Your One Goal for 2019

By: Sheela Nimishakavi, MA, MPH

In many ways, 2018 was the year of the story. Nonprofits were encouraged to share the impact of their work with supporters by using narratives that read almost like short stories. Appeal letters featured heartwarming tales of struggling protagonists who were helped along their journey by a nonprofit organization, with the donor as the hero.

But 2019 needs to be the year of questions. I’m not saying we need to throw stories out of our toolbox this year. But, if we are going to use them, we need to question the narrative. Does our story empower those we serve? Does this story unintentionally perpetuate racism, sexism, ableism, and other –ism’s? How can you be sure you’re telling a compelling true story and not disseminating poverty porn?

In addition to moving past stories and creating empowering narratives, questions can help us gain clarity of purpose and clearly articulate impact. As a donor, I want to know how my support helps. This doesn’t mean I need a log of how my $200 paid for lunches. I want to know: What change did I affect with my giving? Did I contribute to making the world a better place? What did we accomplish together and what remains to be done?

Importantly, nonprofits must keep a finger on the pulse of their field, having a ready answer to the question: Does your nonprofit treat a symptom or solve the root cause of a problem?

Both types of work are absolutely needed. Symptoms need to be treated until we can figure out how to solve the root cause of a problem, which will likely need to occur through advocacy for systemic changes. However, where does your nonprofit fall on this spectrum? What is the root cause and is anyone in your community tackling it?

If your organization goes through a facilitated strategic planning process every three to five years these questions are likely raised at that time. I would argue that this is not sufficient. Questioning what, how, and why we do our work should be a constant dialogue in our offices. Questions ensure we not only stay on track but are on the right track. Questions help us become better leaders, fundraisers, front line staff, board members, community members. Questions help us solve problems.

As you sit down to write your goals for the year, make sure to add this one to the top of your list: Ask more questions.


How to tackle long-term goals every single day

By: Sheela Nimishakavi, MA, MPH

The other night I was at a meeting for an organization that I volunteer with and our facilitator mentioned that the organization will be undertaking their next strategic planning process.

Now, at first I didn’t pay much attention to that statement- hey, it was 8pm on a Thursday and I was dreaming about the weekend.

But then I realized- wait, what?! I have been involved with this organization for four years and I’ve never seen or heard mention of the CURRENT strategic plan. For a document that takes so much time and effort (and $$$) to prepare, we all too often file it away until the next round of planning begins.

But, shouldn’t the strategic plan be guiding our every move?

If you think about it, the strategic planning process gathers input from everyone impacted by the work of your organization- everyone from staff and board members, to constituents and other stakeholders. All these people came together during the planning process and agreed (or agreed to disagree) that this is what your organization should focus on over the next 3-5 years.

So, your to-do list should ALWAYS have tasks that get you closer to achieving these goals. Why?

Well, it makes saying “no” 100X easier. Your nonprofit can’t be everything to everyone, but it can be SO HARD to say no when an opportunity comes your way. But, by mapping your daily tasks to the long-term goals of the organization, you have your eyes on the prize and won’t get distracted.

Did you get a call to exhibit at a children’s fair even though this year’s focus is on adults? Nope, can’t do it! Or, how about that eager board member who wants to start an art program even though that it’s not a strategic priority? Sorry, no can do- this is the plan we all agreed to.

On the flip side, it makes it easier to figure out what you SHOULD be focusing on every. single. day. You can work backwards from your strategic plan to determine your daily, weekly and monthly goals. Here’s a FREE worksheet that walks you through the process.

Lastly, if you’re trying to advance in your career, clearly indicating how you progress the organization towards its long-term goals is a wonderful way to demonstrate the value you add to the nonprofit.

So, dust off that strategic plan- pin it up on your wall, make it your screen saver, do whatever it takes to keep it front and center. AND download this FREE worksheet while you’re at it.

How do you keep your strategic goals in mind once the planning process is over? Comment below!

Is Your Nonprofit Prepared for Disaster?

By: Sheela Nimishakavi, MA, MPH

The recent string of disasters around the world, from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma to the literal earth shaking events in Mexico, remind us that disasters can strike unexpectedly and have dire consequences for the ill prepared. Planning for a disaster is critical for all employers but more so for nonprofits that not only have to look after staff but also constituents. Does your nonprofit have documented emergency procedures? Have they been updated recently? Now is the time to get your ducks in a row. Consider the following:

  • If your nonprofit organization offers critical or crisis services, how will you ensure continuity of services during a disaster? Or, ensure that your services will be available shortly thereafter?
    This will be more important for some nonprofits than others, and chances are if you offer crisis services, you have a plan in place. But, for all nonprofits getting back in business after a disaster will be the focus. Contingency planning will ensure that staff know how to safely handle the situation when it arises. The best emergency procedures indicate a variety of sentinel events and the organization’s response to each, since the ability to reinstate services will differ if there is significant property damage versus just a power outage. Take the time to think these through with staff and come up with a plan. Ideally, revisit and reassess the plan annually.
  • Does your nonprofit have an emergency kit?
    This should be a no-brainer. Your kit can include emergency contact information for all staff (and constituents if they are on site), a designated safe meeting location, first aid supplies, extra supplies (i.e. flashlight, water, food, etc.), directions to the nearest hospital, and any other needs specific to your nonprofit and its location.
  • Do you have a list of vendor contact information on hand?
    We typically have access to our vendor representatives through email or a shared database, but these may not be accessible during a disaster. Including a paper copy of contact information for the various vendors your nonprofit uses will come in handy if you need to reactivate your accounts or reestablish a connection. This can include your nonprofit’s IT provider, telephone company, cable company, and third party contractors.
  • Has one staff member been assigned to lead emergency preparedness efforts?
    Identifying one lead staff member (or one per department for large organizations) not only ensures that the preparatory work gets done, but also minimizes confusion during a disaster. This staff person should schedule emergency drills, update the emergency kit as needed, update contact information. Importantly, this staff would be responsible for scheduling regular trainings to ensure that all personnel understand the nonprofit’s emergency procedures and know how to safely utilize emergency equipment (i.e. fire extinguishers, first aid kit).
  • If you share an office building, has your organization considered sharing your emergency plan with the other businesses?
    Sharing your emergency plans with the other businesses can lead to a coordinated effort during a disaster and limit confusion. Moreover, during a disaster the other businesses may have some information that yours does not so initiating that contact early on is critical. Further, if another business in your building already has an emergency plan, your organization can simply modify that to meet the specific needs of your nonprofit rather than creating a new plan from scratch.

It is easy for disaster preparedness to slip down the to-do list, especially for small nonprofit organizations that only have enough time and personnel to focus on the problem at hand. However, a simple plan and conversation with staff as little as once a year can go a long way in ensuring the safety of staff and constituents during a disaster, and get the organization back up and running quickly thereafter.

For more information on how to design an emergency plan that is appropriate for your nonprofit, check out: