Strengthening Our Nonprofit Community

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Recipe for Nonprofit Success: Three Essential Ingredients by Mary Moss

June 4th, 2019

Imagine your organization has stopped operation. Imagine funds have run out. Imagine the population your mission supports cannot be served. Everything stops. Imagine the despair.

For the leaders at Community Music School (CMS) in Raleigh, this was reality, not imagination, and on the front page of the News & Observer a few years ago.

Fast forward to today, where CMS is thriving, growing, adapting, and serving more students as it lives into its mission To Create Brighter Futures Through Music. Fundraising numbers are way up, teachers are being recognized in myriad ways, and more students than ever are clamoring to see their brand new facility located at Longleaf School of the Arts in Southeast Raleigh.

How did this extraordinary state of affairs turn around? CMS leaders concentrated on three key ingredients. This is a simple recipe, and just like in baking, all three ingredients matter in combination. If you lack flour, sugar, or butter, you cannot bake my mother’s excellent pound cake.

Three Essential Ingredients

1. Visionary Strategic Plan – moss+ross guided them through a strategic planning process that produced a new mission, vision, core values, goals, and strategies. Focused on a big vision – opening the doors of music to all underserved youth in Wake County – the strategic plan directed that the first actions steps were to hire an executive director and create a fundraising plan.

Lesson learned: If you envision it, plan it. There is no substitute for a visionary strategic plan.

2.Strong Passionate Leadership – Board Chair Carol Holland (Vice President, Client Relationship Manager of Paragon Bank), has driven a process to expand the Board with people who love the CMS mission. They have added two new community leaders, with more to come. The Board followed the strategic plan by securing funding for a new Executive Director, Dennis de Jong. moss+ross created the job description and helped define a funding path and a process. Dennis has changed the trajectory of CMS working in collaboration with the Board and other community partners, infusing new vision and energy into the organization in a very short amount of time. Dennis’s skills and experience are a perfect match for CMS’s needs.

Lesson learned: Get the right people in the right seats on the bus. There is no substitute for leadership.

3.Compelling Fundraising Plan – A dream is but a wish without a plan – specifically, an annual written fundraising plan. Without enough funds, CMS could not execute its strategic plan. moss+ross developed a fundraising plan with a case for support that shines the light on the big vision in the strategic plan. Big donors follow big vision. Our moss+ross Interim Solutions division quickly filled their start-up staffing need – and then all involved agreed that Sarah Himmelfarb should transition from moss+ross Interim Solutions to become the new Development Director.

Lesson learned: To live into your mission, you will have to fund it. There is no substitute for money.

If moss+ross can help you create your recipe for success, let us know. For more information on Community Music School, visit the CMS website. Read about their recent fundraising event at the Governor’s Mansion where First Lady Kristin Cooper addressed the audience.

Should You Hire a Search Firm? by Fred Stang

June 4th, 2019

When your organization needs to hire a senior-level leader, you may wonder about the value of hiring a search firm versus managing the search in-house.

Searches take a great deal of thought, energy, resources and time.

Do you have the time to manage a search on your own From start to finish, a well-run search takes an incredible amount of time to do well. From revising or creating the job description, to recruitment, screening, interviews and making a decision, each step needs to be done thoughtfully and in a timely manner.  When moss+ross takes on a search, we are committed to giving your search the time it needs at each and every stage of the process.  We are skilled at keeping the process moving and the search team engaged.

Do you have the time to recruit a strong pool of applicants Posting a job on myriad websites is one way to attract your next leader.  However, your next leader might not be looking for a new job.  That’s where recruitment is so important and where moss+ross excels.  Ours is a very assertive process of discovery and personal outreach.  Your next leader might not know he/she would be happier working for your nonprofit.

