Ep 63: How To Think About Mergers and Collaborations (with Nadya Shmavonian)

nonprofits are messy

I LOVE collaborations between nonprofits (and hate the word “competition.”)

But not all collaborations are created equal. Sometimes, what makes sense is a simple project partnership. But sometimes, a full-on merger is what’s called for.

But how do you know? When should you merge with another nonprofit? How does a merger differ from an acquisition (you might think you know). How do you set up a collaboration for success, regardless of its structure?

This podcast touches on the precursors to contemplating a strategic collaboration that will lead to building sustainability no matter what you choose.

And I’ve brought in a real expert, Nadya Shmavonian (the “Geneva Accords Hotline” of mergers and collaborations), to discuss the topic with me.

About Nadya

Nadya K. Shmavonian is Director of the Nonprofit Repositioning Fund, and a partner at SeaChange Capital Partners. The Repositioning Fund is a Philadelphia-based pooled fund of philanthropic partners that encourages and supports mergers and other types of formal, long- term strategic alliances and restructuring opportunities among nonprofit organizations in the Greater Philadelphia region

SeaChange is a New York-based nonprofit merchant bank whose mission is to enable transactions that increase the impact of nonprofits while offering leveraged opportunities for funders. In addition to her ongoing management of the Repositioning Fund, Ms. Shmavonian contributes to SeaChange’s national collaboration field-building and advisory services, and explores potential opportunities for SeaChange to engage in projects in the Greater Philadelphia region.

Nadya served as president of Public/Private Ventures (P/PV) from 2010–2012, where she presided over the responsible dissolution of the organization. Nadya has extensive foundation management experience, having served as vice president for strategy at the Rockefeller Foundation, and executive vice president at The Pew Charitable Trusts, where she also worked as director of administration and as a program officer in health and human services. Ms. Shmavonian serves on the boards of many nonprofits, and is an instructor at the School of Social Policy and Practice (SP2) at the University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches graduate seminars on nonprofit governance. Nadya holds a B.A. from the University of Chicago, and an M.B.A. with a concentration in health care management from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She was awarded the Kathleen McDonald Distinguished Alumna Award from Wharton Women in Business in 2011.

In this episode

  • The top three reasons nonprofits think about mergers and other strategic partnerships
  • How ready does a nonprofit need to be before considering a collaboration such as a merger or acquisition?
  • The big difference between nonprofits and for-profits if you are considering a merger
  • What options should a nonprofit board consider when facing the planned departure of a charismatic executive director?
  • Once the decision to merge is made what are the dynamics, needs and values that executive leadership and board members must understand in order to move forward successfully?
  • How can you ensure a successful long term strategic alliance or collaboration? Continue Reading

Ep 62: Hiring the Perfect Executive Director (with Dara Klarfeld)

nonprofits are messyThere’s a growing crisis in the nonprofit sector.

Baby boomer Executive Directors are retiring, and in a sector where overhead is a 4-letter word, few nonprofits choose to spend on sophisticated HR departments or for serious professional development.

When it comes to developing a leadership pipeline, some of the most common questions I get are:

  • What are board search committees looking for in an Executive Director?
  • As a board, what should we be looking for?
  • This is my dream job… What do I do to give it my best shot?

Today, with the help of my special guest Dara Klarfeld, we tackle these questions from points of view of both the ED and board. We discuss how an organization can set itself up to make a great Executive Director hire, as well as the secret sauce to becoming a rockstar candidate.

About Dara Klarfeld

Dara Z. Klarfeld is currently the CEO at DRG Search. Dara joined DRG in 2011 as a Consultant, with an eye to building the firm’s practice in education administration.

Before joining DRG Search, Dara worked in the nonprofit sector for more than 15 years in the areas of education, philanthropy and youth development. In her search practice, Dara is known for her client-centered approach, her strong group facilitation skills, and her expertise in working with clients to resolve organizational challenges in order to prepare for leadership transitions.

