Think of your Board of Directors as an Adult Leadership Program

When I was an Executive Director with the YMCAs, I had Program Directors who ran our programs – things like day camp, youth sports, teen leaders, etc. Other organizations probably have similar roles, people who run programs, services, do case management, etc. A couple of months ago I shared an article on effective board meetings. In it, I talked about how I think of the Board of Directors as an Adult Leadership program that the Executive Director leads. 

Our youth programs would teach kids things like teamwork, sportsmanship, and how to develop healthy relationships. Similarly, our Board of Directors helps adults to develop their presentation and collaboration skills, it teaches them how to problem solve and advocate for things that are important to them, and it gives them a connection to their community that they might not otherwise have. 

When we think about our boards in that light, it shifts how we think about the structure, functions and activities of the board. It also helps us shift from a one-way street to a two-way street. If we just think about the board as being there to serve our organization, it’s a one-way street – what can the organization get out of these people? When we consider our work with the board as a two-way street we start to think about how the work engages and develops the members of the board. 

In planning a youth development program, the director needs to consider these components: 

  • Objectives and Purpose
  • Target Audience
  • Program Structure and Activities 
  • Curriculum and Content
  • Resources and Materials
  • Staff and Volunteers
  • Budget and Funding
  • Outreach and Recruitment
  • Evaluation and Assessment
  • Safety and Risk Management 

Let’s look at each and see how these planning components can apply to running an Adult Leadership program, AKA the Board of Directors. 

  • Objectives and Purpose

    • Clarify what you want the organization to get out of the program AND what you want the participants to come away with. Will they experience skills development, personal growth, community engagement, network building, leadership skills, personal fulfillment, etc? 
  • Target Audience

    • Who and what does your organization need in order to advance the work on the cause? Think about the skills, passion, connections, characteristics, and demographics of the people you want on your board. If the people on your board do not possess the qualities that you need, how can you help them to level-up?
  • Program Structure and Activities 

    • What are you going to have your board members do? It’s not enough to just have them come to board meetings for a sit & get. Incorporate opportunities for every board member to speak and contribute. Think about engagement opportunities outside of board meetings; such as committees, task forces, program observations, community outreach, public appearances, and more. Ideas for engaging your volunteers at a higher level:
      • Provide experiential learning to help grow their knowledge of the cause
      • Give them research projects or reading to do and report back to the larger group
      • Have them interview experts in your industry and share their learnings 
      • Give them the opportunity to conduct mission moment interviews and share the impact the organization is having
      • Delegate the facilitation of a discussion topics to someone other than the board chair
      • Additionally: opening thoughts, timekeepers, and committee reports are all roles that volunteers can step into 
  • Curriculum and Content

    • The content of board work should tie back to the mission and strategies of the organization. By including volunteers in strategic planning and tying those plans back to the month-to-month work of the board, you actively engage your board in advancing the mission. In addition, consider the opportunities you are including for your volunteers to grow. You might include:
      • Formal or informal training on things like: board governance, community initiatives, leadership skills, industry trends, etc. 
      • Board mentoring
      • Presentation opportunities
      • Networking 
      • Mission education and connection
  • Resources and Materials

    • This involves ensuring that your volunteers have the information available to do their job as a board member effectively. That can include an onboarding process, access to historical information, agendas and reading materials distributed in advance, and staff or volunteer support.
  • Staff and Volunteers

    • In order to ensure that the adult leadership program is effective, it requires staff or volunteer monitoring. Often the Executive Director is the leader who ensures that the program runs according to design. A Board Development committee or a Board Governance committee can (and should) help with planning, executing, and evaluating the work of the board. 
  • Budget and Funding

    • Just like with any other program, potential expenses need to be considered. Do you need to rent space for meetings, provide meals or snacks, purchase name tags or shirts, host socials, etc? Meals or other refreshments can serve as a great strategy for bringing people together and providing informal networking. 
  • Outreach and Recruitment

    • I hardly ever talk to a nonprofit leader that doesn’t ask me how they can find and recruit good board members. It’s important to acknowledge the fact that a professional and highly productive board can be one of your best attraction and retention tools. When people are excited about serving on your board and they believe their time is being used valuably, they will want to get others involved. And, the opposite is true. If meetings are unproductive and poorly organized, they can repel prospective board members.
  • Evaluation and Assessment

    • Again, this is often led by the Executive Director, and it is great to enlist the Board Development committee with this process. Good questions for the group to discuss include:
      • How effective was our last meeting?
      • Did we engage all members?
      • Are volunteers actively contributing?
      • What can we do to make the next one better? 
      • Are there any “off-line” conversations that need to happen? 
      • Are we meeting our objectives in regards to adult leadership development? 
      • Are we moving the needle on the work of the board towards our strategic objectives? 
  • Safety and Risk Management 

    • Serving on a board is usually a fairly low risk program in terms of physical safety. Unlike providing swimming or camping programming! To make sure that your volunteers are protected, all agencies should carry Directors & Officers (D&O) insurance. Additionally, ensuring that you create a culture where it is safe for people to step outside their comfort zone is key to helping them grow. No one grows when they do not feel safe. 

