Are you managing? Two of the season’s best titles will get you to a resounding yes.

A non-profit management boot camp in a book

By Sharon Broughton (September 20, 2019)

Nonprofit Management 101:  A complete and practical guide for leaders and professionals – 2ndedition, Edited by Darian Rodriguez Heyman and Laila Brenner, Wiley, August 30, 2019, 576 pp, $41.58

Described as “essential resources, tools and hard-earned wisdom from 55 leading experts,” this 576 page tome is non-profit management boot camp in a book.  Capturing practical advice and real-world examples across seven disciplines, the guidebook is well-designed and accessible for readers eager to deepen their knowledge base in the sector.  

This 2ndedition is updated with current resources, the large majority of which are US-based.  For the Canadian reader, this means the three-chapter section on Non-Profit Law and Finance is less relevant. 

How best to use this book?

The book’s seven sections are comprised of up to six chapters. Each chapter is authored by a renowned subject matter expert (Joan Garry on Thriving as an Executive Director in Chapter 4, for example, or Kay Sprinkel Grace’s take on Individual Donor and Major Gift Strategies in Chapter 17). The book’s contributors similarly approach their subject matter with an outline of the critical skills and competencies required, definitions of subject matter terminology, examples of things the author had wished they’d known, and quick lists, such as do’s and don’ts. There is a sprinkling of case studies. Relevant resources in print and online are noted at the end of each chapter. 

Consider NonProfit Management 101 an excellent go-to resource guide for every Chief Executive Officer or Executive Director’s office or for the resource library in a small to medium-sized non-profit.  The guide is valuable for department teams, who can read specific chapters and discuss the content together, applying their own experience, and confirming the recommendations they want to consider in operational planning.  From finance to marketing to fundraising and volunteer management, the book is an effective launching pad from which to go deeper.

Read on for a content overview.

Part 1What the field is all about and where the reader fits in

While the data about size and scope of the sector is US-based, the trends and implications we face in Canada are similar and relevant as part of an overall external scan. For people exploring their career options, including whether or not an executive director role is in their future, an overview of universal non-profit skills is provided. It is a worthwhile checklist for anyone already in a leadership role and includes fundraising, communications, financial management, strategic planning, identifying talent, political savvy and humility. Specific tips for combating stress and burnout confirm that the resource is realistic in its portrayal of real life in a non-profit. (Key tips – be good to yourself and build a network of support!)  

This section concludes with a description of how to build strong social movements—a guide to developing a committed and diverse base, to leadership, collaboration, strategy and communication.

Part 2: Managing Organizations and People

This section includes information on how to thrive as an executive director. Recognizing the messiness of non-profits and the essential aspect of shared leadership, it explores the pivotal relationship between the Board Chair and Chief Executive Officer. It suggests that creating a culture of engaged story-tellers will make the charity more impactful. Ellen DeGeneres is used as an exemplar for an effective executive director, demonstrating authenticity, conviction, joy, humour and fearlessness.  Strategic planning is framed as turning a dream into reality.  The importance of identifying the questions that need answers and well as the fact that planning requires continuous refinement is underlined.   

We learn the five things that make the difference in the work of non-profit partnerships, no matter where they fit on the continuum of collaboration, alliances and strategic restructuring:  

  • The importance of culture
  • Trust
  • Leadership clarity
  • Time 
  • Context

An eyes-open walk-through of risk management and insurance clarifies the need for, and how to purchase, Directors’ & Officers insurance as well as general liability insurance, and confirms the Board’s core oversight and governance role.

This section talks about how building a human capital management strategy, including a competency model, is an essential starting point in hiring the right people.  Slowing down to get this right is worth the investment of time. 

Practical examples of everything from interview questions to how best to assess candidates, and tools to support all steps from recruitment to compensation, are offered.  

Part 3: Nonprofit Law and Finance

Much of the content regarding federal tax and governance laws in this section doesn’t apply to Canada. But the section does, importantly, recognize that understanding your financial story is a core competency for leaders.  One of the highlights of the financial management chapter by Nayatara Mehta is the call to ‘own your numbers.’  

“Don’t apologize!”  Starbucks doesn’t apologize for the price of its lattes, and you shouldn’t apologize for what it costs to deliver core programs.  Be clear about the full cost of services, recognizing that non-profits are tackling complex, multi-dimensional and intergenerational social challenges and this work does not come cheap.

Part 4:  Non-profit Tech and IT

Beginning with technology planning, this section focuses on the importance of investing in IT staff, IT training and ensuring IT planning is incorporated into strategic plans.  

It defines IT as a tool that plays an integral way role in successful service delivery, as opposed to an overhead cost.  

Web design is covered, outlining how a website is a digital tool that drives long-term impact, advancing mission and supporting fundraising and, as such, must be designed with clear outcomes in mind. 

