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  • 01/11/2022 7:49 PM | Elizabeth Duffrin (Administrator)

    By Gioia Giannotti, ACN Member

    Although many have insisted since the pandemic began that “the death of the office” is imminent, some nonprofits embraced the opportunity presented by remote work and empty offices to enhance and re-energize their workspaces. Over the course of these last two years, studies have shown that people want to return to the office — for reasons that are both practical and emotional. Employees cite the desire for a greater sense of social connection — engaging in collaborations and meetings, as well as training and career development opportunities.  Some state that a change in scenery and a break from home life are additional reasons for wanting to return.

    What appears evident is that a hybrid workstyle and hybrid workspaces may be more of the norm across industries moving forward. Therefore, as folks return to the office, many may be greeted by spaces that may look, feel and function a little differently in order to accommodate this shift. Others may be pleasantly surprised by having access to new amenities intended to enhance their comfort—mentally, emotionally, and physically.

    As nonprofits re-define their return-to-work policies, many are also rethinking their physical spaces. While nonprofits typically have limited budgets for remodeling, even small investments can boost productivity, attract and retain employees, appeal to clients, and bolster your mission.  Here are few ideas to consider:

    Create a Warm, Welcoming Entry. Renovating your entry, such as the façade or reception area, could be a relatively inexpensive way to attract clients and establish your brand identity. For instance, repainting your exterior entrance or recladding it with an inexpensive material can enhance visual appeal. Repainting and recarpeting your reception area can add personality and color. If you need to post legal documentation at the entrance, creating a framed or organized display will reduce a sense of clutter and enhance its attraction. Signage and imagery that reinforces your brand identity can also help staff, clients and guests feel more comfortable.

    (r)evolution architecture design for Healthcare Alternative Systems, Chicago

    In the past, many nonprofits and businesses have favored open office plans, both as a cost-saving measure and as a way to encourage communication through random encounters that build relationships and spark new ideas. But in recent years, research has pointed to a need for more varied work spaces. Employees have expressed that they want and need a choice of where and how they work, with access to areas that are both open and collaborative, as well as private, heads-down, get-the-work done spaces. A well-thought-out design plan can ensure that space is used flexibly yet efficiently and cost effectively.

    In an era of hybrid work, many organizations could also consider supplementing traditional multi-purpose/conference rooms with smaller virtual collaboration spaces (equipped with audio visual capabilities) to allow employees on site to plan or brainstorm with those working from home.

    (r)evolution architecture design for Health Communities Foundation, Riverside

    Create Rest Space. Staff need designated break areas to decompress. Consider going beyond a kitchenette to provide an area with comfortable furniture that encourages employees to relax and socialize. Doing so can help build relationships among staff that strengthens their connection with each other and your organization.

    If possible, create an outdoor break area in addition to an indoor one. Access to the outdoors can refresh and enhance productivity. At a minimum, ensure that your staff has access to natural light in both rest spaces and work spaces. Research shows that natural light energizes people and benefits mental health enormously.

    Build Connection through Design. While redesigning your workplace can take time and resources, the potential benefits are great. Thoughtful design both communicates your brand identity and accommodates human needs. It makes workers more productive and attracts clients and employees. It makes people feel welcomed and taken care of, increasing their sense of belonging and commitment to your organization. Especially in the COVID era, people are longing for a sense of connection that good design can help you provide.   

    Gioia Giannotti, ACN vice president, is also the vice president of business operations and co-founder of (r)evolution architecture, llc. She enjoys collaborating with clients across diverse industries to create unique holistic and inclusive spaces through a methodical pre-design plan development through design and construction administration. Her diverse background includes marketing strategy leadership, business development, and customer experience management for Fortune 500 companies, marketing agencies and non-profits. As a bilingual and bicultural Latina, Gioia brings an equity and belonging lens to her work, community and civic service efforts.

  • 01/06/2022 11:27 AM | Elizabeth Duffrin (Administrator)

    The pandemic may have dragged on in 2021, but we at ACN continued to keep our members connected and supported by embracing virtual opportunities—and grew our organization at a record pace.

    2021 Board and Committee Updates

    In 2021, we unveiled a new strategic focus as well as related Mission Statement, Statement of Purpose and Core Audience.  One of our goals is to make diversity, equity and inclusion a priority at ACN. We are also working on new ways to engage members nationwide, and our board and committees now include members from across the country.

    We also welcomed the following new board members:

    Gioia Giannotti of (r)evolution architecture

    John Bauer of John E. Bauer Consulting, LLC

    David Dow of Schooley Mitchell

    Aashi Mital of Pivotal Solutions Consulting

    Arthur Padilla of StrataG.Works

    Read more 2021 board updates

    2021 Committee Highlights

    Marketing & Communications Committee

    Board Liaison: Lidia Varesco Racoma; Co-Chair: Gordon Meyer

    The Marketing & Communications Committee is responsible for ensuring that ACN's brand and messaging is consistent in all outreach and across all channels. In 2021, they:

    • Refreshed the ACN website—including adding photos that highlight our members’ work.
    • Launched an Instagram page. You can follow ACN there, in addition to Facebook and LinkedIn.  
    • Implemented a new social media strategy so you will be seeing more consistent ACN content and stories.

