathway to proficiency from 15,000 to 21,000.”

This ambitious three-year vision drove goals related to increasing numbers of new highly-trained instructors, training new staff, expanding partnerships to enable access to a range of new workplace programs, and enhancing other types of instructional opportunities for English learners.

MCAEL Executive Director Kathy Stevens said, “Capacity Partners is key to our planning and implementation process since the expert help we receive helps us translate the big strategic direction into tangible action steps.”


Embrace Conflict and Get Creative

Nobody likes conflict. Some people are even proud to say they are “conflict averse.” But if you are in a for-profit business, or a non-profit business, or a family, or any business that includes other people, you are in the conflict business. In fact, being happy and successful is a matter of deciding that a conflict is an opportunity to get smarter and more competent. Anger is a natural reaction to behavior that offends, but getting mad is literally crazy. Don’t get mad; get creative.

Terry, the board chair of a medium-sized nonprofit, had started to worry about whether they had made a mistake putting Quinn on the board. In each of the last three board meetings, he had disrupted discussions with long arguments that were, at best, peripherally important. It was beginning to be bad for morale.

Even as she drove to the next meeting, Terry still hadn’t figured out what she would do about Quinn. The agenda included a decision to launch a capital campaign. Terry needed it to end with high enthusiasm.

Luckily, Quinn arrived early to the meeting. Terry smiled, offered him a cup of coffee, and said, “Did you have a nice weekend?”

“Yes. We watched ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ again.”

“I love that movie,” said Terry. “I’ve watched it three times.

“I know. I have, too.”

Then, with a big smile, Terry said: “You’re a lawyer, aren’t you?”

“Well, no. I wanted to be a lawyer, but my parents pushed me toward banking, so that’s what I did.”

“Still, I do see a lawyer in you.”

Then other people started to arrive.

Early in the meeting, Quinn made a short, constructive observation, and Terry said, “Excellent argument, counselor.” They both smiled.

A few minutes later, Quinn interrupted another trustee and began to take the discussion off track. With a smile, Terry cut Quinn’s pontification short with, “Contempt of court, counselor.”

Quinn participated constructively with no more interruptions for the rest of the meeting. They launched the capital campaign, and in the course of the next three years, they became close partners.

Every relationship is either a conflict or an incipient conflict. Our success or failure depends on continuing to build our conflict repertoire. Conflict aversion is a disability.

So, if you find your hand clenched in a fist, remember five things …

1) Pre-forgive the person.

2) Find common interests.

3) Provide feedback that is hearable, seeable and doable.

4) Think creatively together.

5) Go into a conflict knowing your best move if your adversary is committed to being your adversary.

...and your hand will be open, ready to shake hands.

Guest columnist Rick Ackerly is a nationally recognized educator and speaker with 45 years of experience working in and for schools. With a master’s in education from Harvard University, Rick has devoted his career to building thriving learning communities.  He has served as headmaster of four independent schools and has been a consultant and coach to teachers, school leaders and parents for many years.


Three Steps to Cultivate a Major Gifts Prospect

If you are like most of us, the major gifts prospect list that sits on your desk stares at you and foils your boldest strategies. Those one hundred names have enough wealth to build an entire university campus several times over. Of course, you don’t know any of them, and your Development Committee hasn’t responded to your requests for introduction, despite your pleas.

Whatever the minimum major gift threshold for your organization, ten annual contributions from your top donors for the next several years with a solid annual retention rate means significant support for your organization.  So what’s a development director to do?

Here are three steps to a successful major gifts program.

  1.  Learn/Rank. Read the bios, the giving history, the speeches, and other information of the people on your prospect list. Explore the networks of these accomplished and generous individuals. As you identify their related giving and their relationships, however tenuous and distant, with your own board members, the ranking of your prospects will take shape. You will soon have drawn a web of connections between your people and those top prospects.
  2. Push/Pull. A major gifts team usually consists of board members and development committee members. Among those leaders, there is likely a small percentage who have agreed to enthusiastically reach out to their networks. Those are your favorite people, right? They are also the most time-challenged, and they often find it hard to fulfill their promises to talk with their contacts. Try push/pull. First, push them to do their work, to fit those calls and referrals into their jam-packed schedules. Of course, be creative and nice in your approach. Second, pull plenty of data and research in order to equip them with the information they need to successfully reach their goals. Pulling the appropriate data will make your board and committee members feel more comfortable when you do your push. Don’t forget to track not only the progress of your prospect but also the progress of your board advocate.
  3. First/Second. With your first layer of top donor prospects safely in the hands of your most committed volunteer leaders, it’s smart strategy for you to cultivate the second layer - the network that surrounds those prospects. Identify and cultivate those people; if even a small percentage respond, you are on your way to meeting your fundraising goals.

