Ensuring your organization is sustainable—tips from our EDA Genius Bar

By Amber Alarid, JVA Consulting

JVA's February 2012 Executive Director Academy "Genius Bar" panelists from left to right: Joyce Neufeld, Stephen LaFaiver, Alyssa Kopf and moderator Ashley Kasprzak.

Twice a year at JVA’s Executive Director Academy (EDA) we invite a panel of local geniuses who are seasoned nonprofit leaders to address our Academy attendees. This February our Genius Bar, as we call it, included Joyce Neufeld of Community Ministry, Stephen LeFaiver of TEENS, Inc. and Alyssa Kopf of Community Shares Colorado. A common thread throughout the discussion on February 16 was creating an organization that is sustainable. According to our panelists, a successful organization must:

Have a board that’s invested and diverse

If your board doesn’t buy into the vision of the organization, it’s important to either get a new vision or get a new board. Kopf said that since holding a strategic visioning session with her board members, every single board member (excluding those who experienced significant life changes) has renewed his or her term. LeFaiver also suggests empowering the board to make important decisions, like who to hire as the organization’s auditor.

Don’t forget that in fundraising, your board’s connections can be a great asset to your organization. Neufeld says that allowing her board members to take the lead on a fundraiser where table hosts provide food and decorations costs the organization very little, yet brings new donors to the organization.

As for diversity, our panelists say that they use matrices to identify what affiliations, qualifications and characteristics current board members have. This allows leaders to quickly identify what skills are missing from the board so they can then identify prospective board members with the needed skills and backgrounds to round out the board. In addition to skills and interests of current board members, consider what circles of influence board members have and how new members can help you reach different circles in your community.

Ditch outdated/unrelated fundraising events

Fundraising events should be able to do two things simultaneously: speak to your donors and relate back to your mission. If the event is unrelated to your mission and not tailored to your donors, don’t hold onto it. LeFaiver said that one of his greatest successes as executive director of TEENS, Inc. has been eliminating outdated fundraising events that took considerable amount of staff time to implement and replacing them with new fundraising events that take less time to plan but bring in more revenue. By including more board-driven fundraising events like Neufeld’s organization, or direct asks for investment like Kopf’s did, you can raise awareness about your organization.

Know your budget

When asked about the diversity of their revenue streams, our Genius Bar panelists were able to speak specifically and accurately about their budgets and how they have changed over time. JVA Senior Associate Ashley Kasprzak also reminded all EDs that knowing their budgets inside and out is incredibly important. Executive leaders need to be able to provide thorough responses to philanthropists when they ask about the budget or financial statements. When posed with particularly in-depth question, keep a reference sheet handy in your briefcase or explain that you will need to research the answer, but you will get back to the inquirer quickly. The crucial thing is to actually get back to the person promptly and commit the information to memory for the next time someone asks.

Have a self-sustaining staff

At last week’s Genius Bar (and at past EDA Genius Bars as well), our expert panelists stressed the importance of having a staff that can sustain itself even if the ED leaves. Neufeld says that her organization’s auditor presents directly to the board so that they are involved in and aware of money matters, making the board confident in making financial decisions. Kopf has IT and financial advisors who are informed about all procedures, passwords and organizational background so that if she is not at a meeting the information is still available to her staff.

To hear more from past Genius Bar panelists, click here to read a blog from our fall 2011 EDA. To learn more about our fall 2012 EDA, which will be held October 1–5, click here.


This entry was posted in Accountability/transparency, Boards, Executive director training, Fundraising and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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