• 03/23/2018 2:30 PM | Deleted user

    By ACN member Emily Taylor
    Principal, teenyBIG

    To many, the word design means nothing more than making the latest sports car or water bottle “look cool.” But design goes so much deeper than aesthetics: It considers human need.

    Design Thinking Begins With Empathy

    Companies have long followed a process to design products that meet human needs for comfort, convenience, ease-of-use. This process, now commonly known as “design-thinking,” begins with empathy for the user’s experience. Nonprofits can adopt the same process to better design programs for the people they serve.

    As I talk to those in the social sector, I find people who are passionate and knowledgeable about what they do but who have yet to step back and thoroughly examine their work through the eyes of their clients or supporters. With all the pressures that nonprofits face to do more with less, it is understandable that this important undertaking often falls through the cracks. But making the effort to conduct “empathy interviews” with your clients and supporters will help your organization understand how to make your work far more effective.

    An empathy interview, the first step in design-thinking, differs from a standard interview in that it must be designed to challenge your assumptions. For instance, one of my current clients is having difficulty recruiting volunteers to fill board and other leadership positions. Their assumption is that people no longer have time to volunteer in their community. My job is to interview a variety of people who volunteer to find out why they do make the time as well as people who don’t volunteer to find out if the lack of time is what really keeps them from engaging. The learnings that come from these interviews will go a long way in reframing who the client need to recruit and how they can more effectively engage the interest of potential volunteers.

    How One Organization’s Empathy-Driven Insights Led to Better Solutions

    Pillsbury United Communities in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is an example of a nonprofit that took empathy to another level in an effort to understand its community. The state health department had asked Pillsbury to figure out why the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) was so greatly underused by eligible families and propose a solution.

    In addition to conducting one-on-one interviews with parents eligible for WIC, the Pillsbury team immersed themselves in the WIC users’ experiences. They rode along with them on the bus to get WIC vouchers and then on another bus to get groceries with small children in tow. They witnessed parents’embarrassment at the checkout counter when they discovered they had selected products that weren’t covered by WIC. These empathy-driven insights led them to reframe the problem they were trying to solve. Rather than figuring out how to get families to better utilize the WIC program, they began to consider how the WIC program might better fit families’ lives.

    You May Need to Reframe the Problem

    In my work, I find this reframing of the problem to be the most exciting but challenging part of the design process. Organizations sometimes resist redefining a problem in which they have invested a lot of time and money to solve. But when a design team can see, hear, and empathize with the experiences of those they serve through observation, a video, photograph, or a compelling story – the passion it can ignite in a team to find a better solution is astounding.

    Brainstorm Solutions, Prototype, Test

    Once the Pillsbury team defined their challenge, they began the next phase of the design-process— ideation—and brainstormed creative ways to redesign the WIC experience. After some trial-and-error they hit on a big idea: why not build a holistic WIC grocery store in North Minneapolis? The underserved community had high obesity rates, low life expectancies and little access to fresh produce. The store would offer not only healthy, affordable food but a health clinic, healthy cooking classes, and wellness events and services. They were able to create quick prototypes to get further feedback from their users and partners as they developed the concept.

    Through small steps of prototyping and testing, the big idea took off, attracting partnerships with General Mills, Cargill and other nonprofits in the Minneapolis area. North Market opened in North Minneapolis in late 2017. Check out this moving speech by Adair Mosley, of Pillsbury United Communities to hear first-hand how design-thinking helped, as he eloquently puts it, “find an equitable solution for a complex problem.”

    Empathize with your user, ideate, prototype, test. These are the steps in design-thinking, whether redesigning a water bottle, recruiting volunteers or finding a more equitable way to provide nutritious food to those in need. By discovering the true challenges people face, nonprofits are able to find and test solutions to the right problems.

    Emily Taylor is a former product designer and now principal at teenyBIG, which uses design thinking to help non-profits make small changes with big impact. Visit her website at teenyBIG.com.

  • 02/14/2018 10:23 AM | Deleted user

    By Melissa Lagowski
    ACN Member
    President and Founder, Big Buzz Idea Group

    After months of planning for your upcoming annual event, you find that there’s very little time available to work on the volunteer component of staffing the operations. Without volunteers, the event comes to a screeching halt.


    How are you going to find hundreds of volunteers to fill the schedule? And when are you going to find the TIME to reach out and find these volunteers? It takes hundreds of hours of outreach, communications, sign-up, tracking, scheduling and follow-up while, at the same time, you are juggling all the other tasks of planning for the event launch.

    The solution is radically simple: you can outsource it. With a budget, a few phone calls and a bit of creativity, the magic will happen – freeing up time to focus on your other tasks.

    While you might consider outsourcing to a staffing agency, their fees would probably destroy the budget. A better option would be to align your nonprofit with other nonprofits by providing a grant payment to them in exchange for labor. It’s a win-win: they help to staff your event while you help with their fundraising goals!

    Nonprofits team up all the time in various ways because collaboration creates win-win situations. In this situation, you benefit from their rich resource (their audience of staff, supporters, members, students, etc.) in exchange for a cash grant payment.

    As an example, imagine that your 6-hour annual event requires two 3-hour shifts of 60 volunteers each to operate efficiently, meaning you need 120 total volunteers for the day. You have a total budget of $2,500 allocated toward staffing, so you could afford $20 per volunteer. The volunteer doesn’t earn any cash for their three hours of service—they’re volunteering for your event on behalf of their nonprofit, helping the nonprofit organization (NPO) fundraise via the grant. But it’s a win-win for the volunteer, too: they’ve aligned with TWO nonprofits by generously agreeing to donate their time to one organization and help raise funds for the other!

    Simply contact a few local nonprofits (schools and booster clubs are a good start) and inform them of your need for volunteers. If they are able to provide a group of volunteers for the event, you will compensate each NPO with a grant towards their fundraising efforts. The onus is now on each organization to coordinate and recruit 30 volunteers from their pool of students, parents, siblings, neighbors, etc. As long as the NPO can sign up 30 people, they’ll earn the grant. (And we have even been known to pro-rate the grants when NPOs fall slightly shy of their target.)

    It’s not difficult to understand the benefits here. Your nonprofit no longer needs to spend hours hunting down 120 volunteers for your event, which means those hours can be dedicated to fine-tuning the details of your fundraiser – following up with sponsors, selling more tickets, confirming suppliers, etc. During that time, the partner nonprofit(s) will do the heavy lifting of soliciting and recruiting volunteers on your behalf. As long as their volunteers sign up and show up for the event to provide a few hours of service, the partner NPO will receive the cash grant.

    This also provides your NPO with a fantastic public relations opportunity: you’ve partnered your cause/event with other local nonprofits in an effort to assist THEIR fundraising efforts! And those grant partners can also use the PR opportunity to promote THEIR organization in helping your event! Twice the promotion for your cause. (Yet another win-win opportunity is created.)

    Definitely use this opportunity to promote your cause/event and the partner organization(s) via a check presentation, photo op and a press release than you can share with your local media and your distribution lists, while your partners do the same. As wider audiences learn of your event and alliance with other nonprofits, it’ll be easier to find volunteers next year. Not only will your partners sign up again, there will likely be other local nonprofits calling YOU about your grant program!

    Buzz Idea Group provides operational support for nonprofits and associations in the areas of administration, communication, event-planning, bookkeeping and database management. For more information, visit http://bigbuzzideagroup.com.

  • 11/21/2017 2:09 PM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    by Amy Wishnick

    ACN Member and Past President 

    Earlier this fall, an executive coaching client introduced me to the following quote by Existential psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl, which continues to resonate in my mind:

    “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

    I can’t get it out of my head! It is relevant and important every day, for all of us. It helps us think before we speak. It keeps us from reacting in habitual ways. It affords us opportunity to shape our lives, to do our finest work, to tackle seemingly insurmountable obstacles, to continually strive to be our best selves. It signifies our maturity.

    It is in the pause that I have the privilege of working with my clients – the engagements related to strategic planning, executive leadership transitions, board development, or other organizational development issues are often set off by some stimulus. In the case of strategic planning, it may be as routine as the conclusion of a prior plan or as exciting as charting the course for significant organizational growth. The departure of a nonprofit CEO or retirement of a founder sparks an organization into transition mode and the need to seek new leadership. A nonprofit whose programs and management have matured more quickly than its governance model may inspire a board development project.

    When prompted by any of these stimuli and myriad others, nonprofit leaders need to respond. The hope is that before responding, they take advantage of the space that lies before them. Too often, when facing these triggers, an organization’s leaders may be inclined to plow through, perhaps because they work in such high-tempo environments. When leaders respond without taking advantage of the space, there is the likelihood of overlooking or missing the potential or opportunity.  But when they seize the space between stimulus and response, not only do they find growth and freedom, they can become exceptional leaders.

