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8 Tips on Running a Nonprofit Virtual Board Meeting

Board engagement is a perennial challenge, and that was before COVID-19. We know that board meetings can be an important point of engagement – but with meetings remaining virtual for the foreseeable future, how do we keep our boards engaged? In order to help answer that question, we have eight things to keep in mind when planning your next virtual board meeting.

Board Meeting Engagement

  1. Communicate more frequently. Given the constantly evolving situation, you need your board to have regular, up-to-date information to inform timely decisions they might need to make. Consider a monthly check-in with your board chair and/or an email update to the entire board. The more proactively you communicate with the board, the more they will feel that your organization is under control. Monthly executive committee check-ins and a monthly all-board email is a good place to start.
  2. Use video. Despite possible technical hiccups and Zoom-fatigue, video is necessary to engage your board. Onscreen video is better for dialogue, emotional connection, and keeping your board members actively engaged during meetings.
  3. Start with a Roll Call. The simple act of asking board members to introduce themselves and share a quick update at the beginning of your virtual meetings will make them more likely to participate throughout and feel more comfortable unmuting themselves.
  4. Ask for Ideas. Provide prompting questions to stimulate conversation if you encounter pauses – but be specific. Don’t ask the overly broad question “Does anyone have an idea for fundraising?” when what you really want to know is “Does anyone have an idea about how we can engage with medium-sized local businesses?” Also, don’t be afraid to directly call on certain people during the meeting by asking for their expert opinion or advice.
  5. Chat more. Encourage the use of the chat function in video meetings; it has a lower barrier to entry than speaking up and will solicit viewpoints from more members. The poll function is an efficient way to get a quick group “pulse check” on certain topics and may save you time as well.
  6. Delegate. Before the meeting, assign various board members to lead certain sections of your agenda. This will not only give you a break, but also get others in the habit of talking and gives them a sense of ownership over the topic. Plus, more voices make it likelier that others will jump in too.
  7. Use a Consent Agenda. Send materials a week ahead of time to the board, including some of the more straightforward items. These include items like the last meeting’s minutes or programming reports. Having read these materials ahead of time, board members only need to vote Yes or No before moving on, saving everyone time. Focus the majority of your conversation on 1-2 key points that need more discussion.
  8. Craft an Engaging Agenda How you organize, phrase, and relay information in the agenda sets the meeting’s tone and focus. Try to keep your meeting to 90 minutes in length, at most. Consider the following 1-hour structure:
    • Check-In/Consent Agenda: 10 minutes
    • Financial Update: 10 minutes
    • Discussion #1: 15 minutes
    • Discussion #2: 15 minutes
    • Wrap Up and Votes: 5 minutes
    • Executive Session: 5 minutes

With these eight tips in mind, your board will feel more engaged, informed, and ready to respond to potential future challenges your nonprofit faces.


Adapting to COVID-19 and Moving Forward

Written by Jessica McLaughlin, Development and Communications Fellow of DC SAFE

Long before national headlines began highlighting the rise of domestic violence amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, DC SAFE– the District’s only 24/7 crisis intervention agency for domestic violence– was preparing for a surge. We understood that survivors forced to stay inside with their abusers could only lead to one outcome.

All at once, COVID-19 further isolated survivors from their personal support networks and resources. Family and friends who could once offer temporary help, even spaces of refuge, could no longer afford to do so amidst their own health and financial concerns. Along with that, many community resources were cut off. As such, we knew we had to do everything we could to ensure that DC SAFE was fully operational and that survivors had a reliable resource for immediate support.

We swiftly shifted gears the day that Mayor Muriel Bowser initiated stay-at-home orders, going almost fully remote on March 13, 2020. There was no time to be stunned; the situation called for immediate action. Our first priority was to figure out how to maintain normal operations for our 24/7 Crisis Response program and SAFE Space Crisis Shelter.

COVID Data Dashboard (1)

We had to invest in new equipment, like Voice over IP phones, for advocates to facilitate our Response Line from home. The Response Line has historically operated as a hotline for first responders, such as police officers, hospital personnel, and other community partners. However, amidst COVID-19, along with the increasing demand for more alternatives to 911 throughout the summer, our Response Line has become an even more vital community resource.

