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Delaware Nonprofits: Endless Discoveries
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DANA's new President and CEO Sheila Bravo reflects on her discovery of DANA and the nonprofit sector in Delaware.


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Top tags: nonprofits  Delaware  Board of Directors  Board Member  collaboration  budget  government  Calendar  CEO  DANA  funding  grantmakers  leaders  Nonprofit  Nonprofit Finance Fund  partnerships  strategy  Adaptive capacity  Association of Fundraising Professionals  Community  David Grant  DEFAC  Delaware Community Foundation  DuPont  economy  employees  Endless Discoveries  giving Tuesday  Good to Great  grants 

It is Time

Posted By Sheila Bravo, Monday, February 6, 2017

Delaware Nonprofit Board Members and Leaders: It is Time

These past few weeks have left many social impact leaders feeling anxious and uncertain about what is ahead for the people and causes they serve.  Swift changes enacted by the new Trump Administration, and promises of even greater change in the future, are raising many questions.  The challenges our State leaders face with an escalating annual budget gap adds to the tumultuous feeling.  In times like these, some may think it is best to stay focused on the present, get the work done, and wait this out.  

You can’t.  It is time to act.

Now is the time to check the resiliency of your organization to weather possible shifts in regulation and funding.  Is your funding diversified well enough to absorb shifts in grants and contracts?  Will your clients be able to access your services if the changes you anticipate occur? 

Now is the time to sharpen the case for support as government and donors set priorities for allocating their dollars.  Remind them how your organization creates jobs, impacts tourism, creates a community that attracts businesses, saves lives, educates children, reduces recidivism, saves tax payer dollars, creates a better future for our kids, (add in your impact here!).

Now is the time to reach out to your local, state and federal representatives and senators to educate them on the important cause you support, and the impact regulatory or funding changes could have on your organization’s ability to serve, or your client’s ability to access your services.

Now is the time to encourage other volunteers in the organization to do the same.  To share the meaningful work they do, and the lives they positively impact.

Now is the time to ask your partners to join you in highlighting how your alliance has a multiplying effect in achieving outcomes.  Together you and your partner’s staff, volunteers and clients represent a sizeable portion of your community, and can raise attention to your representatives the importance of sustaining your work.

Now is the time to speak up about possible changes to the charitable gift deduction – a stimulus to encourage giving for individuals which is at risk with the pending tax code re-write; to speak up about possible federal spending reductions that impact your mission and the people you support; to raise awareness on the need to increase revenue sources at the State level to finance the investments required to achieve the desired quality of life here in Delaware.

Once the regulations are passed, once the tax code is rewritten, the funding allocations are set.  It will be too late.


Tags:  Board Member  Budget  Calendar  DEFAC  Government 

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Posted By Sheila Bravo, Thursday, October 6, 2016
Updated: Saturday, November 26, 2016

It is hard to believe that a year ago I started this journey as CEO of DANA.   During this first year, I have had the immense pleasure of meeting so many dedicated people working to better our state through philanthropy, governing, and nonprofit service.  In the course of those conversations several themes emerged:  1) all agree that the agencies who serve Delaware make a difference in the community.  2) all agree that the funding landscape to support those services is shifting and shrinking, while it seems service demand increases, 3) that it is hard to know who is doing what in the State and how well, thus making it challenging to leverage and allocate resources and 4) all agree that this environment is not going to change unless we make it happen.


There are several initiatives in play that are helping us move forward towards solutions.  The first is a project that DANA and the Delaware Grantmaker’s Association (DGA) are working on to create a database that showcases nonprofits in the state, where they serve, and what they do.  This will help nonprofit leaders better understand who they can partner with to leverage resources, and will better inform grantmakers on who does what as they allocate resources.  The second is the Delaware Revenue Solutions Coalition’s work to unify the philanthropy and nonprofit communities around State revenue growth to resource the services that make Delaware a great place to live. Third, DANA, the Delaware Community Foundation and the United Way of DE have partnered with the DE Business Times to promote philanthropy and have invited nonprofits to participate in the upcoming Giving Guide,   scheduled to be released before “Giving Tuesday”. 