Do you have the time to screen your pool of applicants Applicants can look great on paper.  You won’t really know how great they are until you talk to them and dig deeper into their experience, skills and personalities.  It takes a skilled interviewer who listens, asks the right questions, listens more and balances inquiry with inspiration.  moss+ross doesn’t just find out about the applicants, we also find out what excites them about the opportunities within your organization.  We are working to find the person who has the experience, temperament and enthusiasm to take advantage of your organization’s strengths and also the determination and smarts to confront its challenges.

moss+ross can help you find the right leader for your organization. Give us a call!

Fred Stang is a Senior Associate with moss+ross.

Your Board Really Can Be Great! by Susan Ross

April 11th, 2019

I was asked for my perspective on the probing question “Is Your Board Any Good?” in a recently released short video from local agency Angel Oak Creative.

During the filming, I suggested to the interviewer that “Is your board as good as you need it to be?” might be a better question.

At moss+ross, we work with lots of boards, and Mary and I have rarely run into one that really is not “any good.” But we have seen boards that aren’t making best use of their skills, have fallen into performance ruts or lost their focus, and have ended up being less effective than the nonprofit or institution – or their board members – deserved. Sometimes a retreat or custom training can be a big help to getting a board reengaged and focused.

Last Friday, moss+ross led a workshop with a wonderful group of folks who serve on a university board of visitors. Because this type of board is not a governing board, it has a different role to play than the more proscribed legal role of a board of trustees or board of directors. But believe me, their work matters greatly to the CEO, and their support is critical to the institution.

These leaders represent a wide variety of professions and skills, and all are passionate about the cause and want to serve it well. During the meeting, they reflected on their many successes as a board, and then challenged themselves to be even more impactful in their work.

All boards are expected to provide time, talent and treasure. Typically, members are (or have been) volunteers, are interested in the cause, bring a needed skill set, and offer a particular perspective. In the case of a board of trustees or directors, they also maintain legal and fiduciary responsibility for the nonprofit, hire and fire the CEO, and set the strategic direction of the organization.

What else can a great board do for its cause?

  • Provide a deep and diverse talent pool that the nonprofit would never be able to hire.
  • Offer guidance and input on strategic issues and policies with long-term implications.
  • Help the nonprofit stay focused on its true purpose and avoid mission-creep.
  • Serve as ambassadors for the cause, finding ways to share the story and bring new people in.
  • Support staff leadership without trying to take over and solve every problem.
  • Show that this volunteer role is meaningful to them through their time and financial support.
  • Finally, step aside at the right time so new talent can come in, while finding ways to remain engaged.

We tip our hats to all the thousands of board volunteers who make our Triangle nonprofit community thrive. If your board is ready to challenge itself to be as good as it can be, let us know if moss+ross can help!

 

Taking Time to Hire the Right Skill Set by Kim Glenn

April 11th, 2019

A familiar refrain in the nonprofit world is: The team is working at capacity and needs help. Even with the help of generous volunteers, the staff are stretched to raise enough dollars and to meet the ongoing demand for your services. Once you’re in the fortunate position of having a new position approved by your board of directors, everyone is thrilled.

But what begins as excitement can turn quickly into panic or disappointment without a good action plan. You’ve waited a long time for a new staff person so don’t rush – take the extra time to hire the right skill set.

According to the 2019 Nonprofit Employment Report, the Triangle is the nonprofit mecca of North Carolina, comprising 10 percent of the private workforce, compared to 8 percent for North Carolina as a whole. With a large and diverse pool of potential candidates, let this be a time for you to carefully evaluate your needs and consider what skills you most need to help further your mission.