Furthermore, while the DC Superior Court’s two Domestic Violence Intake Centers have remained closed, we have been diligent in adapting to newly instated online processes for survivors seeking Civil Protection Orders and other court-based services. We have even provided virtual court accompaniments!

While we do our very best every day to provide high quality services remotely, some emergency services still demand in-person attention. For example, our On Call advocates continue to meet clients after hours to check into shelter or bring grocery store gift cards to survivors placed in hotels. Our advocates in the field have been pillars of strength during this difficult time, and we have relied on them tremendously to provide support and comfort to survivors in crisis.

Other equally critical work takes place more behind the scenes. In mid-June, for instance, we joined many of our partners, including the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, to campaign for a FY21 District budget that prioritized the needs of survivors. In anticipating a second surge in requests for services as stay-at-home orders began to lift, we had to advocate for a budget that would match those future needs. We asked for a $5 million dollar addition to victim services across the city.

Included in the $5 million ask was $3 million to be allocated toward a new facility for our SAFE Space Crisis Shelter, which will be able to house over 700 survivors and their families each year when completed. This will double our current capacity. We are proud to report that the DC Council voted unanimously to include the $3 million in their final budget. This allows us to move forward with the project; and we are planning to break ground in early 2021!

Crisis Shelter Rendering

While the $3 million allocation is a success worthy of celebration, there remains substantial needs around domestic violence in our community and we hope you’ll consider showing solidarity with survivors as COVID-19 continues. We will continue to do our part to remain clear and transparent about our needs and progress. We have taken several steps to accomplish this so far:

  • Starting June 18th, we have shared weekly graphs on our social media accounts to showcase the work of our Response Line, reporting the total incoming calls and total minutes spent on the phone.
  • We’ve also included important updates in our monthly newsletters.
  • And we just launched a brand new COVID-19 Impact Dashboard on our website that provides up-to-date information regarding the work of our Response Line, SAFE Space Crisis Shelter, hotel placements, legal support. This page also contains links to helpful resources for clients and other providers amidst the pandemic.

Our goal is to show our community the most up-to-date data to display the real-time impact we see every day.

Lastly, we have seen the imperative to share our newfound knowledge and expertise both locally and globally. In partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank, two of our team members led a training seminar, “Practical Guidance for Hotline Services for Women Survivors of Violence in the Context of COVID-19,” for domestic violence service providers located throughout Latin America. We are all in this together and we know there is enormous value in sharing our resources.

Amidst all of our efforts throughout the pandemic, we have been so acutely focused on our responsibility to survivors, so it was a real honor to hear our colleague, Cortney Fisher, Deputy Director of the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse, recently share this: “We often think about in our office when things can’t seem crazier and we actually say to ourselves ‘DC SAFE does this and more!’ You’re literally holding DC together right now, and as much as it doesn’t feel like it, you’re one speck of hope and help in what may seem like a no win situation for many, many people.”

We are so grateful for our incredible community of supporters, partner organizations, fellow advocates, survivors, and neighbors. The immediate future is still very uncertain, and at times overwhelming. But we have a network of formidable women and forward-thinking men who will see us through COVID-19 to the other side. And we will move forward together.


7 Tips on Engaging Grassroots Donors Virtually

Grassroots donors are a valuable asset to your nonprofit’s community. Their individual donations might be humble, but in aggregate, they come together to make your organization’s work possible. It’s vital for smaller nonprofits to solicit their donors, but even large organizations lack the time to individually reach out to every single person. In this article, we have collected 7 tips on how your organization can engage your grassroots donors virtually, especially right now during COVID-19.

Grassroots Donor Engagement
Tip #1: Make a Plan
It’s possible that your organization’s original annual communication strategy has long since been rendered outdated. If your organization has not done so already, it’s time to formally plan a new communication strategy for engaging your grassroots donors. This plan should include which team member is accomplishing what task, which messages will go out where (email, snail mail, social media, etc.), your short-term goals for donor engagement, and messaging details to ensure cohesion across platforms.

