Joining Your First CBO Board!

By Ruby MaddoxBusiness people

The first board position I ever held was , naturally, on the board of the nonprofit I helped create, Gardening the Community(GtC).  This however was not the first board I had worked with. When the project was still under a larger organization (NOFA/Mass) we answered to their board. It was the first time I really had experience in seeing how a board functioned.
In grad school I learned more about board governance and stewardship, which came in extra handy as GtC began to put together its first advisory board.

I learned that boards were essentially the guardians of the organization and had a responsibility to the health and care of the org and its stakeholders.

Putting together an organization’s first board is no small feat. (Establishing a solid structure to the board eventually required outside intervention from a skilled consultant.) When putting together GtC’s board, we chose people in our community who had contributed in some way to the organization and had a sense of who we were and where we were trying to go. Some had served on boards before and some like me, were first-timers.

While it seems more people are choosing to serve on boards these days, many people still shy away from joining a board, believing that they take up too much time, are a waste of time, disorganized, require expertise, or are an unnecessary liability.
I’m not going to lie, some of this can be true of some organizations (I’ll talk more about the liability stuff later), but it’s all about finding the right fit, after-all board service is just another form of volunteer/community service.

Why Join Serve?
Board members not only watch over the organization, they increase the capacity of the organization. As we’ve mentioned, many, many, many times before, CBOs are often under-staffed and under-resourced. A good board can help raise or contribute funds to the organization, contribute or source in-kind donations/services, or recruit other volunteers.
If you’re passionate about a cause serving on the board of a CBO addressing that issue can be a great way to make an impact, since you are enabling the organization to be more effective in their work.

Be Willing to Work / Be Willing to Commit
Don’t just join a board for the status. Be there to contribute your time and your talent. Find out what the requirements are up front. How often is the board required to meet? What roles and responsibilities do board members hold? Remember, you don’t need to be the expert but you should be willing to show up, participate, and follow-through.

Gardening the Community Board Meeting
Gardening the Community Board Meeting

Board Culture is REAL!
Every board has a different “flavor”. Some boards can be super conservative in their functioning and others more laid back. At GtC, food is ESSENTIAL to any board meeting. Since, as an organization, we believe in the value of good food and its role in our lives, there’s always an emphasis on providing and sharing food at meetings. (No cheese and crackers for us!) Because we also value youth leadership, at least 3 members of our board are youth.
Since you’ll be spending a substantial amount of time with people on the board, find out if it’s the right kind of crowd for you.

Committee Yourself First
Find out if you can join a board committee first. Board committees handle board tasks that are too big or complicated to be handled by the entire board and require a smaller more agile team to work on them. Committees meet separately from the board and work on small projects and submit suggestions to the board for approval. Committees are often made up of a few board members and non-board volunteers. Committee work can be a great way to get a sense of how the board operates and the challenges facing the organization.

What to Watch Out For
(This is that pesky liability part). Some boards carry not only an ethical responsibility but a legal responsibility to the organization. This has largely to do with the fact that board members are stewards of a public resource. A public resource with a federal status designation. It is not their money they are managing. Therefore boards can be held legally accountable for mismanagement and maleficence. You should 1) Find out if the board carries Board of Director’s insurance. 2) Find out if there is a fiscal sponsor that holds this liability. 3) Find out how the funds of the organization are managed and how often the status of those funds are reviewed by the board, before agreeing to serve.

A good board should provide proper orientation for new members or at the very least be willing to seek out or offer resources to to new members to help transition them into their new role.



Applying Your Global Experience to Local Nonprofits

Asian woman with chalk globe drawn on blackboard.By Ruby Maddox

Through study-abroad, Peace Corps, and global-service learning projects many students and professionals are taking advantage of expanding their horizons and increasing their skills through global-oriented opportunities. Their experiences are rich in cultural exchange, self-reflection, and renewed perspectives.

So what does this have to do with CBOs?

Since many of these opportunities often involve working with a foreign NGO/CBO, many of these participants look for ways in which their global experience might apply to working or volunteering at a local nonprofit.  While the experience of going abroad is often fascinating in itself with little else to compare it to, there are ways in which skills and competencies gained abroad can be applied to working/volunteering in a community-based organization.

Says Kirk Lange, Director of International Experiential Learning for the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives at Mount Holyoke College, “Perhaps even more important than skills and knowledge sets might be the insights students gain.  Understanding their positionality (often their power and privilege) and understanding communities as communities (by being a member of them and their collective efforts for a while) brings cultural humility and the understanding that each context is unique.”

