A roundup of Canadian Christian nonprofit blogs

I subscribe to a healthy number of feeds from nonprofit marketing or media blogs. After reading of how so many organizations are using social media really well, I sometimes feel disheartened. Everyone’s doing cool things with their organization’s blog but me!

But then I started wondering: just how many Canadian nonprofits are using social media well? Am I really that far behind?

Since I’m familiar with a lot of the agencies who belong to the Canadian Christian Relief and Development Agency, I thought I’d do a quick survey of which of these use blogs. Maybe later I’ll do a Facebook usage survey.

Canadian Christian nonprofits who do not have (visible) blogs

Canadian Reformed World Relief Fund doesn’t have a visible blog. There isn’t a search function on the website, though, and I was too lazy to hunt for a blog past the first page.

CAUSE doesn’t have one that I can find. (By the way, this agency is WAY cooler than its website would lead one to believe.)

CBM Canada does not have a blog. It does have a slick website, though.

Christian Children’s Fund of Canada has a great website. No blog that I can find.

Christian Reformed World Relief Committee may not have an obvious blog, but it does have a link to the CRC Justice Seekers ning plus an invitation to join their facebook cause. Very cool.

No blog for Christian Horizons.

Nor for Compassion Canada.

Nor Emmanuel International Canada.

Nor Opportunity International Canada. But they do have a really nice site with lots of news updates on it.

Samaritan’s Purse doesn’t have a blog.

Nor does World Relief Canada.

No blog from World Vision Canada, although they do have a quiz on the home page.

Canadian Christian nonprofits who do have blogs

On its home page, ADRA Canada displays easy-to-find, informative links to two intern blogs. I don’t see a corporate blog.

The Salvation Army is incredibly connected. On their home page, I can read blog excerpts, as well as click through to read the full post and comment. Also on the home page I see links to a Flickr site, a Facebook friend invitation, plus a poll. Wow.

SIM Canada (disclosure: I work for SIM) has a link on the homepage to an intern’s blog.

Concluding thoughts

I feel better knowing that only three out of fifteen agencies that I looked at are offering blogs. It looks like organizations are testing different tools that work for them, which only makes sense.

And for the record, I’m going to be paying a lot more attention to the Salvation Army in the near future.

Using the RBM Framework for Planning

Confession: I’m a project geek. I’ve been known to enjoy putting together a project plan, including the project framework. I find a certain satisfaction in translating ideas generated in conversations into the language of results-based management.

That said, I still find a blank framework intimidating. I have a routine that I use to work through it. I wish I could say that I developed this routine myself, but I’ve just copied what I’ve seen other excellent managers doing.

Let’s take a quick look at the overall framework now:

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Those are a lot of boxes to fill in. Let’s go through them step-by-step.

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Even if you’re working with a small agency with a very few projects, assigning numbers to projects can help keep track of them. (I like using project numbers that identify the date the project starts and its location: for example using GH-2008-1 for the first project started in Ghana in 2008.)

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The impact statement will connect with the goal of the project; the outcomes will relate to the objectives. Sometimes these are just slightly re-worded versions of each other, with objectives and purposes being written in a form that begins with “to”: “To reduce the incidence of disease.”

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Identifying indicators as you go along helps in clarifying the next level of results.

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Outcomes may be some of the most important results that you identify. They’re what you want to see different at the end of the project. Take the time to get these, and their indicators, right.

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RBM purists, relax. Technically we should be moving in an orderly, right-to-left fashion here, but the fact is, life’s a lot messier than that. We can simplify things by starting with a goal and objectives and working from there, but usually there’s a bit of back and forth before we arrive at our final statements. I find that this is especially true when it comes to creating outputs. They’re just a lot easier to write after an activity that might actually lead to them is identified.

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Your reach, or number of people affected by the project, should get progressively larger as you move from left (outputs) to right (impact).

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Make sure that you include the important assumptions and risks here. Make sure that at some point you explain what you are doing to mitigate the risks you have identified.

And you’re done!

Doesn’t that feel good?

Comparing the Logframe and the RBM Framework

In the world of development or humanitarian projects, there are two main frameworks that are used for project planning and monitoring: the RBM (results-based management) framework and its sister, the logframe (logical framework analysis). It can be intimidating to suddenly have to work with one that you are less comfortable with.

Luckily, they’re close cousins, making it relatively easy to switch between the logframe and the RBM framework formats. I’ll get into the specifics of each framework in upcoming posts, but for now I’ll just share with you the similar backbone that each has.

The Backbone of the Framework: The Results Chain

Remember the results chain that is the basis for RBM? It moves from left to right.