Tip #2: Communicate More Frequently
Now is not the time to be silent. Even if your organization has paused programming, it’s important to stay present on your main channels so that supporters are reminded of your mission. Your messages can be brief, but should still be filtered through the lens of current events. We suggest sending emails to donors monthly with succinct updates and plans.

Tip #3: Focus on the Short-Term
When sharing information with your supporters, keep your updates limited to the next 2-8 weeks, depending on the level of change at your organization. Right now, because of widespread uncertainty in our community, people are struggling to imagine too far into the future. Your goal is to keep supporters informed but not overwhelmed with information.

Tip #4: Use a Realistic, Yet Hopeful Tone
Mastering the right tone in your communications is an art. Your goal is a sweet spot of realistic optimism without leaning too far toward despair (which leaves donors feeling helpless) or sugarcoating (which comes across as tone-deaf). During these difficult times, donors are looking for positive content, such as stories of resilience or neighbors helping others. Try focusing your content on your programming pivot’s creativity, work, and impact.

Tip #5: Know Your Audience
Consider the “user experience.” Who is your typical grassroots donor and what do they want right now? Are they feeling isolated and looking for community? Are they younger donors interested in social media? Are they politically frustrated and looking for a way to make a difference? Given those experiences, identify their likely “pain points.” What are they missing from your programming or fundraising? Let these questions guide your team when designing resources for donors to engage in, whether it be emotionally-compelling success stories, calls-to-action, or opportunities to connect with fellow supporters.

Tip #6: Stay on Brand
Although your organization has possibly been compelled to pivot, you should still remain recognizable to your supporters. Stay in your lane and remember your organization’s values and mission. Take the time to ask yourself “does it make sense that we are doing this or saying this?” Your donors should not feel confused; they should be reminded about why they gave to your organization in the first place.

Tip #7: Provide Call-to-Actions
Asking your donors to do something aside from just donating money is an excellent way to solidify their engagement. Your organization does not necessarily have to reinvent the wheel, depending on your capacity. You can either create or curate resources for them. Some ideas for actions include a social media challenge, virtual volunteer opportunities, at-home education resources, advocacy, or participating in live-streamed events.

Empowering Girls – Still Vital, Now Virtual!

Written by Carly Abarbanel, Program Director of Girls on the Run-DC

At Girls on the Run-DC, we believe that every girl, everywhere, in every circumstance deserves the resources and support to activate her limitless potential. While no one can be sure of what this school year holds, we are sure of one thing: joy, empowerment, and confidence are NOT cancelled!

As Girls on the Run-DC coaches, we teach our girls to cope with difficult feelings and situations, to do what’s right, to set goals and work to achieve them, and support their friends and communities; at the Girls on the Run-DC office, we’re putting those same lessons to work.

While we are still offering Fall 2020 in-person programming for a limited number of sites who are choosing to implement our safety guidelines, Girls on the Run-DC will be hosting a mostly virtual season this fall.

At Girls on the Run-DC, we’re excited for a strong virtual season running September 8th through November 14th, and we hope that by the end of this post, you will be too!


Why should I care?

  • 97% of Girls on the Run participants report learning critical skills to manage emotions, resolve conflict, help others, and make intentional decisions. These skills are essential to our girls’ success this year, and they will continue to be vital through and past the pandemic.
  • Girls on the Run-DC serves as an additional level of support for our girls as they navigate these challenging times with the leadership of our trauma-informed and inclusivity-trained coaches.
  • Girls on the Run was one of the only three after school programs recognized by researchers at Harvard University as a top research-based Social and Emotional Learning program.

What’s the same?

  • The skills and lessons in the curriculum tailored to 3-5th graders (Girls on the Run) and 6th-8th graders (Heart & Sole)
  • Teams will remain the same throughout the season, facilitating an environment for the girls to create lasting connections and friendships
  • Teams will still meet twice per week
  • A celebratory 5K equivalent
  • Girls get t-shirts and medals
  • Two certified Girls on the Run-DC trained coaches per team of 6-12 girls
  • Payment will still be collected on sliding scale based on self-reported household income

What’s new?

