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What are your non-profit’s board meetings actually like? Do they run smoothly, and does your board get a lot accomplished when they gather? Does your board get easily sidetracked instead, or, perhaps worse, do things get destructive and descend into utter chaos soon after the meeting begins?

Most boards have a great deal of business that they need to discuss and take action on when they meet. With so many personalities and points of view involved, disagreements, misunderstandings and even a simple need to be heard can all cause meetings to drag on much longer than they need to.

Planning and sound design, as well as top facilitation by the chairman or another moderator, are necessary to keep things on track and running smoothly.

The following is a list of suggestions to help your NFP host more organised and efficient board meetings.

The Benefits of Using an Agenda

One way to help your board get through all of the items it needs to discuss is to prepare an outline of what events will occur during the meeting, and what topics will be addressed. This framework, or schedule of events, is typically referred to as the agenda. Ideally, you will create a formal agenda and present it to your board members well in advance of the meeting. In this way, board members can acquaint themselves with what issues they need to familiarise themselves with before they meet.

Once the meeting occurs, when discussions begin to turn lengthy, the chairperson, executive director or another facilitator can refer members back to the Agenda and its remaining items to help them stay organised and working towards a successful conclusion of the meeting.

Help Your Board Members to Prepare Well-Before the Actual Meeting

In addition to giving board members a copy of the agenda well before the meeting, they should also be provided with copies of all reports and other materials that they need to read and study. They especially need materials that relate to the items that will come up for discussion or votes at the next meeting.

By ensuring that your board members have the materials that they need to be informed before the meeting occurs, valuable time is saved that might otherwise be spent discussing information and concerns that are already covered in these materials.

Keep Detailed Minutes

Keeping a detailed record of what occurs at the meeting is an integral part of improving transparency and fulfilling the board’s responsibilities and duties. When minutes of the meeting are kept, if there is any question about what was, and was not discussed at a prior meeting, there is a record of all votes and other actions taken by the board. This can help to resolve disputes and disagreements faster, as well as help to refresh everyone’s memory so that old business that has been concluded need not be brought up again, wasting everyone’s time.

Keeping Members on Topic

Make a point to schedule time for your board members to meet and socialise at least a few minutes before the formal meeting starts so that folks can catch up with one another and not waste valuable meeting time getting reacquainted with one another.

If the meeting will be overly long, schedule breaks and place them on the agenda, and provide light refreshments and snacks to help keep energy levels, and spirits, high.

If some members have a propensity to be long-winded and prone to speech meeting, schedule time for the chair or other facilitator to meet with them before the start of the meeting. This way they will feel that their concerns are heard and they will be less likely to disrupt the actual meeting with a speech or other display.

Understand that Silence Implies Consent

Just as it’s important for the chair or other facilitator to help keep members on track and focused on the business at hand, it is also imperative that you don’t rush through items. Constructive dialogue and thoughtful discussion does have an essential place in meetings.

Facilitators should ask probing questions and encourage others to voice their opinions. If members find that they disagree with the apparent status quo of the majority of board opinion, the chair or facilitator should make it clear that these members have a duty to speak up. Otherwise they run the risk of the question being called and a vote occurring.

Before the meeting adjourns, the facilitator or chair should thank attendees for coming to the meeting. Members should use this time to agree on when the next meeting should occur, as well as create a starting list of items to be carried forward or otherwise discussed at the next meeting.

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Nearly every profession has its own mythology, or urban legends, that develop around it and its operations. While a few of these notions may work to bolster the reputation of a certain occupation, some false beliefs can cause others to shy away from a given field, and prevent those who work in it from getting the credit and recognition that they deserve.

The following list reveals the truth about some of the most popular fallacies surrounding the nonprofit sector.

Nonprofit Work is Easy; it’s the Perfect Career if You Can’t Get a “Real” Job

During the recent global economic downturn, a lot of individuals turned to the nonprofit sector to volunteer their time and efforts while they were awaiting an opportunity to return to employment at a for-profit company. While volunteering is a great way to network and keep your skills sharp, the sector is still a demanding one that benefits from the skills and experiences that top talent can bring to their organisations.

While many people who work in the nonprofit sector do so for altruistic and philanthropic reasons, this does not mean that the pace is not a busy and demanding one, or that everyone that works for a nonprofit does so for free. Most NFPs are facing a host of unique challenges and demands, and the work that needs to get done is often demanding, and schedules and deadlines can be inflexible and stressful.

While some NFPs operate on a shoestring budget, a growing number of nonprofit boards and directors are becoming more aware of the need to recruit and retain the very best people for their NFPs. Many are offering salaries to match the roles and responsibilities that come along with a nonprofit career, and that are comparable to the salary and demands of a similar position in the for-profit world.