A strong major gifts program lifts an organization and unleashes the potential of your organization’s vision. And a successful major gifts program is only three steps away.


Walk and Talk

The relationship between a nonprofit’s executive director and board chair sets the stage for the effectiveness and energy of the organization.

What are the most important characteristics of a good working relationship between a nonprofit’s executive director and its board chair? Communication, trust, and candor.

Executive leaders and board chairs can attain their most productive levels of management and governance by regularly and honestly assessing the current status of the organization, by deeply understanding their roles and responsibilities, by respecting the guidelines of best practices, and by working on those three qualities of communication, trust, and candor.

To develop those strengths, first understand how organizations and boards grow and change. (Watch for an upcoming CP Connector article on the stages of board development.) To determine where your organization stands in the lifecycle of boards, ask yourselves if board members:

  • offer their own program ideas?
  • focus on day-to-day operations of the nonprofit?
  • recruit new board members?
  • act as philanthropic leaders?

With an understanding of where your organization is in the board lifecycle, begin to hone the roles and responsibilities of the executive leader and the board.

The executive director/chief executive office is responsible for:

  • overseeing day-to-day operation of the organization
  • developing programming
  • creating a budget with input from the board
  • overseeing marketing and communications

The board chair guides the work of the board to:

  • determine strategic direction
  • hire the ED/CEO and delegate operations
  • provide oversight (legal, financial, and managerial) and set policies
  • partner with ED and staff to raise funds to actualize the strategic plan
  • serve as passionate ambassadors for the nonprofit’s mission and vision

The board chair also takes on the responsibility for evaluating the executive and for leading the board’s self-evaluation. Far from being onerous, these are critical opportunities to reflect on the health and well-being of the organization and the relationships between executive leaders and their boards.

Clarity about the development stage of the board and about roles and responsibilities provides the groundwork for strong communication, trust, and candor. These qualities may emerge naturally if there is already a good fit. But usually they must be developed intentionally through purposeful outreach and communication:

  • Some EDs report talking to board chairs several times a week, or meeting once a month at a favorite café, or local lunch spot, or scheduling regular walking meetings à la Steve Jobs (exercise the brain and body).
  • Whether you are an ED or board chair, consider meeting one-on-one with other board members.
  • Make sure board documents to or from the ED are accurate to avoid misunderstanding or embarrassment.
  • Choose the right timing for conversations—what days or times offer the most relaxed and open interactions?
  • Institute a clear orientation process for a new ED and for board members to give new people a sense of the lay of the land and to clarify expectations.
  • Commit to a culture of “no surprises” to develop open and honest communication.

The ED and board chair create the best balance in their work for the organization when they can communicate openly and honestly and embrace their shared leadership. So, next time you have a chance, take a walk and talk.

If you’d like to talk to Capacity Partners about a board development, please don’t hesitate to email Margo Reid at margo@capacitypartners.com


Mary Robinson discusses corporate social responsibility on What's Working in Washington

Mary Robinson, President of Capacity Partners, and Shannon White, a partner with Guidehouse, discuss the ways corporations can be a net positive for communities and have a purpose beyond just making a profit on What's Working in Washington. 

Listen to this interesting and informative podcast here.


How Leadership Coaching Can Help You

Are you wondering exactly how leadership coaching can help you be a better leader?

Leadership coaches partner with clients in a structured, challenging, and creative process, often focused on a particular issue or problem.

Some issues clients bring to leadership coaching include:

  • An upcoming opportunity they’d like to leverage
  • Wanting to change how they manage or show up as leaders
  • Feeling stuck in a certain pattern or management style
  • Exploring ways to increase effectiveness
  • Navigating a difficult work challenge

Professional coaching focuses on setting goals, creating outcomes, and managing personal change. It is present and future-goal oriented. Your coach will ask powerful questions, act as a sounding board, provide objective assessment and observations, listen fully and actively, challenge your blind spots, and foster shifts in thinking that reveal fresh perspectives

Coaching starts with a clear agreement about the topics to be explored and the desired outcome. The engagement starts with a 3-to-6-month contract which can be amended as needed. It works best when the client brings a desire to change, a willingness to explore new behaviors, and openness to challenging established patterns.

As the old saying goes, leaders aren’t born, they’re made. And leadership coaching can help you become the leader you want to be.

Capacity Partners offers proven leadership coaching so nonprofit leaders can develop their potential and guide their organizations more effectively. For more information, email Louise Stoner Crawford.


Preparing for a Capital Campaign: Why You Need a Feasibility Study

A feasibility study, or assessment, is the optimal way to measure the amount of money an organization can raise, at a specific point in time, for a specific project.  It is also an excellent opportunity to explore different issues that affect the ultimate outcome of your capital campaign.  With a campaign assessment in hand, you can proceed with a campaign in confidence, knowing the goal will be both ambitious and achievable.

The Capacity Partners® Feasibility Study is designed to answer these fundamental questions:

  • Likelihood of achieving a specific campaign goal and/or identification of a realistic yet ambitious goal;
  • Capacity and inclination of potential or current major donors;
  • Appeal of the case for support;
  • Identification of campaign leaders;
  • Strength and commitment of campaign leaders and volunteers;
  • Manageability of important issues or concerns.

It is essential to measure the following set of criteria before you launch your campaign so you can achieve success by becoming aware of the potential challenges and areas of strength of your capital campaign.

STRONG INSTITUTION

  • INSTITUTIONAL IMAGE:  Does the organization command the respect and support of potential donors?  How well is it perceived to be serving the needs of primary and secondary stakeholders?  Are there perceptions that might stand in the way of successful fundraising, and can the Executive Leadership and Board overcome any such negative perceptions?
  • SOUND PLAN FOR FUTURE:  Is there a compelling vision and strategic plan guiding the organization and accepted by the community? Is the plan supported by solid financial analysis?
  • PROJECT VALIDATION:  Do potential donors consider the campaign’s objectives to be important?   Would the community be receptive to a capital campaign for these purposes?
  • EFFECTIVE INSTITUTIONAL LEADERSHIP:  Is the Board prepared to offer philanthropic leadership?  Can the Executive Leadership devote sufficient time to her/his leadership role in the campaign?

PREPARED CONSTITUENCY

  • INFORMED STAKEHOLDERS:  Are the key stakeholders and other constituents communicated with regularly and informed about the organization’s plans? Do they feel connected to the organization?
  • MOTIVATED VOLUNTEERS:  Is there a sufficient pool of willing volunteers, within or outside the Board, to build a campaign organization of highly motivated and influential volunteer leaders? Has an individual of sufficient stature and visibility been identified to provide volunteer leadership for the campaign?
  • CULTIVATED PROSPECTS:  Have those individuals most capable of support been cultivated?

   QUANTIFIABLE FINANCIAL SUPPORT

  • IMMEDIATE POTENTIAL:  Are sufficient funds available through donors capable and ready to make pledges of capital gifts totaling the campaign goal over three to five years?  Is there a history of giving, or committed donors, to support such a goal?
  • LEAD GIFTS:  Is there a lead gift of 10% of the campaign goal?  Do the top 10 gifts equal 30-50% of the goal?  Are there likely to be sufficient numbers of major gifts?  Is the current proportion of at least 3 qualified prospects for every gift observed in planning?
  • LONG-TERM CAPACITY:  Does the organization have the potential giving capacity to meet the campaign goals over time, if that potential is cultivated appropriately?

CAMPAIGN INFRASTRUCTURE

  • STAFF:  Does development staff have the range of skills and breadth of experience to lead and support a campaign, with or without the guidance of a consultant?  Have plans been made to add staff based upon the new demands of the campaign?
  • STRUCTURE:  Have preliminary plans for prospect development and research been put in place?
  • SYSTEMS:  Are the appropriate record-keeping systems in place?  Does the software include a prospect management system?  Are databases thorough and up to date?

