Introducing Next Stage’s Summer Intern: Savannah Dukes

by Savannah Dukes

Hello, readers! My name is Savannah, and this summer, I have the opportunity to intern with Next Stage through the Davidson Nonprofit Leadership Fellows Program. I know, you might be asking the question: “Why is a Nonprofit Leadership Fellow interning with a social entrepreneurship company?”

I have had the opportunity to work with a number of nonprofits before, and I wanted to experience a different approach to social impact this summer by interning with a company focused on capacity building for individual nonprofits as well as the sector as a whole.

A little bit of background on me – I am from southern California and will be a senior at Davidson in the fall. I am majoring in Political Science and minoring in Health and Human Values. Last year, I spent a semester living in Geneva, Switzerland studying global health and development while gaining exposure to and connecting with some of my favorite NGOs, including Doctors Without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

In my spare time, I have served as Vice President of International Justice Mission for the last three years and am a member of Rusk Eating House (Davidson’s version of a sorority). I also lead backpacking trips and enjoy snowboarding and wakeboarding. Since I have spent most of my time up in Davidson and surrounding towns, I am looking forward to spending the summer exploring all of Charlotte’s trendy food and coffee spots and getting a taste for life in the city.

My interest in the nonprofit sector was first sparked in high school, when I travelled on a few mission trips to places like Argentina, Ethiopia, China, and the Dominican Republic. These trips became the foundation of my passion for social justice issues. Upon coming to college, I quickly became involved in International Justice Mission, and my interest in social justice and community needs such as human trafficking has continued to grow.

In the spring of my sophomore year, I took Davidson’s Philanthropy and Nonprofit Sector course, where I learned more about the local nonprofit community and became familiar with a number of wonderful organizations in Charlotte. That year, I was also a student ambassador at Social Venture Partner’s Seed20 Competition. I partnered with Philip’s Academy and learned the importance of being able to clearly articulate and pitch your vision. Good intentions are not enough for a nonprofit to be successful – a strong mission and theory of change are essential to building a sustainable organization in Charlotte’s competitive arena of innumerable nonprofits.

Last summer, I gained first-hand experience of what a career in the nonprofit sector could look like through my internship at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC). My time at CHOC involved interning in both the legal and foundation departments, where I worked on guardianship cases and in-house legal issues, as well as on planning for the hospital’s largest fundraising event, the CHOC Walk at Disneyland, which raised over $2 million last year. I was a part of the special events team and helped with volunteer coordination, donor outreach, and overall event planning for this major fundraiser. This internship was especially meaningful to me, as I came out of my time there with the confidence and realization that a career in the nonprofit sector is something I could see myself doing and loving.

Coming into this summer, I am looking forward to gaining a new perspective on the nonprofit world from Next Stage’s approach to strategic planning and organizational development. I am excited to learning more about the ins and outs of what makes nonprofits successful – What makes for a strong business model? How can we help founders become effective leaders? What does it take for an emerging nonprofit to become a niche organization? I am looking forward to meeting the wide range of clients Next Stage works with and seeing how Next Stage helps those already doing incredible work become even more effective in serving our community.

In particular, a few things I would like to learn more about in the nonprofit sector this summer include:

  • Gaining insight into best practices and strategies for fundraising – I know that fundraising is essential to a nonprofit’s survival. It seems that there are a number of crucial aspects in play when it comes to fundraising – from having a charismatic leader, to having measurable results and a theory of change, to having strong connections, and so forth. With so many different pieces to balance – how nonprofits should focus their efforts to make for the most effective and successful fundraising strategy is something I look forward to gaining a better grasp on in the coming months.
  • Learning how organizations can most effectively set themselves apart in the midst of so many nonprofits working towards similar goals – It can be seen as both a blessing and a curse that Charlotte has such a vast number of nonprofits. On one hand, the large number of nonprofits in our city illustrates the great compassion here; the number of people who see problems and are motivated enough to do something to work to bring a change. However, with so many different 501c3s operating there is overlap in what organizations are doing. While this allows for shared ideas and much good being done, it also creates an arena of competition where nonprofits must contend with one another for funding and work harder to stand out from the rest. Organizations must find a way to set themselves apart and differentiate their models by promoting what makes them unique in accomplishing their mission. Through my time with Next Stage, I would like to gain deeper insight into how nonprofits should approach becoming a niche organization in order to stand out.
  • Better understanding the leadership deficit our nonprofit sector is facing – Lastly, in my first few weeks at Next Stage I have done some early research about the nonprofit leadership deficit in Charlotte and throughout the US. I have learned that a variety of factors, including competitive salaries and benefits in other sectors, the failure of many nonprofits to invest in homegrown leaders, the retirement of the baby boomer generation, an increase in for-profits engaging in social good activities, and more are all components that have contributed to this deficit. I am excited to continue researching this topic and to learn more about how Charlotte can invest in its nonprofit leadership recruitment and retention to address this growing challenge.

