Client Spotlight: Center for Inquiry-Based Learning

For more than 15 years, the Center for Inquiry-Based Learning (CIBL), a Durham-based nonprofit, has provided STEM kits, STEM program consulting, and professional development to teachers and schools across North Carolina. But in 2014, CIBL’s leadership realized they had a problem.

Earlier that year, CIBL had begun to see an ominous shift in its funding streams. As schools cut services and local funds dwindled, the organization realized it needed to find additional sources of revenue. “We figured we could either watch our old model of fee-for-service continue to drop off or we could do something about it and learn about fundraising and grant writing,” says Mara Thomas, CIBL’s Business Manager. “That’s when we called Ruth Peebles at The INS Group.”

Over the next year, The INS Group worked closely with CIBL to assess its existing funding sources, conduct grant research, and develop a core proposal. Since CIBL staff had limited experience engaging funders, The INS Group provided strategies for building relationships with potential donors while simultaneously providing feedback on CIBL’s first proposal drafts. The INS Group also guided CIBL in creating individual donor campaigns and new marketing materials.

The results? “Since working with The INS Group, we have seen our fundraising from grants go from $0 to nearly 14% of our revenue,” says Thomas. CIBL has cultivated relationships with multiple funders at local and national levels and learned the importance of communicating with potential funders before submitting proposals. “We have started to develop partnerships and are finding more meaningful and inspiring ways to talk about what we do,” Thomas says. “We’re finding the relationships and the improved messaging to be key components of our success.”

From engaging its Board of Directors in fundraising to learning the basic mechanics of writing a grant proposal, CIBL’s partnership with The INS Group has been enormously valuable for the organization. “The grant writing process was intimidating at first, but now we have so much more confidence,” reports Thomas. “Ruth was incredibly professional and encouraging. If she could help us begin to turn this ship around, she could help anyone.”

Learn more about The INS Group’s suite of innovative solutions for nonprofits.

To further increase your organizational capacity, join The INS Group’s “Unleash the ‘Inner Fundraiser’ in Your Board of Directors” webinar on November 7, 2017 (2 – 3 pm). Click here to register.


Posted in Capacity Building, Communications, Donors, Fund Development, Fundraising, Marketing/Public Relations, Nonprofit Management, Strategic Planning

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Crafting a Nonprofit Strategic Plan? 11 Questions to Answer Before Moving Forward

  • Who will be responsible for leading the evaluation and monitoring process?
  • What will be evaluated?
  • When will the strategic plan be reviewed?
  • How will the plan be modified and monitored?
  • Do we have a powerful strategic plan?
  • How easy is it to “sell” or explain to key stakeholders?
  • How exciting is the plan? Will it increase morale and energy or reduce it?
  • How easy is the plan to implement? Is it simple and clear yet comprehensive?
  • Are there any gaps that we need to address?
  • How do we involve people at different areas/levels in the implementation? To what extent do we want to empower our people?
  • How do we avoid overload and burnout and keep momentum going?


To further increase your organizational capacity, join The INS Group’s “Unleash the ‘Inner Fundraiser’ in Your Board of Directors” webinar on November 8, 2017 (2 – 3 pm). Click here to register.

Posted in Capacity Building, Nonprofit Management, Strategic Planning

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Protecting Your Nonprofit with a Robust Social Media Policy

Last year offered no shortage of high-profile political events. From the presidential election to Black Lives Matter, millions of people took to social media to share their viewpoints.

Due to their tax status, however, nonprofits play by a different set of rules when it comes to the online sphere. Nonprofits must comply with well-known federal restrictions against certain activities like electioneering and some lobbying. But there are a variety of risk management issues that organizations must consider when using social media–including privacy, client protection, and copyright/fair use.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when creating or revising a social media policy for your nonprofit:

1. Who conducts social media for your organization? Some nonprofits have dedicated communications staff, while others rely on volunteers and consultants to help them run social media. It’s important to clearly identify organization-wide who is allowed to create and post content on behalf of your organization. Then, conduct separate trainings for both the individuals running your social media channels AND the staff members who do not. For instance, let regular staff members know that they are not authorized to represent your organization on social media in any capacity–whether that includes commenting on a news article and tagging your nonprofit (“ABC would never stand for this!”) or logging into Facebook as your nonprofit and “liking” a political candidate.

