FAQ: CULTIVATE Incubator

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: www.facebook.com/NextStageConsultingNC/

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: www.facebook.com/NextStageConsultingNC/

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: www.facebook.com/NextStageConsultingNC/

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

The Community Social Impact Portfolio

by Josh Jacobson

This post launches a weekly series through mid-September outlining a new way to think about stewarding nonprofits in the Charlotte region – the Community Social Impact Portfolio.


A couple years ago, I decided to try my hand at investing. My wife and I had been utilizing a financial advisor who was primarily passively managing a system of 401ks and IRAs. I thought, why pay someone to do what I could do for myself?

I’m glad I did it, but it required me to become far more knowledgeable about concepts with which I was only partially familiar. The majority of our holdings were in mutual funds, and with a little bit of research, I was able to better understand how best to create a balanced, diversified portfolio that was responsive to the market. And on a semi-annual basis, I do a bit more research to rebalance the portfolio. We’re long-term investors so I tend not to pay it daily or weekly attention. But I rest easy at night knowing that my investments are optimized.

That notion of a diversified portfolio got me thinking – could the same principles be applied to optimize the nonprofit sector?  How can donors have a similarly good feeling knowing that their social investments are producing positive returns for the community in which they live?

This concept has been a moment of inspiration for our consulting firm, which has taken a hard look at what makes a healthy social impact ecosystem, and as importantly, what we all can do to make it a reality.

The following blog post kicks off a six-part weekly series that will outline a way of thinking about the many nonprofits that serve our community and a call-to-action for all of us to get more strategic in how we foster what I like to call a “Community Social Impact Portfolio.”

Understanding the 501c3

To get started, we first have to all be on the same page with what it means to be a nonprofit organization. Believe it or not, board members for a large percentage of Next Stage’s client base have pretty profound misconceptions about the nonprofit they are charged with governing. The ah-ha moment typically comes when I share the following at the beginning of a board retreat:

This nonprofit is owned by me, it is owned by you, it is owned by everyone. A 501c3 charitable organization is a public entity that is charged with doing that which is in the best interest of the community it serves. Just like government. And you are its board members who have elected to take on its governance responsibility, ensuring that the organization serves the best interests of the broader public. And you don’t even get paid for it. What you have chosen to do on my behalf, on everyone’s behalf, is pretty exceptional. Thank you. Thank you for all you do and for being here this morning.

You can imagine the faces of these unsuspecting board members at this point, who are suddenly very present in the Saturday morning retreat they signed up for but did not fully understand. Excuse me, what?

It is generally not very well understood (particularly by nonprofit founders) that once an organization receives its 501c3 status, it has thus been given over to all people to “own.” In exchange, the US Internal Revenue Code allows for federal tax exemption for gifts to support its mission. It is a pretty decent trade off, but only if one truly understands what it means to give up control to the public.

Too Many Cooks

If we accept that nonprofits are owned by all of us as taxpayers, and are effectively doing the work government would do on our behalf if it had the interest in doing so, then surely we must have some form of control over how nonprofits are formed, right? I mean, if I encounter long lines at the DMV, it isn’t like I can just go down the road and set up my own DMV. There must be some form of checks and balances?

The answer is: nope. Technically, the IRS is the gatekeeper, but it isn’t a very discriminating arbiter. According the 2016 IRS Data Book, more than 86,000 new tax-exempt organizations came online in 2016 with just over 1,000 denied tax exempt-status. That means that more than 98% of organizations that apply for tax-exempt status receive it. And you and I don’t have very much control over that.

So what does that look like in practice?  Charlotte is a great example of the explosion of nonprofit sector over the last twenty years. There are nearly 5,000 registered charities in Mecklenburg County alone (including roughly 3,600 public charities). While Mecklenburg County’s population has nearly doubled in the past 20 years, the number of public charities has increased three-fold.

Needless to say, this is an unsustainable trend. It creates duplication of services and unneeded competition for donor dollars. It creates backlash for founders of new nonprofits with truly game-changing strategies. And it reinforces a nonprofit culture that avoids taking risks for fear of losing ground.

