Boards and the Onboarding Process for New Nonprofit Executives

Your nonprofit is going through an executive transition. The new executive director is finally in place. Now it&rsquo...

Your nonprofit is going through an executive transition. The new executive director is finally in place. Now it’s time for the Board of Directors to back out of the way and let the new ED find his or her own way. According to a recent article in Associations Now, this is the time when the board is most eager to hand things off to the new CEO and, yet, it is the time when an onboarding process is most helpful and necessary. “Onboarding is a two way street” with the “board giving guidance to the new CEO” and the CEO and board “collectively setting the new leadership agenda.”

An article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review refers to a number of studies and the experience of experts on executive transitions which suggest that there are at least five ways to “boost the board performance where it counts most: onboarding and supporting the new CEO.” Here are the five recommendations for boards to adopt a “leadership development mindset” for supporting the new Executive Director:

    Lay the groundwork for the new leader: The suggestion is for the board to think 3–5 years out as to where the organization needs to be and work backward to surface the skills needed by the new leadership. The board could identify tough decisions that need to be made before the arrival of a new leader.
    Collectively set the new leadership agenda: According to the SSIR article, almost 40 percent of those surveyed felt that the board was not effective in helping to set priorities in the first year. The leadership agenda is a shared process that starts before the new CEO and evolves as the CEO learns more about the organization.
    Get clear on roles: Questions to be answered include
        Who sets the agenda for board meetings?
        What decisions will the board participate in?
        How and when is the CEO evaluated?
    Go slow in orientation to go fast on the job: The board needs to ensure that the CEO has time to build relationships and get to know the organization as a whole. Create a transition committee made up of members of the search committee, plus maybe some staff, or perhaps a new group of board members. The focus is to help the new leader get fully into the flow of the organization. This committee could identify key meetings to attend and communicate the transition to key stakeholders.
    Make the collective setting of goals and evaluation of progress routine: “Setting expectations proactively lays the foundation for a healthy relationship between the board and new executive.” Almost 70 percent of the executive directors surveyed did not feel that their goals and milestones in their first year were established with the support of the board. According to the Associations Now article, at last year’s ASAE annual meeting, the workshop speaker emphasized “turn[ing] the evaluation conversation to look at future needs, not just past metrics”

Executive transition is a when, not an if. Time spent on developing an executive succession plan and focusing on the onboarding process is time spent on moving the mission forward.

Boards and the Onboarding Process for New Nonprofit Executives, July 24, 2014, Nonprofit Quarterly, by Jeanne Allen

So Fast Google Can’t Ignore You: Donations Optimized For SEO

SOS Children’s Villages is a large international children’s charity helping orphaned and abandoned childr...

SOS Children’s Villages is a large international children’s charity helping orphaned and abandoned children in 133 countries around the world. SOS Children’s Villages Canada’s role is to raise funds in Canada to fund programs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Using SEO To Attract Overseas Donations

So much rides on our search engine rankings. In Canada, 3 to 6 percent of donated dollars go to international charities. It’s a very competitive marketplace for all nonprofits and extremely competitive for international charities. Advertising can be effective, but it’s also costly. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) allows us to capture the attention of the niche market of people who may want to make an overseas donation.

Most new donors don’t go looking for SOS Children’s Villages Canada specifically. A new donor typically finds us after seeing a news media report. For example, after 250 girls were abducted in Nigeria, potential donors searching for more information discovered our work operating schools and helping children in Nigeria. Any issue related to vulnerable children, protection of child rights, gender equality, and orphans can drive potential donors to our website. Once donors find us, our content must clearly help them understand the need.

Why Google Didn’t Love Our Content

The search engines should have loved all our granular content, but they weren’t even seeing it. As it turned out, our own proprietary shared hosting platform was the culprit. Here’s why:

1. Slow page load times. Page load times are critical for SEO. But because we were hosted in Europe on a proprietary platform, our page load times were too slow for Google and other search engines. Users didn’t seem to notice, but our search engine rankings told another story.

2. Not SEO-Optimized. In addition, our website wasn’t optimized for SEO or for usability. Google Grants gives us $10,000 a month in Google AdWords funding, which is really effective if your site is optimized. Ours wasn’t, putting a damper on low-cost marketing strategies like SEO and free advertising. For example, our page on Angola didn’t have a page rank at all because it was seen as duplicate content.

Transitioning From A Shared Hosting Platform

When we made the decision 8 years ago to pool resources with 25 other nations to share a joint proprietary platform, it seemed like a good way to save money. But it wasn’t as cost-effective as we thought. Not only were our search engine rankings suffering, but we were investing a significant development budget each year to maintain the proprietary platform, costing us 18,000 CAD a year.

We wanted to spend donors’ money more effectively so we could drive SEO and bring in more donations. In 2013, we decided to go rogue from the joint platform.