With a carefully designed and implemented feasibility study, you can prepare your nonprofit organization for a successful, transformative capital campaign. If you'd like to talk to Capacity Partners about a feasibility study or your capital campaign, please don't hesitate to email Mary Robinson mary@capacitypartners.com.


Three Ways to Get Your Board Composition Right

Do you wonder what is the right composition for your board, the configuration that will have the expertise, abilities, and skills to create a well-functioning board? Planning your board composition in a deliberate way is a tenet of exceptional nonprofit management.  But how to do it?

The first key is the Board Skills Matrix. A skills grid is a valuable tool for identifying the necessary board member skills for your nonprofit. (Click here to email me to receive a sample Matrix.) The board matrix will:

  • Determine the board skills your nonprofit requires to be successful
  • Determine the skills of your current board members
  • See where the gaps are

But what skills does your board need? Some of the typical skills include Finance, Technology, Leadership, Fundraising, Legal, Strategic Planning, Governance, and Risk Management. What other skills might your board need to be successful? Consider what you hope to accomplish in the next 5 years and what board skills might help you get there. Will you need help with Human Resource Management, Property Management, Marketing, or Grant writing? Your specific Board Matrix should help you focus your recruiting efforts on the necessary skill sets.

While a Board Matrix is a highly useful guiding document, it should not be your only consideration. The second key to an effective board is ensuring board members have:

  • Passion for the cause
  • Respect for others
  • Thoughtful ability to consider issues, articulate those thoughts, and ask pertinent questions
  • Sense of responsibility for making things happen
  • Vision to think beyond today

Third, confirm that potential board candidates:

  • Have the right cultural fit
  • Add value to the current board composition
  • Are able to align their skills with the strategic direction of the nonprofit
  • Possess the right experience within their field
  • Represent diversity of all kinds – racial, geographic, religious, gender, profession, age, etc.

With thoughtful planning and focused implementation, your board of directors can posses the critical talents to partner with your chief executive and lead your nonprofit to excellence.


Urban Alliance Foundation

Urban Alliance Foundation

CONSULTING AREA: Market study and strategic analysis

Capacity Partners was invaluable in helping us to assess our strategic position relative to our financial plans — and in setting us on the right path to revise our strategic vision.

– Mary Menell Zients, Board Chair and Founder, Urban Alliance Foundation

Background

Today, the Urban Alliance Foundation – which helps under-resourced students develop economic self-sufficiency — is a well-known nonprofit organization that has served more than 10,000 youth in the District of Columbia, Baltimore and Chicago. However, when its founder and Board of Directors turned to Capacity Partners for assistance back in 2004, it was still an emerging nonprofit, and they wanted to dramatically expand its reach. They needed an experienced consulting partner to assess and recommend fundraising and growth strategies.

Key Challenges

The organization had a solid base of foundation funders and large individual donors, but had reached a juncture in its evolution where it needed a more focused strategy for steady, sustainable growth.

Services Provided

Capacity Partners recommended an approach to strategic planning built around the concepts of “vision, visibility, and validation” and conducted in-depth research on fundraising options. We gave the Board essential insight into the organization’s fundraising potential and how rapidly it could expand.

Results

Capacity Partners recommended that the Urban Alliance Foundation clarify its vision, heighten its visibility, and validate its program success. Based on our guidance, the Board decided to undertake a yearlong capacity-building process, which provided a foundation for Urban Alliance’s future success.


Friends Community School

Friends Community School

CONSULTING AREA: Strategic planning counsel, Capital campaign counsel, and Software selection

We felt daunted by the idea of raising 50 times our annual giving fund in our first capital campaign, but Capacity Partners’ expertise and leadership empowered our volunteers to exceed the fundraising goal.

– Mary Kate O’Neill, Grounding Our Future Campaign Chair, Friends Community School

Background

This small, independent Quaker school purchased a property on which it planned to build a state-of-the-art green building.

Key Challenges

Faced with total construction costs of $6.8 million, the school needed to conduct a multi-million dollar capital campaign, yet its history of annual giving campaigns had never exceeded $35,000.

Services Provided

Capacity Partners performed a feasibility study, developed a comprehensive campaign strategy, wrote the case for support, conducted extensive prospect research, and provided on-going support.

Results

Working with a committed donor, we developed a winning proposal for a 3 to 1 challenge grant that motivated the entire community to raise most of the campaign goal – nearly $3 million – in just six months.