And finally, with the common interest by government, grantmakers and nonprofit leaders to agree on what outcomes matter, DANA and DGA are partnering together to host an event on November 29th  to bring grantmaking and nonprofit leaders together to hear from David Grant, author of The Social Profit Handbook,  on methods to qualitatively assess program effectiveness.


At the end of the day, though – communicating success is just as important as making it happen.  I know there are many organizations making incredible headway on their mission every day.  But not everyone knows that.   So, I’m inviting DANA member nonprofits to share their impact stories through this blog.   I’m closing the chapter on my “Endless Journey” blog – and opening a new one:  Celebrating our Impact.   Please send me your story to, with a picture and brief paragraph on what you do and how it transforms lives or the community.  This will be the basis for my blogs going forward.  Collectively, our stories can help to inform the community on the great and impactful work nonprofits do across Delaware.

Tags:  David Grant  Delaware  giving Tuesday  grantmakers  nonprofit  philanthropy 

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What An Excellent Board Makes Possible

Posted By Sheila Bravo, Thursday, July 21, 2016

This past week I had the opportunity to facilitate discussions on board excellence across the state.  25 Board leaders participated in learning more about the six areas on which boards of directors can focus for improved board performance.  As the session got underway, I posed this question:  What does an excellent board make possible?

At first the answers were focused on the organizational level:  growth for the organization, donor and volunteer confidence, sustainability, staff support and reassurance, and more partnerships.

Then we took it to a higher level and looked at what an excellent board makes possible for the community: greater community involvement, more people receiving benefits, a healthier community, a greater economic development, improved community pride, and a greater quality of life.

When a nonprofit is formed, the board is typically focused on the community improvement aspects of their work - that is why they came together in the first place.  Enthusiasm builds based on the possibilities of all that they can accomplish for their community.   But over time, the need to raise funds, hire staff, meet legal and financial oversight requirements, etc., can make the work of the board seem administrative and less exciting.

Yet, it is in the excellence of leadership, planning, great governance, financial leadership, and resource provision that the board makes it possible for the organization and its staff to thrive.  Through their work, the community is transformed; and it is all because they are operating based on a sound plan, have a strong balance sheet, and possess the confidence that they will be able to follow through with the promise of their mission.

So at times when board work may not seem very interesting, stop and ask yourself and your board - what does (insert non-interesting work activity here) make possible for our mission?  How will it help board members have a greater understanding and confidence in our nonprofit's financial position?   How will it instill confidence in donors?  And with donors feeling confident in our good stewardship - how will the gifts they give make a difference to the community we desire to be better? Reminding board members how their planning, oversight, governance and policy work will make many things possible can be the catalyst to stimulate the decision leadership needed to move the organization forward.

The possibilities for better communities begin when nonprofit boards operate with excellence. DANA's Board Excellence workshops and retreats can help nonprofit Directors better realize their board and organization's potential.  To learn more visit our website at 

Tags:  Board Member  Community  Delaware  Leadership  Nonprofit  Organization 

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A Bright Future when the Board Chair and CEO are a strong team

Posted By Sheila Bravo, Monday, June 20, 2016

Imagine being a board chair and feeling like you made a difference today, if for no one else, at least the person that makes the day-to-day awesomeness happen.

Imagine being the CEO and feeling you have a trusted thought partner to turn to who knows you, the organization, and the community.

These were some of the future possibilities discussed at DANA’s 2016 conference on Catalytic Leadership. Creating the Future Fellow Justin Pollock asked workshop participants to consider what the board chair and CEO would need to feel, believe, and know for them to be confident and effective in their roles.  

What emerged was wanting the ability to work seamlessly together, and to leverage their strengths which can create a multiplying effect that ripples through the Board of Directors, the organization, and the community. Their commitment to working together, taking the time to learn each other’s gifts, and listening and learning from each other is the foundation for decision making and action. This builds the trust and respect needed to jump in with confidence, and play the leadership role they have been elected and hired to do. 

