CULTIVATE: Answering the “Why You?” Question

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!


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!

Announcing CULTIVATE – An Incubator for Emerging Nonprofits

Charlotte, NC (October 4, 2017) — Next Stage Consulting today announced the launch of CULTIVATE, an incubator for 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations designed to provide expert strategic and relational supports to emerging social cause organizations based in Mecklenburg County.  The incubator will focus on increasing capacity for emerging nonprofits to sustain operations and building social capital toward achieving their missions and visions.

CULTIVATE launches in January 2018 with four (4) participating nonprofits selected by a panel of community leaders, who will consider applications based on an in-depth RFP process.  Organizations selected to participate must demonstrate a unique approach to addressing a challenge facing Charlotte and commit to a 12-month program designed by Next Stage.  The online application can be accessed here. The deadline for submitting an application is November 10, 2017.

Next Stage is able to provide this incubator at no cost to deserving nonprofits with generous support from funders like the Reemprise Fund.  While Next Stage continues seeking funds to undergird the effort, the firm is committed to making this resource available with its inaugural class in 2018.

The curriculum for CULTIVATE includes one-on-one work and personalized coaching with the Next Stage Consulting team, assignments managed through an online learning management system, small group workshops for the four participating organizations and community engagement activities designed to increase social capital.

Core monthly topics covered by the incubator will include:

  • Aligning Mission, Vision & Values
  • Building Program Fidelity
  • Strengthening the Board of Directors
  • Sourcing Volunteers and Staff
  • Seeking Partnerships That Make Sense
  • Building a Pipeline of Individual Donors
  • Mastering Grantsmanship
  • Leveraging for Sponsorship
  • Onboarding Earned Revenue
  • Designing Online Communications
  • Appealing to the Media/PR
  • Refining the Strategic Business Plan

In addition to best-in-class training and strategic supports, Next Stage anticipates making available an opportunity fund for organizations that successfully complete the incubator program.  This funding will help support the organizations as they work to implement the strategic business plans they will have developed throughout the year as a part of CULTIVATE.

“The launch of this incubator is the next stage for our firm, pardon the pun,” Josh Jacobson, Managing Director of Next Stage Consulting said.  “We believe strongly in the ability of emerging nonprofit founders to bring new ways of serving our community to the table, and we want to help them build solid business plans that ensure their long-term success.”

In addition to Josh Jacobson’s leadership of the incubator, Next Stage’s Project Development Manager Caylin Viales will serve as its project manager.  Next Stage is also engaging a team of practitioners in the fields represented by the topics above to augment the program as co-facilitators.

The selection panel for CULTIVATE includes Dianne Bailey (Robinson Bradshaw), Jennifer Dewitt (Duke Energy), Charlie Elberson (Reemprise Fund), Blair Primis (OrthoCarolina) and Charles Thomas (Knight Foundation).  The panel will meet in late November 2017 to consider applications and make recommendations for participating organizations.

Next Stage is pleased to have SHARE Charlotte and the Children and Family Services Center serve as partners on CULTIVATE.  SHARE Charlotte will help Next Stage get the word out about CULTIVATE, and opportunities to share learnings from the incubator and its curriculum will be made available to SHARE Charlotte partners throughout 2018.  Next Stage is particularly thankful to the Children and Family Services Center for serving as a fiscal sponsor for support from area grantmakers.

More about CULTIVATE can be found here.

Blue Chip Organizations (The Community Social Impact Portfolio)

by Josh Jacobson

The Glass is Half Empty: My Humble Beginnings with the Blue Chips

When I launched Next Stage in late 2013, the stated goal was to work with “small-to-midsize organizations” looking to “get to the next stage.”  The reason for this focus was as much a passion for social entrepreneurs as it was the solution to a challenge – larger organizations were simply less interested in the firm’s approach to organizational development.  And frankly, I was less interested in working with them as well. It was a two-way street.

Early in my consulting career, I often worked with large, well-established organizations that said they were interested in strategic planning, but rarely altogether committed to the process.  Too often, it was clear that the organization’s leadership already knew what it wanted to do, and hiring a consultant was the last step in making sure the rest of the board heard it from an outside voice.

