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A picture of people being bored in a meeting.

Meetings That Work

by Molly Penn A meeting is a terrible thing to waste – don’t we all want meetings that work?  How often do you leave meetings resenting the time spent there or the outcomes?  Or worse, feeling like your voice wasn’t welcomed in the space?  Have you ever left a meeting thinking “Well that was a […]
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Two people writing on a whiteboard

How to Find The Right Consultant

by Molly Penn Finding the right consultant can be daunting.  Consultants have different styles and approaches.  What is “good” for you may be bad for someone else.  The first step is to identify what feels like the right style for your needs, and to ask the consultants you are evaluating about their approach.  Some projects […]
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Woman of color facilitating meeting

The Art of Facilitation

by Molly Penn Definition of Facilitation: to make (an action or process) easy or easier.  As we know, it is often quite challenging to make something look (or feel) easy.  This is the art of facilitation.  Facilitation is a large component of successful strategic planning.   Isn’t data crunching and analysis the core component of strategic […]
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Diverse people in a conference room to illustrate a board of directors

Do You Wish Your Board Was Better?

By Molly Penn Just last week, I heard complaints from two CEOs or Executive Directors who wish their board was somehow “better.”  In one case, the board is overreaching and micromanaging.  In the other, the board is too disengaged.  These are common complaints that represent opposite ends of the spectrum, but share similar root causes. […]
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4 women of different ethnicities talking to illustrate succession planning

Succession Planning as a Tool for Equity

By Molly Penn and Marissa Lewis We’ve been reflecting on the leadership changes that are unfolding (and have been predicted for years) in the nonprofit sector as they intersect with our considerations around equity.  We recently created a workshop series focused on succession planning with an equity lens, which was met with  appreciation by nonprofits […]
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colorful parking lot

6 key questions to ensure your communications strategy aligns with your strategic plan

Guest Blog Post by Ally Dommu, Director of Service Development and Worker-Owner at Big Duck Nearly every big organizational decision a nonprofit makes—new programs, leadership changes, refined fundraising strategies, upgraded technology—has a communications opportunity attached to it. But it can be challenging to regularly take a step back and think strategically about what’s most important to prioritize. […]
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Future Nonprofit Leaders

Rising Leaders Deserve Support

By Marissa Lewis and Molly Penn Take a good look around and you will see lots of new faces in leadership in the nonprofit sector. We have reached a sea change moment that has long been predicted, but seems to be in the process of finally unfolding. Many nonprofit leaders (quite a few of whom […]
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Diverse people layering hands in the center of a circle.

Summer is Retreat Season!

By Molly Penn Summer season offers a great opportunity to do a retreat with your board or staff members.  Business as usual tends to slow down a bit and summer is a great season for reflection.  If you can handle the nightmare that is aligning schedules in the summer, getting people together for a thoughtful, […]
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A picture of weaving to illustrate Partnerships and Collaborations

Planning for Partnerships and Collaborations

By Molly Penn Nonprofit organizations are part of an ecosystem of our social safety net (and we include arts organizations in that category).  Nonprofits pick up where government support and protection leaves off.  What we find over and over in our work is the importance of adopting a relational approach to working in communities.  Nonprofits […]
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Best Practices in Measuring the Progress / Success of a Strategic Plan

How to Measure Your Strategic Plan

By Molly Penn Measuring your success in executing your strategic plan starts with defining what success looks like.  The starting point for measuring a strategic plan is the clarity of your vision of impact.  This shows up in your vision statement, your mission statement and the goals of your strategic plan. Why is measuring impact […]
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A drawing of a pie chart, graphs and puzzle pieces with the words Strategy and development.

