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

by Josh Jacobson

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

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

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

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

Volunteer Acquisition & Management

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

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

Professionalizing with Staff

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

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

Human Resource Dynamics

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

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

Yes, There Will Be Homework

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

Next Up: Partnerships That Make Sense

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

by Josh Jacobson

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

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

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

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

Governance Design

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

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

Sourcing Strategy

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

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

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

Buy-In & Accountability

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

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

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

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

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

by Josh Jacobson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building Program Fidelity (Module #2)

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

The curriculum focuses on three key areas:

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

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

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

by Josh Jacobson

Today is the official launch of CULTIVATE and boy are we excited! I can’t properly put into words how great it feels to know that an idea we had as the Next Stage team, something we’ve pined for and into which we poured so much sweat equity, is finally coming to fruition. It’s scary and wonderful.

CULTIVATE is our answer to a pressing need – emerging nonprofits in Charlotte with dynamic leadership, quality programming and initial achievement too often struggle to translate that early success into a sustainable business model. Our firm has worked one-on-one with so many of these amazing, visionary founders and leaders, and we know what is in their hearts. Believing that we can help them achieve their visions and make the world a better place is the gas that fuels our engine.

With the help of our world-class selection committee, we have secured the participation of four fantastic emerging nonprofits – organizations that are intentionally diverse in mission and make-up. We know that the benefits of CULTIVATE will not only be from the structured curriculum, but also from the cohort model and the social capital developed with the network we are bringing to bear.

Today is the very first workshop with our CULTIVATE participants, a half-day hands-on workshop where they will dive into the deep end with our very favorite set of topics: mission, values, guiding principles and vision.

W-w-wait, did I lose you? Is that a yawn I see? Did you navigate away from this impassioned plea for better and more fully-realized organizational building blocks?

It can be difficult to get folks excited by organizational components that are too often considered philosophical and superfluous. But at Next Stage, we consider these concepts to be necessary, fundamental and even sacrosanct for future success. In fact, we will begin our first workshop with mission, values, guiding principles and vision, and in the final workshop later this year, we will revisit these concepts. They are that important.

We all know about the mission statement. It lives on the website and is at the bottom of letterhead. It is a simple construct defining the organization’s purpose, what groups or individuals it serves, and very basically how it plans to do so.

We know about the mission statement because, of all of the concepts we’ll cover this month, it is the only one requested by the IRS when the organization files its establishing documentation as a 501c3 nonprofit organization. Since nonprofits are public organizations, owned by all people and managed on their behalf by a board of directors, the IRS is interested primarily in how the organization exists for the greater good.

According to (deep breath) part 7, chapter 25, section 3, item 1.1 of the U.S. tax code, organizations that are tax exempt must exist for “religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals.” The terms “charitable” and “education” are quite broad, and justifying one’s mission is a fairly easy process. Simple right?

Wrong. Since most mission statements are initially drafted in service to filing the application to the IRS, they tend to be less examined components of the business model. There is little scrutiny by the community the organization actually serves. Unanswered questions for most: “should you exist?” “Is your mission needed and meaningful?” “Are you the best group to do it?” If we know that these questions are in the back of the mind for the potential stakeholder of a nonprofit, would that not inform how the mission statement is crafted in the first place? We tend to think so, and if the mission is meant to be the main idea of the organization’s value proposition and the centerpiece of messaging, it should probably zing.

Values and Guiding Principles
If mission is the “what” of the organization, values define “how” – how the mission is carried out, how constituents are messaged and how decisions are made. Guiding principles are “applied values” meant to govern action and define a brand of those actions for people who interact with the organization. Guiding principles inform process and the actualizing of a set of values.

We believe the marriage of values and processes translate into internal organizational culture and external brand. Organizations that spend time prioritizing their values and processes for putting them into practice are much more likely to be magnetizing for others, because those values radiate in every communication and interaction.

While the individual values of the founder are an important starting place, organizational values necessarily must be an expression of the many people who make an organization viable – its board, staff, volunteers, donors and individuals served. While a founder may be initially successful using personal values to recruit board members, volunteers and donors, those that successfully on-board people as torch bearers should invite them to also inform values. When we are connected at the value level and help create guiding principles, we tend to be more bought-in and accountable.

The exercise CULTIVATE participants will engage in this month is focused on values and guiding principles because too few organizations have them or elevate them effectively. We would argue this is a significant source of challenge to the growing nonprofit.

If you’ve met me and Caylin, you know how incredibly passionate we are about vision. Of all of these important concepts, we feel vision is the single most important one toward increasing an organization’s chances for sustainability. Because without vision, an organization’s leadership is unlikely to win the hearts and minds of  the people they need to be successful.

Vision can be expressed in two ways – an enduring vision and a time-limited vision. An enduring vision is the hoped-for utopia for which we all strive. For a homeless shelter, it may be the eradication of homelessness. For a cancer charity, it is the development of a cure. An enduring vision is the organizing philosophy for what we hope to achieve over the long haul. But an enduring vision is typically black or white. We are toiling away until someday we are no longer needed, because the need we address no longer exists. An enduring vision is a black-or-white concept – until total success is achieved, we are on the path working toward it.

CULTIVATE participants will be focused as much on defining the enduring vision of their organizations as they are on the time-limited vision. At Next Stage, we are often helping organizations establish stakeholder buy-in on a ten-year vision – over the next decade, where is the organization going? What does success look like over that ten-year horizon? This is where we ask organizations to be brave, to take risks and be willing to stake themselves out on something that may feel enormous and overwhelming. We do this because an organization’s constituency needs to be inspired, and if the organization’s leadership is unwilling to “go there,” it shouldn’t be surprising when donors and volunteers jump ship for other, more dynamic organizations. People need to believe in the organization’s ability to create change, and that begins with a confident, unified leadership expressing measurable ambition inspirationally.

This topic will be introduced to CULTIVATE participants in January but will be a year-long backdrop for the strategic business planning process.

The Road Ahead
So that’s the first month of CULTIVATE in a nutshell – the first of 12 modules of content delivery designed to help participating organizations develop a strategic business model for the long haul. We look forward to sharing with you the content of our incubator and invite you to engage in this topic on Facebook. The participating CULTIVATE organizations need new recruits to help them achieve their goals, and we hope this effort will stir up new resources. If you want to learn more or to get involved, contact Caylin Viales at and Josh Jacobson at We’d love to help you plug in.

Launched in January 2018, CULTIVATE is providing four participating nonprofits in-depth training and coaching on core monthly topics focused on organizational development and strategic business planning. The curriculum for CULTIVATE includes one-on-one work and personalized coaching with the Next Stage Consulting team, online assignments managed through a learning management system, small group workshops for the four participating organizations and community engagement activities designed to increase social capital.

JoshJosh Jacobson is Managing Director of Next Stage Consulting, a Charlotte-based firm focused on organizational development and fund development for the nonprofit sector. Next Stage Consulting provides organizations access to affordable, high-quality consulting services to help them “get to the next level.” Josh is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) and is President Elect for the Charlotte Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Next Stage Consulting Announces the 2018 CULTIVATE Cohort

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

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

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

The 2018 cohort for CULTIVATE includes:

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

Launching in January 2018, CULTIVATE will provide these four participating nonprofits in-depth training and coaching on core monthly topics focused on organizational development and strategic business planning.  The curriculum for CULTIVATE includes one-on-one work and personalized coaching with the Next Stage Consulting team, online assignments managed through a learning management system, small group workshops for the four participating organizations and community engagement activities designed to increase social capital.

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

More about CULTIVATE can be found here. 

About Next Stage Consulting:

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


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