I started Next Stage because I felt strongly that I couldn’t continue working in that environment, taking fees out of the nonprofit sector without feeling I was having some defined impact. More often, I was creating strategic plans that “gathered dust on the shelf,” or else simply kicked the can on the big strategic needs for lack of leadership will-building. I had my first real-deal Charlotte “come to Jesus” moment one night, staying up until dawn writing my version of the Jerry McGuire manifesto.  Those early scribblings became the basis for Next Stage.

I give you this background because I have stated bias when it comes to blue chip organizations (what we call large nonprofits with expansive missions), as I have seen many of them from the inside and they often frustrate me.  But not because of malfeasance or a lack of solid outcomes, but for the missed opportunities.  There are so many ways to “leverage their bigness” to be even more impactful, but it requires a culture shift that is both daunting and absolutely necessary.  I love them for their sturdiness, but I also believe that sturdiness breeds complacency and risk intolerance, which are the death of forward progress.

<deep sigh> I wear this all on my sleeve because I know how critically important it is that we maximize the potential of our blue chip institutions, to harness their resources and aim them at the toughest social challenges our city faces day-in and day-out.  We need them to think about the long game and make bold moves in service to our community’s needs.

The Glass is Half Full: Promise for the Future

The good news is that the answer lies in our hands, as the constituents of these organizations.  Large blue chip institutions are usually resistant to change less because they are wired that way and more often because they believe their donors and volunteer leaders want them to be.

So much has changed in recent years on this front, and we can thank Dan Pallotta for that.  His transformative original TED Talk is required viewing for anyone, and his ongoing advocacy through the Charity Defense Council has informed a more recent TED Talk entitled “The dream we haven’t dared to dream.”  He was just in Charlotte for a talk on “Unleashing the Potential of Nonprofits.”

Before his original talk in 2013, nonprofit assessment websites like Charity Navigator focused more prominently on percentage of overhead and fundraising costs than they did on whether the organization was actually moving the needle on their cause.  These tools created a culture of seeing spending by nonprofits as bad, of believing that pushing the envelope through innovation as a poor use of contributions.  These tools trained donors to demand direct impact for every dollar contributed and to demonize dreaded “overhead.”

The net effect was to constrict our largest charities, never allowing them to leverage their assets to try new things and be allowed to fail. And yet, this is an essential strength of large businesses like Microsoft and Coca Cola.  We expect our corporations to have robust research and design functions, but scoff at the idea that our local charities would do the same. Why?

And this is why I am optimistic, because the answer to “unleashing the potential of nonprofits” is in our hands. We hold the key to our future, and if our largest blue chip organizations are empowered to do what they are capable of doing, the results could be game-changing.

The Checklist: Blue Chip Organizations

So, are you pumped up? Did my pep talk get you excited about the potential of our largest and most influential nonprofit institutions? I hope so! Because we need you to be advocates to bring about the sort of change that leads to sizable positive outcomes.  Donors and volunteers can use the following five evaluation areas:

