Is your organization sustainable after you’re gone?

I am writing this article with one organization in mind. However, I am hopeful that the thoughts, questions and challenges will apply and benefit many organizations, both non-profit and for profit.

The organization that I speak of was founded by a married couple twelve years ago, and it still thrives today. It was funded, in the beginning, with personal finances, the proceeds from the sale of their home and personal donations of friends and family. The female partner of this marriage was the original catalyst although today this is very much a WE project. She had years of professional experience serving a population of kids who were not receiving the advice and attention needed and deserved. She was so passionate about helping these kids who were having unsuccessful interventions from the traditional medical practices that she risked career and family to start a non-profit organization designed to make a difference.

These children served are overweight. They have low self-esteem. They are frequently ridiculed and bullied. They typically perform poorly in school. They have trouble making friends. They have occasional considerations of suicide. She knew what she had in mind would save children’s lives and would have successful outcomes.

Fast forward through twelve years of trial and tribulations, we find this organization has many documented successful interventions with more than 5,000 children and their families. They reach hundreds of thousands of people and offer expert advice about healthy eating habits, nutrition recommendations, emotional coping mechanisms, and physical activity via radio interviews, articles in publications, speaking engagements and public television documentaries. They have surrounded themselves with health and wellness expertise designing their curriculum with the help of doctors, physical therapist, registered dietitians, registered nurses, exercise physiologist, and personal fitness trainers. They have been recognized by the Cooper Institute and won awards from the National Institute of Health.

Today this organization operates a highly successful summer camp with all amenities located on 200+ acres of land that was recently donated to them. They have annual revenues from camp fees and donations near one million dollars per year. They are proud of all that they have accomplished, all of the people they have helped, all of the children who are now adults living successful healthy lives. But, with all of their success, is this organization sustainable? Can they survive twenty-five or more years after the original married couple have retired or passed on?

Let me offer this criteria for what it means to be “sustainable.”

Mission and Vision: Is the passion still alive?

All non-profit organizations have a Mission Statement and a Vision Statement. Only the best non-profit organizations are inspired by the Mission and Vision. Is your Mission and Vision powerful, dynamic, distinctive and inspirational? Is your Vision compelling and delivered in an effective way? Does your Board, staff, and financial supporters buy-in via the actions you desire and need? Are you thriving or drifting? Is the passion still alive?

Board of Directors and Volunteers: Do you have the right people on the bus? Are they motivated by the Mission and moving you forward toward accomplishing the vision?

Borrowing a question from Jim Collins book “Good to Great”, do you have the right people on the bus? Often, non-profit leadership in key staff positions or at the Board level can keep an organization from just achieving a few good things to really being all that they could be.

Are your Board of Directors members effective Ambassadors for the organization? Do they willingly offer financial support? Are they willing and able to influence other gifts?

Are your Board members Advocates for the enterprise? Do they recruit others to help out? Do they advance your story? Establish meaningful connections? Provide good oversight?

Do you have volunteers knocking on your door? Are they treated with the TLC they deserve?

Leadership and Staff: Do you have the right people on the bus? Are they motivated by the Mission? Are they serving clients with compassion? Are they reaching high expectations and getting desired results?

There is nothing more disabling to an organization than disgruntled employees. The time spent trying to retain and motivate a non-cooperative employee can destroy an organization’s effectiveness. One poor performer with a poor attitude can influence everyone in a bad way.

On the other hand, if you have a talented staff of capable people who have completely bought into the mission you have an opportunity to do great things. Talented positive people who have had an opportunity to join you in establishing worthwhile goals will invariably work beyond normal expectations to help you achieve near impossible objectives.

Brand Equity Can you take your brand to the bank?

As we know from old cowboy movies, a brand is a way of identifying ownership and an assortment of responsibilities and privileges that go with it. The rancher who put his brand on a calf was not only claiming it for his own, he was also accepting the burden of its care and feeding. The real brand was not the symbol burned into the animal’s hide… but, the persona behind it…the identity of both the ranch and the rancher.

A brand name represents a promise to all constituents and all stakeholders. What kind of “brand awareness”” does your brand enjoy today? How does the brand distinguish itself from competitors? Does the brand clearly communicate its benefits and attributes effectively?

Is there creative continuity and clearly understood language in all internal and external communications? Is your brand reputation “trusted?” How do you validate this trust?

