Nonprofit Basics: Riding the Waves"


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Presentation on Nonprofit Basics delivered at the ASTD National Chapter Leader Conference in Arlington, VA in October 2009.

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  • ASTD, under the federal tax code, has what is called 501(c)3 status; it simply means that we fit into the realm of cultural, educational, and arts organizations serving a public (charitable) purpose. This does not mean we can’t make money—how else would be fund our activities? What it does mean is that we do not exist to make profits for individuals; we put our revenues into maintaining operations and providing some sort of public good—in our case, services related to providing workplace learning and performance assistance to members of our communities. The facts, from “ To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized  and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not be an action organization , i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates. Organizations described in section 501(c)(3) are commonly referred to as charitable organizations . Organizations described in section 501(c)(3), other than testing for public safety organizations, are eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions in accordance with Code section 170. The organization must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests , and no part of a section 501(c)(3) organization's net earnings may inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual. If the organization engages in an excess benefit transaction with a person having substantial influence over the organization, an excise tax may be imposed on the person and any organization managers agreeing to the transaction. Section 501(c)(3) organizations are restricted in how much political and legislative ( lobbying ) activities they may conduct. For a detailed discussion, see Political and Lobbying Activities . For more information about lobbying activities by charities, see the article Lobbying Issues ; for more information about political activities of charities, see the FY-2002 CPE topic Election Year Issues .”
  • When San Francisco artists created and placed large hearts all over the city a few years ago, they really captured an idea which will serve us well throughout our time together today: there’s a real heart to be found in any community, and communities of learners are no exception. As Chapter Board members within ASTD communities of learning, we have tremendous policy-making and administrative responsibilities: Organizational Fiscal Programmatic Membership development and retention Marketing and public relations Community outreach And it’s all done with the public good in mind.
  • One of our primary responsibilities is to operate in an open and transparent way. Board meetings need to be open to all interested members and guests. Financial records should be openly reported, discussed, reviewed, and approved by Board members. Policy decisions not only need to reflect the organization’s mission, vision, and value statements, but also need to be made with members and the larger community in mind.
  • An ethical check-in to clarify our roles as fiscal managers of a public trust: Your chapter has been trying to locate a local speaker on a highly topical issue without success. You find someone from outside your area, and he’s willing to forego a speaker fee if you will work with him to find a grant to underwrite the Chapter’s upfront costs (travel, lodgings, tech support), give him a portion of the grant money, and split the net revenue with him from any money he generates by attracting paying attendees from his own network. OK or not OK? Why or why not? What issues do you as a Board member see here?
  • While our meetings don’t have to be completely serious and legalistic, there are some great practices which can move things along—and the nice thing is that we don’t have to reinvent them. *Having a formal agenda which is shaped by all Board members means no one need be left behind. *Using Roberts Rules of Order may drive some people crazy, but if the system is used as a tool, not as a way of stifling conversation, meetings quickly become productive—and Board members who were not familiar with the book pick up another skill in the course of their service.
  • Once we begin using parliamentary procedure to our Chapter’s advantage, we quickly discover other ways to keep things moving: *Setting a general time limit on discussion helps a lot; if conversations begin to bog down and no decision is on the horizon, we can refer the discussion to a task force or subcommittee—clearing setting the scope of what the group should accomplish and setting a time frame in which the issue returns for Board approval or rejection—as a way of keeping the issue alive while giving everyone some time to examine what is really making the issue such a difficult one to resolve.
  • It’s no coincidence that the word “deadline” had that dreadful word as its first syllable: staying on target with deadlines can wear us out and prefer the thought of a coffin to the thought of yet another task to fulfill. As Chapter leaders, we need to remember to take care of ourselves, take on no more than we can reasonably handle, admit when we’re overwhelmed and seek help, and extend that same sense of concern and consideration to our colleagues—or we’ll lose them.
  • We may not be running the corner market here—at least we hope we’re not—but there’s no reason not to apply the same standards of professionalism. We need to manage our assets carefully and responsibly, and take prudent steps to protect ourselves and our organization with basic elements including Director & Officer insurance. Something newcomers to nonprofit boards rarely consider: if you mismanage the nonprofit’s resources, you can be held personally liable. It is, therefore, important, that every board member takes responsibility for reviewing monthly financial statements for the organization and insist on regular reviews to make sure that the books are in order.
  • If you’re lucky, you have a clearly defined mission statement, and you might even have vision and value statements to help bring it to life. If you’re really lucky, you can recite it as if you wrote it.