Steps to Hiring the Right Skill Set:

  1. Start with your vision and mission – If your board has recently completed a strategic plan, use this as your roadmap to consider your needs. Although you and your team are in the trenches every day, think about the bigger, long-term vision and how this new staff person can help move you closer.
  2. Create a search team of key board members and staff – Engage a few key members of your board and staff to help you throughout the process. This is a big decision and their input will create a shared culture of excitement and responsibility for finding the best fit.
  3. Conduct a mini-assessment to identify your gaps – Invite the staff into this process to help you evaluate what activities can be streamlined, identify which areas need more support, and define the skills that are needed to support your efforts: fundraising, volunteer coordination, marketing, operations, or program management?
  4. Create a job description – Add an introduction to the list of roles and responsibilities to help potential candidates understand your organization, your vision, and your goals. Develop a method to evaluate candidates by identifying the five most important qualities/skills you are seeking in a candidate and rank them. Which ones are a must, and which ones are good to have? Keeping this list handy during your interviews will help you evaluate skills sets.
  5. Confirm the salary – Before posting the position, work with your board to confirm the salary and benefits package. What are your peers paying for similar positions, what’s competitive, what intangibles do you offer that could make up for a lower salary: comp/ flex time, vacation, health, or retirement. Being mission-oriented doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider competitive wages.
  6. Post the position – Post the position in familiar nonprofit outlets, but also through your board and staff networks. Be proactive about seeking referrals, keeping a focus on the skills you are seeking. Be sure to ask candidates for a cover letter and resume, and writing samples if the position requires strong communication skills. Review candidate qualifications carefully keeping in mind the five most important qualities/skills you outlined.
  7. Develop a consistent set of interview questions – Consider group interviews with the search team so that you have the benefit of multiple perspectives.
  8. Conduct reference checks – Ask for a list of references but be sure to conduct circular references as well. While you want to be very careful with candidates who are currently employed (so that you do not jeopardize their current employment), think about widening the reference checks.
  9. Consider interim help – Evaluate if your team needs help now. A successful search can take two to three months at a minimum. Consider hiring interim staffing to help bridge the gap.
  10. Hire a search firm – Think carefully if you have the time and resources to conduct a search, and if you find you are too stretched, engage a search firm to help you with leading the search and hiring the right skill set.

 

Our experiences with Executive Searches and Interim Solutions staffing services have honed our perspective on what’s most important in the hiring process. Please reach out if moss+ross can help you develop the right action plan for adding the right skill set to your nonprofit.

Kim Glenn is a Senior Associate with moss+ross.

How Much Can You Do in an Hour? by Mary Moss

February 27th, 2019

It turns out, a lot!

Have you ever been in a meeting and caught yourself yawning without opening your mouth where your nostrils expand, and you pray no one is watching? This is a dead give-away that the meeting has gone on too long.

I am a keen observer of how different leaders run meetings. Some people process aloud, some don’t say a word, and some insist that everyone say something.  Some prefer to set a time limit; others intentionally do not. Some prepare ahead of time and follow an agenda; others cannot be constrained to an agenda.

I have become a huge proponent of the one-hour meeting. Strong meeting management values other people’s time. For example, my Rotary runs a tight ship – meetings are one hour, although people can come earlier to eat and socialize. We begin and end on time every week. In addition, two leading surgeons who have chaired campaigns told me from the get-go that we had to have one-hour meetings due to their schedules. The former mayor of a leading Triangle city runs his meetings sharply for one hour. I have not perfected it, but I am practicing what I preach.

Five tips for the one-hour meeting:

  1. A one-hour meeting must be led by someone who is not afraid to take charge of the agenda.
  2. Prepare the agenda in advance with timed agenda topics and times written on the agenda. Have a discussion in advance with key participants about desired outcomes so that meaningful discussion can be aimed squarely at the agenda topic.
  3. Plan only what you can accomplish. Think carefully about what has to happen and what can be accomplished outside of the meeting in email or with a phone call.
  4. Begin the meeting exactly on time, even if everyone has not arrived yet. You have to train the group on your expectations, which include reading all materials sent in advance of the meeting.
  5. End the meeting on time, even if items have to be deferred.

Lessons learned from my experience:

  • By practicing the discipline of a one-hour meeting, you yourself will become a better leader, more sensitive to everyone’s time, as you hone your skills on time and meeting management.
  • Everyone leaves the meeting informed, invigorated, and ready to take on next steps. You will see fewer (hidden) yawns and time-checks. People will look forward to the next meeting because they were not exhausted from this one.
  • You and others have more time in the day to do your work.