A healthy relationship can also help diffuse factors that can derail a positive leadership experience. Dynamics of organizational context, time availability, power, personal interests, and lack of role clarity can influence the manner in which the leader team is shaped. Our work culture does not typically encourage relationship building before getting down to business. There is so much to do, and task takes priority.  Then, just when the relationship has finally solidified, term limits require a new Board Chair, and the leader team formation begins all over again. 

This all probably seems pretty intuitive. We all know that a good board chair/CEO relationship is required for having an engaged board and making effective decisions, right? Yet, how many boards have structured processes to encourage and ensure relationship building takes place?  How many have defined the qualities of a healthy strong board chair/CEO leader team? I suspect very few. We take it for granted that the board chair and CEO will work it out on their own.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. 

Imagine what could be possible when the board chair and CEO commit time to build trust, and to explore what they need to feel, believe and know for their work to be successful in leading the Board and moving the organization forward. DANA is offering an opportunity for board chairs and CEOs to embark on this journey to make it possible.  In partnership with fellows from Creating the Future, who were featured at our Annual Conference last week, DANA is launching a Fellowship uniquely crafted for board chair and CEO teams. Recognizing the distinctive organizational and board context that each board chair and CEO lead, this series of learning sessions will provide not only in-depth exploration of what could be possible for their leadership, but also will allow for time to apply their discoveries within their organizations and boards. 

I’ve had the opportunity to work with six board chairs over my years as Executive Director. And each one brought unique gifts to our team. We accomplished some pretty amazing things. However, there were bumps along the road and, with reflection, I’ve come to realize they often were early on in the relationship before we really understood each other. Having worked with Creating the Future in developing the DANA fellowship, it reinforces for me why the first job of a CEO and board chair is to really get to know each other and build the trust and respect to make it happen. DANA’s board just elected a new board chair, Michele Schiavoni, and with the knowledge I’ve gained in this area, I’m looking forward to getting to know her and exploring as a team our possibilities as leaders.


Tags:  Board of Directors  Delaware  nonprofits 

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What is your Philosophy for your most important Asset – Talent?

Posted By Sheila Bravo, Thursday, May 26, 2016

I have heard a lot of concerns from nonprofit leaders regarding the news from the Department of Labor (DOL) on overtime pay changes. We celebrate these changes, as this will be a boost for salaried workers who routinely work overtime, and were not paid time-and-a-half because their annual salary was above $23,660. However, for those nonprofit employers whose business models assume the current OT level, this could be a challenge to find financially viable ways to address the new law.

The good news is there is time to manage the impact for your organization, as the new rules do not go into effect until December 1, 2016. I commend the DOL on providing information specific to nonprofits on how they can interpret the new regulations, and more importantly ideas on how to manage them.

This got me thinking: when a change like this comes, it is an opportunity to reflect on how your organization is managing the care and development of its most important asset – employees. Just as the Family Medical Leave Act and the Affordable Care Act provided guidelines on leave and health benefits, the new OT regulations impact decisions around hiring, employee job descriptions, schedules, and service delivery. Nonprofit leaders and their Board of Directors have important philosophical decisions to make around the care of their employee talent. For example:

  • Even if an organization’s circumstance excludes it from some of these requirements, should they do it anyway?
  • How often does an organization expect an employee to work overtime? Is it sustainable?
  • What is the organization’s philosophy on compensation, and how does the OT rule change impact that philosophy?
  • Are employee job descriptions clearly identified as exempt and non-exempt for overtime?
  • Knowing that every three years the salary level will be adjusted under the OT regulations, what steps can be taken to raise operating revenue to meet those increases?

Before finalizing any decision, it is important to look at the quality of service delivery, and the financial, human resource, and labor law implications. There are many resources available to nonprofits, including local accounting and law firms who can assist with answering questions. DANA is promoting a webinar for nonprofits on June 7, and more learning sessions on this issue will be forthcoming.


