Capacity for Change

  • Thank you to all who have reached out to support the Napa community, especially those who have offered to volunteer. Since expanding into Napa, CVNL has gotten to know the area, its residents, and the many people working hard in the nonprofit sector to strengthen their communities. Since the recent earthquake, we have been working with our Napa Manager, Jim Tomlinson, to field hundreds of phone calls from victims of the quake and volunteers looking to get involved. We are overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and the generosity of not only Napa residents, but from the Bay Area and beyond.

    If you are a volunteer looking to help support recovery efforts, you will need to check in at theEmergency Volunteer Center (EVC) in Napa: 3765 Solano Avenue, Napa, 94558. The center is being run out of Grace Church. Please proceed to the back of the parking lot to the classrooms; our team will be there to register you and assign you based on the most immediate needs.

    Natural disasters such as this force us to stop, reflect, and appreciate the many things we often take for granted. We extend our thoughts to everyone impacted by the earthquake, and will do everything we can to support the recovery process. To contact our Napa office, call 707-252-6222. To make a donation, consult the information below.

    RED CROSS: Make donations at or text “Red Cross” to 90999 to donate $10. If you’d like to specifically designate the money for earthquake relief for Napa and Vallejo, send a check to the American Red Cross of Napa County at 1790 Third St., Napa, CA 94559, and write “Disaster Relief Napa and Vallejo” on the bottom of the check.

    SALVATION ARMY: Cash donations or volunteer requests can be made at In addition, donations can be provided in person – designated checks, nonperishable food items, or water – at 630 Tuolumne St., Vallejo CA 94590 or 590 Franklin St., Napa, CA 94559.

    SOLANO/NAPA HABITAT FOR HUMANITY: Donations by check designated toward earthquake relief in Napa and Vallejo can be sent to 5130 Fulton Drive, Suite R, Fairfield, CA 94534.

    NAPA VALLEY FOOD BANK: Checks can be mailed to 1766 Industrial Way, Napa, CA 94558. Call (707) 253-6128 to make a credit card donation or go to

  • The Leadership Opportunity: You’re Next!
    By David Livingston Styers
    Director, Consulting Services / Senior Board Governance Consultant
    Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership

    The great hockey player Wayne Gretzky, when asked what was the secret to his success, said:

    A good hockey player plays where the puck is.

    A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.



    Which are you doing and going to do – are you just trying to find the puck or are you working to be prepared for the puck when it arrives?

     Anticipating tomorrow — constituent and stakeholder needs, shifts in funding streams, board composition, and on and on — is critical for leadership today. The nonprofit sector has been undergoing tremendous change in recent years from the downtown in the economy to the beginning generational shift of organizational leadership. And we will all have to learn to live in the new normal that has resulted in society, our communities, and our daily lives, and adapt accordingly. Take this quote:

    Just as millions of U.S. citizens want to reduce the federal budget deficit, but not by giving up their tax dollars or benefits or jobs, so, too, managers may consider adaptive work a priority but have difficulty sacrificing their familiar ways of doing business. People need leadership to help them maintain their focus on the tough questions. Disciplined attention is the currency of leadership.

    Sound familiar and indicative of today? Well, it was actually written more than 15 years ago by Harvard professors Ronald Heifetz and Donald Laurie in an article entitled “The Work of Leadership” about adaptive change and adaptive leadership to best cope with our rapidly changing environment. And their writing certainly seems prescient and as relevant today as then, doesn’t it? As much as things have changed, some things are still, maybe sadly, very much the same.

    While the economic challenges we have faced since the fall of 2008, I presume, caught us all by surprise, we have known for a long time that the 77 million Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964 are nearing the traditional retirement age. Some of you may be excited about this, while others are a little wary. Regardless, we are entering a period of both transition and opportunity for Baby Boomers and the 100-plus million Generation Xers and Gen Yers born during or after 1965 that follow. Note that only 14% of board members are under the age of 40.

    Many of you recognize the significance of this transition, but you may be challenged about how to address the impact and opportunities of this change. More and more, organizations are realizing that to be successful and recruit and retain the best leaders, both staff and board, they must value unique talents and include diverse voices. We must develop the skills and networks of leaders to not only help expand and improve the nonprofit talent pool but also help provide professional and personal development for leaders in general.

    Again, critical to this adaptive work will be the establishment of both trust and diversity at all levels and in all aspects of leadership. Mutual respect and tapping into the perspectives and expertise of different backgrounds will help ensure our organizations are making the best decisions possible.

     There has never been a better time to engage in the vital work that nonprofits are doing in your communities. Thus, this truly is the great opportunity of our day, though it will not be without its challenges. But when we work together on innovative forms of engagement and new ways of doing business, everyone benefits.

    Ultimately, you need to feel and know that you can make a difference to the nonprofit organizations and people they serve. Organizations are like an oyster — without friction, an oyster cannot produce a pearl. Board members can be just what a nonprofit needs — that tiny spec of friction — to form a beautiful pearl — the pearls of active citizens, effective institutions, and vibrant communities.

  • Earth Day Volunteering: What’s In It for You?
    Written by Lauren Dunford, Program Coordinator, Volunteer Engagement, 
    Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership

    While traipsing through neck-high shrubs, diligently surveying the land for pieces of litter during a recent volunteer project at McInnis Park, a 6-year-old volunteer looked up at her mother and declared with confidence, “It’s my destiny. I have to save the Earth.” Adorable and profound, this young volunteer’s epiphany is what I live for as a volunteer coordinator. I’m intensely interested in what motivates people to give. Traffic tickets and school assignments are easy enough to understand, and I’ve seen each of these compel people to rise at dawn, plant vegetables in pouring rain, and sort canned goods for hours on end. It’s the intrinsic motivators that I’m most intrigued by. Why do volunteers give so much, of their own volition, and ask for nothing in return?

    As Earth Day approaches, I’m reminded of Marin’s unique concern for the environment. The hub for community service projects in Marin County, Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership (CVNL) strives to respond to community needs and volunteer interests by providing meaningful opportunities for individuals to be instruments of positive change. Throughout the years, we’ve partnered with local environmental organizations to offer recurring service projects at parks, open space preserves, community gardens, and more. These projects not only help keep Marin clean, healthy, and thriving but they also cater to the community’s intrinsic desire to make a difference. Volunteerism in general and environmental service projects in particular come along with a few other added benefits as well. A little exercise, a productive morning outdoors, an opportunity to make a new friend – all are motivators and sometimes unexpected rewards that come along with community service.

    This Earth Day, there are a wide variety of opportunities for new and veteran volunteers to join in the fun. You’ll find me and a group of volunteers at Pickleweed Park, one of the most visited parks in all of Marin. Its proximity to the San Francisco Bay wetlands makes it a prime source of waste – if litter from sports games and other park use is not properly discarded, it runs straight into the Bay, sullying the habitat and endangering the wildlife that reside there. Volunteers will spend the morning walking along the John and Jean Starkweather Shoreline path removing litter.

    Meanwhile in Tiburon, a second group of volunteers will assemble at Old St. Hilary’s Preserve. The native plants of this beautiful piece of open space are struggling to survive due to an overgrowth of invasive, non-native French Broom. The Earth Day volunteer crew will remove broom plants, plant natives, and offer general upkeep to the area.

    Venture North to Homeward Bound, Marin County’s chief provider of shelter and residential services for the homeless, and you’ll run into volunteers in the garden. The food cultivated from this chemical-free, organic, garden will feed the residents of the New Beginnings Center in Novato and support the Fresh Starts Culinary Academy, Homeward Bound’s job training program. Volunteers will plant, water, and harvest vegetables, pull weeds and lay mulch so that this garden “where the homeless feed the hungry” can continue to flourish.

    A fourth group of volunteers will round out Earth Day weekend in Marin City at the community garden and orchard. This new and cherished gathering place promotes healthy, sustainable living for Marin City residents by providing space to cultivate fresh and local food. Volunteers prepare garden plots for community members to claim, tend plots on behalf of seniors and other residents in need of assistance, and complete general maintenance and beautification projects for the space as a whole.