All Not-for-Profits Do Basically the Same Thing, and They Don’t Make Any Money

Nonprofits provide a host of services to their communities and the world at large.  The work that is involved in providing these services is as varied as the number and types of charities and associations that exist.

Because of their tax status, many people automatically assume that not-for-profits are banned from earning revenue, when this is simply not the case. All NFPs rely on income generated from at least one source. Examples of types of income that can flow into nonprofits include endowments and grants, donations, fees for services, rents, royalties and interest payments, just to name a few. Without income of some sort, it would be impossible for NFPs to advance their mission, serve their communities and achieve their goals.

As statistics demonstrate, the income generated by the nonprofit sector makes a significant contribution to Australian GDP each year. According to key statistics about Australian volunteering provided by Volunteering Australia, the work performed by volunteers contributed over $25 billion to the Australian economy in 2010.  A recent study on Australian Giving by Swinburne University of Technology reports that 80% of Australians donate to nonprofits each year, with annual contributions now totaling over $12.5 billion.

All Work in the Nonprofit Sector is In Person and Very Hands On

While the staff and volunteers of many nonprofits do provide a lot of hands-on, direct services to recipients, many others offer opportunities to serve others that don’t require a lot of face-to-face contact. Some work can be completed online, from remote locations. Other opportunities are short term, or involve micro-volunteering and may include activities that range from helping out on a project for just a few hours one day, or even for just a few minutes!

The important thing to remember about the nonprofit sector is that there are countless ways that supporters can help nonprofits to advance their mission. Even if you don’t see an opportunity that fits your schedule or capabilities, when you share the values and concerns of a nonprofit, it’s always worth the time and effort to connect with them and ask how you can help them achieve their goals.

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A volunteer treasurer’s role can be both varied and challenging, and while your position can be as unique as the company you work for, all volunteer treasurer positions have one particular thing in common. It is important that you are organised and stay on top of your workload at all times.

While there are many positions where it is okay to fall behind or to have a week’s backlog of work sitting in the in-tray, a volunteer treasurer’s work can suffer if that happens on a regular basis. People look to the treasurer to be able to provide accurate information, and if there are a pile of receipts or invoices to be processed, the work will be far from accurate. As the position can be stressful, falling behind can only serve to heighten any anxiety, particularly if there are deadlines to meet.

As a volunteer treasurer, the transfer of money coming in and money going out is your responsibility. If there are any discrepancies, the blame will fall on you. You must be vigilant when it comes to the deposits and withdrawals and confirm that everything is as it should be.

Paperwork should always be filed before completion dates, and as NFPs rely on grants and are offered special dispensations by the government, everything must be done in a timely fashion. Falling behind on important deadlines can have huge repercussions.

Management will rely on your budget as a guide. If your actual budget is not accurate, then poor financial decisions may be made.

Failure to stay up to date, particularly when your tenure is at an end, will be a nightmare for the next person who takes over the volunteer treasurer office. Everything will need to be up to date to enable a smooth transition.

A volunteer treasurer plays an important part in sustaining the future of the nonprofit and ensuring it meets its goal and mission. There is no room for disorganisation anywhere in the skill list.

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innovationWhen most of us hear the word innovation, we likely think of the creation of new products and services. The true meaning of innovation, however, isn’t limited to the invention of new things that no one has seen or dreamed of in the past.

The word innovation comes from the Latin word innovare. Meanings of this term include to “make a change from established routines and practices or to restore or renew something that already exists”. Innovative NFPs find ways to increase communication and successful relationship building with multiple stakeholders so that more individuals come to understand and support the nonprofit’s vision.

The following are some strategies that innovative organisations use to sharpen their focus and gather supporters to help them change either the entire world, or, at least their corner of the world.

Innovative NFPs Create and Maintain Communities

Forward thinking nonprofits can multiply their efforts, and increase their results, by focusing on the human element and seeking ways to connect with others. These organisations focus on communication to raise awareness and donations, building networks of like-minded individuals who come together to participate in the organisation’s projects.

Get Up!, is one Australian nonprofit that relies on its community of supporters and network of strategists to bring attention to environmental, civil rights and other social justice issues and effect change. Since its founding nearly a decade ago, the organisation’s supporters have raised billion in mental healthcare funding, and prevented the opening of new major coal mines that harm the Great Barrier Reef and other parts of the ecosystem.

Forward Minded NFPs are Open to Change and Experimentation

Charities and associations that are the most successful in terms of fundraising, and their ability to provide services to their communities, tend to not rest on their laurels. Rather than being content with doing things the way “they have always been done in the past,” the most innovative NFPs are open to trying new ways of doing things.