Testimonials from Clients, Parents, and Donors:  Let their feedback inspire you.

Can you go to your website or to some printed materials to find many “testimonials” from customers, clients, parents, donors, strategic partners, colleagues and more who willing tell a convincing, truthful, inspiring story about who you are what you do?

If the answer is “YES,” great! If it is “NO,” do something, make it a priority.

Donor Loyalty: Are your donors still donating or are they making investments?

How well do you know your donors? Do you keep score? How many donors do you have? How often do they give? What motivates them to give? What is the average size of gift? Are your gift categories growing from year to year? What percentage of donors renew year after year? Are you growing gifts over $100, over $1,000, over $10,000, year after year?

Are you testing different tactics to grow revenue? Do you know what works? Are you investing more resources into development? Is your stewardship of donor resources excellent? Do you say “thank you” with sincerity and in a timely way?

One way for a non-profit organization who has been operational for ten years or more to determine if donors are willing to make an “investment” in this organization is to count their Planned Gifts, especially estate gifts.

Estate gifts usually provide larger amounts of money often set aside in reserves or in an endowment. Healthy non-profit organizations typically have 20% or more of their annual budget held in reserve.

And, by the way, a donor who gives you an estate gift is making an investment in your future. They believe what you do is important, and they believe you will be around for a long time.

Financials: Do you consistently hit your revenue goals and maintain adequate reserves?

What is your track record? For the past five-ten years do you consistently reach your fundraising goals? Do you occasionally receive a surprise large gift that inspires the organization? Have you ever received a transformational gift? Is your cash flow good? Do you maintain adequate reserves?

 

Have you created a “Culture of Philanthropy?”

The word “culture” is a refined understanding and appreciation for the attitudes and behavior characteristics of philanthropy. The word “philanthropy” comes from the Greek language. It means, “Love of humankind.” Philanthropy manifest itself on many levels: gifts of time, gifts of wisdom, and gifts of personal resources and giving by influencing community resources.

Has your organization established criteria and certain indicators to determine if you are creating a “culture of Philanthropy?”

When a donor calls your organization are they treated as if they have interrupted your work or as if they are the reason that you are able to do this work?

Is your organization consistently meeting and exceeding expectations? Are you considered a high functioning organization at all levels and by all accounts? Are you identifying weaknesses and taking action to improve? Have you created a desirable place to work?

And most important of all, are you good stewards of donor’s money? Have you invested wisely? Are you doing important meaningful work? Are you making a positive measurable impact? How do you know?

Now, I ask again, is your organization sustainable?

 

 

Dan Shasserre

President, CEO

SilverbackSTL Consulting

314-724-9527

dan.shasserre@gmail.com

 

 

 

    

 

Do Something that Matters

“Be the change that you want to see in the world. ” Mahatma Gandhi

Stop! Don’t read another word. I recommend that you spend the rest of your day, or the remainder of this week, or this entire month, or longer if you wish, reading and re-reading the Mahatma Gandhi quote and then determining exactly what that means for you.

Can you internalize the significance of “being the change”. Can you explain, without falter, how the world would change? How would people living in your newly created world live, act, and interact? Start today….live with the commitment that you will change the world in some small way. Do something that matters.

I’ve just finished a book written by Blake Mycoskie. titled “Start Something That Matters.” Blake calls himself the Chief Shoe Giver at TOMS. I’m not going into his whole story but if you would like to know more you can buy the book or go on the internet to learn all about Blake Mycoskie and TOMS shoes. His story is fascinating and inspirational.

I have been in a reflective mood of late. As I approach my 69th birthday I contemplate life changing decisions, alternative scenario’s that are in my control and anticipated scenario’s that are out of my control. For instance, my mental, physical and spiritual health and well-being is only partially in my control. Poor health for myself, my spouse, or a family member can dramatically alter life’s direction. Today, we are all healthy. I’m grateful. And, I try to express my gratefulness by being a positive person, full of energy, willing to be helpful to others as much as I can be within reason.

I feel blessed to have a great part-time consulting role with Nine Network along with a few other smaller projects that keep me mentally engaged in meaningful work. Hopefully, the results of this work will benefit others.