Her executive search practice is extensive and diverse; it includes partnerships with the Elmer A. Henderson School, The Hearing Health Foundation, The Weber School, Prizmah, The JCC Association, The New Teacher Center and UJA-Federation of New York.

Most recently, as Managing Director at DRG, Dara’s focus has been on laying the foundations for the firm’s growth, expanding resources, and increasing internal capacity. She loves collaborating and leading the DRG team in the development of new tools to continue to build, deepen and leverage networks. She is passionate about creative ways to identify and assess candidates on behalf of DRG’s clients.

In this episode

  • The work an organization must do before even beginning an E.D. search
  • Who precisely should be on the search committee (and who should not)?
  • The key ingredients for a successful search
  • The common elements of great Executive Directors
  • How do you identify a “unicorn”?
  • Advice for candidates about how to approach the interview process and avoid mistakes
  • What milestones do you need to manage this process?
  • What information should be kept confidential?
  • What if you can’t afford a search firm like DRG?Continue Reading

Ep 61: How to Build a Smart Communications Plan (with Ben Wyskida)

nonprofits are messyHow great would it be for your nonprofit to show up in a front page article in the New York Times? Pretty great.

But that’s not a strategic goal. At best, it’s a tactic as part of an overall communications plan.

What is a communications plan? How does it differ from a strategic plan? How do you set SMART goals? Are press releases dead? Do you need a full time Communications Director to develop and execute an effective plan? Can you use an outside PR person? And what if neither of those are options financially?

How do you know if your communications plan is working?

Too many organizations struggle to prioritize and understand how to communicate with its various audiences. Figuring this out is vital to a successful communications plan.

Ben Wyskida, political strategist and CEO of Fenton Communications, a media strategy firm dedicated to social change, joined me on the podcast to answer some really important questions I had about successful nonprofit communications.

About Ben Wyskida

Ben Wyskida is an accomplished political strategist and communications expert, with nearly 20 years of experience working for progressive social change. Since 2017 he has been the CEO of Fenton. He previously served as an Executive Vice President at BerlinRosen Public Affairs, where he built the firm’s Philanthropy and Cultural Activism practice. There, Ben counseled many of the nation’s leading foundations and advocacy organizations on messaging and communications strategy. Before BerlinRosen, Ben was with The Atlantic Philanthropies, where he developed capacity-building programs and provided crisis communications support for a portfolio of grantees working on health care reform, immigration and social security. Ben has led communications for The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and The Nation Magazine. He began his career as an organizer for Sierra Club, winning a long-shot campaign to preserve more than 6,000 acres of pristine Maryland wilderness. Ben brings to Fenton deep expertise in criminal justice reform, sustainability, human rights and public interest law. He has been a leader in “media for media” communications for investigative journalism nonprofits, and in developing impact campaigns for filmmakers and authors working for social change. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Stonewall Community Foundation and lives on New York City’s Lower East Side with his partner, composer Nico Muhly, and their dog Óskar.

In this episode

  • What is a communication plan? Can a nonprofit thrive without one?
  • What are the core elements of a communications plan?
  • How do you segment your audiences and which questions do you ask each one?
  • How do you tie strategy to communications and can you have one without the other?
  • Who are you pitching and what do keywords and Google Alerts have to do with your database of pitches?
  • How many months should you plot on your communications plan?
  • If you hire a communications director where do you look? Which sectors and backgrounds should you be open to?
  • How do you know if your communications plan is working?Continue Reading

Ep 60: Why Nonprofit Journalism Matters (with Christa Scharfenberg)

nonprofits are messyWhen it comes to journalism and the media, did you know how important the nonprofit world has become? In fact, there are now more than 100 nonprofit news organizations just in the U.S.

Christa Scharfenberg is acting CEO for the Center of Investigative Reporting, founded in 1977. CIR’s stated mission is to engage and empower the public through investigative journalism and groundbreaking storytelling to spark action, improve lives and protect our democracy.

