Standing Beside Alaska's Non-Profits

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Focus can be measured by establishing that an organization is grounded in its purpose and values. Such grounding is accomplished by showing that every major action or decision directly links to purpose, values, and direction. A nonprofit’s key leaders should be able to articulate the answers to two critical questions – Who are we? and Where are we going?

To answer these questions, one must be honest about behavior. Some organizations go so far as to indicate which values an action connects to, or how an action links back to the core purpose. With clear focus, an organization can measure its efforts against its strategic direction and hold itself accountable. The result is better communication with the community, an increased ability to raise money, and a greater opportunity to attract the best people – board, staff, and volunteers.

The answer to the first question, Who are we? comes from gaining an understanding of why the organization was founded. What was its original purpose? What values drove its founders to take such a bold action? The answer to the second question, Where are we going? comes from forging a unified vision of where the organization must go in order to thrive.

How well an organization articulates these answers is vital. With focus, organizations are better able to recruit and retain board and staff, develop strategic partnerships with other organizations, and generate revenue. With focus, organizations run effective programs and deliver services that meet community needs. 

--Dennis

Dennis McMillian is President of The Foraker Group, a nonprofit capacity building organization based in Alaska, and the author of Focus on Sustainability: A Nonprofit’s Journey.  




In 2008 we joined with the Rasmuson Foundation to launch a health benefit plan that was designed to create a healthier nonprofit sector in Alaska. We’re pleased that because of this program a number of Alaskans working in nonprofits can be covered by health insurance.

The Foraker Benefit Plan is now transitioning into a broader based program that will include nonprofit organizations and small businesses with fewer than 100 employees. The reason this has occurred is due in large part to the Affordable Care Act. As part of the transition the name of the plan is changing to encompass this broader base. It is now known as the Alaska Small Business Wellness Program.

The elements of the Foraker plan that supported wellness will continue in the new program – as evidenced in its name. We’re proud of the hard work from many, along with Rasmuson’s financial support, that allowed the wellness initiatives to become an established part of the way we look at health coverage today. After five years of implementation, we know the wellness strategies work at controlling costs and creating a healthier work force. We consider that a significant accomplishment.

If you have questions about this transition or may be interested in becoming part of the program, please contact Rebecca Savidis at 907-743-1200, or email her at rsavidis@forakergroup.org. For more information on what this transition may mean to your coverage, please contact your insurance broker.

Our thanks to everyone who has supported the Foraker Benefit Plan over the past five years.



Aug
14
2013
Posted in Advocacy.    

People who took part in the first two Catalyst cohorts say it made a huge positive change in their perspective on work, their approach to leadership, and literally in their lives. There’s still time for you to apply for this unique, dynamic program and experience your own personal renewal. Our deadline has been extended to Monday, August 26.

Catalyst for Nonprofit Excellence is not your typical training or workshop. It’s not your typical anything. Instead Catalyst is a rare opportunity for nonprofit leaders to focus on themselves while getting the support they need from a cohort of peers. We’ve partnered with Context International to bring this program to Alaska.

Whether you are on top of your game or looking to take your skills and knowledge to the next level, you will measurably enhance your results and your experience of life when you participate in Catalyst. The program is open to senior leaders, funding officers, and board members with a commitment to the nonprofit sector. Learn more here.

If you still have questions, call our office and talk with Laurie or Andrew – or let us help you connect to a Catalyst graduate.




Last week I talked about “focus” being the most important factor in achieving sustainability in your organization. Although focus is critical, the other three sustainability principles must also be in place to have a well-functioning organization. Having the right people – represented by the board and staff working in balance – will always be a factor in the sustainability of an organization, although the skills required for the people themselves may change as the environment changes.

Partnerships are essential for a sustainable organization, but partners will change as circumstances change. Unrestricted funds are always needed, but the sources of that support will change as the funding landscape evolves.

Organizations that use the lenses – focus, right people, partnerships and unrestricted funds – as a way to view their actions become more resilient and are able to achieve the following:

  • Focus on founding principles, make strategic decisions and look ahead
  • Recruit and retain the right board and staff and work together effectively as partners
  • Seek and nurture strategic partnerships and maximize impact
  • Assure sufficient unrestricted funds to take advantage of opportunities and handle emergencies

Using the lenses, you can begin to understand the dynamics of sustainability. Then, and only then, is it time to develop programs and services.

--Dennis

Dennis McMillian, president of The Foraker Group, a capacity building organization based Alaska, and the author of Focus on Sustainability: A Nonprofit’s Journey.




