Nonprofit 411: Boards of Directors Can (and Should) Align Organizations with Future Realities

By Eric Curtis, President, Curtis Strategy EricPic

The business models of nonprofit organizations are changing fast, but boards of directors are far behind the curve in making governance changes to keep up with the shifting landscape.

We are seeing massive disruption in every nonprofit sector due to technology, regulations, and many other factors. Donors and foundations have been trying to encourage nonprofits to prepare for this disruption for the last 5-10 years. Unfortunately, the pace of change in all nonprofit sectors is very slow. Donors and foundations have been trying to influence change through their grant-making strategy, but that too has been slow to evolve. The trend is moving away from small ($2,500-$5,000) grants to larger, more impactful gifts. With the increasing average grant size comes a decrease in the total number of grants available, making competition for grants tougher than ever.

Funders are also looking to ensure that nonprofit organizations will remain viable in the years to come. As a result, many of them are focusing more heavily on the following four areas as part of their giving strategies:

  1. Mergers, collaborations, and shared services: Large numbers of nonprofits are fighting for the same philanthropy. These organizations must find ways to work together with other like-minded nonprofits to leverage talent, share resources, and improve cost-effectiveness.
  1. Business model changes that integrate technology: Greater capacity, better resource management, and improved service can come from technology solutions, which must be adopted at a quicker pace.
  1. Ability to measure impact and capture data: Nonprofits must be able to clearly quantify how their programs are moving the needle and fulfilling their mission. They must establish credible metrics and capture reliable data to support higher-quality decision making.
  1. Building capacity to ensure a strong and capable workforce: Funders recognize that nonprofits need to attract talent to achieve their mission. Most organizations are stretched very thin with staffing resources to tackle new initiatives.

These shifts in funding strategy are not enough to fully drive change. Nonprofit organizations must take on the challenge of becoming more dynamic in the rapidly changing marketplace. This journey begins by building a breakthrough board of directors capable of aligning their organization with future realities.

Great nonprofit organizations build great boards. Boards can either maintain the status quo or lead their organization to new levels of governance, management, and achievement. It is more important now than ever for nonprofit organizations and their boards to be dynamic and adaptable. The boards of the future will need to be more capable, savvy decision makers and stronger players in driving change and adaptation. Boards must be able to think beyond traditional governance to ensure the viability of their organization.

Nonprofit 411: How to beat the Cybercriminals – A True Story

By Ashley Fontes, Communications Manager, Tech Networks of Boston

blog image - AshleyA few weeks ago, one of our clients was hit with a ransomware software attack that made company files inaccessible, leaving most of their employees unable to work for several hours. If you don’t already know about ransomware, this means your files could be locked so that you cannot use them, you could be prevented from accessing Windows, and certain apps could be blocked from running. Worst of all, these cybercriminals demand large amounts of money for files to be retrieved. Sounds like a nightmare, right?

As ransomware attacks are becoming more common, IT engineers are trained to establish preventative measures to recover from an attack if one was to ever occur.  Tech Networks had been working with our nonprofit client for the past two years, reviewing and consistently improving their security as part of an overall infrastructure upgrade. These preventative efforts ended up paying dividends in this situation.

So what happened?

One of the client’s employees noticed the files on their network drive looked different and were unable to be opened. Upon further investigation, our engineer confirmed that the files were encrypted and ransom notes were left in all file folders.

Once the ransomware attack was identified, the organization was able to move forward without panic, as the recovery process was communicated to their employees. Their systems were fully restored within a few hours, with little operational disruption. With a proper backup and disaster recovery plan in place, the nonprofit was able to continue business operations without having to pay a hefty ransom fee to the cybercriminals for their files.

But what about the security features already enabled on machines?

There are several very effective tools and techniques that can help you address many of the common threats and problems, including firewalls, virus production tools, Internet Content filtering, and more. However, if any of these tools were 100% effective, there would be no security breaches. As soon as a known threat is addressed by these tools, a new one emerges.

Some preventative measures to keep you safe:

  • Never let any employee’s account be set to never expire, even if they want it this way.
  • Set password policies to never allow previous passwords, and change passwords every three months.
  • Never send passwords through open email, always use encrypted messages for sensitive information.
  • Using cellphones for SMS texts can be useful as a “back-channel” communication method during an attack, but this method is also not encrypted and the information relayed could be retrieved by an attacker/eavesdropper.
  • Always run security updates and make sure the latest patches are installed on your operating system.

We hope this story can encourage your organization to employ strict password procedures and security practices, and eventually save you from a hefty payment to a cybercriminal.

