How To: Expand a Program in a New Country

Expanding your programs into new countries shows donors, constituents and funders that your mission can be scaled across geographic and cultural boundaries. It can be very exciting, but daunting if not prepared for the new challenges. However, expanding for the sake of a better looking brand will hurt your programs and your mission; quality should come before size.  Before deciding on program expansion, make sure you have these questions answered:


Why are you expanding?

I would love my non-profit to work in as many countries as possible. It’s not just realistic. Is there a formidable reason why you are expanding? A new partner might open the doors to new countries, but you want to make sure your organization has the ability to maintain program quality while expanding.


How are you expanding ?

Who is funding this program expansion? Are the funds sustainable enough to maintain current and new programs? If money needs to be shifted around, is sacrificing an aspect of your organization worth the new program site?


What program infrastructure already exists in the country?

How does the infrastructure vary from the country you are currently working in? Is there a network of people, government offices, and organizations that you can rely on? What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges of working in the new country? How do those  strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges different from what your organization is experiencing in your current location?


What adaptations do you need to make when going into a new country?

Every city, providence, and country is different. A youth empowerment program in a village in Peru should not look like a nation-wide initiative in Romania. Before starting in a new country, it is important to research how similar programs work in the same country and on the same scale. How does the sociopolitical, historical, and cultural differences affect how your program is run? A women’s training program in Mexico would not run the same way as it would in Ethiopia; it is crucial to remember the need for program-redesign.


Start planning, and good luck!

Yelling at a Wall and Tolerating the Ugly

One of the things that I learned when I first studied abroad is the need to look at the grey areas of life. Oil production is abundant in that country, and my 20-year-old self had many preconceived ideas about everyone involved with oil companies. Are there many business and environmental policies that I don’t agree with? Of course. Are there people who are just trying to take care of their family, and do their best? Very much so. My time there taught me that the corporation and the people within the corporation are two very separate entities, and should not be judged with the same criteria.

With it being such an oil rich nation, unfortunately prostitution is one the leading occupations for women there. Those women were some of the kindest and friendliest people I have ever I met. It’s the men who worked within the oil companies (ranging from drillers to executives) who would tell you about their wife and kids as they were picking up a prostitute and who would them horribly. The men who get excessively drunk, knowing that they were going to drive us home.

I’m not a fan of beating myself up over the past. My 20-year-old self was very angry at those situations, but my 20-year-old self also felt very powerless to change anything. I bit my lip and got in the cars. I wish the situation was different. I wish that at 20 I felt the confidence to speak out, even though it might have changed anything. If I berated oil workers about their cheating and the diseases they were bringing home to their wives, what would have that accomplished?

It’s taken awhile, but I finally forgave my past self for not yelling at every disgusting man who I encountered abroad. I was not outspoken six years ago. I was a shy, anxiety ridden college student who was finally coming to terms with her sexuality. I was in no place to do and say the things I wanted to. That I probably should have.

I didn’t stand up for those women, the students in my group, or myself.

Now, through my study abroad experiences and now my non-profit, I can see what may seem like a drop in the bucket make all of the difference in the world. Or it may not. But I need to try, because I have no idea what ripple effect my actions may cause one, five, or ten years down the road.My silence taught me not to yell at walls, and to not tolerate ugly behavior; to speak out when I have the opportunity to. As a result of my past lack of strength and confidence, I now have learned to use my voice as a force for good whenever possible.

I still look for the grey areas of situations, but with the understanding that there are some things that I refuse to compromise on. 

Through my lack of strength and confidence, I have learned to use my voice as a force for good whenever possible.

How To: Interview for a Non-Profit Organization

Interviewing can be a scary process, especially in the non-profit sector. There is a wide variety of missions, dress codes, and work ethics to appeal to, and it’s hard to figure out how to appeal to a specific non-profit. While no two organizations are the same, there are some things you can do to prepare for an interview.

1. Know the mission. Connect with the mission.

Non-profits want to see that you get them. Interviewers what you to be able to explain to why you are excited about and love their mission. Make sure you share if you have any previous experience that can relate to the organization’s vision.

2. Ask interesting questions.

Research outside influences on the organization and find questions to ask that will show your understanding of the position and the non-profit is more than surface deep. (e.g. What are the short-term and long-term development goals? How will the recent funding cuts affect your budget?)

3. Dress professional.

There is a wide variety of dress codes among nonprofit organizations, but it is always better to dress professionally. The person interviewing you might be wearing a t-shirt and jeans, but you want to look like you are taking the position and the organization seriously.

