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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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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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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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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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Adaptive Capacity Makes All the Difference

Posted By Sheila Bravo, Tuesday, January 12, 2016

This weekend I went to see the move The Big Short, the behind-the-scenes story of what led to the 2008 Great Recession. Though there were many insights from the film, one thing that I took away was how many signs there were that something was wrong with the housing market. Yet, despite the warnings, the perception that the housing market would always be a safe bet overshadowed the realities of blooming adjustable mortgages, suburban communities filled with foreclosed homes, and people securing mortgages that they did not have the incomes to support. Even as some credible experts came forward and made public speeches about the housing bubble and its future demise, there was little belief that this would actually become reality. 

Since the recession, the idea that you can expect anything to be a safe bet, or that the way the world is today is the way it will always be, is wildly naïve. Technology, social media, leadership turnover, and the political and economic climate are wreaking havoc on the status quo. To sustain an organization in 2016 and into the future, leaders, boards of directors, and the organization itself must have high levels of adaptive capacity in order to navigate a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous climate (VUCA).

Adaptive capacity is the ability to understand the environment (internal and external) as it is today, what it may be in the future, and respond effectively to address the pending climate changes through innovation, connecting, and inquisitiveness. This means scanning the landscape, staying on top of trends, as well as networking and collaborating to leverage the resources in the community system. It means managing the organization’s vulnerabilities, and creating scenarios of ‘what if’ so a nonprofit can respond to a crisis, in addition to reach out and capture new opportunities.

The basis for adaptive capacity can be found in Peter Senge’s 1990 seminal work The Fifth Discipline. Senge outlines the principles of a learning organization  - where members are continuously seeking improvement to enhance their capabilities and achieve what they want. Since the book’s release, many leading leadership and organizational research institutions have studied how leaders and organizations respond to change. 

Recently, Jim Collins’ Great by Choice profiles why some organizations thrive during turbulent times. What Collins found is that these organizations had leaders who were disciplined, used facts to inform decisions, and were more paranoid than those leading the organizations that did not thrive. They planned for worse case scenarios, and they were methodical in their innovation.

Last night at the Delaware State Chamber’s 179th Annual Dinner, our political leaders talked about the changing times, and how this can lead to opportunities. Senator Carper said it well: “Under the mud there is a pony.”  Leaders and nonprofit boards who embrace a learning culture, look outward, and take initiative to change the status quo will most likely be the first to find that pony and ride it into the sunset.


Tags:  Adaptive capacity  Board of Directors  Delaware  nonprofits  State Chamber 

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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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Too many resources?

Posted By Sheila Bravo, Friday, October 16, 2015

The other day, John Baker and I met with an economic development firm interested in exploring new ways for Delaware to grow. Given that many nonprofits are an engine for economic growth (cultural tourism, work development programs, urban revitalization, etc.) we were invited to offer our thoughts. At the end of the conversation, one of the associates of the firm mentioned how incredible it is that Delaware has so many resources to offer. It took me by surprise, and gave me pause for reflection. In the past few weeks, I have listened to nonprofit and community leaders share their concern that there are not enough resources.

So which is it?

I think it begins with how you define a resource.  In the nonprofit world, there are four resources that I see as critical for nonprofit sustainability – strategy, people, infrastructure, and cash. 

Strategy – a nonprofit organization must have a mission, but it also it needs to be clear on how it will deliver its mission efficiently and effectively. Efficiency is important because the public wants nonprofits to apply resources towards service delivery and minimize unproductive energy and time. Effectiveness is important because the community wishes to understand the result of the nonprofit’s work towards the outcomes it seeks. Good strategy will make sure a nonprofit remains focused on the elements that provide efficient and effective mission delivery toward desired outcomes.

People – DANA’s focus on board excellence and leadership development is a testimony as to how important we believe people are to a strong and healthy nonprofit sector. People deliver the services. But they also are the thought-leaders behind developing strategies that guide an organization to determine how many people are needed, what skills are required, and in what way they need to do their work to be efficient and effective. The people on the Board are very important – they ensure the nonprofit is following its mission in a legal and sustainable manner. They hire the CEO/Executive Director and together provide the critical thought-leadership to create the strategy. Volunteers and staff then become an important resource to help implement the activities needed to engage and impact the lives of the people (or animals, or the environment) they touch. The people in the community are important, too. They help to support the nonprofit through donations, connect nonprofit leaders to others, and advocate for the nonprofit’s value. 

Infrastructure – this is not only the technology, office space, or program venue, it is also the systems and processes that a nonprofit uses to efficiently and effectively deliver its mission. The systems and processes help connect nonprofits to prospective clients and customers, as well as promote its value to the community. Infrastructure is needed to deliver quality products, and enables a nonprofit’s leader to monitor and evaluate its financial and mission results. 

Cash – obvious of course, but it is actually not one type. It is a diversified set of cash comprised of long-term funds that can help a nonprofit deliver its services in good times and bad (aka: an endowment), as well as unrestricted funds so that nonprofit leaders can apply cash resources to what they believe will result in efficient and effective mission delivery. Some cash comes in as it goes out, while other cash is brought in and held until the project or program for which it was designated is implemented. The amount of cash received depends on the previous three resource elements. For example, if an organization is blessed with many volunteers, they will need much less cash for payroll than a nonprofit that requires skilled professionals for service delivery (such as psychologists or surgeons).

Did you know: DANA provides strategic planning consulting to interested organizations and their Board of Directors.

Reach out to Paul Stock ( to learn more.

In Delaware, the opportunities for strategy development, the number of people interested in being involved with nonprofits, the amount of infrastructure, and funding resources available collectively point to a lot of resources.  However, it all comes down to how the collective resources are applied together that make the difference. Nonprofit leaders should assess the right balance of that mix in light of what they wish to achieve in desired mission outcomes. 

Before assuming there is not enough cash, has your organization looked to see if it is focused only on those activities that deliver on the mission, or are there initiatives that are interesting, yet not mission focused? Can volunteers help take some of the workload off of staff to help them direct their work hours on program delivery vs. administration or facility repairs? Are there partnership opportunities a nonprofit can seek that will permit mission delivery to go farther? In what ways can the infrastructure be improved to promote efficiency and measure effectiveness?

Answering these questions will inform the cash resources needed, both in the short and long term. Yes, there are limited cash resources for all the activities that nonprofits in Delaware want to do. However, I wonder with all that we have to access – strategy, people, and infrastructure – would we be able to do more if we focused on these resources too?

Tags:  Board of Directors  mission  nonprofits  outcomes  Resources  strategy 

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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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