    Nonprofit Relations Committee (NPRC)

    Board Liaison: Don Raack; Co-Chairs: Paul Cox and Amelia Kohm

    NPRC works to widen the nonprofit sector’s awareness of ACN and the resources available to nonprofits by establishing and maintaining partnerships with other nonprofit organizations (e.g., foundations, other associations that serve multiple nonprofits). In 2021 they:

    • Established a series of ACN member-facilitated webinars with Nonprofit Learning Lab (NLL). Through their website, e-newsletters, and programs, NLL reaches 65,000 nonprofit professionals from all 50 states. This partnership provides a growth opportunity for ACN members looking to share topics/content relevant for the nonprofit community and connect with potential nonprofit clients. 
    • Developed a toolkit that committee members can use to form partnerships as well as a memorandum of understanding template to use in the formalization of partnerships.
    • Continued our partnerships with Forefront and Nonprofit Learning Lab and began discussion of new partnerships with six other organizations.

    Membership Committee

    Board Liaison: Jim Javoricic; Co-Chair: David Dow

    First and foremost, we have broken our highest membership number on record— including an increase in national members (our membership now represents 15 states). 

    In 2021, the Membership Committee also launched EMPOWER Groups: members-only forums for similar or complementary groups of professionals to empower each other with a diversity of thinking, knowledge, shared experience, perspective, support, intentional networking, business development, and inspiration.

    The first four EMPOWER groups are Administrative Professional Services led by Sam Odishoo of USI Insurance Services, Working Parents led by Megan Angle of Porte Brown, LGBTQ+ led by David Dow of Schooley Mitchell and Grief & Loss led by Lidia Varesco Racoma of Lidia Varesco Design.

    "I look forward to the deep-rooted relationships EMPOWER Groups can build."  — Fernando Avila, Video Producer, Social Impact Films

    ACN Member Anniversaries 

    Congratulations to our members celebrating anniversaries in 2021. We are grateful for your dedication and participation!

    5 years:

    • Clara Lucia Carrier of Breaking Through Consulting, LLC
    • Suzanne Griffith of VEGA Partners
    • Kathryn Scanland of Greystone Global LLC
    • Jake Cowan 
    • Michael Mayse of Michael Mayse Consulting
    • Megan Angle of Porte Brown LLC
    • Genevra Knight of Porte Brown LLC
    • Jacki Davidoff of Davidoff Mission-Driven Business Strategy
    • Gordon Mayer of Gordon Mayer Communications
    • John Bauer of John E. Bauer Consulting, LLC
    • Lidia Varesco Racoma of Lidia Varesco Design
    • Kristin Patton of Ensemble Consulting
    • Alexis Allegra of Allegra Consulting

    10 years:

    • John Davidoff of Davidoff Mission-Driven Business Strategy
    • Jeff Marcella of Marcella Consulting Corporation

    15+ years:

    • Elizabeth Richter of The Richter Group
    • Margaret Hennessy of Hennessy Consulting Inc.
    • Amy Cornell of Cornell Consulting, Inc.
    • Carol White of CBWhite
    • Steve Pratapas of Pratapas Associates, LLC
    • Amy Wishnick of Wishnick & Associates, LLC
    • Kelly Kleiman of NFP Consulting
    • Joyce Golbus Poll of J.G. Poll & Associates

    "Being a member of ACN has helped me to make meaningful connections, learn from colleagues, and grow as a consultant. Joining was one of the best decisions I made in 2021!"  Allecia Harley of Prevention Advisory Group

    We are only as strong as our membership and we are grateful for the support and participation of our members. Here’s to a successful 2022!

  • 12/10/2021 11:53 AM | Elizabeth Duffrin (Administrator)

    By Michelle McConnico, ACN Member

    Giving Tuesday, which follows the post-Thanksgiving shopping madness of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, is a big day for nonprofit fundraising. Was your organization’s Giving Tuesday everything you’d hoped? If not, don’t be glum. Here are a few tips from MuvaShip Marketing to boost giving to your nonprofit all year round:

    1. Engage Donors Frequently

    Coming out of the woodwork the day after Thanksgiving to ask for money won’t get you far.  Have your donors or prospects gotten a holiday card from you lately, a thank you note, an email, anything? It is important that donors feel like they are a part of your mission, connect to your mission, and understand the impact that you are having within your space. Don't pop-up like a whack-a-mole just when you need funds to drive your ideas. Bring potential donors on a journey with you and your organization. Send monthly or quarterly emails about the impact you are having. Schedule a happy birthday email to acknowledge your donors on days that are special for them. Release annual reports that remind donors of the impact that your organization is having. Do this, and you will always be top of mind when a gifting opportunity comes around.