There’s no question that our best volunteers are the ones who give their time and energy to our organization out of a passion and desire to give back. And that is still super important. But if we are only thinking about what we can get out of our board members, rather than what we can give them, we are missing an opportunity to further develop the adult leaders we interact with and who care about making our world a better place. 

Every nonprofit is different and has unique needs and challenges. Email me at, or schedule a Discovery Call if you would like to discuss your organization’s Adult Leadership Program. 

Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors, and helper of nonprofit leaders. 


Engaging Prospective Board Members

In this article I talked about where to find prospective board members. (Incidentally, the sources for finding board members are also a great place to look for good donors.) Then, in this one I talked about the importance of clarifying your board expectations. Afterall, you wouldn’t take a paid job without knowing what the company was expecting from you. Similarly, no one wants to get into a volunteer position and be caught off guard by what is expected of them.

Today’s article is going to look at those crucial next steps. Once you know what you expect from your board members, and you have some ideas about where to look for and recruit them – you need to be ready with a plan for what to do with them once you start attracting them. 

I have observed leaders who meet someone – who has a little bit of interest in their organization – and they ask them to join their board right away. Finding, recruiting, and keeping good board members is hard work. It’s understandable that leaders may want to try and capture those interested as quickly as possible. However, slowing this process down is a much better approach. Let’s explore why. 

Recruiting Your Boss

Often, especially in younger nonprofits, the Executive Director does a lot of the work of recruiting the board. It often becomes just one more of the millions of things that she or he needs to work on. The very top reason to slow down the board recruitment process is because, as the ED, you are essentially recruiting one of your bosses. It’s safe to say that you probably want to make sure that you bring on someone who you trust, who you know will make decisions with the best interest of the organization in mind, and who is volunteering for your organization for the right reasons. 

Relationships Drive the Work

The work of a nonprofit organization is highly relational. Successful organizations engage more and more people in the important work of making the world a better place. Strong and healthy boards help to share the story of the organization, connect to partners, recruit more people to engage, and ensure impact and sustainability. Discovering how a prospective board member might contribute in an effective way takes time. It requires multiple interactions to develop a relationship and understand how their involvement can be mutually beneficial. 

Good Decisions Take Time

Just like you want to make a good decision for your agency, you also want to be sure that the prospect makes a good decision for themselves. They need to make a connection to your cause; determine if they have the time, energy and capacity to serve; and decide if your board is a good fit for them. It can be very disruptive to bring on a new board member, have them stay only a few months, and then lose them. 

For these reasons and many more, I recommend that organizations put a recruitment process in place. Having a process doesn’t mean that you cannot deviate from it, it just means that you have a plan for how to develop a relationship with a potential board member. 

Every organization needs to determine how their process looks. Many factors will determine what is right for each agency. An organization’s size, maturity, current programming, current board health, needs, and challenges are just a few of the things to consider. 

When working with agencies I recommend a minimum of 3 to 4 interactions prior to inviting someone to serve on the board. In the generic example below I’ve outlined some basic elements to include.

Board Recruitment Process

  • You get a Lead. This can come from networking, through your programming, a name presented by a volunteer, etc. 
  • Qualify that the Lead seems like a good prospect. Start (or continue) the relationship-building process. Take them out for coffee or lunch. Begin to share the idea of them serving on your board. 
  • If appropriate, invite them to observe a program or operations. Help them get a feel for the work that you do. During the observations make sure that someone hosts them. You want to clearly explain the methodology of your work, what sets your agency apart, and the intentional things you are doing to make a difference. 
    • Agencies that serve highly vulnerable populations may have to find different ways of educating a prospect about their work. 
  • Again – when appropriate, have them visit and observe a board or committee meeting. This is a good way for them to get a feel for the culture and how they might fit into it. 
  • Follow-up with the prospect to answer any questions, review expectations in detail, and explore how they are feeling about the possibility of getting involved. 
  • If they are interested, present to the board for a vote.
  • Officially invite them to join – OR – thank them for going through the process. 
    • A future article will talk about what to do with them once you invite them to join and they say: “Yes!” 
    • If you need to turn them away, share honest feedback. If the door is open to future involvement, let them know. If they are not a match, be clear about that too. 

As you consider who to bring into your organization, there is a lot to think about. Are they a good fit? Do they have skills that your agency needs? Can they help with connections, open doors, or raise money? These are all important questions you need to ask. I believe the most important thing to look for is passion. Do they care about the issue your agency is addressing and your strategies for solving it? If not, they may not bring their best self to the table and they may not contribute consistently. 

When you have a great first “date,” do the next logical step and ask them to get together again. Bringing someone on your board is not as significant as getting married. So after a few good “dates” it may make sense to start talking about taking the relationship to the next level; ie: getting them involved as a volunteer. Just as you should hire slowly and choose a life partner slowly – take your time bringing on new board members. 

If your organization needs help creating a recruitment process that is right for you, I would love to help! Email me at to learn more. Let’s connect!

Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of nonprofits and small businesses. 


What is a Nonprofit Anyway?