It simply isn’t all that strategic.

Strategy is My… Middle Name

As a consultant to nonprofits in the Charlotte area for almost a decade, I’ve had the opportunity to work with more than 160 organizations of all shapes and sizes. My firm focuses on leveraging internal assets to meet external need. It requires being a student of our community.

This work has informed a philosophy that a healthy city must feature a variety of nonprofit organizations working in concert to address community needs. And just as a healthy stock portfolio should be diversified, a region’s nonprofit sector should include a carefully curated portfolio of community resources.

In fact, I’d suggest that all nonprofit organizations in the Charlotte region should fall into one of five categories:

  • Emerging Startups – Not every new nonprofit contributes to the bloat described above. The nonprofit sector is ripe for disruption, and social entrepreneurs with new and different ways to achieve success are needed now more than ever.  Sometimes these individuals should be encouraged to align with already-developed nonprofits, but other times there are good reasons to launch a new 501c3 endeavor. Just as your investment portfolio should have some early-growth companies, a community should come together to champion dynamic new efforts.
  • Niche Organizations – The vast majority of nonprofits should be in pursuit of niche status – that is, “owning their space.”  This requires identifying an organization’s core value proposition and striving to lead in that space. That may mean getting narrower in focus to differentiate, or expanding operations to meet community need. A niche organization must have a plan for maintaining its role as a leader and adapting to a changing community. After all, companies only stay in your investment strategy if they demonstrate a capacity for adaptability.
  • Imported Nonprofits – Organizations that demonstrate fidelity and have built an evidence-base should be encouraged to scale.  Communities must be willing to embrace organizations with demonstrated impact that can scale to provide programming that is locally informed and delivered. Charlotte needn’t re-create the wheel if a program has proven successful in another comparable city. For our investment analogy, consider these organizations like investing in foreign markets. When our own community lacks bandwidth or successful strategies, other communities may hold the answer.
  • Blue-Chip Institutions – In Charlotte, the vast majority of financial resources are generated by the top 100 nonprofit organizations with budgets topping $4 million. These organizations should be encouraged to collaborate with organizations in the preceding three categories, leveraging their revenue and assets in service to increased community impact. Since these organizations control the majority of resources, they should also be expected to drive innovation through an R&D function.
  • Foundations – It can be easy to forget, but private foundations are nonprofits as well and they play an incredibly important role in providing resources to fuel social impact. Working with individual donors, foundations should strive to curate a community portfolio of nonprofit resources to ensure a healthy and vibrant community. This means working together and understanding community challenges at the ground level.

Going forward, Next Stage is orienting all of its work toward these five classifications of nonprofits, and is committing to work on behalf of the greater good to help organizations be the best representation of where they are in these categories. The firm is reorganizing its service lines to align with this philosophy, and will be stumping on this topic to actualize a community that is knowledgeable and bought-in to the road ahead.

In the weeks to come, this series will explore each of these five categories, making suggestions for how nonprofits, donors and volunteers can optimize their organizations to create a dynamic Community Social Impact Portfolio.  I will be joined in this effort by Next Stage’s Caylin Viales, who will collaborate on the series and is a big part of helping to create our firm’s response to this new way of seeing our charge.

As always, we hope you will digest this content (we know its wordy – these are big ideas!) and engage us on it.

Because these nonprofits belong to all of us. And it’s about time we acted like it.

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.

Position Opening: Executive Director, Charlotte Bilingual Preschool

Position Description: Executive Director

Overview

Client: Charlotte Bilingual Preschool
Location: 6300 Highland Ave, Charlotte, NC 28215
Founded: 1999
Reports To:  Board of Directors

Charlotte Bilingual Preschool — Organizational Description

Mission
Charlotte Bilingual Preschool prepares Spanish-speaking children for success in school and life by providing superior dual-language early childhood education. The preschool supports students’ families with parenting, life skills and English-language classes, enabling them to sustain and nurture their children’s educational and emotional development.