4. Sell your passion and yourself.

You might be the most qualified person for the job, but if you don’t show passion for the position you might not get the job. Interviewers want to see that you believe in everything the organization is about. Show off how your skills and experiences make you the best person for the job, and how you will encompass their mission and vision throughout your work.

Get your resumes ready, and good luck!


Finishing Chapters

Tardis Journal

From an early age I was terrible at finishing travel journals. From my first international trip to my last trip abroad I have always have been required, or have wanted to document my experiences through journal writing.

Unfortunately, none of these journals have ever been completed. Whether it’s the last month or couple of days before the trip ends, the pages stay blank.

I love new and exciting experiences, but I’ve always have hated the feeling after, the withdrawal. It’s more than just reverse culture shock, it’s the feeling that if I complete the journal, then the experience is complete, and I can never feel that same way again.

In the past, happiness has been an extremely difficult and complex emotion for me. The higher the high, the bigger the crash into a downward spiral. Not finishing those journals was a way of clinging onto the happiness I had found. I could pretend that nothing had changed, and I was still in the moment of happiness.

Through lots of self exploration and therapy, I’ve accepted that holding on to a moment doesn’t preserve your happiness, moving forward does. Change is happening all of the time, and grasping on to the past does nothing to prevent it, and makes me more miserable.

Different circumstances in the present and future don’t negate the happiness of the past. The fact that my brother and sister are moving across the country doesn’t change who we are to each other. The fact that disease is most likely going to prevent our annual trip doesn’t change my passion for my organization.

Sometimes I wish that world would stand still, but then I remember that its constant revolution and rotation has given me amazing opportunities and changes that I didn’t even know I needed.

I will probably be never good at finishing journals. There will probably always be that piece of me that wants to believe it’s not over and nothing is changed. But I now know that that my happiness lies in acknowledging the past, but moving forward towards the next big adventure.

How To: Write a Non-Profit Job Description

Job descriptions are your primary tool for letting external job candidates know what you as an organization are looking for; you want to make sure that the descriptions of what you are asking for are clear, precise, and realistic. For a great job description you will need:

1. An overview of your organization’s mission and goals

A potential hire wants to know if their passion and ideology match up with your non-profit’s.

2. A realistic job title

3. The position’s reporting relationship(s) and key responsibilities

Many sources state that 3-5 key responsibilities will give the job candidate a clear picture of what they would be doing, without going into excessive detail.

4. A list of qualifications

Divide the qualifications into “must haves” and “nice to have”. What is absolutely essential, and what would be an added bonus?

5. Benefits and salary

Within your budget limitations, what is the best offer you can make to a candidate?

Check out the Bridespan Group for great examples of job descriptions for various non-profit job descriptions. Good luck!


Unnecessary Competition

Every once in a while there is someone in the humanitarian sector who needs to puff our their feathers and claim that their organization and / or their methods are superior to everyone else’s, making them the best in their field. I experienced that behavior mostly in undergrad, but lately I have been experiencing this pissing contest indirectly and directly online and at various conferences.

My organization operates in 5 countries. Mine doesn’t require funding from corporations. Here are metrics that prove my work is more important than yours.

It’s one thing to be proud of our non-profits; I’m extremely proud of what my organization has accomplished. The trouble comes when we try to diminish other’s work as wrong or insignificant. In some countries it’s easy and an advantage to work with corporations and the government; in others, not so much. Water infrastructure does not negate education or health development or vice versa. There is no cause that trumps all of the others, and your organization isn’t better because of it.

Every organization is created, formed, and evolved from an infinite amount of historical, sociopolitical, and economical scenarios. Education programs that work in a small village in Ecuador might have no positive impact in a country-wide program in Pakistan. The way we operate in one the countries my non-profit works in is extremely unique, and I would not recommend functioning that way in other places. Do I wish that it could be different? Of course, but wishing doesn’t turn anything into an ideal situation. Yes we are taught and shown the ‘best practices’ of a specific sector, but a lot of the times those practices need to be adapted or completely thrown out the window in order to be successful.

It doesn’t make the work my non-profit any less valid, and having the ability to adhere to different tactics doesn’t make your work any more valid.

Can’t we all just get along, share our ideas, and be open to being wrong or adapting our programs?

Remember, we are all working towards making the world a better place, we can’t do that by stomping on each other.