Remember – the ultimate key to beating ransomware is to prevent, not react.  


5 Lessons after 50 Years

By Pamela Civins, Executive Director, Boston Partners in Education

Pamela-Headshot_thumbI’ve had the privilege of leading the nonprofit organization Boston Partners in Education for the last 11 years. When I joined the organization in 2006, we were in the midst of an identity crisis and needed to get back on track if we wanted to continue serving students in the Boston Public Schools. I decided the first thing I needed to do was listen. After consulting past Board and staff members of the organization, I came away with some valuable lessons that have helped us transform Boston Partners into the successful organization that it is today. Here are five lessons we have learned over our 50 years of supporting Boston’s young people and engaging our community members.

Warning: it’s not all glamorous, but it is worth the investment!

5. Create, maintain and use solid management systems for programming and fundraising. I always tell my staff, “We are in the business of building relationships.” But in order to do our work, we have to put systems in place for tracking progress and outcomes so that everyone is on the same page. Invest in a CRM database that works for your organization, and proceed to use it well.

This then allows all of us on staff and our Board of Directors to conduct our main business — building strong relationships throughout our community.

4. Provide staff, including leadership, ample opportunities for professional development.

No one knows everything and there is always room to strengthen knowledge and skills. Younger staff need an opportunity to learn, grow and take on new responsibilities, like managing internal teams, for example.

For veteran staff, even the executive director, opportunities for professional development help refine skills and build some critical new ones. In my case, for instance, it was to improve my public speaking skills. With a workshop, some great tips on how to get better, and a lot of practice, I can now face a crowd of 500-plus people and represent Boston Partners in Education with the poise and conviction of a strong, respectable leader.

3. Invest in marketing and communications.

Marketing and public relations are critical to success. The community needs to know you exist and why, brands need to be recognizable, and the good work being accomplished should be amplified in the news, on digital channels and at community events.

This leads to developing ambassadors for your organization. For us, helping our Board of Directors talk about Boston Partners in Education with consistent messaging about what our organization does, along with the reasons why they are personally involved and invested, has been a great way to cultivate new friends and new individual and corporate donors.

Having a consistent message that your staff, Board, and friends of the organization are aware of and believe in, activates the internal team as ambassadors as well, allowing them to spread the word about the good work being done in support of our community.

2. Be everywhere, all the time. Invest in ensuring that staff, Board and friends of the organization are out in our community representing the work your nonprofit is doing. If there is a community meeting, send someone. If you are recruiting volunteers, have a table at volunteer fairs around the City. If you are working with a government office, be sure leaders and staff in that office know who your organization is and the work you are doing. If your work can be effected or is related to ongoing policy discussion, join the conversation.

For example, when Mayor Walsh was new to Boston, I made sure that I attended different events where he was speaking and then took time to shake his hand and introduce myself to him. A few months later, we reached out to the Mayor and his office asking if he would participate in our middle school reading initiative, the Big Cheese Reads, and he was happy to jump on board. The conscious effort to be active in the community got him into a Boston Public Schools building, reading aloud and talking with middle school students. It’s a win/win/win — the students get to meet their Mayor; the Mayor gets to meet his future constituents; and Boston Partners in Education gets to make this important introduction to all involved.

1. Invest in strong leadership for the organization.

I am most proud of developing a team of leaders in Boston Partners in Education at all levels. I’ve had a great Board of Directors who have supported my professional growth, and have been able to provide the organization a solid strategic direction, identifying priorities and making them actionable — the key to improving what we do in order to meet our mission.

In 2006, the organization did not have a management team. As time went on, I realized for me to be most effective in my role and for others to be most effective in their roles, we needed to come together as a group to discuss opportunities and challenges Boston Partners was contemplating. Having this team has directly helped to improve the quality of our work over the years. These are strong managers and leaders in the work they do day in and day out. With the correct leaders in place on staff, our organization continues to evolve and perform our work more efficiently each year.

Demonstrating your trust in staff is critical to growth. I’ve become a strong leader thanks in part to my investment in staff who have been willing and eager to take on more and more responsibility and challenge themselves over the years. With a strategic direction and an action plan that is reviewed and updated often, an organization will be able to bring on talent who will stay and ensure that work in the community is being done.


Strengthening your nonprofit takes time. It depends on individuals who believe in the mission and people working to meet the mission. It requires patience to overcome the inevitable bumps in the road. These are just a few of the lessons we, at Boston Partners in Education, have learned over the years.