Scharfenberg says CIR fills a gap. Local and regional newsrooms have been decimated, the expense of investigative journalism is very high and the for profit media model cannot support that effort.

The reporting itself may not be fundamentally different in a nonprofit environment, but the ability to follow-through with a story that needs additional investigation can be.

Learn how the nonprofit tightrope is walked by a media organization that cannot just take any kind of focused funding, how different media on all sides of the ideological spectrum function to maintain accountability, neutrality, and build trust.

About Christa Scharfenberg

Christa Scharfenberg is Acting CEO for The Center for Investigative Reporting. She helped launch Reveal, CIR’s new Peabody Award-winning national public radio show and podcast and now oversees the show’s long-term growth and business goals. She is part of the team currently developing a Reveal documentary film strategy. She joined CIR in 2003 as communications manager, served as acting executive director in 2007 and as associate director from 2008-2015. Scharfenberg helped launch CIR’s California Watch reporting project in 2009 and managed many aspects of the merger of CIR and The Bay Citizen in 2012. She has been an executive or senior producer of documentaries for CIR, including FRONTLINE co-productions and the independent film “Banished,” which premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Scharfenberg was a 2014 fellow in the Punch Sulzberger Program at Columbia Journalism School. Prior to joining CIR, she was associate director of the Film Arts Foundation in San Francisco. She is based in CIR’s Emeryville, California, office.

In this Episode

  • The difference it makes to have the freedom to follow stories wherever they lead
  • The number one thing funders care about
  • How do 501c3 media orgs accept money and still maintain editorial independence?
  • How does nonprofit media reporting differ from for-profit?
  • How the nonprofit journalism business model has shifted over the years
  • The importance of collaboration
  • Is there a liberal bias in public media?
  • Are niche organizations trending (i.e. the Marshall Project)?
  • Do reporters ever read press releases?Continue Reading

Ep 59: Scaling Up Your Nonprofit (with Kathleen Kelly Janus)

nonprofits are messy

There are over 1.5 million nonprofits in the US, and ⅔ of them have a budget under $500K. That means there are a whole lot of underfunded organizations that would love to scale up.

My guest, Kathleen Janus, says there are the five things you need to get to the next level and scale up:

  1. Testing and innovation and piloting projects early on
  2. Measuring impact and developing a system for data collection
  3. Fundraising experimentation to develop a mission-driven model
  4. Collective leadership
  5. Storytelling

Kathleen and I do a deep dive into each of these five items, why they matter, and how to approach them.

Kathleen is an expert on philanthropy, millennial engagement, and scaling organizations. As the author of the absolutely terrific book, Social Startup Success, she conducted roughly 100 interviews with nonprofit leaders and found very strong correlations in what worked for those who grew their organizations vs. those who did not.

Today she shares her findings with us.

About Kathleen Janus

Kathleen Kelly Janus is a social entrepreneur, author and lecturer at Stanford University. As an expert on philanthropy, millennial engagement, and scaling early stage organizations, her work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Tech Crunch and the San Francisco Chronicle. She is the co-founder of Spark, the largest network of millennial donors in the world. Based in the heart of the Silicon Valley, she is the author of the terrific book Social Startup Success: How The Best Nonprofits Launch, Scale and Make a Difference. The book features best practices for early-stage nonprofit organizations based on a five-year research project interviewing hundreds of top-performing social entrepreneurs.

In this episode

  • The key to nonprofit success based on Kathleen’s research
  • Building a mindset of social entrepreneurship
  • How do you shift the injustices that lead to suffering and inequalities?
  • Kathleen’s biggest (and surprising) takeaway
  • How to determine the most impactful use of limited resources
  • Of 70% of nonprofits who gather data only 6% find it useful – how to make use of your metrics
  • Why you should be keeping up with public opinion pollsContinue Reading

Ep 58: Is It Time to Leave Facebook? (with Julia Campbell)

nonprofits are messyThey say you’re either the customer or you’re the product. When it comes to Facebook, all of us are the product. Well, our data is anyway.