    CVNL along with the My Earth Day Marin Coalition will celebrate Earth Day Saturday, April 26 – Sunday, April 27. Maybe you’re an environmental activist and Earth Day speaks to your own personal mission. Maybe you’re free most weekend mornings and want to catch a little extra sun. Perhaps, like my co-worker’s 6-year-old daughter, saving the Earth is your destiny! Whatever your motivation, I hope you’ll join us this Earth Day and make a difference in your local community. Visit or to find an Earth Day service project near you.

  • Mary Vradelis of Sequoia Consulting Associates is currently leading a new series at the Center called Leading Teams to Victory: Your Role as Individual, Supervisor and Team Leader

    Recently the New York Times featured a lengthy story about Silicon Valley’s quest for mindfulness (Mindfulness at Every Turn, by David Hochman, 11/3/13). This desire to be unplugged and become more present is now permeating the world of the rich, famous, and geeky.  From programmers to start-up superstars to celebrities, the attendance is growing at conventions like Wisdom 2.0 and a 7-week class held for Google employees called, “Search Inside Yourself.” 

    Leading Teams to Victory Series participants led by Mary Vradelis design and don their individual leadership masks.
    Meng Tan, the Google engineer and creator of “Search Inside Yourself" says, “This isn’t the old San Francisco hippie fluff.”  He describes the workshop as using peer-reviewed research and promises of financial gain to encourage attendees to change their behavior.  Benefits include health (lower blood pressure and curing psoriasis), business success (promotions), as well as a deeper sense of success and pleasure (balance, appreciation, and calm). 

    As a consultant and coach for nonprofit leaders, it does my heart good to see a societal shift in what values we are seeking from our work and life.  However, I’m left wondering – where are nonprofits in this conversation?  It seems from the leaders and line-staff that I am talking to, work days are getting longer, professional development budgets are getting smaller, and there is less and less time to step back and ask ourselves.   If we do this work out of a sense of caring, shouldn’t we be first in line for a mindfulness practice?

    “Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.”  Peter F. Drucker

    So I ask you, when was the last time you gave yourself the time to think about what’s important?  What’s working well?  What would you like to do differently?  If we are asking our clients, colleagues, donors, and our co-workers to do what’s right?  How do we decide what’s right?  I think a great place to start is thinking about your values – not just what you think your values should be.  What are the actual core values that drive your decisions?  Are they different than the core values that you get the most of your investment of your two precious resources (time and money)?  Does that mean you need to change your values?  Or how you spend your time and money?

    If you need a reason to invest your time in thinking about core values, how about this:  James Kouzes and Barry Posner in The Leadership Challenge  found that companies with shared values increase their revenue four times faster, job creation grew seven times higher, and their profit performance grew 750% higher than those organizations that weren’t value-based.  And for those who prefer to think about the quality of their workplace, you might like to know that organizations with shared values: foster feelings of pride and personal effectiveness, promote company loyalty, and facilitate consensus and teamwork.   If that seems like a valuable enough reason to walk away from your desk for an hour, or to turn off your phone,  then I encourage you this week to invest in your own mindfulness.  Take a workshop. Write in your journal. Go for a walk and think about the most important thing that you could do today.  Thich Naht Hahn says, “The most precious gift we can we can offer anyone is our attention.”  So, I encourage you – start by giving that gift to yourself. 

  • A doctor who performed eight, crucial surgical procedures for Marin’s vulnerable population probono. A high school sophomore who founded an eye clinic in the Canal District and collected 2,000+ pairs of glasses. A nonprofit who created 38 affordable properties in Marin that served 1,400 individuals. These are just some of the stories shared and celebrated at last years’ Heart of Marin Awards Ceremony and Luncheon. I encourage you to share a new story by submitting a nomination: help make our 21st year the most memorable and inspiring yet!

    2012 Heart of Marin Attendees
    If you have not attended Heart of Marin before, picture a room packed with 800+ leaders, volunteers, and innovators from the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. The sounds of laughter, applause, and tears punctuate the ceremony as the community is brought together through the inspirational work of Marin’s change-makers. As the largest recognition event in the county, Heart of Marin awards $35,000 to outstanding nonprofits and the committed individuals who serve them.

    I urge you to take the opportunity to celebrate the work and achievements of an individual or agency that has positively impacted our community by nominating this year. The deadline to submit a nomination is fast approaching: this Friday November 8, 2013, 5pm. Click here to download and complete nomination form today.

    Heart of Marin award recipients will receive a $5,000 award for their nonprofit, with the exception of youth volunteers who will each receive a $1,000 award. The awards categories are:
    1. Achievement in Nonprofit Excellence– Sponsored by Autodesk, this award is presented to an organization that has demonstrated exemplary service to its constituents. 
    2. Youth Volunteer of the Year – Perhaps the most moving award category of them all! Presented to five full-time middle or high school students serving a Marin nonprofit in the community, school, or faith environment, this award is sponsored by Bank of Marin. 
    3. Excellence in Board Leadership – This award is sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, San Rafael, and presented to an exceptional volunteer member of a Marin nonprofit board of directors. 
    4. Excellence in Leadership – Presented to an executive director who has demonstrated excellence and leadership within their organization and community, the award is sponsored by Marin Community Foundation. 
    5. Volunteer of the Year – Sponsored by Redwood Credit Union, the award is presented to an individual (other than a board member) who has provided exemplary volunteer service to a Marin nonprofit organization. 
    6. Excellence in Innovation – This award is presented to an individual, organization, or partnership that has developed new and creative strategies for meeting community needs and is sponsored by Bregante + Company LLP and Wells Fargo. 
    7. Corporate Community Service – Sponsored by College of Marin, this award is presented to a business that has fostered and encouraged volunteerism and philanthropy among its employees. 
    Jan Wahl from KRON will once again serve as our mistress of ceremonies. For 9 years Jan has supported us as we recognize exceptional leaders in Marin, bringing her unique style of humor and authenticity to what has become the place to be for an afternoon of inspiration, encouragement and motivation.

    Don’t miss the chance to say “thank you” to the people who are actively making change happen in Marin. Nominate today and join us between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. on January 9, 2014, as we celebrate all of the nominees and announce the 2013 awardees. I expect that we will once again be moved and inspired by the stories that we can all use more of and never seem to get enough of.

    For questions call 415-479-5710 x330 or email

    2012 award winners- you could be next!

  • Welcome back, friends! We’re thrilled to kick off another fall season of Education & Training programs here at the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership. We’re especially excited because nearly 200 of you responded to our recent training survey and we heard you loud and clear: leadership education is your #1 priority and participating in learning cohorts over time extends your educational progress.

    To all nonprofit leaders – of staff, of boards, of volunteers, of teams – we invite you to explore our newest series developed in response to our survey findings. Leading Teams to Victory: Your Role as Individual, Supervisor, and Team Leader will help you explore leadership through multiple lenses and will be held on First Fridays from October through December.

    To all aspiring leaders – inquisitive managers, new executive directors, recent sector-changers – we invite you to apply to be part of our highly reviewed and intensive Emerging Leaders Program. In four packed days in November and December, our expert faculty leads you through the nuts and bolts of nonprofit compliance and management and into the world of board, brand and fund development.

    Not ready for a series just yet? Explore over 20 additional workshops scheduled from September through December – from Mission Minded’s Minute Message Model in October to Kim Klein’s Creating an Upgrading Team in December. Once again, we’ve followed through on your specific requests: just behind leadership were marketing/communications and fund development as the most requested training topics!

    Act fast – we are offering a Back to School Registration Special for the months of August and September! And as you’ll see, there has never been a better time to renew or become a member – both to join our community and to save even more. But don’t go just yet – read ahead for even more Center developments that you’ll want to share with your board and staff – ways to find off-the-beaten-path grants; recruit new board members that might be your neighbors; and even build coalitions in unlikely places.