In my thirty-years of experience leading nonprofit organizations, I have heard a lot of interesting questions. In my early years of nonprofit work, I had similar questions. A recent conversation with a friend made me realize that these questions might be more common than I had realized. So I thought I would share the answers to these three common questions:

What makes a nonprofit a nonprofit?

Who owns a nonprofit?

What’s the point of a Board?

What makes a nonprofit a nonprofit?

On the surface, the word “nonprofit” seems to tell you exactly what it is. However, the name is a bit misleading. Nonprofit organizations can, and often do, produce a profit through their operations. And that is perfectly fine. 

The difference between a nonprofit and a for-profit is that when a for-profit organization makes money, someone or multiple people make a profit. When a nonprofit organization produces a surplus, those funds go back into the organization. The reinvestment can be in the form of equipment, staff training, investments, and more.

Nonprofit organizations exist for purposes other than generating revenue. Their purpose is to address a critical social need and contribute to the greater good of the community, region, world, etc. To be clear, a nonprofit is a business. As such, they must function like one. Nonprofits must pay their bills, follow employment laws, and manage their finances; just like a for-profit. 

Since nonprofits exist to make the world a better place, the IRS rewards them with a tax exempt status. That is the deal that is made when a nonprofit is formed. The organization works to improve the world and the IRS gives them tax relief.

Who owns a nonprofit? 

This is probably the most confusing part of nonprofits for people to grasp. The short answer is that no one owns a nonprofit. Not the founder, not the Executive Director, and no one on the Board. 

That being said, it’s okay to think of the community, or the constituents served by the organization, as the “owners”. These are the people the organization benefits. Not through profit, rather with programs, services, and products. 

An organization that works to reduce poverty serves the whole community. The community can be considered the “owners” of that agency. A nonprofit that provides hygiene products to girls in third world countries, serves a smaller subset of the community, their constituents are the girls they support. Those girls could be considered the “owners”. 

A for-profit business is led by the owner(s). That is who makes decisions about how the business is run. However, an organization cannot possibly be led by an entire community. Same goes for girls on the other side of the world, it’s not feasible for them to provide organizational oversight. So that’s where the Board comes in!

What’s the point of a Board?

Since an entire community or constituency cannot lead an organization, a Board of Directors exists to represent the community/constituency. The Board is a select group of volunteers – always volunteers. Their role is to lead and make decisions in the best interest of the constituents. 

The Board of Directors is responsible for setting the mission, vision and strategic direction. Simply put, these are the promises the agency makes to their constituents. It’s the Board’s role to ensure that the organization has the human and financial resources needed to fulfill the promises made. Additionally, the Board ensures the organization meets all of their fiscal and legal requirements. 

Founders and Executive Directors can sometimes question the need for Board members. They often minimize the importance or the value of a Board. Sometimes engaging volunteers in the leadership of the organization can seem like just one more thing on a long list of expectations. I’m here to tell you, not only is a Board required, it may be the most important component of a nonprofit organization. 

A Board of Directors engages regular people in the community and activates them to make their world a better place. And really, that’s the point. In addition to engaging Board volunteers, best practices drive the Board to engage even more people with their cause through storytelling, fundraising, events, committees, volunteerism, and sponsorships. A crucial and valuable role of nonprofits is to activate community members in the work of making their community great.

Are you looking to get engaged in your community? I know a LOT of nonprofit organizations and could help you get connected and involved with a cause you are passionate about. Want to explore how to create an effective and impactful Board of Directors? I would love to help! Email me at to learn more. Let’s connect!

Kim Stewart

Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of nonprofits and small businesses. 

Our Similarities Outweigh Our Differences

Our similarities outweigh our differences. This is true in every aspect of life and relationships. Today’s article is going to focus on the similarities between nonprofit organizations and small businesses. The way I see it, there are many more similarities between these two business types, than there are differences. Before I get into the similarities (and a few differences), let’s dig into what we’re talking about here. 

People often become disillusioned by large, “corporate” nonprofits. They see the leaders making big salaries, and make assumptions about the philanthropy or integrity of the agency. Let me be clear – that level of nonprofit organization is not what this article is focused on. Additionally, this article is not about the Amazons or WalMarts of the world. 

97% of nonprofit organizations have annual budgets of $5M or less. Furthermore, 92% work with an operating budget of less than $1M, and 88% get by with less than $500,000. Similarly, of the over 30 million small businesses in the US, only 9% of them make over $1M in revenue. Small businesses with 20 or fewer employees make up 89% of all business in America. These are local organizations and businesses working hard to meet local community needs. And these are the focus of this article. 


Obviously there are some differences, otherwise there would be no reason for different classifications. The only difference that always exists in every situation, is the IRS tax status. What makes a business a nonprofit is the fact that they obtain a tax exempt status. Businesses are awarded a tax exemption in exchange for the work they do to address critical social issues in their community. 

Another key difference is related. Part of their tax exempt status requires a nonprofit to reinvest their profits back into the organization. This can be in the form of staff salaries, professional development, equipment, technology, investments, and more. They can make a profit, but it does not go to benefit an owner. While I’m filing this under differences, the difference is really in the IRS requirement. I say that because, in reality, there are many small businesses that do the same thing. They are not required to, but they invest their profit right back into their business. 