And let’s face it, when you signed up for Facebook, you kinda knew what you were getting into when it comes to privacy, right? Most of us are willing to give up some of that privacy for the social connection that Facebook can bring.

And for nonprofits, it can go deeper. Facebook is used for fundraising and to express gratitude. To connect with people and build an audience. To spread a message.

Julia Campbell, President of J. Campbell Social Marketing is a Digital and Online Funding Strategist. She discusses whether nonprofits should align with this kind of platform and whether the distrust in Facebook transfers to nonprofits.

Explore these and many more questions. Hear Julia Campbell’s take on whether all age groups have the same mindset about the acceptability of using social media, the sharing of personal data, and how to make the most of social media with the least amount of effort.

About Julia Campbell

Julia Campbell has been involved with the social good sector her whole life, from coordinating food drives as a child to volunteering at homeless shelters in high school to her Peace Corps service in Senegal, West Africa and beyond. She spent years in the trenches at small nonprofits as a development and marketing director. In her current position, she consults and trains organizations on the best ways to use digital tools to raise money and awareness for their organizations.

The author of the new book for nonprofits, Storytelling in the Digital Age: A Guide for Nonprofits, Julia’s blog about nonprofit marketing is #3 on the Top 40 Nonprofit Marketing Blogs and Websites for Nonprofit Marketers and Fundraisers and is consistently featured in the list of Top 150 Nonprofit Blogs in the world.

Find her blog and contact information at: www.jcsocialmarketing.com

In this episode

  • The pros and cons of facebook fundraising for a nonprofit whose staff already wears ten different hats
  • Given privacy concerns, should we continue to use Facebook?
  • Is there an impending mass exodus from Facebook?
  • As a small nonprofit, how much do you need to know about tech strategy?
  • Is social media your storefront or does it go beyond that to mobilize and engage?
  • What is the extent of your responsibility to your donors and followers who access you through social media?
  • How to best use social media to disseminate your mission and your gratitude
  • What each social media platform is best forContinue Reading

Ep 57: You Can Do Hard Things

nonprofits are messy

The TV icon and a personal hero of mine is Mr. Rogers. His mom once told him, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Whether you are a CEO of an international organization, or a helper who is just starting out, my aim has been to support all kinds of helpers across all sectors of the ideological spectrum.

This podcast delves into what it takes to make daunting tasks doable for nonprofit leaders and it showcases the efforts of a handful of passionate committed people who have done their part to change the world. Consider it a big dose of nonprofit inspiration.

Last year I created the Nonprofit Leadership Lab to support these efforts and in so doing realized the benefit has been mutual. Today, I’d like to share some of what I have learned over this past year from board and staff leaders of small-but-mighty nonprofits in the Nonprofit Leadership Lab who are committed to cause, community, and to being the voice of the voiceless.

After hearing their stories, I came up with the top five things they all have in common. Do you have these things in common too?

In this episode

  • What is the #1 challenge nonprofit leader’s face?
  • How long does it take to build a board?
  • Me, raise money?
  • How can I build an audience given everything else I have to do?
  • Is there a way to get help and support on a low budgetContinue Reading

Ep 56: Anatomy of a Crisis (with Emily Klehm)

nonprofits are messy

6am. The phone rings. Uh oh.

Emily Klehm, the Executive Director of South Suburban Humane Society in Chicago, sleepily picks it up.

A staff member tells Emily that he had found a dog tied to a stop sign. When he went to help, somebody held a gun to his head and the dog – Polly – was abducted.


And then it got a whole lot worse. While news crews came out to conduct interviews and film the location of the event — her staff member went missing. Vanished.

Amazingly, the story only got stranger and stranger as the day went on. I don’t want to give it away. You’ll have to listen to the episode.

