ACN News & Industry Trends

  • 12/20/2016 10:14 AM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    By: Andrew Shafer, SD Solutions
    The final weeks of December are always a good time to reflect on the year that is leaving us. As I write this, we are rapidly approaching 2017 – and 2016 was without a doubt one for the record books. The world and domestic landscapes certainly left us all challenged and constantly wondering what would be at the next bend in the road. As with most years, and in most sectors, the only guarantee that we have to lean on is change. In 2017, change we will! A new presidential administration will force the nonprofit sector to remain vigilant and responsive to proposed and adopted legislation that impacts each of the organizations that we are fortunate enough to work with.

    The December 2016 issue of The Chronicle of Philanthropy featured an article titled “A New Landscape: What his views on taxes, spending, race, immigration, and more could mean for nonprofits.” Now most presidential transitions do include changes to many sectors in our society. However, it is predicted by most that many of the Trump Administration’s new policies and procedures will impact various part of our sector and we need to be prepared.

    According to the Chronicle and many other experts, the most notable and wide-reaching policy that will impact the nonprofit sector involves the charitable tax deduction. No changes have been made as of this writing, however, advocacy efforts have already begun on Capitol Hill and those will likely continue long into 2017 and beyond. As most in the philanthropy space know, major and principal gifts are generally not very impacted by the need for tax benefits, but annual gifts and some planned giving decisions are incredible impacted. The Chronicle article states “…leaders…[need to] ratchet-up advocacy….to protect the charitable giving incentive….”

    The other key point to consider as we enter the new administration’s move into the White House involves federal spending. Most leaders in philanthropy have already heard from foundation program officers in particular who have notified them of the decision to hold on further grant decisions. Until more is known about congressional and presidential decisions regarding rules for allocating funds, these foundations are causing angst for agencies dependent on these resources. In particular, anyone with government contracts should no be considering their “plan B.” For many, this will mean brushing off their latest wealth screening, or scheduling a new one, and focusing more on individual gifts.

    Truth be told, all of the transition concerns may be exacerbated among organizations that have less diversified funding models. Just like personal finances, diversifying as a nonprofit means not relying on any one gift or fund for a majority percentage of their operating revenues. Of course, the best-case scenario would be if the economy thrives: President-Elect Trump has indeed pledged to “double economic growth” and Adam Myerson of the Presidential Roundtable, says “that will be great for charitable giving [if it happens].”

    As consultants to nonprofits, we all have an obligation in times of transition and uncertainty to be the voice of reason to clients. Clients look to us as “experts” in our respect niche areas. If we are calm and confident, so too will they be calm and confident. If we are angry, nervous, and negative, clients will feel that. In fact, I would encourage all of us to challenge clients to think of the 2017 landscape as the “time to shine.” Let’s think more innovatively, get out of the office more, meet with one more potential investment partner (time, money, or other resources) each week. The time is now to effect positive and lasting change on the sector. We must ride the waves of the new administration while also keeping focus on our critical missions at hand.

    Andrew Shafer is the Chief Advancement Officer for the Paulist Fathers - headquartered in New York City. He is also a consultant for nonprofit organizations; consulting on executive leadership and strategy development with a goal of creating "strategy leading to funding solutions." More at www.advancementplan.com. Andrew also instructs in an adjunct faculty capacity at a number of universities throughout the US. For more information, you can e-mail aashafer@advancementplan.com or call 615.866.7037.


  • 12/13/2016 11:44 AM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    By: Catherine Siebel, Impact Assessment for Foundations and Nonprofits
    Faithful Readers –
    Welcome to the ACN blog! We’re so happy to have you back. What a (fiscal) year it has been for ACN! While our members have been busy securing contracts, collaborating with one another and improving their clients’ organizations, ACN’s board has been busy working behind the scenes to take our organization to the next level. Since June 2014, we have kept our focus on two main thrusts: to stabilize and invigorate the organization.

    Stabilize
    ACN has undergone considerable change as an organization in the past few years. Our two most recent Presidents resigned mid-term to pursue full-time positions, leaving little opportunity to execute a transition plan. Last summer, as Whit Shepard and I assumed the roles of Interim Co-Presidents, we initiated a new chapter in ACN by bringing on our first paid Executive Director, Michael Long. As we all know from our own work in the nonprofit sector, successful transitions of staff and leadership do not take place overnight (especially when they happen at the same time!). Thus we have dedicated much of the past year stabilizing the organization behind-the-scenes, in preparation for the exciting changes ahead.