    We look forward to seeing you at the Center this fall!

    In Community,
    Georgia Antonopoulos
    Director of Education and Training

    P.S. Remember – signing up this week and next month will guarantee you deep discounts on our most popular programs. And be sure to take advantage of our free informational workshops, too – Grantseeking, BoardMatch and Foundation Center! And finally, if you have any questions or would just like to introduce yourself (I'm a newbie from Boston), don’t hesitate to reach me directly at 415-448-0331 or at

  • By Eve Nelson, Principal, mack5

    Eve Nelson
    For organizations whose programs and/or operations require permanent space that is tailored to their needs, it’s important to consider the following “setup” issues for capital improvement projects. Because a capital improvement project is a temporary endeavor to create a unique and lasting product or result, from the outset it is critical to set a path for accomplishing the ultimate goal.

          1. Establish a Total Project Budget

    Budgeting for all costs associated with a capital improvement project (be it new construction or renovation) is essential to fundraising, so that sufficient funds can be raised, and donors are aware of the project’s full scope. Budgets not only need to account for the ”bricks and mortar,” but also for all “soft costs” such as architect/engineers; specialty consultants; entitlements; permitting; furniture, fixtures and equipment; data/telecom and IT; security and signage; audio visual, costs related to fundraising; contingencies; etc.

    2. Establish a Total Project Schedule

    Time is money so a well‐planned schedule helps ensure that a project is organized and completed as expeditiously as possible. Establishing a schedule is a must to manage the “inter‐dependent” activities of planning, fundraising, design and construction, and coordinate them with the organization’s ongoing activities. Project schedules need to incorporate all project phases and significant milestones from start to completion, including activities such as planning, programming, entitlements, permitting, design, outreach, fundraising, construction work and commissioning.

    3Define Roles and Responsibilities

    Often a client that is not familiar with the design and construction process needs to learn what different industry resources can bring to the table, and just as importantly, what is expected of their own organization and its board in order to successfully accomplish their project.

    4. Select the Right Architect

    An architect’s job is to express – in form – the program, mission and vision of an organization; so, it is critical to find the right architect: one that embraces those of the nonprofit organization.

    A successful capital project delivers the organization’s programmatic requirements at best value: a sustainable facility that comes in on budget and schedule with satisfied users, and furthers the organization’s mission, vision and values. mack5 partners with nonprofit organizations to achieve their strategic goals through effective and successful planning/management of their capital improvement projects.


    About Mack5: Mack5 is a project management, construction management and cost planning consulting firm that provides exceptional service. Since our inception in 2001, Mack5 has partnered with owners to address complex and costly project issues. For more information, visit

    About Eve Nelson: Eve is an active member of the Center's Nonprofit Consultants Network. Since 2002, Eve has been responsible for business management; functional areas include marketing, business development support, business planning/budgeting, accounting/finance, IT, HR/benefits, legal, insurance and facilities at the firm. She also acts as financial advisor and consultant for client projects and assignments.

  • Sarah Moore of Mission Minded

    Six Steps to Making the Most of Your Annual Report

    by Sarah Moore

    With a smart annual report, your organization can fundraise, sustain your audiences’ interest, and reconfirm the value of your work. It’s an important document that demands careful consideration of all the steps in the process, from selecting a release date to writing and gathering the content.

    To help your organization create its best annual report yet, Mission Minded has developed “Your Annual Report is a Fundraising Tool,” a free guide that maps out the six vital steps to making your report a success. Download it here.

    On May 2, we’ll be presenting this topic at the Executive Directors’ Roundtable, hosted by Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership. We hope to see you there!

    Other Mission Minded resources on annual reports:

    This blog was originally posted on by Sarah Moore and has been reposted with MissionMinded's permission.

    Is Your Annual Report George Clooney or George Costanza?  
    How to Create an Annual Report with Appeal
    Thursday, May 2, 2013, 9:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m.,
    Free for Members/$10 for Non-Members
    with Jennie Winton & Sarah Moore
    555 Northgate Drive, Suite 200, San Rafael, CA 94903

  • Does Your Board Committee Structure Need Some Spring Cleaning?
    By David Livingston Styers, Director of Consulting/Senior Board Governance Consultant 

    A committee has often been described as a cul-de-sac down which good ideas are lured...and then quietly strangled.

    When it comes to board structure, there is certainly no one size fits all, but there are some specific trends that can help advance the mission between board meetings. All nonprofit governing boards have substantially more work to do than can ever be accomplished at monthly or quarterly meetings. Many boards try to solve the problem by creating committees to work on issues between meetings. But even with the best intentions, boards sometimes don't build their committee structures properly, creating even more work for board and staff members.

    Each organization must develop its own unique model and structure for the board based on the organization's environment, history, set of personalities, and culture. Typically, there are no laws that regulate the structures of committees, as they do not make organizational decisions. Some state laws, including CA, address audit committee matters.

    To avoid frequent changes to the bylaws, however, it is wise not to make them overly specific. For example, it is not necessary to include the board's committee structure in the bylaws beyond stating that the board may establish and lay down committees as needed; they should be described in the board's policies. The one committee to specify in the bylaws is an executive committee.

    Standing committees are work groups that will always be needed as supports for the board no matter what is happening in the life of the organization. Very small boards may not have separate committees as the board functions as a committee of the whole. Remember: the functions are more important than the structure.

    Join us on May 2nd to walk through the steps for building a solid committee structure to create a more effective and enjoyable board experience

    Thursday, May 2, 5:30 p.m.-8:00 p.m., $40/$60,
    with David Styers
    555 Northgate Drive, Suite 200, San Rafael, CA 94903

  • Original post by Lauren Dunford, Volunteer Services Associate, Volunteer Marin

    This week is National Volunteer Week! Established in 1974 and sponsored by the Points of Light Foundation, National Volunteer Week is about inspiring, recognizing and encouraging people to seek out imaginative ways to engage in their communities. The week draws the support and endorsement of the president and Congress, governors, mayors and municipal leaders, as well as corporate and community groups across the country.

    Wonder about the ways volunteers impact our community? Take a look at this video, produced by Volunteer Marin, that features one of our many FLEX projects, English Conversation Club:

    We're proud to announce a new, three-course training volunteer management certificate series. This series is designed for those who manage volunteers and for those who would like to develop effective volunteer management skills. Based on effective practices, these fun and interactive trainings explore essential strategies for volunteer management. Take ideas back to your agency to enhance your engagement of volunteers and your organization. Learn more and register here

    We’d love for you to serve with us during this week or commit to serve in the future. You can check out exciting opportunities below or on our website. Honor volunteers this week by recognizing the extraordinary things they're making happen in Marin. You can visit our Cause and donate today to pay tribute to a volunteer who's impacted you or our community. Happy serving!

    April 22
    Afterschool Tutoring with WHAP in Marin City
    Volunteer to Tutor and Play with Kids at Fairfax-San Anselmo Children’s Center
    Be a Bowling Buddy with The Cedars of Marin

    April 23
    Canal Alliance Food Pantry & Open Market
    Afterschool Tutoring with (WHAP) in Marin City

    April 24
    Sort and Stock at Marin Food Bank

    April 29
    Afterschool Tutoring with WHAP in Marin City
    Volunteer to Tutor and Play with Kids at Fairfax-San Anselmo Children’s Center
    English Conversation Club

    April 30
    Afterschool Tutoring with WHAP in Marin City

    May 1
    Knit Your Part

    May 4
    Bike to Work Day Prep with Marin County Bike Coalition
    BroomBusters with Marin County Parks

  • Often in my consulting work, I have heard managers say, “I wouldn’t mind being a manager if my staff would just do it right, so I could get some my work done.” Maybe you’ve heard a colleague say that? Or, maybe you’ve said it yourself?!