I’m just two weeks into my internship, but I am already so excited about the numerous nonprofits I have met through Next Stage’s incubator, CULTIVATE, and the firm’s other client partnerships. Our city is lucky to have so many passionate leaders working toward social good, and I know I will learn a lot from them about my future career in the nonprofit sector.

I am greatly looking forward to spending my summer with Next Stage!



CULTIVATE: Building a Pipeline of Individual Donors (Module #6)

For most emerging organizations, the dividing line between just making ends meet and true sustainability lies in developing a solid base of private funding from individuals.  When leaders in philanthropy talk about diversifying revenue, they are usually talking about increasing the base of individual giving.

Emerging organizations are too often focused on institutional giving in the form of sponsorships and grants – funding that is far less likely to go to an organization without a track record. Institutional funding is attractive because it is likely to be larger sums than are initially possible from individuals, and because the sources of institutional funding invite requests. Fewer private individuals are likely to advertise that they are open for solicitation.

And yet, of all private giving to nonprofits, 72% comes from individual donors. And while a good portion of that sum is from very wealthy individuals with the capacity to give in the millions of dollars, there are many more donors of more modest sums who are the lifeblood of the social good sector – $100, $1,000 and $10,000 gifts are the bedrock of support that help to ensure sustainable operations year in and year out.

Organizations participating in CULTIVATE will learn best practices for increasing contributions from individuals through exploration of the following topics:

Embracing the Moves Management Model
Generating revenue from individuals is not magic – it isn’t something that just happens. The best nonprofit leaders understand that private contribution success is not a function of the individual waking up one day and deciding to make the gift, but rather the payoff of much hard work to move that person to action. In this way the nonprofit leader is empowered, deriving confidence from the knowledge that fundraising success is in the hands of that leader and not subject to the whims of philanthropists.

The framework for this concept is the moves management model which suggests a cycle of identification, communication, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship that develops a donor from day one. Also expressed as a funnel or a pyramid, the development cycle is a way of thinking about how people learn, experience and make decisions. CULTIVATE participants will map a new target constituency through a moves management construct.

Deepening Engagement
Once an individual makes a gift to an organization, the decision to make another gift (or a larger gift) similarly depends on the actions of the nonprofit.  Retention of donors is a significant challenge for nonprofits, with nonprofits only retaining 48% of their donors year over year. With such turnover, nonprofit founders must run awfully hard just to stay in place. Many donors suggest that the lack of communication or receiving the wrong sort of information was a contributing factor to their decision not to renew their support.

Organizations raising funds from individuals must consider separate strategies for acquiring donors and keeping them, increasing their sense of belonging and giving them a feeling of leadership for their alignment with a mission. Participating CULTIVATE organizations will understand the four important tipping points in the relationship with donors and how to achieve success at each.

Developing a Mix of Individual Giving Strategies
When nonprofits first start out, their leaders are apt to think of fundraising in tactical terms – e.g. an event or an appeal letter. Success comes from understanding the development cycle and the role of solicitation as a part of a series of activities. Still, the manner in which an organization chooses to ask for funding is important – ask strategies must be aligned with the nonprofit’s brand and mission.

Solicitation strategies fall into three categories – the annual fund, major gifts and planned gifts. There are many ask strategies in each of these three categories, with a corresponding use of the funds. While most early growth organizations pine for major gifts that would unleash the potential in missions, they must first work to build the annual fund as a critical first step in fundraising. Organizations involved with CULTIVATE are no exception.

We’re Half-Way Thorugh!
It is remarkable that CULTIVATE is almost half-way through! Many thanks to all who have been following along. The participants are doing a great job!

Up Next: Mastering Grantsmanship

CULTIVATE: Seeking Partnerships That Make Sense (Module #5)

Since all nonprofit organizations are public institutions, they function as a web of social good services serving the best interests of those who empower them – the people of any municipality. In this way, they can be compared to departments of government with each serving a specific need that collaboratively make up a system of supports.

But unlike a system of government, which typically roles up collectively to one manager or body of governance, nonprofits are disconnected from each other, managed by independent boards who rarely spend time to connect across organizations. As a result, our nonprofits are silos of their own design.

This fact gets little attention from individual donors (unlike the lack of efficiency and effectiveness in government, which is a central focus of many voters), but it does get the attention of grantmakers and foundations who bemoan the lack of collaboration between organizations seeking funding. To-date, it has traditionally been the funding community that has promoted nonprofit partnerships, and unfortunately it has produced primarily weak and disinterested collaboration. Lacking proper understanding and incentive to seek partners, nonprofits are largely content to conservatively protect their resources and maintain a closed system for programming, facility, resource development and human resources.

