Housecall Providers, Youthbuilders among MMT December grant awardees

Congratulations to To the Point clients Housecall Providers and Portland Youthbuilders, who were among the group of nonprofits that Meyer Memorial Trusted selected for its December grant awards. Housecall Providers serves medically fragile patients, making housecalls to these homebound people and providing hospice care. Youthbuilders serves 17-24-year-old students who are struggling to complete school. For a complete list of the recipients, clickMeyer Grant Recipients.

How to keep the flame alive

Because we work with many nonprofit organizations, we often hear tales of serious burnout, of mission drift, of high turnover and of stagnation rather than growth.

One blogger we really enjoy is Sasha Dichter. She recently addressed this issue of how a nonprofit renews itself—because all go through periods when a plateau seems to have been reached, or when a couple steps back have been taken. The challenge becomes: How do we get everyone moving again with the same passion we had way back when?

This post addresses the issue head on. But read further. Dig into the comments left by Sasha’s readers. They are thoughtful, full of both hope and despair. Any nonprofit manager should be looking for this kind of feedback from her or his own staff, to take the temperature of the organization before that temperature either spikes too high or drops into a lethargic frigid zone.

The path to your door

We talked to a client a couple of years ago about doing some public relations to let the community know about his very successful company and his role in building it. He adamantly rejected any media outreach. “I have plenty of business. My target audience knows about me. Why should I care if the media or the public in general knows what my company does or who I am?” he said.

But the unfortunate result of this attitude was that, when he needed media coverage last year and again this year to broadcast important news about his company, the media response was tepid at best. They had never heard of him or his business. When they did some coverage, there were mistakes, largely because he had no experience working with the media.

The opportunity was lost because the client had not prepared for the day when the world would beat a path to his door.

A proactive communications strategy anticipates the day when you may have urgent need of positive media coverage. Getting to know the media—and letting them get to know you—builds in a grace period where both parties have time to develop a relationship in an atmosphere of relative calm. You can build a community reputation that will serve your organization well in the future. That way, when you have important news you want to share, you aren’t making cold calls to a reporter who’s never heard of you. Even if the news is negative, you’ll likely receive better treatment if you’ve established good will in the past.

So don’t wait to tell the world about your organization. Get out there and tell your story now. That’s how you build the path to your door instead of having others beat one to it.

Firing 101: 5 Tips to Keep in Mind to Protect Your Business or Nonprofit

Nothing is more painful to the small business owner than terminating an employee. Nothing, that is, except perhaps mishandling the termination and suffering the consequences. At minimum, your small business should have strong employee performance and conduct policies. Then, these must be applied consistently. And you should develop a clear process to handle the termination itself properly. Here are TK tips to help achieve those objectives that will help protect your business from a firing gone wrong.

Review/revise your written HR policies
When hiring, there is a legal assumption that people are hired at will, and they can be terminated essentially without cause. However, it is extremely risky to assume that an employee with whom you are unhappy can be summarily terminated with no explanation and no paper trail to support your claim that the employee should be terminated. Your employee handbook should contain a clear explanation of all employees’ at-will hiring status, so that they understand that you do not have to show cause. But to be safe—and fair—have clear employee conduct and performance review guidelines in the manual. These are policies and procedures that you will follow with all your employees. Set a company policy that once a year all employees must sign an acknowledgment that they have received a copy of your HR policies. Make sure that you highlight any changes in those policies. Consult with your HR specialist when developing these policies. If you don’t have one, that would be Tip #2.

Retain the services of an HR consultant
The small business owner generally retains good legal and accounting advisors but may overlook human resources consulting services. An HR consultant should be part of your virtual advisory team. As your business grows, the human resources guidelines you put in place earlier may no longer serve you. More importantly, you should consider having a regular conversation with an HR professional, just to go over any current issues and to get updates from someone with their finger on the pulse of HR precedents. Get recommendations from others in your network. The consultant does not have to be local, just knowledgeable.

Document it
Even if you are the only supervisor at your company, make the time to track employees’ job performance. Your HR consultant should be able to help you create a system that works for you. Track job performance, let employees know on a regular basis (at least twice a year) how they are doing in terms of meeting the goals for their job, and offer to provide training for those who are not meeting their objectives. Don’t let improvement be an open-ended goal; give them a timeline for turning things around, and then stick to it. Document each step along the way. And if they are improving, let them know. It’s often easier to fix someone who’s fallen behind than to find exactly the right replacement.