    My question to you is – what if ensuring that your staff members have the support that they need to get the job done is your job? Actually, the question that I most often ask a manager who is frustrated by an employee’s performance is, “Do you want her to be successful?” If you were honest with yourself, you might find that you initially answer, “No.” Usually though, I find that most managers, after a little thought, change their answers to, “Yes.” That is when the hard work begins.

    If you want your employees to be successful, I recommend using the three dimensions that my co-author and I identify in Strategy Making in Nonprofit Organizations: A Model and Case Studies.

    1. Purpose: When you are talking about an employee’s performance, make  sure that she knows how her work fits into the larger mission of the organization. Take the time to let her know your vision for her success, and some of the expectations that you have of her performance. How exactly will you know that she is doing a good job?

    2.  Process: After you have communicated your expectation, check for understanding. Ask an employee to paraphrase in his own words what your expectations are, and how you will be looking to him to meet them. If you discover that you aren’t aligned, take the time to develop shared understanding. After that, create a process to give regular feedback. When something isn’t working, let your employee know promptly!

    3.  People: Please keep in mind that you are managing people (not manufacturing widgets). Even when you’ve been clear, you may need to get more information from the employee about why things aren’t happening the way that you want. The key here is to listen! Use listening to understand your employee’s experience in trying to meet your expectations. You may need to adjust your expectations, or find new ways to support your employee.

    If you think taking these steps sounds easier to do than they actually are, you’re right. Fortunately, the Bay Area is rich with training resources. And remember, learning a new skill can be awkward at first. After you’ve learned a new management tool – find ways to practice in a safe supportive atmosphere. It could be with colleagues, or through an Affinity Group. Make sure that they not only give you an opportunity to practice, but that they also give you constructive feedback. Yes, it is the hard way – but good managing really does pay off.
    ---Mary Vradelis

    Mary Vradelis is a coach, interim executive director, and the co-author of Strategy Making in Nonprofit Organizations: A Model and Case Studies.

    Business Expert Press, the publisher, is currently offering our readers a 15% discount on Vradelis' book through April 30th. Simply input the code: SPRING2013 for a 15% discount. Click here to find her book.

  • David Livingston Styers
    In fact, retreating, i.e. having an annual board retreat, may be the best investment you can make to improve your board’s performance. Yet, just over half of boards report holding an annual retreat. Exceptional boards intentionally implement board practices, like retreats, to provide an opportunity to evaluate their own performance and revitalize their governance through renewed focus on organizational priorities. Retreats are a great way for boards to step back from the day-to-day and assess not only if they are doing things right, but also if they are doing the right things.
    No one comes in to board service with any type of degree in nonprofit governance, so retreats offer a setting where boards can continue their own education, about their role within the organization and about themselves. A well-facilitated retreat can help remind boards about their duties, roles and responsibilities, and provide skill development to be better board members. Maybe more importantly, retreats can help strengthen relationships by allowing board members to get to know each other better. Often board meetings lack time for interpersonal communications and for time to focus on future challenges and critical issues.

    So, if it has been awhile (or never) since your board last went on retreat, spring is a perfect time to do so. A board retreat is the opposite of raising the white flag! Schedule time to recommit and reengage your board to improve the governance of your nonprofit. The benefits of a board retreat will extend beyond your board members and organization; your constituents and stakeholders will feel its benefit, too. Your mission is too important not to have the best leadership possible. 
    If you would like help in planning for and in leading your board’s retreat, please contact the Center for assistance. David Livingston Styers is the Director of Consulting Services and Senior Board Governance Consultant, he can be reached at or (415) 479-5710 x336.

    --By David Livingston Styers

    Would you like to be a guest contributor for Capacity For Change? Email Krissy at tor details.

  • “People join organizations and leave managers.” I learned that management adage in my first class in business school. I had to say it to myself a few times before I understood it: people join organizations that they love and leave those same organizations because of bad managers. “People join organizations and leave managers.” The words sound simple, but they carry a great weight – a lot like being a manager.   

    Mary Vradelis
    That simple phrase reflects years of research in the business world that demonstrates the importance of management – or I should say, the high cost of bad managers. However, in our research of nonprofits we found this phrase to be even more relevant. People join nonprofits because of the ideals and values the organizations represent – this puts even more burden on managers to understand what motivates staff to do their best work. In a nonprofit, a manager can’t rely on financial gain or the promise of a climb up the career ladder to retain great employees.  

    You’ve probably heard many people complain about a bad manager – the kind of boss that makes the position they once loved, untenable. Maybe that’s even been you – and you swore you would never be that kind of supervisor. In my 25 years of working with nonprofits, managers frequently complained to me, “Why can’t my staff just do it right, and let me get some work done.” Have you heard yourself say this? Or do you wonder why it was so hard to find and keep good staff? If that’s the case, have you ever asked yourself, “What am I doing to be the best manager that I can be?”

    Many managers are promoted because they know the field and are good at their job. Unfortunately, their organizations often don’t take the important next step and invest in the training and support that these managers needed to understand the new goals for a management position and develop the set of skills needed to reach them. If you want to be a good manager, what are you doing to improve your skills? Anything we want to be good at requires training, practice, and feedback. Imagine being handed a driver’s license just because you knew how to take apart a car, or playing professional basketball without a coach and daily practice; or publishing short stories without regular feedback and an editor. Ask yourself today, “What can I do to get the training, practice, and feedback to be the best manager I can be and nurture good staff to be great staff for my organization?”
    Next edition:  Management is hard work; but there are some great resources that you can use to improve your management skills:  Training, Practice, and Feedback.

    Mary is a guest presenter of the Center and the co-author of Strategy Making in Nonprofit Organizations: A Model and Case Studies, found at Business Expert Press. Capacity for Change readers: the publisher is offering is a 15% discount, through April 1st, 2013 for you! Just input the code:CVNL2013 at check out.

    “People Join Organizations….”
    © By Mary Vradelis       

  • In honor of our upcoming Nonprofit Forum, Reimagining the Nonprofit Story, we reached out to Michael Margolis to ask some questions about himself and his approach to storytelling.

    Q.: On your website, you own being a “misfit geek” and say that storytelling helped you survive. Can you give us an example of how storytelling became a powerful tool in your personal life?
    When I was 9-years-old my family moved from Lausanne, Switzerland to Los Angeles, California. I didn’t exactly fit in. This experience of being an “outsider” plagued me for much of my life. No matter how hard I tried, I simply never belonged to the culture I was in. Traveling between the worlds can be a lonely experience. Especially when you feel that you see something others don’t see, that you have something to share if only you could translate it into terms your audience can understand. That’s what brought me to storytelling. Today, we all find ourselves in a disruptive age and I suspect many leaders of nonprofit organizations are “traveling between the worlds” as well. In February we want to explore storytelling as a key not only to innovation and marketing, but also to nonprofit leadership and community creation.

    Q.: When did you realize that storytelling was important for businesses and nonprofits?
    It began in the late nineties, during my first career as a social entrepreneur. I co-founded two nonprofits before the age of twenty-three working on the issues of volunteerism and workforce development. I experienced my share of success and accolades including funding from national foundations like Ford and Rockefeller. I also experienced my share of failure and sensed that something was missing from the conversation for how nonprofits tell their story. In 2001, I got really sick and took a healing sabbatical that allowed me to explore the link between storytelling and how new ideas are socialized into reality. During the subsequent ten years of my journey, I have seen some of the most creative and established institutions adopt storytelling as a new organizational capability. What you are seeing today is a broader cross-sector movement that we at Get Storied call “humanization of business.” Technology and our interconnectedness are changing how we lead and operate our organizations. It’s also changing how we think of identity and telling a story that our stakeholders can better relate to. 


            "We want to explore storytelling as a key not only to innovation and marketing, but also to nonprofit leadership and community creation."