For example, rather than relying on traditional fundraising events to raise money, such as direct mail appeals, raffles and auctions, the Movember organisation utilises social media to raise awareness and donations via crowdfunding.

Since 2003, the organisation has issued challenges to raise awareness about prostate cancer and other health issues that primarily affect men. Some of the more unique events include volunteers growing a mustache during November. Supporters can also participate in physical challenges such as running a marathon or climbing a wall and then share their results on social media to encourage others to donate and get involved.

From its humble beginnings in a bar in Melbourne in 2003, this Australian charity has grown to now include chapters all around the globe. As of 2015, over $770 Million Australian dollars have been raised since the NFP’s founding, and over 1,200 projects that support men’s health have been funded.

NFPs with an Innovative Mindset Use Confidence to Power Change

While building a community of supporters, and experimenting with novel approaches to fundraising can make it easier for your nonprofit to accomplish its mission, willpower and confidence also play a powerful role in the success of your efforts. Being able to remain upbeat, positive and determined in the face of overwhelming odds can help your organisation continue to push for change and achieve results.

An example of this is the good work done by the Fred Hollows Foundation whose mission is to end preventable, treatable blindness in Australia and around the world. Each year, millions of people all around the world lose their sight, but 4 out of 5 of these individuals have a preventable, or treatable, cause of blindness.

The nonprofit continues the good work started by eye surgeon Dr. Fred Hollows, and is primarily focused on raising money to train doctors and other healthcare professionals, provide medical facilities, equipment, and antibiotics and continuing to perform sight-saving operations.

According to the foundation, “Our work won’t stop until the injustice of avoidable blindness is completely eradicated in Australia and in the rest of the world. We believe, without a doubt, this will one day be accomplished.” Since its founding, the organisation’s determination and focus have enabled them to restore the sight of over 2 million individuals around the world.

Is your nonprofit making progress towards its goals, is the completion of your mission in sight, or, is something holding your organisation back from achieving its peak performance? If you’re not quite hitting the mark for your fundraising and other goals, it’s probably time to look for ways to shake things up and try something new!

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Running a charity in today’s modern business world can be very problematic, as can achieving positive and long-term financial strength. However, despite all the complex issues which need to be overcome, it is of course, very rewarding. Here are some of the challenges facing NFPs today.

Governance issues

Governance can be a very large issue for NFPs. A nonprofit is entirely different from a for-profit business as the board, CEO and stakeholders need to be taken into account for every decision that is made. And then there are the government rules and regulations on top of that. Unlike a for-profit organisation, the board members have a large say in what goes on. A trustee has the huge task of catering to every demand and is personally liable for every decision and action they take.

Sourcing talent

To be the best at what you do, you need the best team members to help you achieve it. But this can be hard from a non-profit’s perspective, particularly with low budgets and high salary expectations. Mentoring top talent can take time and money. And as many staff come to nonprofits with very little experience and then leave once they have developed their skills, it can be very difficult to retain them for the long-term.

New NFPs can struggle

As new NFPs enter the marketplace, it can be a struggle for them to keep up with the more established and larger sized charities. It can be difficult for them to take risks and they don’t have the reputation to gain the support of donors and supporters. Until they grow, small NFPs can experience many frustrations, and many often close before they are even given a chance to succeed properly.

Educating the public

Charities have changed a lot over the years, and for the most part, the general public isn’t even aware of what a charity represents. They are unsure as to who is paid and unpaid and overestimate how much money goes into issues such as fundraising and administration. Education needs to be a big part in leading the way for change in this area.

Demonstrating impact

While there is a lot in the news about charities – which ones are actually succeeding in their goals? Which charity is doing a great job? And how are they representing their success to the general public? Demonstrating your impact in a successful way is one of the best ways you can increase your donations and support. But achieving that successfully can be one of the biggest issues any charity can face.

This list is not necessarily exhaustive but as you move forward, it is important to note that transparency and communication are a great way to overcome these and many other issues that your NFP may come across.

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The NFP industry requires charities and non-profits to be transparent in their actions. This transparency puts a large amount of focus on trust, confidence and the reputation of the charity as a whole. Often the donor requests and fundraising successes rest wholeheartedly on the reputation of the charity, and there is a lot of competition in the industry to garner support, especially from the larger organisations.

NFPs that tend to be successful in their charitable efforts can not only demonstrate their best practice governance but also communicate it effectively. All NFPs and even for-profit businesses need to manage their reputation on a regular basis. It is critical to the successful operation of the non-profit and to develop positive connections with stakeholders, donors, members, government bodies and the general public.

What exactly is reputation management?