Having navigated themselves in an entirely new environment participants gain a new understanding of their sense of place in the world as a result.

Brandon Blache-Cohen, Executive Director at Amizade Global Service-Learning notes, “The most important skills that a person learns while serving abroad usually involve flexibility and cross-cultural communication. We find that many of our alums honor nuance and better understand that community challenges are not “fixed” easily”.

As Kirk adds, “Another insight that can be gained is that there are rarely phenomena/challenges/solutions that are just international (and only “out there”) but rather these things are in unique contexts everywhere…and that the international and the national/local together comprise the global. These insights are critical in being effective in community based work (in successfully entering communities that may not be your own, in asking the right questions and together finding appropriate approaches).”

Gabriella della Croce spent some time in Nicaragua both as an intern for The Working World and later as a communications coordinator of Sostenica. Currently Gabriella serves as the outreach and communications coordinator for Gardening the Community a local CBO. When I asked Gabriella what skills she felt transferred from her international experience to her local experience she emphasized her intangible skills.

“The main thing is that it muted me. I think I’m someone who can talk a lot, and it taught me to be quiet and listen hard. Because everything was new I had to learn how to observe and absorb. I had to re-frame and shift my perspective on what defines “development”. It was a humbling experience and involved fighting a lot of assumptions I held as a young college-educated person coming from a background with a lot of resources. Being in a new context, you recognize things in yourself.”

How to Tell Your Organization’s Story

By Ruby Maddox

In my last post I discussed the importance of telling your organization’s story as stated by donors and one of the foremost leaders in philanthropy, Dr. Tempel.

Many fundraising experts like Dr. Tempel agree, fundraising is about building relationships and engaging donors. Donors tend to give where the feel connected. Building that connection takes time, cultivation, and a show of commitment to the values of the organization.

While many CBOs have dedicated staff that do amazing work for the organization it’s important to find ways to share the organization’s story to provide donors (and potential donors) a way to connect with the essence of that work. So here are some ways you can tell that story.

1. Social Media
This is absolutely a no-brainer. Most organizations already have, at minimum, a facebook and a twitter page, but what are you doing with it? If your audience is on social media use your account to post/tweet upcoming events, pictures from past events, articles related to your organization’s cause, and organizational successes and milestones. Since many CBOs may not have a dedicated communications person (let alone a social media manager) here are a few tips to get your org started.

  • See if there’s a way to divvy up the responsibility among a group of staff members.
  • Hold a mini-training session for staff and board  members willing to be a part of the effort.
  • Be strategic. Come up with a minimum number of posts/tweets per week.
  • Rotate responsibility among staff members
  • Have staff/board members submit content(pictures, articles,events, & updates) to a point person willing to post for others.
  • Don’t forget to discuss with your team what’s NOT appropriate to post/tweet.

2. Annual Report
Annual reports are not only a good way to tell your organization’s story, they’re also a great way to show your organization’s profile and demonstrate transparency since they also include the org’s financial information. Annual reports can be a way for an organization to really highlight its successes over the past year and illustrate the need that the organization fulfills. Not sure where to begin? Here are few resources to help get you started.

3. Newsletterconstant contact
Tried and true, a newsletter can be an excellent way to share your organizations story in a predictable and creative way. Most can be done electronically and pretty inexpensively through services like Constant Contact, Mail Chimp, and Verticalresponse. These programs are simple to use and offer excellent templates.
Plus, going electronic with your newsletter (or mostly electronic unless otherwise requested) will save your organization money and allow your audience to keep up to date on the most recent events and stories happening in your organization. You can choose to do a monthly or quarterly newsletter, depending on your org’s capacity.

4. Presentations
The opportunity to present the work of your organization doesn’t need to be one-sided. In other words, don’t wait to be asked. Put the invite out there. Offer to come and talk to classrooms, clubs/associations, church groups, events, etc. Put together a simple presentation that highlights the work of the organization and have it ready to go. If possible train several members of your organization to perform this task.
Your presentation shouldn’t be based around asking for money but building relationships. Bring materials from your organization to share and have a sign-up sheet for anyone interested in learning more about the org or joining the email list to receive the organization’s newsletters.

How does your organization tell its story?

Why Telling Your Organization’s Story Matters

???????????????By Ruby Maddox

I attended two events this past week both with the focus on Philanthropy and noted two similarities in the messages of these two events: Storytelling.