Overview
Charlotte Bilingual Preschool (CltBP) is a five-star licensed preschool that prepares low-income Spanish-speaking students to enter kindergarten ready to learn. CltBP offers students a dual-language education using the Creative Curriculum and proven best practices for bilingual learners. In addition, the school provides parents with coaching, tools, workshops and resources to aid them as educational partners and advocates and ensure their children’s continued success in school. Recognizing that learning and development begins before birth, CltBP also offers an Infant/Toddler program for parents with children from birth to three years old, Creciendo Juntos (Growing Together). This program offers hands-on, experiential parent education classes that supports parents to be their child’s first teachers.

CltBP’s Board of Directors has put forth an ambitious strategic vision for the next several years: to be a pioneer in the 0 to 5 educational space by creating innovative, research-based solutions for preparing Latino children for success in school and life. It is CltBP’s intention to be an example of a unified Charlotte where low-income Latino families successfully cross social boundaries to form a diverse learning community that lays the foundation for young children to be global citizens.

Milestones
When the school opened in 1999, it was named Central Avenue Bilingual Preschool (CABP) after the street where the school was first established. From 1999 to 2009, CABP grew from 15 students to 96, reaching capacity at its original location. In 2012, the school changed its name to Charlotte Bilingual Preschool in preparation for future growth. Today, CltBP is located in Hickory Grove Elementary School Annex, where the school now serves 108 preschoolers and their families, as well as 80 additional families through its Infant/Toddler Program.

The Role
Now in its 18th year, Charlotte Bilingual Preschool is modifying its staff leadership structure, establishing an Executive Director role that will provide overall management and serve as the face of the organization.  A Program Director, also a new role, is currently being sought to provide day-to-day management of the preschool, allowing the Executive Director to focus on strategy, relationship-building, partnership-development and fundraising.

The Charlotte Bilingual Preschool’s Board of Directors is seeking an energetic, experienced nonprofit professional with a passion for dual-language learners to serve as its Executive Director.


DUTIES & RESPONSIBILITIES

Management & Leadership

  • Serves as the face of the School, compellingly articulating the School’s vision to various audiences
  • Works collaboratively with Program Director, providing leadership and internal direction to ensure effective School management
  • Defines the organization’s long-term goals and strategic focus in partnership with the Board of Directors, and implements strategic plans and annual operating plans
  • Works in partnership with the Board to set and accomplish the organization’s mission and vision

Human Resources

  • Recruits, supervises, develops, evaluates and retains superior faculty and staff
  • Promotes a strong and intentional organizational culture in which faculty and staff are empowered, feel valued and are regularly recognized for their contributions
  • Provides overall management of the human resources function, including supervision and a performance appraisal system

Fiscal Management

  • Understands and supervises the business functions of the school, including budgeting; monitoring and reporting income, expenses, investments, and cash flow; maintenance of appropriate records; and assisting the school’s auditors
  • Maintain enrollment while monitoring and assuring payments and revenues are collected
  • Ensures that fiscal management complies with all legal and grant requirements, and is in keeping with sound financial practices of the nonprofit community

External Relations

  • Provides overall leadership in external relations including partner development and fund development, engaging in consistent outreach efforts and managing a portfolio of relationships
  • Engages public, private and nonprofit leaders to develop strong partnerships that serve the mission and vision of the preschool
  • Serves as the preschool’s spokesperson for media relations, and works to become a go-to resource for perspective related to Latino families and education
  • Engages in public speaking and advocacy opportunities, telling the preschool’s powerful story
  • Establishes and implements in tandem with Development Director an annual fund development plan with fundraising goals, strategies, action items, timelines, and assigned responsibilities
  • Participates directly in fundraising activities, including identifying and meeting with donors and prospective donors to generate support
  • Provides direction and supports board member involvement in fund development

