Archive for June, 2011

What you offer for the betterment of the community, specifically your programming, is the “heart and soul” of any nonprofit organization. After you’ve assessed the needs of the community and matched them with your and/or your board’s “work passion”, you are in a position to develop your organization’s programming.

There a number of decisions that need to be made, including:

  • What specific services will be offered (e.g., tutoring, financial education, advocacy, technical assistance, etc.);
  • Who will offer these services (e.g., volunteers, staff, in partnership with other organizations, etc.);
  • How will the services be offered (e.g., web-based, one-on-one, in group settings, audio/video, etc.);
  • To whom will the services be offered (your target market(s) – this will be discussed in an upcoming blog);
  • Where will the services be offered (e.g., in the client’s home, in a church fellowship hall, at the library, in a public park, etc.);
  • How will you market your service offerings (e.g., public service announcements, paid advertising, posting flyers at the local community center, word-of-mouth, etc.);
  • How will success be measures (to be discussed later); and
  • Will there be a fee charged for these services.

As an example, to address the lack of exposure to the arts that has been determined to contribute to the achievement gap found in at-risk youth, you have decided to create an “arts academy”.  This academy will provide exposure to a variety of arts (e.g., music, visual, dance, etc.) for young people free of charge in partnership with the local parks and recreation department, students at the local college, and industry artists who have “made it big”.  Sessions will be held on Saturdays at local churches and community centers.  Advertising will be done through the local public access channel, flyers posted at barber shops/beauty salons/grocery stores, and announcements at churches in the area.

For those with a business background, these items sound eerily familiar to elements of a traditional business plan.  And you would be right!  In essence, most of our discussions have centered around the development of your nonprofit BUSINESS!  Even though you are, or will be, providing products and services that in many circles would be considered “charitable,” the foundation undergirding your efforts is a BUSINESS and should be viewed and managed like one, including asking questions like (1) How do I generate revenues to sustain my efforts? (2) How can I most efficiently offer my products/services? (3) Who will perform the accounting function of the organization’s finances? …and so on.

Back to program development…  The answers to the questions posed earlier will drive many other decisions, including the amount of money you will need at each stage of program execution, the human capacity you will need, what other partner organizations you will need to establish relationships with, and others.

Speaking of “partner organizations,” we plan to focus on this important element in the development of your programming next week.  Until next time…same blog time, same blog channel (Adam West aka Batman would be proud)!

Be strong and be blessed!


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Continuing the theme of answering the question “So, what do you do?”, after you’ve researched the needs in your community and narrowed the needs you plan to address based on the goals and objectives of the organization, the process of developing a strategy to address those needs can begin.  Note that before you begin addressing the needs, you must FOCUS your energies on the SPECIFIC needs you plan to address.  No organization can be ALL things to ALL people and address ALL the needs in a particular community.  For example, the causes and effects of homelessness are diverse and far-reaching.  Nevertheless, there are many organizations that have been created to address different “layers” of homelessness, including affected populations (e.g., veterans and children), addictions, and so on.

You might ask the question of how can one narrow the scope of one’s work to address community needs.  There are a number of ways this can be accomplished, including:

  • Your personal interests – Your passion to do the work will go a long way towards its success.  Let’s say you have a passion for music and want to help at-risk youth become better students, you could create an organization that exposes young people to classical music and, even, create a youth orchestra.  Your case would be strengthened if you found in your research that exposure to the arts leads to better grades and that educational funding for these activities is being reduced.
  • The skills/interest of your board – An extension of the previous point, narrowing your scope will be much easier if your board members are passionate about how to address a specific community need and have the skills, contacts, etc. to add value to the effort.
  • Unique opportunities – Even though I’ve mentioned previously that an organization should not create programming just to “chase the money”, there are times when the “stars are aligned” and that funding opportunities help to “open the mind to other possibilities”.  For example, the North Carolina Fund was created in the early 1960’s as a “laboratory” to address poverty and became as a precursor to the nation’s War on Poverty.  The Fund requested proposals from communities throughout North Carolina as to how they would address poverty in their locales.  For many, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that provided a catalyst for creating unique programming to address an issue that had plagued their communities for decades.  As a result, the evolution of many of these organizations and their efforts are still in effect today.

Narrowing your focus cannot be overstated.  There are many organizations that have found themselves unable to attract funding or other needed resources because they were (or at least perceived to be) too broad in scope.  Find your niche!

Be strong and be blessed!

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One of the first steps in answering the question “So, what do you do?” is determining what needs your programming is addressing.  We can provide anecdotal evidence for a number of worthy efforts, whether it’s alleviating poverty, increasing school graduation rates, reducing obesity in children, or a host of others.  However, when it comes to securing financial and human resources, expressing anecdotal evidence may not be enough to be successful.  Performing a formal “needs assessment” is a key element in determining community needs.

A needs assessment is “a process for determining and addressing needs, or ‘gaps’ between current conditions and desired conditions, often used for improvement in individuals, education/training, organizations, or communities.  The need can be a desire to improve current performance or to correct a deficiency.”[1]  Many organizations perform these assessments on an ongoing basis in a variety of areas, including universities (e.g., student population growth), chambers of commerce (e.g., business needs), and municipalities (e.g., population growth patterns), with the goal of determining how to best allocate scarce resources for desired outcomes.  In community economic development, the goals (and methods used for determining need) are similar.

For example, you have an interest in addressing childhood obesity in the African-American community.  You’ve witnessed an increase in the number of children who are overweight and want to do something about it.  So, you create a non-profit organization and begin to speak with companies and foundations about the possibility of funding your efforts.  You quickly learn that some have experience in funding these type of efforts and ask you specific questions, such as:

  • How many children in your target area are obese?
  • What are the demographics of those who are most at risk?
  • Are there other organizations in your community addressing the same need?
  • What are the long-term effects of not addressing obesity in African-American children?

As you ponder these and other questions, you may ask “How can I get answers to these questions?”  For this subject, there is a wealth of information and statistics that can be used, including information from the Centers for Disease Control, the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (Office of Minority Health), as well as your local county health department.  However, depending on the subject, you may have to develop your own statistical data using other means, such as surveys and focus groups.  For a sample template of a community needs assessment, click here.

Whatever data sources you use, make sure that the data is up-to-date and relevant for your assessment and that your sources are credible (e.g., government data).  The more up-to-date and relevant your data sources are, the more confident you will be in determining and explaining “why”.  As always, for more information, feel free to contact me.

Be strong and be blessed!

[1]: Source: Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Needs_assessment)

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“So, what do you do?”

This question is not just asked often of you personally, but is used more broadly to ask about the work of your organization.  As a community economic development (CED) organization, the answer to this question could be broad or narrowly focused, specific or general…and can mean the difference between receiving a response of “Oh, ok” or “Tell me more”.  From potential volunteers to prospective donors to possible board members, each want to know if what you do is in line with their interests and priorities.

In the non-profit arena, the more formal term used to define “what you do” is call “programming”.  Your organization was created to fulfill some need, advocate for positive change, and/or improve the overall community.  The specific ways you accomplish this is through the creation and implementation of programs.  If you look at organizations as diverse as the Autism Speaks, NAACP or Trickle Up, each has created programs and activities that support the organization’s mission and vision.  For your organization to be success, you will need to spend time developing the ability to clearly articulate what you do and why you do it.

Before addressing how to more clearly define your organization’s programming, there is one important “DO NOT” to consider – DO NOT create programming just to apply for a particular grant.  There are many, many funding options with a diverse array of funding priorities and it is highly likely that “one is right for you”.  So, be true to your organization’s mission and vision!

In order to confidently articulate what you do and why, the following questions should be answered (not an exhaustive list):

  1. How do you know there is a need (or demand) for the program you want to do?
  2. How will your program address these needs?
  3. Are there other organizations in the community addressing these needs and how?
  4. Who are you reaching with your program?  What is your target market?
  5. What resources do you need to implement the program?
  6. How will you know whether the program is successful?

The ultimate measure of your organization’s worth is its ability to successfully address the needs that have been identified.  Look out for more detailed information on how to effectively address these questions over the next few weeks.

Be strong and be blessed!

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