The third difference has to do with ownership. A nonprofit organization is essentially owned by the community, with a volunteer Board of Directors responsible for its leadership and operation. In newer nonprofits, the founder often behaves like an owner. This person usually holds the vision for the business, gets others excited about it, and develops the board, programming, funding, and more. And this brings us to the similarities portion of this analysis.


There are differences in the leadership; nonprofits are led by a volunteer board, sometimes with a paid Executive Director running operations. Small businesses are generally led by an owner, partners, or a family. In either case, those business leaders have a LOT in common. 

Small businesses and nonprofits both struggle with never having enough time, money, resources or people to do everything they would like to do. This means that their leaders need to be hardworking, scrappy, creative, and dedicated. They tend to be driven by a passion greater than a paycheck. Whether it’s the mission, a desire to create something great, a commitment to serving their community, or a dedication to meeting the needs of their customers; these leaders are intrinsically motivated. 

In order to be successful, both sets of leaders need to have a strong connection to their community. By having their finger on the pulse of the community’s needs, they are able to identify issues and gaps in service. In knowing what is important in the community these business leaders can find their niche and remain relevant. Additionally, this connects the business leaders to the people in their community who will need their products and services. People do business with those who they know, like, and trust. 

This brings us to mission. Nonprofit organizations have a mission that drives their work in meeting a critical social need. While for profit, small businesses may not be driven by a mission, that does not mean that they don’t work hard to meet the needs of their community. People need groceries and gas and insurance. They need someone to help them buy and sell their house, and they like to go out to dinner. While these things (and more) do not necessarily qualify as mission work, they are definitely community necessities. 

The last two similarities (which initially seem to be differences) are fundraising and board management. A small business does not have to do traditional fundraising; however, they often seek investors and raise start-up capital or funds to develop new services and products. Likewise, a small business with investors reports to them as an Executive Director reports to their board. This involves educating them, building strong relationships, and managing communication. 

I spent 30 years working in the nonprofit industry and the last 18 months as a small business owner. In networking, developing, and growing with other small business owners it’s been so interesting to see the similarities between these two worlds. I’ve discovered, not only that the two industries have a lot in common, but we have so much to learn from each other!

I love helping business leaders to grow and develop professionally. If you’re looking for leadership, team or board development, mail me at to connect for a free 30-minute discovery call.

Kim Stewart

Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of small businesses and nonprofits. 

Nonprofit November ~ Week 2

Week 2 of my Nonprofit November project is here! Each weekday in November I am interviewing a different nonprofit agency in our community. I am sharing what I learn with you, in hopes that you learn a little something, and maybe even get inspired to connect with a cause or agency that sparks your passion.

Thanks so much for reading! Please share with others who you think may be interested. Let’s spread the word about the impact these amazing agencies are providing to our community.

Stranded Motorist Fund

When we think of helping those in need we often think of housing assistance, meals or food pantries, or even clothing closets. A safe, reliable automobile is usually not the first thing that comes to mind. But in an area where public transportation is lacking, it can be a huge barrier to accessing work, school, community, and more. 

During the course of 2020, Dan Adam, owner of Adam & Son, saw this need skyrocket. That led to the creation of A&S Stranded Motorist Fund. Through partnerships, internal funding, and customer donations, Adam & Son is helping to make sure there are fewer stranded motorists on the side of the road. By assisting with repair costs and necessary maintenance they are helping low income individuals and families to keep their vehicles up and running.

Scott Gill, the Brand Manager for Adam & Son, shared that their biggest challenge right now is that their need outweighs their current capacity. There are just not enough funds to help everyone who needs it. They are constantly looking for additional funding sources. If you are interested in making a donation or learning more, go to:

In addition to financial contributions, occasionally the Stranded Motorist Fund has had the opportunity to receive a car donation. They have been able to spruce it up and donate back out to someone with that need. Scott would be interested in visiting with anyone who would like to know more about the incredible impact they are having on our community. Connect with him here


Kids on Bikes

As a cyclist, I was super excited to learn more about this organization! Having a bit of an understanding of their Mountain Bike Camps and some of their partnerships, I thought I knew what the organization was about. I’ll tell you right now, I was wrong! 

Kids on Bikes was founded to address the childhood obesity crisis in our community. In El Paso County over 58% of kids get less than the recommended 60-minutes of physical activity per day. In fact, the 2015 Colorado Health Report Card indicated that kids average over 7 hours of screen time a day and only 7 minutes of active play outdoors. Childhood obesity has grown by 300% in the past thirty years as the number of kids walking or biking to school has plummeted from 50% to just 13%. 

Earn A Bike is the original, signature program for Kids on Bikes. Executive Director, Daniel Byrd shared their belief that all children deserve the opportunity to experience the joy, freedom and independence of riding and owning a bike. Additional programming that supports that vision includes their Mountain Bike Camps, Bicycling Education, the Pedal Station and community rides. 