Planning Your Year in Fundraising

by Molly Penn It’s the beginning of the year and if you’re like many nonprofit leaders, you’re in planning mode. It’s time to think about your plan for fundraising for the year ahead.  It’s an important one – the pandemic is turning into an endemic, the government relief funds are no longer available – so […]
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Rethinking Planning meeting 4 women of different ethnicities talking

Hire a Thought-Partner, Not an Outside Expert

We tend to think of strategic planning as a long process comprising many meetings among internal stakeholders (board and staff) working together diligently to turn their intentions into clear strategy to propel the work.  Often, we recognize we need the help of a consultant to add discipline to our thinking, create the process that will […]
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Woman at a computer planning

How to Plan for A Recession

By Molly Penn Planning for a recession is not a topic anyone wants to talk about, but history does have a way of repeating itself.  The Covid recession notwithstanding, we are due for another, and pundits are making noise that we may be there already.  So what can you do, as a nonprofit, to plan […]
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Image of interlocking gears to illustrate systems

Why Systems are the Key to Growth

by Molly Penn Have you ever thought about what systems can do for you?  We specialize in thinking about this question. As consultants who work with nonprofits and foundations to help them change the world (a lofty goal), we recognize the importance of starting with the smallest step – building systems to support people in […]
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Various symbols of disability

How to Center Disability Inclusion in Your Organization

By Sofiya Cheyenne More than 1.3 billion people today live with a disability. This is 17 percent of the global population, making disabled people the largest minority group in the world. Yet when we think of underrepresented minorities, people living with disabilities rarely enter the picture. We’re getting better at being allies for People of […]
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A relay race handoff from a white hand to a black hand to illustrate succession planning

4 Kinds of Succession Planning

by Molly Penn Succession planning is a hot topic these days!  This article will give you tips for navigating 4 different kinds of succession planning.  As organizational development specialists who work with an equity forward lens, we have gotten a lot of inquiries about succession planning so we thought we’d share these strategies.  Succession planning refers […]
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Futurist illustration of systems level evolution

The Tension Between Measurability and Transformation in Planning

By Molly Penn It is human nature to crave control, avoid uncertainty, and envision a tidy future. Even after a two-year rollercoaster of disruption and chaos, many organizational leaders are still looking to their strategic plans and SMART goals to keep them on a clearly crafted course toward a too-specific future. NYU professor of strategic […]
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People sitting around a table doing strategic planning

What Does A Strategic Plan Cost?

by Molly Penn Strategic Planning is a term that gets used fairly frequently, but not always to refer to the same work.  As an example, lately we’ve gotten requests for strategic plans ranging from budgets of $15,000 to $150,000.   This describes a completely different scope of work.  Consulting is a time-driven business – we charge […]
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icon deia

Consulting that embraces Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access

“I am deeply moved by our ambition and desire to be seen and heard and valued in our full embodied excellence.” —Tema Okun, professor at Duke University, author, speaker, and writer As a white accomplice leading a diverse consulting firm that provides diversity, equity, inclusion, and access (DEIA) services, I am keenly aware of how […]
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An illustration of values

3 Tips to Jumpstart Your Values

By Molly Penn The end of one year and the beginning of another is a good time for reflection on your values. Certainly, the events of the past two years have given us all much fodder for reflection: how did we care for our staff and constituents throughout the ongoing pandemic; where did we land […]
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An illustration of a tree with different color circles and people in it to illustrate complexity

Navigating Complexity in the Social Sector

By Molly Penn Reflecting on all the work we do with incredible clients, and the many, many conversations we have with prospective clients, I find myself noticing some natural tension points that arise as we try to move away from transactional relationships towards more transformative ones.  Here are some examples as food for thought and […]
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How to Embed Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access into Grantmaking and Grantseeking

Today there are increasing discussions around these power dynamics in fundraising, accelerated by the social justice movement of 2020. This article will explore how approaching grantmaking through a lens of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access (DEIA) helps to dismantle traditional power imbalances.
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A strategic question

How to Frame Strategic Questions

by Molly Penn How do we ensure that planning = intentional and strategic change?  Simple.  Every good planning process needs to be rooted in a set of powerful strategic questions.  Do your change initiatives feel like business as usual to you?  If so, you are missing an opportunity to think about planning as an opportunity […]
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Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Access