Tags:  Board of Directors  employees  nonprofits  overtime  regulations 

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Connections create possibilities

Posted By Sheila Bravo, Friday, April 29, 2016

These past few weeks several conversations have emerged around partnerships, collaboration, collective impact, and even consolidation. They covered the range from how much is happening, how to get started, what it’s going to take, and the economic and social benefit. In our state, many feel that there is an immense amount of partnership activity, many collaborative initiatives, and some comprehensive ventures towards collective impact. Each of those are a continuum of relationship depth between two or more organizations. 

And that is both our challenge and our opportunity.

Starting a partnership, or immersing in a strategic alliance, requires relationship building, trust, and a lot of time. Sharing resources and common goals can be challenging, as it requires each organization to be vulnerable with each other. In Delaware, our geography and government structure provides access in ways that larger states cannot benefit.

AstraZeneca seeks to stimulate connections with nonprofits in this creative space.

Building a relationship with another leader across the state can be easy, and our networks help facilitate communication among our colleagues rather quickly. We need to leverage that advantage to strengthen Delaware community benefit organizations. We have the potential to pool our resources to collectively advance our missions.

So how do we get started? It begins with conversation; a simple willingness to meet regularly, understand who is doing what, and being willing to share ideas and resources. Those simple connections can accelerate the potential and possibilities we all have in advancing the quality of life here in Delaware.


Tags:  collaboration  Delaware  nonprofits  partnerships 

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Sustainability begins with changing Paradigms

Posted By Sheila Bravo, Friday, April 8, 2016

In my travels I have had some robust discussion around the concept of treating nonprofits as businesses rather than nonprofits. There are some who are adamant that they are very different, and to assume similarities can be detrimental to the health and vitality of their mission. Others argue that customer service, operational efficiency, financial management, human resource management, and planning are no different, and therefore to not apply good business practices is a detriment to the vitality of the their organization.

Here is one way to look at it: The difference between a for-profit vs. a nonprofit entity is that one has individuals who profit from the efforts of the entity’s work, while the other takes that profit and plows it back into the entity for investment in future works.  Well, that is the theory anyway. The setback is that somewhere along the line it became social perception that nonprofits should not make a profit. This zero bottom line mentality means there is NO money left, and therefore no way to plow funds back into the entity for reinvestment. It sets up an automatic non-sustainable future.   

It is time to change our paradigm about nonprofits and their profitability. The community created nonprofits to benefit the community. For that benefit to last, the community should pay for what it takes to serve today, and for innovation for tomorrow.  This is not a handout, but rather an investment in our community well-being. This social sector is a robust industry comprised of over 1200 entities that generate over $3 billion in revenue1,  and nearly $2 billion in payroll2 here in Delaware. Their services care for those in need, give us access to art and history, educate us to get jobs, and care for our health. The fact that profits from this social industry are not going to a few individuals, but benefiting the whole community, is a pretty incredible societal payback.  

We, as nonprofit leaders must tell this story; that the cost of benefit includes reinvestment in that benefit. This can include reserves for maintenance and IT upgrades, allocation for talent development and marketing, and funds for future innovation. Nonprofit stakeholders need to understand what it takes to benefit our neighborhoods for today as well as the future, so they have the opportunity to make that investment for the quality of life in Delaware. Not telling that story perpetuates the perception that giving should only be for direct costs expended today, thus slowly starving the very engine that is designed to make living in Delaware great.

So how can you tell that story?  First, Board Members and Executive Directors need the right systems to track and monitor the organization. Then, it is having meaningful reports and projections to understand how the organization is currently sustained.  And finally, it is determining what is needed for your nonprofit to be sustainable in the future. That is a lot to know, and if your leadership is not up to speed on how to do this, there are resources available. Perhaps a business partner or local accounting firm can offer some time to coach your leadership on how to read financial statements, and offer tips on how to determine long-term viability. DANA members can access financial training webinars developed by Boston’s Nonprofit Finance Fund at a reduced rate. And next Friday, DANA is hosting the Nonprofit Finance Fund for two workshops: the first on understanding the basics of nonprofit finances, and the second workshop will be on financial sustainability. This is an excellent opportunity to hear from the experts and receive very helpful examples of how to financially sustain your nonprofit organization. 

