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“I have come to know Nadia in her capacity as a consultant in fund raising and strategic planning for the New England Homes for the Deaf (NEHD), I have served on the Board and as a consultant for approximately 12 years and can attest to her contributions to our success. I have found her to understand the complexities of non-profit organizations especially regarding governance and mission. She is upbeat, articulate, responsive, and detail oriented and has the vision and initiative to find opportunities and energize Board and management to take action. She also understands how diversity and culture impacts an organization, which adds a major dimension to her impact on NEHD.”
by Julian Rich, Founder J Rich Solutions

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The Board Chair and Executive Director Relationship

Nadia Prescott

As a general principle, the board of directors primarily governs and staff primarily manages the organization. For a nonprofit to be effective, regardless of size or lifecycle stage, there must be a good relationship between the Executive Director and the board chair.

If you are fortunate enough to be part of a medium or larger size nonprofit organization, this means that the board provides counsel to management. They should not be involved in the day-to-day affairs of the organization. On the other hand, if you heading an organization with limited staff, the Executive Director is going to need a more hands-on board (beyond just governance) to make sure the organizations runs smoothly and effectively.

A board’s ability to govern lies in its group structure. The board chair plays a key role in leading the board and setting the tone for all members to ensure a focus on mission, direction and priorities. In this respect, the Executive Director relies on the board chair in partnership to help him or her deliver on the organization’s mission.

The board chair has a significant influence on how the board uses its time. But it is highly likely that your board chair has a full-time job, and has little insight about the day-to-day issues that you deal with on a regular basis. It is the executive director’s job to provide these insight across the organization, and ensure the board chair is well informed.

An effective working relationship between the board chair and the Executive Director is critical. Trust, respect and a common understanding of the organization’s goals are key to making this relationship successful. A close collaboration between these two members of the organization is key to success.

The two of you will determine which are the most important issues for an agenda at each board meeting, and which topics need to be brought up to a board member outside of the meeting. The executive director also helps assemble the information that shapes this discussion, and makes sure the board chair can represent the organization well during meetings. Even though the Executive Director reports to the board, he or she is also partially responsible for the board being able to fulfill their governance role.

This Program Costs too Much……but it’s Really Important!

Nadia Prescott

Is the program in question that important? How do you know where it fits within your program priorities and whether they are the right and sustainable for your organization today? The answer to these questions is often “no and we don’t know!”

One reason why this happens is that program and fundraising plans are developed in parallel and not jointly. Just as a for-profit business has to develop a sustainable business model, nonprofit organizations must do the same particularly in the current complex and changing nonprofit sector.

With less government money available, there is increasing pressure on private foundations to pick up the slack. Program priorities must fit with mission accomplishment as well as financial viability. If you are doing program evaluation effectively you will know the ways in which you can increase impact add new service offerings to achieve desired impact.

Reviewing your program portfolio each year is a must. You might need to update your program, combine it with another initiative or collaborate with another organization to strengthen what you offer to make a unique service. One that is inclusive of the latest and greatest skills individuals need in the 21st century. What makes your after school program for example, different to the other three program offered within a five mile radius? Is it your use of technology, is it a low teacher to pupil ratio or incorporation of STEM? As an extra incentive, remember funders love collaborative efforts!

Your overriding goal is to combine program and business activities that result in long term financial viability as well as mission impact. This is called a program portfolio. CompassPoint based in San Francisco has developed a very simple matrix to help nonprofits balance mission and sustainability. The Dual Bottom Line Matrix is adapted from the Boston Consulting Group’s Growth Share Matrix.

While quantitative evaluation of your programs and impact studies can be used to determine the highest mission impact, it is not usually not necessary in order to use the Dual Bottom Line Matrix. Usually consensus can be found easily for both mission and financial viability. Some of the characteristics of financial viability are at the very least to cover all costs both direct and indirect and generate a surplus. This way you know you have a sustainable and viable business model.

Also remember that an annual fundraiser should be considered as a business activity and should be included in any program portfolio and be highly profitable. It should pay for its direct costs as well as contribute to the organization’s bottom line. Otherwise you need to find ways to contain the costs or pull the activity. Many organizations also do activities for which they receive very little or no funding.

Using this model, it becomes clear that some programs and business activities do more or less to contribute to the organization’s financial viability. You may find for example that one program is well-funded and pays for its own costs as well as helps with organization overhead and shared costs.