With a goal of getting kids active on bikes for as long as possible, the biggest challenges they face are staff capacity and a shortage of bikes, equipment and parts. To donate, volunteer, or just learn more go to or reach out to Daniel directly.


Day Break ~ An Adult Day Program

I had the opportunity to tour this Adult Day Program, located in Woodland Park, a while back. I was so impressed with the amazing work they do and care that they provide, that I wanted to make sure I included them in this project. 

Founder and Executive Director, Paula Levy shared that Day Break serves to address two distinct, critical social needs. First, there are the clients aged 60 and older who cannot live independently. Through Day Break they connect with their community, access wellness and self-care services, attend outings, and maintain connections with their peers. 

The second issue they address is providing much needed respite for caregivers, giving them time to refresh, recharge, and regroup. By taking some of the pressure off caregivers, Day Break helps to postpone the transition to assisted living, prolonging health and life for the senior. 

Paula’s passion for serving our older community members is what drives the work of Day Break. Because of that, Day Break is so much more than “day care for seniors”. Staffed with CNAs and numerous volunteers, programming is designed to meet the needs of the aging clients and enrich their quality of life. Services are fee based and supplemented with grants and donations. 

The theme of the day seems to be – more need than capacity. Day Break is no different. As a state licensed care facility they are limited on the number of clients they can serve at a time. Paula and her board are currently working to find a larger space in order to expand their services. If you are interested in getting involved as a donor or volunteer go to: Additionally, Paula is always seeking opportunities to get out and speak to the community about their work. If you have a speaking opportunity email her directly to set something up.


Hope Advanced

Tim and Brownie Richardson work with the Broken, Busted and Disgusted. They connect with folks who are down on their luck and surround them with the resources, support and connections that will help them move down the path of their best life. 

When asked how they do this, Tim said that it’s different for everyone. Everyone’s situation is different, so there isn’t one solution that will help them all. Through intense listening and empathy, clients are able to come to terms with their past, then leave it behind. The goal is to get them focused on their next steps.

For some people this means helping them to access services such as housing, clothing or food. For others they need counseling to help them determine their path. Still others need to surround themselves with people who will support them in a positive way. Hope Advanced provides all of this, with the focus on finding forward movement. 

The vision is to add programming to provide job opportunities, as well as to expand to a nationwide agency serving people across the country. With many funding and volunteer opportunities, you can get connected by going to or reaching out directly to Tim and Brownie.


Becky Baker Foundation

In 2017, Becky Baker lost her battle with Breast Cancer. In her final week’s, Becky made the comment that she was disappointed that no one would remember her name. Since then, Becky’s husband Rick has been on a mission to ensure that no one could possibly forget her.

The Becky Baker Foundation provides access to mammograms and thermograms for low income women, eliminating the financial barriers that could cost them their lives. In the 3+ years since its inception, the Foundation has provided over 2,700 screenings, as well as prevention education programming.

The biggest challenge Rick sees is what he calls “Pink Washing”. Agencies, organizations, and products use this cause to make money, compromising the reputation and integrity of philanthropic efforts fighting breast cancer. Rick encourages people to do their research when considering a cause to support.

If you would like to learn more about the Becky Baker Foundation or get involved, please visit their website. I also encourage you to check out the fundraising efforts associated with #golf4prevention. Lastly, Rick wanted me to close with this plea:

“Please go get your screening!”


Want to learn more about how you can have a lasting impact on your community? Email me at to connect for a free 30-minute discovery call or check out this article on how to be a community superhero. In order to save the world, nonprofits need superheroes like you to help them have the kind of impact they exist to deliver. 

Kim Stewart

Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of small businesses and nonprofits.

How Nonprofits will Save the World!

We are living in some crazy times, amirite? The pandemic, our nation’s political divide, racial tensions, climate change, the list goes on and on. These are big issues with complex solutions! And while our government, business, and science are all working on finding the answers, I’d like to suggest we put our hope in nonprofit organizations. 

What is a Nonprofit?

In case you’re not clear on what qualifies as a nonprofit organization, here’s the formal definition: 

A nonprofit organization is a legal entity organized and operated for a collective, public or social benefit, in contrast with an entity that operates as a business aiming to generate a profit for its owners.

In a nutshell, nonprofits exist to make the world a better place. No one makes money as a shareholder of a nonprofit. However, it’s appropriate for staff to be paid a livable wage. When a nonprofit makes more money than they spend, those dollars are invested right back into the business. 

These organizations are led by volunteer Boards, rather than shareholders. Board members are community members invested in the positive impact the organization has on their community. The intention of a volunteer Board is to represent the community and the organization’s constituents. 

Since no one is getting rich from a nonprofit organization, decisions are made differently. While a nonprofit business must operate in a business-minded, fiscally responsible manner, they do not exist solely to make money. Therefore, leaders can make decisions that genuinely put their mission and beneficiaries first. 

Nonprofit Impact

The 1.3 million charitable nonprofits in our country help to feed, heal, shelter, educate, inspire, enlighten and nurture people of all ages, backgrounds, genders, races, and socioeconomic positions. Nonprofits make up 5.3% of the GDP and 9.2% of all salaries and wages in our country. It’s a trillion dollar industry. Total charitable giving is over $390 billion annually. 92% of nonprofit organizations are small community-based agencies, serving local needs. 