  • Budgeting for R&D – Big surprise. Next Stage believes that all nonprofits deserve the right to try new things in all facets of their business models.  We believe in building pilots to test concepts, learning from those pilots as a means to inform next steps.  We believe an organization should be encouraged to try something new and fail, because the learnings from those failures are just as important as the successes.  We believe R&D is not a “nice to have” budget line item but a mandatory one.
  • Mining Data – The fuel for R&D is when the organization can mine its own data to learn and inform future activities.  Large blue chip organizations are typically awash in data, all living is separate databases and rarely viewed as an enterprise platform.  Tell that to Red Ventures or Bank of America. Smart blue chip organizations see their own data as a unique asset and go beyond what is required by funders in normal assessment to find the hidden learnings that could unlock future potential. Does your favorite blue chip institution employ anyone with the word “Data” in the job title?
  • Diversity of Funding – Some of the largest nonprofits in Charlotte are surprisingly on shaky ground, and it is almost always due to over-reliance on a single source of funding.  For many that is government fee-for-service contracts, and as recent history demonstrates, they can be dramatically curbed or unrenewed.  Still other organizations look to a handful of foundations or a few influential donors to do the heavy lifting.  This makes an organization less likely to rock the boat and more likely to be satisfied in just stewarding their largest sources of funding.  A strong blue chip organization has robust earned revenue and a sturdy base of support from many individuals as the capital to drive evolutionary activities.
  • Authentic Partnering with Emerging & Niche Organizations – Funders and donors want nonprofits to collaborate, but that can be difficult to achieve when one organization is so much larger than another.  “My way or the highway” thinking tends to have a chilling effect on the potential for nonprofit collaboration.  And yet, emerging and niche organizations can often serve in the R&D function for the blue chip organizations, allowing them to try new things without the threat of being judged harshly for it. This means setting up a different sort of financial relationship, with the larger organization providing more than just lip service and meager investment.  A smart blue chip organization actively seeks relationships with smaller organizations to test assumptions and challenge the status quo.
  • Courage of Leadership – To achieve all of this takes real guts.  Courageous volunteer and staff leadership is steeped in an emotional connection to the cause and recognizes that the risks are worth the rewards if it can radically change the lives of people in need. More than ever, we need nonprofit leaders who can set ambitious long-term vision and build the will of others to go on that often challenging journey.  For the best blue chip nonprofits, the easy path is most likely the wrong path if it fails to meet an ambition to one day put itself out of business.

We believe in the potential (and the sheer size) of the largest blue chip nonprofits to dramatically move the needle for all of us as Charlotteans.  Do you?  Please share your thoughts on Facebook:

Next week, Caylin Viales will share her thoughts on charitable foundations, our final category in the Community Social Impact Portfolio.

Just starting this series? Read the previous installments here:

Overview: The Community Social Impact Portfolio
Emerging Organizations
Niche Organizations
Imported Organizations
Blue Chip Organizations

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.

Image Copyright: Evan Carmichael

Imported Organizations (The Community Social Impact Portfolio)

by Caylin Viales

“Importing” nonprofit organizations can be a tricky thing to talk about.

In fact, I don’t even really like using the word “importing” to describe nonprofit scale. It evokes a mental picture of a cargo ship stacked with hundreds of identical shipping containers full of indistinguishable goods and materials – which is not the imagery I want to be in your head when we are talking about the strategic, pointed replication of proven nonprofits. It’s too easy to assume defensive positions:

“We have organizations that could do that here.”

“That won’t work in our community.”

“Why are we creating even more competition for our already limited funding sources?”

“Weren’t you guys just talking about how there are too many nonprofits in Charlotte?”

Those are good questions, but they miss the point. When Charlotte lacks an effective solution to a pressing community need, we have a few options. Well-meaning residents could go out and start multiple new grassroots programs. An established organization could try to develop a new program that addresses the issue. A blue-ribbon panel could be formed to study the best practices in addressing this type of community need. Or, we could look at proven solutions cultivated in other communities, adapting and replicating either the organization or the program locally to achieve similar results.

I don’t see anything necessarily wrong with any of the four options. But I think the last one, when executed well, holds the most potential for success. The challenge is that, unlike commercial markets, there is no automatic growth mechanism to help successful nonprofit organizations scale, and current funding models are inefficient and ineffective at bubbling up top performers. Consequently, it can be extremely difficult to identify and scale the best social innovations and proven nonprofit programs.

Full disclosure: before I moved to Charlotte, I spent the majority of my early career working with the GreenLight Fund, a philanthropic organization that does exactly this. GreenLight selects national nonprofit organizations with proven solutions and helps them scale their programs to the cities that need them most. The model builds community demand for these proven programs, alleviating the many roadblocks national organizations face when trying to expand to new markets while building the local partnerships necessary for long-term success. (More full disclosure: GreenLight announced in May 2017 that it is launching a site in Charlotte.)

Because my role focused on researching and assessing organizations from across the country, I know for a fact that there are brilliant nonprofits implementing effective and entrepreneurial programs in other communities that could make a huge difference in Charlotte, if only they could find a way to get here.

