• 10/09/2019 11:02 AM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    Spotlight on ACN Partnerships
    By Liz Duffrin, ACN member

    ACN members Donna Lake and Ellen Shepard collaborated on a strategic planning and communications project for a food pantry.

    Donna Larkin Lake, a communications strategist, didn’t know a single ACN member when she arrived at the annual meeting in June 2018. But over the breakfast buffet, she had a “wonderful conversation” with Ellen Shepard, CEO of Community Allies, who works with community and economic development groups. They exchanged cards.

    Several months later, Shepard contacted her with a project that was a perfect fit for both. Shepard would lead strategic planning for a food pantry, while Lake, former communications director for Northern Illinois Food Bank and Greater Chicago Food Depository, would craft messaging for the plan, and train the board of directors to carry out a communications strategy.

    “I show up at the ACN meeting not knowing anyone, and a few months later end up having this fabulous partnership that benefitted my business and my learning,” said Lake, president of Larkin Lake Strategic Communications.

    Shepard was also surprised at their fortuitous meeting, acknowledging that she is “not a natural networker, so I tend to go to these events and think, ‘I met people but nothing came of it.’ But this partnership was a reminder to me that the seeds you sow could bear fruit later—someone you meet today may be someone you can call on down the road.”

    The two consultants still didn’t know each other well when they began working together in the fall of 2018. “The contract was in my name, so there was a little fear: how confident can I be turning stuff over to Donna?” Shepard recalled. “But I felt comfortable quickly.”

    The collaboration turned out to be even more successful than either had anticipated. Lake offered to take notes in two planning sessions but also lent her expertise to the discussion. “She knew some questions to ask and what might be missing,” Shepard said. “Having another consultant in the room who knew the food pantry world was great for me.”

    Between sessions, Shepard said she often relied on Lake as a thought partner. “‘Let me say this out loud and see if it makes sense.’ And we talked through it in detail. What I was able to provide the client was much stronger with Donna’s input.”

    Including Lake in planning sessions also turned out to be critical to the later success of the communication effort. “Ellen could have completed the strategic plan with the board and handed me the report and asked me to craft messages from that,” said Lake, “but I wouldn’t have understood firsthand the passion that was coming from the board and why the particular strategies they wanted to move forward with were important to the organization.”

    In the meetings, Lake said that she also learned from watching Shepard lead the group so skillfully—keeping the pace and focus while drawing out the quieter members and pausing to let ideas percolate. “Having been a spokesperson for nonprofits, I sometimes feel the need to fill the silence. Watching Ellen in action has made me a better listener, which will help me serve my clients better.”

    Their advice to other consultants: “There are a lot of talented people in Chicago—get out and get to know them,” said Lake. “There are people out there who can help you, but it’s about networking to establish those relationships.”

    Collaboration “made both of our businesses stronger,” she added, “and helped us serve our clients better. I think that together, we’re stronger.”

  • 10/01/2019 5:55 PM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    At our popular recent program, Understanding Social Enterprise: Models, Funding and Legal Structures, the consultant and nonprofit attendees had lots of questions—many of them being: What the heck do all those acronyms stand for?

    Our expert moderator and panelists Suzanne Griffith (Vega Partners), Belinda Li (Citta Partnership), Erica Spangler Raz (Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights), and Bradley Summers (Wells Fargo) used their varied background in legal, fiscal and management to make sense of the social enterprise ABCs.

    B Corp: B Corporation (or B Lab)
    B Corporation certification is a private certification issued to for-profit companies by B Lab, a global nonprofit organization with offices in the United States, Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and a partnership in Latin America with Sistema B. To be granted and to preserve certification, companies must receive a minimum score on an online assessment for "social and environmental performance," satisfy the requirement that the company integrate B Lab commitments to stakeholders into company governing documents, and pay an annual fee ranging from $500 to $50,000, depending on annual sales. (Wikipedia)

    CFA: Chartered Financial Analyst
    A chartered financial analyst (CFA) is a globally-recognized professional designation given by the CFA Institute, (formerly the AIMR (Association for Investment Management and Research)), that measures and certifies the competence and integrity of financial analysts. Candidates are required to pass three levels of exams covering areas, such as accounting, economics, ethics, money management, and security analysis. (Investopedia)

