Monthly Archives: April 2010

Five Things a Nonprofit Needs

A recent discussion on LinkedIn asked people to talk about what they felt were the five most important things for a nonprofit organization to have.  I wanted to share my list with you.

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1) Strong Vision: It’s important for a nonprofit to have a clear vision. The team deserves to have a strong sense of the company’s purpose and direction. This vision keeps people on target. You will also feel supported as CEO with an aligned, inspired team.

Our vision at UniversalGiving is to “Create a World Where Giving and Volunteering Are a Natural Part of Everyday Life.”™ We want people to think about giving and volunteering, just as they would pay to text on their cellphone. We want it to be ‘the of course!” in their life, natural and inspired. We hope everything we do at UniversalGiving drives back to that vision.

2) Clear Operations: Divide your nonprofit into business units. Each Business Unit has a clear plan of action with supporting tactical information on how to execute. Our Business Units at UniversalGiving include Marketing, Development, Corporate Services, NGO Services, Engineering, and Operations. People feel focused and educated; they can see their work is producing results in a certain area.

3) Specific and Personal Products: Try to send messages and create products which are personal and meaningful to people. Integrate what you can offer into their daily lives.

For example, at UniversalGiving we do this by watching how people give. Recession or not, people aren’t going to stop giving a gift to their loved one. So they might not buy a $100 sweater, but they still want to give a meaningful gift. So we created Gift Packages, which allow people to give to a good cause on behalf of a loved one. For example, they could give $50 towards seeds for Haitian farmers, or give $30 to save a child’s eye sight.

4) Culture: Try to establish a Great Culture. You have to “be” it. Live it, hone it, relive it, communicate it, and live it again each day.

For example, we try to honor people in several ways, not simply through “formal events” or recognition. We try to emphasize respect and appreciation every day. One small example is in our team meetings: Every week a different person leads the meeting and that person is invited to share something about their life outside of UniversalGiving. We understand people have multiple interests, and we want to honor the person from a holistic view.

Another way to respond to the team is to create work situations that serve the organization’s needs and the individual’s strengths. We customize our agreements, as some people work part-time or full-time; some are volunteers; some are consultants, interns, and paid interns.

5) Revenue: Try, where you can, to value and monetize some aspect of your service. What you are doing is extremely valuable to the world. It should be recognized, and ideally support the other free services you are offering. At UniversalGiving, our web-based marketplace of giving and volunteering opportunities is provided free to the public. 100% of donations go directly to the cause. Our goal is to lower the barriers to giving.

Our second service is UniversalGiving Corporate, customizing our services for companies to help them manage their global Corporate Social Responsibility programs. UniversalGiving’s Quality Model provides independent NGO vetting services to provide corporate global security.

I hope these are some helpful tips for nonprofits or forprofits. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!


“We Want to Create Relationships”

A few months ago, Rahul Mitra wrote a post on CSRWire titled “Culture, CSR and Globalization? The Five Step Primer.”  He discusses how local culture must affect a global CSR program, by looking at five points.  My favorite was #3, emphasizing that we have to look at process, not only outcomes.  I wanted to share my response below.

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Rahul, thank you for these wonderful thoughts on what success in global CSR really means.  I especially appreciated your third point: Quantitative outcomes can’t be the only measurement for success.

I’m reminded of my very first international volunteer trip.  A group of us traveled to Managua, Nicaragua to build a school.  We jumped right into the project with the villagers and finished most, but not all, of the school.  Our hammers broke, and there was no “hardware store” around the corner.  You’d need to drive two hours.  And no one in the community had a car.

Our first instincts as Americans were to brainstorm every possible way to complete the school. Some spent time fretting we hadn’t finished what we came here to do.  Finally, I sat down to talk with the villagers and play with their children.  After some silence, one Nicaraguense said to me, “You Americans just want to ‘do.’ We want to create relationships.” 
I let these words sink in.  It was the beginning of truly listening. We learned about their life.  We helped cook hundreds of tortillas over hot grills for lunchtime. We spoke with people who had no jobs, hardly any hope, while a stream of sewage flowed right outside the cotton cloth that separated their bedroom from the outside world.  Instead of staying near the school, we walked throughout the community, meeting a local sculptor, attending a religious service, speaking with the people whose children we would be helping.

It is wonderful to complete a volunteer project, and make an impact. But establishing a relationship with the local people is by far the most important aspect of the volunteer trip.  No matter what culture or background you come from, we are all a team working together to face the challenges in our world, together.

When getting involved internationally, it’s always so important to be sensitive to another culture.  More than that, it’s important to not only respect another culture…but to value it.  To value the wisdom another culture has, which we may not see valued in our own culture.  For me, and from my experiences, there are two particular pieces of wisdom that first come to mind: First, the importance of family, and second, the direct connection to life.

Regarding family, I remember learning about the solidity and honor that many developing countries and communities place on tradition, roots and family history.  We may be amazed how families stick together, work together, and care for one another. We are and will be challenged as to our views on the elderly; most countries wouldn’t think of putting an elderly parent or grandparent in a lonely, sterilized ‘old folks home.’  Families take them in. They care for the elderly as they were cared for as children.  Elders are respected for their wisdom, and for their experiences in life.  They are consulted regularly, and included in family.  Even their simple, quiet presence is cherished.

I was also so inspired by “the direct connection to life.”  Often a developing community may be financially impoverished…but rich in the value of daily experience.  The slowing down of life.  Spending significant, face-to-face time with family members.  Taking time to celebrate people, occasions, or history. 