  • Let’s look at what our mission, vision, and value statements are, and decide what we can do within our Chapter to implement them. One of the first elements any nonprofit needs is an effective and up-to-date set of bylaws to serve as a strong foundation for everything we do. Our Chapter Coach provided us with a template from ASTD, and we did the rest: adapting, where necessary, adding what we felt was necessary, and having the document formally reviewed by an attorney to be sure it was in compliance with state regulations. We then took it to the entire Board for approval before asking Chapter members to formally vote for adoption near the end of 2008. Although the process extended over several months, resources were surprisingly few: three Board members serving on a task force, our Chapter Coach’s guidance, and the online election for Chapter members.
  • Once our bylaws are in place, we need to know who is responsible for each aspect of implementing them. Our process of revising job descriptions extended over a nine-month period which began with reviews of the job descriptions posted on the ASTD Chapter Leader “Resources by leadership position” page ( and reviews of existing Chapter Board members’ job descriptions. Conversations with individual Board members were followed by work by the Chapter President and President-Elect to rewrite all job descriptions in a consistent and overlapping way that stressed the collaborative nature of how we work. Those drafts were returned to individuals for review, and finally went to the full Board for formal adoption in September 2009.
  • Having a combination of committees and task forces helps us effectively run our organizations in several ways: Duties and expectations are clearly outlined. Timelines for work are established in advance. There are wonderful opportunities for engagement at many levels if board and non-board members serve. Successful service on a short-term committee or task force (i.e., a Nominating Committee) cultivates future Chapter leaders. It also fosters collaboration.
  • We started with the idea that there is nothing wrong with making a profit, as long as that profit is used to fund the services we provide in accordance with our mission, vision, and value statements. That idea comes back to us as we remember that we’re working toward a common (service or educational) goal, and that things move very nicely if we take advantage of possibilities for collaboration as we build what we intend to build.
  • Since nonprofits are always so stretched for resources—and ASTD chapters, as you well know, are no exception—we always need to look for ways to effectively use what we have. If a posting on a website, for example, can provide text for a press release or a newsletter article, so much the better. If a list of prospective vendors or sponsors for a chapter event pans out, it might also be effective in attracting new members from the employees who are associated with those vendors or sponsors. If a presenter at a monthly meeting is interested in what you do, you might be looking at a new volunteer with skills which you don’t already have within your chapter. All this requires is an openness to thinking strategically in a way which brings people together without taking advantage of them.
  • Strategic planning is a funny thing: it’s one of the most basic and, at the same time, one of the greatest of the higher level functions we perform while serving on a Board, and requires great judgment. We’re not going to spend much time on it here because of how complex it can become and because it will be part of what Sarah Jeffcoat, Tina Lo, and I explore in a three-hour session on keeping chapters afloat tomorrow morning. I’d be remiss, however, if I didn’t encourage you to always think strategically, given the resources you have, and formally engage in a strategic planning process as soon as you have updated your bylaws, job descriptions, and processes and procedures so you’ll have a firm foundation from which to leap.
  • There is, of course, a wonderful payoff at the end of all this. We find ourselves riding the nonprofit waves in the most pleasurable of ways, and a large part of the satisfaction comes from having worked with colleagues to serve other colleagues in implementing the mission, vision, and value we share in common.
  • There are few things more tragic within a nonprofit organization than unused resources. Since people are our strongest resources, we have a responsibility to draw them in as they want to be drawn in—not just in ways that use them, burn them out, and toss them aside. If we work diligently to match people with what they want, they’re going to stay with us longer than they otherwise would, and that means we work less to achieve greater and more sustainable results.
  • Engaging people from the moment they first walk through your doors doesn’t require a carnival atmosphere—although I certainly wouldn’t turn it down if it were available to me. It can be as simple as making sure that everyone is greeted personally by a chapter leader; everyone is introduced to at least one or two other attendees; and that chapter leaders do not all sit together and thereby create an immediate sense of in-groups and outsiders. We very consciously make sure that at least one chapter leader or long-term member sits at each table during chapter monthly meetings. We also try to collect business cards from those we don’t know and, as time allows, place a follow-up call or send a brief email a day or two after meeting a guest or new member just to tell them how much we appreciated their presence. Any questions about why we’ve seen smaller decreases in membership and actual increases at times when others are struggling to fill seats at events and board meetings?
  • If you’ve sensed a theme throughout this presentation, it’s the huge issue we all face of trying to match challenges with resources. The same half-empty glass of having too much to do with too few people to do it becomes the half full and eventually overflowing glass of engagement when we meet our members needs not only through the services we provide but through the opportunity to become part of the collaborative community a great nonprofit fosters. Nonprofits are just like all other groups: if we’re providing something of value in an appealing way, we’re going to attract the support we want and need to survive.
  • Although we don’t have to go back to prehistoric times to bring back lapsed members, we overlook a natural resource if we let past members disappear. Sometimes overt actions can help: a phone call, a card sent by mail, or the ubiquitous email messages designed to remind former members that they’re missing something they used to enjoy. And if membership has fallen because the organization has stopped meeting members’ needs, part of the rebuilding process is to become so attractive again that lapsed members start finding their way home, as several now have with ASTD’s Mt. Diablo Chapter.