  • Virtual practices last only 45 minutes on the team’s online platform. Though the practice times will include a lot of movement and activity as part of the lesson, the lesson will end with a preview of the workout girls then complete on their own in or around their homes.
  • Every girl will receive a Girls on the Run program journal to use throughout the season to track her goals and progress.
  • The Virtual 5K Week (November 8th- 14th) provides girls and Community Runners the chance to participate in the celebratory event in a way, space, and time that meets their unique needs.

If you know a girl interested in finding joy, friendship, confidence, grit, and a number of other social emotional skills while she develops healthy and active habits, have her check out our website,, and sign up for a life-changing virtual season!


7 Tips on Engaging Major Donors Remotely

With a shifting and uncertain fundraising landscape, keeping our major donors engaged is more important now than ever. But how can you effectively engage them when you are unable to connect in-person? In this article, we have collected 7 tips on how to effectively engage your major donors remotely during COVID-19.

Major Donor Engagement

Tip #1. Identify and Prioritize Donors

This first tip may sound obvious, but it may be deceptively tricky to pull off efficiently. With limited time and resources, your small nonprofit cannot possibly call everybody who has ever donated, so you’ll need to stratify your donor pool. (Moments like these make investments in CRMs all the more valuable!) Your first round of calls should go to your top 50 most generous donors. Second, prioritize the donors who usually give during this time of year. Third, focus on long-time donors. And finally, focus on first-time donors who gave over $250 during the last year.

Tip #2. Plan Your Schedule

One of the upsides of social distancing is that you no longer need to factor in things like transit time when planning donor meetings. In fact, you might be able to engage major donors more frequently than you normally could! Consider this: if you assign 3 team members 2 calls a day, your organization can contact 126 donors in only 3 weeks! Consider also offering “exclusive briefings” to groups of 20 donors or less; this will both allow you to reach more people faster and will foster a sense of community with your donors.

Tip #3. Value the Relationship

If we have learned any lessons from past crisis-fundraising, it is this: relationships matter. When nonprofits are soliciting funds, they must engage their major donor as a “whole person.” Conversations should feel relational — not transactional. People give to people! The first thing you should do in a meeting is to check-in with them and ask how they are doing; life updates will help guide you in how to engage them and make the ask more tailored. Depending on the nature of the particular relationship with this individual, share about your own life as well; these conversations should be a dialogue.

Tip #4. Communicate Your Changes

Keep your major donors in the loop! Explain any programming or operational pivots due to recent circumstances. Don’t paint an overly rosy picture of your challenges, but do focus in on creativity, your team’s work ethic, and the new impact on your community. Donors will feel more confident about their past donations when they learn about your short-term plans and feel more generous when they feel hope about the future. Consider sharing significant updates with select major donors prior to widespread public announcements.

Tip #5. Keep Meetings Focused

Your virtual meetings should maintain a human touch, but still be instilled with purpose and structure. Before beginning a meeting, write down the 1-3 major updates or points you want to share. Attention spans in virtual meetings tend to drop after 30 minutes, so plan on keeping meetings a reasonable length. After all, your donor’s time is valuable too.

Tip #6. Ask for Advice.

People love being asked for their advice, especially major donors. You can ask them for advice, contacts, feedback, or examples of what they have seen other organizations doing. If possible, try to tailor your question to their specific professional background or interests. When holding your executive briefings with larger groups of donors, use the poll-function to ask for feedback or advice. This makes the donor feel engaged, valued, and involved in your work.

Tip #7. Make Your Ask Specific

Just about everyone is being affected by the economic crisis related to COVID-19 to some degree. If your major donors are facing an uncertain financial future, you need to cut through that doubt with certainty. Ask for a specific amount of money that will support a specific project and why it matters now. Contextualize these asks with stories and perspectives of staff and/or clients. By painting a clear picture, your donor will have more confidence in giving, rather than feeling uncertain about where their money is going.


Five Tips on Engaging Your Nonprofit Staff

It’s been months since your team has met in person. As a manager, how do you maintain your team’s collaboration, focus, and productivity when everybody is scattered in their respective homes and experiencing their own unique challenges? Here, we have put together 5 tips for nonprofit supervisors to engage their staff during the ongoing pandemic.