What has remained consistent — through rewarding and challenging times — is that our work has focused on helping students in Boston succeed academically and personally. That has been our priority for 50 years, and we continue our work to determine how to best ensure our young people, their teachers and our community members are having the best learning experience, together. This helps us achieve our ultimate goal: ensuring that students in Boston are staying in school, achieving, and graduating from high school on time. This is our contribution to our community and we believe that it’s an important one. We will continue to seek advice and learn lessons from our peers as we head into the next 50 years.

Pamela Civins is the Executive Director of Boston Partners in Education, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students in the Boston Public Schools (BPS) through in-classroom academic mentoring services. To learn more or to become an academic mentor, visit

2017 Nonprofit Awareness Day

Celebrating the Nonprofit Organizations and Individuals Transforming Communities Every Day

NPAD 2017 1On Monday House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Stan Rosenberg, and Jay Ash, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, joined hundreds of nonprofit and business leaders from across Massachusetts at the State House to celebrate MNN’s Nonprofit Awareness Day, presented by Citizens Bank.

In his remarks, Senate President Stan Rosenberg spoke about Massachusetts’ #1 ranking among all 50 states by U.S. News & World Report, and the role that nonprofits played in the ranking factors. Secretary Jay Ash spoke about his excitement in participating in this year’s program, sharing stories about how nonprofits impacted his childhood and made him a better city manager in Chelsea. MNN Preview-03 (1)And House Speaker Robert DeLeo spoke about the invaluable contributions the nonprofit sector has made to Massachusetts, stressing the importance of continued partnerships between the nonprofit sector and state leaders.

After the remarks from state leaders and a welcome from presenting sponsor Citizens Bank, Nonprofit Excellence Awards were presented to four organizations and two professionals exemplifying the innovative and effective work done by nonprofits across Massachusetts. The winners each shared impactful stories about their work and what their respective organizations have been able to accomplish.

Congratulations to the 2017 Excellence Award Winners:

We hope that the stories of our Nonprofit Excellence Award winners and the #nonprofitsmakesense social media campaign remind all of us of the unlimited potential we have as a sector when we stand together. Thank you to the elected officials, our emcee Kristy Lee, our sponsors, supporters, attendees, and finalists for helping make this celebration such a success. To see additional pictures of the event click here.

MNN Announces New Board Chair

The Massachusetts Nonprofit Network (MNN) is pleased to announce that Jim Ayres has been elected as the next Chair of the Network’s Board of Directors. Ayres will succeed David Shapiro, CEO of Mentor: The National Mentoring Partnership, who has chaired the MNN board since 2011.

“I am honored and grateful for the opportunity to guide this important and dynamic organization,” Ayres said. “The state’s nonprofit sector is a critical social and economic engine that impacts each and every resident of Massachusetts. I look forward to working with nonprofit, business, and government leaders across the state to support the sector and, ultimately, help build a better Commonwealth.”

“We are thrilled to have Jim Ayres chairing our board as MNN enters its second decade,” said Jim Klocke, MNN’s CEO. “He is an exceptional leader, who has extensive nonprofit programming and policy experience. Jim has been a valuable member of our board for the last three years, and we cannot wait to work more closely with him.”

Ayres, who joined MNN’s board in 2014, will assume the role of President and CEO of the United Way of Pioneer Valley, based in Springfield, later this month. For the last six years, he has served as the Executive Director of the United Way of Hampshire County. Under his leadership, the organization received widespread recognition for its innovative approaches to grant making, resource development, public messaging, and creating positive change in the community.

Prior to joining United Way, Ayres led the Northampton-based Center for New Americans, an education and resource center for immigrants and refugees, for 12 years. He holds a BA from Hampshire College, an MBA from UMass Amherst’s Isenberg School of Management, and an MA from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. In addition to MNN, Ayres serves on the boards of the Institute for Training and Development and the Hampshire County Council of Social Agencies.

MNN is extremely thankful for all that Shapiro has done to support the organization, and the state’s nonprofit sector, during his tenure as Chair. In recognition of this, MNN’s Governance Committee has decided to appoint him as a Director Emeritus, with his term beginning in June.

Nonprofit 411: Tips for Designing or Re-Designing Your Non-Profit Website

By Ginger Kroll, Account Manager, Muse Intermedia

Ginger-KrollOver the years Muse Intermedia has designed, redesigned and maintained hundreds of websites. In the past year we’ve worked on a number of large scale non-profit website redesigns and in doing so, we’ve come up with a few tips and tricks from what we’ve learned throughout the varying processes.  Whether you’re starting from scratch or investing in a redesign, here is our list of things to consider when taking your non-profit into the digital age.