    2. Get Social

    Social media has become the most useful tool to engage an audience around a cause and to find like-minded individuals to either be a part of your audience or join your band. Invest in the ability to regularly schedule updates on social media about the progress of your efforts and why your cause is important. Share the stories of the lives you are impacting and be authentic with who you are and why your organization matters. Creating connections, even on social media, allows organization to break through the noise and build awareness well in advance of the ask. If your organization is not active on social media, you are cutting off what could be a viable pipeline of engagement and support.

    3. Take Advantage of Pre-Tax Season

    If there is anything that annoys high rollers more that cold-calling fundraisers, it is taxes. In many cases, taxes are the pain of a high earner’s existence. As a fundraiser you must understand that your organization is here to help. Quarterly or toward the end of the year, even after Giving Tuesday, is great timing to reach out and give donors the last-minute chance to help a cause that they love and possibly enjoy a sizeable tax break.

    Donations to charity are tax deductions from income that may be carried forward for up to five years. Each year taxpayers are required to claim the maximum deduction possible in the current year—the deductibility limits are 60% of adjusted gross income for cash and 30% for long-term appreciated securities—but they can then carry forward any unused charitable deductions for up to five more years. That's a major relief and solution for high earners who need to find feel-good tax breaks before the start of the new year. In addition to individual donors, identify and partner with large organizations or corporations who match your mission in some way. These days, corporations want to be good and do good. Make them a partner in working toward a common goal and solving a major problem. This creates longer term sustainability of your fundraising efforts.  You have married a big brand and a beautiful cause.

    Finally, let's be sure to acknowledge our donors. Not necessarily because they love the bright lights, but because their giving is important. Their giving can inspire others to give and let's donors know that you are a credible and trusted organization that will make the positive use of their funds. Thanking your donors and continuing to engage them in the impact you make is a guaranteed recipe for growth. 

    Michelle McConnico is founder & CMO of MuvaShip Marketing, which specializes in helping schools, nonprofit, and government entities with their online presence, marketing, and communications strategy.

  • 11/08/2021 11:31 AM | Elizabeth Duffrin (Administrator)

    By Kelly Kleiman, ACN Member 

    Very few nonprofit organizations use volunteers well.  There are exceptions, of course, like the outstanding docents of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, who conduct virtually all the foundation’s public programs after rigorous training. But much more common is the attitude typified by the head of a large charity in New York: “I wish someone would get these volunteers off my back!”  This is very much like saying “It’s so annoying having to pick up all these $100 bills falling from the sky!” because people who volunteer give more money than people who don’t, and unsurprisingly, most of that money goes to the agencies where they volunteer.  Volunteer workers are only a pain in the ass if you’re not using them right.

    The key to using volunteers well is the Big MAC: Meaningful Work, Autonomy, and Collegiality.

    Meaningful Work 

    No nonprofit has as its mission “stuff envelopes” or “file,” but those are the kind of tasks we tend to assign to volunteers—and, as you may have noticed, there aren’t nearly as many envelopes to stuff as there used to be!  Volunteers, just like staff—even more so—want to do work that contributes directly and obviously to mission.  Several things follow from this:

    • Nonprofits need to have thought in advance of projects—not tasks but projects—that need to be done but for which no one on staff has any time. One of my best experiences as a volunteer began when the executive director responded to my handing her my resume by handing me a list of things the staff was too overwhelmed to manage.  I chose the one closest to my skills and in completing the project, solved a problem for the agency and developed such a sense of its value and my ability to contribute that I joined the board.
    • The most familiar of these projects is “design the website,” which is why the Taproot Foundation is forever assigning volunteer teams to do it.  While this requires some caution—you need to be clear about the volunteer’s level of expertise and what staff support they will require—any volunteer who does this successfully will have received a crash course in everything about your agency and, feeling useful, will commit to it with their dollars as well as their time.                                    
    • The second-most familiar of these projects is organizing a benefit event—the classic activity for the Ladies Who Lunch. 
    • Any executive director who can’t come up with a list of five projects that are always on the back burner (e.g., evaluate the effectiveness of this program!  Rework the scheduling for that program!  Find out why people are ignoring the other program!) is not thinking hard enough.

    Often when I tell nonprofit executives that volunteers require meaningful work their backs go up like exasperated cats: “It’s not my job to bring meaning to their lives!”  No, of course not, but that’s not the kind of meaning we mean when we say meaningful. (Department of Redundancy Department!)  If the project has value to the agency which can be explained, it has meaning to the volunteer.  There won’t always be a perfect match between a volunteer worker’s skills and interests and the tasks available, but in that case acknowledge the mismatch and send the person on their way with a feeling of having been treated thoughtfully and respectfully.  And when there is a match, it’s like having an extra employee—but for free!