    Q.: How is storytelling different than branding?
    A.: All branding is storytelling, but not all storytelling is branding. At Get Storied, we believe that stories reach deeper than brands or strategies ever can. A lot of branding comes off as trite, cliché, or artificial because it’s often applied like window-dressing. That said, plenty of organizations approach branding as a deeper process for their own identity development and not just a pretty logo or tagline design. From this perspective, branding becomes a psychic container for the meaning of stuff (e.g. core values, audience experiences, and desired outcomes). Organizational story architecture becomes a way to transform self, rather than to merely communicate better. We tell our stories, but our stories act on us too. At Get Storied, storytelling is not a tool, but a mindset and approach to organizational management, innovation, and marketing. The stories we tell literally define what is possible, what is acceptable, and what is not. At a time when we are all being asked to reinvent our institutions and how we do our work, we have to re-examine the stories that we are telling. The question then becomes: Are you telling the right stories for the future you want to create?

    Q.: Do you think that how nonprofits and businesses tell their stories needs to be different? If so, in what way?
    A.: The biggest issue facing how organizations tell their story is the need for self-validation. Your audience actually doesn’t want to hear you bragging and boasting all the time. What makes a story interesting is not the high notes, but rather the challenges, losses, twists, turns, the creative tension, and the anticipation of an unknown outcome. Organizations have to learn to introduce more drama in their story through disclosure instead of pressure. For example, too many nonprofit stories are based on the genres of guilt, shame, moralizing, self-righteousness, and pity, wrapped up in self-congratulations. That’s not exactly an invitation. Instead, people need to hear a story they can identify with in terms of their weaknesses and aspirations and a story that is larger than themselves or their group. The secret to reframing the nonprofit story is to build a bridge that reminds us that we are more similar than different. We all want the same things, whether that’s the American Dream, a place to call home, or to see our children succeed; while at the very same time seeing our differences as assets. Where we differ is precisely where we can contribute to each other. Powerful and long-lasting stories can get beautifully complex. At the Nonprofit Forum in February, we’re going to teach specific tools for how to find this sort of “bigger story” that transcends some of the traditional boundaries that have historically limited the relevant market/audience for your work. 

    Q.: How do you think the personal and organizational stories are linked?
    A.: You have to start with the personal story. Everything else is a greater level of abstraction. Personal is the door to universal. Be in touch with your own motivations and be transparent with your audience about it. This will lead to much greater trust because your audience knows where you’re coming from and can identify with you. In my case, I came to storytelling as a survival mechanism after being a perpetual geek and misfit. I also turned to storytelling after seeing too many world-changing ideas and innovations get lost in translation. That’s why this work is so deeply personal for me.

    Q.: If you could share one thing that would inspire others to be involved in social change efforts, what would it be?
    A.: I’m always reminded of the saying, “We teach what we need to learn most.” So be aware that your work as a social change-maker is a stage for your own inner-struggle and turmoil. We have a tendency to project onto others the very change we want most for ourselves. The sooner you can name and own that shadow, the more effective you’ll become in your work. The shadow doesn’t go away, but it makes you vulnerable and honest which allows deeper and more meaningful relationships to emerge. In the end, we find ourselves through each other’s stories. People follow those who are growing and stretching; leaders who are fearlessly engaging in this personal work.

    A question for all of you: What part of your personal story drives your passion for your work? Tell us in the comments!

    Michael Margolis is the CEO of Get Storied a training and advisory company devoted to transformational storytelling. For over a decade, he's worked as a Story Architect - helping CEOs and CMOs redefine how the world perceives their brand, cause, or message. 
    Michael is an anthropologist by training and an entrepreneur by trade. The son of an inventor and artist, he is committed to the biggest stories of our age - the cultural inflections that are rapidly reshaping reality. His work and ideas have been featured in Fast Company, Brandweek, and Storytelling Magazine. As a teacher and evangelist, Michael serves 13,000 change-makers around the globe who believe in the future of storytelling. 
    Based in NYC, Michael is left-handed, color-blind, and eats more chocolate than the average human.  

    To learn more about Get Storied’s work:

    Read Michael’s recent interactive interview and live chat forum on Chronicle of Philanthropy

    Watch video of Michael’s TEDx talk – The 3 Pearls of Entrepreneurial Storytelling

    For more information about the Nonprofit Forum please visit: contact Krissy at

  • Our Guest Blogger: Christina Dragonetti  

    Holiday buying season is upon us - and the frenzy is frightening. I pledge that this year, I will only buy gifts that benefit charities and nonprofits. Will you join me?

    There's just one rule - every gift or holiday purchase you make has to benefit a nonprofit or charity. You decide what cause, what organization, what issue. You can buy directly from a charity, a store, or a small business that supports or donates to nonprofits.

    If you HAVE to buy something that breaks the rule (e.g. I always buy x specific thing for my mom from x specific store every year and I don't want to break the tradition) then you can donate to a nonprofit (preferably the same amount) and you'll have kept your promise.

    There are TONS of options - all of the "big" nonprofits have online stores, and many smaller nonprofits do as well. Also, most small businesses support local nonprofits with donations and in-kind gifts - just ask your favorite local merchant how they give back. Buying from socially responsible businesses also "counts!"

    Here's a roundup of online nonprofit stores that will get you started: 22 Online Gift Stores that Benefit Nonprofits.

    Other options:

    Amazon has where you click through to merchants (or use coupon codes) and they donate a portion of your purchase to nonprofits. I couldn't find info about exactly who they donate to, so you may want to do some research before buying through them.

    #GivingTuesday's blog offers these suggestions:

    Are you broke this year, but still want to get in on the action? Volunteer!
    I recommend checking out the website for the nonprofit you want to donate your time/brain/labor to so that you can contact the right person (usually a Volunteer Coordinator) via the right channel. 

    You can also go through your local volunteer center, VolunteerMatch, or just Google "holiday volunteering city."

    You can even plan your next vacation around volunteering:

    Please remember that nonprofits get deluged with holiday volunteers and they can't always manage the demand, even though they want the help. Be patient and be specific about what you can do and when you're available.

    You can sign the pledge or not, just think about making your money work a little harder this year.

    ---Christina Dragonetti

    Christina previously served as the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership's Program Associate, prior to joining TechSoup.

    For Volunteer Opportunities in Marin County, please visit VolunteerMarin also has Holiday Volunteering Opportunities called Holiday Gifts of Love.

  • Our Guest Blogger: David Livingston Styers

    Nonprofit Boards: Just add water?

    I’ve spent more than two decades building the capacity of nonprofits and their leaders. For the past five years, I focused on board governance issues. During this time, the biggest challenge that I have seen with any board, has been making sure that it has the right people “on the bus.”
    It would be nice if new, diverse board members were just waiting, freeze dried and ready to be defrosted, or maybe they could be like those little sponges. Just add water! But as with the best things in life, it certainly is not that easy.

    Being human, all board members have biases and core assumptions that are difficult to be conscious of, such as thinking that all board members must be people of great financial wealth who will come from only one segment of the population. It is vital, however, that boards identify their own “mental maps” and articulate why diversity is so important. Developing a culture of inquiry and authenticity within the board will assist in understanding these mental maps, expanding the board’s sphere of influence. When a board stays stuck in just one sphere, it misses all the benefits available from the other spheres.

    So to begin, a board should be deliberate and strategic about all the different skills and perspectives it needs. Using a board matrix with categories such as age, race, community connections, areas of expertise, etc., a board, through its governance committee, can identify the strengths and assets of current board members and determine the gaps and the needs that can be met by future board members.

    Building a diverse board (and organization), though, should not be about tokenism. Organizations are more successful integrating new voices when the new group (whether youth, people of color, etc.) makes up 30 percent of the total – or at a minimum at least 2-3 people. Involving a critical mass will help change the culture. It can also help to keep new board members from potentially feeling isolated.

    Beyond simple diversity, however, the board must show inclusiveness of a wide variety of board members to attract diverse candidates and take advantage of the benefits they can bring. All board members should have a job description that is clear about expectations for regular participation in board meetings and fundraising efforts, financial contributions, and conformance with organizational values. If the job description, though, begins with a five-figure minimum contribution, this alone may eliminate many wonderful board members who may be much more valuable to the organization than just money. Certainly, there should be 100% personal giving by all board members, but asking board members to instead give a significant gift for them, at a level commensurate with their resources, will help to increase diversity and demonstrate inclusivity.