And yet, there are many mission-focused reasons to seek collaboration. It can be a fast-track to achieving programmatic success and can help to ensure sustainability by design well before the exhaustion sets in. In May, CULTIVATE participants are exploring opportunities for partnerships, learning more about unique integration models, and designing a plan for implementing partnerships that make sense.

Specific areas of study include:

Accessing Partnership Potential
As is the case in previous modules, the first step to assessing partnership potential is to engage in an organizational audit. Opportunities to collaborate in the areas of programming, facility, resource development and human resources are possible for most organizations. Determining the goals and metrics for these collaborations can take more time to determine but are needed before engagement with would-be partners can be effective. A period of research is needed to ensure due diligence.

CULTIVATE participants will conduct an internal audit, identifying areas of their business models that could benefit from formal collaboration. It is the goal to bake in this sort of analysis for future consideration.

Exploring Partnership/Integration Models
Collaborative efforts can be accomplished across a wide spectrumin three categories – independent, interdependent and integrated. Emerging organizations must give consideration to each type of partnership, considering if it is critical to “own” all aspects of the theory of change. Growth and impact may be best served by maximizing effort through leveraging preexisting resources.

CULTIVATE participants are learning that they need not “go it alone” on all aspects of their business models.

Designing & Implementing Partnerships
Collaborative efforts are rarely easy and require a strong plan to be successful. Pre-work is likely to include outreach, documentation and trust-building. Funding is likely needed to make the partnership a success, and collaboration on the pursuit of revenue may be needed. Once implemented, the collaborative effort should be tested first in a pilot phase, with outcomes positive and negative used as feedback to strengthen the collaboration. Clear goals and ways to measure impact are keys to success.

Throughout this module, CULTIVATE participants are considering ways to test and further explore partnership potential. The cohort model for the incubator is useful – CULTIVATE itself is a form of collaboration.

Next Up: Building a Pipeline of Individual Donors

CULTIVATE: Sourcing & Optimizing Volunteers and Staff (Module #4)

by Josh Jacobson

What happens in a growing nonprofit when paid staff are added to a mostly- or all-volunteer workforce?  If you assume that nothing changes, think again.

While much of the early years of a nonprofit will be focused on generating revenue, human resources are more likely how the mission gets fueled. Passionate people who care about making the mission a reality will be needed in multitudes for any organization to achieve success.  How these people are recruited will have a bearing on the ways in which the organization will mature, and good preparation now can save headaches later.

In April, CULTIVATE (our incubator for emerging nonprofits in Charlotte) is focused on creating a design for the human resources that will make organnizations more viable.  For most organizations, this process begins with sourcing individuals who will volunteer their time in the trenches of a nonprofit, delivering programming without compensation.  As the organization matures and succeeds in raising revenue, those volunteer roles can be formalized as contractors, part-time employees, and eventually full-time staff who own the responsibility of both programming and operations.

But of course there is a catch – maintaining the culture as the organization builds stronger processes is no easy task. CULTIVATE participants are looking at the entire nonprofit HR continuum, from volunteer acquisition and management to staffing up with minimal negative impact.

Volunteer Acquisition & Management

Nonprofit organizations are likely to view volunteers in two camps – either as a necessity to take on programming and operational roles in lieu of paid staff, or as a filtering process to source board members and encourage contributed revenue.  Smart emerging organizations view them as both and create an intentional process to source and engage them that evolves over time as the organization grows.

CULTIVATE participants are looking inside their organizations to identify volunteer opportunities, designing methods of engagement to source new volunteers and a plan for onboarding them.

Professionalizing with Staff

Few organizations can stay all-volunteer forever – success and/or exhaustion is likely to set in and the need for paid contractors and staff roles will be unavoidable.  Figuring out how to grow the organization is a critical early problem-solving opportunity.  The order of new paid roles tells a story about an organization’s planning for sustainability.

CULTUVATE participants are learning the importance of an intentional plan that structures for success and builds capacity to continue growing. Participants will also explore setting expectations and assessing achievement in paid roles.

Human Resource Dynamics

The shift to a paid staff is an important one for any organization and is too often one done without a thoughtful plan resulting in unforeseen challenges.  What the founder views as necessity in service to mission others in the organization can as a change to the culture and sense of family.  Still other founders have difficulty giving up control of programmatic details, decreasing efficiency and setting up new staff to fail.

CULTUVATE participants are exploring the nuances of organizational change with a specific focus on proactive culture shifting, collective leadership and whole-organization succession planning.

Yes, There Will Be Homework

CULTIVATE participants are working on staffing plans for their organizations that will serve as a building block of their strategic business plans. The goal is for them to be able to describe different growth scenarios and the impact those avenues will have on their staffing plan. No one can predict the future, but one can be prepared for opportunities as they are uncovered.