Equally important–and one of my favorites–which we often overlook, is being directly connected to nature and the earth.  For example, many people in developing nations grow their food, and connect with the earth directly.  We now go to grocery stores for our food. We are separated from the process of nature: understanding the investment of time and energy, seeing food grow, cherishing the accomplishment of hard work to produce food from a simple seed.  It may be in the name of efficiency, but not in the value of life experience, or healthy food, or lessons learned about nature.  We are literally “jumping over” important life lessons. 

Through our giving, volunteering, or any type of service, we learn to fully connect again, fully appreciate, and relish the whole beauty of each interaction.

What Inspires an Entrepreneur

I was asked a few questions the other day, and thought that I would share my answers, as I normally do.

What Do You Love Most About Being a Woman Entrepreneur?
What Benefits Do You Receive Which Make It All Worthwhile?
Have These Answers Changed Over Time For You?
Would You Have Answered Them Differently When You Started?

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What Do You Love Most About Being a Woman Entrepreneur?

It was easy to first answer this, because when you think about what you love, it goes right to the heart.

I love building a team and creating a culture that honors people.

And that culture most certainly extends beyond our immediate team. It includes people within the organization, or people who are outside: from corporate clients we work directly with, to impoverished people just starting in microfinance in a local community outside of Kampala.

I love growing people on our team, which is a key part of our values. Life is about learning, growth, renewal.  That’s a commitment we make to ourselves and others, in order to live a most fulfilling life.

What Benefits Do You Receive Which Make It All Worthwhile?

An essential mainstay is a supportive, mutually positive team.  At this point, I feel we are all helping and listening to each other. We emphasize teamwork and a consistent flow of communication.   It’s so inspiring when everyone contributes their own unique voice and skills, so that they personally, and we as an organization, are constantly striving for a greater manifestation of excellence, together.

Right after team, I want to see results and impact. It’s vital to be doing something valuable for the community. Ultimately, it’s about providing a service that truly helps, and helps improve others’ lives.

Third — scale. I want that service to have as high an impact as possible; in fact, to have an impact on a global level. Our goal at UniversalGiving is to positively affect millions of people, country to country, all over the world.

Have These Answers Changed Over Time For You?

Perhaps at the beginning I especially loved creating the operations, and starting something from scratch. That was exciting! I loved creating processes of excellence which help ensure a smoothly run company. And I still do! But people come above processes for me now — I find operations and building an organization important; I find building people exciting.

Would You Have Answered Them Differently When You Started?

That’s very hard to say. I love new ideas and bringing them through to fruition. I want to create a viable, enduring, long-term company that will exist and serve indefinitely. That still holds true today. I am not about to create something and move on. I want to commit, recommit, and stay long-term. It’s a constant ‘renewal’ process of my commitment to UniversalGiving and the world we are serving.

I’m not usually a “full-time” serial entrepreneur.  I happened to have a lot of small entrepreneurial side projects because I see things that can be improved.   But as my life calling, I commit to grow an enduring organization. In some ways, I feel about my organization just as I feel about people — it’s important to commit, grow, renew, regenerate and build to higher levels of excellence over time.

Both in the past and now, building both people and the organization are essential.  When we get this right, we are building a life of meaning and value for ourselves and others.

Paying Tribute to One of Our Oldest Foundations in America!

 It was 1907.  It came at a time when families weren’t able to take care of all their children, and, growing societal needs.  It addressed a wide range of issues regarding poverty affecting children, the elderly, the disenfranchised.  Early on, its impact helped establish stronger reform in hospitals and prisons. We’re honoring the Russell Sage Foundation as one of the earliest foundations whose goal was to serve the community in a broad manner, addressing numerous social ills.

Critically important, the Russell Sage Foundation helped formalize social work as a profession. They strove to understand why the poverty was occurring; how widespread it was; and took action to stop this growing trend.  How proud we should be of our Foundation community and the early pioneers who helped set official standards in both study and research, and, practical on-the-ground services, in order to serve our communities.

Since World War II, the Russell Foundation has now focused on the development of research and study regarding social sciences, allowing scholars to stay at the forefront of reform in social policy affecting our communities.

We honor The Russell Sage Foundation:  “The Russell Sage Foundation, one of the oldest of America’s general purpose foundations, was established in 1907 for “the improvement of social and living conditions in the United States.”

Taking Care of My Own Country

What inspires me each day is positively affecting one other person, bit by bit, each day.  I lead UniversalGiving which helps thousands of people donate and volunteer all across the world.  But giving in my day-to-day to those right by me — is just as important.

Sometimes this might be a humorous story I’d share with a colleague while getting tea at the start of the day. Later in the morning I took time to write a brief note to a struggling volunteer of ours, stating “I believe in you.” I wrote it with a bright blue color, folded it over and handed it to her and walked right by so she could open it privately.   This afternoon I’ll take care of my sister’s kids, so she and her husband can have a date night. I always bring a treat to leave on their pillow (parents’ included) and this time it’s little special chocolate with toffee and almonds.

So while I lead a service that leverages getting thousands of others to donate money and volunteer, connecting people to give of themselves country to country, I try to make sure that my “own country” is well replenished with little gifts of giving, be it in a positive attitude, a kind word, a thank you note.  Whether it’s my home, my work, walking, or driving en route, I hope giving can just be a part of my natural day. It certainly keeps me on my toes!