Reputation management covers the building up and the monitoring of your brand through your efforts in media promotion and marketing. A health check enables you to look at your marketing efforts and responses to understand where your vulnerabilities lie and where you can further develop your promotional opportunities.

Auditing for risk is something that every business should do on a regular basis. It is better to create forward plans rather than panic when an issue occurs, and your organisation is forced into crisis mode. Draft out some scenarios and work out some helpful strategies that will enable you to be able to control the outcome more closely.

From a social media perspective, while it is easier to communicate directly with donors and supporters, it is also easier for NFPs to be targeted with negative comments, whether fair or irrational. Knowing this is half the battle.

How do people perceive your business?

How do stakeholders view your NFP? How does the general public see your business? Are you different from other charities working in a similar field? If you are not able to answer these questions, then you may be missing value opportunities for your NFP to safeguard and develop your brand. Talk to your donors and sponsor to get real insights on your efforts to help you develop more effective strategies and marketing efforts for the long-term. Your ability to not be able to effectively understand your competitors can also affect you negatively. Know where your strengths are to be able you to stand out from the crowd and gain the confidence of the general public.

How can you manage your online reputation?

Here are some tips to help you manage your online reputation.

  • Be objective when it comes to your website. Consider whether it is easy to navigate or find relevant information. Are the contact details up to date and accessible?
  • Review your social media and online strategies. Let employees and volunteers know what they can and cannot do on social media.
  • How is your organisation represented on third party websites? Do a search and see where you can improve your profiles and online representations.
  • Allow plenty of opportunities for members, interested stakeholders, volunteers and employees to give you regular feedback.
  • Set up alerts to monitor the internet for organisational content so you can keep on top of who might be saying what.

Once you understand how your NFP is seen, you can then make steps to direct the chatter. Be proactive with your efforts so you can ensure your organisation can fulfill its mission and ultimately increase support and contributions from others.

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donorsMany nonprofits place the focus of their fundraising efforts on broadening their base of support, and increasing the reach of their messaging in order to recruit new donors. Retaining your current donors, however, is just as important as attracting new ones.

Generally, it’s easier to convince an existing donor to donate again than it is to convince individuals that are unfamiliar with your organisation to donate to your cause. This is because your current donors are likely already acquainted with your nonprofit’s mission and the important work that your NFP does to help its community.

While existing donors are already aware of the good work that you do, that doesn’t mean that you no longer have to put forth any effort if you want to receive additional contributions. In fact, it can require a great deal of follow-up and interaction to retain an existing donor and encourage them to continue to donate on a regular basis.

Maintaining the relationship and encouraging donor engagement is critical, the following are a few tips to improve your relationship with your existing network of donors so that they are more likely to want to continue to support your cause.

Show Gratitude

One reason way some donors choose to not make repeat donations is that they do not feel as though their contributions are appreciated. On your organisation’s website, make certain that you are expressing a heartfelt thank you to all donors, regardless of the level of their donation. Ensure that your online donations send an automatic expression of thanks at the moment that the donation is made.

To encourage repeat donations, especially to contributors who make larger contributions, or re-occurring payments, use a more personal touch to show your thanks. A handwritten note sent by post, a telephone call, or even taking the time to thank the donor in person all require extra effort and show your donors that your organisation truly appreciates their support.

For regular donors, and large donations, you might even consider sending complimentary free tickets to your nonprofit’s next gala, ball, auction or other event to show your appreciation and gratitude. Offering donors, perks, awards and other forms of recognition goes a long way towards building a relationship with your donors and keeping them happy and engaged with your nonprofit.

Keep them Updated

Donors are more likely to continue to contribute to your nonprofit when you keep them updated and informed about your latest, news, events and projects on a regular basis. Ensure that your website has a page that is devoted to interest stories that show the impact of your non-profit’s work.

Use social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to keep donors updated as well as to offer recognition for their efforts by giving individuals donors a shout out when they participate and give during special drives and other fundraising events.

Make certain that you post updates on items of interest to your donors in all of your nonprofit’s publications, including newsletters, emails, podcasts, and videos. Donors normally contribute because they want to make a difference and they are more likely to contribute on a regular basis when they can “see” the progress that your nonprofit is making towards fulfilling its mission.

Be Transparent

Donors are more likely to give to nonprofits when they trust them and the individuals that are involved with the day to day operations of the organisation. Take steps to increase your NFP’s transparency. Publish financial updates that show the status of your nonprofit’s financials. Devote a specific page to financials on your nonprofit’s website and update it frequently. Include staff pages and short biographies for board members, administrators and other employees or volunteers so that donors can learn about the backgrounds and personalities of those who are integrally involved in your organisation.

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