Activities … outputs … outcomes … impact

Turn that same results chain so that it moves upwards on the page, and you’ve got the basis of the logframe:

Impact (Purpose in logframe language)

Outcomes (Objectives in logframes)

Outputs

Activities

Of course, the two frameworks use slightly different terminology for each result level, clouding their basic similarity. But the reality is that if you can work with one framework, you can work with the other. Just follow the results chain.

Partnering with a smaller organization

Sometimes it makes sense to partner with a smaller, perhaps much weaker, organization. They may not have all of the criteria of a safe partner, something about them tells you that they’ll make a good partner all the same. Creating a partnership with such an organization has some inherent risks for both of you, but many of these risks can be mitigated by planning and communication ahead of time.

Reasons for partnering with a smaller organization

1. They have passion

Sometimes start-up or floundering agencies come loaded with passion that, if supported with some structure, could make them soar. By partnering with them you can find ways of strengthening them as an institution so that they can live their passion.

2. They have connections

Community-based organizations have precious relationships that your larger organization can’t hope to duplicate. Partnering with such an organization can enable you to work more closely with a community and strengthen one of its core organizations — win-win for everyone.

3. They have experience

Sometimes smaller or floundering agencies have a wealth of local experience that is invaluable for your agency. Perhaps you’re newer in an area, or just foreign enough that you’re often missing important cultural cues. Working with an agency that has experience in the region will be an enormous asset to you, and you can benefit that agency by helping them to bolter their institutional structure.

Risks in working with a smaller organization

1. Weaker accountability systems

Often accountability is one of the first areas of learning for a smaller organization – how to report results and how to account for expenditure of funds in a way that is acceptable for donors. Skills and systems that you simply take for granted, like quarterly reports, may be a entirely new for your potential partner.

2. Political pressure

Some up-and-coming organizations can attract unwanted attention. People may sense an opportunity, and use family, business, or political relationships to personally benefit from the growing organization. If your new partner is based in a culture different from the dominant culture of your agency, then this pressure can easily be missed, and you may find yourself scratching your head over the unexpected behaviour of your selected partner.

3. Muddied vision

Your larger organization represents funding stability and access to donors, both of which can be powerful motivators for any organization, regardless of size. You may find that your partner is willing to take on any type of program, working outside of their real mission and expertise, simply for the privilege of working with you and that funding. In the short-term this may seem like a positive — you’re getting things done that you want — but in the long-term it’s a bad thing as your partner organization de-stabilizes because of its drifting vision.

4. Weaker standards

Okay, this can happen with any potential partner, but it is a bit riskier with a smaller organization. They may not be aware of the standards of humanitarian care that you adhere to, or may not have intentionally put those into practice before.

Forging a healthy partnership

1. Make sure your visions are compatible

Talk with the organization’s representatives about their dreams for the future — for their organization and for their community. If their dreams and yours are similar, then a partnership might work well.

2. Talk about your partner’s health

Share your assessment of the organization, highlighting some of the strengths that are inherent and discussing the weaknesses that have given you some concern. Ask for the organization’s feedback on your assessment. Is it valid? Did you miss something? Do they see it as a weakness, too? Are they willing to address the weakness? Do they want to grow as an organization?  If they’re interested in becoming stronger as an organization, then a partnership could be a great opportunity for you both.

3. Talk about capacity building

Discuss how you might go about strengthening the other organization through partnership. Is this concept appealing for them? Would they see your agency as one that would be able to assist their growth? What ideas do they have for strengthening their organization? How could you work on those together?

If they’re interested, then develop a plan for building their capacity. Focus on areas that really matter for organizational health. Plan to start the capacity building before launching the joint project, and to continue it throughout the partnership.

4. Discuss partnership expectations

When you create your partnership agreement, you’ll find yourselves talking about expectations of each other as partners. Make sure that in these conversations, you dig deep to find out what specifically your new partner expects from you. For example, are they expecting you to introduce them to all of your major donors? Are they anticipating that you will sign over any equipment that you use?  Unspoken expectations like these can make for some very ugly conversations later on in your relationship.

5. Be fair

Your organization is bigger and you’ll be able to justify taking a larger portion of administration amounts. But be fair. If your partner is doing all of the work, then they should be getting the bulk of that money. They need it to grow and be successful.

With open communication and a bit of planning, working with a smaller organization can be an exciting, learning experience for both of you.

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Related
Finding a project partner
Creating a partnership agreement
Partnering with a bigger organization 

Partnering with a bigger organization

Partnerships should be mutual relationships: that is, working relationships that provide mutual benefit to each participant. Although this mutuality might be more apparent when the participating organizations are similar in size and health, it can and should still be present when organizations are significantly different. In this article we’ll discuss how to go about creating a healthy partnership with an organization that is much larger than your own; in the next article we’ll look at partnering with a much smaller organization.

Reasons for partnering with a bigger organization

1. Voice and representation

A larger organization tends to have a greater voice, which can be especially important when working in politically sensitive areas. Working with a larger organization may provide an additional level of security for your organization and its staff.