Give this a try. I think you will like what you see. One of my favorite compliments is “You ran a good meeting,” and that never happens when the meeting is too long.

Making the Most of the Midpoint by Jeanne Murray

February 27th, 2019

In the fundraising world, beginnings and endings are cause for celebration: from kickoffs and launches, to end-of-year campaigns and recognition ceremonies. Yet significant work must also happen in the middle – whether that’s in mid-fiscal year, or in mid-campaign, as many of our clients are experiencing now.

Beware of just muddling through the middle! Take proactive steps that will inspire energy and passion among your volunteers, staff, board, and donors. Rekindle that burst of energy you felt at the outset of your year or campaign with these tips.

Six tips for midpoint action:

  1. Take stock. For an annual fund campaign, examine annual giving trends, and follow up with specific donors whose gifts traditionally came in during the first half of the year but aren’t in yet. For a capital campaign, go back to your campaign plan – are you doing what you planned you’d be doing at this point?
  2. Consider a re-boot. Particularly in campaigns, there’s often opportunity to look at a prospect pool in a new way. You can segment by interests, such as creating a women’s initiative, or by activity, such as developing a plan with a volunteer group. You can plan events to bring focus and attention to the project. On-site events for capital projects or small in-home gatherings can infuse energy, and piggy-backing campaign messages into your existing events can help people see the larger vision.
  3. Refresh the inspiration. When was the last time your board considered ways they can talk about the mission? At your next board meeting, spend 10 minutes in small groups discussing easy ways to start conversations with other people about your organization.
  4. Set mini-goals (and mini-deadlines). For an annual fund that closes June 30, what can you accomplish by May 1? For a capital campaign, can you create a challenge that will encourage donors to give? We’ve seen success with a wide range of giving challenges, for example, involving small groups of leadership donors to inspire first-time givers; time-bound challenges to motivate quick action; and volunteer-led challenges that focus on the goal of participation.
  5. Communicate what you’re doing. You’re accomplishing your mission each day. Stories abound! You don’t need a campaign launch or an end-of-year push to bring attention to the good work of your nonprofit. Tell your everyday stories in media as well as in informal settings, especially with your volunteers (who are your best word-of-mouth network.)
  6. Celebrate milestones. Similar to the point about communications, you don’t have to wait for major milestones to recognize the good work of your team. Whether it is effort by staff, contributions by volunteers, reaching a nice round number en route to your goal, or celebrating achievements of those you serve – look for ways to acknowledge accomplishments.

Let the mid-point serve as the accelerator to the finish line, not just a point in the middle of the continuum.

Jeanne Murray is the Director of Marketing and a Senior Associate with moss+ross.

Client Success

January 14th, 2019

Record $2M gift launches AI Program at the NC School of Science and Mathematics 

“A $2 million gift to the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics from alumnus and entrepreneur Carl Ryden ’89 and his wife, Ashley — the largest private gift in the school’s history — will launch a program putting NCSSM on the leading-edge of public schools in America for learning about artificial intelligence and its place in society, NCSSM announced Thursday.”

(click here for the full article)

NCSSM Photo

Thomas F. Looney, Chair of the NCSSM Board of Trustees; Karen LeVert, Chair of the NCSSM Foundation; Carl Ryden; wife Ashley Ryden; NCSSM Chancellor Todd Roberts; and UNC President Margaret Spellings (Photo courtesy of NCSSM)

Double Digits

January 9th, 2019

Double Digits

by Susan Ross, Partner

Mary and I are thrilled that moss+ross is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month, and we just have to take a few minutes to reminisce about the journey.