Preparing for the termination interview
You’ve got strong policies and procedures in place. You’ve documented. And now you have an employee who is clearly failing. The ax must fall. It’s time to be thoughtful about the conversation most bosses hate most. But to protect your business, and out of respect for the employee and the rest of your workers, you must think strategically before you deliver the bad news. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Paperwork: Bring it all to the meeting and make sure the employee receives it all with clear instructions. This includes last paycheck, explanation of benefits, perhaps a separation agreement you want the employee to consider before signing, confidentiality agreement(s), etc.
A witness: This can go either way, depending upon your sense of the situation. In some instances, you may just want a one-on-one. But things can get testy, despite your determination to keep the conversation short and to the point. You may decide you’d like to have a trusted person with you—another manager, if you have one, or your HR consultant or attorney. Their presence will also help keep the discussion on track and give you a back-up if later on the employee disputes what was said at the meeting.

Get your stuff back: Make sure you retrieve all company property before the employee leaves the building. Change the password on the employee’s computer, and make sure someone is scheduled to review the content on the computer ASAP.

Leave with dignity: Schedule the termination interview at a time when the rest of the staff has left the office. There’s nothing more alarming to the rest of the team than watching one of their own empty out their office. It can lead others to immediately update their resumes.

After the interview
The rest of your employees will want some explanation of why the termination occurred. Even if you think the reason(s) should be obvious, employees tend to quickly examine their performance in the worst possible light to see if they are next. They will be waiting to see what you do next. But resist the temptation to defend or explain the termination. Put out a memo via email saying that the employee is no longer with the company, and that of course we all wish the person the best in their new endeavor. If you have key employees, you may want to meet individually with them and ask if they have any concerns about their status. Do not discuss the reasons for the termination. There’s a reason for the “left to pursue other interests” phrase. It withstands a legal challenge.

Is your revenue stream about to become a dry creek bed?

There’s nothing more dangerous these days than the assumption that a source of funds for your nonprofit will always be there. Nonprofits that rely on the same events, the same grantmakers, the same high net worth donors and the same year-end appeal campaigns are extremely vulnerable.

A 2007 article by Atul Tandon of World Vision still rings true today. Tandon warns against dependency on the “old reliable” funding sources. He notes that the latest trend, exemplified by Bill and Melinda Gates, of individuals bypassing the nonprofit “middleman” and going straight to the charity recipient has drained considerable resources from traditional nonprofits.

That’s happening everywhere, and not just with insanely rich individuals like the Gateses. Here in our hometown of Portland, we know a family that is quietly but quite successfully raising funds at local schools to support children in Kenya with developmental disabilities. Their appeal is straightforward and heartfelt, and difficult to resist.

Tandon strongly advises nonprofit managers to take a strong marketing approach to fundraising. Look for new ways to raise money. Don’t get dependent on grantmakers whose funding decisions might completely shift on short notice, leaving you without money you counted on to serve your clients. While Tandon’s article is fairly self-serving—World Vision is portrayed as emblematic of the new fundraising vision—it contains valuable advice. Diversify your source. Create new initiatives. Cultivate new individual donors, and find ways to engage your existing donor base. If you believe in your mission, take a hard look at your revenue streams, and make sure they’re not slowly turning into creeks.

Use Your Website Effectively: Don’t Rely on It

When dealing with your organization’s website in the grand scheme of marketing and public relations, there are two sides to fault on. Either your organization’s website is not doing all you need it to, or you are relying far too much on it to get your message out. Finding a balance is the best way for you to engage your audience and get the most value for your dollar.
Consider directing your attention to these areas:
Social Media –
Social Media is not free advertising. It is not going to change your business overnight and it is not necessarily going to expand your donor base if you don’t have a good strategy. Implementing a social media plan does not equal joining twitter and following a bunch of people.  It doesn’t matter how many “likes” you have on Facebook if you aren’t providing your fans with frequent and consistent information. Focus on content first, then outreach, and timing. It’s very important to follow statistics and know exactly who you are reaching and when.
News Releases –
All too often news releases only seem to end up on an organization’s website and not in the hands of editors and journalists. Nobody is checking your website for news. You need to have a comprehensive action plan when it comes to getting the word out, and while a website is a great place to direct people to for more information, you need to make one-on-one contact with members of the press. Make phone calls, set meetings and most importantly, follow up.
Blogging –
Does your website have a blog? What is its purpose? Are you using it solely as a way to post updates to your website without having to make major changes, or are you posting engaging articles in order to keep your donors, volunteers and constituency involved? Your blog should focus on the latter, because if you are using it for a place to post events or promotions and you don’t have a specific place on your website to find that information as well, it’s going to get lost in the shuffle. Create regular features, post consistently if not daily and drive traffic to your blog using an e-newsletter.
The real moral of this story is that you need someone to be juggling all of these facets. Your website is part of your public relations plan, but it isn’t the whole story. Traditional media still plays a very important role in bringing awareness to your cause and your website should compliment that.