    CPWA: Chartered Private Wealth Advisor
    Certified Private Wealth Advisor® (CPWA®) is an advanced professional certification for advisors who serve high-net-worth clients. It's designed for seasoned professionals who seek the latest, most advanced knowledge and techniques to address the sophisticated needs of clients with a minimum net worth of $5 million. (Investments and Wealth Institute - CPWA)

    CRPC: Certified Retirement Plan Counselor
    Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor (CRPC) is a professional financial planning designation awarded by the College for Financial Planning. Individuals may earn the CRPC designation by completing a study program and passing a final multiple-choice examination. Successful applicants earn the right to use the CRPC designation with their names for two years, which can improve job opportunities, professional reputation and pay. Every two years, CRPC professionals must complete 16 hours of continuing education and pay a small fee to continue using the designation. (Investopedia)

    L3C: Low-Profit Limited Liability Company
    A low-profit limited liability company (L3C) is a legal form of business entity in the United States that was created to bridge the gap between non-profit and for-profit investing by providing a structure that facilitates investments in socially beneficial, for-profit ventures by simplifying compliance with Internal Revenue Service rules for program-related investments, a type of investment that private foundations are allowed to make. (Wikipedia)

    PRI: Program Related Investment
    Program-related investments are those in which:
    1. The primary purpose is to accomplish one or more of the foundation's exempt purposes,
    2. Production of income or appreciation of property is not a significant purpose, and
    3. Influencing legislation or taking part in political campaigns on behalf of candidates is not a purpose. (IRS.gov)

    UBIT: Unrelated Business Income Tax
    Even though an organization is recognized as tax exempt, it still may be liable for tax on its unrelated business income. For most organizations, unrelated business income is income from a trade or business, regularly carried on, that is not substantially related to the charitable, educational, or other purpose that is the basis of the organization's exemption. An exempt organization that has $1,000 or more of gross income from an unrelated business must file Form 990-T. An organization must pay estimated tax if it expects its tax for the year to be $500 or more. (IRS.gov)

    Did we miss anything? Let us know and we’ll update our list.

    Want to learn more about implementing a social enterprise in your organization? Find an expert in our member directory or reach out to our Executive Director to connect with one of our social enterprise member experts: execdirector@acnconsult.org.

  • 09/17/2019 10:11 AM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    By: William A. Price

    1. Don’t apply for property tax relief before you get your federal exemption letter. You have the burden of proof of exemption, and though the IRS “Good Housekeeping Seal Of Approval” is not enough to prove state qualification, it is a required part of the application packet.
    2. Don’t apply if your zoning or building code compliance is wrong. Local taxing bodies get notice of property tax exemption requests, and if your site is not correctly zoned, you may have local use prohibitions, not just property taxes to pay.
    3. Don’t apply if your organizational entity is not in good standing. Religious or charitable not for profit corporations have to file incorporation papers and annual reports with the Secretary of State. Religious corporations have to file with local county clerks. Proof of current filing status is part of the required property tax application package.
    4. Don’t apply if your other taxes are not paid. Local and state sales tax, federal and state income tax withholding authorities, and other local tax registrars will be informed of any property tax exemption request, and they will get unpaid tax penalties and collections if you are not in compliance, whether or not they also contact the property tax exemption section of the Illinois Department of Revenue or the local assessment appeals boards that rule on your exemption application.
    5. Don’t apply as a charity or religious use property if you cannot prove your use is “exclusively” charitable or religious. The county boards of review, Department of Revenue and reviewing courts all require evidence of free services to all those in need, not just nonprofit operations that do not return profits to individual owners.
    6. Don’t apply as a school if your services are part-time and do not completely avoid the need for public education for children served by your school.
    7. Charitable or religious (or other exempt owner type) title to the property is required, not just a leasehold. You can work with an owner to subdivide and purchase a property on note and mortgage terms that give it back if you don’t make payments, but the ownership has to be free and clear in the exempt entity, not held for profit, or the exemption does not apply.
    8. Make sure you have proof of exempt use for every room and floor and part of a property. Anything less can result in exemption for less than 100% of property tax bills.
    9. Don’t forget the parking lots: these may be exempt if adjacent to and maintained for the benefit of adjacent parcels with exclusively religious or charitable exemptions.
  • 08/21/2019 1:53 PM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    ACN is served by an all-volunteer board of directors and committee members comprised of recognized nonprofit leaders across dozens of areas of expertise.