2. Protect the safety and privacy of clients, staff, and volunteers. The ubiquitousness of cell phones means that staff members, volunteers, and even clients themselves may be taking unauthorized photos and videos at events and sharing them on social media–which puts the privacy and safety of these same stakeholders at risk. Before events, gently remind staff and volunteers that they should not take photos or videos. If you see someone doing this, share your organization’s media policy and politely ask them to delete the content. Finally, make sure all individuals at events have signed a photo release form giving your organization permission to use their image in any marketing materials or social media posts. (Here are some great photography and social media tips if your organization serves children.)

3. Ensure that your nonprofit is not violating copyright or fair-use laws. Train the individuals responsible for social media at your organization in best practices around copyright and fair use. Remind them to use royalty-free resources for photos and videos, such as those with a Creative Commons license. It’s also important to attribute sources for borrowed content and ideas–so if you get inspiration for a social media post from another organization or individual, make sure to give them credit. (However, keep in mind that giving someone credit for their work is not the same as receiving permission to use it.)

There are many considerations to make as you shape your organization’s social media policy, so don’t be afraid to ask questions, discuss it with your staff, and take your time! Need additional guidance? Check out this database of more than 300 social media policies adopted by nonprofits and corporations, or contact a local nonprofit attorney near you.

Want to learn more organizational development solutions? Join The INS Group’s “Collective Impact – An Innovative Approach for Community Building” webinar on August 16, 2017 (3 – 3 pm ET). Click here to register.


Posted in Capacity Building, Communications, Marketing/Public Relations, Nonprofit Management, Strategic Planning

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Branding on a Budget

The Internet has made it easier than ever to create your own logos, graphics, and branding–all on a shoestring marketing budget.

Below are several free or low-cost web programs to help you bring your creative ideas to reality. Best of all? These resources are so easy to use, you don’t need any formal design experience.

1.  Canva
For design newbies, Canva feels like a miracle. Its basic plan is free and offers dozens of templates for social media graphics, presentations, email headers, and more. Users can build upon existing designs within each template or create their own using Canva’s intuitive navigation system. With its free option, Canva allows you to save up to 1GB of uploads and invite 10 team members to share the account. Canva’s Work option is reasonably priced at $12.95 per month, allowing you to save your organization’s logos and colors and resize designs for different mediums with just one click.

Pros: easy to use, helpful blog, resize tool
Cons: not all photos or graphics in Canva library are free

2. Piktochart
Piktochart specializes in making information beautiful. From infographics to impact summaries to reports, Piktochart helps users visualize their data in a compelling format. It offers high-resolution options for printing and has a very affordable nonprofit package at $39.99 per year.

Pros: easy to use, excellent tutorials
Cons: limited templates for free accounts

3. Pixabay
Need stock images and videos? Check out Pixabay. All content on the site falls under a Creative Commons CC0 license, meaning it can be downloaded, modified, and used for free in perpetuity–even for commercial purposes. Pixabay also links to sponsored content in case you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for.

Pros: free, includes vectors and illustrations, different size options for downloads
Cons: limited variety

4. YouTube Editor
Let’s face it: these days, video is an essential part of marketing. Fifty percent of executives are compelled to look for more information about a product or service after viewing a video about it, and videos in emails can lead to a 200-300% increase in click-through rates.

Can’t afford a professional videographer? No problem. YouTube, the current king of the videosphere, has a fantastic free editing program. You can easily insert transitions and music, add photos and subtitles, and even search for royalty-free videos and music to integrate into your own clips. It takes a bit of practice to master, but the learning curve is short and worth the effort.