How To: Find Board Members

To become a non-profit, the IRS requires that your organization has some form of governing body. Most of the time, that governing body is a board of directors. The “Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards” listed by BoardSource are:

  • Determine the organization’s mission and purposes
  • Select the executive staff through an appropriate process
  • Provide ongoing support and guidance for the executive; review his/her performance
  • Ensure effective organizational planning
  • Ensure adequate resources
  • Manage resources effectively (the buck stops with them, ultimately)
  • Determine and monitor the organization’s programs and services
  • Enhance the organization’s public image
  • Serve as a court of appeal for unresolved issues or complaints
  • Assess its own performance

The most important thing to remember when creating a board or looking for new members is to utilize your network. The three main categories of networks are people you know (1st circle), your first circle’s network (2nd circle), and people you don’t know who are passionate about similar causes (3rd circle).

1st Circle

  • Dedicated volunteers – Communicate the fact that you’re recruiting board members through your newsletter, word of mouth, emails and social media
  • Donors
  • Friends and Family
  • Organizational partners

2nd Circle

  • If you already have a board, ask your current board and staff for nominations or recommendations
  • Ask members in your 1st degree circle if they are aware of anyone who would be interested
  • Reach out to those beyond your nonprofit, like youth, or people in business or from other organizations
  • Make sure that communications going out to the first circle are easily shared with people outside of your direct network.

3rd Circle

  • Contact new organizations and volunteer centers that teach people how to be effective board members and then match them with nonprofits who need them
  • Use board or volunteer recruitment web sites like BoardNetUSABoardSource, and VolunteerMatch.

Happy searching, and good luck!

It’s Out of My Hands

In the past week my organization has been dealt a blow. We usually travel to X in the Fall, but there has been a serious outbreak of disease in the area. Usually organizations like the WHO or Doctors Without Borders have a timeline for containment, but in this case, no timeline exists. The disease is extremely contagious, even when symptoms aren’t showing, and can be caught through bodily fluids, including sweat. There is no cure, and also tends to have a 50-60% death rate.

Unless it gets under control, it looks like it we would be unable to go. I know I have no control over the situation. There is nothing within my power that will improve the situation.

I feel helpless and frustrated.

Having to sit and wait and watch is making my skin itch; knowing that there is nothing I can do makes me physically ache. A part of me wants to say screw the consequences and go any way.

But what good am I if I get sick? Or if I die? Death isn’t a 100% guarantee, but it’s a high enough risk to not logically risk my life to ease my impulsive desires.

Valuing my life over my organization is actually a relatively new concept for me. I know that my life and my health trump going into dangerous areas, but there is still a tiny piece of me that hasn’t been convinced. What if I completely cover myself 24/7?  What if I don’t touch anyone? Isn’t it worth the risk?

Logically it’s a resounding no, but my emotions and feelings twist it into a lukewarm maybe. I don’t want to die a martyr. I don’t want to die period. But the idea of not going feels like a huge cop-out, even if the risks extremely outweigh the benefits of going.

I wish I could regale you with some grand revelation about self-worth vs. sacrifice, but the truth is I think I’ll always have a small part of me that would throw caution to the wind despite my best interests. I’m lucky that I’m surrounded by people who can knock sense into me and remind me that I know that certain risks don’t benefit me or my non-profit.

And who knows, maybe the situation will be contained, and it’ll be safe to go.

How To: Make Cold Calls

There are many reasons to make cold calls, but this will focus on the need to introduce you and your organization before blindly emailing or mailing a partnership or funding proposal.

Before you make the call, make sure you have a plan of what you are going to say, and how you are going to say it. Whether you have a script in your head or written down, it’s important to include these things in your call:

1.  Show and Tell

Who are you as an organization. A well crafted and personalized elevator pitch would give who you are calling an understanding of what your organization does.

2. How does your organization connect with who you are calling?

Whether you are asking for money or a partnership, organizations and people want to know why you think that your non-profit and their organization would be a great match.

3. Have a reason to call

Whether it be strictly an introduction, a meeting or a chance to talk, you want to have a reason for the call that is outside of the proposal. Companies, organizations, and people in general like to have a ‘face with a name’, so offering a chance to meet up makes the proposal more personalized.

5. What do you specifically need? How can they provide that?

6. Ask to send them a proposal or materials.

People unfortunately can have short memories. They might think your organization is a great candidate for funding or partnership, but there are many distractions that can arise that will put your non-profit out of their mind. Sending materials will reinforce the conversation that you have had.

Good luck!