Next Up: Partnerships That Make Sense

CULTIVATE: Strengthening the Board of Directors (Module #3)

by Josh Jacobson

Throughout 2018, Next Stage will share the progress of organizations participating in the inaugural year of CULTIVATE, the firm’s incubator for emerging nonprofit organizations in the Charlotte area. The year is broken into 12 modules lasting one month in length. In March, CULTIVATE participants are focused on strengthening the board of directors. 

A distinguishing factor of nearly all nonprofit organizations with strong, long-term outcomes is a high-performing board of directors.  It is a fundamental building block.  Some organizations may be able to overcome a weak board for a period of time, but the passage of time tends to ferret those nonprofits out. There simply is no surrogate for a dynamic, bought-in board.

Nonprofits are certainly unique business models – the governance responsibility for managing these public assets is placed in the hands of volunteer leaders who are rarely compensated for their efforts. These volunteers must work collaboratively to serve the best interests of all people, not just the individuals prioritized in the organization’s mission statement.  There is no other system quite like it.  Very likely with good reason – it is rife with potential pitfalls.

The March work of CULTIVATE participants has been devoted to designing, launching and maintaining a plan for optimizing their boards.  Whether an organization is in its initial stages of building its first board of directors or at an important turning point of moving past the founding board to find new recruits, the March curriculum for CULTIVATE suggests creating a strong governance platform in service to future growth.

Governance Design

The board of directors for most emerging organizations look pretty similar – a handful of individuals sourced from the founder’s network mixed with individuals who have been inspired to join along the way.  As the organization experiences success, the design of the board becomes increasingly important – what was once a helpful group of volunteers who were taking their cues from the founder must become a system of leadership through which the founder works. This “flipping” of the board, from following to leading, occurs in nearly every organization that succeeds beyond a decade, and comes with it a design challenge: what is the best way to design a board of directors to serve the long-term needs of the organization?

CULTIVATE participants are exploring methods of structuring the governing board to ensure near-term and long-term success, including the need for other types of volunteer structures, and delineating roles and responsibilities for all volunteers serving in a leadership capacity.

Sourcing Strategy

With the governance structure well-articulated, the next step is to attract volunteers who are willing to do the work.  This is no easy task and requires thoughtfulness.  There is no more frustrating outcome for a nonprofit founder or executive director than to realize too late that the wrong person has joined their board – an activity that can result in not only lost time and resources but potentially also discord and in extreme cases mutiny.

That’s right, I said mutiny, at least in the eyes of the founder who has placed his or her trust in the hands of a group of others. These others are often not the same people who “walked the walk” with the founder in the early days, and can be ill-suited for the ups and downs of the “emerging nonprofit” phase of the organization’s lifecycle.

Too often, nonprofit founders are treating “willingness to serve” as the chief criteria when sourcing board members, and this can be a mistake. In March, CULTIVATE participants are learning how to leverage assets in service to board sourcing.  This includes diversifying to span boundaries and building an intentional moves management nomination process encapsulated in a board development plan.

Buy-In & Accountability

It is the word most often aligned with the board of directors – accountability.  Since board members are volunteers, it can be mightily difficult to encourage them to own their governance responsibilities.  Accountable board members are self-motivated to own their responsibilities, and that usually starts on day one.

Show me a nonprofit board and I am certain it has its challenges with accountability. Only the highest flying boards have created the sort of culture that would vote off the island immediately anyone who wasn’t pulling his or her weight. Encouraging accountability is both a singular and group activity.

CULTIVATE participants are designing onboarding strategy for new board members that prepare these new leaders for decision-making.  Participants will also understand a human-centered approach to encouraging accountability and how to implement it with their boards.

Next Up in April: Sourcing & Optimizing Volunteers and Staff (Module #4)

CULTIVATE: Answering the “Why You?” Question (Module #2)

by Josh Jacobson

As we outlined in our last blog introducing the first module of CULTIVATE, there is a very low barrier to entry for people who want to launch a 501c3 nonprofit. Like, really low. Fill out the paperwork and BAM! you have a nonprofit. It’s almost automated.

It is a difficult thing to ask a nonprofit founder, and we’re always nervous when we do, but sometimes it needs to be asked: why does your nonprofit exist? And should it?

The answer to that question should not be an automatic yes. If the only thing that differentiates your nonprofit’s programming is that you are leading it, that is likely insufficient justification.

In this way, nonprofits are very different than for-profit businesses. If you want to start a company that makes t-shirts, you have every right to do so. And if the t-shirts are poorly made and are drab in color, then no one will buy them and your company will go out of business. The marketplace chooses winners and losers, and that’s that.

But nonprofits are public entities that are owned by everyone, and as such are held to a different standard. They are also managed by boards of directors, and an organization with so-so or duplicative programming may be propped up by volunteers and donors who don’t know better. In the world of social good, we often can’t tell good programming from less-good; it isn’t as easy as identifying a poorly made t-shirt. And so nonprofits that have less impactful programs are allowed to continue driving resources to their causes and away from more dynamic nonprofits.