    We welcome the following returning and new board members for FY2020:

    ACN Board of Directors:
    Jill Misra - President
    Barb Vicory - Secretary
    Bradley Summers - Treasurer
    Rashmi Narsana - VP Programming
    Lidia Varesco Racoma - VP Marketing & Communications
    Gregg Mellinger - VP Membership
    Sherry Budziak - VP Nonprofit Relations
    Emily Taylor - Member-at-Large
    Randy Ford - Member-at-Large
    Suzanne Griffith - Member-at-Large
    James Javorcic - Member-at-Large

    Programming Committee:
    Rashmi Narsana – chair
    Alexis Allegra
    Belinda Li
    Elizabeth Richter
    Daniel Ronan

    Marketing Committee:
    Lidia Varesco Racoma – chair
    Andrew Clarke
    Annisa Wanat
    Kelli Moore
    Liz Duffrin
    Randy Ford
    Gordon Mayer

    Membership Committee:
    Gregg Mellinger – chair
    Sam Odishoo
    Connie Kyes-Myland
    Megan Angle
    Gabe Martin
    Fran Caan
    Governance Committee:
    Jill Misra – chair
    Joyce Golbus Poll
    Leah Lawson
    Amy Wishnick
    Margaret Knell
    Megan Renner
    K.M. Bell

    Are you interested in learning more about joining the ACN Board of Directors or participating in an ACN Committee? Reach out to our Executive Director Tricia Fusilero at ExecDirector@ACNConsult.org to learn more. 

  • 07/23/2019 10:38 AM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    Are you craving more ACN-time between educational events and libation get-togethers? 

    Do you have an #opportunity to promote that is not quite “listserv worthy?”  

    Is there a #question you know ACN-folk will know the answer to faster than you can google it?

    Maybe it’s a #job or #referral you want to share?

    ACN leadership listened to member feedback and started a closed Facebook group for current members to meet, connect, and network. 

    And on our #PromoFriday post you can even brag about your blog, speaking gigs, or other news!

    If you are an ACN member in good standing, please join us

    Be sure to read the group rules and introduce yourself, sharing a bit about yourself, what you do, and the best type of referrals for you. 

    We look forward to seeing you on Facebook!

  • 06/10/2019 2:49 PM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    On May 30th, ACN celebrated our 30th anniversary at Chicago Architecture Center. The venue is not far from where ACN was originally launched in 1989 with a handful of members—including Kelly Kleiman who was in attendance at the event (and received generous well-deserved applause).

    The evening kicked off with attendees chatting amidst scale models of Chicago buildings, followed by updates from ACN President Jonathan Eisler and President-Elect Jill Misra, who spoke about the significance of the number 30 (creative/social energy and optimism) and the new ways ACN is engaging with the nonprofit community through our partnerships with Forefront, The University of Chicago Office of Civic Engagement, and Chicago Cares.

    Our Member Engagement Team (Carol White of CBWhite, Emily Taylor of teenyBIG and Amelia Kohm of Data Viz for Nonprofits) shared results of “not just another member survey” that illustrated the “ACN Quest” and ways we are working to improve our members’ experience and engagement. Speaking of, one of our new ways of engaging members was announced: a private ACN Member Facebook group.

    Best of all, we were treated to an interactive keynote on storytelling from Ben Tanzer who, in addition to his speaking and storytelling, has had a long career in nonprofit work. Ben invited us to share our “superpowers” through a collection of sticky notes on the wall and led us through exercises to create our story. As Ben suggests, “Tell your story everywhere—and the stories behind the stories.”

    We are grateful for our 30th Anniversary Planning Committee who worked hard for several months to develop the event's theme, secure the venue and speaker and create this special celebration:

    • K.M Bell
    • Randy Ford
    • James Javorcic
    • Connie Keyes-Myland
    • Gail Kraus
    • Rashmi Narsana
    • Joyce Globus Poll
    • Lidia Varesco Racoma
    • Barb Vicory
    • Amy Wishnick

    Thank you to all of our members, past members, friends and guests who joined us to celebrate on May 30th. As we like to say, “ACN goes beyond business”—genuine connections and friendships are made through this group. Last week’s event truly illustrated this concept. Here’s to a great 30th year—and beyond—for ACN!