The first event was hosted by Bay Path’s College as part of their “Bold Thoughts in the New America”, Hot Topics Lecture Series. The speaker was Dr. Eugene TempelIndiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy founding dean, Nonprofit Times 2013 Influencer of the Year,  and a top expert in the field of Philanthropy.  Dr. Tempel shared a few statistics on the state of Philanthropy in America; including the decline in alumni giving in higher ed institutions and comparative research on giving among men and women.  He also discussed what he saw as the many roles of philanthropy among others, the reduction of human suffering and enhancing of human potential.

When a local community-based organization asked what their organization could do to increase their number of donors Dr. Tempel noted that it was important for the organization to find a way to tell their story. “The most compelling thing one can do is tell stories about the success of your organization…and how you’re making a difference.”
“Fundraising from my perspective is the difficult work of engagement. It’s figuring out how you engage people”, noted Tempel.

The second event I attended was one of the Women in Philanthropy breakfast events entitled “Donors Share: A Panel Discussion”, moderated by Katie Allan Zobel, President of of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. The panel featured four local donors: Sally Griggs, Amy Jamrog, Ellen Lindsay and Sarah Buttenweiser, all of whom discussed what inspires them to give.   While each donor discussed several things that had turned them off from an organization; not being in alignment with the organization’s values or receiving way too many glossy brochures, each panelists seem to agree that it’s a personal connection that drives their philanthropy.

As Amy Jamrog remarked, ” I love Facebook and I read annual reports. Love them! They tell the organization’s story.”
Sarah Buttenweiser, noted, “I give where I’m engaged. Social media is a great way to tell your story.”
Ellen Lindsey pointed out,”What motivates me to give is that personal touch from an organization.”
“What matters to me is transparency”, said Sally Griggs.

Next week I’ll discuss different ways your organization can tell its story.

As a philanthropist (of your time or money) What motivates you to give?

Give Your Community-Based Organization a Boost for the New Year!

iStock_000015408198_ExtraSmallBy Ruby Maddox

My last post discussed what donors and volunteers could do to help their favorite community-based organization(CBO). This post is about what CBO staff can do to help their organization. With the end of the year right around the corner, it’s usually time to review budgets, push out final reports. For many orgs it’s a time for reflecting on the work of the previous year and figuring how the organization will best meet its mission in the coming year.

While it’s too late to start any new initiatives, here’s one great way to give your CBO a great head start in the new year.

Organize A Year-Long Communication Plan
Your organization should be in contact with donors and other stakeholders throughout the year (not just during the giving season). Creating a year-long communication plan is a major part of creating a donor stewardship plan,  since effective and consistent communication builds relationships with current donors and cultivates new ones. Here are a few things you should add to your calendar.

  • Donor Recognition/Volunteer Appreciation events. These events are a way to say thank you as well as build relationships and foster engagement.
  • Volunteer Events. Identify ways in which your donors and other stakeholders can contribute to the organization through an activity. Maybe you already have annual volunteer events. Think about how you can make them fun and festive. This type of engagement will allow volunteers to feel more connected to the organization while assisting the organization in its goals. By strategically setting these dates ahead of time you’ll get the word out sooner and be able to organize other communication plans accordingly.
  • Newsletter outreach dates. An organization’s newsletter can be useful in keeping in contact with the CBO’s environment. It’s an opportunity to keep folks aware of the organization’s activities and achievements. Newsletters can tie a CBO’s communication plan together since, if planned in advance for the year, it can be used to recognize donors, advertise volunteer events, and share the org’s success stories all throughout the year.
    If your CBO is too under resourced for a monthly newsletter try quarterly. Your newsletter can be done on actual paper or electronically emailed to your CBO’s mailing list through services like constant contact or mailchimp.
  • Thank you card distribution. Be sure to thank donors and volunteers in a timely fashion. I cannot stress this enough. After the volunteer events and fundraisers make a plan to thank your donors right away. If the event is scheduled on a Saturday be sure to place on the calendar the date for drafting and distributing thank you notes.

4 Ways to Help Your Favorite Community-Based Organization this Holiday Season

By Ruby Maddox

In the spirit of Holiday Giving (and let’s face it – end of the year tax write-offs) don’t forget your local community-based organization(CBO).Collecting Food for the Needy

You know, the one with the much smaller staff than the corporate nonprofits and minimal capacity to launch a full scale year-end giving campaign; or the one that will definitely NOT be handing out Christmas bonuses of any sort to their staff.