    Once you have committed to being diverse and inclusive, ask a diverse group of people for suggestions for new board members, so that you are more likely to identify a diverse pool of potential candidates. Ask current board members, senior staff, advisory committee members, stakeholders, and others to suggest potential candidates with needed characteristics. Visit the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership to learn about our BoardMatch program, or visit online resources, such as LinkedIn’s new Board Connect tool. Our BoardMatch program is a free, personalized matching program that seeks to connect service minded individuals from the community with nonprofits that are in need of board members, based on a candidate’s background and personal interests.

    Then, find ways to connect with those potential candidates by visiting civic and neighborhood associations and making one-on-one introductions. Get people interested in your organization. Invite them to attend events and volunteer for the organization, and keep them informed of your progress. Perhaps invite potential candidates to a board meeting to observe your board in action. What would they see? Would you be pleased to show off your high-performing, diverse, and inclusive board?

    As urgent as your desire may be (or maybe it’s the pressure from a funder), the process of increasing the diversity and inclusivity of your board certainly cannot be accomplished overnight. It is critical to take the time and energy to make sure you have the right leaders in place to lead your organization and that you have a culture in your boardroom that welcomes diversity and new perspectives. Good luck – it will be worth it!

    --David Livingston Styers

    David Livingston Styers is the Director of Consulting Services/Senior Board Governance Consultant for the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership.

  • Recently, Suzanne Whelan, Mt. Tamalpais Watershed Volunteer Coordinator with Marin Municipal Water District, reached out to the Volunteer Marin team to recognize one of MMWD’s most devoted volunteers – Alan Castner. Alan, referred to glowingly by Suzanne as, “our star Natural Resource Program intern,” is a student at San Francisco State University studying Wildland Restoration.  

    During his internship at MMWD, Alan donated his time and expertise to conduct ecological monitoring, data collection and management. His work ranged from taking inventory of current plant species to trail-maintenance and was largely in support of Centennial Citizen Science programs held in honor of MMWD’s 100th Anniversary. We asked Alan a few questions about his volunteer experience with MMWD – check out his responses in the Q and A below!

    Want to join Alan as a volunteer at the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed?  Click here to learn how to get involved today!
    Where do you volunteer?
    I have been volunteering with the Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD), specifically as a part of the Natural Resource Program Internship and, since the conclusion of my internship, on various volunteer work days.

    What are your primary volunteer responsibilities?
    As a volunteer I have had the opportunity to participate and help with a variety of projects and tasks focused on improving and conserving the natural resources stewarded by MMWD. Principally I have contributed to helping document the current state of plant species on water district lands on the Mt. Tamalpais watershed. This work has involved inventorying and mapping various plant species to give agency staff a better picture of, not only the current state of native and non-native species, but also how this fits into historical changes seen on water district lands. A lot of the volunteering I’ve participated in has been a part of the water districts’ ‘BioBlitz’ and ‘Rare Plant Treasure Hunts’ which are part of the activities in celebration of MMWD’s Centennial this year. Other related tasks I’ve participated in have been in removing invasive species such as French Broom, documenting the presence of Sudden Oak Death, and trail-maintenance.

    What interested you in this volunteer opportunity?
    I have long been drawn to the outdoors generally and to the fantastic recreation and natural wealth of Mt. Tamalpais. The Marin Municipal Water District is really the principal steward of Mt. Tamalpais lands which possesses an abundance of diversity and beauty I have loved since exploring as a child. Personally and professionally, the opportunity to contribute to the study of Mt. Tam’s flora and its conservation was what brought me to volunteer with MMWD. The great staff and other volunteers I have had the chance to work with has also kept me coming back for more volunteer opportunities.

    What do you enjoy most about volunteering?
    This is almost a hard question to answer since I really enjoy so much about volunteering. Certainly being outdoors and applying and building upon my plant knowledge is up there, but helping an agency which protects the local treasure of Mt. Tamalpais is also enjoyable and fulfilling to me. I also greatly enjoy getting to meet and work with others who are giving their time for the benefit of both the mountain’s ecosystem and the community of people who enjoy it.

    What has been one of your most memorable moments as a volunteer?
    One of the more memorable moments for me was getting to see and help document the largest stands of Dirca occidentalis, or ‘Western Leatherwood’ I have ever seen. Since it is a rare native plant and endemic to California (found only in California) this was especially exciting for me to see so many. Sightings of other rare plants endemic to Mt. Tamalpais like Mt. Tam Manzanita (Arctostaphylos montana ssp. montana) and Mt. Tamalpais Jewel-flower (Streptanthus batrachopus) also stand out as memorable.

    What impact has your service made on the Marin community?
    My volunteer service at MMWD has benefited in some measure all of those who appreciate and visit Mt.Tamalpais. My volunteer time has helped further the goal of sustaining the watershed so it continues to provide the clean fresh water vital to Marin’s inhabitants.

    What impact has your service had on you personally?
    Volunteering has given me a greater appreciation of the value of volunteering itself. At a time when budgets and personnel are stretched, the participation of volunteers is that much more vital for helping with the work each of us wants to see happening in the world, whatever that may be.

    What motivates you to continue to volunteer with your service site?
    I’m motivated by a strong desire to learn about the natural world, especially plants. Applying my knowledge in ways that both conserve and balance human needs is powerful motivation.

    What message can you send to other volunteers who may be interested in volunteering at your service site?
    I would just like to say to anyone interested that there are many opportunities to volunteer with Marin Municipal Water District.  From ‘Turtle Observers’ to habitat restoration and trail crews, the water district has a robust calendar of events for those interested. The water district website is a great resource for seeing the volunteer opportunities calendar with drop-in activity dates, times, locations, etc.  For those interested in longer term volunteer programs such as being a ‘Watershed Ambassador’ the website has details about these as well. Lastly, Suzanne Whelan, the water district’s Volunteer Program Coordinator is a friendly resource who can answer remaining questions you may have about getting involved at: While volunteering holds its own rewards, the staff at MMWD help make it all the more gratifying by truly appreciating the time you give.

    --Lauren Dunford

    Our Guest Blogger, Lauren Dunford, currently serves as the Volunteer Services Associate.
    This post was originally featured in our sister blog, Volunteer Marin.


  • The Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership is Voting with Our Mission

    September 25 is National Voter Registration Day and the November elections are around the corner. If you’re like us, you work for a nonprofit and are on the civic-minded side. You’re passionate and ready. 

    So the question is: how do we help to get out the vote? Can we harness our nonprofit agency and use its collective force? 

    The Vote with Your Mission Campaign, asks us to, “just think of what could happen if more people voted with the ideals and values that they bring to the nonprofit sector.  Just think of what is possible if we are able to galvanize the power of the nonprofit community leading up to the November 2012 General Election.”

    So, we are. We are going to vote with our mission and encourage others to do so as well. We started by hosting a roundtable and inviting our community. 

    The roundtable featured Leslie Hatamiya of Cal Nonprofits’ Vote With Your Mission, Suki Sennett of the League of Woman Voters, and Elaine Ginnold of The Marin County Registrars Office

    Leslie Hatamiya presented on Cal Nonprofits’ Vote With Your Mission nonpartisan efforts in getting nonprofit staff and constituents to vote, and how nonprofits can sign on to this effort. Suki Sennett presented on the major local issues for nonprofits to be aware of during the upcoming election. Elaine Ginnold presented on the peculiarities of voting in Marin, including how to help others to register to vote, and the most common mistakes voters make when voting.

    Some things we learned: 
    501 (c)(3) nonprofit organizations can conduct nonpartisan get-out-the-vote activities and voter registration without jeopardizing our tax-exempt status. However, foundations have different limitations and should review the rules with their legal counsel.