  • The world, as we well know, is a wondrous place, and nonprofits are one of the wonders of the world. If we manage them properly; meet our obligations to our organizations, to our members, and to our community at large; and are welcoming rather than exclusive, we all win. And we have fun in the process.
  • Nonprofit Basics: Riding the Waves"

    1. 2. Cruising to Chapter Excellence Riding the Waves: Nonprofit Management Basics For Chapter Leaders Presenter: Paul Signorelli, President-Elect, ASTD Mt. Diablo Chapter Friday, October 30, 2009 10:15 – 11:45 a.m.
    2. 3. Part 1 Doing chapter business: you mean we can’t make a profit?
    3. 4. Cruising to Chapter Excellence The Board as the heart of our communities
    4. 5. Cruising to Chapter Excellence No secrets here: everything can be explained
    5. 6. Cruising to Chapter Excellence Fiscal and ethical clarity: whose money is it?
    6. 7. Cruising to Chapter Excellence Meeting to engage
    7. 8. Cruising to Chapter Excellence Moving things along
    8. 9. Cruising to Chapter Excellence Meeting (and not meeting) deadlines
    9. 10. Cruising to Chapter Excellence Running it like the business it is
    10. 11. Cruising to Chapter Excellence <ul><li>Exercise 1: Riding the Organizational Wave </li></ul><ul><li>Working in small groups, please: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Briefly discuss how your Chapter currently conducts Board meetings and discuss ways you would like to improve those procedures; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Decide what you can and cannot apply from what you’ve learned here; and </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Write down two things you will do to improve Chapter meetings when you return home. </li></ul></ul>
    11. 12. Part 2 We’re on a mission (Anyone know where we’re headed?)
    12. 13. Cruising to Chapter Excellence Bylaws: laying the foundations
    13. 14. Cruising to Chapter Excellence Job descriptions to meet our needs
    14. 15. Cruising to Chapter Excellence Committee structure with interlocking pieces
    15. 16. Cruising to Chapter Excellence Collaboration with a goal
    16. 17. Cruising to Chapter Excellence Stretching our resources
    17. 18. Cruising to Chapter Excellence Planning strategically
    18. 19. Cruising to Chapter Excellence And at the end of the day…
    19. 20. Cruising to Chapter Excellence <ul><li>Exercise 2: Implementing Mission </li></ul><ul><li>Working in small groups, please: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Briefly one underdeveloped aspect of your organization’s infrastructure (bylaws, job descriptions, committee structure, strategic plan, or anything else we have discussed) and identify what is holding you back in terms of developing that element. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Identify one or two steps you and your colleagues can take when you return home to strengthen that element. </li></ul></ul>
    20. 21. Part 3 Levels of Engagement
    21. 22. Cruising to Chapter Excellence Engaging underutilized members
    22. 23. Cruising to Chapter Excellence Engaging new members
    23. 24. Cruising to Chapter Excellence Filling existing gaps with new resources
    24. 25. Cruising to Chapter Excellence Building from the past for a stronger future
    25. 26. Cruising to Chapter Excellence Returning to the center of your world
    26. 27. Cruising to Chapter Excellence <ul><li>Exercise 3: Engagement </li></ul><ul><li>Working in small groups, please: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Briefly discuss how your chapter currently effectively engages new and current members (activities, committee involvement, utilizing their skills). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Choose one or two things you will adapt and implement from what you’ve learned here to increase levels of engagement within your organization. </li></ul></ul>
    27. 28. Conclusions Final Thoughts Q&A Next Steps
    28. 29. Cruising to Chapter Excellence Credits ( Images taken from unless otherwise noted): Heart in San Francisco: Plug 1’s Photostream at Secrets: SamikRC’s Photostream at Money: Fpsurgeon’s Photostream at Wielding the gavel: Darrenjsilvester’s Photostream at Herding: Martien@Arnhem’s Photostream at Target: Andreika’s Photostream at San Francisco market: Dizzy Atmosphere’s Photostream at Cranes: Anna_Debenhem’s Photostream at Wanted: Jeffmyers01’s Photostream at Puzzle: Thefinsider’s Photostream at Building: Jef Safi’s Photostream at Arms outstretched: Diamonds_in_the_soles_of_her_shoes’ Photostream at Leaping: Rob Featonby’s Photostream at Surfing: Photomage’s Photostream at Empty swing: Ben’s Photostream at Flying papers: Aldor’s Photostream at Glass: Ryan Thomas Snider’s Photostream at Caveman: Lord Jim’s Photostream at Spaceman: Practicalowl’s Photostream at Jellyfish: Fotogail’s Photostream at