When we hear the old refrain that there are “too many nonprofits,” this is often the argument being made. And yet we know that roughly 90% of revenue to nonprofits in Charlotte go to the top 250 organizations with all the scale. These organizations are far more likely to have differentiated programming and strong, documented outcomes that can be measured.

The tough thing for the emerging organization with something special to offer? It is incredibly difficult to identify them among the ~4,000 other nonprofits fighting for the remaining 10% of revenue. And so it is even more important that dynamic leaders of emerging nonprofits lean in to efforts to build programming fidelity. It is the best way to ensure your nonprofit sticks out, gets noticed and is elevated for increased supports.

Building Program Fidelity (Module #2)

The curriculum of CULTIVATE in February aims to outline how a nonprofit’s leadership should continually be examining the world both inside and outside the organization to ensure its programming is needed, responsive and differentiated.

The curriculum focuses on three key areas:

  • Needs Assessment & Competitive Screen – It is very surprising how little research many nonprofit founders do before launching their organizations. It would be like opening a restaurant with little understanding of local tastes or knowing what other restaurants are nearby. Next Stage champions ongoing research to understand the community needs a nonprofit aims to address as well as the other organizations in the space.
  • Asset Inventory & Competitive Advantage – Differentiation is building block of nonprofit success, and yet is rarely surfaced in the early years of growth.  Emerging nonprofit leaders are apt to find themselves in an echo chamber of positive reinforcement, with few contrarian voices actively challenging preconceived notions. With CULTIVATE, Next Stage encourages a deeper examination by emerging leaders to prepare them for the discernment that comes for all successful organizations. Participating organizations will conduct an asset inventory toward identifying competitive advantages.
  • Program Design – While anecdotal evidence can be meaningful, statistical data that justifies a program’s outcomes is always more desirable. The more evidence you have about the impact of your programming, the stronger your efforts to secure resources will be. A Theory of Change and Logical Framework are two tools CULTIVATE participants will be introduced to with the goal of completing one as a component of the strategic business plan. Assessment  methodologies will be reviewed and data strategies discussed.

In other news, have I mentioned recently how amazing the organizational leaders are with whom we’re working? We feel so good about our work with them and can’t wait to share more about them with you. Stay tuned!

CULTIVATE: Day One – Aligning Values, Mission and Vision (Module #1)

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 and Josh Jacobson at 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.

JoshJosh 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.

Next Stage Consulting Announces the 2018 CULTIVATE Cohort

Charlotte, NC (December 6, 2017) — Next Stage Consulting today announced the selection of four (4) nonprofit organizations for participation in the inaugural 2018 cohort of CULTIVATE, an incubator designed to provide expert strategic and relational supports to emerging social cause organizations based in Mecklenburg County.

These organizations were selected through an in-depth RFP process and assessment by a selection panel of community leaders, including Dianne Bailey (Robinson Bradshaw), Jennifer DeWitt (Duke Energy), Charlie Elberson (Reemprise Fund), Blair Primis (OrthoCarolina) and Charles Thomas (Knight Foundation).  The panel met in late November 2017 to review applications from 26 local organizations, making recommendations for the selection of four finalists.

Selection criteria included commitment and leadership potential of participant, mission and programs that are unique, innovative and differentiated from others in local community, alignment with local priorities, initiatives and current events, and the opportunity for impact and organizational strengthening through CULTIVATE involvement.

The 2018 cohort for CULTIVATE includes:

  • Frances Hall, Founder and Executive Director of the Beatties Ford Road Vocational Training Center – The Beatties Ford Road Vocational Training Center provides students who are chronically underemployed, unemployed or re-entering the community from incarceration skills in construction enabling them to obtain permanent employment and compete for advancement in the construction industry.
  • Tim Miner and Matt Olin, Co-Founders of Charlotte Is Creative – Known by many as the team behind CreativeMornings, Charlotte Is Creative is dedicated to celebrating the creative spirit of Charlotte and to cultivating, supporting and harnessing the innate creativity of all Charlotteans, for the embetterment of our community and the lives of all Charlotteans.
  • Brent Morris, Executive Director of Learning Help Centers of Charlotte – Learning Help Centers of Charlotte works to break generational poverty by serving low-income apartment residents and their children with holistic program services which build happy healthy communities, empowering the next generation to stay in school and become successful for life.
  • Kristina Cruise, Founder and Executive Director of Promising Pages – Promising Pages provides ownership of books to underserved children and cultivates a lifelong love of reading through innovative classroom programs and the distribution of more than 100,000 free books annually.

Launching in January 2018, CULTIVATE will provide these 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.

