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Hangin up my briefcase (mostly) and going to work for the people

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Exciting change.  


I've worked in nonprofits for about 20 years- mostly in the healthcare field.  I have not been an executive director (as the pay is usually pretty crappy). 😉      Mostly what I do now are "special projects" like mergers, program start ups, operational improvements, etc. 


 I don't know your company but traditionally funding and community relations are the biggest roles of an ED.  From a funding perspective, I think the incubator model is good.In general I would suggest treating it as a start up and find a business model or three that can fund operations.  You can do that very traditionally, so that the services you provide are paid for by your clients/stakeholders.  Or you can do that non traditionally and look at business revenue that is not directly tied to the operations but fund the programs.  An example of this would be a social program for kids owning a restaurant that employs transitional youth.  There is a connection but the revenue is not directly tied to the program.    Another example of this is that some programs that work to find employment for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities have contracts to create widgets, cleaning services etc that both feed revenue into the program but also meet the mission of providing employment opportunities. 


The point being I strongly suggest a strategy where you find a successful, stable and growing business model to support the mission driven work.   


I haven't done a lot of Fund Development and there are probably a lot better people you can talk to regarding those tactics from an operational point of view. I will say strategically, most nonprofits that depend on nonprofit giving struggle to grow.  That can be a good base source to start up from - similar to seed funds for a start up and they can be used to offset and support particular programs but I would suggest they not be the sole strategy of funding the overall organization into the future. 


Lastly- grants.  Many nonprofits find applying for grants to be a sustainable source of revenue. These can be the small grants for dollars at the local United Way and/or foundations.  I would suggest they are a place to look for initial funding but again I wouldn't depend on them too strategically.  They shift like sand in terms of amounts available and purpose for which they are designed.  If you're not careful, you can spend your year to year scouring for grants and then having to shift your program(s) each year to suit.   State grants and federal grants are options if you have great grant writers and/or connections but organizations usually have a lower success rate with them.  Fed grants are usually time limited and so you need sustainable funding or a new grant every 2 to 4 years to sustain them. 


I don't know how relevant any of this will be with your particular nonprofit but I will say that the most successful nonprofits that I know find some type of sustainable small business type of business model and revenue and build around that.  If you haven't been involved in start ups before I highly recommend Lean Start up books and methodology.  I think its a great methodology for both nonprofit and for profit business start ups.  


All in all- very cool.  Excited for you.  I don't know if I can help in anyway but if I can let me know.     

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Oh- One thing that I can probably say with confidence regardless of your area of nonprofit- invest in tracking outcomes from services.  Whether your model is charity driven or more business model driven- stakeholders always want to understand and know how much you are making an impact.   Anywhere where you can embed paying for data tracking either qualitative (success stories) or quantitative (numbers served)  - I would strongly suggest it.  

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47 minutes ago, IsntLifeFunny said:



He’s done a ton of work managing these types of ventures. Totally different field but the executive and management style I know he’s discussed fairly extensively. 


Good luck! 

Thanks man! Yeah he reached out already by private message. I knew I came to the right place!

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27 minutes ago, Legaltitan said:

Do you mean invest in a program to track this, or is this something that can be done on our own?


Definitely can be done on your own.  I am just saying that as you get funding, you invest in your methods to do it.   Everything costs.   How many you serve is easy.  Excel list of names works.   But if you want to do focus groups, interviews or surveys of your clients (anonymously)-  you'll need to pay for either a research group or your own staff to do it.  That has a cost.   So when you're thinking about funding and budgets- I would just include that in your planning.   If you go for grants, write that in the grant so that they cover the cost of a consulting group. If you are seeking charity, include that in what you want to pay for with it, etc.  


  • Start up- There is small scale (cheap) version.   You and your staff design a method to collect success stories. (surveys, interviews, etc).  You could do a routine follow up with previous clients to get success stories.  When you're really small this can be done retroactively.  What stories do you want to tell?  
    • What information do your stakeholders want/need? (data, stories, client satisfaction, numbers served, numbers successfully achieving something)
    • How will you collect and gather those? 
    • How will you pay for that (staff time, volunteer research projects from local college, grants, etc) 
  • Medium Scale- You can usually hire a contract person to do it and design something around your program.  Program evaluators are what they are commonly called.  I can even give you a name of a small company but they are in TN.  They will design a research method to show improvement from a program. Usually its a pretty simple Pre and post.  Here is the state of the clients before our services and then we interviewed or surveyed them and now here is their status.  So that you can say 80% of your cilents are now better in some way (employed, better financially, or healthier than they were before your program.)    That's more robust but you can get that for probably $20k to $50k I think.   If you write for a local United Way grant, write the funding for that in.  They usually require something like it these days anyway.   
  • Large Scale-  You work with/contract with a local university around evaluation/research projects to do a study and design.  This gets into the 100's but is more robust and has a university name attached. Usually you can do this if you get larger funding like federal grants or large corporate sponsors to pay for it.  
  • Corporate  -  Develop a outcomes/research department.    Probably a long way off for you at this point. 


As a start up- I would just suggest you think about how you are going to gather that data and plan it in your operations- as small, simply, and cheap as possible.  How will you track numbers served? It could be something as simply as case files in excel by category.   Talk to your funding sources and see what data points and types of stories are most compelling to them and then plan a way to get that information simply and easily.  Why do they give? What motivates them to give and then look at how you can capture stories and data to shows that you do that.   I would suggest investing in that early will help you later.  The data will help you get grants later.   Both the data and the stories will help you with donors. 



Edited by Pragidealist

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8 hours ago, Legaltitan said:

Starting on May 6, for the first time in my career, I won't be a private practice attorney anymore. I am becoming Executive Director at a non-profit legal aid group that has been started here in Macon by a retired Judge and members of Mercer Law School. It's both a start-up and a non-profit, so feels a little like I am jumping off a cliff into very deep waters.


But I am very excited. Failure is not an option, so I am going to work my ass off to make this a success. Even though my salary is being more than cut in half, I still need the salary, so this organization has to make it.


There will be very little direct representation of clients on my part, i.e. very little of me being the actual lawyer for people. But there will be some of that. Essentially, there are three parts to what I will do. First, I will be responsible for managing the activities of volunteer attorneys outside the organization who take on cases for indigent clients. I will need to keep them accountable, and then be accountable to the foundations, stakeholders, etc. who are funding this organization.


Second, as a way to help keep the lights on, this organization has an incubator program for young lawyers, fresh out of school, who need a place to have an address and a phone but can't afford their own office space. They will pay a fee, and get access to basic stuff, and I will be responsible for mentoring them. I am really excited about this aspect. I love mentoring young lawyers and teaching them the things that I had to learn the hard way.


Third, I will be the face of the organization. So this will include most importantly fundraising, as places like this always need new funding sources. But also being out in the community spreading the word of who we are and what we do, to not only raise money but make the community and other lawyers aware that we are here to help. I imagine if there are any press releases or that sort of thing that need doing, that will fall on me.


And there will probably a whole lot of other stuff to do that neither I or even the organization can anticipate.


I have been looking to transition away from the grind of being a lawyer for a while. The job I have now was my first step away from the practice of law, and this is another big step. If nothing else, this job will give me many marketable skills I don't have right now.


Anyway, feel free to take your shots here, which is cool, I am excited and wanted to share what's going on. Also, if anyone here has been an Executive Director at a non-profit, I am all ears as to any advice you have.

Good luck man.  Two questions:


1.  Will you be changing your screen name to Probonolegaltitan?


2.  Are you going to finally bang your secretary after you lay her off?

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