2. Resources

A larger organization usually has access to a bigger, stable donor base that can be quickly mobilized. This can lead to faster project implementation and a more graduated phase-out. And big organizations tend to have lots of specialized personnel (for example, a gender specialist) who may be able to support the project.

3. Training

A larger organization may have a training program that they are willing to extend to some of your staff members. They may also be willing to offer specific workshops for your organization or the project team.

Risks of working with a bigger organization

1. Loss of focus

Sometimes the allure of working with an organization that seems to have it all together can be great enough to convince smaller organizations to deviate from their original mission. Ad hoc programs might be added just to accommodate the larger organization’s dreams.

2. Inadequate resource-sharing

Project funding should be shared based on the project workload, and that should include the administration allowance. A larger organization may have a standard administrative rate that eats up almost all of the donors’ allowed administration, leaving your smaller organization with few resources to do your work.

3. Unspoken reporting expectations

Larger organizations tend to have internal accountability structures that are important for their organizational integrity. They may forget to outline that they expect you to comply with these structures, and you can find yourself suddenly scrambling to produce a monthly report using an unfamiliar reporting format.

Forging a healthy partnership

1. Assess the larger organization’s health

Big does not always equal healthy. Do your regular partner check on a larger organization. Try to understand how they work, and what this might mean for your organization when working with them.

2. Stay true to your vision

Did your organization start because you wanted to help HIV/AIDS orphans? Then stick with that vision. Don’t start a market gardening program just because it affords you the opportunity to work with another organization.

3. Don’t do it for the money or the donors

A partnership with a larger organization is unlikely to benefit the smaller one financially. A bigger structure requires money to maintain it, which means that a large chunk of management and administrative funds will be reserved for the larger agency. And don’t expect the organization to hand over a list of its hard-earned donors.

4. Know your value

Understand what it is you bring to the relationship. Do you have important relationships with the community? Do you have local or regional experience? Do you have the sectoral expertise that is needed for a particular project? If you know what it is that you’re bringing to the partnership, you’ll be in a better position to talk about your mutual expectations.

5. Expect capacity-building

One of the greatest benefits for your smaller organization in this partnership could be the capacity-building, or strengthening of your own organization. Discuss this with your potential partner, and develop as a minimum a training plan for project-related staff.

6. Create a partnership agreement

Get it in writing! Create a partnership agreement with the larger organization. They may have a template that they like to use; if so, examine it to make sure that it covers all of the important elements. Make sure that you sit down and discuss the agreement with the organization: don’t just accept a filled-in agreement.

Larger organizations are usually excellent partners because of their experience and expertise. Do your homework, stay true to yourself, and get your expectations down on paper, and you’ll be well on your way to having a healthy, mutually beneficial partnership.

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Related
Finding a project partner
Creating a partnership agreement
Partnering with a smaller organization

Creating a partnership agreement

HandshakeThe value of a partnership agreement can’t be overstated. Just taking the time to talk through the various parts of an agreement can do wonders for your working relationship with your carefully-selected implementing partner. And when it’s written down, the agreement will remind you both of what you wanted to do together and how – a really important thing when staff turnover is regular.

Elements of a Partnership Agreement

1. Who We Are

Explain who each agency is, highlighting its purpose, mission, vision, and values. It’s important to identify and stress the common aspects of your visions and values. This doesn’t need to be long, but it should be adequate to remind you both of why you’re working together, as well as to explain to any outsiders (i.e. donors) what it is that is bringing you together.

2. What We Want to Do

Usually you will have a project plan that you can refer to in this section with a line, “For more details, please see Project X Documents“. But it’s nice to highlight in the agreement itself the big-picture aspects of the project plans: its goal and objectives (or its impact and outcomes). You may also wish to include are a brief description of the sector in which you will be working. The point is to create a user-friendly document with enough information to make it work on its own without overwhelming the reader with details that they can find elsewhere.

3. Representation

The beauty of a partnership agreement is that it brings out the hidden assumptions that you may have about working together. One of those common assumptions is that the top executive of your partnering agency will be actively involved in running the partnership, when that may not be your partner’s plan. This is a chance to talk about who from each agency can and should be the partnership representative. The representative should have enough authority to make relevant decisions on behalf of his or her agency, as it’s incredibly irritating to be regularly meeting with someone who continually has to check in with his or her superiors to move forward.

Generally, if you have a VP, director, or manager handling the partnership representation for your agency, expect your partner to have someone from a similar organizational level representing their organization.

4. Information Exchange

There are lots of questions to answer in this section. How often will you meet face-to-face? Who will conduct monitoring visits and when? How often do you expect to hear from your partner representative informally? What about reports – you be asking your partner to prepare them for you, vice-versa, or will you be preparing them jointly? Who is responsible for preparing consolidated reports for donors? How will you create and share lessons learned with each other?