Next Stage is pleased to have Hygge Coworking on board as its official coworking partner for CULTIVATE. Participating organizations will receive free membership at Hygge Coworking and have access to Hygge’s West Side location for the duration of the incubator. Next Stage is also proud to have SHARE Charlotte and the Children and Family Services Center as partners for CULTIVATE, and is grateful for the support of the Reemprise Fund.

More about CULTIVATE can be found here. 

About Next Stage Consulting:

Next Stage Consulting (Next Stage) works with nonprofits to develop visions, set goals and create strategies for all aspects of operations, implementing organizational and fund development efforts with an eye toward efficiency and effectiveness. Led by Managing Director Josh Jacobson and Project Development Manager Caylin Viales, Next Stage exists to serve the varied needs of nonprofits in the Carolinas. By partnering with staff and leadership volunteers, the firm’s talented consultants prioritize identifying needs and opportunities, developing a plan to address them and working tirelessly to ensure optimization in pursuit of mission. The firm is dedicated to working with a limited number of nonprofits to guarantee all clients receive expert counsel, specialized strategic and development planning, and in-depth implementation services. Next Stage Consulting is committed to being a different kind of consulting firm, as interested in designing unique solutions as working to see them implemented.

Position Opening: Senior Director of Development, Discovery Place

Position Description: Senior Director of Development


Client: Discovery Place
Location: 301 North Tryon Street, Charlotte, NC 28202
Founded:  1946
Reports To: Chief Advancement Officer

Discovery Place — Organizational Description

We inspire curious thinkers to discover the wonders of science, technology and nature.


Discovery Place is a private 501c(3) not-for-profit education organization dedicated to inspiring exploration of the natural and social world through extraordinary exhibitions and educational programs that inform, challenge and engage audiences of all ages. Discovery Place delivers its mission through 4 Museums –  Discovery Place Science, Discovery Place Nature, and Discovery Place Kids – Huntersville and Rockingham – as well as over 1,000 outreach programs each year.

Our Museums

As one of the leading hands-on science centers in the country, Discovery Place Science offers visitors the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in a fun, interactive and informal setting. Located in one of the nation’s fastest growing metropolitan areas, Charlotte, N.C., Discovery Place offers a family-friendly experience surrounded by the excitement of a bustling urban community.

Visitors to Discovery Place Nature may walk among free-flying butterflies, observe live animals in their habitats, buzz around with insects or lounge in our planetarium. Daily programming including puppet shows and hands-on activities provide the opportunity for structured learning and informal play for the young and old alike.  The Museum is adjacent to Freedom Park and located in one of the community’s finest residential areas.

The first Discovery Place Kids museum opened in Huntersville, N.C., in October 2010, followed by our Kids -Rockingham location in 2013. Providing an extraordinary and rich play experience that engages children’s imagination and inspires learning, these museums are designed to serve children ages 0-5 and their parents or caregivers.

For the seventh consecutive year, Discovery Place was ranked the most visited museum and historic attraction in the Charlotte region by the North Carolina Museums and Historic Attractions Survey. Discovery Place saw 733,728 visitors in 2017, also making it one of the top five most visited attractions in the state. It was the only Charlotte institution to earn a spot in the top five.

Priority Initiatives

In 2014, Discovery Place launched its newest initiative, the Discovery Place Education Studio, a professional development center for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) educators. The new professional development program has served nearly 11,000 educators since opening in July 2014 at Bank of America STEM Center for Career Development. Our educators alongside teachers, providing coaching and problem-based learning workshops that combine best practices in formal and informal education and offer teachers skills that can be adapted to meet the needs of their own classrooms.

Discovery Place also launched Welcome, a program that provides $1 Museum admission for families with EBT cards or WIC vouchers. Since launching in late December 2014, Welcome has already served 100,000+ people.

In late 2016, Discovery Place unveiled a new brand identity with new logos, websites and name changes in celebration of the organization’s 70th anniversary.  Discovery Place four regional museums as well as multiple education, professional development and community outreach programs were integrated under one brand called “Discovery Place,” a unified organization that provides STEM education to the Carolinas.  This included the renaming the science museum at 301 N Tryon St. in uptown Charlotte as Discovery Place Science, and the renaming of the Charlotte Nature Museum at 1658 Sterling Road adjacent to Freedom Park as Discovery Place Nature.

As Discovery Place looks to its future, we are planning for the reinvention of two of our facilities – Discovery Place Nature and Discovery Place Science.

Over 70 years ago, Discovery Place Nature (formerly the Charlotte Nature Museum) became the first nature museum in the southeast, giving rise to a science education movement in Charlotte. Today, the original institution is at risk of obsolescence, tucked away on the edge of one of Charlotte’s most visited parks and active greenways.  Lacking the ability to provide modern educational resources and the required space to effectively engage our growing region, the revitalization of this institution has become an urgent necessity.  In June 2017, Mecklenburg County included a $16 million allocation in their capital budget to build a new facility that can serve 160,000 visitors annually.  Discovery Place is privately raising an additional $19 million to fund the design, fabrication, and installation of the exhibits and animal experiences both inside and outside the facility, as well as to secure an endowment for the operations of this Museum.  The expected project completion date is 2021 – the 75th Anniversary of Discovery Place.