Program Oversight

  • Work in tandem with Program Director to develop, implement and coordinate yearlong school curriculum and conduct ongoing assessment of the effectiveness of planned curriculum
  • Provide regularized and systematic staff development opportunities
  • Regularly meet with faculty and staff to discuss and review curriculum

Qualifications
The ideal candidate would have the following capabilities and qualities:

  • Experience in the early education or human services sector
  • Demonstrated passion for bilingual learners and their families
  • Deep experience in external relations, preferably in the Charlotte market
  • Significant fundraising experience and accomplishments
  • Knowledge and experience in organizational oversight
  • Proven ability to provide leadership and inspiration to faculty, staff and volunteers
  • Demonstrated excellence in communications and interpersonal skills
  • Demonstrated track record in financial management
  • Bilingual candidates strongly preferred but not a requirement
  • Bachelor’s degree required

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

To Apply

Charlotte Bilingual Preschool 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. Charlotte Bilingual Preschool encourages candidates of all groups and communities to apply for this position.

Beginning May 24, 2017, all inquiries, nominations and applications are to be directed via email to Next Stage Consulting: search@nextstage-consulting.com.  Applications should 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.

Framing It: An Arts Response to ‘Leading on Opportunity’

By Hannah Grannemann

Josh and I started this blog series in April 2017 with a few goals:

  1. Bring attention to the work on social mobility already being done by artists and arts organizations in Charlotte. (one example here)
  2. Raise awareness of the arts as a way to have a positive impact on social mobility with the community leaders outside the arts who would be leading efforts in response to the Opportunity Task Force’s report.
  3. Give the arts community confidence to take a “seat at the table” and contribute meaningfully in this time when attention is being paid and resources allocated on the issue of social mobility.

So far, we did this in the blog series by going through the specific recommendations in the report and sharing ideas and stories. We promoted the blog through social media and our networks. Posts in the series have been read by nearly 1,000 people (at least) and we’ve received incredibly positive feedback.  Thank you for reading and sharing and commenting over the past few months.

As we wrap up this phase of the blog series, here are a few closing thoughts. Then, I’ll outline our next steps.

Systems

A first read through this series might seem like it did the opposite of one of the foundational ideas of the Leading on Opportunity report: focused on programs rather than systems. Yes, the posts were mostly sharing practical ideas and approaches connected to specific recommendations. We did this in service of our goals of raising awareness of how the arts can be used in service of supporting improvements of social mobility and to bring attention to existing programs.

Underneath it all, we were making our own recommendation about systems: make the arts a system. In other words, for better results, incorporate arts into the systems that are working on social mobility issues, and incorporate social mobility into the arts. The benefits for individuals, groups, teams and organizations will manifest directly, or perhaps as the “x-factor” or “secret sauce” that will make an approach effective long term.

More than social capital

Social capital is surely the area of the report where people will naturally want to put the arts. (The report defines social capital as “the relationships and networks people have that can connect them to opportunities.”) Yes, Yes, Yes! We should absolutely align ourselves with building social capital in Charlotte. Making art, experiencing art, and learning through the arts are excellent ways to create relationships and build social cohesion across differences that pay off not only intrinsically but in connecting to opportunities. It’s also the only area where the arts were mentioned explicitly (Recommendation U4), referring to the 2014 Cultural Vision Plan. The Task Force named it a “cross-cutting factor,” so the arts would have broad impact if able to describe accomplishments there.

Maybe I’m too pragmatic, but I’m concerned about our ability as a sector to describe accomplishments in building social capital.  I fear putting all our eggs in this basket would undermine the arts sector’s credibility in the social mobility movement. The arts are not currently set up to measure social capital or our impact on it. If social capital is the only area where the arts sector focuses its efforts, the arts will not receive the recognition for impact that will be crucial for the arts to move from an afterthought to “top of mind” when working on social problems. It’s hard enough for the arts to get respect in our society. It’s hard enough to describe the concrete impacts of the arts where we know them (such as on improving high school graduation rates of at-risk students or positive impacts on economic development).