    Learn more about ACN and see how you can get involved

    Photos from the ACN 30th Anniversary Celebration & Annual Meeting

  • 05/07/2019 2:52 PM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    If you still haven’t registered for ACN's 30th Anniversary Event & Annual Meeting on Thursday, May 30, here are 10 reasons we think you’ll want to: 

    1. Networking with fellow ACN members

    2. Visiting with past ACN members and partners who have helped make ACN and our nonprofit community what they are today

    3. Hearing from our special speaker, Emmy Award-winning storyteller and writer, Ben Tanzer.

    4. Meeting new members, partners and nonprofit guests

    5. Getting to know our new Executive Director, Tricia Fusilero

    6. Looking back at ACN then and now. It’s exciting to see how far we’ve come!

    7. Hanging out in a really cool venue. The best place to celebrate “Building on 30 Years of Success” is the brand new Chicago Architecture Center with amazing design and incredible views.

    8. Looking ahead to where we’re going, with a special report from our President, President-Elect and Member Engagement Team

    9. Enjoying great food and drinks

    10. Being part of something big. This is the kickoff of a yearlong celebration of ACN’s 30 years and the great things still to come for nonprofit consultants and organization.

    Register now and be part of the future of ACN! 

  • 02/12/2019 12:09 PM | Deleted user

    Spotlight on ACN Partnerships

    by Liz Duffrin, ACN Member

    Meghann Beer, who once helped launch and lead a community development nonprofit working in the Democratic Republic of Congo, joined ACN in 2012. She had just moved to Chicago from Bloomington, Indiana, where she consulted for nonprofits and taught nonprofit management at Indiana University.

    Debra Natenshon joined ACN in 2013. At the time, she was the CEO of a national nonprofit consulting group but wanted to transition to consulting in Chicago.  

    When fellow consultant Carol White introduced Meghann and Debra at an ACN event several years ago, their connection was almost immediate.

    The two found they had complementary skill sets, and even better, “We liked each other right away,” says Debra. “That’s an important ingredient in knowing you’d like to work together.”

    Their chance to collaborate finally came in 2017 when a board member of a large educational service vendor approached Debra with a major project: “The client wanted a strategic plan but embedded in the plan, they needed a fundraising assessment,” she says. “I didn’t have that specific expertise, but I thought of Meghann immediately.”

    At many points during the year-long endeavor that followed, each of them remarked that she would never have taken on the project without the other.

    Besides having a partner to share the workload, Meghann says, they valued each other’s varied experience and skills. “We were able to grapple with challenges and think through the process in order to make valuable recommendations to the client.”

    The client’s challenges involved businesses processes, board governance, strategy implementation and personalities, Debra recalls. “If you’re an independent consultant with a complex project, you’re often working in an echo chamber. It was really important with this project to have each other as thought partners.”

    By the end of the project, the client’s strategic planning task force was pleased with how far they had come and impressed with the clarity of the plan and fundraising assessment.

    The two offered advice to other consultants looking for partnerships:

    •         Get to know your potential partner, says Debra. “Make sure you trust the person and have an understanding of the skills they bring.”
    •         Decide in advance who is taking the lead on which part of the work.  “You want the experience to be seamless for the client,” Debra explains, “so it needs to be clear for the consultants.”
    •         Build in time for reflection and collaboration in addition to time spent with the client or on a deliverable, Meghann advises. “That time was critical for our thought process.”

    Debra names the chance to meet potential collaborators one the biggest benefits of an ACN membership. “It’s marvelous to meet other consultants with complementary skill sets. There’s no shortage of work in Chicago,” she observes, “but the work is often more complex than one person can do alone.”

  • 01/03/2018 9:32 AM | Deleted user

    by Brenda Berman 
    BB Communications, ACN VP of Marketing

    Now that the hustle and bustle of the holidays is over, we tend to settle back into our normal daily rhythms and routines. If one of your resolutions is to keep up on trends that affect your professional life, you may find some intriguing reading material among the following – whether you are a consultant to nonprofits or a nonprofit leader. While not all of these selections are happy-making, I promise they won’t be boring.

    1. Hot topics in 2017 to help you plan for what’s ahead in 2018 

    From National Council of Nonprofits: VP Jennifer Chandler writes, “While it may be impossible to anticipate fully what 2018 has in store for charitable nonprofits, we think there are important takeaways from some of the hottest topics that surfaced in 2017.”

