Every month at IFF, we interview a leader from the nonprofit or social investment space. And every month, we are blown away by their wisdom.
Below are 10 of the most insightful pieces of advice we heard in 2019. They represent different perspectives on four key themes:
- Balancing mission and money
- Using data effectively
- Managing relationships
- Launching or growing your organization
On balancing mission and money
1. Invest adequately in your nonprofit’s infrastructure…
“There are still plenty of organizations that take pride in the fact that 99% of their money goes directly toward serving clients — and plenty of foundations that expect nothing less. But if that’s truly the case, how are you able to ensure your ongoing ability to operate as effectively and efficiently as possible, consistently delivering mission impact? How are you managing your money and directing those resources … without the infrastructure needed to do so?”
–Dana Britto, Fiscal Management Associates
2. …but be willing to sacrifice some revenue or longevity in service of your mission.
“I think most organizations want to see a world where everybody has equitable access to financial resources, or a world where everybody has a home, or all kids get a great education. I think the rub happens when our so-called ‘success’ as an organization begins to compete with achieving our mission. Are you willing to sacrifice some of your revenue or longevity to achieve your mission and vision?
You may need to remind yourself that sacrifice isn’t a bad thing. When you work out and break down your muscles, it’s painful in the moment. But over the long term, your muscles get strong. I think what has been misconstrued is that sacrifice does not lead to some benefit for you. Sacrifice may be exactly what it takes to get to the mission and vision you’re seeking.”
–Will Jackson, PhD, Village of Wisdom
On using data effectively
3. Let data guide your decisions and improvements…
“The days of using just anecdotal information or relying on a charity mindset are over. Results matter. Something I always tried to do in my career was go back and say, ‘You know what? I don’t think that worked.’ We have to be able to critique our work, and data — whether you are brand new to the field or a CEO — must be one of the tools we use.”
–Rick Velasquez, Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission
4. …but don’t expect facts alone to change hearts and minds.
“We keep thinking that facts are on our side [when we try to persuade others to join our cause]. But people have, for the most part, retreated to their ideological corners … Piling on more facts and data is not going to help people change their minds, because on their own they are not persuasive. People don’t objectively weigh the pros and cons of issues, especially those that are politicized. Instead they’ll kind of subconsciously pick and choose the facts that align with what they already believe to be true.
We know from research that leading with shared values and beliefs makes it more likely that your audience will stick around to hear what you have to say. You can then integrate facts into a broader narrative.”
–Ilsa Flanagan, Communications Consultant
On managing relationships
5. Establish trust by listening instead of assuming…
“To earn people’s trust, I think you have to let them show you who they are – let them define themselves for you.”
–Lydia Collins, IFF
6. …then, work with community partners to make change — and don’t let mistakes derail your relationships.
“We know the things we co-create with community are the things that stick. The attitude of ‘I’ve found the answer locked up in my office, and I’m going to go out and offer it to you’ doesn’t work. I think relationship management is an underappreciated factor in bringing about community change … if you’re going to engage in what is long-haul, arduous, generational-change work, you can’t do it outside of a relationship of trust and the kind of grace that provides, because you’re going to make mistakes. Sometimes when community partners try some splashy, marquee thing and it doesn’t work out, we all go to our separate corners and grouse about how the other person screwed up. That’s not a healthy or sustainable way to make change.”
–Jason Purnell, PhD, Health Equity Works
On launching or growing an organization
7. Think in terms of small, incremental ‘hops’…
“When I started my business [Justice of the Pies] in 2014 … I knew I wanted to start small, and I needed a place where I could rent hourly. [I found a shared kitchen] space [that] allowed me to take a grassroots approach to this business and build its loyal base of followers and customers. Now that I’ve done that, I’m ready to expand … but I’m not quite ready for a full-fledged retail space. I don’t want to make a huge leap; I just want to hop over a little puddle. That’s what The Hatchery is for me – it’s hopping to the next level.”
–Maya Camille-Broussard, Justice of the Pies
8. …but before you hop, do your homework.
“Do your homework. That’s my No. 1 piece of advice. I’ll give you an example. Before we [the Economic and Community Development Institute] expanded into Cleveland, we were approached by the Cleveland Foundation, as well as a number of banks, cities, and counties. They were courting us for a year and a half. But we started by securing, in essence, an implementation grant. I spent the first 12 months in Cleveland getting to know the market and the players so that when we did go in, it would not be as a fly-by-night organization. It would be permanent.”
–Inna Kinney, Economic and Community Development Institute (ECDI)
“Understand and line up access to capital. That’s an ongoing issue for people in [the construction] industry and for small businesses generally. It gets tougher if you’re a woman, and even tougher if you’re a woman of color. Knowing what a bond is, understanding lines of credit, dealing with term loans — these are all things you need to know in construction [and many other sectors, including the nonprofit sector]. I was very fortunate to know a banker who taught me how to ‘speak bank.’ I remember when I first went out to banks, I was giving them my sales pitch. They don’t care about the sales pitch … they care about your results.”
–Stephanie Hickman, Trice Construction Co.
10. Locate your nonprofit in the community you serve.
“A lot of nonprofits – especially those established decades ago – just don’t think about the importance of office space and where that space is located.
We’re at a point, though, where they really should be thinking about it. [For example, in Chicago,] the South and West sides don’t have infrastructure for a variety of programming that nonprofits want to deliver. And that perpetuates segregation, because people who live in those communities have to travel — sometimes a long way — to access nonprofits’ programs. Plus, nonprofits that want to offer programming in certain neighborhoods are beginning to realize how difficult it is to do so because there aren’t always buildings that can accommodate their vision …
I think it’s a great time for nonprofits to do more than just recognize the problem. They would serve themselves and the city well by figuring out a way to be visionary and fill this growing gap, whether it’s through satellite sites, a shared space for multiple nonprofits, or something else.”
–Tonika Johnson, Artist and Activist
Looking for a strategic partner to help you think through your plans for 2020? IFF has experienced loan officers who ‘speak bank,’ real estate professionals who know what it takes to find and build a new facility in the community that’s best for you, and a research and evaluation team that can help you do your homework.
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