Strategic Planning with an Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Access Lens

by Molly Penn We’ve been going over all of our “traditional” organizational development practices with a fine tooth comb to build the IDEA lens into everything we do with clients.  This article focuses on strategic planning and how to rethink the process of planning so the result is a plan that furthers the organization’s IDEA […]
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A picture of a crowd of protestors protesting the murder of George Floyd

Designing Power: How to help Anti-Racism Take Root in Your Organization

by Marita Phelps and Molly Penn Many of us are asking ourselves, in both our personal lives and professional roles: What can I do to end racism and create equity for people of color?  Last year, many formerly complacent Americans woke up. The deaths of people like Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Eric Garner, and Tamir […]
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A circle with four quadrants, each a different color with the same drawing of a tree in each quadrant

How to Achieve “Culture Fit” in an Inclusive Organization

By Molly Penn and Sofiya Cheyenne “They’re a great culture fit.” Have you truly considered what you mean when you play the culture fit card?  The notion of “culture fit” has been exposed for what it is – a way of upholding white supremacist, ableist culture in organizations. By definition, culture refers to the collective […]
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multi colored hands raised

How to achieve distributed leadership

by Molly Penn and Marita Phelps To what degree is your leadership structure the result of intentional design?  Change—even forced change—is good: It makes us reimagine our future, innovate and adapt, and learn new skills to thrive.  It is difficult for many executives to emerge from the daily hustle and take a step back. One […]
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How to do Scenario Planning in an Uncertain Environment

By Janice Shapiro Last year, in a matter of days, our world changed without warning. Within months of the pandemic we found ourselves faced with a new normal, and we had to figure out how to sustain our organizations when everything shut down, how to protect our employees’ jobs where we could, how to address […]
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How to Manage A Remote or Hybrid Team

By Mairta Phelps If you manage a team in 2021, it is likely you are faced with new challenges. Forty-two percent of the American workforce continues to work remotely, and an estimated 27 percent will still be working from home through 2021. This is an 87 percent increase in the number of new remote workers […]
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Resolve to Focus on Culture This Year

Culture is your hidden asset or weakness. In 2021, there is a need to focus on culture to repair the trauma experienced by your people in the past year. Read on for tips on how to address culture in a post-pandemic world.

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Leadership Development for a New Normal

How much of your time is spent managing others instead of leading change? Are you ready to move from a place of managing people to leading with influence? No doubt leadership development looks very different today than it did a year ago. Here are some of the trends we see emerging in 2021 and some questions for reimagining your agency’s leadership strategy.

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The Power of People-Centered Culture

In the 2020 workplace, people are fully showing up. Your employees are juggling more today than ever before, attempting to work, parent, teach, and survive—all while isolated from critical community resources and support. In this new working normal, how are you creating an environment where employees feel safe, seen, heard, and respected?

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Is Your Organization Still Relevant?

It’s a provocative question, we admit. Yet this is a time when organizations must be wrestling with this question actively. There are three pillars of organizational health - read on to learn more about them!

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Vu Le Got Us Thinking About Boards

Let’s face it, there are some great boards and some that suck the Executive Director’s time and energy. All new board members should be trained in what it means to serve on the board of a nonprofit. Which brings us to the crux of the issue – what does it mean? Our answer may surprise you!
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The Role of Culture in Organizational Change

Given the rate at which we all deal with change on a daily basis, you would think it gets easier, but managing change remains challenging. Why? Because change is an emotional experience.

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What is organizational culture – and how can it help promote anti-racist practices?

We cannot afford to overlook the importance of culture. How does culture manifest in your organization now? What culture practices can you aspire to this year to make your organization more inclusive? How can you consciously evolve your culture? Below, we explore these ideas in greater detail.

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Time to Pivot Our Values About the Nonprofit Sector

A global pandemic, an economic recession and an exploding social justice movement are convergent forces calling on nonprofit leaders, funders and consultants to do our work differently going forward. For the first time in modern memory, we have an opportunity to reevaluate all of our assumptions, perceptions, procedures and systems.

