Welcome to our Winter Newsletter!

As we begin another year, we're struck by the number of nonprofits that are grappling with growth issues, restructuring to address limited funding, or re-positioning themselves for a changing environment. This newsletter highlights tools we have found helpful in working with nonprofits as they address these issues. As always, please share it with your fellow board members, colleagues, and friends. We value your feedback and suggestions for future topics. And be sure to visit our website, to read more about our work and its impact.


News: Comparing Yourself to Others Helps You Know Where You Are & How Well You Operate

Many nonprofits now focus on programmatic performance. Program outcomes measurement has become commonplace, but few organizations consider how they are doing as a whole.

We've been working with nonprofits to extend their performance focus from individual programs to the entire organization. For one client, we identified comparable agencies and examined their organizational structures and staffing. Now, it can choose the optimal path to building a stronger infrastructure. For another, we looked at each program's profitability across the agency, so the client can consider combining some, transferring others, and/or partnering with others to develop a more viable portfolio with higher impact. In some cases, we've worked closely with the Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) and its clients to act on findings from NFF's Nonprofit Business Analysis, a product that provides invaluable information on an agency's financial strengths and weaknesses and reveals how it compares with similar enterprises.

In all these examples, we found that showing how a nonprofit compares to others is enormously instructive. Clients can benefit from others' experiences and consider an expanded set of options.

Knowing how you stack up against others helps you leverage what you do well, and make needed changes for maximum impact.


Tools: How You Can Get the Most from a Consulting Engagement

An extremely successful executive director recently confessed, "Most of us don't really know how to manage a consultant." We agree, and thought we'd share some best practices:

  • Assume nothing. Given human nature, most of us tend to believe that what we think in our heads is the same as what everyone else thinks. Not true! If you are not sure what your consultant is doing, or why, speak up! Your questions will help the consultant focus, readjust, and make sure he or she does what is needed. It is YOUR project, after all.
  • Be clear. More often that not, a project changes during an engagement and sometimes even before it has started. An initial meeting to clarify project goals helps. Scheduling a few "process checkpoints" upfront allows you to provide feedback throughout the project.
  • Check in with your consultant early and often. The best client we ever worked with stopped in at least once a week to see how we were doing, discover any roadblocks, answer questions, and discuss any issues raised. It was not micro-management or a "supervision" call, but rather a working conversation between partners.

Clarity, communications, and collegiality make for a great consulting engagement.


Transitions: Thinking "Outside the Box" Can Create Real Opportunities

The most satisfying moments with our clients come when we say something that leads to an "aha!" moment, when the perspective shifts, a new idea emerges, or even an assumption is turned on its head.

We often introduce proven concepts from other, sometimes related sectors to prompt fresh thinking. For example, we developed different models for long-term viability for one client, based on interviews with heads of organizations with similar but not-competing enterprises. Suddenly, the client could consider successful alternatives very different from her own.

Sometimes, offering a framework from our for-profit experience works. We used the concept of a product development cycle - from idea to testing to launch - to help a client develop a business plan for a new program area's products and services. The client then understood what steps needed to be taken before they "went live", if they were really going to have a successful new program. This approach provided a different perspective and a firm foundation for the client building his new enterprise.

Knowing the road others have taken can help you choose the best path for you.


Exceptional Boards Advances an Organization's Mission

We recommend a quick read, "The Source: Twelve Principles of Governance that Power Exceptional Boards". This recent BoardSource publication was based on extensive interviews with exceptional boards. The research sought to identify and explain the key factors that enable boards to function at their highest level and best use their collective capacity. Learn how your board can "advance the common good with uncommonly good work".

Go to to find out more about this and other tools for strengthening boards.