A star program is one you want to keep and grow. It is something you want to invest in. That may mean time, attention and money.

The opposite of a star program is one that has low impact and low viability. If you have a program that falls within this quadrant, it’s time for the board to make a decision. How can you change the program to have a greater mission impact and financial viability or do you discontinue or give away to another nonprofit?

And finally some programs or activities bring in money but do not further the organization’s mission. These may be special fundraising events for example. You want to consider how you can enhance the mission impact for anything that falls within this quadrant. Perhaps you add an educational component to a special event so the community better understands what you do.

This matrix is only one way of analyzing your current and potentially new program portfolio. You’d like to know more about how to use this model, please don’t hesitate to contact us at

How Engaged and Active is Your Board?

Nadia Prescott

Often, I hear staff complaining that their board is not active and board members are not attending meetings. If this is a problem in your organization, look inward and start asking yourself the question: What are you doing to keep your board members engaged? Remember, they are volunteers, and there might be something you can do differently to encourage their participation.

A good place to start is looking at your orientation process, especially if you have an organization with complex programs. Do you just hand people a brochure, or do you take the time to invest in your new board members with a specially designed orientation process that includes program descriptions, staff meet and greets, and presentations of compelling stories about the people who have benefited from your services. Have you laid out your board giving policy so there are no surprises? When I joined my first board, nobody explained there was a board giving policy and I was completely taken aback when I got a letter with the board pledge form.

Next, consider who is on your board. Is it primarily comprised of a group of individuals who have been working with the organization for a long time? If so, and you introduce a new board member, are you mindful that the new member might feel like an outsider? I always recommend that organizations bring in three or four new board members at the same time to avoid this potential problem. It is also important to consider the culture of your organization in general, and your board in particular. Does the environment encourage and welcome questions during board meetings? Remember – any new board member will have many questions since they recognize they are legally and financially responsible for the organization. You WANT them to ask questions, and feel comfortable doing so. If your organization is complex, consider pairing a long standing board member with a new member as part of a mentoring process for the first few months of their tenure.

Consider giving back to your board members by educating them. For example, many board members do not have a financial background, nor do they understand the financial challenges faced by non-profits. And since most adults don’t like looking stupid in front of other people, anticipate this educational need beforehand and provide some training. Set a new precedent by providing education to your board members on a quarterly basis. Make sure you offer something which will add value to them. Finance and fundraising are always good topics!

And finally take a look at your board meeting agenda. Is it forward thinking, or are board members going to give up two hours of their time to talk about what happened in the past month. Make sure your agenda is strategic and that you think about the outcome you want from each session. Discuss with board members the importance of reading committee meeting minutes beforehand because topics at the board meeting and decisions required are going to be based off of information provided in those minutes. And make sure you send out those minutes at least a week to 10 days in advance of the meeting. Remember your board members have full-time jobs!

How Do I Get My Board On-Board with Fundraising?

Nadia Prescott

Let’s face it, board members typically don’t like fundraising! But it’s a very important part of their role, especially if you are small organization with no development staff. If you are lucky, you will have one or two people with some fundraising experience on your board to help lead the effort. If not, you will need to set this as priority and get your board educated so they become active partners in ensuring the financial health of your organization

For both start-up and mature organizations, there are a number of ways to get your board members involved with fundraising that don’t require making phone calls or visiting donors in-person. You can start slowly by following two simple steps:

  • Ensure board members attend all planned fundraising events. Arrange for them to meet the individuals whose lives have been positively impacted by your organization so they can be inspired to do more.
  • Use board meetings as a platform for hearing directly from board members about what inspires them about your organization. Invite them to tell their story about why they joined your organization and what they hope to accomplish. You’ll get some amazing answers and generate a lot of energy that will help you motivate fundraising involvement.

What many board members often don’t understand is how to use information they learn from clients, each other and their own personal journey to make fundraising less onerous and more rewarding. They tend to think of fundraising as something separate versus an opportunity to speak passionately about your organization’s mission, successes, and why they joined your board in the first place. If you can help them make this leap, your ability to engage your board in raising money will be easier and your board will be more enthusiastic participants in the fundraising efforts. It’s win- win.

There are several tools and strategies you can provide to your board to support their engagement in successful fundraising (see February, April and June newsletters for suggestions). To learn more about how to get your board involved in fundraising, visit to and download the webinar on Fundraising Planning. It’s one in a series of useful and simple to understand webinars designed to give you an overview of how to maximize your fundraising strategies.