For an organization to begin its sustainability journey, it must consider how different aspects of sustainability are interrelated. An organization may have the right people, partnerships, and even adequate unrestricted funds, but without focus, it may not have what it needs to keep it on track. Focus is the most important factor – it is an organization’s foundation.

An organization’s founding purpose and values are part of its focus. In a sustainable nonprofit, purpose and values don’t change. The focus reflects the passion of the founders, defining what they intended to accomplish and why. Focus serves as the anchor for everything an organization does. It helps provide the answer to the fundamental question: Who are we?

The other part of focus is flexibility – it helps an organization stay relevant. It answers the question: Where are we going? That direction is under constant review. As the external environment changes, an organization must adjust so it can continue to move in the right direction.

Together, the founding purpose and values and a clear direction provide a focus that is both true to the intent of the founders and currently relevant to the community in which it operates.

Is your organization’s focus clear not only to the board and staff but to those who support you financially? Give us your tips on how you communicate your organization’s focus to the external world.

--Dennis

Dennis McMillian, president of The Foraker Group, a capacity building organization based Alaska, and the author of Focus on Sustainability: A Nonprofit’s Journey.  




Not your typical training or workshop. Not your typical anything. The Catalyst for Nonprofit Excellence is a rare opportunity for nonprofit leaders to focus on themselves while getting the support they need from a cohort of peers. The third cohort of the Catalyst program is offered in partnership with Context International.

Whether you are on top of your game or looking to take your skills and knowledge to the next level, you will measurably enhance your results and your experience of life when you participate in this program. Catalyst is open to senior leaders, funding officers, and board members with a commitment to the nonprofit sector.

The deadline for applications is August 12, 2013. You can learn more here.

Still have questions, call our office and talk with Laurie or Andrew or let us help you connect to a Catalyst graduate.




The term “nonprofit sustainability” has been a buzzword in the sector for a couple of decades. However, many public and private investors ask potential grantees to demonstrate their sustainability. For many nonprofits, the definition of sustainability is that “We have enough money to get through this budget cycle, and we many have a little reserve in the bank for an emergency.”

But sustainability is much more than management and having some money in the bank. Here are some of the organizational behaviors than nonprofits can adopt to be truly sustainable.

  • Knowing who you are and where you are going so you can adapt and change services
  • Seeking and nurturing strategic partnerships to maximize your overall impact
  • Establishing an organizational culture that allows for securing and maintaining the right board and staff
  • Securing unrestricted funds for both emergencies and opportunities
  • Seeking restricted grants only when they align to your mission and direction
  • Staying rooted in strategic thinking, rather than historical review
  • Embracing planning, including establishing annual priorities

How many of these behaviors has your organization embraced? Share with our readers examples of behaviors that you have been wildly successful with or those that have been challenging to implement.

--Dennis

Dennis McMillian, president of The Foraker Group, a capacity building organization based in Alaska, and the author of Focus on Sustainability: A Nonprofit’s Journey.




Most nonprofit leaders care about their mission and are concerned about doing good work in their community. They want a user-friendly process to build their organization’s capacity, focus on sustainability, and ultimately, to show that their organization is demonstrating impact for the people they serve.

The Foraker Nonprofit Sustainability Model, although simple, is based on a sophisticated understanding of organizational development. With it, you can identify the four factors that help predict nonprofit sustainability. Those factors are having a clear focus, gathering the right people, developing meaningful partnerships, and having unrestricted funds available.

Nonprofit leaders who operate in an environment structured around these factors have lenses to help them take a good look at their organization, weigh decisions, and create clarity for the path forward.

How do you see your organization when you view it through one or all of these lenses? Share with our readers a story about your nonprofit’s sustainability journey.

--Dennis

Dennis McMillian, president of The Foraker Group, a capacity building organization based in Alaska, and the author of Focus on Sustainability: A Nonprofit’s Journey.  




Are you interested in taking your skills and knowledge to the next level? Then consider the Catalyst for Excellence program. This innovative training is open to senior organizational leaders, funding officers, and board members of Alaska nonprofits. Catalyst is a partnership between Foraker and Context International and is geneously supported by BP. You can learn more here.

The deadline for applications is August 12, 2013.




The National Council of Nonprofits has launched a new tool that will help nonprofits make informed decisions about conducting independent audits. The Nonprofit Audit Guide is available by clicking here.

The guide will help you understand what an independent audit is, or is not, and whether your organization is required to conduct an audit. It also covers how to involve your board and an audit committee.

Raj Shankar, Foraker's CFO, helped develop the guide. He was recognized by the Council as a national expert on the subject and an excellent resource for other state associations. 

We encourage our Partners to review the material and call us if you have any questions.



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