Phoenix Business Journal Nonprofit Summit

I attended my first Phoenix Business Journal Nonprofit Business Summit on May 1 [and as I slogged through the morning I-10 parking lot, it occurred to me that there are seven categories within the NPO sector – health services, social services, education, professional associations, foundations, cultural/historical and advocacy/policy].

The primary themes that resonated from the summit included the importance of developing partnerships, flexibility and creativity. Indirectly, the prevailing theme was that fives were alive and thriving – commencing the fifth month with the fifth annual NPO summit for the Journal. It continued from there: more than 500 attended; there were five main sessions, parking was $5, and most importantly, we were encouraged to connect with five new people by extending those five fingers.

In all seriousness, it was a great event, and I only was able to see half of it, so I wonder what other great discussions I missed. It was very  helpful that event organizers provided one-sheet highlights for all seven breakout sessions, which ranged from board recruitment to volunteer engagement to corporate and individual funding, since most attendees could only participate in three of them. It is these little extras that provide helpful concrete takeaways in addition to any notes that individuals compose throughout their respective presentations. Another bonus was the annual Giving Guide supplement that was placed at all of the luncheon tables.

Phoenix Business Journal publisher Don Henninger kicked of the day moderating a two-sided, eight-person panel that situated corporate executives and nonprofit leaders in a symmetrical and synergistic dialogue about the ever-changing dynamics of the economy, technology, efficiencies and funding strategies. Normally, a panel of four would seem to be the threshold for productive discussions, but he did a great job and all eight panelists managed to share and enjoy an equitable amount of air time.

A medley of highlights from the three sessions I observed are below (opening executive panel, grant writing presentation by Sally Clifford, executive vice president of Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits, and keynote address by Curt Weeden, president of Business & Nonprofit Strategies, Inc.), but perhaps the most prolific statement came from one panelist in the general session who stated, and I paraphrase: “If you are in your office too much, you are not doing your job effectively.” Cheers to that, and on that note, I concur; any time you can step away from your computer or break up your routine to talk with industry colleagues and share practical ideas, you have carved out a productive day.

  • Corporate donors are doing a better job of listening to constituents and supporting the experts in the various NPO organizations throughout the Valley; NPOs are doing a better job of researching and forming alliances.
  • Managers execute while leaders create; NPO staff are doing great jobs as creators.
  • Corporations and NPOs have become accustomed to working in “austere mode” the last few years and are maintaining discipline with lean operations and technology efficiencies.
  • Companies seek to articulate their community contributions via appropriate methods to mirror employee pride in their communities and attract a committed workforce without overt bragging.
  • Philanthropy remains a people business; thus relationships and forging partnerships are crucial for all parties to achieve their missions and operational efficiencies that will align with their objectives and mutually-beneficial alliances.
  • Companies have reviewed their assets (the old “time, talents & treasure” adage remains) to better reflect employee needs and interests (i.e. having children participate in volunteer situations).
  • NPOs strive to avoid “mission drift” and stay the course on their three-year strategic plans, while still embracing flexibility, creativity and proper utilization of technology to improve research, planning, fundraising and communications.
  • Competition is everywhere for fundraising; there are 32,886 NPOs in Arizona. In the United Sates there are 7,600 NPOs with cancer in the organization’s name; 90 new 501(c)3 organizations are formed each day.
  • In 2010, $290 billion was given for charitable causes; the percentage of giving breaks down as follows: 1) individuals – 73%; 2) foundations – 14%; 3) Bequests – 8%; 4) corporations – 5%. The inverse proportion for corporate giving can be summed up as a large target with a small bulls-eye. NPOs must prioritize outreach and aim right in this order rather than shoot straight for corporation contributions.
  • Fundraising remains 90% research and 10% asking.
  • The double-sided litmus test for NPO programs and outreach is compliance (government regulations) and business relevance (does the business case, terms and proposal align with the corporation’s goals, values, products or services).
  • A great workbook of guidelines was provided for the “grantsmanship” session to help attendees become better “grantsmiths” by ensuring every proposal includes these six questions: Who is going to do what? Where? With whom? With what resources? To accomplish what results? Why is it important?
  • Successful grant applications should also address these 10 considerations: Is there a mission match? Have you provided a realistic budget? Is there demonstrated collaboration? Is there a demonstrated measurable impact? Is the sustainability of the program through out? Failed to plan? Then you’ve planned to fail. Have you don your research? Think creatively. Remember, funders talk. Don’t be afraid to call funders.

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