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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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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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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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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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New Years Tip: Create an Organizational Calendar

Posted By Sheila Bravo, Monday, December 28, 2015

Imagine these scenarios:

  • A nonprofit submits a request for funding only to be turned down due to failure to meet prior grant requirements.
  • A nonprofit cannot reapply for a contract because they did not turn in the necessary reports. 
  • A nonprofit learns they lost their tax-deductible status since they did follow IRS rules for filing.

It may sound surprising, but it happens, and not that infrequently. In many of the cases above, leadership transitions resulted in the loss of internal accountability for following up on the commitments the organization made in order to receive funding, get a contract, or even retain their nonprofit status. Or, in the throws of being focused on day-to-day operations, the nonprofit forgot they made a commitment to a grant maker to report on the results of the initiative that was funded. 

A simple solution to all this is to create an organizational calendar. Creating such a document helps nonprofit boards and executive staff stay on top of critical milestones. This not only includes board meeting dates, or special event dates, but also key activities that the organization must follow through on to meet commitments and monitor its mission.

One of the top concerns I heard by grant makers and government funders is the lack of follow-through on the part of nonprofits in providing timely reports on progress made possible by their financial support. This is not just a strict protocol, but a real requirement in which they have to report to their board, or in the case of the government, to other government officials on the use of funds. When a nonprofit fails to submit their information in a timely manner, they negatively impact the very people who are financially supporting them.

Here are some ideas on what to include in an organizational calendar:

  • Board meeting dates
  • Annual meeting, including the date when the annual budget is passed and evaluation of organizational progress towards the strategic plan takes place
  • Date to file and pay franchise tax
  • Date to file the appropriate IRS form 990
  • Date to report back to a grant maker or a contractor on program/project progress
  • Date to review the Executive Director
  • Special fundraising event dates
  • Date for new board member orientation
  • Date for board self-evaluation
  • Date to review personnel policies to ensure they are compliant with state and federal laws
  • Date for the annual DANA conference, or the gatherings of other professional organizations of which your nonprofit is a member

Once completed, the calendar should be readily available for all board members and staff to review.  Board Chairs can regularly reference the calendar, and request confirmation that the scheduled initiative was indeed followed through on. This one document can help your organization stay on top, helping to support your mission in 2016.

Happy New Year!


Tags:  Board Member  Board of Directors  Calendar  Delaware  nonprofits 

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Boards of Directors: Best Practices

Posted By Sheila Bravo, Wednesday, September 9, 2015

This week the DANA Board of Directors held its quarterly board meeting.  It is clear the board members are very committed to DANA and its mission. They are comprised of community, foundation, business, and nonprofit leaders who care about the nonprofit sector. Their diverse backgrounds bring a wealth of experience and perspective to determine the vision and strategy for DANA. Many of them serve on other boards, and take their board responsibility very seriously.

Having the right board members is a crucial element in having a great organization. As Jim Collins states in his ‘Good to Great’ book, “First get the right people on the bus.” This is especially true with the volunteers who comprise a nonprofit’s board. It starts with assessing the current board and evaluating its recruiting and orientation processes. Has your board reviewed its current composition? If so, are they the right people to move the organization forward? Do they understand their legal and fiduciary responsibilities? Are they actively participating in providing oversight and the resources for your nonprofit organization to remain sustainable and deliver its mission into the future?

Did you know: DANA offers a Board Assessment Tool which helps nonprofit boards evaluate the strengths of their governance practices. This is a great benchmark to identify current strengths and opportunities for growth of your board. To learn more, contact Paul Stock at

There are many resources available to nonprofit leaders and board chairs regarding best practices for board member recruitment, orientation, and outlining expectations for engagement. A quick google search will pull up a few white papers as well as academic studies. As an added benefit, DANA members can access best practice models through the Standards for Excellence® education packets that I mentioned in my last blog. DANA also provides training for board members, including customized governance consulting. As your organization begins planning for 2016, consider evaluating your board’s practices and discuss as a team how to move those good practices to great practices. Your organization will benefit from the results!


Tags:  Board Member  Board of Directors  Good to Great  Jim Collins  nonprofits  Standards for Excellence 

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