Review of lynda.com course Nonprofit Fundamentals

On a regular basis, the Peak Proposals blog reviews resources that exist to build or enhance skills in grant writing, proposal management, and nonprofit leadership including courses, books, periodicals, websites, and professional associations.

The first post in the series is a review of the lynda.com course Nonprofit Fundamentals with Leslie Crutchfield.

lynda.com, Inc, founded in 1995, offers online courses on a range of topics including business management, technology skills, and website design. Recently acquired by LinkedIn, lynda.com is a membership site. It offers both month-to-month and annual subscriptions as well as two tiers of membership, basic ($24.99/mo.) and premium ($34.99/mo.). The premium subscription includes unlimited access to all courses (which is also included in the basic membership) plus access to project or “exercise” files that accompany many of the courses. To see a description of the various membership options click here. lynda.com offers a free 10-day trial period so that you can try out their services before committing to a membership.

lynda.com is probably best known as a destination for courses related to tech skills. However, among lynda.com’s more recent offerings are a few courses related to nonprofit management and grant writing. While the course that is the subject of this post, Nonprofit Fundamentals, is not focused exclusively on grant writing or finding funders, it includes several segments devoted to grant writing and resource development. Some of the other segments contain information about financial management, such as weathering a financial crisis, which would be useful when preparing a funding strategy or embarking on a new career in nonprofit leadership.

The course instructor, Leslie Crutchfield, is the co-author of the books Do More Than Give: The 6 Practices of Donors Who Change the World (Jossey-Bass 2011); and Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits (Jossey-Bass 2nd ed., 2012) and serves as a senior advisor to the Foundation Strategy Group. Her course Nonprofit Fundamentals was released by lynda.com on April 1, 2015.

Nonprofit Fundamentals is just under three hours in length. It has a comprehensive syllabus that covers a little bit of everything related to starting, funding, managing, and leading a non-profit:

I. Leadership Strategies for Successful Nonprofits (19m 12s)

  • Shaping your vision
  • Sharpening your theory of change
  • Mapping out a winning strategy
  • Adapting and innovating continuously

II. Effective Fundraising and Marketing (41m 4s)

  • Understanding sources of revenue
  • Fundraising from individuals
  • Foundation grants
  • Pursuing government grant and contracts
  • Creating value through business partnerships
  • Earning revenue through services and products
  • Fundraising at different stages of growth
  • Using social media to raise money

III.  Recruiting and Retaining Talent (22m 2s)

  • Building your board
  • Hiring staff
  • Working with volunteers
  • Motivating and keeping top talent

IV. Governance, Finance, and Accounting (21m 20s)

  • Understanding board governance
  • Understanding nonprofit financial leadership
  • Financial management and accounting
  • Understanding different legal entities for social purpose organizations

V. Expanding Impact beyond Your Foundation's Walls (36m 25s)

  • Strategies for scaling the organization
  • Strategies for scaling impact
  • Advocating and serving: Changing public policy
  • Making markets work: Changing business models
  • Inspiring evangelists: Motivating people to join your cause
  • Working with peers and foundations
  • Collective impact

VI. Developing Your Personal Leadership Potential (27m 5s)

  • Discovering the "level six" leader within
  • Honing your vision and sense of calling
  • Sharing power and authority inside and outside of the organization
  • Assessing your readiness to lead
  • Considerations before you launch

In addition to the above material, a premium subscription will also give you access to eight exercise files that cover topics such as theory of change models, types of advocacy activities, and a resource list.

Will you be able to start a non-profit after watching this course? No. Will you know all the ins and outs of finding funding and creating a sustainable organization? No. However, if you go through the full course and exercise files, you will emerge from the course with a good idea of what some of your questions should be if you are considering either starting a non-profit or working for one. For grant writers and those interested in resource development issues, the segments of greatest interest will be "foundation grants" and "pursuing government grant and contracts" in section II of the course on fundraising and marketing. Other segments will also be helpful including the ones on business partnerships and earned revenue.

One of the strengths of the course is its realism. Some literature on the nonprofit sector makes it sound like there is abundant funding for non-profit enterprise and all you need is a solid proposal. In this course, Ms. Crutchfield provides a refreshingly realistic view of the funding climate.

While it is true that there are thousands of foundations in the U.S. (according to the Foundation Center's report, Key Facts on U.S. Foundations, in 2012 there were 86,192 foundations, with a total giving of $52 billion), there is also tremendous competition for these resources. In Nonprofit Fundamentals, Ms. Crutchfield notes that there are 1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S. (a figure cited by the National Center for Charitable Statistics), with 30,000 new nonprofits created each year in the U.S. alone. For most non-profits, grants from the largest foundations such as the Ford Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are not going to be options. This is a point covered in the course. Large government grants are also going to be out of the reach for the majority of nonprofits.  However, there are other options to pursue such as small family foundations and community foundations. Community foundations actually represent the leading source of grant funding in the U.S.

In keeping with the realistic portrayal of the funding process, in her review of the types of foundations that exist (private, family, corporate, community), and brief discussion of government grants and contracts, Ms. Crutchfield discusses the importance of evaluating whether a particular opportunity is actually worth pursuing. This pursue/don't pursue calculation involves weighing the resources it will take to complete the grant application--which can be significant, especially in the case of government grants--against the likelihood of success.

For those new to grant writing and funding strategies for nonprofits, one of the most useful things covered in the course may be the pointers on how to conduct prospect research. Mentioned in the course are familiar prospecting steps such as creating a list of local and national grant makers that support the type of work you do and perhaps less well-known tips on discovering the funding sources of competitor organizations.

With regard to foundation funding, Ms. Crutchfield, like most experts in the field, stresses the value of building a relationship with a foundation before submitting an application.  Her prospecting steps are a little different for corporate foundations and government agencies, but again the importance of relationship building comes up. In the section on corporate funding she also reviews ways, other than money, through which a corporation can help an organization further its mission.

Bottom Line: Nonprofit Fundamentals gets a "thumbs up"--it is a great course if you want an introduction to the nonprofit sector or reminders of best practices for establishing and sustaining a nonprofit enterprise. The course is worth taking in its entirety. However, if you don't have three hours to spend on the course taking just the funding-related segments will give you solid pointers on how to develop a basic funding strategy. As a reminder, if you are not already a member, you can take this course as part of a free, 10-day trial membership at lynda.com while you decide if a lynda.com membership is for you.