Be Accessible

It’s extremely important that your site be accessible. When researching potential agencies look for ones that start their design process at the mobile level and build from there. You’ll want to ensure that your non-profit site has the ability to quickly connect with millions of people and that means being mobile ready and at the tip of your visitor’s fingertips.

Content Content Content

Besides just engaging potential supporters online, content helps people find you when they search online. It’s essential that your company make itself a center of user-friendly content and that means utilizing social media and blog posts. Depending on your platform, encourage your readers to provide content for your site by leaving comments on your blog or Facebook page. Doing this can get a regular flow of content from your supporters and add a unique dynamic to your site.

Make it Visual

A picture is worth a thousand words – which makes the imagery you place on your website extremely important.  Make sure you have the images you need to fill the pages of your site and keep your visitors visually stimulated. It’s important that the images you select not only tell a story, but are brand relevant and high quality (i.e. large, high resolution images always work best.) And as we mentioned above, make sure the images you select will work on all devices – accessibility is key!

Don’t forget the important stuff

What financially drives your non-profit? Whether it’s fundraisers, annual galas, or festivals, highlighting your non-profit’s events plays a crucial part in the design of your site. It’s important that your organization make an inventory of what you currently use and what you would like to use, so that your design team can make sure they select the right tools for your site. Ask your design team for examples of custom event pages, calendars and blogposts they’ve used to highlight their client’s events. Make sure to discuss specific needs with your design team so that they can decide on how best to approach your site.

The Most Important Lesson of All

Find a design team that supports you and your organization’s mission. Make sure they spend time getting to know you so that they can understand who you are and what tools you need to be successful. Searching for the right agency can be daunting – make sure you find one that communicates clearly and the result will be fewer surprises and a beautiful, functional, website.

Nonprofit 411: Tips for Lobbying your Legislators

By Stefanie Coxe, Principal, Nexus Werx LLC

Most non-profit leaders I train to lobby feel overwhelmed at the prospect of asking their lawmakers to secure a budget earmark or to advocate for legislation that would benefit their organization. There’s a lot of relationship-building and other work to do ahead of meeting with them, but if you’re already well-known to your state representative and state senator, this is the Anatomy of the Ask:

First, do your homework. Is your representative the lead sponsor of the line-item you’re pushing? Is she on the record in the newspaper opposing the bill you’re meeting on? Make sure you’re not sabotaging yourself by unexpectedly meeting with the opposition or embarrassing yourself by asking her to support something she’s a well-known champion of.

Next, get on their schedule. During the budget and other busy times, State Legislators will generally be in “the building” (the State House) Tues-Thursday and in-district Monday and Friday. Call to confirm the meeting and, for pity’s sake, if you’re running late, call and let them know. (They, on the other hand have de facto permission to be as late as they want.) Don’t be afraid to meet with an aide if they cancel last minute (it happens all the time). They can be your biggest advocates!

Have your swag ready to go. In politics, we call this a “one pager.” And I do mean one. Politicians and their aides get mountains of requests and usually don’t have the time or manpower to read through long reports. Trust me, if they want more, they’ll ask for it. Things to include:

  • Program name, line-item/bill number
  • If you’re asking them to co-sponsor something, don’t forget to name the lead sponsor (and their aide, and the amendment number)! And while you’re at it, include your name and contact info!
  • Bill/funding history of your ask
  • Information about who and how many people who will be impacted (preferably people in their district), how it will work, and a little more meat on the bones. Still one page front and back, though.

Perfect your elevator speech. If your legislator doesn’t understand what you want in less than five minutes, chances are your request isn’t going far. Keep it high level. Tell them what the program/bill is, what problem it’s fixing (or what gain it’s creating), why it’s important to his/her district, and if it’s funding, how it will be sustained. After you’ve done that you can engage in a back and forth discussing the granular details.

Finally, follow-up, follow-up, follow-up. A week or two after your meeting, make a pleasant call to their aide asking if their boss has had a chance to consider your request or take action they promised in the meeting.

If they agree to help, thank them. Thank their aide. Thank them publicly, if possible. Thank them, because it’s a thankless job and everyone appreciates being valued.

For more information, visit:

Nonprofit 411: Non-Profit Employee Classification Checklist

By Paul Holtzman, Partner, Krokidas & Bluestein

As a non-profit organization, there are many considerations to account for in the way you supervise, retain, PaulHoltzmanand compensate your workforce. From classification of employment status to compensation practices, mismanagement of personnel can be damaging for any organization and the risk is only exacerbated for nonprofits. Below are a few tips to help you navigate the murky waters between volunteers, interns and independent contractors, so that you can ensure that you are adhering to applicable laws and classifying personnel in an accurate and legal way.