    Among the topics Chandler touches on are changes in charitable giving, budget cuts, sexual harassment and cybersecurity. Though written before the GOP tax legislation was passed by both chambers on December 20, 2017, her article includes this warning: “[With the standard deduction doubled], there is likely to be no tax incentive for 95 percent of the population to make a charitable donation in 2018.

    “Will Americans continue to give at their current (lower than prior years) rate? Or will tax reform result in even more depressed giving rates by individuals, resulting in up to $20 billion in lost charitable giving annually, as estimated by the Tax Policy Center?”

    More detailed analysis of the impact of the bill’s provisions on charitable nonprofits can be found in the Council’s Nonprofit Analysis of the Final Tax Bill Proposal.

    2. Nonprofit Trends for 2018 and Beyond

    From Nonprofit Pro: F. Duke Haddad, executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division, distills key points from several trend pieces about the future of nonprofits , including an article from Fast Company  that reveals the three top nonprofit jobs for the near future.

    3. 12 Demographic & Technology Trends Changing the Nonprofit Sector Worldwide

    From Nonprofit Tech for Good: This social and mobile media resource for nonprofit professionals illustrates some startling and powerful global demographic trends, citing sources as diverse as the United Nations Populations Fund, Pew Research Center and its own "2017 Global Trends in Giving Report."

    4. 2018 Fundraising Trends: Our Executive Team Looks Ahead  

    From Campbell & Company: Top experts at this fundraising consulting and executive search firm– CEO Peter Fissinger and EVPs Julia McGuire and Kate Roosevelt – provide their insights and recommendations for nonprofits in 2018.

    5. The House Tax Bill Is Not Very Charitable to Nonprofits  

    From Tax Policy Center: Researchers Joseph Rosenberg and Philip Stallworth make some depressing predictions of the effects of the GOP tax bill: “Even though the House version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) preserves the charitable income tax deduction, other income tax provisions of the bill could reduce charitable giving by between $12 billion and $20 billion in 2018 . . . A second provision—repeal of the estate tax—could reduce giving by another $4 billion in the longer run . . .

    "By nearly doubling the standard deduction and either repealing or scaling back most itemized deductions, the House version of the TCJA would substantially reduce the number of taxpayers who elect to itemize. TPC estimates that fewer than 13 million taxpayers would itemize deductions in 2018 under the House version of the TCJA, down from more than 46 million under current law.”

    6. Why do people give? Not for the tax break

    From Crains’ Chicago Business: While not discrediting the potentially crippling impact of the new tax laws on individual giving to nonprofits, reporter Lisa Bertagnoli presents a relatively hopeful outlook on giving by examining what motivates donors, particularly wealthy ones. She finds that belief in the organization’s mission, a desire to make a difference and personal satisfaction are their top reasons for giving.

    7. Will 2018 be the year of the nonprofit merger? 

    Also from Crains' Bertagnoli: Here she interviews advisers and nonprofit executives to understand the growing trend of nonprofit mergers and partnerships.

    8. Is Your Nonprofit Built for Sustained Innovation?

    From Stanford’s Social Innovation Review: Recent research shows that while most nonprofit leaders recognize the urgent need to innovate solutions to social problems, few think their organizations are prepared to do so. Writers Nidhi Sahni, Laura Lanzerotti, Amira Bliss and Daniel Pike present a sustainable approach for building innovation capacity within organizations.

    9. Models and Components of a Great Nonprofit Dashboard

    From Nonprofit Quarterly: According to Hilda H. Polanco and Sarah Walker of the financial management consulting firm FMA, “Nonprofits are complex enterprises. They are built around mission and desired outcomes but must be supported by the right revenue and expense models . . .

    "As an organization’s goals, strategy, and operating context shift over time, a dashboard allows a nonprofit to monitor both the effectiveness of this enterprise or business model, as evidenced by the organization’s financial health, and the impact of the programs and services being provided.” 

    Polanco and Walker present the process for developing an effective dashboard and show examples based on various business model drivers.

    As they say, you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you are.


    We would love to hear about your reading recommendations related to nonprofits and nonprofit consulting. Please send them to info@acnconsult.org and we may include them in a future blog post.

  • 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.

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