Many non-profits would benefit from having the marketing team read this chapter before launching a website review process. It includes everything from how to create a Request for Proposal, select vendors and engage in a design process.  The section also includes a good primer on measurement, evaluation and learning plans, as well as Constituent Relationship Management (CRM).

Part 5:  Fundraising

Effective fundraising flows out of principles of strategic fund development. The section deals with knowing when to do what. Leading experts in individual and major gift strategies, grant seeking, and online and peer-to peer-fundraising provide a strategic lens for each area.  Tools and tips can be very specific, such as the recommended content for the donation form a prospective donor sees after hitting the click-to-donate button. 

Ways to convert donors into volunteer fundraisers by providing online giving platforms is identified, with the recognition that volunteer fundraisers who galvanize their networks need special stewardship approaches. (They may only give several hundred dollars themselves but raise several thousand – how to keep these people close and feeling valued is well outlined.)

Cause marketing is given solid “101” treatment, framing the trend of moving beyond corporate sponsorships to strategic partnerships. 

The rise of partnerships rooted in purpose is unpacked, as is the reality that partnership decision-makers could be corporate social responsibility leaders or come from community relations, marketing, public relations and human resources departments or the C- suite.  

We are reminded that knowing social impact is essential and that it is the non-profit who must do the measuring. 

Non-profits that bring innovative ideas and new approaches to corporate partners break through the clutter of causes to become valued partners.  There is no sugar-coating here—the hard costs include how partnership development takes time and requires the skilful handling of a collaborative process.

Part 6: Marketing and Communications

Brand values, positioning, promise and personality are discussed in a chapter called The Why and How of Branding by Jennie Winton and Zach Hochstadt.  The current talk in the sector about engaging millennials is touched on. With a focus on “moving millennials to act,” strategies and tactics for marketers and fundraisers, based on the current research around the top 10 traits of this demographic, are offered.  

The use of digital tools to tell your story links storytelling to the overall communications strategy, with specifics like the “storytelling ladder of engagement.”  The main thrust of an effective newsletter strategy is on point. Send fewer words, more often because people need to see or hear a message seven times before they remember it.  

Create an editorial calendar that serves up attention-grabbing, bite-sized snacks often, not seven course meals less frequently.  

For those concerned about the bane of some non-profits’ existence, there is a focus on painless and effective event planning.  

Creating great events requires a realistic grasp of the costs to achieve a desired outcome. The public relations function wraps up this section with tips for getting exposure for your cause.  Eight PR principles are shared, from telling unforgettable stories to building relationships, with practical tips for writing effective press releases.

Section 7: Boards and Volunteers  

Board governance is the subject of full volumes, so it is difficult to do justice to the complexity of this topic in one section. The guide accomplishes the overview admirably, with an outline of the key fundamentals including board roles and responsibilities, composition and recruitment, orientation, assessment, and maximizing effectiveness. 

For many non-profits the hard-to-address topic of getting your board to fundraise is demystified, outlining what’s involved and providing clear and practical action steps. 

Volunteer recruitment, engagement and management is also tackled, starting with the needs- assessment phase, through to turning volunteer energy into impact, which requires strategic staff support and leadership.

CONCLUSION

Nonprofit Management 101 is survey course in a 576-page volume.  Given the complexity of the issues in the sector across so many disciplines, the editors have accomplished an impressive feat with this robust, well-curated and indexed toolkit of useful strategies and techniques.

Non-profit sector leaders and managers arrive in the sector from many different places to lead the causes that matter.  Many don’t have experience, education or training in at least one of the disciplines covered in this resource.  

Consider this book a grounding that levels the playing field with a consistent, accessible approach to content that can be dipped into over time.

If success as non-profit leaders is defined by organizations achieving great impact in making the world a better place, this resource can help you and your team develop and master the skills and competencies to take your work further.  Take the theory and apply your own experience as the real case study.

As leading global activist Lynne Twist says in the conclusion, social prophets with the right tools will transform our world: ‘Together we are a genius’. 

(Sharon Broughton, M.Ed., is currently the CEO of Prince’s Trust Canada, a national charity focused on youth employability, veteran entrepreneurship and Indigenous language revitalization.)

How Effective Project Managers Get the Job Done

By Christopher Barry (September 20, 2019)

The Complete Project Manager: Integrating People, Organizations, and Technical Skills, Randall L Englund and Alfonso Bucero, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2nd ed, 376 pp., August 6, 2019, $51.60

This book is going to be an important reference source for every project manager in the charity sector. 

All of us in the not for profit world (as well as the private sector) are familiar with project management, and this practical work establishes the foundation required to create, maintain, and measure workflow while equipping project managers with the necessary skills to deliver consistent, successful outcomes. 