  • 03/01/2017 1:17 PM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    by Lidia Varesco Racoma of Lidia Varesco Design
    Since 2000, I've been helping my clients brand and market themselves so I know the value of marketing. But I also know how easy it can be to let your marketing slide when you are busy with client work— and how this can negatively impact your business and cash flow (hello, dry spell!)

    When I was several years into my business, I initiated “Friday Afternoon Marketing”—an afternoon dedicated to working ON my business, instead of IN my business. After my first child was born, my marketing time became limited so I had to find a way to do more marketing in less time.

    I was pleasantly surprised with how much I could get done in small chunks of time. I started sharing weekly “10-Minute Marketing” posts on my blog—these were tried-and-true marketing, branding, client outreach, public relations and social media tasks and branding that could be accomplished in a half-hour or less.

    Here are my top 5 tips for getting more marketing done in less time:

    1. Make a list of your marketing essentials

    What are marketing essentials? The marketing channels that bring you the most return on your investment of money and especially, time. With so many ways to market yourself—and so little time—it’s best to focus on no more than 3 marketing techniques that are working, instead of trying to do it all.

    Here are some examples of marketing essentials:

    1. Website

    2. Email newsletter

    3. Social media

    4. Content marketing

    5. Printed promotional materials

    6. Cold calling (or emailing)

    7. Networking

    2. Write your positioning statement:

    Your positioning statement details what makes your business unique and why your audience should choose you. It’s a crucial part of your branding and marketing and should be used as reference before doing any type of client outreach, such as drafting website copy, writing a blog post, or planning a marketing campaign.

    Your positioning statement can be broken down into the following:

    1. What unique service or product you provide

    2. Who you provide it for

    3. Why they should trust or believe you

    Example: Since 2000 [WHY], Lidia Varesco Design has been helping education-focused organizations [WHO] share their mission through strategic branding and marketing [WHAT].

    3. Survey your clients

    How often do you ask your clients questions? I know how easy it is to get caught up in projects, but if you stop to ask questions it can offer insight into how you can enhance your projects and relationships.

    Here are a few questions to ask your clients:

    • What do you need?

    • What are you struggling with right now?

    • How can I help?

    • How can we improve upon our working relationship?

    • How else I can help you?

    To get your answers, you can simply call or email them, or send out a short survey (I recommend SurveyMonkey or Typeform). I also like to keep a running list of client inquires or pain points in Evernote to refer to as needed.

    4. Make a list of places to share your story

    Sharing your story or expertise is a great way to get the word out about your business and to position yourself as a thought leader. I regularly contribute to small business blogs, as well as HARO (Help a Reporter Out) requests.

    Here are some places to share your story:

    1. Magazines

    2. Trade magazines

    3. Local newspapers

    4. Alumni publications

    5. Blogs

    6. Podcasts

    7. HARO (Help a Reporter Out)

    8. uPitch or other PR apps

    5. Share a project on social media

    Sharing a recent project is a great way to connect with potential new prospects or strategic partners. Remember, many of your social media followers may not know exactly what you do.

    And yes, it’s OK to toot your own horn on social media—as long as you mix it up with useful, non-salesy posts. Make sure to include a link to your portfolio page or better yet, direct them to a case study or blog post you’ve written about the project.

    I would love to hear how these quick marketing strategies work for you. Connect with me @lsvdesign on Twitter or Facebook.

    Lidia Varesco Racoma of Lidia Varesco Design in Chicago helps education-focused organizations share their mission through strategic branding and marketing design. Read more branding and marketing tips on her blog Educated Design. www.lsvdesign.com

  • 01/05/2017 6:00 PM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)
    By: Jonathan Eisler, Perspectives Organizational Consulting Group
    Congratulations on taking the leap and starting your very own consulting practice! The future is exciting! The work will be fulfilling and the variety of engagements you’ll be immersed in are sure to keep you engaged. Undoubtedly you had a naysayer or two as you considered embarking on this journey, but perhaps the ability to fully utilize your expertise in serving others while being your own boss tipped the scale in your cost/benefit analysis.

    Now unless you established a practice with a few other colleagues, not only do you get to be CEO/Founder and Principal Consultant, but you are also tasked with being the VP of Sales….and probably Executive Assistant; to yourself. More often than not, it’s the latter two roles that become the consultant’s Achilles Heel. As a sole practitioner, no other title you hold matters unless you’re successful as your own head of sales. According to the US Small Business Administration, less than 50% of new private practices are able to stay open more than 5 years. To stay on the positive side of that statistic, let’s explore 3 ways I’ve seen independent consultants be successful with a pipeline of work coming in.