When Did You Last Do a Board Self-Assessment?

Nadia Prescott

A board that is often so focused on the organization that it rarely takes the time to reflect on its own performance is headed for trouble. Few boards evaluate their performance on a regular basis because they feel they are doing the job they are supposed to, and won’t learn anything new from a self-assessment.

Consider implementing a board evaluation process that combines a simple board survey with a focus on the organization that also includes feedback from the Executive Director. This forum is a great basis to start a meaningful conversation about areas for improvement. Often times, an executive director will have excellent ideas about what is needed to move forward, and how the board can participate in a more effective manner. For example, perhaps the organization has started to grow its individual giving, and now it is time for board members to help out making phone calls and attending donor meetings.

Put together a team to focus on a board assessment initiative in 2017. You can find lots of templates online for questions to include in your assessment. Make sure that the questions are open ended and demonstrate you care about what your board members have to say. The right questions can help foster a sense of commitment and shared purpose, such as: If there were two things you would change about the board, what would they be? What makes you most proud of the board? What do you think are the accomplishments for the board and the organization this past year? The assessment doesn’t need to be long. It just needs to ask the right questions to move you forward and energize your board. Have your team analyze the responses and select the most important topics for a discussion. Spend time at the following board meeting discussing results, and make sure your board members feel heard and valued.

For further information on board advances (we move forward at Emerging Executive and focus on the future!) or real-time strategic planning processes, contact us at

Set Organization up for Success – Plan, Execute and Achieve your Goals in 2017

Nadia Prescott

A board is ultimately responsible for the success or failure of an organization. To do their job well, a board must operate under a well articulated plan. This is particularly crucial in an ever changing world where local and world events often impact gift-giving. In the last six months of 2016, we experienced Brexit, a huge corporate move for GE to Massachusetts), Hurricane Matthew and the US election.

In any given year, the potential impact of important and often unexpected events should be factored in when considering how best to plan for your organization’s future financial health. When developing your financial strategy, ask yourself the following questions: How could these types of events impact my organization? Are government funding sources going to
stay the same or decrease as a result? Is my fundraising plan diversified enough? Do I have the right number and mix of board members to address the changing landscape?

Smart businesspeople — and you will have many of them on your board – engage in this type of critical thinking exercise every year. They review comprehensive data expenses, sales trends (fundraising, if you are a nonprofit organization), local and world events and economic conditions from the past year. They use this information to predict reasonable projections for the future. Goal development naturally evolves from this process.

Forward thinking for-profit organizations look for opportunities to take advantage of what is happening around them to further their own mission.

They make strategic business decisions based on current market forces impacting systems, processes and people. For example, they will determine whether their current business environment make it possible to increase sales by 30% over the next year, without adding resources. Or whether it makes more sense to increase revenue by partnering with another organization to increase sales.

You can apply this same methodology even if you are heading up a mission driven non-profit organization. As part of your strategic planning process, you should consider all possible options for best attaining your goals. Should you go it alone, or is it better to evaluate how a partnership or collaboration with another agency that could help you survive? Where will needed funding come from, and is it time to look beyond those strategies you have always relied on?

Identifying the steps you need to take to get what you need for your organization is an important part of the process, and can mean the difference between success and failure. This usually requires assessing and reassessing your goals in the context of what is happening around you, how those events could impact your strategy, and how best to adapt to your reality.

Rely on your team to help guide you. Not only will their feedback help you, it will help them feel more ownership in the organization’s future as well. Carefully evaluate what you learned from last year’s achievements, disappointments and failures, and use this knowledge to develop appropriate plans and expectations for this year.

Whatever your goals are, be very clear as a team (board and staff) about what you are willing and unwilling to do. It’s ok to say no – in fact – sometimes it’s very important to set limits so that you can focus on what is takes to sustain your organization’s mission.

Focus on developing realistic goals that are attainable and that will support your organization’s overall mission. Be bold, but be realistic.

For further information on board advances (we move forward at Emerging Executive and focus on the future!) or real-time strategic planning processes, contact us at

What is a Fundraising Case, and Why Do I Need One Anyway?