Planned Giving: Emphasize the giving rather than the planning

The Oregon Humane Society has enjoyed a steady flow of planned gifts over the years, largely due to the quiet but persistent efforts of its development department and its director Gary Kish, who is adept at explaining the value of a planned gift to a prospective donor. As a result, OHS has greatly benefited in a fundraising area that most nonprofits overlook or dismiss.

The hard fact is that few nonprofits take planned giving seriously. Most view the process as too complicated, and the revenue stream as unpredictable. Too many charities merely offer an explanation of how to make a planned gift in their newsletter or on their web site without actively pursuing these donations. Yet, experts say, donors are more than willing to leave a legacy gift to their preferred charities—if only someone would ask them for one.

Reaping the rewards of planned gift cultivation requires, in most cases, taking a new approach to soliciting those gifts. Such an approach is outlined in some detail in this recent Guidestar article about planned giving. The author argues that most nonprofits shy away from legacy giving because they don’t fully understand some aspects of it. Worse, they consistently miscommunicate with their donors about planned giving, he says.

“We have made it too complicated!,” says Caleb B. Rick, JD, Legacy Giving. “The technobabble of traditional planned giving is intimidating for charities and their supporters alike. Plus, communication and marketing efforts often focus on how to make a gift, without first explaining why this form of giving is important.”

To learn more about Caleb Rick’s strategy for improving your planned gift revenue, you’ll want to read the entire article. You’ll have to invest a little time to do so. But I guarantee the downstream payoff may well be enormous for your development department!

Story Time isn’t Just for Children Any More

A recent GuideStar newsletter article caught our eye. Written by Howard Adam Levy, Red Rooster Group, it was entitled, “How To Develop a Brand for your Nonprofit.” One section of the rather long (for a newsletter article) piece highlighted the importance of one of our favorite communications tools, the story, or case study. Here’s what Levy had to say:

“Organizations with strong brands are able to distinguish themselves, establish credibility, and speak authentically. How do they do this? By telling good stories. Stories are the foundation of a strong brand—they give a deeper meaning to your mission and help people connect to what you do. Your organization’s story may revolve around the personality of your founder, a galvanizing moment in your organization’s history, or a natural affinity to your audience. Good stories, like good deeds, give your brand life, excite your donor base, and instill confidence in others that your organization is what it claims to be.”

We agree. Your stories should resonate with your target audiences—donors, volunteers, potential employees and strategic partners. They must be powerfully told, have the ring of credibility and make a persuasive call to action. Ideally, they will be offered in multi media—as text case studies on the web. blog and in the newsletter; as photos which, in themselves, should deliver a compelling message; and as videos and podcasts available through your site and over other platforms.

At To the Point, we specialize in working with you to find your finest, most compelling stories, and then telling those stories to the audiences with which you wish to communicate. We tell stories to adults who can help you change the world.

Ten Charitable Buzzwords Born in the Last 10 Years

We came across a fun article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy entitled “Ten Favorite Buzzwords of the Decade.” Sent to our email account by GuideStar in advance of its Feb. 9 webinar “Ten Predictions for the Next Ten Years,” it’s a quick and easy read.

Here’s the trick: Read through the list of 10 buzzwords and honestly answer how many of them you were familiar with during the decade in which they rose to prominence. Also note which ones had staying power.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn—How about having an actual in-person conversation?

As I scanned my email inbox this morning, I quickly counted 10 emails that originated from social media/networking sites. Facebook. Twitter. LinkedIn. An online meeting platform. Yelp. And on and on.

Social networking sites provide terrific opportunities for exploring the world around you from the comfort of your computer work station. Here at To The Point, however, we prefer another social networking medium for certain interactions. It’s called Meeting Face-To-Face With Someone.

When we are working with you to help you achieve your organization’s goals and fulfill its mission, we love to sit down with your employees, clients, donors, volunteers and strategic partners and discuss with them in some depth how your organization serves the community. Those true conversations come complete with body language, and with emotions that don’t have to be expressed in an emoticon. We are experts at capturing the passion these people have for your work and translating that passion and emotion into the materials we produce for you.

Can we help you with Facebook and Twitter? Sure. Can we set you up with a blog? You bet. But what truly distinguishes our work is our desire to really get to know you and your team, to find out what makes you tick and why the community is a better one thanks to your work. To do that, you have to get out from behind the computer and get the stories first hand. We love doing it, and you will love the byproduct of those one-on-one interviews.

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