    1.     Subcontracting – Some consultants are hesitant to add an additional layer between themselves and their clients, but what is gained by doing this is that the role of VP of Sales is filled by someone from a firm with an established brand and network. Sure, you will have to agree to a lower rate than you would charge if you earned the business yourself, but another way to look at is that you now have someone generating business for you and you only pay when they actually deliver! That’s a pretty good deal if you ask me.

    2.     Mining – It’s probably a safe assumption that the work you were doing before you took the plunge into being your own boss is related to the work you’re focusing on as a consultant. If that is the case, the people you associated with and the network you built are rich with opportunities that are a perfect fit for your particular skill set. Or, they themselves may have a need best met by contracting a consultant with your expertise. Since these people know and trust you, there is immense value in mining this resource and cultivating them into a referral network that brings opportunities to you! Think of these connections as your own business development department and liaisons. Being independent does not mean being alone!

    3.     Collaborating - Being a consultant is amazing….and it is also a lot of work! Especially when going it alone. Collaborating is the power in banding together. Not necessarily in terms of establishing a formal business with partners, but rather, in persistent professional development through collaboration on projects, aligning with other experts who compliment your offerings and augmenting each other’s bandwidth. Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many consultants work so hard to make it on their own that ultimately, they burn out or end up failing altogether. Fortunately though, I’ve also seen many successes thanks to groups like the Association of Consultants to Nonprofits that bring people together for the very purpose of collaborating for the greater good of all parties involved!

    If you’ve recently established your own consulting practice or are considering doing so in the near future, I applaud you. I also encourage you to be realistic and humble as it takes a lot of effort to get to do the work you’re passionate about. To that end, it is my hope that the above three points prove helpful in getting prospects, and converting them into clients!

    After all, an independent practitioner without clients is not a consultant; they’re out of work!

    Author: Jonathan Eisler

    Managing Director, Perspectives Organizational Consulting Group

    President-Elect, Association of Consultants to Nonprofits

  • 12/11/2016 8:44 PM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    By: Jim Heininger, Dixon|James Communications
    The potential is so promising: a striking new name, a more relevant promise to customers, the greater ability to enter new markets. All these outcomes can be achieved with the rebranding of an outdated or past-its-prime image. We’re seeing an unprecedented number of companies, non-profits, destinations and even sports teams embarking on efforts to gain this differentiated edge. Assisted Living Concepts rebrands as Enlivant to show more promise in its aging services; the community of Buffalo, New York, rebrands itself as a hockey mecca; and the Washington Redskins football team are under increasing pressure to rebrand what many see to be an outdated and insensitive trademark.

    Rebranding should be viewed as a strategic growth driver. The ability to reposition your business or organization to better capture new growth, attract better talent or more easily globalize is an investment in your future. Remember, when Steve Jobs returned to Apple Computer in 1977 he renamed the company simply Apple, enabling it to launch other technology advancements for consumers. Now it ranks as the globe’s most valuable brand. But the rebranding process, takes time, lots of energy and investment. Just look to Radio Shack whose valiant efforts to revitalize its retail brand are hampered by its struggling financial performance. It finally filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.

    We recently rebranded a senior health care organization whose 90-year-old brand made it challenging to grow revenue in an increasingly regulated and margin-strained industry. The group’s wise strategic plan called for expansion of service lines to younger individuals beginning at age 55 that would support their aging process and develop relationships for a broader range of services. Rebranding the organization with an aspirational name allowed it to tell a contemporary and differentiating client service story. We also coined a new business category of “adult life services” that created context for more lifestyle (education, fitness and wellness) and in-home care services to be marketed over time. The business transformation’s success even surprised client leadership as fellow industry players came calling asking for advice on how they had reinvented themselves in what seemed like an industry stuck in old models. The client has since established a business consulting capability which helps similar industry players transform to better meet the needs of aging Americans. It stands as a good example of how rebranding can open new doors and accelerate growth.

    Our experience with rebranding non-profit organizations suggests you follow these 10 fundamental principles if you want to create a forward-facing organization loaded with opportunity:

    1. Use rebranding to accelerate growth. Big changes should deliver big outcomes. Plan strategically and opportunistically to revive your business and its growth.