There’s a good chance that everyone reading this article has been impacted by a nonprofit. If not directly, then definitely through a family member. Here’s an abridged list of the many ways nonprofit organizations improve lives and communities:

  • Nearly half of the hospitals in America are nonprofit
  • The March of Dimes and nonprofit scientific researchers provided vaccines in an effort to eradicate polio and other diseases
  • YMCAs, JCCs, Red Cross and Scout Camps teach children how to be safe in and around water
  • Life skills like conflict resolution and teamwork are taught through Girl Scouts, 4H, Little League and other youth development organizations
  • There are nonprofit preschools, grade schools, high schools, colleges and graduate schools; as well as nonprofit scholarship funds
  • Our right to vote, to an education, to travel, to equal treatment under the law, and other rights are secured and protected by nonprofit organizations
  • Historic treasures and natural resources are preserved by nonprofits
  • Many cultural centers are nonprofits, such as the San Diego Zoo, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City
  • The clean air we breathe in tobacco-free restaurants is thanks to the work of public health nonprofits
  • Countless art installations, musical concerts and theatrical presentations are shared every year due to the work of nonprofit art agencies

To sum this up, nonprofits foster civic engagement and leadership, drive economic growth, and strengthen the fabric of our communities. All day. Every day. 

So Exactly How will Nonprofits Save the World?

Maybe that’s a bold statement. But here’s what I have seen in my 30-years leading nonprofit organizations. Well-run organizations bring people together for the greater good. They pull people together for walk-athons and to collect school supplies for kids in the community. They draw on the community leadership to raise money for much needed facilities and programs. And they connect people from all social levels in a community to come together and make their community the best it can be. 

Will that save the world? I think so. Lucy Christopher said:

“It’s hard to hate someone once you understand them.” 

This is what nonprofits do so well. They exist for the community. Therefore, to really be effective, they need to bring the community together. They bring together people from all different backgrounds in order to make decisions that serve the whole community. 

When you work side-by-side with someone to address a critical social need that will strengthen your community, you build relationships. You start to understand what makes them tick. And whether you agree with them or not, you develop respect and compassion towards them. 

I understand that we will still need complex solutions to the issues facing our country. However, we can start small, in our own communities, and work on our local challenges. From that we can foster respect and understanding. And that’s what I believe is key to moving forward as a nation. 

Know of a nonprofit organization that needs help engaging the community? Email me at to connect them for a free 30-minute discovery call. In order to save the world, nonprofits need superheroes like you to help them have the kind of impact they exist to deliver. 

Kim Stewart

Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of small businesses and nonprofits. 

Are you Too Close to the Problem?

Remember that boyfriend (or girlfriend) who was really awful for you? All your friends knew it, but you couldn’t see it. Remember tuck rolling your acid washed jeans? It was cool at the time, but looking back it seems pretty ridiculous. And do we even need to talk about perms?

My point is, when you’re close to something it’s difficult to see the full picture. You get caught up in emotions or trends or the very small piece of the picture that is right in front of you. It’s not until you have the luxury of time or distance that you are able to see the full story.

The same goes for leading your business. When you are completely consumed with working IN the business every day, you are likely facing problems. These present themselves as feeling overwhelmed, having difficulty making decisions, and frustrations from things not going as planned. Sometimes you don’t even see the problems. If you’re knee deep in the hoopla, you might not even recognize that you have opportunities to make better decisions, simplify, or realign.

Working ON the Business

You may have heard this phrase before: working IN the business vs working ON the business. When you are working IN your business, you are doing any of the many tasks or management activities that make it possible for your business to run today. In our fast-paced world where there never seems to be enough time in the day, you may feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks and management activities on your plate. This fact may make it seem impossible to ever step away, for even two hours, to spend time working ON your business.

Because breaking away from the day-to-day can be so challenging, I’m going to share four tactics for ways to pull yourself away and give yourself, and your business, the much needed time spent working ON the business. Before I get into these ideas, let’s address the frame of mind you need in order to successfully work ON your business.

When you work ON your business, you are focusing on strategy for tomorrow’s success. The first step is to understand and believe in the importance of taking time to think strategically about where you want your company to go. If you see spending time thinking strategically as a waste of your precious time, then don’t do it. You need to be committed for this to be valuable. Otherwise, it is a waste of time. It’s also crucial to be open to new ideas. If you have no plans of changing how things are done, then there’s not much benefit to stepping away to focus on strategy.

Tactic #1 = Communicate

Okay, so you’re excited about thinking strategically and you’re open to exploring new ways of doing things. The next question is: How? I’m sure that running your business could easily consume 24 hours of your day, 7 days a week if you let it. Obviously, you don’t let it do that. You sleep, you eat, and hopefully you make time for your family and friends; as well as recreation, wellness, and hobbies. These activities fit into your life for a couple of reasons:

  1. Because they are important to you, and

  2. Because you have created a culture where the people in your business understand that you sleep, eat, spend time with family/friends and have some sort of  personal life.