Mary Moss and Susan Ross

Over 10 years we have helped build shelters, schools, cathedrals, synagogues and museums; stabilized reserve funds and helped nonprofits merge; conducted assessments and written strategic plans; launched new initiatives and helped others reboot; managed dozens and dozens of searches and placed many interim staff members along the way.  We have worked on campaigns from $600,000 to $4.2 billion, and we still get excited when our clients get a big gift or cut a ribbon or hit their goals.

moss+ross grew out of a shared vision to strengthen the capacity of our nonprofit community. We felt we could make a difference in this region with an expanded use of the skills honed as development professionals for respected educational institutions we loved.

Mary and I wanted to keep our hands in education, both higher ed and independent schools, but we also felt we could contribute to the growth of the community in which we’ve lived all our lives – specifically, the nonprofit and faith communities in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, on whose boards and committees we had served over the years.  We understood how hard their staff and boards work, and how difficult it is to take on something bigger or different, particularly fundraising campaigns. And we knew how important it was to get it right.

Looking back, we had a nontraditional start. We had made the decision to go out on our own as an LLC just before the economy tanked in 2008. There we were: ready to run the campaigns that no one was conducting. However, we employed what would turn out to be our firm’s core values: creating opportunity, staying flexible and investing in each client’s success. We found other roles to play in strengthening the skills and operations of area nonprofits during those early years.

Along the way we built our team of 18 associates — talented professionals who have joined us from a variety of career paths and who share our commitment to creative and resourceful service to clients. Plus, we have had a lot of fun along the way! Over time, as the economy recovered and the pent-up need for funding meant the campaigns did eventually get underway, we were ready to roll with a larger team and broader consulting experience.

As we start our second decade, we have done our own strategic planning and will be rolling out our plans in future newsletters.  For now, we just want to say thank you to our 169 clients, our 18 associates (plus a handful that have retired or moved on), and the affiliate contractors involved in our newest venture, m+r interim solutions.  It has been a wonderful journey, with many more chapters to come.

“We are grateful for the ways the community has embraced us with a hug so strong

that we were inspired to grow and continue hiring our talented team of associates,

one by one, to meet the needs of the nonprofit sector.”  – Mary Moss

 

 

Take the Bored Out of Board Meetings by Anna White Hosea

January 9th, 2019

Taylor Swift and Michael Scott were deep in conversation. Across the room, Buzz Lightyear and Frida Kahlo were having a spirited debate. Meanwhile, at the front of the room, two 90’s era game show hosts and Big Bird were watching the clock. Three… two… one… Buzzzzzz!

A Halloween party? A new game show on Bravo? No – a custom designed Board retreat for moss+ross client Marbles Kids Museum.

Anna White Hosea, Big Bird, Brooke Jenkins

Marbles is known for emphasizing play, fun and creativity. Mirroring their culture, Partner Mary Moss, Senior Associate Brooke Jenkins and I developed a creative costume/game show themed retreat. In one game, modeled after Family Feud, Board members and Senior Leadership laughed and learned about Marbles signature programs and community impact. During the Amazing [Marbles] Race, teams bonded while racing through the museum dressed in costume. During a “commercial break,” teams wrote and acted out commercials for museum audiences.

We were pleased to see how this “out of their chair” experience engaged everyone. Attendees reported that they felt “refreshed” and “energized,” that they learned more about museum programs, and that they felt inspired to “get under-the-hood of all that Marbles has to offer.” Board members also reported that they felt like they had strengthened their relationships with each other and senior staff.

Lest you think that this could only happen at Marbles, I recently worked with Linda Nunnallee, Executive Director of StepUp Ministry, to develop a “commercial break” for StepUp’s Board. Board members broke out into four groups and were asked to develop a commercial that would appeal to potential participants in StepUp’s employment and life skills programs.

One group wrote a radio ad and performed it so well that we were ready to purchase air time. Another group developed a social media post, hashtags and all, to target teenage participants. As at Marbles, we saw a Board that was turned on, highly engaged, refreshed and energized after their activity.