    2. Update your brand promise. True rebranding is not just refreshing your logo or adopting a new name, it’s the all-encompassing process of renewing your promise to customers and stakeholders, updating the core driver of your organization.

    3. Revisit your mission statement and vision too. Every rebranding assignment we’ve led has included the update of the foundational statements of the organization. Refreshed organizational values will also need to align with the desired new brand behaviors that you want employees to embrace and convey in their work.

    4. Give your new brand elasticity. This is the time to give your brand the ability to stretch and grow as the organization requires. Give it room to support your long-term strategic vision.

    5. Engage leadership from the start. Change starts from the top. An aligned group of management must communicate the business case for change and carry your new banner forward.

    6. Rebrand from the top down, and inside out. Leadership must first embody the new brand values and demonstrate them for employees who become your most important brand ambassadors. Involve and engage your employees in the process and they’ll more actively evangelize the new positioning. Only announce your rebranding once your internal ambassadors can confidently deliver it externally.

    7. Instill the new brand into your culture. Seize the opportunity to initiate cultural changes that reinforce new on-brand behaviors. Rebranding is also one of the rare times that you can work to banish unproductive cultural dynamics and instill desired new cultural rituals and practices. This all-encompassing change presents the rationale to encourage employees to “let go” of long-held unconscious ways of behaving that limit your company success.

    8. Utilize change management principles to align understanding and support. Businesses don’t change, individuals do. It’s important to use proven processes for gaining understanding, acceptance and participation in your brand change. In their 2008 assessment of rebranded companies, academicians Merrilees and Millers asserted that because rebranding is an incremental change process, as opposed to a radical change, it necessitates the use of change management considerations, especially at the initial design level of the new vision formulation.

    9. Align all communications and actions behind the new brand. Every piece of communications, marketing and visual identify must reflect the new visual identity. Likewise there must be a noticeable link between your products and customer service with the updated brand promise for stakeholders to believe your new positioning. Once you’ve complete that, plan new signature events that uniquely activate your revitalized brand.

    10. Formally launch your new brand. Set a date to flip all branding elements simultaneously for maximum impact. This helps you build anticipation internally and leaves little doubt that you’ve committed to this exciting, all-encompassing change.

    Approach the process with this level of engagement and substantive change and you are more likely to set a solid foundation for future growth and expansion.

    Best of Luck.

  • 12/11/2016 8:37 PM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    By: Theresa Lipo, Philanthropy Consulting
    For any consultant, generating and following up on leads sometimes takes a back seat to doing client work; after all, it “makes sense” to focus on customers that are currently paying you! But at ACN’s fall program, “The Nitty Gritty Details of Running a Consulting Practice,” ACN Member Bonnie Massa reminds us that lead generation must be a scheduled and essential part of our workday. Without leads in the pipeline, a consultant can become too reliant on individual clients and without a pool to sustain business if one client should disappear.

    As one of our program facilitators, Bonnie provided participants with four essential steps to successful lead generation:

    Know Your Customer: who are the clients that satisfy you the most? What industry are they in and what are their characteristics (size, structure, service area, etc.)? Conversely, what have been your most unproductive or unsuccessful client relationships? Identify yours and determine if they share characteristics that will help you decide what time of clients you want to avoid in the future. The result of these exercises will be your prospect profile.

    Find “Look-a-Likes”: With your new customer profile, you can now go and seek out organizations that are similar in characteristics. Finding them is easy – go back and determine how you found your clients to dateand won their business. Affinity groups, social media, and old-fashioned one-on-one networking are the best ways to identify look-a- -like clients.

    Reach out and Touch: Now that you’ve found them, how do you reach organizations that might need your services? First, compose an “elevator speech” that tells potential clients what you do and who you do it for. Make it specific, compelling, and focused on their needs: Rather than saying that you raise money for mid-size nonprofits, tell potential clients that you help youth-focused organizations identify and secure federal government funding. Second, get your name out there. LinkedIn is essential as are other social media platforms, but only as long as you work to remain active by writing blogs or newsletters, participating in webinars, and commenting on relevant professional articles. These activities will get you noticed online and lead to referrals in your field.

    Track Activities and Results: Make lead generation a regular part of your work schedule by tracking your activity and successes with customer relationship management (CRM) software – or even a simple Excel spreadsheet.

    Integrated into these activities is your Key Performance Indicator or the number of leads you need in the pipeline to ensure that your business continues to thrive and grow. By using the steps above, you can ensure that you reach your target by making lead generation a regular and essential part of your business.

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