    Which leads me to another common problem in using volunteers: the staff’s resentment of people who are doing for a hobby what they do for a living.  It’s essential that staff members understand that they are being supported and not supplanted by volunteers.  This is easiest if, once the match of volunteer to project is made, supervision transfers from the volunteer coordinator or executive director to the appropriate staff member. For instance, a volunteer searching for cheaper office space should be referred to the director of operations and one assisting with event planning to the director of fundraising. We know to do this with interns, so it’s not clear to me why it is so seldom done when the cost-free labor comes from experienced adults.

    And speaking of supervision:


    Your volunteer workers, just like your paid staff, will be happiest when they have a certain amount of latitude in how to complete their projects.  What amount is appropriate varies with each volunteer, each project, and each supervisor—but bear in mind that if you assign a volunteer to write a promotional piece and they come back with something suitable, it’s best not to rewrite it so you think it’s perfect.  Re-doing their work leads inevitably to frustration and a sense of futility on the part of your volunteer.  It’s more important to value someone’s contribution.

    In other words, there’s a difference between supervising and micro-managing.  Err on the side of choosing smart people, giving them the “what,” and letting them choose the “how.”


    People volunteer because they want to exercise their skills, because they want to be of service—and because they want more contact with others than their current life provides.  While it’s not always possible to find more than one volunteer for a project, often it will be—and that sense of working in partnership will make your volunteer worker feel more confident in getting the job done, not to mention more likely to do it when there’s someone else concerned with its progress. 

    If you can’t give a volunteer worker a partner or a team from within the volunteer group—or even if you can!—make sure they are treated as full team members by their supervisors: have them invited to departmental staff meetings; have them included in brainstorming sessions.  The more they are included, the more they’ll understand how their project fits into the agency’s goals and plans; and the more they understand that, the harder they’ll work—and the more they’ll donate!

    Naturally, inclusion and collegiality are made more difficult if people are working remotely, but it is no more difficult to compensate for that with volunteers than with staff.  That’s why God invented Zoom meetings and phone check-ins!

    One Last Thought

    You may have noticed that I frequently refer to “volunteer workers.”  Keep in mind, that’s what they are: people who have come to offer their skills and labor to your organization.  Because the word “volunteer” has come to suggest—unfairly!—people with nothing else to do who come and kibbitz at your workplace, some places call them “unpaid consultants” or “unpaid staff.”  That may not be necessary (or sufficient), but it is necessary to treat unpaid workers like staff: give them clear expectations, make sure they have the resources they need to accomplish the project with which they’ve been charged, include them in decision-making, and hold them accountable for results. 

    If you do all that, you’ll get more done using volunteers!

    Kelly Kleiman, a lawyer educated at the University of Chicago, has spent more than 30 years in the nonprofit sector. She founded NFP Consulting in 1988 after serving as executive director of the Chicago Children’s Choir and assistant dean of IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law.  Through her consulting practice, Kelly helps nonprofits with fundraising, strategic planning, board development and the use of high-skills volunteers.  She also advises on issues of charity and philanthropy as The Nonprofiteer, ChicagoNow.com/the-nonprofiteer. Kelly was a founding member of the Association of Consultants to Nonprofits.

  • 10/12/2021 2:26 PM | Elizabeth Duffrin (Administrator)

    By Shailushi Ritchie, ACN member

    Few phrases seem to strike fear into the hearts of nonprofit leaders and board members as much as “succession planning.”  It’s not that people don’t understand what it is or why it’s important, only that it’s uncomfortable to plan for someone’s eventual departure—like planning a funeral when someone is alive and well.  Although there is a growing understanding of the importance of end-of-life planning, it seems that succession planning in nonprofit organizations hasn’t caught on.

    The State of the Sector

    Planning for the departure of one leader and the hiring and establishment of a new leader is critical to an organization’s long-term success.  Compasspoint’s 2011 report on nonprofit leadership indicates that 67% of CEOs/ED plan to leave their jobs within five years, 10% anticipate leaving within one year, and 7% have already given notice.

    Nonprofits also face hiring and retention challenges due to COVID-19.  Nonprofits are not exempt from the hiring and retention challenges faced by other employers in what is being called the “Great Resignation.”  Forbes reports that 69% of employees, regardless of sector or role, are disengaged from their work and almost half (48%) are actively looking for new work. For decades, nonprofit organizations have developed a culture that prioritizes mission above all else.  Coupled with low pay rates, expected overtime hours, and comparatively few benefits, employees in the nonprofit sector are finding ways to push back against working conditions or leaving their roles altogether.

    Yet, Boardsource reports only 27% of nonprofit organizations have a succession plan in place.

    Why is Succession Planning Important?

    Succession planning is important because it creates a space for nonprofit board members and organizational leadership to assess and plan for potential staffing changes in the foreseeable future.  It is not only to plan for the departure of an executive director or the board chair but also board and staff leadership at lower levels.  When directors and managers of organizational functions and programs leave, their departure can create just as much instability as when an executive leaves.