But far too often, our time and resources are directed toward recreating the wheel instead of developing the capacity and growing the reach of organizations that have already proven their impact elsewhere, or conversely, local organizations that are prepared for and deserving of regional or national scale.

So, the question is: how do we, as a community, identify which nonprofits could address our most pressing needs, and how do we evaluate which of those organizations have the capacity and infrastructure needed for success in our city? Perhaps even more important: How do we ensure these organizations find long-term sustainability in our community – even when they are no longer the new, shiny penny that Charlotte loves to love?

The Imported Organization

As Josh and I have deepened our discussions about the Community Social Impact Portfolio, I have become somewhat of an advocate within our firm for the imported organization and its vital role in the community. By leveraging established national infrastructure, developing and implementing proven programs and (often) unlocking national philanthropic dollars, these organizations fill important gaps in a region’s nonprofit sector.

In my experience, I have found that imported nonprofits can actually strengthen the work of emerging, niche and blue-chip organizations through both formal and informal collaborations that encourage capacity building activities in leadership development, program fidelity, data collection and evaluation.

There are some great examples of imported organizations already operating in Charlotte, including: Nurse-Family Partnership (managed by Care Ring), Reach Out and Read (in partnership with Read Charlotte), and Reading Partners (launched in early 2016). Each of these programs have a robust evidence base demonstrating long-term impacts and strong partnerships with local nonprofits and/or Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, and they address known local needs in health and early literacy.

In addition to supporting imported models like the three cited above, though, we must begin think strategically about how we can help our most promising social entrepreneurs, emerging organizations and niche organizations create strong business models that can one day support scale beyond Charlotte. As we build infrastructure that embraces proven programs from other communities, we are also creating pathways for our own homegrown organizations to someday navigate those complex replication strategies and actualize their own ambitions for scale.

As Charlotte continues to grapple with increasingly complex social and economic issues through initiatives like Leading on Opportunity and Read Charlotte, there will be many opportunities to both embrace proven strategies from other communities and grow our own best-in-class organizations to strengthen our sector and move our city forward.

The Checklist: Imported Organizations

The nonprofit sector, nationally, is becoming more and more entrepreneurial and growth-focused. It is up to us, as stewards of our community’s nonprofits, to create the local infrastructure necessary to evaluate opportunities to import and sustain proven models, while avoiding potential program duplication and excessive competition for funding. It is also up to us to support our local organizations as they work toward achieving their own growth aspirations.

Next Stage believes that imported organizations (and local nonprofits that hope to scale to new communities) must build a strong organizational and programmatic foundation before exploring growth opportunities. Replication is challenging and requires financial stability, program fidelity, significant resources and deep commitment – and organizations should be carefully evaluated for capacity for long-term success. Donors seeking to support organizations that bring proven solutions from other communities can use the following criteria for evaluating the long-term sustainability and impact of an imported nonprofit: 

  • Differentiated Model that Meets a Local Need: Next Stage believes market research is a core component of any planning process, and is uniquely significant for organizations considering launching sites in new communities. Imported organizations must be engaged in consistent local landscape analyses and needs assessments, making sure their programs are aligned with community needs. Programs should also be clearly differentiated from anything in the local market, avoiding duplication or excessive competition with other established organizations.
  • Demonstrated Impact and Robust Evidence Base: Organizations should establish a base of evidence through constant data collection, longitudinal output and outcome tracking, and internal and external evaluations. This evidence should support a well-developed logic model that speaks to the intended impacts of the organization’s different programs. Ideally, an organization would report similar results across multiple sites, indicating fidelity to the model.
  • Locally-Informed Programming and Partnerships: Imported organizations cannot enter new communities and maintain long-term impact and sustainability in isolation. As shown in the examples referenced above, many imported organizations form partnerships with local nonprofits to quickly access target populations and benefit from positive brand association. Organizations should also be responsive to community needs and cultural differences in program implementation, ensuring that all programs are locally-informed.
  • Capacity and Infrastructure that Supports Scale: National organizations that are actively growing must develop a comprehensive plan that allows them to develop the systems and human and financial resources to continue to scale while maintaining financial stability. Policies and procedures should be standardized across sites, and there should be protocol in place for succession planning, new site development and scaling culture and decision-making practices. Data management infrastructure including collaboration, file management, program data collection and customer relationship management should be functional and actively used.
  • Sustainable Business Model with Diverse Revenue Streams: To ensure long-term financial sustainability, imported nonprofits should have a revenue model that utilizes earned revenue streams (e.g. fee-for-service programs), receives significant funding from private and/or public partners, and leverages new philanthropic dollars through national funding relationships.

