Merging for Mission: Is it Time?

We usually look askance when someone suggests that the nonprofit sector should function more like the for-profit world, but that doesn’t mean we cannot learn from it. In the for-profit sector, growth through merger or acquisition is one option among several routinely considered in a strategic planning process. Doing so is pro forma. Many companies work towards getting acquired as a means to expand their reach, gain access to needed investment for infrastructure, or attract and retain top talent. Others keep it on the table as a foil to test internal growth options. Yet, nonprofit organizations typically consider merger as a last resort, often only in face of impending financial collapse. To be ‘acquired’ is deemed tantamount to failure in the nonprofit sector.

Why the difference? Continue reading

Big Challenges Need to be Met with Big Ideas

Fairmount Ventures has been reaching out to nonprofit leaders over the past few months to learn how they are responding to the COVID crisis in order to glean lessons learned to inform the sector. Here’s what we’ve found: leaders who were savvy and forward-thinking before the crisis are bringing that same idea-generation approach to the world they are navigating today. While every organization faces its own amalgam of internal circumstances and external challenges, our team has identified some useful approaches worthy of closer examination.    Continue reading

Still Fundraising Like it’s 1999?

If you are still grooving to Ricky Martin’s Livin’ La Vida Loca or your car cassette player, we have your back.

The rest of us know that the world has changed in linear and unforeseen ways, creating a different environment for nonprofits since the days of shiny gold suits. Looking forward, we know that the world will continue to change, so how do we prepare for both the logical progressions and the unexpected? In an era of uncertainty and abundant choice, nonprofits can maintain the status quo and hope for the best, quickly pick one path and stick with it, or suffer the paralysis of analysis in perpetual hesitation. All are dangerous. Continue reading

Building Success into Succession Planning

Fairmount Ventures has been conducting executive searches for nonprofits for years, but we have seen a marked increase in the last several as the generational shift in leadership accelerates. Long-term leaders often become synonymous with an organization such that it is hard to imagine anyone else in their seats. Yet, the existential moments that accompany significant change are wonderful times for organizational and personal resets that should not be wasted. Here are a few points we’ve learned along the way. Continue reading

What Every Board Member Needs to Know About Fundraising

Over the past 26 years, Fairmount Ventures has assisted over 400 nonprofits and raised more than $800,000,000. In so doing, we’ve generated extensive knowledge about what highly successful fundraising efforts have in common. Here’s what we’ve learned, and what we advise clients’ volunteer leadership to consider as you help staff generate more dollars to do more good.

Continue reading

In Search of the Great Board Chair

You can go to school and earn an advanced degree in executive leadership, but no one is formally trained to be a board chair. Nonprofit board chairs are often successful professionals accustomed to playing an active role in driving change, making bold moves, and giving orders in their own organizations – in short, traits that can make for a disastrous board chair.

What, then, are the traits of a great board chair? Here’s what we’ve learned from a review of recent research, as well Fairmount Ventures’ experience over many years of working with hundreds of boards. Continue reading

The Succession Set-up

Among the most important decisions an organization will make is selecting its leader. Yet, a recent study estimated that while 66% of nonprofit executives expect to leave their jobs within five years, only 13% of nonprofit organizations have succession plans.  If selecting its top executive is so critical, and one of the few variables over which a nonprofit has total control, how do we get it right?
Continue reading

Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast. What’s Your Appetite for Change?

The aphorism “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, while apocryphally attributed to Peter Drucker, is a powerful insight irrespective of who said it first. How many of us have developed great plans only to have our ideas not reach full potential, despite best efforts? We spend considerable time focused on the stuff we can see and think we can control – procedures, technology, staffing – at the peril of giving insufficient attention to the stuff we cannot, or choose not, to see: organizational culture. Continue reading

Demand and Supply: Can We Transform Motivation Into a Movement? 

Despite the daily barrage of head-spinning news coming out of Washington, let’s not lose sight of a few facts back here in Philadelphia:

  1. Many Philadelphians are angry about federal policies that hurt us, and are motivated to respond.
  2. We live in a wealthy region with a long history of people coming together to solve problems.
  3. We have effective nonprofits with intellectual and human capital in need of financial capital.

How do we move from problem to motivation to action? It may be a long distance run, but there is a path. Forget for a moment supply and demand; let’s demand a supply. For starters, recent research has established that people are ready to donate more money to causes they care about. Continue reading

Raising Philadelphia’s Philanthropy

The Opportunity? An Additional $323 Million to Share

Philadelphia has done a good job of organizing people in response to the immediate challenges to federal policies. People from all walks of life have joined together to say “no” to measures that reduce opportunities for people and communities. But resistance is not enough; it is equally critical to succeed in creating better futures for people and places in order to demonstrate that equitable public policies and practices generate results. What if we provide avenues for concerned people to be able to say “yes” to positive change by also organizing money? Continue reading