    Succession Planning as a Route to Employee Engagement

    Succession planning can also help organizations understand the wants, needs, and issues faced by all staff.  This is important for attracting highly-qualified candidates and for retaining staff in their current roles.  If leadership doesn’t pay attention, the organization may find itself in the middle of its own “Great Resignation.”  To paraphrase Forbes Magazine, preventing a Great Resignation is about preventing a Great Discontent. 

    Although more than 50% of respondents indicated they would like to hire an internal candidate for a leadership position, Bridgespan reports that internal candidates apply for leadership positions about 30% of the time but are often not hired because of concerns they do not have enough of the right experiences. Organizations can use their succession planning efforts to consider how to develop a pipeline of internal talent and what kinds of training, support, and benefits they can offer to retain current staff in anticipation of future transitions.  This also bolsters the organization’s long-term stability; staff are engaged, and the knowledge and expertise of existing leaders does not leave the organization when leadership transitions do occur.

    Developing a Succession Plan

    Developing a succession plan can be as easy or as complicated as you want to make it.  A basic plan should include the following:

    • Key responsibilities.
    • Who will be responsible.
    • Information about timing and frequency.
    • Connections to other staff (supervisors and support).
    • Plan for recruitment and hiring a replacement.

    A template from Clarity Transitions, one of Sevah Consulting’s trusted colleagues, is linked here. BoardEffect also has a succession planning checklist on its website, linked here.

    Expanding your succession planning beyond leadership is not much harder.  It does require time and commitment to create professional development that meets the needs of current staff.  MissionBox provides a thoughtful approach for how nonprofits can incorporate professional development into succession planning, including:

    • Understand the connection between performance reviews and professional development.  Clear goals for staff performance can also highlight opportunities for training and new opportunities.
    • Focus on personality as much as skill.  Leadership is as much about personality as it is about skills and expertise.  This isn’t to say that an individual’s personality limits their leadership ability, but rather it is an important component of an individual’s fit with a certain job.
    • Identify opportunities for innovation.  Ask yourself if your organization encourages questions or does it encourage people to agree and move along?  Are people punished for getting involved in new projects or are they praised for new ideas?  Fast Company notes that many Google innovations—including Gmail, Google News, and Google Earth Outreach—resulted from encouraging employees to dedicate working hours to a “passion project.”

    Succession planning might not be the most exciting aspect of nonprofit management, but it is rapidly becoming one of the most critical.  Given the challenges facing the sector, effective planning for staff transitions can make the difference between an organization that merely survives and one that truly thrives, both today and in the future.

    Shailushi Ritchie, founder and CEO of Sevah Consulting in Chicago, helps nonprofit organizations address strategic and operational challenges. As an advocate, writer, and nonprofit professional, she has worked on a range of issues affecting women and girls—including domestic violence, reproductive health, rights, and justice, and media’s impact on girls’ self esteem—and the societal factors that contribute to those issues. Prior to moving back to Chicago in 2016, she ran media and legislative advocacy campaigns at the local and state level in California and was featured in San Francisco Magazine December 2015 “Women in Power” issue.

  • 09/07/2021 3:47 PM | Elizabeth Duffrin (Administrator)

    By Kaycee Bunch, ACN Member

    Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion has always been essential in establishing an effective nonprofit board of directors and is even more relevant now in our ever-changing world. We tend to hear these three words together—Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (or DEI)—but what do they really mean?

    • Diversity is the involvement of people from a range of backgrounds and perspectives, especially those who have been historically marginalized by their racial or ethnic identity, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity, disability, or economic status. 
    • Equity in DEI refers to social equity, meaning that all members of a community can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. Equity is not to be confused with equality, however. Have you seen this clever illustration of the difference between equality and equity? Equality (on the left) provides equally for everyone. Equity (on the right) flexibly accommodates each person’s need to arrive an equal outcome.

    Source: “What Is Social Equity?” Melbourne Social Equity Institute, socialequity.unimelb.edu.au/stories/ what-is-social-equity

    • Inclusion is the practice of including and accepting people who are different from you, in every possible way, and providing them with equitable access to resources and opportunities.

    A diverse board that practices equity and inclusion will greatly benefit your nonprofit.  It will allow opportunities to discuss deeply-rooted community issues from multiple perspectives, leading to more creative and informed ways of tackling challenges and pursing goals.

    Although many boards strive for DEI, they sometimes fall short in recruiting a truly diverse membership. An excellent model for creating a diverse board can be found in the world of community development.

    Some years ago, Future Generations University and Johns Hopkins University conducted a study of large-scale efforts at community change, examining approaches world-wide over the previous century. They identified core principles for successful community change and described them as part of a system they called SEED-SCALE. One of these core principles is the three-way partnership.

    Because social change is complex, creating an effective team representing diverse constituencies, proved essential, researchers found. Future Generations University refers to the three groups that must be included in a partnership for social change as the “Bottom-Up,” the “Outside-In,” and the “Top-Down.”