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Mergers & Alliances as a Strategic Tool for Mission Delivery

Are there just too many nonprofit organizations? Alliances can take many forms. In this post, we’ll detail some of the most common forms of alliances and why organizations might want to use them. The important thing here is to keep your mission delivery at the forefront of your rationale, and to summon the personal humility that brought you to nonprofit work in the first place.

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Scenario planning as a tool for uncertainty

With an atmosphere of triage all around us, how are we supposed to plan farther out than next week? Yet we operate in a world that requires a degree of confidence from us that we know where we are going. Scenario planning is a process that will help you feel prepared for how the future might unfold.
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Planning for the New Normal

Is it too soon to begin thinking about the “new normal?” Organizations that are not ready to consider how Covid-19 will change our work are risking their future health and sustainability. We are grounding these recommendations in human care and empathy for now, and smart planning for what’s next.

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Just Don’t Make Me Fundraise!

Ever heard this from a board member? Many board members simply dread being asked to raise funds. We are taught that how much money someone has is considered personal information and is socially inappropriate to discuss. Since fundraising is a core responsibility of nonprofit boards, it’s well worth the effort to turn this around.
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Resilience and the Need for Organization Design

It is likely that many organizations will have to make significant changes to ensure sustainability. If and when that happens (and we wish it didn’t have to), it is important to be smart about how that takes place. Enter: organization design.

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How to Write a Great Mission Statement

You’re riding in an elevator with someone who asks what you do - you have about 3 minutes to answer them succinctly, powerfully, compellingly so they ask you more. What do you say? The role of a mission statement is to describe what you do in clear terms so the listener immediately “gets it.”

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Are You Ready for a Recession?

All of the major news papers and sites are speculating that we might be heading towards the next recession. None of us likes to think about this possibility. We thought we’d share some stories of clients that are pursuing smart strategies to prepare themselves for this possibility.

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How to Create Strong Strategic Plan Goals

Everyone struggles with how to articulate your strategic plan goals so they compel others to join you in your noble quest. How many organizations do you know that spend months and months and thousands of dollars only to roll out a plan with … meh goals? We’d bet the answer is too many. We’re setting out to change that.

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How to Map Your Strategic Position

Do you know how to map your strategic position? The word “map” here literally means to try to create some visuals to help you picture where you sit relative to other organizations with similar missions. It is a way to help you understand your unique role.

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How to Frame A Compelling Vision

Imagine coming to work every day full of purpose and conviction. The role of a vision statement is to serve as your true north, the motivation for working in the social sector, the difference you are in business to make. Here are some key questions to ask yourself when framing or refining your vision.

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How and Why You Should Engage Your Stakeholders

Wouldn’t it be easier just to do the work and not have to worry about engaging people? Sure, it would be easier - and a whole lot less effective. How each nonprofit defines its community may vary, but the idea that the organization exists to serve a particular community is at the center of the nonprofit form. Here are some tips for how to manage these conversations.

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Are You Paying Attention to Culture?

The best laid plans can be facilitated or foiled by organizational culture - the (mostly) invisible force that guides how people in your organization interact with one another and with those you serve. So if culture is invisible, how do you pay attention to it? Here are some tools to help you be more proactive about building a culture where people want to work with you and do their best work when they’re there:

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How to Research your Market

What makes a plan “strategic” is that it takes into consideration what is happening in the world outside your organization and responds to that context. So what does it mean to research your market and how to do that? We break market research into several distinct pieces.

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From The Blog

Meetings That Work

by Molly Penn A meeting is a terrible thing to waste – don’t we all want meetings that work?  How often do you leave meetings resenting the time spent there or the outcomes?  Or worse, feeling like your voice wasn’t welcomed in the space?  Have you ever left a meeting thinking “Well that was a […]

PENN Creative Strategy
New York based, serving nationally
Phone: (917) 819-6377

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