When replicated thoughtfully, we believe that imported organizations can successfully fill gaps, address local needs and support the work of existing local organizations. These five criteria create a suggested framework for assessing imported organizations and evaluating their potential for long-term impact. Do you agree?

Next week, Josh will be back to explore the role of Blue-Chip Organizations in the Community Social Impact Portfolio. As always, please join the conversation with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Just starting this series? Read the other installments here:

Overview: The Community Social Impact Portfolio
Emerging Organizations
Niche Organizations
Imported Organizations
Blue Chip Organizations

Caylin Viales is Project Development Manager for Next Stage Consulting. Before relocating to Charlotte, Caylin worked as a Program Associate with the GreenLight Fund, a philanthropic organization with roots in the venture capital community. Over a three-year tenure, she supported the selection and launch of five high-performing national organizations in Philadelphia. Prior to GreenLight, Caylin spent six months as a fellow at the national consulting firm Frontline Solutions, working with the Philadelphia office in their efforts to enhance the impact of nonprofit and public sector programs.

Copyright: kenishirotie / 123RF Stock Photo

Niche Organizations (The Community Social Impact Portfolio)

by Josh Jacobson

The alternative title of this post could be “Sustainable Growth – Is It an Oxymoron?” (Answer: No, but it ain’t easy.)

A lesson learned early in my consulting career came in the form of a longtime board member for a stable, no-frills human services organization. As a part of a strategic planning process, board members posited a number of ideas for how the organization could leverage its position in the community to create positive impacts.  Some of the ideas were pretty out there, but most were rooted in the mission.  I felt at the time that my job was to encourage more risk-taking by a nonprofit that was somewhat risk-adverse.

The response of that board member: “That’s just not who we are.”

There is a lot of wisdom in those words.  Knowing when not to explore expansion is as important, or even more important, than the brainstorming that comes up with innovative solutions.  While Next Stage has social innovation as a tenet of its work, we know that the key is to right-size that for individual organizations.

The challenge is that it is difficult for nonprofits to stand still.  There is a built-in expectation of growth that has only become more pronounced in donor audiences over the last ten years.  Whereas the Greatest Generation was satisfied to see stability and “regular returns” as a case for support, each successive generation has tended to seek a dynamic vision of future impact.

And in reality, it’s a somewhat unfair expectation that is unique to nonprofits.

I love the bagels at a certain shop near my home.  We visit often and know the owners fairly well.  Their bagels are delicious and the homemade cream cheese is top-notch. I patronize this bagel shop because I love their product.  My willingness to shop there is not predicated on the bagel shop’s plan for growth and increased impact.  I have self-interest baked (literally) into my reason for visiting.

Nonprofits are different.  For many donors, it is not enough to have built a sustainable business model that serves a set number of people each year, or is focused on one specific outcome.  Constituents expect a dynamic vision that inspires them to be involved, and that vision almost always speaks to how the organization will have even more impact in the future.

Whether we like it or not, this trend is only becoming more pronounced.  And yet with growth comes the challenge of continued sustainability.  Foundations and savvy donors want to see diversified revenue streams that reflect a stability that can weather change.

Such is the challenge of nonprofits, to both grow in impact while also demonstrating sustainable operations.

The Niche Organization

I think often about that board member who educated me about his nonprofit’s identity based on a set of values that inform the creation of guiding principles.  Those principles help an organization’s leadership make decisions about how to move forward.

As I mentioned in the post introducing the Community Social Impact Portfolio, those guiding principles should result in a goal of “leading in our space” for the vast majority of nonprofits.  While there are many large agencies in the Charlotte region that have evolved over time to include a diversity of programming, there are simply too many nonprofit organizations in existence now for any organization to aspire to that level of institutional capacity.