As an example, a few years ago, when I was working full time, we partnered with a women who led the Children’s Service Fund. Together, we created video programming all about heroin addiction. We ran a heavy schedule of messages addressing a severe problem faced by high-school students and their families. One of these productions included a televised Town-Hall meeting. During the one-hour show a 13-year old girl, on the brink of suicide, called the help-line phone number to get an emergency intervention. Looking back, I now judge the success of our three-year initiative with the Children’s Service Fund by this one incident. What impact did this initiative have over three years? I believe, at least one life was saved. Much more was accomplished, but nothing more important than that one girl.

Three years ago Nine Network started working with a group of environmentalist. These are interesting committed people who represent leading organizations in our region, i.e. The Nature Conservancy, The Missouri Botanical Gardens, Open Space Council, Magnificent Missouri, the Missouri State Conservation group and many others. I was partially responsible for finding the necessary financial resources in order to create an on-air, online and on the ground initiative called “Water M Continue reading

Have I learned anything about selling in the past 50 years?

My first sales job was as a Christmas holiday part-time temporary employee at Stix Baer & Fuller, selling men’s furnishings. I was 17 years old. Stix sales training class was scheduled for one day. The curriculum was covered in less than two hours. Most of that time, as I remember it, had to do with how to ring up a sale, how to open the cash drawer, and how to run the manual credit card machine, how to complete a transaction. There was no product training. Bad credit cards were listed on a hard copy piece of b/w paper at the register. VIP that I check the list. I sold a lot of ugly ties and Haines underwear that December without knowing anything at all about sales. I just said, “may I help you” and customer after customer bought one lame present after the next. I would say “thank you very much, Merry Christmas.” And, then the next customer was standing waiting for my expert help.
My next sales job was at the outdoor Lawn and Garden Center at Famous Barr. I was the #1 seller of Lawn Boy and Toro lawnmowers that year, even though, most of my “training” came from reading the manufacture’s literature. This little bit of product information presented with confidence and a smile was all that was needed in those days. Perhaps, I achieved #1 because every other member of the department was a women. They were a lot more comfortable selling flowers and garden tools so they gave the lawnmower customers to me, as long as I shared the commission with them.
My first real sales training came when I was age 21 and I accepted a straight commission job selling pots and pans, china, crystal, silverware, stereo’s and sewing machines door to door. In four years, interrupted by six months in the US Army, I went from salesman, to sales manager, to Regional Sales Manager, to member of the Board of Directors. By age twenty-six I had offices in Boston, Beverly, Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut. I would guess that over those few years I had hired and trained more than 1000 salesman. And, despite the high turn-over, I had a sales team of at least thirty full time people making 200 or more in home calls per week producing 50 sales and over $500,000 annually. I made a commission override on all of that business. I was earning very good money for a young guy and I was working hard to get it. My work day started at 9:00 am and frequently ended at 10:00 pm or later, six days per week.
When I look back on my fifty-year sales career the training received from the now defunct, Cordon Bleu, was some of the best training I could have received. They taught me how to prospect, how to ask qualifying questions, how to cover objections before they came up, how ask for the sale, how to take seven “no’s “ before giving up, how persistence and hard work pays off. Most of all they inspired me to be enthusiastic, to set goals, to achieve them, and to encourage others to do the same.
As years progressed I have sold life insurance and health insurance, I have sold tickets to sporting events and sales promotion ideas to corporations. I’ve sold training solutions for small companies and facilitated training classes for international companies.
In the non-profit arena I have requested donations and bequests to serve the poor. I’ve asked for significant gifts from companies, foundations and individuals to support public television. All with pretty good results. I have been directly or indirectly involved in more than $75 million in donations.
So, after fifty years of successfully selling something to somebody you would think that I have mastered the art of selling. And, you might think that I could teach someone else some of the secrets that I have learned through many years of “yes” answers and the discouragement of “no” answers.
This past week, I was given a consulting assignment to help create a streamlined sales process that would lead to improved results and greater revenue for a non-profit media organization. The organization is the Nine Network of Public Media. I know the organization well. I have just spent the last five years there as Vice President of Development. I know the President of the organization well. He, too, has spent his lifetime as very successful “salesman.” So, how is it that despite his success that he is asking for help from me or from anyone? He knows there is no magic bullet. He also knows that his success has come from his relentless effort to research, learn new things, and try new ideas, trial and error achievement one day at a time.

I’ll begin this assignment by getting some ideas down on paper. Then, I will collaborate with the most successful salesman that I know. I think I’ll start with my son, Craig, and my brother, Tim. Perhaps, I’ll write again on this topic to let you know what I learned.