But I will say this… Emily was a ROCKSTAR that day. She did every single thing right. And even more than hearing the full story, I want you to learn everything she did. You will learn so much from Emily’s story about what to do when things go drastically wrong.

As optimistic as nonprofit leaders tend to be, they need to think about the worst possible thing that could befall their nonprofits. Inevitably there will be a crisis. This podcast tells one story about how to tackle a crisis effectively and how the way you behave day by day prepares you for that.

About Emily Klehm

After graduating Augustana College with a degree in political science, Emily Klehm, CAWA, began working as a Community Organizer for Family Matters Chicago. Her work involved street-level outreach on issues such as affordable housing, education, and leadership development. She then took over the Development Director position  there where she worked for five more years. In 2006, she moved to Chicago Heights and began walking dogs at SSHS as a volunteer. Not long after, she was asked to join the Board of Directors where she served until applying for the newly created executive position at SSHS. She began there December 1, 2007.

In her tenure the organization established a thriving High Volume Low-Cost Spay/Neuter Clinic, partnered to open a Low-Cost Veterinary Services Clinic, and has transformed the shelter from a 50% live release rate to a 90% rate.  She lives with her three adopted children from SSHS: Bette, a sassy seven-year-old Cattle Dog mix, Charlie, a sassier 4-year-old King Charles Cavalier Spaniel/Papillon, and Doug, a darling 6-year-old Chihuahua.

In this episode

  • Exactly what to do when things seriously go south
  • How to be proactive and on-brand in a crisis
  • How my twin engine plane model can support you in times of crisis
  • How a background as a community organizer can prepare you to be an effective nonprofit leader in a time of crisis
  • How the Nonprofit Leadership Lab (my educational and community membership for leaders of smaller nonprofits) helped Emily navigate these difficult waters
  • Upholding a culture of transparency

Continue Reading

Ep 55: The Nonprofit Sector Has Serious Money Hangups (with Belinda Rosenblum)

nonprofits are messy

Do you get anxious asking people for donations?

How much salary is OK for an Executive Director to make?

How do you feel about wealthy people in general?

Are you looking for a direct lender?

Check out this index of information to meet our trusted lender and get the type of loan you need.

Odds are you have strong feelings about questions like these. And if that’s case, guess what… it’s perfectly normal.

It just means you have some money hangups. Most people do. Especially in the nonprofit sector. The question is how do we recognize and understand them so we can make these feelings more productive.

My guest, Belinda Rosenblum, consultant, board member, author, CPA and wealth expert talks with me about all this and more.

Belinda teaches that there are pivotal money moments in our lives that create judgements, patterns, and beliefs that are often laden with stress. Working through the process and separating out the facts from our childhood perceptions, often can reframe the story and create a completely new relationship with money.

A mindset of scarcity and judgement in the nonprofit world may manifest in our beliefs about the salaries we deserve, or even a willingness to fundraise. This podcast will help you shed limiting beliefs and may even lead you to take bigger risks, think bigger, and hence better serve your organization and its mission. You may get instant loans if you visit one of our trusted lenders where you can rely your financial needs. Visit them now!

Bonus: You get to hear my personal money story…

About Belinda

Belinda Rosenblum is a CPA and Wealth Expert who helps you take the worry and fear out of money. Most people struggle to stay ahead of their monthly bills… and just never learned how to be great earners or money managers. Belinda and her company OwnYourMoney.com give you a 4-part plan that helps you make the most of your money now while providing for the future. She’ll bring her experience as a nonprofit consultant and Board member for over 10 years combined to help our audience of nonprofit leaders talk about money in their own organizations, especially when it comes to salary and fundraising.

Belinda is the creator of the Money Makers Academy and the coauthor of SELF-WORTH TO NET WORTH: 12 Keys to Creating Wealth Inside and Out, both offering a step-by-step approach to help you build your financial self-esteem and manage your own financial life. If she’s not talking about financial freedom, Belinda is likely enjoying the sunshine and chasing after her marathon-running husband, college bound step-daughter, and 2 spirited toddlers.