    Which leads us to:

    Reinvigorate
    I am so excited to share with you all the work that our Board and committee members have been doing to reinvigorate the organization. First, and most importantly – our VP of Programming, Jonathan Eisler, has spearheaded the effort to put together this summer’s Annual Meeting, featuring the program A Panorama of the Nonprofit Sector: What to Know and Do Within the Changing Landscape. Talk about reinvigorated! This program turns our previous meetings on their head, in several exciting ways:

    • An incredible panel of speakers. This year’s lineup includes Eric Weinheimer and Delia Coleman (Donors Forum), Pier Rogers (Axelson Center), Judith Gethner (Illinois Partners for Human Services), and Sharon Bush (Grand Victoria Foundation).
    • Opening the doors to nonprofit organizations. Our members have been telling us that they want us to bring more nonprofits to the table, and this is our first step. We have created a program that offers high-quality content geared to both consultants and nonprofits, with the added benefit of giving everyone the opportunity to network with one another.
    • Special benefit for ACN members. While our program is open to all, ACN members who register early will have the exclusive opportunity to place their name, contact information, and a short description of their practice into the program that we’ll distribute at the door. That means every guest will leave with YOUR information at their fingertips.

    In short – it promises to be a phenomenal program. I very much hope you can make it.
    The program isn’t our only change. In the past year we have institutionalized our Pop-Up Happy Hours, which are pay-as-you-go events open to members, potential members, and guests of all stripes. Launched by Annisa Wanat and led by Meegan Dugan Bassett, these events are a great way to network with old friends and new colleagues – and ideal for those of us who aren’t “morning people”. We rotate between city and suburban locations. Our next event, on May 14th, is at Scout Waterhouse + Kitchen in the South Loop. We’d love to see you there!

    As our members know, this spring we launched our 2015 Member Survey, with the aim of learning more about who our members are – and where they want to go. The data have proven to be tremendously interesting (did you know, for example, that approximately twenty percent of our members have collaborated with other ACN members in the past two years?). More importantly, these data are useful – we are already hard at work translating the findings into a fact sheet to distribute to nonprofit organizations, as well as a white paper highlighting the spirit of our organization and our value to the nonprofit community. These will both be distributed via our social networks – please take a moment to share when you see them!

    And finally, I am pleased to use this post to serve as the re-launch of the ACN blog. As ACN expands its service to its members and the nonprofit community, we plan to use this blog as a platform for providing high-quality content to our readers. We have upcoming posts from ACN members Bonnie Massa, Debbie McCann, Jim Heininger, Carey Freimuth and Amy Wishnick. Also look for posts from our annual meeting speakers! Our blog reaches a large audience of potential clients – with approximately 1,200 unique visitors to our website each month – so if you’re interested in writing a piece about something you’re passionate about that would be of service to the nonprofit community, feel free to e-mail me at catherinesiebel@gmail.com.

    As we move ahead toward the Annual Meeting and beyond, I am looking forward to being a part of an invigorated and exciting ACN. I hope you’ll join me.

    Best Wishes,
    Catherine Siebel

  • 12/12/2016 11:41 AM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    By: Whit Shepard, RWS Consulting, Inc.
    In a professional association such as ACN – with its 25-year history and hundreds of members coming through our doors – the organization inevitably evolves over time to reflect both its leadership and the times. Our Board of Directors, revitalized with new leadership and new members, is excited to be moving our organization forward into a new era of nonprofit consulting. In the past year, the Board has been engaged in a number of initiatives – both strategic and tactical – that we believe will strengthen our organization as it prepares for the next quarter-century.

    On a strategic level, we have recently participated in two Board retreats focused on the nature of our organization and how we can meet the ever-changing demands of our profession. Fundamental to this discussion has been a consideration of the kind of organization we wish to become: an umbrella membership association that provides services and programming to as many members as we can attract, or a professional society of seasoned, savvy professionals that can promise our nonprofit partners a consistent level of excellence and experience. How we answer this question will have fundamental implications for how ACN is structured and financed going forward. Stay tuned.

    From a tactical standpoint, we frequently consider the issue of how ACN can deepen its relationship with the nonprofit community by providing proactive assistance in identifying, hiring and utilizing consultants to improve their organizations. Consistent with the age of data-driven decision making, we asked two of our fellow ACN members to design and execute a series of focus groups with the aim of identifying ways to add value to the member experience while providing more value to the community of nonprofit organizations we serve. With these findings in mind, the board has taken up a number of initiatives. We have:

    • Revamped the ACN website, making it more user-friendly for both our member consultants and nonprofit organizations who are looking for clients or using our RFP process.
    • Leveraged Google Analytics to analyze how users find our site and what they do once they get there.
    • Implemented several strategies to engage new and long-term members, including a New Member Orientation.
    • Added three new committees to our slate: Non-Profit Relations, which focuses on new ways to build affiliations with the non-profit community; Technology, which is responsible for ACN’s website and Customer Relationship Management software; and Sponsorship, which is looking at new models for underwriting the costs of ACN Events.
    • Strengthened our relationship with the Axelson Symposium as a means of more effectively reaching both the nonprofit and consulting communities with the message that ACN can be a valuable resource to each.
    • Presented a series of consistently excellent programming with thought leaders, including Waverly Deutsch’s two-part series on the Business Model Canvas, an annual Techworking Seminar and a “Voice of the Client” session, in which leaders of nonprofit organizations and foundations provide insights in how and why they hire consultants.
    • Bolstered the membership standards for new members, consistent with our aim of becoming an association of career consultants.
    • These are just a few of the organizational improvements that the Board has made recently. As 2014 unfolds, we will be announcing a series of exciting new initiatives that will increase the value of ACN’s membership and create new opportunities for the nonprofit community.