    The goal is not to tell people who to vote for, but rather to encourage voting and civic engagement. Encouraging voters in one way or another is considered lobbying.

    Having a voting plan involves thinking about everything surrounding your voting process. It’s going to the ballot box with notes and your positions already decided. It’s making space in your day to head to the polling place.  When we make our plans, it is easier to follow through on our intentions.  

    Personal Takeaways:
    “I enjoyed the roundtable on a personal and organizational standpoint. This is my passion: voter education, voter registration. As a member of the nonprofit sector and the community, it’s important,” says Maureen “Mo” Di Nieva of Young Imaginations. “A lot of nonprofits are cautious for collaboration; this made me feel that we should be open to collaboration. It made me think, how can I bring it back to my mission and my agency?”

    According to our CEO, Linda Davis, The Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership participates in Vote with Your Mission because, “every vote counts and it is important that nonprofit employees (and all eligible voters) participate in our civic responsibility to be heard.  I love that it is so simple to participate in a statewide, nonpartisan movement.”

    “If we are not involved, decisions, policies, and laws will be made for and without us,” Davis says. “The majority of our elected officials don't understand, believe in, or appreciate the work of nonprofit sector, so we need to teach them by voting, talking with them, lobbying, and running for office.”

    We encourage you to decide on a personal and organizational level, are you going to vote with your mission? What will you do this November?


    Register to vote online with National Voter Registration Day

    Upcoming events:

  • Since it’s time to start thinking about Annual Appeals, we thought we would share an article that we came across in Nonprofit Quarterly, Asking the Right Person for the Right Amount by Kim Klein.  Klein is an internationally known fundraising trainer who has worked in all aspects of fundraising. She is best known for adapting traditional fundraising techniques, particularly major donor campaigns, to the needs of organizations with small budgets working for social justice.

    If you are interested in fundraising, you might be interested in How to Write Your Holiday Fundraising Letter, an annual appeals workshop presented by Jack Aloto and Atashi Chakravarty and Kim Klein’s How Small Groups can Raise BIG Money.

    Asking the Right Person for the Right Amount

    Written by Kim Klein  
    Created on Thursday, 21 September 2006
    Here are three true stories told to me by recent clients:

    Story 1: Last year, a board member of a large social service agency serving teens decided to ask all her neighbors for a donation to the agency. She wrote a letter in which she made an eloquent case for the agency, already well known in the community, and asked each family to give $10. She hand-delivered 200 of these letters with a return envelope. The letter raised $1200 from 18 households: two neighbors gave $250 each and two others gave $100. Only one person gave $10; the rest gave $35 or $50. Five people replied that they were not giving because they gave elsewhere or were unable to give right now. She plans to do exactly the same thing this year-hand-deliver 200 letters asking for $10.

    Story 2: A program advocating for the rights of prisoners had an Open House at which the development director met a woman who said she would like to make a "significant donation" to the work of this group. This woman had not contributed before and said she only recently learned of this group and is very impressed with their work. The development director arranged to meet her for coffee the following week. In the meantime, the development director found out that this woman gives thousands of dollars to a variety of social justice groups and is the "biggest donor" to a large public interest law firm. The development director decides to ask her for $500.

    Story 3: A dentist learns that one of his patients has donated $10,000 to a land conservation effort in their state. Although the patient has been using this dentist for a long time, the two know very little about each other. The dentist is on the board of a struggling repertory theater and decides to ask his patient for $10,000 for the theater. He assumes the patient gives to the land conservancy because he is community-minded, and that he would therefore also be interested in the theater.

    All three stories describe good fundraisers—they are thinking about their group and who might give. They are willing to do the work required to get the gift. Many organizations would rightly be thrilled to have any of these people as board members.

    However, without seeming unduly harsh, I would say that in each of these cases, the decision made by the solicitor is wrong, wrong, wrong. Their problem is not unusual; determining exactly who is a prospect and how much to ask them for has waylaid many a solicitation. Fortunately, there are some simple guidelines that will make the process a lot easier. By discussing what approach each solicitor in the stories should take we can illustrate these guidelines.

    In the first story, the board member's first effort-hand delivering 200 letters to her neighbors-is a great idea and one that almost anyone could do. It is especially a good idea when the organization being solicited for is not very controversial and is fairly well known in the community. Her decision to ask for $10 the first time is fine, although the response shows that if she uses this method again, she can start with a higher amount, such as $25, without losing anyone. She gets almost a 10% response from her letter, which is excellent compared to direct mail, for example, where we would expect a 1% response and almost as good as a door-to-door canvass, from which we would expect a 12%-15% response. The neighbors who respond show that they like her and they seem to like this organization-particularly those who give $100 and $250.

    She tells me that her decision to go back to the same group with the same request is predicated on not wanting to make people feel they have to give a big gift again, and to see if some of the neighbors who didn't give might change their minds and give this year. I explain to her that the people who gave larger gifts will be surprised to receive such a letter again, and some may even be hurt if she does not acknowledge their previous gift and ask them to repeat it. If she asks for $10 from a $250 donor, without meaning to she is telling that person, "I want $10, try to get that straight this year."

    After speaking with me, she decides to write personal letters to her 18 donors asking for renewals. She will follow up with phone calls or visits, depending on her relationships with these people. She will again take a letter around to the rest of the neighborhood, this time requesting $15 to $35. She is prepared for a much lower response this time, but wants to keep the organization in her neighbors' minds. All 18 of her donors renew. One person who had given $100 gives $200, and the rest give what they had given previously. Ten neighbors who had not given last year give a total of $300, including gifts from two who had not been able to give the year before.

    In the second story, a donor who gives gifts in the $1000-$10,000 range says she wishes to make a "significant gift" to an organization. The development director does not want to alienate this person by asking for too much. I explain that having said "significant gift," the prospect cannot really be shocked by being asked for a large amount, even an amount that may be more than she had in mind. The development director knows that this prospect is comfortable with giving large gifts. Of course, we don't know what she means by "significant," but she probably means more than $500. The development director decides to show her the organization's gift range chart, which calls for a lead gift of $15,000, three gifts at $10,000, four gifts at $5,000 and so on. The purpose of sharing this information will be to establish a giving range for this donor to this group. I suggest asking the prospect if she can give in the "$2,500 - $5,000 range." Skeptical but willing, the development director does just that and receives a pledge of $5,000.

    The third story is about an enthusiastic but not terribly sensible board member. I ask him if he knows anything about this patient besides his dental history and his gift to the land conservancy. He knows he has two children and is a partner in a small business, but he does not know the nature of the business. To his knowledge, this prospect has never come to his theater. "You can't start by asking him for a gift that is the same size as his biggest gift to his favorite charity," I explain. "You have no evidence that he believes in supporting the arts or has interest in theater."

    I suggest starting with a conversation about theater and the dentist's role in the theater. If the patient shows interest, the dentist should offer him two free tickets to a play. If the patient takes them, the dentist should try to find out if he actually goes to the show. Only after a few more indications of interest will it be appropriate to ask for a gift, and even then, starting with a small request by mail may be more appropriate. When the dentist next sees this patient, he skips having a conversation about the theater and just offers him two free tickets. The prospect seems touched and thanks him, but says, "Don't waste these on me. I am not a theater person. I never even go to the movies or watch TV." The dentist reports to me that he was relieved that he pursued his patient less directly than he had originally planned.

    Although each of these stories is different, they raise many of the same issues. To begin with, it is important to be clear on who is and who is not a prospect. This is the first guideline to follow.
    A prospect is someone about whom we know that they give away money and have an idea of how much money they give, and we know what kind of causes they support. We know these things because we know the people personally. Certainly we can approach someone without having all this information, but our chances of getting a gift are diminished, and we can sometimes do damage to a relationship by not paying attention to what we don't know.

    If you hand-carry a letter to all your neighbors asking for money, you need to know that some of them won't respond because they don't give away money at all (about 30% of adults don't make any charitable contributions). Another group won't give because they already have a set list of organizations they support and aren't going to add more. Another cross-section won't give because they don't believe in or care about the cause. Finally, some people won't give because they don't respond to mail appeals, no matter how personally they arrive.

