Last week I revisited LinkedIn and updated my information. It got me thinking. I know my favorite head hunters like LinkedIn, but is this an effective way to network people for charity purposes? This week a board member working on a grant required some demographic data on each board member. I guess the donor wants to know a little more about us before they give us a chunk of cash. I realized that the data I just finished updating on LinkedIn was most of the data she needed for the grant. I decided to save a PDF version of my LinkedIn profile. It did not work right. So I did it the hard way. I took a few minutes to cut and paste together the profile, print off a PDF, and email her the copy. About half of our board members are already on LinkedIn. Hmm…
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The good news is that our board is asking me questions. The bad news is that I do not always have the answer on the tip of my tongue and I need to look it up. For the last year I had been bringing my laptop to the meetings so that I could answer those unexpected questions. About two months ago our nonprofit moved their board meeting to an offsite location. It is a nice conference room in a good location but it does not have public Wi-Fi access. This is where Colligo Reader has been a great help. I store all of my nonprofit reports, letters, and worksheets in a Sharepoint site I run. Before I go to the meeting I let Colligo synchronize the files. This is a great solution for the mobile workforce and especially for those people trying to keep their nonprofit work from consuming the rest of the day.
3. Marion Conway—Consultant to Nonprofit’s writes about, “Accountability and Transparency for nonprofits” and references Guidestar’s Accountability and Transparency article.
I followed this jewel this morning and ended up at Guidestar.org site reading their article, Paper-Thin Transparency. In that article Guidestar defines transparency as:
At GuideStar, we think transparency means answering these questions for donors and funders:
- Is this a legitimate 501(c)(3) nonprofit?
- What social impact will my donation have?
- How fiscally responsible is this organization?
- What are this organization’s goals and intentions?
Effective means that address these questions are to state publicly, clearly, and concisely your mission, annual accomplishments, ways you measure success, and goals.
Recently the nonprofit I volunteer at has been trying to articulate these goals in writing. Some large donors are particularly interested in this information. Unfortunately this effort drops down on the priority list for the working board members as the problems of running the nonprofit bubble up to the top of the list. The hard part is documenting the social impact. The words are easy to write.
Once you have words to say, a small part of the problem is making the data available to the public. The folks at Guidestar have a simple, low cost solution, eDocs Service. For a $35 annual fee you can keep upload:
- Letter of Determination or Advance Ruling
- Audited or Reviewed Financial Statement
- Annual Report
- Form 990(current)
This service looks pretty handy for large and small donors and the fee is nominal. I noticed that the latest 990 for my nonprofit at Guidestar is for 2003. That won’t do!
I just got through making a comprehensive budget/cash forecast for our local Habitat affiliate. I made a budget for affiliate two years ago but I was dissatisfied with the results. I plugged the historical values from our income statement into a spreadsheet and after a few calculations I plugged the resulting values back into QuickBooks. QuickBooks integrates the budget into a couple of reports but the focus is on the income sheet. I published the standard QuickBooks Budget report for a year but we spent few words discussing it except for the fact that we were not raising enough funds to support our proposed construction plan. The budget accomplished little besides creating work for me because it focused on income and expense acoounts and the key Habitat board decisions concern asset accounts. Since then I have thought a lot about budgeting. What I consider to be key indicators for the affiliate led me to a refined conclusion. We need a budget to support board decisions on whether we should build houses, purchase land, and expand our building capacity by hiring personnel. Our capital expenditure plans are directly related to our ability to raise funds and our cash flow.
For a Habitat affiliate the most important cash flows, mortgages receivable, home owner principal payments and construction costs, are asset accounts and do not appear on the income statement. As a result a “useful” budget for a Habitat affiliate must establish goals not only for the income and expense accounts but for the mortgage receivable, construction in process, and land inventory accounts. The first time I made a budget I “winged” it in this area because the construction plan was not available. I knew this was important information but you cannot budget items you do not have a plan for. Since then I have convinced most of the board on the importance of this part of the planning process. Our cash situation is much tighter than two years ago so there considerably less wiggle room. The board placed a much higher priority on planning and executing the plan when I told them we did not have the money.
The budget is almost complete for this year. I modeled the format of the budget on the existing QuickBooks Income and Cash Flow statements. I did re-arrange the Cash Flow statement to highlight the essentials, fund raising/operating costs, home owner principal payments, and construction expenditures. I am going to use spreadsheets to create future financial statements for future time periods that look a lot like the existing statements. Although there are existing budget reports in QuickBooks, they do not model the cash flow adequately. Although I loathe to use reports outside of QuickBooks because it will take additional time on my part, the budget reports in QuickBooks do not do the job for us because of our cash flow forecasting needs.
I used this tutorial, Tutorial: Modeling and What if? analysis with pivot tables – 20 Jul 2006 , on pivot tables to provide me with an easier to use mechanism to summarize data. Basically I have a row with monthly values for all of the pertinent accounts I need to reconstruct the income and cash flow statements. I started off by modeling the first nine months of this fiscal year and making sure it matched existing accounting reports. Then I added three more rows for the last quarter and estimated the values. We should have a good cash forecast for the fiscal year end. My final trick is to model a minimal balance statement.