The community wants nonprofits to be sustainable and successful. Their ability to do so requires understanding the story on what is needed for that community benefit to prosper. Nonprofit leaders can make that happen with good financial reporting and a plan for sustainability, so your mission can remain a vital component of our neighborhoods today and in the future.  

- Sheila

1Urban Institute for Charitable Statistics, sub-industry charitable entities, 2013  2Bureau for Labor Statistics, segment of nonprofit sector, 2012 

Tags:  Board Member  Board of Directors  Nonprofit Finance Fund  nonprofits  sustainability 

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Networking and Partnering can strengthen Nonprofits and their Leadership

Posted By Sheila Bravo, Wednesday, March 2, 2016

There is a lot of talk these days about collaboration, and in Delaware many nonprofits are collaborating at some level with others. DANA has held several workshops on the various types of collaboration, including working together for collective impact. Partnering is not only smart from an efficiency and effectiveness standpoint, but it can also help to strengthen your leadership, as well as your organization. There are many ways to start the pathway to collaboration. One of them is by joining a network.

A recent article by Jennifer Chandler and Kristen Scott Kennedy from the National Council of Nonprofits highlights the benefits of being part of a network. Networks help advance the first step in any partnership or collaboration: building trust. By getting together regularly, group leaders break down resistance to sharing as they get to know others in the network. Mutual sharing of experiences and insights helps accelerate innovation, expand perspectives, and gain insights on what is happening in Delaware. Once trust is there, exploration of mutual initiatives begin to break down organizational resistance to working together. New programs, or cost sharing initiatives, become a reality. And leaders who are part of networks and coalitions find they also have a more powerful voice for advocacy activities.

DANA is a network. As the Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement, we convene nonprofit leaders in training, through member events, and our annual conference. We advocate for the interests of the nonprofit sector, and those who support it. We work in partnership with other state-wide organizations such as the Delaware Grantmakers Association, the Delaware Community Foundation, the United Way, Chambers of Commerce, and the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Our mission to strengthen enhance and advance nonprofits would not be possible without the connections among members, alliance partners, and government agencies. And our networking initiatives have expanded to support Executive Directors through the E2E Peer Networking sessions we're hosting each month.

The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) and the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) have recently released studies on the skills required for effective nonprofit leadership. Both studies reveal that success in delivering mission can no longer be managed within organizational silos. Today, leaders must exhibit the ability to collaborate, work across organizational boundaries, network, and place solutions above their personal and organizational interests. Unfortunately, the GEO study also revealed that less than a quarter of nonprofit leaders ranked themselves as strong in these areas. That is concerning. 

As nonprofit leaders we are challenged to “squeeze blood out of a turnip.” One way to actually accomplish this is to work with others to share resources to make mission happen. Sometimes being part of a network costs money, but fees are usually well worth the benefits. However, most of what is required to network or collaborate is a commitment of time: time to meet and get to know others, and time to explore ways to make things better. I know time is in short supply for just about everyone. However, the rewards of being energized in working together and moving closer towards common goals can be great.    

In Delaware, there are plenty of ways to connect with others. I’ve counted over 22 network organizations in addition to DANA that provide opportunities for nonprofit leaders to connect, partner, and learn from each other. Most likely there are others, as I’m still learning the sectorAs Hildy Gottlieb says from Creating the Future, "Individually we don’t have enough resources, but collectively we do." Join DANA, join other networks, and strengthen your leadership and organization so that it can be successful in delivering its mission more effectively and efficiently.


Tags:  Association of Fundraising Professionals  collaboration  Delaware  Delaware Community Foundation  Grantmakers  National Council of Nonprofits  network  nonprofits  State chamber of commerce  United Way 

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Is Your Board a Winning Team?

Posted By Sheila Bravo, Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Super bowl this past weekend showcased the two best football teams in the country. How did they get there? They were very disciplined on who they selected to be on the team, and who got to play. They practiced and practiced and practiced. They came up with specific strategies on how they would play the game. They played, reviewed what worked and didn’t work, and then made corrections. Reviewing stats, watching plays, testing out moves, and changing strategies are all part of being able to adapt to the competitive sport environment.