    The first group—the Bottom-Up—are the people who will do most of the work or reap most of the benefits (think of your staff and volunteers and those your organization is helping). The second partnership, the Outside-In, are the outsiders that have an interest in transforming the community (think consultants, researchers, people interested in your organization although they may not have direct involvement in it). The third partnership, the Top-Down, are the leaders whose decisions effect the community (think of your leadership, board of directors, high-profile donors).

    Because all three of these groups of people have knowledge that should inform the direction of your organization, it is vital they all have representation on your board. Strategic planning and other decision-making are typically undertaken by the Top-Down with their bird’s-eye view, perhaps with input from the Outside-In. Rarely is the lived experience of the Bottom-Up invited in.

    Including the Bottom-Up on your board of directors, particularly those from marginalized groups your nonprofit serves, can present challenges It may require extra effort to create equitable opportunities for everyone to participate, such as additional training or even arranging for their transportation to your meeting. It may include actively soliciting their ideas and then listening to a critique of services you’ve worked hard to provide. It may even feel uncomfortable handing power to someone who you feel is less prepared to lead than you are.

    But the payoff to practicing DEI is great. It can lead to more holistic and informed approaches. It can empower those who have been long excluded from wielding power. And as research has demonstrated, practicing DEI is essential for achieving your nonprofit’s vision for meaningful, large-scale, lasting change.  

    For additional information on this topic, see National Council of Nonprofits, DEI Tools and Resources National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE) Diversity & Inclusion Self-Assessment.

    Kaycee Bunch, M.A, is the owner of Kaycee Bunch Consulting, which specializes in Community Development. Kaycee has worked with over 20 nonprofit organizations both nationally and internationally, focusing on strategic planning, program development, and fund development.

  • 09/06/2021 11:37 AM | Elizabeth Duffrin (Administrator)

    By Liz Duffrin, ACN Member

    Diversity, equity and inclusion is a top priority for the ACN Board of Directors as it begins its new term.

    ACN has great potential to boost its membership by appealing to a more diverse group of consultants, said new board president Shailushi Ritchie, founder and CEO of Sevah Consulting.

    Currently, most ACN members are white (86%) and reside in Chicago. While experienced in their respective fields, members typically have been in the consulting business for fewer than eight years.  “What can we do to engage more people,” Ritchie asked, “people of different racial and ethnic groups, experienced consultants and people who don’t live in Chicago?”

    The board has ideas. To engage members nationwide, remote programming will continue post-pandemic, even as in-person workshops and happy hours resume. For experienced consultants, programming that “talks about how to move your business to the next level,” could be a draw, she said. The board also anticipates organizing and supporting self-directed affinity groups, such as for members who are on the West Coast or LGBTQ or people of color. These groups may focus on free-form networking or take a more formal approach, such as by inviting in speakers, she explained. “We want each group to meet the needs of its members.”

    The board is looking forward to pursuing many other goals, as well, as it rolls out the strategic plan it adopted at the end of FY21, said Ritchie. “I personally am excited about the fantastic group of board members we have and how much energy and drive there is to tackle some of our big challenges.”

    ACN welcomes its newest board members:

    Gioia Giannotti, ACN vice president, is a new business developer and marketer who co-founded (r)evolution architecture. in 2012 with her husband, Christopher Frye. She serves as vice president of business development for the full-service architecture and interior design studio. Gioia enjoys collaborating with clients across diverse industries to create unique spaces, from master planning through post-construction. Her diverse background includes marketing strategy leadership, business development, and customer experience management for Fortune 500 companies. As a bilingual and bicultural Latina, she brings an equity and belonging lens to her work and volunteer efforts.

    John Bauer, is principal and senior strategist at John E. Bauer Consulting, LLC, based near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Formerly a school administrator, he earned a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration and served as a school principal and as chief academic officer of Wisconsin Lutheran College for 22 years. Before launching his consulting practice, he was the merger integration project manager, chief operations officer, and eventually President and CEO of Bethesda Lutheran Communities, a national service provider for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. His consulting practice includes executive coaching, strategic planning, organizational development, and interim executive leadership.                      

    David Dow, based in Bloomington, Illinois, is strategic partner at Schooley Mitchell, North America's largest cost-reduction consultancy, His clients include YWCAs across the USA, small and large regional and national nonprofits, educational institutions, and for-profit businesses. In March of 2021, along with his partner Jim Neeley, David was given the Norene G. Ball award for community service by YWCA McLean County.

    For more than 20 years, David served as managing director of Wisecracker Design. His expertise includes new business development, business expansion, sales, marketing, design, development, sourcing, production, and logistics. 