Simultaneously, this year Discovery Place received significant funding from the City of Charlotte to study its two-block campus in the heart of Uptown Charlotte.  As one of the gateway projects of the North Tryon Vision Plan (along with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library), the new master plan will consider how a reimagined museum could interact with the existing streetscape and spur the growth of STEM education in the area.  The world-renowned design firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro will be partnering with the local firm of Jenkins Peer to create a masterplan and conceptual design, anticipated to be completed summer 2018.

The Role

The Senior Director of Development is responsible for leading annual support growth for Discovery Place (DP), which includes the management of the fundraising and membership programs.  The Senior Director of Development, in tandem with the Chief Advancement Officer, will be responsible for creating a climate of engagement with DP’s external constituencies that will encourage private philanthropy, corporate partnerships and government and foundation investments in support of DP and its programs. This includes the planning, organization, coordination and implementation of membership, fundraising and sponsorship programs as well as major fundraising events, to attract support from individuals, corporations, foundations and government to meet the annual operating needs of Discovery Place.

The Senior Director of Development works directly with donors and prospective donors, directs the fundraising and membership teams, and collaborates with other leaders throughout the organization to coordinate efforts and secure resources. The successful candidate will work closely with DP’s Chief Advancement Officer to foster the organization’s philanthropic culture, creating strategies for prospect identification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship that leverage the organization’s significant human capital.

Professional Responsibilities

Development Planning

  • With the Chief Advancement Officer, craft annual development plans outlining strategies to sustain and increase annual support from individuals, corporations and foundations
  • Create multi-year strategies for implementing a moves management model of donor development, moving constituents from member to donor society member to major gift donor

Membership & Annual Fund Management

  • Lead the membership team (currently 10,000 members) assuring continued growth and retention of members
  • Oversee management of two annual fund giving societies – the Helix Society ($300-$750) and the Prism Society ($1,500+) – including planning and implementation of cultivation, solicitation and stewardship efforts
  • Manage a portfolio of 100 Prism Society prospects/donors annually
  • Oversee management of donor engagement activity including annual fundraiser (One Night Wonder), exhibition openings, Prism and Helix Society events, and membership events

Volunteer Management

  • Manage Trustee and volunteer engagement on Prism Society and One Night Wonder activity
  • Manage the Discovery Place Guild, a volunteer group that raises funds in support of our mission

Team Management

  • Supervise, mentor and lead three (3) direct reports (Manager of Individual Giving, Manager of Donor Engagement, and Director of Corporate Relations), who in turn lead a membership and annual fund team of five (5) full-time and one (1) part-time employees
  • Conduct annual evaluations of the membership and annual fund team staff members, suggesting ways to develop internal talent and providing corrective measures as needed

Development Systems Management

  • Ensure DP has a strong system for maintaining up-to-date and accurate records of contacts with donors and prospects, overseeing Altru CRM data systems and facilitating strong fidelity of data and timely use of reporting
  • Partner with Department Heads and staff leaders to ensure DPs goals and objectives are achieved, with particular focus on the Finance and Marketing Departments
  • Develop and manage an annual fund budget, achieving revenue and expense targets

Professional Development

  • Maintain fluency of trends in philanthropy
  • Actively participate in professional fundraising associations and industry groups to stay abreast of new practices and innovations in the development field, employing appropriate best practices at DP

Required Qualifications & Competencies

The ideal candidate would have the following capabilities and qualities:

  • Bachelor’s Degree required, with a preference for candidates with an advanced degree and/or continuing education in advancement, fundraising and philanthropy; CFRE designation is strongly preferred
  • 10 years + experience in development/fundraising
  • Extensive experience in managerial and leadership roles in development or a specific area of fundraising; experience with moves management fundraising strategies strongly preferred
  • Donor cultivation and solicitation experience required
  • Proven ability to work as a team player with diverse groups of people and excellence in managing and developing teams
  • Excellent interpersonal and customer service skills
  • Superior communication skills (written and verbal)
  • Highly motivated, action-oriented self-starter with strong organizational skills, especially planning and coordination. Ability to excel in a fast-paced environment
  • Excellent time and task management skills as evidenced by a proven ability to efficiently and effectively handle multiple tasks at the same time with appropriate delegation
  • High level of integrity, professional maturity and sound judgment
  • Availability to work outside of traditional business hours
  • Excellent skills and experience with Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook, working with databases and internet research; experience with Raiser’s Edge or Altru (Blackbaud) software a plus – but the ability to learn and become proficient with this dynamic software is a must
  • Decision-making skills in an ever-changing environment; ability to adapt, plan for and manage multiple projects in a fast-paced setting
  • Sense of humor, creativity and an appreciation of how philanthropy helps build community
  • Sound judgment in maintaining confidentiality of donor information
  • Passion for the mission of Discovery Place

Salary will be competitive and commensurate with experience. Health and retirement benefits offered.