Leading in your space means that no one would even think of creating another nonprofit in your city with a similar mission.  It means “owning” your mission in such a way that you are the go-to organization and considered a thought-leader.  It also typically means narrowing your organization’s focus to ensure that it can continue to claim that mantle as it scales.

An organization seeking niche status must start with evaluating its mission, which is often too expansive.  Missions are not meant to be locked forever in time, but instead should evolve to meet the needs of a community.  Next Stage suggests conducting a needs assessment married with competition analysis to better understand where a nonprofit fits.  Whereas an organization may have claimed a wider berth 20 years ago when there were fewer organizations, the changing environment likely requires making changes to mission to reflect today’s realities.

“What do you want to own?”

It is a question we will ask the leadership of an organization with a murky mix of programming or overly broad ambitions.  I have seen organizations clarifying their pursuit of a niche as the missing ingredient to their success.  That decision is clarifying and provides leadership with a vision platform that greatly informs decision-making.  It allows organizational leaders to have more productive dialogue and unleashes creativity in service to specific goals.

The Checklist: Niche Organizations

Niche organizations (and those that aspire to such a designation) must continually conduct internal and external analysis to stay on track – this is not a “set it and forget it” effort.  Donors and volunteers seeking an organization to engage with can use the following top-five evaluation areas when considering the health and worthiness of a niche nonprofit:

  • Logic Model – According to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a program logic model is defined as “a picture of how your organization does its work – the theory and assumptions underlying the program.  A program logic model links outcomes (both short- and long-term) with program activities/processes and the theoretical assumptions/principles of the program.”  The Foundation has a very good development guide available, and it is a framework that not only results in optimization of operations and programming, but also makes for a great case for support.  For niche organizations, creating your own version of “how a bill becomes a law” is critical as the organization zeros in on (and narrows) its value proposition.  As a donor or volunteer, it should be clear how your time and support translates into impact.
  • Theory of Growth & Change – As discussed previously, X-Gens and Millennials crave an understanding of the underlying business model of a nonprofit to better understand its potential for future impact.  Sturdy niche organizations have developed a theory of growth and change that serves as an important messaging platform.  Next Stage champions the development of a ten-year vision with a clear three-year roadmap and optimized one-year action plan.  Ten years is a long time, and no one has a crystal ball.  Still, an organization should have some overarching time-limited “theory of growth and change” that outlines an idea of where it is going.  And that theory should note how the organization intends to lead in its space.
  • Ten-Year Pro Forma – Alongside that ten-year plan should be a pro forma budget that suggests the income and expenses need for that decade-long ambition.  This is the difference between lip service and having an articulated business plan in support of that overarching goal.  Some donors and most funders start their exploration of a nonprofit with the income and expense statement, long before they read a narrative or conduct a site visit.  How you express your current and future impact through the numbers is a differentiator, with strong organizations pursuing niche status able to express financial need not only as a function of today but tomorrow as well.
  • Strong Branding – A common refrain for each of these checklists will be marketing, which is badly needed to ensure any sort of sustainable growth.  This is particularly true for niche organizations (and those pursuing it), which must clearly articulate their reason for being.  Organizations like Crisis Assistance Ministry, Charlotte Toolbank, and Catawba Riverkeepers have strong, clearly-articulated brands that allow them to lead in their space.  That branding is about more than a great logo or informative website.  It is about creating consistency in the mind’s eye of Charlotteans, who understand why a nonprofit exists and what it does to strengthen the community.  If an organization’s brand is poorly formed, the chances of it ever truly owning its space are weak.
  • Pipeline of Individual Giving – Over-reliance on institutional support (government and foundations) is the primary challenge for niche organizations, particularly in Charlotte.  The city’s institutional philanthropy has a bit of a reputation of “shiny penny” funding – supporting new initiatives for several years and then cutting funding before the organization can achieve sustainable support in favor of the next new idea.  Organizations planning to grow programming with grant funding must develop a pipeline of individual giving from a variety of sources since that grant funding is likely to disappear.  That means getting smart about donor acquisition and retention – two terms that should be daily affirmations for the niche organization.