Nadia Prescott

Almost every time I work with an organization, I am questioned about the need to develop a fundraising case. Most people believe that fundraising cases are only necessary for large organizations, like universities or hospitals, who approach donors for major endowment gifts. While that may be true, it is equally true that 85% of charitable dollars come from individual donors (see February newsletter for additional details) who support smaller non-profits.

Every organization soliciting charitable giving needs a fundraising case. In fact, creating this document is arguably one of the most tasks that a nonprofit organization undertakes, regardless of size or status. Developing a fundraising case allows you an opportunity to clearly articulate your vision to the rest of your organization and to the community at large, and will support any future fundraising ventures. By outlining a strong case for what you are asking for, and how it will help sustain the organization long term, you are helping to support your board and staff in prospecting future donors. Without a compelling story, you won’t able to raise money!

Your fundraising case should set the tone for what you want to achieve. It declares the mission of the organization, states its accomplishments and most importantly, outlines your vision for attaining future financial goals and why that matters. It invites donors to buy into your vision. Good case statements tell your story effectively. They combine compelling personal vignettes describing client successes with the cold hard facts about the realities of what is required to be a positive force in the world. A good case story should create a sense of urgency and inspire potential donors to take action and invest in your mission.

Your organization’s case should be very carefully thought-out and constructed, and include participation from both your board and staff as it will become the platform for all marketing and fundraising strategies throughout the year. Stories should be updated regularly to reflect new accomplishments, describe heartwarming client success stories, and include compelling call-to-action messages from your board members.

To learn how to get started developing your fundraising case, visit and download the webinar on Fundraising Planning. It’s one in a series of useful and simple to understand webinars designed to give you an overview of how to maximize your fundraising strategies.

How Developing Resiliency Will Improve Your Leadership Capabilities

Nadia Prescott

The more you learn how to leverage challenges as opportunities to grow, the more resilient you are likely to become. Developing resiliency results in better leadership. All of us experience pain, both personally and professionally. But some of us suffer much more than others and are unable to use experiences as growth vehicles. I always say pain is informative, suffering is optional. But why do some people handle stressful events better than others? And why can some people use these experiences to improve their leadership skills while others don’t seem to have this ability?

People who weather storms more effectively tend to view the world through a specific lens. Instead of focusing on the negative, they view challenges as welcome learning opportunities. This doesn’t mean they ignore their very real feelings of anger, sadness, or disappointment. It’s just means that they view these feelings with a questioning mindset.

What resilient people do is immediately look at a problem or situation and
ask themselves, ‘What just happened? What’s the solution? What can I learn from this situation?’ ‘What is possible?’ And perhaps most importantly, ‘How can I use this experience to be a better leader?’ Having the ability to ask and answer these questions about your own behavior can change your frame of mind. You become more open and willing to explore growth opportunities, which helps you move forward, solve problems and be seen as an effective, even-minded leader.

But often, we are not aware of the need to ask ourselves self-reflective questions, nor are we aware of the underlying issues that influence assumptions, behaviors and reactions. For example, if your boss calls you out at work, do you automatically respond defensively, perhaps the way you did as a child when confronted by a teacher or a parent? Becoming more conscious of how you react to certain ‘button-pushing’ situations will help you develop both resiliency and leadership skills.

As a first step, train yourself to become more observant. Think about which few questions to ask yourself under adverse circumstances, and practice using them. Observing and understanding how you react to certain situations will help you become a better listener and improve the quality of your life and relationships both at home and work. Think carefully about the distinction between pain and suffering. If pain is informative, what is required to move forward? And if suffering is optional, are you focusing only on the negative?

Developing this skill takes time, and sometimes requires the help of an executive coach. However, it is well worth the investment of time and effort as becoming self-aware is one of best tools you have for becoming resilient, creating positive change and maximizing your leadership potential. Here are some simple tips to help you build resiliency:

  1. If you find yourself focusing on a negative thought, ask yourself what
    evidence exists that this particular thought is true.
  2. When a problem presents itself, ask yourself what is the hidden
    opportunity to either solve the problem or learn more about
  3. Add some simple acts of kindness into your life. Help a neighbor, or
  4. Take care of your health and have some fun. When you feel better,
    you are less likely to focus on the negative.
  5. Laugh. We all know laughter is the best medicine!

To learn more about becoming resilient and fighting negativity, check out Dr. Marilee Adams’ titled: Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 7 Powerful Tools for Life and Work.

Training Others how to Treat Us- For Better or Worse!