To Apply

Discovery Place is an Equal Opportunity Employer committed to inclusive hiring and dedicated to diversity in its work and staff. Employment decisions are made without regard to race, color, religion, gender, sex, national origin, physical or mental disability, age, sexual orientation, veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by applicable state or federal law. Discovery Place, Inc. encourages candidates of all groups and communities to apply for this position.

Beginning November 27, 2017 all inquiries, nominations and applications are to be directed via email to Next Stage Consulting:  Applications must include a cover letter and CV.  Please indicate in the subject line of your email the position and organization to which you are applying and where you learned of the opportunity. NO PHONE CALLS PLEASE.

Please note that only those candidates invited for screening will be contacted.


The response to our announcement of CULTIVATE couldn’t be better! We are excited by the potential this program has for speeding up the growth curve for a high-impact emerging nonprofit.

Based on the feedback we’ve received, we thought we would share this FAQ as a chance to further clarify the purpose of our incubator.

Why is CULTIVATE called an incubator instead of an accelerator? 

The selection of the term ‘incubator’ was very intentional. While accelerators tend to be shorter (weeks instead of months) and focus on resources as the primary obstacle to success, an incubator is likely to be more intentional about exploring an organization’s total business model.

Next Stage is often called in to work with emerging organizations with an interest in revenue development. Most of the time, the firm must reverse-engineer a process to examine and strengthen the underlying business model before any development plan can be successful. This is because nonprofit organizations have unique resource development models that can obscure underlying questions – is your organization differentiated? Does your organization move the needle? How do you fit into a community of nonprofits all striving for positive outcomes?

While there are accelerator underpinnings in CULTIVATE, at its heart is making an investment of time and resources in exceptional founders to be thoughtful about the organization they have created and are strengthening.  In this way, CULTIVATE is as much a leadership development program as it is a nonprofit incubator, providing these founders with the tools and understanding they need to navigate the nonprofit landscape over the long haul.

Is CULTIVATE for brand new organizations? Or those considering founding a nonprofit?

Probably not. While we want to be surprised and wouldn’t want to limit the application review process, it is highly unlikely that an organization without defined structure and programming would be selected for CULTIVATE. We are ideally looking for at least one year of operations and some programmatic impact. This is not a process to help people decide how best to launch the nonprofit they have always wanted to develop.

That said, our goal is to recommend applicants to our stellar selection panel who will have the difficult job of winnowing that list down to four organizations. A dynamic civic leader with a brand new organization may be considered favorably, but would be the exception as opposed to the rule.

My organization already has a six-figure budget and we have several employees. Are we a good fit for CULTIVATE?

Maybe so! The size of an organization’s budget and staff is not a determinant of suitability for CULTIVATE. The selection committee will be looking for organizational leaders that run unique, innovative and differentiated organizations that are timely and reflect local priorities. Participating organizations are likely to be at different stages in their development, which Next Stage views favorably – in this cohort model, participants are likely to learn much from engaging each other.

Will participating in CULTIVATE make it seem like my organization doesn’t have its act together?

Actually, the exact opposite. A central concern for us is that the organizations that could most benefit from CULTIVATE will perceive it as an admission of need, or else duplicative of some other strengthening program. We feel strongly that the curriculum for this incubator is a pathway to clarity of purpose, greater impact and increased sustainability.

For local funders, we believe CULTIVATE will be seen long-term as a filtering process that affirms the soundness of an emerging organization’s business model. Our discussions suggest that there is a desire for such a program to assist local philanthropy in helping younger organizations build up the capacity to be able to take on increased grant funding to scale programming.

How much funding will be made available as a part of the opportunity fund?

Some of you picked up on that part fairly quickly! Yes, we are in discussions to ensure that funding be made available to those organizations that successfully complete the incubator. We anticipate being able to provide $7,500-$10,000 to each organization to help kick-start the implementation of the strategic business plans that will have been developed through the incubator. We feel this is an important part of demonstrating a commitment as a community to the nonprofit founders who make an allocation of time to this program. That said, the reason to apply for CULTIVATE is for the journey of discovery and strengthening, not the destination of funding.

Should I wait until the last possible minute to submit my application? Like at 11:59am on November 10th?

No, you shouldn’t. In fact, this is something many organizations don’t understand when it comes to RFPs – you want to submit any application like this as early as possible. Those receiving the applications can’t help but spend more time thinking about your suitability. Get them in ASAP!

Ready to apply? Click here to access the application!