Pros: free, decent Help page
Cons: must be connected to a YouTube account, limited video quality resolution, may need to convert video to appropriate size

Still think you need help from an expert? Taproot and Creatives Without Borders are two organizations dedicated to connecting nonprofits to pro bono professional services.

Posted in Capacity Building, Communications, Marketing/Public Relations, Nonprofit Management, Strategic Planning

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Do’s & Don’ts When Creating an Annual Operating Plan

One of the most important components of an organization’s strategic plan is the annual “operating plan.” This details the major goals and activities to be accomplished during the upcoming fiscal year. A few dos and don’ts:

     DON’T exclude people who will be responsible for implementing your plan.

     DO create an action plan (or work plan) for each staff member.

     DON’T forget to specify who will be doing what and by when (action plans are often referenced in the implementation section of your overall strategic plan).

     DO detail the first 90 days of the plan’s implementation, and build in regular reviews of status.

     DON’T have too many cooks in the kitchen! One internal person should have ultimate responsibility to ensure your plan is enacted in a timely fashion.

     DO translate the strategic plan’s actions into job descriptions and personnel performance reviews.

     DON’T forget to designate rotating “checkers” to verify that activities have been completed every quarter or so.

To learn more about The INS Group’s consulting services, please visit our website.



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What Are the Components of an Effective Nonprofit Strategic Plan?

The components of an effective organizational strategic plan include:

     Monitoring & Evaluation – This includes the criteria for monitoring and evaluation as well as the responsibilities and frequencies of monitoring the implementation of the plan.

     Communication – This describes the actions that will be taken to communicate your plan and to whom.

     Budget Plan – This details the resources and funding needed to achieve the strategic goals.

     Operating Plan – This lays out the major goals and activities to be accomplished over the coming fiscal year.

     Financial Reports – This includes last year’s budget and the current year budget, with estimated expenses and the actual amounts spent.

     Description of the Strategic-Planning Process – This is the process used to develop the plan. It also records who was involved, the number of meetings held and any major lessons learned.

     Strategic Analysis Data – This is any information generated during external and internal analyses and includes listing of strategic issues identified.

     Goals for the Board & CEO – These goals of the executive director and board should be directly aligned with the goals of the strategic planning.


Gain more capacity-building insights when you participate in The INS Group webinars. Check our website for the latest schedule.

Posted in Capacity Building, Communications, Fund Development, Nonprofit Management, Strategic Planning

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How to Best Communicate Your Nonprofit Strategic Plan

An organization’s strategic plan is a blueprint to the future that allows leadership to evaluate its mission to determine strategy, advance its mission, and set realistic goals and objectives. The plan, however, should not be created and left to collect dust in a file drawer. Some stakeholders should get complete copies of your plan, including appendices. Other stakeholders (usually outside of organization) should receive only the body of the plan without appendices. In addition, every board member and member of management needs to get a copy of plan. You might even consider sharing the complete plan or highlights to everyone in organization to ensure clarity of vision.

Here are a few ways to distribute your strategic plan:

  • Post your mission, vision, and values statements on the walls of your main office
  • Give each employee a “statements” card
  • Publish portions of your plan in your newsletter and advertising and marketing materials
  • Train new board members and employees on the plan during orientations
  • Include your strategic plan in policies, procedures, and employee manuals
  • Provide copies of the strategic plan to major stakeholders, including funders/investors, trade associations, potential collaborators, vendors/suppliers, and others

Want to learn more organizational development solutions? Join The INS Group’s “Collective Impact – An Innovative Approach for Community Building” webinar on August 16, 2017 (2 – 3 pm ET). Click here to register.

Posted in Capacity Building, Communications, Fund Development, Fundraising, Marketing/Public Relations, Nonprofit Management, Strategic Planning

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How Will the New FLSA Regulations Affect Your Nonprofit?