They may be a volunteer if…

  • The worker does not receive or expect to receive benefits from their work
  • The activity constitutes less than a full-time occupation
  • Regular employees are not displaced by the volunteer
  • The individual is acting without having been pressured or coerced
  • The services are not the same type as those performed by employees of the organization

They may be an intern if…

  • Their activity is similar to training that would be given in an educational environment
  • The experience is for their benefit
  • The individual does not displace regular employees
  • There is no immediate advantage derived by your organization from the intern’s activities
  • There is a mutual understanding that the intern is not entitled to wages for their time spent; and that they are not necessarily entitled to a job

They may be an independent contractor if…

  • The individual is free from control and direction of the organization, both by design and in fact
  • The service they provide is performed outside the usual course of business of your organization
  • The worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession or business of the same nature as that involved in their work for your organization

Nonprofit 411: Size and Success: The Case for Capacity for NPOs

By Kim McCormick, Senior Vice President, McCormick Group

The spectrum of nonprofit organizations (NPO) in the United States ranges from $3+ billion to $250 in annual revenue. The DSC_0303pi-04Ms (1)huge disparity paired with the sheer number (1.5 million) of registered NPOs begs the question, does size matter?


Interestingly, there are two conflicting concepts regarding size. Larger organizations have greater resources to make changes, acquire technologies and train staff, however it’s more difficult to shift system wide. Smaller organizations may shift models easily, yet lack capacity and financial resources to make impactful change. Knowing the sweet spot for your organization’s size can help you deliver your mission more effectively. Unfortunately, many NPOs are busy raising money and managing daily operations. Building capacity for greater impact is the stuff of dreams.

Capacity can be measured by in many ways; stating efficacy in relationship to size is but one. NPOs at an effective capacity level raise more money in relationship to their size than smaller organizations. Comparing average gross revenue to size, research shows that the minimum financial capacity for organizational effectiveness is between $1-5M with $10M being the beginning of the sweet spot for strategic growth.

NPOs raising less than $1-3M simply don’t have the capacity to deliver the brand, attract and train quality employees, implement major programs, deeply invest in technology or significantly impact mission. If that is the case, then how can we build capacity? There are several ways, including:

• Raise more money

• Cut staff, programs and services

• Seek collaborative agreements to broaden the footprint, gain economies of scale and reach more constituents

The focus of a collaboration solution to capacity starts with mission, not money, and is centered on ‘what we can do better together.’


The first step to measuring success requires looking beyond the dashboard to multi-year trends. If a drop is noticeable or the organization is losing impact, volunteers and influence, the reason can usually be traced to capacity. Whether it’s lack of consistent funding, staff, volunteers, lack of “pick your point” there are missing elements that if present would result in positive trends. Additional factors including increased competition, the complexity of managing donors, policy shifts and environmental influences can inhibit success year after year.

Consider the impact of scale. The difference between a $1M versus a $10M organization spending 10% on branding is significant such that to achieve the desired results, the larger organization may only need to spend 7% on branding and have more funds available (in this example $300,000) to invest in strategic objectives. As scale increases, capacities increase simply because of size. There is direct evidence of entities lacking consistent financial capacity and not achieving goals due to weak brand recognition.

Donors relate to an organization on brand, but judge effectiveness on programmatic, fundraising and administration costs compared to monies raised. The larger an organization’s revenues in relationship to their expenses, the more appealing these ratios are to constituents.

Finding success through building capacity can be likened to realizing that you need something, like vegetables to sell at your market. You can either buy land, equipment and seeds, plant and tend hoping your investment pays off; or you can visit a vegetable farmer, get to know her, share resources, create a partnership and start offering high quality vegetables to your constituents quickly and inexpensively. Dream big!

Nonprofit 411: Goodbye Obamacare & Hello Trumpcare? Not so fast…

By Colleen Doherty, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, SVP, Compliance & Client Service, Eastern InsuranceColleen Doherty

From the day that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare, The Affordable Care Act, or the ACA) was signed into law back in 2010, its opponents have been vowing to repeal it. During the Obama administration, repeal was a moot point given that President Obama could veto any bill that attempted to dismantle his signature legislation. Under the new Trump administration, the repeal of the ACA is a primary objective of the new president as well as the Republican majority House and Senate.  However, a full repeal of the law is highly unlikely given that Senate Democrats will most likely block any attempt to fully repeal the law.

What is an ACA opponent to do?
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