It Dies With Me! A Nonprofit Succession Planning Rant

After working for several nonprofits and attending conferences which make this a priority issue, I realized that that there are a number of nonprofits (or dare I say Executive Directors of nonprofits) not planning for the future.

I’ts my organization and it dies with me! I started this organization!

These are the phrases going off in my head when I encounter leaders at nonprofit organisations who don’t participate in succession planning.

I started this organization out of the trunk of my car over 20 years ago.

Great! That’s awesome, but here’s the problem. It’s not your organization.  Nonprofits are not self-owned businesses, but many EDs operate like they are. They worry about self-preservation (which is important)–but it is not mission of the organization.  Nonprofits start out seeking to solve a problem.  In a perfect world, these organizations would pop up, solve the problem and the community would work together to provide whatever services are needed.

We don’t live in a perfect world, so nonprofits have stick around.  If something happens to the leader of the organization and there has been no plan in place for it, all hell breaks loose.

The significance of executive transitions will become more urgently felt as the large baby-boomer generation soon reaches retirement age…Finding qualified, motivated leaders to fill all the vital executive positions vacated by this generation is going to present pressing challenges for many organizations, nonprofit and for-profit alike.

Center for Nonprofit Strategy and Management

There may not be a mass exodus of executive directors or nonprofit leaders, however the population is aging and some baby boomers are going to be on their way out.  There are many centers, institutes and consultants that help with succession planning, but we all know that nonprofits struggle with money.  If a nonprofit cannot afford a consultant, then at the very least they should attempt to do succession planning themselves.  Bottom line is, plan for the worse so you’re prepared folks!


Parking: The Elephant in the Room


Parking is the elephant in the room when it comes to urban redevelopment.  Typically, urban areas areas have constrained parking.  This becomes a bigger problem for cities pursuing redevelopment strategies.

With condos and other high-density development being “all the rage” in many cities,  these areas are inevitably headed for increasing parking constraints on current residents.

Gentrification aside, there is likely to be opposition to these types of development due to parking restraints alone.  Most planners (I hope) seek to have community input in redevelopment/revitalization projects.   I’ve sat through plenty of planning board meetings where parking variances were approved for higher density residential development in cities despite boisterous residents’ concerns.    How do we engage communities effectively without taking their parking concerns into consideration? 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not “pro parking space required for every bedroom in the city.” Limited parking encourages people to carpool, walk or take transit (if those are viable options), but I admit that when I’m driving downtown with my family (kid included), I get pretty pissed off if I can’t find parking.

ParkingHow do we determine if these projects really deserve a parking variance?  Is it fair to further constrain parking in areas where parking is already a problem?

Cincinnati Mayor, Mark Mallory made an interesting move by signing a zoning amendment that eliminates residential development parking requirements and has reduced them for others.  This move will reduce development costs and helps further a Streetcar project for the city.  I think this was a bold move that may yield promising results, but I do wonder how good these results will be.

There are other areas who are, at least, working on “Smart Parking” to ease parking concerns.  San Francisco completed its “smart parking” pilot program in December 2013 (and London is following suit by initiating a “smart parking” system).  The program involves sensors being installed on the streets.  “Each sensor in the ground detects when a car is parked on the street above it.”  The data is released through a smartphone app, thereby ridding us of driving around for several minutes searching for a spot.

Maybe cities can try a gradual reduction in parking requirements for development, combined with new parking technologies, to help us address the elephant in the room.  Either way the community needs to be a part of the conversation.


5 Reasons Non-Profits are Suffering

ImageNonprofits are here to save the world, right! Well, maybe not, but they do try to address problems in many communities.  They do good work.  However, many of them are struggling.

Nonprofits are suffering for many reasons, but the five I focus on below are things that I feel can be addressed immediately. I know that funding is usually at the top of every nonprofit executive director’s list, duly noted.  However, there are many changes that nonprofits can make that require little funding and may help stabilize the organization and lead to more funding in the future.

1.  Limited Investment in Staff

We all know that nonprofits  have tight budgets and can’t afford to pay people what they’re worth.  With that said, it’s important that they invest in their staff to avoid high turnover. A 2013 Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey found that the average turnover rate was 17%, with 11% being voluntary (resignations and retirement).  The survey also mentioned that over one-third of nonprofit employees surveyed felt that their were no advancement opportunities in their organization. What does this tell us?  Nonprofit employees work hard (for low pay) and often burnout with rare chances to move up in an organization where they’ve put in blood, sweat and tears.  They have no choice but to leave for career advancement and peace of mind.  Investing in staff with quality professional development opportunities (seeing as most nonprofit employees will not be able to advance) may help them stick around a little longer and make them feel like their organization cares about them.

2. Lack of Meaningful Partnerships

Its no secret that there too many nonprofits are competing for the same dollars. Nonprofits can do two things in response to this: develop unique and competitive programs (that are more likely to get funded) and/or develop meaningful partnerships.  Nonprofits in large urban areas are quite often competing for the same government grants, foundation monies, etc.  Nonprofits should work together where they can in order to maximize impact (funders are all about maximizing impact).  There is no need for organizations providing similar services to work in silos.  When I say meaningful partnerships, I don’t mean giving lip service.  Develop MEANINGFUL partnerships! Projects that include partnerships that are documented (through formalized agreements, MOUs, etc.) are more likely to be considered by funders.

3.  No Measurement of Impact

Every funder has a bottom line.  That is, they want to know what impact your organization is having on the problems you are seeking to address.  For example, in workforce development a funder may want to know how many people you’ve trained, how many people you’ve helped get jobs, etc.  It’s understandable that some organizations’ impact may not be easily quantifiable, but there still needs to be some measurement of impact.  If an organization hasn’t been evaluating impact, then it will be more difficult for them to market their programs to a potential funder.  Organizations struggling with this should work with a consultant (I know, I know, you don’t have the money) or tap in to academic institutions in the area (maybe a group of students can take this on as a studio project). The point is, you must measure impact if you want funders to take your grant applications seriously.

4.  Haphazard Programs

Multi-service nonprofits fall into this quite often without even realizing it.  These are the organizations that may have well intentions. They see a problem and try and design something to address it. Here’s the problem: no one agency can do everything.  Before taking on new initiatives, organizations must decide if it relates to their mission, if it can be funded and if it is sustainable.  Is this something that may be best handled by another organization? Is this an action that can be continually funded?  Is it worth dedicating organizational resources that are already strained?  Once these questions are answered, organizations can better see whether it makes sense for them to take on new initiatives.  Being intentional about organizational actions will lead to more mission-oriented programs.

5.  Limited Web Presence

Web presence is important for so many reasons including branding, measurement and simply being found.  When you’re talking up your organization to someone, they are likely to say “sounds great, do you have a website?”.  But its not just having a web presence–its having an active web presence.  An updated website and social media account are required.  Especially since “75% of young donors are turned off by out-of-date websites.”  I suspect that this is true for traditional funders as well.  No one wants to go to your website or Facebook account and see that your last update was months ago.  Having an updated website can also help with recruiting volunteers as well.  The first thing many volunteers do when considering volunteering with an organization is look at the website.  Organizations should pick a small group of individuals (if you don’t have a designated person) to be responsible for updating the websites and social media accounts regularly.

Now, I don’t claim that these things will turn everything around struggling nonprofits. But, these are things that can be done with little to no funding to strengthen organizations.