Success, whether it is played out on the ball field, or in our communities, requires the same type of discipline: having the right people who know what to do, can do it well, are watchful, and respond to shifts in order to attain their goals.

Is your board as watchful, agile, and intentional in shifting strategies and tactics to navigate the VUCA environment in which we serve? We know that demand for our services remain high, and for some nonprofits, they are still increasing. Yet, the resources to meet that demand continue to shift, and in some areas shrink. For a nonprofit organization to survive and be sustainable in the Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous landscape, the leadership (the Board and CEO) need to be on top of their “game.” Here are some questions to ask:

  • What criteria are you using to recruit members to your Board team?
  • Who are your MVPs? How are your grooming the future MVPs?
  • Are Board members clear on what their role is, and how they contribute to whatever ‘play’ (aka: goals & strategies) you intend to make?
  • Do you have your rule book (values) for how you play?
  • Are you routinely evaluating how you performed, and outlining what changes are needed to be successful in the future?
  • Do you understand the strengths of the other ‘players’ in the market environment who are competing for similar resources?
  • In what way are you communicating your own organizational strengths to secure those resources?
  • How do you celebrate your wins?
Did You Know: DANA offers a Board Self Assessment that is an easy way to find out areas for their Board team to improve and achieve great performance. Reach out to Paul Stock for more on this!

Thankfully, most don’t need to have major physical strength and agility to be a player for the board team. But each Board member can make a tremendous impact on achieving Board Excellence as long as they know their role in helping the nonprofit organization be a winner in making the change it desires here in Delaware. 


Tags:  Board of Directors  nonprofits  strategy  VUCA 

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It takes two to make things go right

Posted By Sheila Bravo, Wednesday, February 3, 2016

In my last blog I wrote about the importance of being able to adapt quickly to a dynamic environment. In a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous), the leadership of a nonprofit organization must be able to be proactive and respond to the happenings. This begins with the leadership dyad of the Board Chair and Executive Director. Together, this leadership team, has the ability to set the tone for the organization and its capacity to meet change head on. Effecting change is not easy, but as partners, they can leverage each other’s expertise and strengths to galvanize the Board for making important decisions, and encourage staff and volunteers to adapt to the changing landscape. 

The leadership structure of a nonprofit encourages this shared leadership role. Communities delegate the management of the nonprofit to a Board of Directors, who in turn elect a leader who can represent their interests at times when the full board cannot meet. The board in turn hires a CEO to manage the organization and hire staff to execute the mission. The Board Chair and the Executive Director are then designated as a team to work together, and bridge governance and management together. The success of this partnership relies on what one would expect with a strong team: building trust, recognizing strengths, understanding roles, holding each other accountable, and having each other’s back.

Recently, I spoke with an Executive Director who just completed their strategic plan, where a considerable change in their business model was determined to be a necessary path forward. She attributed the success of this organizational shift to her partnership with the Board Chair, and how the Chair knew that change was needed. Together, their unified approach enabled the board and staff to accept change was needed, and proceed with making it happen. When this partnership is not strong, the burden for not only leading, but being a change agent, falls on the shoulders of one person. Unfortunately, I’ve seen how this goes, and it leads to burn out of either the Board Chair or the CEO.

The Board has an important responsibility in preventing burnout and ensuring this leadership team is effective. Just as a Board evaluates the role and skills needed for a good Executive Director, so too should they consider the responsibilities and character needed to lead the Board. In what way does the Board ensure the new Board Chair has the orientation they need to be a successful leader of the governance team? What mechanisms are in place for the Board Chair and Executive Director to build the positive relationship needed to co-lead? And during their tenure as a leadership team, what means are used to evaluate their shared performance?  

Sustainability in a VUCA environment requires the leadership of a nonprofit to be very intentional about strategy and execution choices in order to be effective in mission delivery without sapping resources. Nurturing the Board Chair/Executive Director leadership team to make sure their partnership is strong and working well is a no-cost task, yet an extremely critical element for success.


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