We love niche organizations at Next Stage – we believe strongly that a robust community of nonprofits that lead in their space has a much better opportunity of actually moving the needle than a hodge-podge of groups chasing funding.  Do you agree?  Please share your thoughts on Facebook:

Next week, Caylin Viales will tackle Imported Nonprofits.  Stay tuned!

Just starting this series? Read the other installments here:

Overview: The Community Social Impact Portfolio
Emerging Organizations
Niche Organizations
Imported Organizations
Blue Chip Organizations

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.

Image Copyright : Mike Nellums

Emerging Organizations (The Community Social Impact Portfolio)

by Josh Jacobson

Last year, I overheard a conversation at work.  A friend of mine was asked by someone I didn’t know to name some of the prominent social entrepreneurs working in Charlotte. Without hesitation, a list of names were rattled out.  The people mentioned were all stellar folks and worthy of inclusion.

But my name wasn’t mentioned.  Perplexed, I asked my friend why that was.

“Well, I guess I think that you work with social entrepreneurs, but that you’re a consultant. You’re just… different.”

I’ll admit, I was a bit wounded.  In my mind, the work of Next Stage has always had purpose and meaning with social benefit at its heart.  The firm was founded to be an alternative to “for hire” consulting that was more interested in collecting fees than ensuring client success. But as I settled down later, I realized that there was some real truth to what was said.  While Next Stage had a mission and a set of defined values, we were missing two elements that every social entrepreneurship company needs: long-term vision and an organizing philosophy. These must-have elements, which Next Stage had preached to its clients, were unexamined in our own business model.

Earlier this year, I made an important decision about the direction of Next Stage and set about making it happen. A critical piece was the hiring of Caylin Viales, who has brought her tremendous talent and passion for social impact to the redefinition of what Next Stage could be.  Last week, another important component was launched – the public announcement of our philosophy regarding the Community Social Impact Portfolio.  Located near the end of that post, Next Stage commits to “orienting all of its work toward these five classifications” and “reorganizing its service lines to align with this philosophy.”

We do this because we see the role Next Stage plays in the community differently now.  We are making a commitment to the overall health of Charlotte’s industry of social impact.  In working individually with 501c3 nonprofit organizations directly, our commitment is not only to the client that hires us but also to the broader community that has a vested interest in the success of all nonprofits.  We feel a big part of our role is about “playing the orchestra, and not just the instrument.”

Because Next Stage is a social entrepreneurship company, and we are just as committed to improving our community as the nonprofits that trust us to help them achieve success.  The difference is that our mission isn’t focused on one positive social outcome – it is focused on all of them.

The Emerging Organization

It is perhaps because of how we perceive our identity as social entrepreneurs that we have been so attracted to helping emerging nonprofits.  Organizations thrive or die in their first ten years of existence, and much of that is related to the existence of a passionate founder.

I am unabashed in my love of nonprofit founders. They are the “special sauce” in the emerging nonprofit business model, capable of defying odds to make the impossible possible.  Through their eyes, every mission is brought to life and is emotionally captivating.  They will their nonprofits into being, imbue it with their personal brand, and then… what?  What happens next? Happily ever after?

Unfortunately, no. Too often, exhaustion gives way to frustration, and before long someone who could have been a game-changer is not even involved anymore. The nonprofit that had so much promise just a few years before is a shell of its former self.  Or not even in business anymore.

It is a sad fact that many start-up nonprofits don’t see their tenth year. Statistics proving this are difficult to come by since nonprofits don’t have to tell the IRS when they’ve “gone belly up.”  But evidence abounds. While there are many great success stories, there are perhaps just as many examples of new nonprofits sputtering as the decade anniversary approaches.

My firm is typically contacted when an organization has begun to understand that it needs some help to achieve a degree of sustainability.  We are often very successful, and the organization is placed on a pathway to ensuring long-term success.  But sometimes the challenges are too great or the organization too resistant to change.

