Nonprofit leaders face daily challenges carrying out their missions in an increasingly competitive environment. Ensuring an organization is positioned to succeed in the future requires having the appropriate resources and clearly defined strategies in practice today. The “New Nonprofit” must continually innovate and grow in order to survive and thrive in this constantly evolving landscape.

This was the theme behind a panel discussion at Haverford Trust’s 4th Annual Educational Series for Nonprofits breakfast. Four leaders from the Philadelphia nonprofit community came together at The Franklin Institute on October 19, 2018 to discuss how their organizations are taking on the mentality of the “new nonprofit.”

Valerie Jones

Valerie M. Jones, CFRE
Chief Executive Officer
Valerie M. Jones Associates

Larry Dubinski
President & Chief Executive Officer
The Franklin Institute

Claire Lomax

M. Claire Lomax, Esquire
Chief Executive Officer
The Lomax Family Foundation

John McConnell

John R. McConnell
Founder & President
Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School

Throughout the conversation, a number of elements emerged that many successful “new nonprofits” share:

A highly engaged board

Board engagement is critical to becoming a “new nonprofit.” According to the expert panel, attending board meetings is the absolute minimum; ideally, your board is closely aligned with the broader organization, its employees, and its initiatives.

Larry Dubinski of The Franklin Institute told the audience he keeps his board engaged by dividing the group into smaller task forces to tackle the issues they find most important. He has revamped the way he runs his board meetings, by shifting the focus from simply reporting updates to asking questions and brainstorming creative solutions to engage his board and leverage their expertise. Mr. Dubinski also stressed the importance of connecting board members to employees across the organization.

“For us, the goal is it’s not just me that’s interacting with the board,” he said. “It needs to be the entire team, and not just the senior team. This provides the board with a sense of what’s happening across the organization and they feel vested [in our success].”

How to Keep Board Members Engaged

Diverse leadership

The “new nonprofit” is diverse. A staggering 84% of board members and chief executives1 at nonprofits are white, which indicates a clear diversity problem among nonprofit leadership. It also represents an opportunity to introduce new ways of thinking and new approaches from individuals who are potentially more representative of the communities being served.

Growing the diversity of the leadership team does not need to be difficult. Claire Lomax, Esq. of the Lomax Family Foundation said nonprofit leaders should go outside of their comfort zone and rethink the way they approach executive hiring and board member recruitment. Nonprofits must first look at their mission, then think introspectively and confront the underlying reasons diversity is missing from their organization.

Ms. Lomax recommends seeking new places to recruit, engaging new groups and committing wholeheartedly to diversity. For example, Ms. Lomax shared that in an effort to address the desire for increased diversity of its faculty, the University of Pennsylvania created visiting professorships and other pipelines to introduce faculty from Historically Black Colleges and Universities to its campus. Through this relationship, they created a pipeline of diverse potential candidates and created a pathway for people from different backgrounds to access the Board. Aside from partnerships, promoting openings on social media and sponsoring events that attract a diverse group of people can also aid in diversity efforts.

Ms. Lomax suggests another method is to be more flexible when it comes to the financial donation levels that many nonprofits require of their board members and leaders. Another suggestion is to have board members refer board candidates that meet the diversity goals that the nonprofit has identified.

“You have to be creative, you have to be courageous and you have to set the intention and then be vigilant when it comes to identifying the specific obstacles that are preventing your board from being diverse,” Ms. Lomax said.

One strategy that Mr. Dubinski finds particularly effective is to begin each nominating committee and each nominating committee report to the full board with stats representing the percentage of diversity on the board. “It keeps that priority front and center,” Dubinski said.

The Keys to Diversifying Nonprofit Leadership

Articulate your impact

Articulating your nonprofit’s impact in a way that resonates has become imperative to success in the “new nonprofit” era. Whether you’re interacting with a current donor or chasing down a new one, your nonprofit needs to differentiate itself, just like any other for-profit firm. With so many organizations vying for donation dollars, nonprofit leaders must rise to the challenge to articulate the results they deliver in a powerful way.

“New nonprofits can compellingly, quantifiably, and clearly articulate their distinctive advantage and can develop metrics that are specific to them and their situation,” said Valerie M. Jones of Valerie M. Jones Associates.

For John McConnell of the Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School, the best practice for engaging with donors is to “check humility at the door.” He stressed the importance of truly believing in your mission and educating all constituents (board members, management, team members, and the broader community) to speak about it with passion and empathy. These gestures go a long way in conveying your long-term dedication to the cause and amplifying your message in the market.

The Benefits of Clearly Articulating Value

Collaborate to generate impact

More than ever, nonprofits are forming affiliations and partnerships with outside organizations that have a similar mindset and complementary skills. Mr. McConnell accomplishes this by reaching out to food suppliers, healthcare providers, nutritionists, mental health counselors, and other types of companies to provide his students with the resources they need to reach their full potential. In an environment where available public financial support is minimal, Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School adopts this collaborative mentality by partnering with for-profit institutions to provide mentorships for its students, plan fundraising events, and participate in exhibitions.

Mr. Dubinski also embraces collaboration, saying that it is a large part of the Institute’s strategy. “We always work to make sure our collaborations are a true win-win for our partners and the Institute.” Dubinski said. One of the most important ways The Franklin Institute sees the impact of collaboration is through partnerships that bring real-world applications of the most current science to the forefront for visitors.

Collaboration as a Driver of Impactful Nonprofits

Becoming a “new nonprofit”

The first step in becoming a “new nonprofit” is to let go of the preconceived notions of how a nonprofit organization is supposed to function. Just like the corporate world, there’s no reason nonprofits shouldn’t adopt an innovative, mission-driven mindset and rethink they way they operate.

“New nonprofits” are breaking the mold when it comes to finding creative solutions to solve problems. As Mr. Dubinski puts it, “nonprofit is a tax status, not a way you run your organization.”

By engaging their board members, diversifying their leadership teams, better articulating their impact, and collaborating with like-minded organizations, nonprofits across the U.S. can set themselves up for a successful future of better serving those in need.

To learn more about the Haverford Educational Series for Nonprofits or how Haverford Trust can partner with your nonprofit organization, please contact Rob Stiles.