The new Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulations signed into law earlier this year have nonprofits across the country scrambling to make sense of how these changes will impact them and their staff. Starting December 1, 2016, nonprofits will have to pay overtime to certain employees who work more than 40 hours a week but earn less than $47,476 per year.

Nervous? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Here are a few guidelines for determining how these regulations affect your business and employees:

1. Defining exempt vs. nonexempt employees. Many employees and employers mistakenly believe that employees are “exempt” simply by virtue of receiving an annual salary (versus an hourly wage). This is incorrect. Most positions are considered nonexempt except for “white collar” jobs—those requiring certain administrative, professional, and executive duties AND which pay more than $913 weekly ($47,476 annually). These helpful worksheets from the National Council of Nonprofits will help your organization easily determine which employees are nonexempt or exempt.

These changes will mean huge budgetary shakeups for organizations where employees do not meet the new salary threshold ($913 weekly) to be considered exempt from receiving overtime pay. In particular, if your nonprofit employs workers with professional duties, you may be impacted.

2. Who can receive overtime pay? Only nonexempt employees are eligible to receive overtime pay for working more than 40 hours per week. Nonprofits discovering that many of their employees are nonexempt, and thus eligible for overtime, face three primary choices: bumping up some staff salaries to at least $47,476 per year, keeping nonexempt staff salaries the same and paying those employees overtime, or restricting nonexempt employees’ ability to work overtime.

Nonprofits should analyze their staff’s workloads and determine just how much overtime their employees work on a regular basis. Some employees work far beyond 40 hours each week, while others only do so seasonally for high-demand programs. Employers will need to take on the tough task of revising their 2017 budgets to accommodate these new realities—and keep in mind that, every three years, exempt employees’ salary thresholds will rise per FLSA regulations.

3. Adjusting to FLSA changes is not an either/or situation. There’s no doubt that many businesses in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors will be significantly affected by the new FLSA regulations. However, instead of seeing these changes as hurdles, consider them challenges to reevaluate the efficiency of your organization.

Some organizations will choose a combination of raising salaries to make employees exempt, eliminating or restricting overtime for nonexempt employees, and budgeting to accommodate for predictable situational overtime. Others will hire part-time workers to help limit overtime among staff members and substantially reassign work so that it is fairly distributed among all employees (which may result in some new hires). There is no one right solution for any organization, so be creative and seek input from other companies in your sector.

It’s important to keep in mind that there are many ways to comply with the new FLSA regulations. While initial budget shifts may be painful, they will go a long way to improve the sustainability of your organization and ensure that workers are being compensated fairly for their efforts.

FLSA Resources for Nonprofits

Want to learn more innovative nonprofit solutions? Join The INS Group’s “Collective Impact – An Innovative Approach for Community Building” webinar on August 16, 2017 (2 – 3 pm ET). Click here to register. 

Posted in Capacity Building, Communications, Nonprofit Management, Strategic Planning

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How Nonprofits Can Build Relationships with Diverse Communities

Here are some strategies to help your organization build stronger relationships with people from underrepresented groups:

  • Offer internships and fellowship programs for potential members of color
  • Partner with existing membership organizations that reach these groups, i.e. community-specific chambers of commerce
  • Create a mentoring program pairing board members with board members who are from communities of color
  • Partner with existing diverse groups
  • Develop collaborative programs with local organizations that serve diverse populations
  • Offer your library of materials and resources to relevant groups
  • Develop educational programs for wealthy individuals from diverse communities that discuss philanthropic topics relevant to the population
  • Invite leaders from minority communities to participate as presenters and attendees in programs about philanthropy
  • Host meetings or workshops for and by donors of special ethnic groups
  • Support the development of local affinity groups or giving circles
  • Provide assistance and support philanthropy options to those who advise wealthy ethnically diverse individuals and families

For more capacity-building strategic advice, please contact us at The INS Group.