I like to come away with a meeting and reporting schedule that includes the person responsible for each.

5. Decision-Making

Decision-making can be one of the thorniest areas of a partnership, but talking about it ahead of time and putting down your ideas in writing will help to avoid many of the common pitfalls.

First of all, decide who has the responsibility for making individual decisions. Obviously at some level, individuals are going to need to be as free as possible to make decisions based on what they are experiencing on the ground.

Then talk about how you will go about making joint decisions. Sometimes voting works as long as you’ve decided ahead of time who from each agency can vote. Consensus can be a powerful way of arriving at a decision between partners, but it does take time. Make sure you talk about your expectations and arrive at a process that you can both live with.

Finally, talk about how you will resolve any conflicts that come up. Will one agency be the final authority on issues that absolutely cannot be resolved? How will you handle the unfortunate circumstance where one of you wishes to terminate the agreement? What kind of notice will you expect to give and receive? It may not be pleasant to think about, but it’s better to do so when you are on amicable terms rather than when a conflict is colouring your perceptions of each other.

6. Resources

Another sticky area of partnerships is that of resourcing, or who is putting what into the pot. Talk about any personnel you expect your agency and your partner to dedicate to your joint venture. Discuss financial resources and how they will be handled. And while you are talking about personnel and money, consider including some ideas on how they will be managed in the project. Will one agency be responsible for overseeing the personnel working on the project? Who will they report to? What financial accountability standards will be maintained? (Check your donors’ financial accountability expectations here, which you’ll want to address.)

7. Duration

Set a date for the partnership to start, and another for it to end. Talk about how you may amend the agreement. Often this is quite simple: if one of the agencies wishes to make an amendment to the agreement, they let the other know and set up a meeting to discuss it.

8. Signatures

Once you’ve discussed these elements and written down your own approach to handling them, it’s time to sign your agreement. Try to get the highest signing authority possible for each agency, as well as the signature of the person who will be directly responsible for the partnership and/or project.

Developing a partnership agreement can take longer than we expect, but it’s well-worth the effort.

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Related
Finding a project partner
Partnering with a bigger organization
Partnering with a smaller organization

Photo by Liel Bomberg

Finding a project partner

Working with one or more partners in implementing a development project is pretty standard these days. Over the next few posts I’ll talk about some of the joys and challenges of partnering, and share some tips for pulling off a successful partnership (most of the time).

It should be obvious that a good project partnership begins with finding a good partner. Depending on your situation, a good partner may be a small, community-based organization (CBO), or it may be a large, international non-governmental organization (NGO). Whatever the nature of the partner, there are a few important qualities that they should possess before you launch into any sort of agreement with them.

1. Common vision and values

If you and your partner don’t share some of the same dreams and values, then a partnership is not for you.

For example, if you’re envisioning women stepping into leadership roles in a community, and a potential partner envisions large-scale agricultural production in the area, then your different visions make you unlikely partners. Or if your agency values environmental sustainability in all of your development work, you’ll be deeply unhappy working with an organization that consistently values economic productivity over resource management.

2. Good governance

Make sure that your potential partner is practicing good governance. Things to check for include:

  • A written constitution that explains the organization’s purpose and outlines its governance structure.
  • Clearly defined roles for Board members. If many people on the Board are related, that’s a problem. If people benefit financially or politically from Board membership, that’s a problem, too.
  • A written set of rules and procedures for the Board, including procedures for handling potential conflicts of interest.
  • Regular Board meetings (several times annually) that are attended by at least half of the Board members and are properly recorded in meeting minutes.
  • An organizational strategic plan that has been developed with Board input.
  • A Board-approved annual budget with regular reports on activity against that budget.
  • A Board-appointed, independent Financial auditor who reviews the organization’s financial statements annually.

3. Financial accountability

Financial accountability in your partner is essential. Watch for things like:

  • A sound, basic accounting system, with a Chart of Accounts that is used consistently. You will also want to check that valid supporting documentation is kept for every bit of income and for each expenditure, and that it’s easy to find the supporting documents.
  • Good financial planning evidenced by budgets and cash flow forecasts.
  • Timely and accurate reporting. Managers should be receiving updated financial reports on a monthly basis (or at the very least quarterly) so that they can manage expenditures.
  • Safe internal controls. For example, bank accounts should be in the organization’s name, not in an individual’s name. There should be a written policy explaining who can sign cheques and at what amount. Every transaction should be authorized by the person responsible for the account.

You will be working with this partner for the duration of a project, and your partnership will affect your reputation as an organization for better or worse. Taking the time to identify an appropriate partner will save a lot of grief later on.

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Related
Creating a partnership agreement
Partnering with a bigger organization
Partnering with a smaller organization

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