    We’ve come a long way in 25 years, and the best is yet to come!

  • 12/12/2016 11:40 AM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    By: Catherine Siebel, Impact Assessment for Foundations and Nonprofits
    On June 10th, ACN hosted its Annual Meeting, featuring the program, “A Panorama of the Nonprofit Sector: What to Know and Do Within the Changing Landscape”. For the first time, we invited nonprofit organizations to what has traditionally been a members-only event. What phenomenal energy! With a crowd that was nearly evenly split between ACN members and nonprofit organizations, I was thrilled to watch friends and colleagues greet one another and to witness new connections being made.

    Equally exciting was the programming, which exceeded our already-high expectations. Moderated by the exceptional Delia Coleman (I routinely tell anyone who will listen that you don’t understand what a skill it is to moderate until you’ve seen Delia work a panel), our group discussion ranged from the difficult to the optimistic – and spanned both theoretical and practical considerations.

    A key – and anticipated – point of discussion at the event focused on past and future budget cuts, and what that means for the sector. Judith Gethner noted that Human Service funding in Illinois has decreased by 29% since 2009 – and now faces cuts of hundreds of millions of dollars through the current budget negotiations. Sharon Bush commented: “This is more real than it has ever been. You’re going to be cut beyond the bone.” Asked what kind of changes this dire climate is fostering, the panelists provided a wealth of information. A few key points:

    • Ms. Gethner was the first to bring up “The ugly ‘M’ word – Mergers”, to which everyone nodded. Noting that this may well be a reality for many nonprofit organizations in the coming months and years, panelists agreed that mergers need to be thoughtful and strategic. Ms. Bush noted that programmatic collaboration “requires a backbone organization” – in other words, someone has to take the lead by serving as both the point of contact and the strategic leader.
    • Considerable discussion focused on – to use a well-worn phrase – “The new normal” of blurred lines of social good and philanthropy. No longer can the world be divided cleanly across government, for-profit and non-profit sectors. With more funding for social good coming from the private sector than ever before, how we look at social good is changing faster than we can keep up with.
    • In response, nonprofit organizations find themselves looking toward social enterprises as a way to shore up their funding streams. Eric Weinheimer, formerly the Executive Director of CARA, noted that he oversaw both a successful and an unsuccessful endeavor, cautioning that it’s important not to see social enterprises as a panacea – indeed, social enterprises require significant thought and effort.

    So what can nonprofit leaders do in response? How can they effectively meet their mission while managing a competitive and uncertain stream financial future? A few down-on-the-ground thoughts from our panelists:

    • Mr. Weinheimer talked about the skill of “managing up”, i.e., the need for Executive Directors to manage their Board Chairs: “This Board Chair better hold your board accountable.” This includes: ensuring that you and your Board Chair share the same vision and strategy for the organization; confirming that the Board Chair maintains a pipeline of engaged, qualified board members in the wings; and holding existing members accountable for not only strategic advice but meeting fundraising goals and leveraging their expertise in the for-profit sector to maintain financial responsibility for the organization.
    • Pier Rogers highlighted the significant need for leaders to make sure that they have the skills they need to run a modern organization. It requires not only sector knowledge, but also business acumen and the ability to “talk across sectors” – make sure that you can advocate for your sector to anyone, using language they understand (Ms. Gethner recommended the FrameWorks Institute as a resource for framing your organization for broader audiences).
    • Ms. Gethner strongly recommended a few key efforts, including: implementing a thorough and thoughtful contingency plan; dedicating resources to streamlining your donor and funder databases; and having honest conversations with your clients about the realities of your funding situations.
    • Ms. Bush advocated for both program officers and Executive Directors to maintain open lines of communication throughout the ups and downs of a given funding cycle: “Show me your budget sheet. I need to see it so I know what we’re talking about.”

    Throughout this compelling discussion, something that struck me over and over was the breadth of expertise that’s required in this changing landscape. At various points throughout the conversation, a variety of knowledge was deemed necessary to deal with these tectonic shifts. A few examples included impact measurement, social enterprises, strategic planning, board development, policy advocacy, data analytics, marketing/branding, and financial planning. No Executive Director can be expected to be experts in all of these areas while running their organization. And yet – this is precisely what they’re being expected to do. As the newly elected President of ACN, I’m proud to say that experts in every single one of these areas not only comprise our membership, but were represented in the room last Wednesday. Our members – averaging over 11 years of experience in nonprofit consulting and spanning more than 20 areas of expertise – provide such an incredible resource to the nonprofit community.

    With this in mind, I’ll finish with hopefulness by echoing Mr. Weinheimer’s sentiment: “It’s going to be tough. But I’m optimistic that the sector will come out stronger on the other side.”

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