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Volunteer Programs for the Digital Age

No matter their size, most nonprofit organizations rely on volunteers as an integral part of their success. From setting up tables at an event to organizing a 5K charity race on behalf of your organization, volunteers perform important tasks without the need to hire additional staff.

A well-run volunteer program is essential for recruiting volunteers, engaging them effectively, and keeping them invested for years to come. Here are several free digital tools that can help your organization make the most of its volunteers:

Evaluating your volunteer program. How healthy is your current volunteer program? Do you have a dedicated staff person or volunteer to manage volunteers? Small and medium-sized nonprofits often struggle to find the money or time necessary to create infrastructure and processes for a healthy volunteer program. But the investment is well worth it—remember that volunteers, in addition to giving their time, are public supporters of your organization and often turn into donors.

Learn where your program stands by doing a thorough assessment of your organization’s capacity and goals. AGE UK offers a great assessment tool. While this resource was developed for nonprofits in the UK who recruit older volunteers, it’s a great starting place for any nonprofit. If your organization focuses on food insecurity, Volunteer Match offers an online volunteer program assessment. This tool is particularly valuable because it provides personalized next steps based on your organization’s goals and current volunteer program.

Sharing volunteer opportunities. Newsletters and social media are excellent places to share volunteer opportunities, especially time-sensitive ones. But many nonprofits have year-round projects for which they need volunteers. allows nonprofits to post unlimited volunteer opportunities visible to more than 1.4 million visitors a month. Better still, nonprofits can post opportunities in three languages, specify the number of volunteers and any special skills needed, and list opportunities that are available for several weeks or months out of the year. lets nonprofits post short- and long-term opportunities, and it also assists with volunteer management by sending reminder emails about volunteers who sign up.

Managing volunteers. Maintaining communication with volunteers and assigning them tasks are incredibly time-consuming processes. Fortunately, many programs make this work a lot easier with free or low-cost services. will let nonprofits with fewer than 50 volunteers track their time for free, with affordable pricing plans for larger numbers of volunteers. offers the whole kit and kaboodle from volunteer scheduling to engagement, with a free cloud-based system and affordable paid options.

But the most important part of managing volunteers is ensuring you have established processes. Volunteer management comes with a fair share of challenges—including scheduling volunteers, thanking them, and even letting them go. Volunteer Match offers a wide variety of free webinars to help volunteer coordinators develop better processes, build their management skills, and tell the story of volunteers’ impact. Learn more at

Thanking volunteers. Volunteers who don’t feel appreciated are far less likely to give you their time (or money) again. Take the time to ensure that you thank volunteers for their efforts, whether that comes in the form of an email, phone call, or annual appreciation event.

Short on resources? Assign a program manager to personally thank volunteers before or after their work shift. Collect volunteers’ email addresses and ask a Communications staff person to send an e-blast with a thank-you graphic after an event. Social media is a great way to share photos, tag volunteers, and publicly recognize companies or groups that send volunteers. Whatever you do, try to be timely with thank you messages—don’t wait till National Volunteer Week/Month in April. is a free, easy-to-use graphic design platform that allows organizations to create thank-you graphics and save their brand’s colors and logos. Create several generic templates that you can rotate throughout the year to send individual volunteers. For large groups, create a personalized graphic with a photo and the organization’s name. These templates can be created by any staff person and then run by your nonprofit’s communications department for approval.

These are just a few tools for getting started—the Internet is your best friend for finding new platforms and services that can bring your volunteer program to the next level. With time and minimal cost, you can develop volunteers who serve as longtime ambassadors and funders of your organization’s mission.

Want to learn more innovative nonprofit solutions? Join The INS Group’s “Collective Impact – An Innovative Approach for Community Building ” webinar on August 16, 2017 (2 – 3 pm ET). Click here to register.



Posted in Capacity Building, Communications, Fundraising, Marketing/Public Relations, Nonprofit Management

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