An essential way for getting people to recognize that the arts are an underutilized means for improving the lives of the people on whom this report is focused is to make direct connections on impact on recognized basic needs through rigorous assessment, an area I identified in my first post. We outlined areas throughout this blog series connected to concrete recommendations from early childhood (here and here) and parenting (here and here) to workforce development (here and here). Put these ideas – and others – to the test, and I mean TEST them! Build assessment into the process so that we can have answers to funders and people we need to bring over to our cause when they say “we’d like to fund the arts, but there are higher needs.”

Segregation

An area we didn’t discuss in the series is the other overarching issue that the Task Force thought was so important it is literally at the center of their model: segregation.

I strongly believe that the arts can be a major, major force in moving our society forward by overcoming the impact of segregation – a problem that needs to be tackled head-on. Connecting ideas from above, this can happen in two ways: the arts can be an integral factor in creating effective social programs that dismantle structural racism, and the arts can build community (social capital) across difference through the arts – creating art, experiencing art, learning through the arts.

Ethics philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah speaks in this interview on the radio show On Being about how relationships with people who are different than us are first built through in small gestures, “sidling up to it.” He says, don’t start with big conversations about the big differences like race and religion – start with the weather, sports, your kids, whatever joins you, binds you. Create relationship first, then get to the tough stuff. It’s widely accepted that the reason that the relatively rapid increase in acceptance of marriage equality in the U.S. came from straight people realizing that they already had personal relationships with LGBTQ people: they were family, friends, neighbors, community leaders, members of their faith community.

The arts can nudge this process along and accelerate it. The shared experience of the arts can be a way that people are willing to build those relationships, engage with people that are different from them with an open mind and heart. Maybe that’s through content that is about race, religion or politics, or maybe not – maybe its just about interesting, entertaining and engaging art.

What’s next?

We’re going to seek out some community leaders to get responses to our writings and share them here, so come back to read them.

We are each going to continue our own work on social mobility through the arts and champion others who do so. The principals that guided us in the beginning will still guide us, such as “staying in our lane” and advocating for the arts to be part of the conversation and resource allocation. We’ll continue to post periodically here on this subject.

Our deepest thanks and gratitude to all of you who have read and shared and commented on this series and are working in this intersection of arts and social mobility in Charlotte!


HannahHannah Grannemann is an arts administrator based in Charlotte, NC. She has worked in theatre and the arts for 17 years, including with Yale Repertory Theatre, the Guthrie Theater, PlayMakers Repertory Company, Children’s Theatre of Charlotte and as a fundraising and strategic planning consultant. She is a Board member of Arts NC, the statewide advocacy group and Theatre for Young Audiences/USA and serves on an advisory council for the Arts and Science Council of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Hannah holds an MFA in Theater Management from Yale School of Drama and an MBA from Yale School of Management.

Tell Me a Story and Make It Good

By Josh Jacobson

In this blog post, I’ll discuss Strategy H: Apprenticeships, Paid Internships and other Work-Based Learning, otherwise known as “Learn & Earn,” though the thoughts here apply to the role of the broader community as a part of implementation of the entire plan.

I must admit, I’m heartened to see the impact the Economic Opportunity Task Force report Leading on Opportunity has already had on leaders in our community.  One’s familiarity with the report serves as a sort of litmus test on how plugged-in that individual is. Such is the nature (and legacy) of this important initiative.

I was at an unrelated meeting recently and when the subject of the report came up, one influential leader took out her dog-eared copy of the report, with post-its marking pages and highlighter on every page.  Leaders of nonprofits throughout Mecklenburg County see this effort as a blueprint to the future; a roadmap for social impact. I’ve also taken to carrying a copy of the Recommendation Matrix with me and find myself referencing it a lot.

Because of the work I do, I am also brought in contact with donors and volunteers who are outside the nonprofit mainstream – supportive people who have day jobs and do what they can to make a difference. And the news there is less rosy.  When I bring up the report, most of those people have not heard of it. Many are even unfamiliar with the Harvard University/UC Berkeley Study that inspired the initiative in the first place.