Similarly, you can make working ON your business fit in if it’s important to you and you create a culture where the business understands it’s a priority. We already talked about your mindset around working on strategy, so clearly it’s important to you. The next step is to communicate with your team about why it’s important and how it’s going to look. Share your vision for your company and your belief that to achieve your vision you will need to think differently. Then tell them what it will look like.

Tactic #2 = Get Out

Set aside a specific time on your calendar. The best plan would include about 2-hours a week at the same time each week. If this seems impossible, shoot for 2-hours every other week. Still too much of a challenge? At the very least I would recommend 4-hours, once a month. Pick a time of the day or the week that would be considered your “slow time,” if there is such a thing. Whatever you land on that works well for you, stick to it like glue. Put it in your calendar. Schedule other things around it. Make it a priority.

Then leave. Get out of your office, your store, or your facility. Don’t tell your team where you are going. Take nothing but a pad of paper and a pen. That’s right, leave your cell phone behind if at all possible. Go to a coffee shop or a park or the library. Find a place that allows you to relax and your mind to explore new ideas.

As stated in Tactic #1 – communicate this plan and the purpose of it to your team on a regular basis. By communicating and following through with your plan, it will become part of the culture.

Tactic #3 = Create Accountability 

Does this all sound great, but you know yourself well enough to know that this might last for two weeks before you will find excuses for why it’s more important for you to stay IN the business? If so, consider finding an Accountability Partner to support you. This could be a partner, a spouse, a team member, a friend, a mentor, or another business leader. Explain to the person what you want to do and ask them to help hold you accountable. You may even find someone who wants to do this with you, kind of like a workout buddy.

Tactic #4 = Outside Help

There are times when engaging outside help is the best option. A coach, a mastermind group, or any other peer group are all things to consider if you feel like an outside set of eyes would be helpful. These resources can help give you a new perspective, consider new ideas, or hold you accountable for the things you want to do to reach your business vision. An outside set of eyes will challenge you in ways that you may have never considered, and will push you to do things you might not commit to on your own. Most coaches and peer groups provide a free discovery call or visit so you can explore the different options available to you.

Next Steps

Once you have your time-away plan, either on your own, with a partner, or with a professional, use your time effectively. These steps can help:

  1. Stay laser-focused on where you want to take your business. If you don’t have a vision yet, this is a great first step.

  2. List out all the challenges you face that are preventing you from reaching your goals. Prioritize. Peel back the layers. Often the first thing that comes to mind is a side effect of the real problem.

  3. Once you get to the heart of an issue, explore strategies for working through it. Come up with as many strategies as you possibly can. Determine which best match your brand, your culture, your values, and which will best solve your problem.

  4. Decide.

  5. Plan your communications. If you have regular staff meetings (which I hope you do), add the decisions made to your meeting agenda. Communicate your thoughts and develop any action steps required to roll out the strategy.

  6. Tackle as many issues as you can in your allotted time. Save others for your next Strategy Session.

Put Your Mask on First

There is a strong pull to convince ourselves that business cannot possibly continue to operate if we are not there. Are you really needed all the time? Or does it make you feel good to be needed all of the time? If your business cannot run without you in it for every hour that you are open, I might suggest this as one of the first issues you tackle.

“In case of a drop in cabin pressure, put your own mask on first so you can assist others.” Same goes for your business. Thinking short-term: I have to help my child or my seat mate, is similar to focusing only on the daily tasks. You’re only going to be able to help for a finite period of time. Thinking long term: If I put my mask on first, I’ll be able to help many others, is the equivalent of taking the time to think strategically about your business. You have to think long term in order to take care of your business.

Some lessons can only be learned through experience (like that awful perm), others (like the health of your business) you want to proactive work to solve.

If you would like to explore how coaching or consulting can help you work ON your business, email me at to schedule a free 30-minute consultation. Calm the Chaos by working ON your business so you can find time to focus on what’s important to YOU.

All Strategies are Not Created Equal

Last week I wrote about Rethinking Strategy and the concept of Real-Time Strategic Planning, based on a book called The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution by David La Piana. While this book is focused on the nonprofit sector, I believe the concepts have wonderful application for both for-profit and not-for-profit businesses. Another concept in the book that I found really compelling is around the Strategy Pyramid. This article will dig into this concept and how it may be a useful way for you to think about strategy in your business.

Traditionally thinking around strategic planning conjures up memories of massive information gathering, multi-day farming sessions, and binders filled with fancy reports. Real-Time Strategic Planning is much more nimble and relevant to today’s fast paced business environment. It is built on the foundation of a strong vision or mission and gives a business the ability to quickly adapt as new challenges or opportunities arise.

Another common trait of traditional strategic planning is that oftentimes the strategies are not strategies at all. Through the traditional planning process many things come up that would be good for the business to focus on. These could be goals, programs, operational processes, technology, or something else all together. While important, these things are not necessary “strategy level” items. At least not Organizational Strategies.