The Solution: Open Source & Drupal

We chose open source and Drupal. We wanted a powerful and cost-effective website that was optimized for SEO, so we engaged a Drupal web development agency to build it.

The Results

Our page ranks are increasing, while our load times are decreasing. Like most charities, we raise the majority of our funds in the two months leading up to Christmas and just beyond. It’s still early, but we’re already well-positioned for this year. We’re slightly up over last year at this time, when we were fundraising for one-time donations during an international crisis and getting an unusual amount of press.

1. Giant leaps up in Google rankings

On pages with the exact same content, we’ve seen page ranks shoot up 4 full points—Angola rose from 1 to 5, for example. Now we’re indexed correctly to Google. The right third-party modules have all been configured and installed. Our new website platform optimizes page delivery within our design, allowing us to increase each page’s perceived value within the search engine marketplace. We’re actually showing up in other nations ahead of the local SOS National Association for that nation—specifically, in anglophone countries. People are starting to ask us what we’re doing differently.

2. Much better page load times

Our improved search rankings can be directly attributed to the lower page load times. Getting on Drupal and using the new website platform decreased our page load time significantly, averaging 49.7% faster average load time. As a result, Google immediately assigned a better quality score to our pages, and to our site overall.

3. Award-winning design

Our new website was so visually appealing that it outshone 5,000 competitors in 24 countries to win the 2014 Summit Creative Award, Silver medal, for a nonprofit website.

Parting Thoughts

If a colleague at another nonprofit were to ask, “What’s the best way to manage our large nonprofit website?” I would tell them this: “Option 1 is hiring a team to build the infrastructure on a cloud provider. Starting from scratch, they set up the servers and all the infrastructures. Then, they configure everything to make it high-performing for Drupal. In the end, you pay tens of thousands a year for hosting, and your search engine rankings could still suffer. We’ve been down that road. Option 2 is running your website on a container-based cloud infrastructure. You don’t need to worry about constant infrastructure maintenance or reconfiguring the architecture whenever your audience grows. And, because your site is so much faster, growing your audience through SEO becomes much easier. At least, that’s been our experience.”

So Fast Google Can’t Ignore You: Donations Optimized For SEO, July 18, 2014, NTEN, by Daniel Loftus

Charities Like Facebook for Rallying Support but Not Much for Fundraising

Facebook, with its audience of 1.2 billion worldwide and 128 million daily users in America, has long been touted as ...

Facebook, with its audience of 1.2 billion worldwide and 128 million daily users in America, has long been touted as a great way to help nonprofits find supporters.

But many fundraisers and charity leaders say that the social network remains a fickle partner in the drive for donations.

Only 2 percent of nonprofits in the United States raised $10,000 to $25,000 through Facebook in a 12-month period, and 1 percent raised $25,000 to $100,000, according to a report released last year by Blackbaud, a fundraising-software company.

Roughly 1 percent of all online fundraising can be attributed to social media, including Facebook, according to Blackbaud’s research.

John Haydon, author of Facebook Marketing for Dummies, puts it in simple terms: The social network is lousy for fundraising.

"Very rarely would you pull out your credit card when you’re on Facebook," says Mr. Haydon. "People are going there to connect with friends or relieve boredom or avoid work. It’s not about making donations."

The Donate-Button Test

Last December, Facebook ran an experiment: It gave 19 charities that are particularly active on the social network a donate button to use on their Facebook pages to boost year-end giving.

But the company and many of the charities that participated in the test have been mum about the results. And judging by the experience of one of them, that modesty may be justified.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society reported raising $3,500 through Facebook in the wake of the experiment. But that’s barely a sliver of the $98.5-million the charity raised through all online sources last year.

One problem with the test overall: The donate button did not appear in the Facebook mobile app, where roughly 78 percent of daily Facebook users access the platform.

Facebook officials say they are analyzing the effectiveness of the donate tool and will decide later whether to expand the program.

Lauren Van Horn, who oversees Facebook’s partnerships with nonprofits—a newly created role—said the company had not compiled data on the amount raised using the donate buttons.
Changes to News Feeds

The social network has also made recent changes that pose challenges for charities. It tweaked the algorithm that determines which posts will appear in a user’s news feed, making it more selective. Nonprofits are asking why their posts aren’t appearing in news feeds and why the number of people viewing and "liking" those posts has dropped.

"Organizations don’t realize how many people aren’t seeing those posts," says Wendy Marinaccio Husman, a senior account executive with Donordigital, an online-fundraising consulting firm. Facebook, she notes, is "designed to make money. It’s not designed for nonprofits to raise money."

With the new algorithm, individual posts placed on a nonprofit’s Facebook page are delivered to only a small percentage of its fans, especially if those posts don’t generate comments, likes, and shares, according to Drew Bernard, chief executive officer of ActionSprout, which develops tools that nonprofits can use on the Facebook platform.

Many organizatons contend that, in tweaking its algorithm, Facebook deliberately cut the audience reach of posts to force businesses and nonprofits to buy ads or sponsored posts guaranteed to appear in visitors’ news feeds.