Such is the challenge for those who are working to implement this important work.  What is a seminal work to leaders in our community has perhaps yet to connect with the broader community.

Strategy H is focused on increasing paid work-based learning opportunities for students, and it uses my favorite language yet: “galvanize community.” To make good on this ambition, it will take more than civic leaders – it will take an entire community working collaboratively to “create apprenticeships, paid internships and other work-based learning programs.”

If you’ve followed this series all along, you know what is next – isn’t galvanizing community a unique strength of the arts, to inspire people and encourage them to think and act differently?

Storytelling as Advocacy

Strategy H is focused squarely on employer commitment and infrastructure development.  The pathway from student to employee is one that will require the buy-in of many along the way, and none more important than the businesses who employ our residents.  And while corporations are an important driver of this, so too must be the small businesses and trades that are less often at the table for civic initiatives.

When I speak to small business owners about their commitment to the work of any given nonprofit, many speak to moments that serve as inflection points – a time when their heart was touched and their minds changed.  While some were impacted by an experience in childhood or as a result of parenting, it is just as often a surprising anectdote from adulthood – a time when that person encountered a social cause that was unexpected and not planned. “I feel like I stumbled onto this cause…” is a typical comment.

Allowing people to “stumble upon” new and different ways of thinking is a strength of quality storytelling.

According to Donna Scott, founder of donna scott productions, the arts can make social issues easier to approach:

“Theatre can act as a neutral third party on topics. It has the ability to present issues and current events in a compelling story format to an audience. Since actors are playing the parts, the audience is naturally more receptive and open to the concepts presented. Reacting to a story being told feels safer to most than encountering real people involved in a specific situation.”

So there is something to the way the arts can frame social issues, to challenge the participant while also entertaining.  Robin Tynes, Artistic Director of Three Bone Theatre concurs:

“There is something very powerful about sitting together with strangers, who all have different experiences, in a dark room to witness live storytelling. It helps to develop empathy and an understanding of the effects of circumstances on people’s lives.”

Surely the same can be said for arts and cultural organizations throughout Charlotte in every discipline.  It is present in a recital for Carolinas Latin Dance Company and The Bechlter’s thrilling Inside Out program.  It can be found on the walls of the Levine Museum of the New South, in the ears of audiences at Tosco Music, and on the stages of producers like donna scott productions and Three Bone Theatre.

If we are looking to encourage local businesses to create new work-based learning opportunities and build a pipeline of CMS students into their companies, how can that ambition be helped along by storytelling? Or really any of the strategies expressed in Leading on Opportunity? The only limitation is the imagination.

Social Capital for Nonprofits

Indeed, a galvanized community can do almost anything.  And while the report calls for increased development of social capital for those in poverty, it is so often the nonprofits themselves, who are called upon to implement change, that lack the social capital (or the marketing budgets) to make a galvanized constituency possible.

I have become convinced that the challenge most organizations face is not only a strategic one but a relational one.  All the planning in the world is unlikely to be successful if the network isn’t there to deliver on it.  While this is a primary role of the board of directors, it is not for that group alone.  A board is comprised of 15-25 people, and nonprofits need tens of thousands of people to come alongside them to make real change.  We need an army and I believe we need the arts community to help draft them into service.

It is not hyperbole to suggest that our future as Charlotteans is at stake.  More than ever, we need the sort of storytelling that inspires people to act.  It is time for our incredible arts community to rise to this challenge.


JoshJosh Jacobson is Managing Director of Next Stage Consulting, a Charlotte-based firm focused on organizational development and fund development for the nonprofit sector. Josh has worked with more than 150 nonprofit organizations throughout the Carolinas, including both human services and arts organiations. Before relocating to NC, Josh spent his formative years working in the cultural sector as a fundraiser for The Juilliard School and Manhattan Theatre Club. Josh is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) and is President Elect for the Charlotte Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.