    In our first story, the board member probably got a 50% response from the people in her neighborhood who were truly prospects. Out of her 200 neighbors, 60 (30%) are not givers. Upwards of 30% more either don't give by mail or have already decided which groups they support and won't add more. Even though the group she represents is popular and well respected, at least 10% of the neighbors either don't care about it or think that because it is popular it doesn't need their money. This leaves about 60 households that may be prospects; after two appeals, she has gifts-some of them large-from 28 of them. As readers of the Journal will recall, a 50% rate of "yes" is what we expect from a personal solicitation.

    A second guideline in approaching prospects is one that we don't talk about nearly enough: the solicitor needs to be on a level playing field with the prospect. For example, it is not good to solicit people who work for you. No matter how friendly everybody is, there is an unequal relationship between supervisor and worker, and a good employer will never want an employee to feel coerced into giving.

    The same is true for using confidential information as background for soliciting people. This makes it difficult for accountants to solicit clients, for example. They know which clients give away money, how much, and often to what. But they learned that in a setting that the client has reason to believe is confidential. If a client asks for advice about what kind of charities to support, certainly an accountant could then talk about his or her favorite group. Lawyers, therapists, financial planners and the like are in similar positions with their clients. Medical professionals are in a more fuzzy area here, but the relationship is often one in which the patient feels vulnerable or exposed in some way and medical professionals should be careful. Again, unless you are also a friend of your clients, you will want to think carefully before soliciting your client list.

    I have, however, seen instances in which people solicited clients very successfully. For example, the owner of a garden store that specializes in native plants, organic fertilizer, alternatives to pesticides and so on, is on the board of a local environmental organization. In a letter to his mailing list he wrote that he knew his customers shared his values and would want to know about this group if they didn't already. He is on a level playing field with the customers that have signed up to be on his mailing list. He knows little or nothing about them from his professional dealings except that they shop at his store. His letter was very successful, raising almost $3,000 from 70 people from a mailing list of 500, and many customers thanked him for introducing them to the organization. He is, of course, as in the example above, writing to some people who are not givers and to people who have already established commitments.

    Third, once we know that a person supports certain kinds of causes, we have to ask ourselves how close our organization is to the cause the person supports. Certainly many people who support conservation also go to the theater, so our dentist wasn't wrong to think of his patient as a potential donor, but he needed more direct evidence that this person was also interested in the arts. The patient made it clear that he is not interested in theater, at least as a member of the audience. It is true that some people support community organizations without ever using them, such as parks, libraries, museums, and theaters, to say nothing of service projects such as shelters or food banks, but the dentist has no information that his patient falls into that category either. He does not even know why this person supports the land conservancy. Besides the patient's dental history, the dentist doesn't know much more about him than he might find in the newspaper. He does not have a relationship with this person that will allow him to pursue any kind of gift at this time.

    Once we have established that the people we want to approach are, in fact, prospects-they have the ability to make a gift, they believe in the cause, and we know them, like them, and they like us-then we have to ask, "What size gift shall we request?"

    Here we examine where the prospect is in relation to our group. A long-time donor is asked for a different amount than a first-time donor. If the person has a long history of giving to organizations similar to yours, you will probably start with a different amount than for someone who has only recently become interested in your issue. And, of course, we take a clue from the prospect; if she says, "I want to make a significant gift," we feel freer to ask for a large amount than if we are the ones initiating the conversation. Finally, we look at our fundraising goals and our gift range chart, so that we can justify the amount we are asking for as being one of the many gifts we need.

    Donors should not be asked for a certain size gift just because that is the same size gift they gave somewhere else, or because we heard that they "have money." Once a person has made a gift of any size, we have a place from which to start negotiating for another gift. "Can you give again?"
    "Can you double this gift?" "Can you consider giving this much every month?" and so on, depending on our relationship with the donor.

    In the end, you don't know how much someone can give, and even if you knew everything about their financial situation, you still wouldn't know how much they could give because that number will depend on their mood, on how generous they feel, on what other experiences with money they have had that day. Your job is to be as accurate and as respectful as you can. Their job is to say yes, no, or maybe.

    Kim Klein is publisher of the Grassroots Fundraising Journal.

    This article is reprinted from the December 2000 issue of Grassroots Fundraising Journal.


  • In June, the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership(the Center) offered three workshops exploring diversity in San Geronimo Valley and the Canal. We are exited to share with you our process and what we learned from the workshops.

    How did this project start?
    For the past two years, the Center has had AmeriCorps VISTAmembers support nonprofits in the Canal, Marin City, and West Marin. Each VISTA has coordinated various workshops serving those communities in both English and Spanish. As an extension of that work, the Programs Department at the Center set out to coordinate a set of distinct workshops.

    The Programs department relied on the information that the Center gathered from various organizations on capacity building needs and some already existing data. We met with key leaders at numerous organizations. We then put together a survey and sent it out. Finally, we conducted focus groups.

    So what?
    Based on a survey that we conducted in February 2012, approximately 30 organizations said that they were interested and knowledgeable about capacity building activities, but the barrier was staff time and monetary costs. It didn’t take long to realize that these free off-site workshops would be beneficial to Marin nonprofits. In the focus groups, participants suggested to bring Center workshops to their sites.

    Our survey showed that participants were interested in communications and outreach as well as ways of involving board members in fundraising. During our focus groups, we heard different responses. People were interested in fund development, evaluation of programs and cultural competency.

    What was offered?
    Based on our community feedback, we planned four workshops:
    We received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback from the community about the distinctiveness of these topics and their relevance in the community.

    Five Key Takeaways:
    Here are our five key takeaways:
    • Get to know the population you serve and the institutions in which your clients operate. If parents are not involved in school boards it’s not necessarily because they don’t want to be- maybe they don’t know how to get involved. Invite them again! If they decline ask why. Can you tear down a barrier?
    • If you are looking to be more inclusive, translate everything. If you are not translating, you are not inviting everyone.
    • Working with foundations can sometimes feel daunting, but truly, their goal is to support great work in our communities.
    • Don’t let your inability to write in perfect English hinder your application for a grant. Funders review requests with an open mind.
    • It’s okay to talk about race, class, privilege, and power. We must be comfortable addressing these issues to serve the people we aim to serve.
    We welcome you to share any of your thoughts with us. If you attended any of these workshops, what did you think? Did these resonate with your work? What would you like to see more of?

    But this is not the end! We have one workshop left. You are invited to attend. Join us in welcoming four Latino Directors who will talk about building Latino leadership in the nonprofit sector, Thursday, July 26, 2012 at Pickleweed Center from 5:30-7:00 p.m. in Room 4. For more information, or to sign up, please visit the Center's website.

  • Saturday, May 12, 2012 marked the 30th anniversary of the Marin Human Race put on by the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership. Friends, neighbors, and community members gathered at the Marin County Fair Grounds to support local nonprofits and schools in the largest collaborative fundraiser and nonprofit celebration in Marin County! 1,500 people raced in the 5K to raise funds for schools and organizations. That's a total of 4,500 miles! Key features included kids' races, music, prizes and lots of dancing. In no particular order here are our favorite moments from the 2012 Marin Human Race: 

    1. The blissful bubble blower- Kids dashed over to the grassy area to pop the gigantic bubbles; the area was filled with laughter and smiles. See for yourself:

    2. Our fantastic flash mob- Center staff and innocent onlookers joined as the flash mob took over the Marin Human Race! See the video here.
    Marin Human Race 2012
    3. Our fabulous first place finisher- Sounds like a surprise, but it's true, an 11 year old was the first one to cross the finish line! 1st place goes to Zacharias Martinez. Congratulations!

    4. The personable pancake makers- Our dedicated board members made sure to serve delicious pancakes to those that came to the pancake area. The recipe is a Center secret.
    Marin Human Race 2012