Mr. Bernard says the social network is making organizations to "pay to gain reach for content that didn’t attract an audience organically," and that nonprofits can avoid paying by creating engaging posts.

But Facebook officials respond that the changes to the news-feed algorithm were made to ensure users find the best-quality content, posts, and causes that interest them, based on their likes and shares. At any given time, Facebook officials say, an average of 1,500 posts are available to a Facebook user viewing his or her news feed. Reducing the clutter for each individual user is the goal.
Peer to Peer

If the world’s biggest social network falls short in helping charities raise money directly, it nevertheless offers some advantages in helping them rally supporters through peer-to-peer drives, in which people solicit donations from their friends, usually to sponsor them when they participate in a fundraising event on behalf of a charity.

In a study this year of 135 peer-to-peer campaigns such as walkathons, Artez Interactive, a company that sells online-fundraising services to nonprofits, found 15 percent to 18 percent of the donations were generated directly through Facebook.

The study also found that 28 percent of the traffic referred to a charity’s fundraising page originated from Facebook, and those visitors responding to a peer-to-peer request will make a gift 23 percent of the time.

"It’s completely obvious that’s what would work best," says Ms. Husman. "People give to people. If your friend is making a gift and asks you to do the same, whatever medium it is, it’s going to be much more effective."

Researchers at George Mason University confirmed that idea. They found that a donor’s Facebook-wall post about making a gift was the most effective path to generating new donations from friends, suggesting that nonprofits will benefit from encouraging donors to use social media to share news of their support for a charity and to urge others to give.

"When you ask your friend in front of their friends, it seems to be the most effective," says Ragan Petrie, an associate professor of economics at George Mason and a co-author of the fundraising report. "Having the social pressure seems to be important."
Acquiring Emails

Facebook’s vast audience also provides unmatched potential to find new supporters, gather data about them, and drive them to act.

The key, say people who help charities raise money online, is to create engaging content that will generate clicks, likes, shares, comments, and actions that expand the broadcast and provide a means to capture data and donor prospects. Spending money on Facebook ads or sponsored pages—as little as $500 to $1,000 focused on a target audience, fundraising consultants say—can help posts that are already seeing robust traffic reach even more potential supporters.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society found success with a stand-alone ad purchased on Facebook to promote its Team in Training program and Light the Night Walks. The ad produced 1,000 leads for Team in Training and 3,000 registrations for Light the Night.

In addition, it can be highly cost-effective to acquire potential supporters’ email addresses through Facebook and its support tools and to make an appeal for donations later in the online conversation.

ActionSprout estimates that a call to action, which requires a user to share an email address, generates five to 20 new email addresses for every 100 Facebook users who engaged with the post.
A Tool for Advocacy

Experts advise nonprofits to view Facebook as a listening tool as much as a megaphone, to know their audience; and to craft posts that meld followers’ interests with the organization’s mission.

With a vast supply of exotic-animal photos, the World Wildlife Fund has a natural advantage in capturing attention and generates tens of thousands of likes and shares for pictures of rhinos, dolphins, and so on. (A participant in Facebook’s December experiment, it would not reveal how much it raised through the social network.)

The international animal-protection group spends a small percentage of its advertising budget to boost Facebook posts and would increase that spending if it noticed a decrease in engagement, which it thus far hasn’t, says David Glass, senior director of digital marketing.

But, says Bex Young, the charity’s senior specialist for social media, "You have to couple the cute with getting someone to take action," such as to sign up for an email list.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or Rainn, employs a staff member solely devoted to online communication and uses the social network to educate and engage people in a personal way. Infographics have been particularly effective at generating shares and likes, says Katherine Hull Fliflet, the charity’s vice president for communications.

The organization raises about $5-million a year. It would not reveal how much it raised through its participation in Facebook’s donate-button experiment, but Ms. Fliflet says the social network has been responsible for a large amount of traffic to the organization’s website and the growth in demand for its online hotline.

Facebook, Ms. Fliflet says, has been "making charitable giving more accessible, particularly to those who may be first-time givers or younger donors who are looking for a way to interact with a charity.", a three-year-old nonprofit that encourages political action by millennials, also pushes its advocacy mission with the help of Facebook.

Its six-person staff has gained one million members and 363,000 likes on its Facebook page. It registered 350,000 voters in 2012 and spent less than $1 per voter, showing that the social network can be a cost-effective tool to push people to act.

"We have an email list, but we don’t want to email them eight to 10 times a day," says Jarrett Moreno,’s founder. Facebook, he says, has helped the group get its message out in a less intrusive way: "They’ll click and share or comment, give us another opportunity to appear in their friends’ news feed, and then they’ll follow our page, too."

Charities Like Facebook for Rallying Support but Not Much for Fundraising, July 13, 2014, Chronicle of Philanthropy, by Tom Held