by Josh Jacobson
Today is the official launch of CULTIVATE and boy are we excited! I can’t properly put into words how great it feels to know that an idea we had as the Next Stage team, something we’ve pined for and into which we poured so much sweat equity, is finally coming to fruition. It’s scary and wonderful.
CULTIVATE is our answer to a pressing need – emerging nonprofits in Charlotte with dynamic leadership, quality programming and initial achievement too often struggle to translate that early success into a sustainable business model. Our firm has worked one-on-one with so many of these amazing, visionary founders and leaders, and we know what is in their hearts. Believing that we can help them achieve their visions and make the world a better place is the gas that fuels our engine.
With the help of our world-class selection committee, we have secured the participation of four fantastic emerging nonprofits – organizations that are intentionally diverse in mission and make-up. We know that the benefits of CULTIVATE will not only be from the structured curriculum, but also from the cohort model and the social capital developed with the network we are bringing to bear.
Today is the very first workshop with our CULTIVATE participants, a half-day hands-on workshop where they will dive into the deep end with our very favorite set of topics: mission, values, guiding principles and vision.
W-w-wait, did I lose you? Is that a yawn I see? Did you navigate away from this impassioned plea for better and more fully-realized organizational building blocks?
It can be difficult to get folks excited by organizational components that are too often considered philosophical and superfluous. But at Next Stage, we consider these concepts to be necessary, fundamental and even sacrosanct for future success. In fact, we will begin our first workshop with mission, values, guiding principles and vision, and in the final workshop later this year, we will revisit these concepts. They are that important.
We all know about the mission statement. It lives on the website and is at the bottom of letterhead. It is a simple construct defining the organization’s purpose, what groups or individuals it serves, and very basically how it plans to do so.
We know about the mission statement because, of all of the concepts we’ll cover this month, it is the only one requested by the IRS when the organization files its establishing documentation as a 501c3 nonprofit organization. Since nonprofits are public organizations, owned by all people and managed on their behalf by a board of directors, the IRS is interested primarily in how the organization exists for the greater good.
According to (deep breath) part 7, chapter 25, section 3, item 1.1 of the U.S. tax code, organizations that are tax exempt must exist for “religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals.” The terms “charitable” and “education” are quite broad, and justifying one’s mission is a fairly easy process. Simple right?
Wrong. Since most mission statements are initially drafted in service to filing the application to the IRS, they tend to be less examined components of the business model. There is little scrutiny by the community the organization actually serves. Unanswered questions for most: “should you exist?” “Is your mission needed and meaningful?” “Are you the best group to do it?” If we know that these questions are in the back of the mind for the potential stakeholder of a nonprofit, would that not inform how the mission statement is crafted in the first place? We tend to think so, and if the mission is meant to be the main idea of the organization’s value proposition and the centerpiece of messaging, it should probably zing.
Values and Guiding Principles
If mission is the “what” of the organization, values define “how” – how the mission is carried out, how constituents are messaged and how decisions are made. Guiding principles are “applied values” meant to govern action and define a brand of those actions for people who interact with the organization. Guiding principles inform process and the actualizing of a set of values.
We believe the marriage of values and processes translate into internal organizational culture and external brand. Organizations that spend time prioritizing their values and processes for putting them into practice are much more likely to be magnetizing for others, because those values radiate in every communication and interaction.
While the individual values of the founder are an important starting place, organizational values necessarily must be an expression of the many people who make an organization viable – its board, staff, volunteers, donors and individuals served. While a founder may be initially successful using personal values to recruit board members, volunteers and donors, those that successfully on-board people as torch bearers should invite them to also inform values. When we are connected at the value level and help create guiding principles, we tend to be more bought-in and accountable.
The exercise CULTIVATE participants will engage in this month is focused on values and guiding principles because too few organizations have them or elevate them effectively. We would argue this is a significant source of challenge to the growing nonprofit.
If you’ve met me and Caylin, you know how incredibly passionate we are about vision. Of all of these important concepts, we feel vision is the single most important one toward increasing an organization’s chances for sustainability. Because without vision, an organization’s leadership is unlikely to win the hearts and minds of the people they need to be successful.
Vision can be expressed in two ways – an enduring vision and a time-limited vision. An enduring vision is the hoped-for utopia for which we all strive. For a homeless shelter, it may be the eradication of homelessness. For a cancer charity, it is the development of a cure. An enduring vision is the organizing philosophy for what we hope to achieve over the long haul. But an enduring vision is typically black or white. We are toiling away until someday we are no longer needed, because the need we address no longer exists. An enduring vision is a black-or-white concept – until total success is achieved, we are on the path working toward it.
CULTIVATE participants will be focused as much on defining the enduring vision of their organizations as they are on the time-limited vision. At Next Stage, we are often helping organizations establish stakeholder buy-in on a ten-year vision – over the next decade, where is the organization going? What does success look like over that ten-year horizon? This is where we ask organizations to be brave, to take risks and be willing to stake themselves out on something that may feel enormous and overwhelming. We do this because an organization’s constituency needs to be inspired, and if the organization’s leadership is unwilling to “go there,” it shouldn’t be surprising when donors and volunteers jump ship for other, more dynamic organizations. People need to believe in the organization’s ability to create change, and that begins with a confident, unified leadership expressing measurable ambition inspirationally.
This topic will be introduced to CULTIVATE participants in January but will be a year-long backdrop for the strategic business planning process.
The Road Ahead
So that’s the first month of CULTIVATE in a nutshell – the first of 12 modules of content delivery designed to help participating organizations develop a strategic business model for the long haul. We look forward to sharing with you the content of our incubator and invite you to engage in this topic on Facebook. The participating CULTIVATE organizations need new recruits to help them achieve their goals, and we hope this effort will stir up new resources. If you want to learn more or to get involved, contact Caylin Viales at firstname.lastname@example.org and Josh Jacobson at email@example.com. We’d love to help you plug in.
Launched in January 2018, CULTIVATE is providing four participating nonprofits in-depth training and coaching on core monthly topics focused on organizational development and strategic business planning. The curriculum for CULTIVATE includes one-on-one work and personalized coaching with the Next Stage Consulting team, online assignments managed through a learning management system, small group workshops for the four participating organizations and community engagement activities designed to increase social capital.
Josh Jacobson is Managing Director of Next Stage Consulting, a Charlotte-based firm focused on organizational development and fund development for the nonprofit sector. Next Stage Consulting provides organizations access to affordable, high-quality consulting services to help them “get to the next level.” Josh is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) and is President Elect for the Charlotte Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.