    Aashi Mital, CEO of Pivotal Solutions Consulting, is based in Cincinnati, Ohio. She focuses on problem solving, sustainability solutions, organizational health, executive coaching, professional development and global connectivity. She is a published author on interdisciplinary topics including geopolitical patterns, executive leadership, business and engineering economics, worldwide sustainability, human productivity and historical perspectivesShe participates in speaking engagements around the world in her areas of expertise, which also include best nonprofit standards and practices.  Prior to launching her consultancy, she was director of the nonprofit wing of J.C. Baker and Associates – The Business Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio, a consultancy that works with clients on organizational development and sustainability.                                                               

    Arthur Padilla, is senior managing partner of StrataG.Works, and based in Federal Way, Washington. His services to nonprofits include diversity, equity, and inclusion planning, strategic planning, leadership coaching, and program design and evaluation. He has done extensive work in anti-racist and anti-oppression programming across the United States. A recent project included a three-year initiative with the YWCA USA as lead evaluator for a trauma-informed leadership project for high school girls of color. Prior to becoming a consultant, he earned an M.A. in Counseling Psychology and served as a nonprofit executive director for organizations serving people with AIDS and LGBTQ youth.

    See the full listing of FY21-22 Board of Directors here

  • 07/16/2021 5:30 PM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    Thank you to all that attended our 32nd Annual Meeting (and our second virtual meeting) on Friday, June 18. We were thrilled to see members, board members and committee volunteers, sponsors, speakers as well as nonprofits in attendance. 

    One of our key updates was the news that we have broken our highest membership number on record, including an increase in national members (our membership now represents 15 states). 

    We thanked our outgoing board and committee members for their service: board members Suzanne Griffith, Emily Taylor and Randy Ford, as well as outgoing committee chairs, Michael Mayse (Programming) and Laura Weinman (Membership). 

    We also announced retaining board members Jim Javorcic and Shailushi Ritchie as well as new board members, John Bauer, Arthur PadillaDavid DowAashi Mital and Gioia Giannotti. See the full ACN board here

    Shailushi Ritchie, who led the Strategic Planning Task Force, unveiled ACN’s new strategic focus as well as our related Mission Statement, Statement of Purpose and Core Audience. 

    Kelly Short of Campbell & Company shared eye-opening data and discussed how we can shift to a more community-centered fundraising model that brings racial equity to fundraising, and how we as consultants can use our power to break the systems and processes in place. 

    Next we heard inspiring insights from our panelists: Hilary Dale of BDO FMA discussed how they helped nonprofits apply for PPP loans, resulting in over $1 billion in loans. Talla Mountjoy of Talla Mountjoy Consulting talked about how she started consulting for a better quality of life and to follow her passion. Arthur Padilla of StrataG.Works talked about how he initiated coaching cohorts to help people dismantle racism and become allies. 

    Our featured speaker Monique Jones, CEO of our partner Forefront kicked off her talk by sharing the five personal values that lead her work: optimism, integrity, equity, fidelity and humor. She talked about how organizations and philanthropy are being reimagined and how consultants can be a part of this. She suggests to diversify what you’re able to offer, take care of yourself, and set boundaries for what you can/cannot do. 

    Thank you for joining us—here’s to a great year! 

    The meeting replay is available for ACN members here.

  • 07/12/2021 7:36 PM | Elizabeth Duffrin (Administrator)

    By Chris Vaughn, ACN Member

    The online content your nonprofit creates tells a story. It highlights the importance of your work and accomplishments. Done well, it can further your mission by attracting new members and inspiring constituents to action.

    Now that the pandemic has moved so much of our lives online, your nonprofit’s content strategy is more important than ever. And your audience expects more than ever: a static website, monthly newsletter, and occasional Facebook post are not enough..

    Sequence Consulting recently conducted a survey of national and Chicago-area associations to find out how the pandemic had changed their members’ expectations for online content. What we found almost certainly applies to most nonprofits, regardless of size and mission: the demand for timely and useful information is increasing and will likely remain high in a post-pandemic world. To decide if your nonprofit needs to level up its content strategy, ask yourself the following four questions:

    1. Do you publish new content often?

    If not, you need to! In the past year, organizations that prided themselves on highly-produced, in-depth publications learned that this content style no longer worked for their members.

    Todd Unger, chief experience officer of the American Medical Association, said that members were now asking for more frequent contact, and cared less about the production value of content than its timeliness. “‘We want to see you more and hear from you more,’” members told the AMA.

    All nonprofits should make new online content a priority, but the frequency depends on your goals. If your mission. like the AMA’s, includes being an up-to-date source of relevant news, then you should publish new content daily. Advocacy organizations which aim to inspire members to immediate action on important issues should produce content daily, even if just through a social media post or a tweet. Even the smallest nonprofits shouldn’t neglect to communicate weekly if they want to be remembered. Fortunately, frequent communication has never been easier, and you no longer need to spend time and resources on perfectly polished content—members and contributors prefer content that meets their immediate needs.

     2. Are you taking full advantage of technology?

    Thanks to the unprecedented use of web conferencing platforms like Zoom, you now have the opportunity to secure higher-caliber speakers for digital events. Speakers and members can attend from anywhere, providing opportunities that would be impossible with in-person events. Whether virtual or in-person, there is significant value in live events. Margaret Mueller, CEO of the Executives Club of Chicago, finds that having high-quality speakers interact with members live allows “the connection to become more raw and real.”

