Putting Things on the Back Burner

When it comes to my nonprofit sometimes I have too many good ideas. Let’s build wells at the schools… and playgrounds! Playgrounds would be great. Except for… one small problem. That those ideas would mean giant program expansion outside of the mission. Even if these ideas fit into our mission, my organization certainly doesn’t have the funding for these projects.

I pride myself on being a creative person who can come up a lot of interesting ideas for my organization. There are a lot of people who involved with my non-profit. So what do we do when we acknowledge that an idea is good, but it just doesn’t work right now?

My organization has come up with the “Back Burner” method. It’s really simple and it helps acknowledge great, creative ideas that might not work now, or ever.

Say you have an idea comes along and a lot of positive ideas are exchanged building it up. Then, whether it is a board member or someone who leans towards the more realistic side, points out the issues of implementing said idea.

These ideas officially go on our organization’s “Back Burner”. It’s a nice way of saying ‘hey awesome idea you came up with, maybe we can revisit it later’. Most ideas that have been put on the back burner never return to the front, but some seem to creep their way into new programs and ideas that are more in sync with our mission.

I don’t like the idea of completely nixing ideas. A lot of them may never come to fruition, but it’s hard to tell how these ideas will evolve over time and circumstance. Sometimes the best idea for a new program is something you thought of six months ago, but it just needed to sit for a while before it transform into something that flushes perfectly with your organization’s mission.

You never know… your ideas may surprise you.

How To: Make a Program Budget

When creating a new program, the budget is essential for understanding how much money will be needed to launch and maintain the program.  According to the Foundation Center, “… the budget may be a simple one-page statement of projected expenses, or an entire spreadsheet including projected support and revenue and a detailed narrative, which explains various items of expense or revenue”. The budget is a way to tell the program’s story through numbers, in a way that is tangible and concrete to funders, donors, and constituents.


How are you funding this project? Are there going to be multiple funding sources? Will these sources last throughout the program, or will you need to supplement the revenue later on? Revenue can include: Individual Contributions, Grants/Institutional Donors, Program Fees, Membership Revenues, Sponsorships, Special Events Revenues, and Government Contracts. Listing out all of these sources can show that your organization is capable of acquiring multiple sources. To a potential donor or sponsor, it would mean that their investment is worthwhile and sustainable.


Be as detailed and realistic as possible when listing out expenses.  Expenses can include: Staff Salaries, Payroll Taxes, Employee Benefits, Travel, Training/Education – Staff, Meetings & Conferences, Rent and utilities, Insurance, Advertising, Website Development & Service, Public Relations, Telephone/Fax Equipment, Office Furniture, Postage, and Printing. Grantmakers or sponsors want to see whole funding picture; they also want the program to succeed if they invest. Don’t surprise funders with new expenses in the middle of the project.


Good luck!


How To: Deal With Naysayers

There are always going to be people who don’t ‘get’ what your organization does. There are always people who don’t understand why you work with a certain population or in a specific geographic area. Most annoyingly, there are people who don’t think what your non-profit does is worth while and make sure you know it. Instead of offering constructive criticism or trying to help, these people will only offer up criticism.The best thing to do when faced with a naysayer is to be polite, be open and flexible, and keep doing what you’re doing.

Be Polite

Naysayers are usually frustrating and provocative. For example, I’ve been told that the children I was working with couldn’t be poor because they were smiling in the pictures. As much as you want to reply with snappy comebacks, it really doesn’t get you anywhere. Staying level-headed might not change their minds, but you will keep your professional reputation intact. Putting someone in their place isn’t worth losing the respect other possible volunteers, donors, or constituents.


Be Open and Flexible

Even if the naysayer seems annoying, they may have a point. No program or organization is perfect and should be open to improvement. Ask what suggestions they would have for your non-profit. If it’s something that you can improve upon, try to see how you can implement the changes. If it’s something you can’t or don’t want to change right now, still be polite when opinions are given.


Keep Doing What You’re Doing

The best way to silence your critics is to have positive outcomes. If your organization keeps expanding while maintaining quality and positive impact, critics will lose their power to criticize your non-profit. Keep doing your best, and your programs, volunteers, and donors will speak volumes about what you are doing correctly.


Take a deep breath, and good luck!

How To: Craft Your Non-Profit’s Story

Story telling is one of the most quintessential ways a non-profit can get its mission across. Donors, volunteers, constituents, and funders all want and need to know the facts, but they also want to be captivated by what you are telling them. Statistics are educational, but stories inspire people. How you need to craft your non-profit’s story depends on who you are speaking to and why you are speaking to them. Like an elevator pitch, you want to keep your story interesting and engaging.

Who are you speaking to?

How you tell you story should be determined on how many people this person represents. If it is just an individual donor the story should be more personalized. If this person represents a corporation or organization, the story should focus on impact and how a donation or partnership would benefit them.

What is this person or organization interested in?

If your organization focuses on primary and secondary education, but the person you are talking to is interested in middle school, your story should focus on the work you do with middle school students. Pinpointing a specific interest will help guide your story in a way that will hold their attention; a person is more likely to give or participate when you are telling a story through their worldview. However, you shouldn’t change your mission to draw donors or partners. It will become obvious that you were leading them on.

Speak passionately and have visuals

Story telling is most effective when its obvious that you are passionate about what you are discussing. The more energized you are about your organization, the more that energy is contagious to those who are listening. People tend to get excited about tangible examples of program success; showing someone a picture of your constituents and your program connected to your story creates a ‘show and tell’ response. They are not only hearing what your non-profit is doing, they get to see what kind of impact they can have if they participate.


Start crafting, and good luck!

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!

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!


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!


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!

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!

How To: Create a Brochure

Having a specific brochure geared to a specific audience can be a great way to market your organization to a target group of people.


1. What questions would this audience have about your organization?

2. What parts of your programs would appeal to this group of people?

3. How would they benefit from your organization?

4. What are you asking this group of people to do? Participate? Volunteer? Donate?

5. What is the best way to get in contact with your organization?


1. The less text the better

  • Cramming as much text in as possible is hard to read.

2. Use headers

  • The easier it is to scan, the better.

3. Pictures, pictures, and more pictures.

  • People like to see the people who are a part of and benefit from your organization.
  • Don’t just tell people what you do, show them.

Happy designing, and good luck!