This brings us to La Piana’s Strategy Pyramid. The Strategy Pyramid is made of three levels of strategies:

  • Operational Strategy (bottom)

  • Programmatic Strategy (middle)

  • Organizational Strategy (top)

In this pyramid, the base is made up of Operational Strategies, Programmatic Strategies are in the middle and Organizational Strategies are the top.

Operational Strategies

All strong organizations are built upon a strong base of administrative processes and management systems. In order to run effective programming and have a positive impact on the community a nonprofit must rest upon the solid base of strong operations. To deliver quality products and grow sales a for profit business must have the same solid foundation. Strong operations ensure the “trains run on time” (quote from my friend Cameron Nicholson).

Operational Strategies are the initiatives designed to improve efficiencies, execution, or responsiveness. These could include any number of things. Some examples include:

  • New software will help you manage your campaign more efficiently

  • A Diversity and Inclusion training to grow your staff team

  • Preventative maintenance plans to protect your assets

  • Initiatives to improve communications with staff or customers

Generally speaking, operational strategies are those things impacting the infrastructure of the business, such as human resources, finance, technology or communications.

Programmatic Strategies 

In the nonprofit world, programs are where the “rubber hits the road.” They are how an organization delivers their mission to the world and provides the impact they intend for their community. In the for profit universe, this layer of strategies is likely the products or services the business sells. In both instances, when a customer or community member thinks of the business, it’s the programs or products that they usually think of first.

Programmatic Strategies are the decisions around what activities/products will be delivered and how they will be delivered. Here are a few of the decisions that could lead to Programmatic Strategies:

  • Delivering programs in-person on on-line

  • Providing carry-out or delivery

  • Narrowly focusing your products or offering a broad range

  • One product/program, a few, or many

Programs (or products/services) sits on top of the operations; they are supported by that solid base.

Organizational Strategies

On the top of the pyramid are the Organizational Strategies. These strategies honor and are developed in order to fulfill the organization’s mission or the company’s vision. They take into account trends happening in the market, challenges coming from competitors, opportunities from partnerships, and their unique deliverables. Organizational Strategies are the big picture actions or activities the business will take to move towards achieving its mission or vision. Organizational Strategies include things like:

  • Expanding to new service areas

  • Establishing an intentional brand or culture

  • Shifting funding sources

  • Expanding to online retail

Even though the Organizational Strategies are on the top of the pyramid, this is actually where we start when formulating strategy for a business.

Start Building at the Top

With almost any construction project you start at the base and build up. This process of strategy formation does just the opposite, It starts with clarifying mission and/or vision and builds down through the layers. The mission/vision is the heart of the business, its purpose for being, and the very core of all decision making. It’s a solid practice to regularly visit the mission/vision to keep everyone focused on why the business exists. Your organizational strategies are the ways in which you will work towards your mission/vision. To quote La Piana: “Organizational Strategy is about who and what the nonprofit is in the larger world. It’s about organizational identity, direction, brand, and market position.” Same goes with for profit companies.

Once Organizational Strategies have been established, it gives clarity to the kinds of programs, products or services that should be delivered and how they will reach the participants and customers. Programmatic Strategies can be developed which support and align with the Organizational Strategies. After these top two layers are in place, Operational Strategies can be created in order to best serve the strategies that rest upon this base layer. By building each layer based on the strategies above it, each segment is connected and creates a coordinated set of actions. Programmatic and Operational Strategies can also be thought of as large or involved goals which will help you work towards your Organizational Strategies.


To help give some clarity, here are a couple of examples of how strategies may look in a for profit company and a nonprofit agency.

  • For profit clothing retailer:

    • Organizational Strategy: In addition to our thriving catalog and website sales we will add pop-up stores in order to see if physical locations will appeal to our customers.

    • Programmatic (Product) Strategy: This summer we will have pop-up stores at festivals in the three states where our sales are highest. We will provide our top selling summer items in a variety of sizes and limited colors.

    • Operational Strategies: In order to support our summer pop-up stores we will need to research and invest in a mobile pay system and mobile store hardware (racks, displays, tent, and changing booth). A dedicated staff will research and secure venues as well as create a schedule and communication system.

  • Nonprofit environmental agency:

    • Organizational Strategy: Our mission is to create a sustainable planet with future generations in mind. To this end we will focus on improving air quality in the metropolitan community we serve.

    • Programmatic Strategy: Our signature program will be a tree planting initiative which will engage volunteers and school or camp youth groups in planting trees. The program will involve education and follow-up care to ensure long-term impact.

    • Operational Strategies: Funding will be central to supporting the tree planting project. Development will focus on grant writing and corporate sponsorships. Additionally, a dedicated staff will be responsible for identifying locations, recruiting volunteers, securing youth groups and coordinating events.

These examples are greatly simplified, but they clearly illustrate the importance of each strategy building upon the one before it. Thinking of strategies as a coordinated set of actions not only reduces waste, it helps propel you towards your vision/mission.

If you would like to explore Real-Time Strategic Planning for your business or organization, email me at to schedule a free 30-minute consultation. Calm the Chaos by streamlining your strategy development, and find time to focus on what’s important to YOU.