Author Archives: Gina

Our organization has a small pool of funders and would like to increase it to improve the long-term viability of the organization. What specific recommendations or resources would you suggest to aid in that process?

Answer: Diversifying your revenue sources is an critical step in ensuring your organization’s sustainability.  It is important to explore a mix of:

  • funders or funding sources, such as individuals/households, government, businesses/corporations, private and public foundations
  • funding types, such as ongoing funding (annual giving, multi-year grants), episodic or one-time funding; a capital campaign (if applicable); and bequests/planned giving
  • self-generated revenue sources, such as memberships, product sales and fees for service.

Don’t limit your efforts to advertised funding opportunities.  A well-drafted letter of intent is a good way of exploring unsolicited funding.  If you solicit businesses/corporations, stay close to home – businesses like to support their local community.

Finally, take the time to prepare a funding strategy; a three-year plan to guide your efforts in diversifying your funding sources. You can find a sample funding strategy on this website by going to Resources, then Free Downloads.

Good luck!

Can you please describe the roles that staff and board members play in the strategic planning process?

Answer: Thank you for your question, Susan. As you are aware, strategic planning is the process of establishing longer-term goals for an organization – typically for a three period. Strategic planning is important for all organizations as it helps to provide a context for the day-to-day efforts of staff and volunteers, and ensure that these efforts are consistent with the organization’s mission and operational activities.

Now, down to your question. What roles do the staff and board play in strategic planning? Generally speaking, the board of directors OWNS the organization’s strategy/strategic plan, and the executive director/CEO and staff operationalize or implement it. Sometimes we say, “the board is responsible for THE WHAT and the staff is responsible for THE HOW“. One of the most important ways to involve other stakeholders in strategy development/strategic planning is through an environmental scan and consultation. During this part of the process, data is collected from a full range of stakeholders including management and front-line staff, volunteers, partners, clients/constituents, funders, and donors. This data is used to inform the process and provide 360-degree insight into the organization’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as the opportunities, threats and critical issues facing the organization.

On an ongoing basis, it is important for the executive director/CEO to report back to the board on progress of the strategy/strategic plan implementation. Also, it is essential that the board undertakes an annual process to scan the changing environment, review and if necessary, refine the organization’s strategic priorities.

Please keep in the mind that all organizations are different. Organization size, structure and available resources can all be a factor in how a strategic planning process is carried out.


Question: My board wants to be involved in the day-to-day decisions of the organization. How do I help them to understand their role?

Answer: It is common in the voluntary sector for boards to want to involve themselves in day-to-day issues, especially with smaller organizations and those in the early stages of development. However, there are risks associated with this approach, especially if it goes on for too long. If the board is focusing on operational or even tactical issues, chances are they will “miss the forest for the trees”. Remember, it is the board’s primary role to govern. To do so effectively, they must stay focused on the ‘bigger picture’. Secondly, it’s the responsibility of the executive director/CEO to manage the day-to-day operation. If the board is involved at this level, it will be increasingly difficult for the staff to do their work effectively.

Strategic (3 – 5 years) 50,000 feet Board of Directors
Tactical (Current fiscal year) 10,000 feet Executive Director
Operational (Today) 1,000 feet Staff


Question: How do I create a reserve fund and how much do I need?

Answer: Every organization should have a reserve fund for contingencies, very much in the same way that every individual should have savings.  A contingency fund can be used for emergencies, unplanned expenses, revenue short-falls, cash flow, legal issues, and closures. Reserve funds also can be created for specific projects, as long as the amount of the fund is reasonable for its purposes and the money in the fund is actually spent on those purposes.  Reserve funds are typically created over time, through the accumulation of operating surpluses generated from activities such as fundraising, donations, membership fees, and fees for service. The amount of money accumulated in each reserve fund should be substantiated.  For example, the rule of thumb for calculating the amount needed in a contingency fund is as follows:

Contingency Reserve Fund = 3 to 6 months of committed/fixed operating expenses OR total costs to shut-down the organization and pay all outstanding liabilities (whichever is the larger amount).

Please keep in mind that non-profits and charities cannot accumulate wealth nor can their budgeting process reflect an intent to generate profit.