We believe passionately that emerging nonprofit are badly needed to challenge the status quo.  Start-ups are typically less risk adverse and are able to pilot new strategies that contribute positively to the industry.  As an organization matures, it can lose that “special sauce” of the nonprofit founder, who stays up late until the job is done and knows the background of every person served.  They are often very open to volunteer engagement and encourage the community to come alongside their programming to help ensure success.  There are lots of reasons start-up nonprofits should be a dynamic component of the Community Social Impact Portfolio.

At the same time, remember the statistics from the last post about the proliferation of nonprofits in Charlotte (e.g. 3,600 public charities)?  As a community, we need to be smart about how we encourage social entrepreneurs, and more mindful of what a successful start-up business model looks like.  As I heard a donor say once, “I’d rather give my money to an organization with somewhat less impact that I know will still be around ten years from now, than an organization with tremendous impact that flames out from a poor business model.” In this way, nonprofits should view their donors (especially Millennial and X-Gen donors) as less “buying services” than “stewarding long-term solutions.”

The Checklist: Emerging Organizations

As a part of this series, Caylin and I will be suggesting a five-point checklist for each of the five areas highlighted in the Community Social Impact Portfolio. This checklist will roll into a tool that will be made available at the end of this series for donors and funders, along with worksheets for organizations to use when considering organizational strengthening.  This week, we look at the top-five evaluation areas when considering the health and worthiness of an emerging nonprofit for support:

  • Differentiated Mission – An emerging organization with an expansive mission statement is very likely biting off more than it can chew.  Successful start-up organizations are razor sharp on what they do and how they fit in to the already-established network of community organizations. To know that a mission is differentiated, a needs assessment should be conducted that documents the problem as well as the other organizations and supports in the marketplace.  People interested in getting involved with a nonprofit should start with its mission, and if it is poorly formed or not well stated, the likelihood for success is greatly diminished.
  • Distributed Leadership – The potential for burnout in the nonprofit sector is a constant companion, and nowhere more so than with the nonprofit founder.  Many start-up organizations are setup with what is called “heroic leadership,” where a handful of people are doing all of the heavy lifting.  While that may be necessary in the very early stages, the organization needs to be shifting as soon as possible to a “distributed leadership” model, where volunteers (and later contractors and staff) are owning defined responsibilities. An organization that is overly dependent on a handful of individuals is at risk, and its leadership should at the very least have a long-term succession plan in place.
  • Documented Policies & Procedures – This may seem like a boring checklist item, but our experience suggests that an organization without documented policies and procedures is highly unlikely to “get to the next level.”  There are many reasons why this is missing, and most of them end with “…and who has the time to do any of that?”  A model of distributed leadership can never be fully implemented if the organization lacks a framework for how work gets done.  As consultants, we always ask to see the Organizational Handbook (or Board Handbook) at the start of an engagement.  It is one of the top predictors of future success.
  • Evidence/Documented Results – The fact is that anecdotal evidence doesn’t cut it in an increasingly competitive nonprofit marketplace.  Emerging organizations push back on the idea that they can have documented evidence “with so little budget,” and we would argue that this excuse is not sufficient. It means the programming was not designed with a way to measure the impact to begin with, and a start-up organization cannot afford to run programming that has no defined assessment criteria.  Program fidelity is a must.
  • Quality Marketing Efforts – A certain local marketing professional and I share the belief that one of the biggest reasons nonprofit organizations fail is that they spend so little on marketing.  No other business model could possibly expect to be successful spending as little as nonprofits do.  For the emerging nonprofit, we look more at the savviness in the marketing effort than the dollars spent on it. Does the nonprofit understand segmentation?  Is their messaging human-centered, and are they creative in how they tell their story?  An all-volunteer effort is fine in the early years, but it has to be done well otherwise future success is not a given.

We could come up with another dozen or so, but the goal here is to provide readers with a way to quickly assess start-ups, less as a way to evaluate the impact of their current efforts and more toward the long-term likelihood for sustainability and growth.

Next time, we’ll tackle Niche Organizations.  In the meantime, please share your thoughts on Facebook:

Just starting this series? Read the other installments here:

Overview: The Community Social Impact Portfolio
Emerging Organizations
Niche Organizations
Imported Organizations
Blue Chip Organizations

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.

Image Copyright : Thuansak Srilao