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Posts Tagged ‘endowment’

Don’t retrench. Self-assess.

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Build an organization ready for a unified trip into the future. Prepare the hearts and minds of the junior staff to senior level managers during this terrible economic time. I wanted to share one of few bright lights in the economic darkness in today’s “Inside Higher Education.”

It is tempting to freeze hires and cut budgets, but now may not be the time. Adjustments are surely needed. We can learn now from the crisis of higher education endowments and from Bard’s president Leon Botstein as reported at Inside Higher Ed.

Name the programs that should prevail and grow them.  Everyone and everything cannot be treated equally. We can all take a lesson from the endowment debacles of most large universities and the announced plans to cut programs equally across the board.  Think about it: Given the sprawling nature of the large college or university, there may have been no other decision to take. Higher ed is not in the habit of differential treatment of valid programs and less-effective research centers or teaching programs. (Community colleges may operate differently, when current income is by necessity closely tied to program expansion or contraction.)

Set expectations. A college president who has always thought differently, Bard’s Leon Botstein is focused on the current endowment crisis. Importantly, he has already set an expectation within Bard about change and growth, although I expect this dynamic approach has earned detractors as well as supporters. I think Botstein’s wisdom pertains to nonprofits in the present moment. Just substitute “income” for the word endowment in the following:

Institutions should be going through programs, eliminating some, but building others — and spending their endowments to make institutions (themselves) more creative. Operating on the assumption that endowment growth or losses matter “ is a tragedy (says Botstein) that makes everyone risk averse.”

There are three “take away” messages here:

(1) Endowments gave false confidence during good times and promote growth for growth’s sake. As Botstein says, highly publicizing decline on endowment by wealthy institutions may backfire form them. Everyone knows despite the decline the institutions are still wealthy and can afford to be thoughtful about what next.

(2) It’s not possible to produce a responsive and creative leadership group mid-stream. Nonprofit leadership needs to start now to create a culture over time in which everyone buys in to effective strategies for change. Again, this may be a significant cultural change for your and your nonprofit.

(3) Today’s news of broad cuts is a cautionary tale about restricted funds and growth for growth’s sake. In the first case, take the example of creating a program to suit a particular donor) that may be related to mission but taken out of the context of the entire organization’s goals and revenue projections. 

Next steps? How does this translate to nonprofits small or large? Start now to:

-Make it safe for people to look at programs that aren’t working.

-Create ways re-deploy program directors and mid-level managers in shaping new priorities so people are more willing to shed old jobs or outdated roles.

-As the CEO or communications senior leader, be public and consistent in the ways you will encourage growth, self-assessment and change, and the best possible work within your organization.

On the marketing front - John Deveney (Deveney Communications) advises that during times like this, nonprofits can’t afford to miss the target: You must know your audience and carefully pick and implement the social media that will help you meet your goals. Shel Holtz interviewed John recently after he received PR News Nonprofit Award for his work on behalf of New Orleans.

Having done quite a bit of pro bono work on the Gulf Coast myself, I know that the recession visited the Gulf Coast at least three years ago. It takes optimism and creativity to pick ways to promote the city when so much mythology still circulates about its ability to “come back” Could there be a harder PR challenge?

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Bev Freeman is a communications consultant to nonprofits and higher ed based in Boston, specializing in planning and implementation of communications strategies to support fund raising and visibility efforts. Her clients have included Harvard School of Public Health, The Harvard Humantarian Aid Initiative, MIT, Tufts, Oxfam America, Screening for Mental Health, and leadership organizations on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (post-Katrina) where she has done visibility work, federal-state relations to keep federal sources of funds flowing to the area, and fund-raising for summer camps and mental health services. Prior to consulting, from 1991-1999 she was public affairs director at the Harvard School of Public Health and also special projects coordinator for Harvard’s provost. She was director of a national infertility counseling nonprofit, RESOLVE, Inc. for 8 years and also has experience in state-level social services.

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The views and opinions on this blog are solely those of the contributors and do NOT necessarily reflect the official opinions of the Boston Chapter of the American Marketing Association.