Nadia Prescott

When I first moved to the US in 1996, I was working as VP of Marketing in Silicon Valley. It was an exhausting 24/7 job, characterized by high-energy, high-power, and high expectations. I was known as the person who always got things done. I wore that badge of honor with pride, even though that meant responding to emails at 3 AM. I would spend my nights semi-sleeping, just waiting for the next ping or a red flagged email in Lotus Notes to come my way. Of course, I just had to respond immediately in order to maintain my reputation. And the more I responded, the more work came my way. By 2002, I had done myself in, and had to go out on disability with a repetitive strain injury. I was angry, conflicted and scared. More importantly, I placed all the blame on the company for demanding too much work and being poorly organized.

Unfortunately, I had failed to identify and understand my role in creating the situation. It took a long time working with my coach to finally come to terms with this. In my zeal to impress, I had successfully trained everyone that I was available at their disposal at all hours of the day and night. The word ‘boundaries’ did not exist in my vocabulary. I finally recognized that I was at least 50% responsible for creating this situation.

When I coach people now, and hear them complaining about other people or their own situation, my first question is “what is your role in creating this?” We often don’t realize how much we contribute to building our reputations in the workplace. By way of another example, if you consistently arrive late for a meeting or frequently cancel at the last minute, you are most likely developing a reputation as someone who is not committed or worse – is disrespectful of other people’s time. Be mindful that you are sending a powerful message to the people around you, and they in turn are forming their own impressions of who you are. You are training them by your behavior. Consciously or subconsciously, you are sending the message that you are unreliable and uncommitted. To be the best leader possible, take some time to reflect on the messages you send to your team by virtue of your behavior. You are responsible for creating the impression you want people to have of you. If you recognize yourself in either of the scenarios described above, think about setting reasonable boundaries and committing yourself to always being on time for meetings. More importantly, try to understand what motivation you have for projecting the image you are creating for yourself.

Processing with your executive coach is an excellent idea if you think you need to make some changes. I needed this guidance to help me learn how to establish appropriate boundaries. I now know how to say no, but I often still have to check in with myself to make sure I am doing what’s best for me. It’s a never ending journey, but as a result, my relationships both at work and on a personal level are much healthier.

If you would like to learn more about how to train those around you or how to set good boundaries, contact us at

Start off 2017 with a Fundraising Plan

Nadia Prescott

Why do you need to do develop a fundraising plan? So your fundraising activities are proactive, organized, visible and most importantly – successful!

Developing a well- crafted fundraising plan provides you the opportunity to
articulate your financial vision for the organization. It should clearly identify tangible and realistic goals that are achievable using different income sources.

Depending on the size of your organization, fundraising activities can include a
range of approaches including grants, gala events, gifts from both board member and other individuals, and major donor sponsorships. Your fundraising plan should be a living document, like a dashboard, that provides your board with an ongoing snapshot of how well you are doing in meeting your fundraising goals and identify when you may need to take corrective action. One of the most important functions of a well-developed fundraising plan is to keep your board engaged and involved with your fundraising efforts. They need to know what’s happening, and what you expect of them to ensure success. If they don’t know, they can’t help!

If you have traditionally relied only on grants for funding, you might want to
consider adding individual gift-giving as part of your fundraising strategy. Grants can take three to four months to be funded – individuals can write a check immediately. Remember that 85% of charitable dollars given each year comes from individual donors (Giving USA). And by the way, about 60% of those individual gifts come from people over 60. Money from individual donors gives you access to unrestricted cash – which is the best kind! You can use this demographic information about potential donors to help you develop your own plan. Ask yourself the following questions: Am I planning to raise money from
individual donors, and if so, how much and from whom? What activities do I have scheduled that will appeal to my target audience (an annual appeal, a spring appeal, house parties, a big event), and should I plan events for a number of different audiences to increase my chances of success? Even if you haven’t previously developed a formal fundraising plan that includes soliciting from individual donors, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set a goal to start in 2017.

And finally, when constructing your organization’s fundraising plan, include a
number of different communication strategies, such as hard copy mailings, emails and social media. You want to make sure you have covered all the bases when appealing to a wide range of donor audiences.

To learn more about how to set up an effective fundraising plan, visit and download the webinar on
Fundraising Planning. It’s one in a series of useful and simple to understand
webinars designed to give you an overview of how to maximize your fundraising