Discover exactly where you need to start to build your own money management and mindset skills with Belinda’s new quiz at: www.OwnYourMoney.com/joan.

In this episode

  • Identifying your “personal money stories”
  • What are your belief triggers?
  • How do these unconscious beliefs impact your results?
  • Transforming your views on money
  • Dealing with the dreaded “overhead myth”
  • Should those in the nonprofit sector make less money?

Continue Reading

Ep 54: The 15-Year-Old Nonprofit Superhero (with Kayla & Andrea Abramowitz)

nonprofits are messy

This episode is going to AMAZE you and CHARM you. Truly.

After all, what’s not amazing about an 11-year-old who sees a need, makes it happen (and then some) and, as a result, founds a successful 501c3 organization?

In this podcast we hear the story of Kayla Abramowitz, the founder of Kayla Cares 4 Kids who is now 15 years old. Her own medical challenges, and the amount of time she spent in hospitals, prompted her to create a nonprofit organization that in the last 4 years has served 453 medical facilities in all 50 states.

Kayla knew, from experience, that when children sit in medical facilities for hours or days on end with nothing to do it is not only tedious, but already feeling ill, that boredom is not conducive to improving health. Kayla identified a gap — the lack of entertainment options in medical facilities — and knew that once filled, it could make a positive difference in the lives of children.

Kayla then used her passion,  and the power that comes from family and community support, to help sick kids feel better one smile at a time. Her mother Andrea used her own 25 years of experience working in communications, as well as her nonprofit experience, to support her daughter’s endeavors.

In this podcast, mother and daughter share ideas for how to grapple with challenges associated with new CEOs and founders (who may not be fit to be board chairs), how networking is essential to success, how engaging community, local entities, volunteers and media will help ensure the success of a foundation, and what it’s like to be a founder as a kid.

About Kayla Abramowitz

Kayla Abramowitz, 15, is the Founder and Chief Kid Officer (CKO) of Kayla Cares 4 Kids, which collects and donates educational and entertainment items to children’s hospitals nationwide. Kayla Cares 4 Kids “helps sick kids feel better one smile at a time.”

Kayla came up with the idea at age 11, after noticing a limited DVD selection during many hospital visits due to Crohn’s Disease, Eosinophilic Colitis, and Juvenile Arthritis. The organization has donated more than 15,000 items to nearly 450 children’s hospitals and Ronald McDonald Houses in all 50 states. Kayla oversees Ambassadors across nine states—and hundreds of student volunteers locally and nationally—while also serving on her organization’s Board of Directors.

For her efforts, Kayla has won six national awards, including National Young Entrepreneur of the Year; Christopher Reeve Service Award; Diller Teen Award; and Prudential Spirit of Community Award. In 2017, she was featured in an “Inspiring America” segment of NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt.

About Andrea Abramowitz

Andrea Abramowitz is CEO of Kayla Cares 4 Kids. Andrea has more than 25 years of experience working in communications at entities such as ABC News, USA TODAY and local television, where she was a Telly Award winning news producer. She worked for The Palm Beach Post, where she covered health, business, lifestyle and even once, sports; and served as a Stringer for the Associated Press for five years.

Andrea and Kayla received a 2017 WEGO Health Award for Best Team Performance for Kayla Cares 4 Kids. Andrea is a board member of the Arthritis Foundation’s West Palm Beach office, and Florida’s Advocacy Co-Chair, as well as a member of the Family Advisory Council at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital.

In this episode

  • The biggest challenge running a startup nonprofit
  • How Kayla and Andrea built a board from scratch
  • How a 15 year old feels about being a board chair
  • How they motivate volunteers
  • Mixing business acumen and passion
  • Ways to secure media coverage
  • The unmistakable power of networking
  • Lessons learned
  • Advice for founders

Continue Reading