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Tip 1: Layer Your Communication

Engage Individuals. All of your staff should have a weekly 1-on-1 meeting with a supervisor. During these check-ins, ask your staff about both their work deliverables as well as how they are doing working remotely. These individual meetings will be a key opportunity for in-depth updates on strategy, goals, and team progress. If possible, try to schedule them earlier in the week to set an engaged tone for the coming days.

Engage Groups. Schedule a weekly check-in with your entire team. If you have over 15 staff members, you may need to break this up into smaller groups since video calls get difficult past 12-15 people. (For larger group meetings, consider every other week or monthly instead.) During these group meetings, ask everyone for a brief personal or professional update. Consider scheduling them for Friday, since it will allow people to report on what they have accomplished during the week.

Engage Peers. This is an important time to tap informal leaders at the organization. Encourage your staff to still reach out to each other and keep up a sense of comradery and unity as a team. One way to do this is by creating projects which require two or more people to collaborate.

Tip 2: Create a Work Plan

Set goals. Set weekly and monthly goals for the team and encourage your staff to set daily goals for themselves.

Discover pain points. Ask your staff how work is going, what is difficult, and what they need to succeed in their current situation: more communication, technology, time? Ask yourself what is difficult for everybody and what is uniquely difficult for particular team members.

Plan ahead. Hedge your bets by assuming that remote work will continue for at least two weeks longer than whatever the current government plan is saying. This will give you leeway for transitioning back. For most teams, all staff will not be back in the office at normal hours for at least another two months.

Tip 3: Balance Outreach

Balance video calls with other forms of communication. Video calls grab attention better, but if overdone they can be overwhelming for staff. If a conversation in person would have lasted 5 minutes, then it shouldn’t last 20 minutes on zoom! Balance their use with traditional voice-only phone calls and emails.

Balance productivity with social engagement. Virtual meetings should be predominantly work-focused, with social elements incorporated. You can engage the whole person by asking how people are doing during team check-ins and doing something “fun” at least every other week.

Balance equality with flexibility. Although you should treat all of your staff as equally important team members of your nonprofit, you cannot ignore that different employees are facing different challenges. Some staff are working through challenges such as insufficient childcare, weak internet connection, unusual work hours, or loud and crowded workspaces. Be flexible in providing different team members different allowances.

Tip 4: Address Burnout

Breaks. A lot of staff are working more than ever and the work/life balance is blurred at the moment. Try to find opportunities to at least give small groups some time off or at least less pressure for a day.

Share Progress. As projects get accomplished or goals are met, share with the wider team. Give your team some “wins.” Shout-out specific people who have gone above and beyond.

Be Realistic. Some of us may need to be working more than 40 hours right now and some may actually want to. Model good behavior; for example, if you’re writing an email late at night, schedule it to go out on Monday morning. Ask staff how they are feeling, not how much they are working.

Tip 5: Bring, Leave, Start.

This new remote working situation does not have to be an exact replication of the office. In many ways, this new situation is like running a nonprofit startup again!

Bring. Make a chart of the top five elements of culture and top five projects. Consider which to try to bring into remote work. You may need to adapt, pause, or abandon certain projects.

Leave. Not everything has to continue as usual during this time. Feel free to cut some meetings and pause some projects as needed. Not all of your office life will translate to remote work or is even relevant or helpful anymore to our new context.

Start. You may have new workflows and cultural norms that need to replace the old during remote work. Much of this you will discover as you “muddle along.” Be flexible and willing to adapt to ever-changing circumstances!


The First Annual National Small Nonprofit Summit

On July 23-24, the Catalogue for Philanthropy was proud to host our first annual National Small Nonprofit Summit! This free, two-day virtual event provided networking and learning opportunities for community-based nonprofit organizations from across the country (and even Canada). This conference was a natural expansion of our work and extension of our reach. For the past 15 years, the Catalogue has been supporting small to mid-sized nonprofits in the greater Washington area. With the shift to virtual resources and support, we’ve welcomed the opportunity to not just help those nonprofits in our region, but many from across the country as well.