Putting together a construction plan for the next fiscal year is going to be difficult since the construction/fund raising plan is still in a state of flux. We have land we do not want to build on and land we cannot build on without significant capital improvements. This probably means we need to buy additional lots. The best I can do is guess on the plan. This should be beneficial to the board since they tend to focus best when I give them construction start and finish dates. By tying together the fund raising plan to our construction plan via the cash flow statement, the board should keep focused on the key issues.
This week’s edition of the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants, which is a joint edition with the Giving Carnival, is now up at Donor Power Blog and Tactical Philanthropy. You can read it either place. The selected posts are the same, but Jeff and Sean added their own comments to their versions. The posts take a look at what donors and nonprofits wish the other knew about each other and provide some fascinating scenarios for nonprofits to think about. What do donors really want to know? Are donors always right? Do donors even remember they’ve given to you? Check out the carnival.
More Resources from Kivi: How to Write a Nonprofit Annual Report – A Four-Week E-Course You Can Start Today
The BusinessBlogWire pointed me at this site via their Blogtipping roundup. Kivi has some excellent nonprofit advice on her site. As Treasurer for a nonprofit I was modestly interested in her advice on how to write a nonprofit annual report. Our Development Director had mentioned he was interested in writing an annual report a couple of months ago. I liked the idea but loathed the fact that it would involve a lot of my time since I was the custodian of information. As Treasurer my plate has been overflowing for several months. My workload has forced me to beg off of strategic plan meetings even though I have a vested interest that this strategic plan be a plan that can be implemented. Strategic plans and annual reports go hand in hand. It is hard to plan for success if you do not keep score.
My problem with strategic plans is that board members try to be so nice. They never seem to say a bad word about strategic plans they think are unrealistic. In their hearts they want to be wrong and the strategic plan to work. Their dilemma is that they already know that there are plenty of situations that will cause them to say and act differently than where the strategic plan is pointing them. The words they speak and the actions they take will not mimic the hope in their heart. Breaking this status quo is the grand challenge.
I am not sure it has much value for SBS customers. I setup a collaboration site and tried to envision our Habitat for Humanity affiliate using it. Although Office Live Collaboration looks like it has the potential to do the job, it would require a lot of customization to get board members to look at it on a regular basis. My first guess is that it would require too much customization work for the perceived benefit. I expected a bit more CRM, project tracking, and accounting features. I guess I was expecting something that looked like an integrated Salesforce.com and QuickBook Online application. Right now it looks too much like a standard Sharepoint site.
As the Treasurer for the last couple of years I have been keenly interested in making our affiliate make better operational and strategic decisions. Charities are competing for the same funds and volunteers. Donors and volunteers are expecting a better experience for their time and money. They can make a different choice. I do not think I am stretching things too much when I compare a charity’s donors and volunteers to a small business’s customers. A charity has key performance indicators and line of business(LOB) activities that are very much like a small business. Making timely operational and strategic decisions is key to survival. With a geographically dispersed workforce this decision making process becomes more difficult. The areas of improvement I feel there is the most potential for are:
- Improve collaboration amongst the board of directors members.
- Collect committee reports in one location.
- Access a common schedule for meetings and other key events.
- Keep track of committee’s monthly objectives.
- Identify and report on key indicators.
- Construction status by house/project
- Donation status by house/campaign
- Mortgage/Delinquency status
- Partner family application status
- Improve operation
- Track employee hours.
- Track expense account forms.
- LOB activities reporting and approvals.
I got distracted again! The Development Dirctor for our Habitat affiliate was complaining about the stale content on the affiliate’s website. For some time I have been thinking about the appropriate format for a charity website. I have begun to believe that a blog style website is a natural fit for charity websites. The social networking advantage of blogs(e.g. comments, rss feeds) is probably a good tool at communicating with a diverse group of volunteers. Working off of this sketchy premise, I created a blog that I intend to offer to our affiliate.
- My favorite blog software is WordPress.
- WordPress is generally available at most host providers and has lots of free themes to choose from.
- WordPress does not have licensing issues.
- I envision that most of the updates will be via posts. We need an easy method of posting with photos by non-Geeks. The ability to use multiple authors is a plus.
- We will need about six static pages(e.g. Volunteer, Donation, Family Selection, etc.). These will be updated quarterly to annually.
The key for me was seeing the themes available at themes.wordpress.net. After browsing through a part of this immense collection I settled on MistyLook from the creators of WordPress Garden. It has a nice, clean, widget friendly, two column design with tabs across the top of the page for the static pages. Only the key pages are shown across the top. All of the static pages appear in the sidebar, too. I already have a widget template for Paypal donations. I don’t expect many PayPal donations but it will be easier and it requires almost no effort on our part to collect the money. The only drawback to the theme was that I had to tweak it a little to get it to work.
I added three WordPress plugins:
- Imagemanager to handle the photos. WordPress’s default features are pretty good but Imagemanager adds resizing and default sizes for thumbnails.
- Widgets plugin.
- FeedBurner plugin. RSS feeds are typically associated with a younger crowd. Since we have quite a few older volunteers who have just recently gotten comfortable with email, FeedBurner Email looks like a potential winner for us. Volunteers can get website updates via RSS feeds or Email.
So here is the fruits of my labor.