    These events don’t need to be elaborate to be effective. One of the hallmarks of The Executives’ Club’s new content strategy is Coffee and Connect, where members can log on at the same time a few mornings a week to get advice from an expert in residence about the issues their business is currently facing. 

    Ask yourself what information would be most engaging to your constituents, and what experts they would most like to hear from. Find a way to deliver that information to them quickly, in a live format. 

    3. Are you publishing your events as content?

    When the pandemic hit, many nonprofits had to quickly abandon traditional event formats and go digital with their conferences, trainings, and fundraising events. One benefit: any online event, large or small, can be recorded and repackaged as content. Quick highlights from a longer video can be excerpted and shared via social media, email, and your website. Key points can be summarized in a blog post or a great quote shared with a tweet. The recorded event itself can be made available online. By taking your event content, repackaging it, and distributing it online to those who couldn’t attend live, you can provide significant value. Again, video doesn’t need to be highly produced to be engaging and effective.

    4. Are you highlighting constituent stories?

    Ultimately, people want to be part of organizations making a difference in the world. Members of professional associations want to read stories about colleagues who have excelled while simultaneously making an impact. Supporters of any nonprofit would value hearing from staff and those they impact talk about challenges and victories.

    Some highly successful associations have already adopted this approach. The AMA publishes a short-form digital magazine that focuses on members who are moving medicine forward. Some of the American Bar Association’s most popular content consists of members telling stories about other members. The Executive’s Club of Chicago shares members’ stories online through short video segments.

    There are many ways to incorporate personal stories into your online content strategy. Find the strategies that work best for your nonprofit. When you do, you will see engagement, membership, and revenue grow.  

    Chris Vaughn, PhD, is the chief strategy officer at Sequence Consulting, which has helped associations and nonprofits of all sizes grow their audience and revenue through innovative strategy and marketing since 2001.  His clients include AMA, AARP, United Way, Make-a-Wish, American Lung Association, and the Jewish United Fund, and many others. For more information on how top associations are using lessons learned during the pandemic to transform their content strategy, download Sequence Consulting’s report here.

  • 06/03/2021 11:21 AM | Elizabeth Duffrin (Administrator)

    By Amy Schiffman, ACN Member 

    Last month, I sat screen to screen (on my sixth Zoom of the day) with my Evolve Giving Group colleagues, talking about how many of our nonprofit clients feel “stuck.” That feeling is the result of a pandemic that has forced them to rethink their plans and strategies and yet, at the same time, made it difficult to plan.  We thought hard about how to help nonprofits think differently about possibilities and opportunities, and developed a process we call visioning.

    Visioning is more creative and comprehensive than a revision to your vision statement. It is the precursor to every strategic plan, feasibility study, and every large-scale campaign. It enables organizations and groups to agree on compelling goals, breakthrough strategies, and aligned action.

    An organization’s strategic visionwhich is summarized in its vision statementis an overarching set of goals, without the roadmap to get there (that comes later). It tells stakeholders, staff, and donors “where we’re going” and “what we hope to achieve.” Nonprofits with clear strategic visions are the ones that inspire donors, unify stakeholders, and raise substantial amounts of money.

    Here are 4 signs it’s time to engage in strategic visioning:

    1. Your work looks wildly different than it did 1.5 years ago.
    2. You’re questioning whether a particular project or set of programs really fits into your organization’s bigger picture.
    3. Making decisions about how to move forward has become increasingly difficult for staff and board members.
    4. The constant change and shifting gears over the past year has left your team feeling burnt out, misaligned, and confusedand you’re not sure how to get back on track.

    If you relate to one or more of these statements, it’s likely you’re ready to define your strategic vision. I suggest you start with an exercise that engages a small group of stakeholders who are ready and willing to think “big” about your organization’s future. This exercise helps jump start the visioning process and stimulate brainstorming:


    The group forms two concentric circles facing each other. One third of the group joins the inner circle and the remaining two-thirds join the outer circle. The group then forms trios with one person from the center circle and two people from the outer circle.


    Each person in the trio has two minutes to complete the sentence “It is (choose a date in the future - like June 15, 2023) and it has been a great year…” This person should speak as if it is currently that date and share organizational accomplishments, current programs or operations, challenges, and achievements. After six minutes, each person in the trio will have had their turn and the inner circle can rotate so that each person joins a new trio and the group completes three rounds.


    At the end of the activity, spend some time debriefing with your final group and assign a note taker. I suggest asking questions such as:

    • How did your vision change with each round?
    •  What did you hear from others that inspired or excited you?
    •   Did you hear any consistency or alignment around future hopes and goals?

    The ideas that come out of this exercise can form the foundation of an organizational vision. If you are interested in learning more about strategic visioning, please reach out, and if you try this exercise with your team, let me know how it goes!

    Amy Schiffman is president and CEO of Evolve Giving Group. She and her rock star team can be found at www.evolvegivinggroup.com so feel free to reach out with comments or questions.

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