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The Summit featured workshops tailor-made for the needs of smaller charities; the recommended strategies and ideas were accessible, realistic, and actionable. We created the Summit because we knew that many national gatherings were too expensive to be accessible to smaller organizations, or the content wasn’t realistic for their day to day reality. The inaccessibility of this professional development –through lack of access or applicability — creates an inequitable cycle, where the only nonprofits with access to quality capacity building and networking are those who can afford it.

Over the past couple of years, we have received a number of requests for us to address this gap by hosting a national conference for small nonprofits. Given the upfront investment for an in-person conference, this remained a long-term goal that we hoped we could eventually build toward.

With recent changes due to the pandemic, our team was able to reconsider a virtual shift. After moving all of our in-person programming online and opening it up to nonprofits outside of our network, we received strong feedback and even stronger demand. Online programming has made it easier and faster for nonprofit professionals to participate in our sessions. In fact, since March 2020, we have had over 5,000 participants!

This opened our eyes to the exciting possibility of a national virtual summit, something far more feasible than an in-person event would have been. We worked with local partners to identify the topics most important to them, planned the needed infrastructure, and were grateful to receive pro bono support for several sessions from local consultants. Throughout the past several months, we have been so thankful for our community’s generosity, including the wide variety of nonprofit professionals and consultants willing to share their expertise widely and freely.

Two days, 17 sessions, 170+ participants, and 1,000+ live views later, we are proud to say that our first national summit was a great success! This summit provided a sense of true community and solidarity, despite the virtual distance. Sessions featured active discussion in the chat as well as breakout rooms, which allowed participants to speak directly with each other about similar issues they were experiencing.

From this summit, we saw how nonprofits everywhere are committed and active in finding creative ways to serve their local communities. The Catalogue has been inspired by their resiliency and effort, and we are committed to continue finding ways to lift them up. The summit was a success, but the work still continues — in fact, we held 6 free Learning Commons sessions just in the week afterward. If you were unable to join us for the summit, we welcome you to watch recordings of the sessions at the National Small Nonprofit Summit website.

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“I’m Stronger Than I Think” – Reflecting on a Year Serving Mothers and Children

Written by Xiomara Munoz, Program Assistant at The Northwest Center

Xiomara Munoz

As I reflect on this year of service, one word continues to encapsulate my emotions: gratitude.

I’m so thankful for my time working as a Program Assistant at the Northwest Center. This year has been filled with practicing accompaniment, witnessing joy and hope and walking with mothers who face immense difficulties, but who remain resilient and brave in the face of these challenges.

One of my favorite memories from a conversation I had with a client was when she was opening up with me about the joys and struggles of motherhood. She shared how she had really surprised herself by her own resilience as a new mom. She paused midway through the conversation and seemed to be thinking out loud as she reflected, “You know, I’m stronger than I think.” I felt empowered just listening to her embrace her own strength. For me, that’s the beauty of accompaniment; basking in a strength unveiled.

Sometimes it’s difficult, sometimes the moms don’t see their strength right away, sometimes the daily challenges that they’re up against seem a little less conquerable. But I’ve learned that this too is the beauty of accompaniment; being there to remind the moms that their strength is there, yet unveiled, but still, undoubtedly, there.

I’ve been inspired day in and day out, by the moms who come to the center and also by the staff and their dedication and service to each and every one of our clients. Again, it’s the beauty of a strength and compassion that gives without counting the cost.

Thank you to the moms who have been more inspiring to me than they’ll know. For their courage in vulnerability and for how they have exemplified the strength of a mother’s self-sacrificing love.

Thank you to the staff and volunteers who never failed to give their all. I’ve been encouraged and uplifted by their commitment to a holistic approach to caring for all life. Thank you for all the hidden ways you’ve given of yourself.

I’m overcome with gratitude that I could be a witness to authentic accompaniment, to hope, and to the promise of unveiled strength that new life and motherhood always brings. What a gift this year has been and all I can say is, thank you.

This reflection was written by Xiomara Munoz, who served the past twelve months as The Northwest Center’s Pregnancy Center Program Assistant during her volunteer year with the Capuchin Franciscan Volunteer Corps.

To find out how you can support The Northwest Center in its mission to serve women and babies, contact Kelly Marcum at or visit the Center’s website.