Every year our organizations and leadership respond to the challenges of our changing charity environment with a variety of new projects such as launching a capital campaign, introducing new financial software and training, or developing and implementing new programs and services. 

All of these projects are intended to further Mission and Vision and anyone who has worked as part of a project management team, or has been a project team of “one,” is aware of the pressure to achieve a successful outcome.

Deadlines must be met, budgets must be respected, internal and external politics must be considered, work teams must be guided and managed, all so that success can be achieved.

It takes skill and experience to manage a project to a successful conclusion, and in The Complete Project Manager, Randall L Englund and Alfonso Bucero offer the benefit of their extensive skill and experience to not for profit leaders and managers, and to the charitable sector as a whole.

Using real world stories and case studies in an easy to read style, this second edition of their classic bestselling guide describes how effective project managers can integrate key people, organizational and technical skills that are so essential to project success.

Mastering leadership, negotiation, conflict resolution, change management, and organizational politics are discussed and examined, as are ethics, agile project management, business analysis, and managing across generations and cultures. 

The book’s key earnings are summarized below:

The definition of project success is changing as are the competencies required to achieve it.

Fifty years ago, the only question anyone asked was whether the solution worked or not. Forty years ago, the success definition expanded to include cost and schedule. A project solution had to work, and it had to be developed on time and on budget. Thirty years ago, a project solution required customer or donor support. Today, a dimension of Mission or business value has been added to the definition of project success….does the solution help us learn more about the donor or customer? If it doesn’t then it is an incomplete success.

Key project manager competencies include technical skills, strategic and business management business skills and leadership skills as illustrated in the following Talent Triangle diagram:

The authors believe that while technical skills and strategic and business management skills are essential, the most important area of focus for successful project managers are foundational leadership skills.

The book addresses each of these foundational skills in turn:

  • Leadership/management: Leadership and management skills are those vital visionary and “can do” competencies that are so necessary for those who are in a position to influence colleagues, team members, upper managers, clients and others. These include charisma, teachability, and courage, as well as delegation, listening, ethics and relation-ship building skills.
  • Personal skills: Personal skills are interaction competencies for dealing with people. The complete project manager possesses the aptitude, attitude, influence, and networking skills to interact with people effectively and achieve results.
  • Negotiating skills: The results delivered by projects depend on what you negotiate. It is in your best interest, and for your team and organization, to embrace negotiating as a requisite skill and implement it dutifully.
  • Political skills: Complete project managers understand the power structure in their organizations. Influence exists in people’s hearts and minds, where power derives more from legitimacy than from authority. To be effective, project managers need to become politically sensitive.
  • Conflict management skills: In situations that matter the most, we often perform at our worst. Learn to assess conflicts, develop a response, and conduct a learning conversation. Embrace constructive contention.
  • Project management skills: Complete project managers build upon the foundation established by the Project management Institute’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. The authors add insights and examples as aids for complete project managers in their quest to make sense of and apply the PMBOK Guide to people in organizations.
  • The role of humour and fun: The authors advocate for the use of humour and fun because they make work more effective, productive and memorable. A project manager’s toolkit is more complete when fun is on the agenda and every day includes laughter.
  • Organization skills: An imperative facing complete project managers is not only to embark on a quest to manage project management processes, but also to execute projects within “green” organizations — ones that encourage project based work. A “green” organization, rather than a “toxic” one, is better positioned not only to survive but to proposer even in difficult times.
  • Environment skills: Complete project managers can make more systematic and widespread progress by focusing attention creating project-friendly environmental conditions than through any other effort. 
  • Change management skills: You cannot move forward and stay the same at the same time. The keys to dealing with change successfully are having a good attitude toward it and being prepared to meet it. Understand the change management process. 
  • Opportunity skills: Know that you are continuously in cycles throughout project life cycles. Do not be a victim of lost opportunities. Embrace the opportunity process as a means to secure necessary commitments in a genuine manner that is worthy of a complete project manager.
  • Market/customer knowledge: All projects have a customer. Complete project managers take care to understand market forces and customer satisfaction issues. Apply servant leadership skills. Implement ethical practices in all interactions.
  • Integration and epilogue: Form a more complete picture of your role by integrating key concepts via story-telling, perhaps as a project office of one.

Throughout the book the authors emphasize the importance of having a positive attitude and how that approach helps organizations achieve project success.

Comprehensive in scope, deliberate in focus, deep in expert knowledge and highly practical in its wisdom, The Complete Project Manager enables the not for profit reader to put it all together and to take a more integrative approach to project management. 

(A former combat paratrooper and Logistics officer in the Canadian Army, Christopher Barry has worked as interim CEO or COO for a wide range of charities.)

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