Yes you know the one…they were also ones running the local coat drive, providing after-school programs, feeding the homeless, clothing the needy, and offering tutoring to all the neighborhood kids… you get the picture.

Your favorite CBO serves the needs of the community throughout the year. Here’s your chance to do something in return.

1. CrowdFunding
This year’s Giving Tuesday campaign was likely the ultimate event in crowdfunding history to date. Many nonprofit organizations are using crowdfunding more and more as a way to increase donations and empower donors.
crowdrise screen capture
Crowdfunding is essentially online fundraising  anyone can do for any cause, project, or start-up.  Crowdfunding allows people to leverage their social networks for the organization their choice. Sites such as Crowdrise and Razoo enable users to set-up their own online fundraiser while connecting the user’s social media platforms to help spread the word.  Donations are made online, are tax-deductible, and can be set up to go directly to the organization.  Fundraisers can request that friends and family donate to their crowdfund site in lieu of gifts.

2. Help Write Letters or Thank you Cards
Some organizations may wish to take advantage of year-end giving but as mentioned earlier may be understaffed and lack capacity. As a way to help, offer to assist them in addressing and stuffing envelopes. This is a volunteer gig that requires minimal training and can be done in just a few hours but can reap great benefits to the organization.

If not letters perhaps thank-you cards. Thanking donors is a big part of donor stewardship and engagement. Donors who are thanked are likely to give again. By assisting the organization with this task, you’re not only freeing up a staff member to work on more skilled-based assignments, you are also  assisting the organization in cultivating future donations.

3. Hold a Holiday Collection Drive – Non- Monetary
Contact the CBO and find out if they have a list of non-monetary items that they need and what condition these items should be in. This can be anything from office supplies & furniture, first-aid kits, snacks, or toiletries.  Once again, leverage your social network by making this list of needs known to your friends and family. Share the importance of the organization with your network and the work that they do in the community. Lastly, provide the address and directions to the organization (so you don’t end up with well-meaning folk dropping stuff off on your doorstep.)

4. Send a Thank-you Gift to the Staff
Remember those non-existent Christmas bonuses I mentioned? Many nonprofit staff  often work above and beyond their stated job descriptions.  CBOs tend to have staff that are passionate about investing their talents in their communities and often make sacrifices in order to further support the organization.
If your budget allows, send a gift card over to the organization for each staff member (even small increments can work). You can send a fruit/gift basket or offer to buy lunch for the staff one day. (This can be a large party pizza or something much more fancy.)
If your budget does not allow – send a thank-you letter informing the organization just how much you appreciate the work that they do or how their work has touched your life.

How will YOU thank your favorite CBO this season?

VIDEO: How Radical Organizing Still Works for Community Empowerment

By Ruby Maddox

One of my favorite Community-Based Organizations is City Life/Vida Urbana (CL/VU). I wrote about this organization while still in graduate school.

City Life/Vida Urbana is located in Jamaica Plains, Ma area. The organization is true grassroots community organization “whose mission is to fight for racial, social and economic justice and gender equality by building working class power through direct action, coalition building, education and advocacy.”  The organization believes that by  organizing poor and working class people of diverse race and nationalities, they promote individual empowerment, develop community leaders, and are building a movement to effect systemic change and transform society.   Their tagline: Building Solidarity to Put People Before Profits

The organization works in 3 areas:

  • Bank Organizing: Post-Foreclosure Eviction Defense Campaign
  • Movement Building and Leadership Development
  • Tenant Organizing

CL/VU combines traditional grassroots techniques (door to door canvassing) with contemporary outreach strategies and employs them to stall foreclosures and further organize the community around these issues. Additionally they hold rally’s against big banking corporations like Bank of America, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, and employ volunteer attorneys to help advise residents of their rights. CL/VU’s philosophy hinges on developing people’s capacity to realize their own power. While CL/VU assist residents in staying in their homes, they operate several leadership workshops that give people the skills to advocate for themselves.

An addition to CL/VU’s innovative use of street organizing and social media (The group has its own YouTube channel), CL/VU also holds also a silver-level Guidestar Exchange participant rating, demonstrating their commitment to transparency.
If you’re interested in learning more about CL/VU you can go here and sign up to receive newsletters, volunteer, or intern.

How can your organization integrate radical organizing to achieve your cbo’s mission?