So, what can you do with your Board to keep them, well, not bored?

  • Know thy culture: Mirroring the culture of your organization is key. Some organizations are willing and able to get a little silly in the interest of board development, while others may need a more tailored approach.
  • Small groups work: Next time you have an issue that needs discussing, put your Board members into small groups. Everyone engages when the table gets smaller.
  • Make connections: Look for opportunities for Board members to engage with each other in ways that are meaningful and go beyond their title and board committee. Building relationships with one another strengthens their relationships with you.
  • Turn on their brains: If you and your staff are doing all the talking, your Board members brains are turned off. The one doing the talking is the one doing the learning. If you need Board members to learn about a new program you are launching, have them develop a skit or commercial to explain it to potential audiences. If you want them to better understand your physical space, send them on a scavenger hunt.
  • Have fun: We all need more play in our lives. Play can reduce stress, stimulate the brain and improve our relationships. Joy, silliness, and fun deserve a seat at the Board table, right next to strategic planning, balance sheets and fundraising plans.

Take a chance in 2019 and add some fun to your next Board meeting. And if you need a play partner, contact moss+ross to start a conversation about how to get your Board to turn-on and tune-in.

Anna White Hosea is an Associate with moss+ross. She is currently serving as the interim Director of Development for StepUp Ministry in Raleigh, NC.

 

Anna White Hosea is an Associate with moss+ross.

Respect the Power of December

November 24th, 2018

Respect the Power of December

by Mary Moss

Beginning in late November, the temptation is to concede December as too busy and intrusive for fundraising.  We sometimes become tentative; we project what may not be true:  that December is a bad time to ask because we are invading personal space.

In fact, in my experience, the opposite is true.  Strong Decembers became a marker of my career.

Having worked in development for 37 years, I am very familiar with the pros and cons of this season as it relates to fundraising.

This off-schedule, nonworking time is in fact better for many families.  People are less rushed and have time to be thoughtful about what is important to them, including their giving.

As a general rule, I worked very hard leading up to the holidays and then again soon after they ended. I never got any real push-back because I always asked, “Is now a good time to talk?” and I was respectful and gave permission to say no, not now. Aside from people running from me at parties, I experienced a lot of success with this approach.

Nine tips for December:

  1. Make November count! Continue planting seeds by promoting your mission, making calls and sending personal emails and notes.  Promote year-end giving now.
  2. Create a list of donors who gave last November/December who have not yet given. Craft an “anniversary” note thanking them for their generous support at this time last year. Part of showing that you know them is understanding the traditional timing of their gift.
  3. Show appreciation to your donors and volunteers by sending special thank-you notes or calling them. Gratitude is important year round, and those who are thanked well become your strongest supporters.
  4. Connect with your key volunteers. If you know that they are likely to see their prospects over the holidays, find a way to mention how they are involved with the organization or campaign. You can keep it casual and not overstep, but if the timing is right it will remind them of your cause when they are making year-end gifts..
  5. Be positive and confident, remembering that many families will welcome a communication from you. By arranging a time that is convenient for them, you help them accomplish one of their own year-end tasks.
  6. Disseminate stock giving information in a timely fashion so people know how to do this when they are ready.
  7. Remember that someone will call the office on whatever day you finally give yourself a break. Have a plan for how you will receive gifts while your office is closed, and create explicit phone messages and written bounce-back email messages with instructions.
  8. Set up your January meetings now. Do not wait until the New Year arrives. Work now on your messaging for January 2019 (mid-year report, a year-end report, and an expression of gratitude).
  9. Recharge your own batteries, perhaps in early January. Remember that a  good December can make the year.

Enjoy the season, and make it count!

 

Tax Tips: Tax reform under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) affects individuals, businesses, tax exempt and government entities. This article looks at important elements of the new law that have an impact on individuals, and this series covers issues in more detail. (Thanks to our accountants at DMJ & Co., PLLC for permission to share their content.)