How I Spent My Day: Learning from Excellent Nonprofits

AIM logo

Over the past six months I’ve been privileged to serve on the selection committee for the Advancement in Management (AIM) Award (formerly known as the Washington Post Award). After a two-part written application, we narrowed it down to three finalists: A-SPAN, Higher Achievement, and National Children’s Alliance. Then came the fun part—visiting each organization to dig deeper into their management practices.

The culmination of that work was the 2016 Advancement in Management Award Best Practices Session held on May 24—four hours of learning from these excellent organizations. Each finalist had time to share best practices, with a special focus on award recipient Higher Achievement.

It’s hard to come up with just one or two practices to share, so I encourage you to visit #AIM16 @CenterNonprof (the Center for Nonprofit Advancement runs the award) and see all the nuggets tweeted out during the event.

Here are a few key practices for each organization:

Higher Achievement:

  • “Dashboard confessional” sessions where managers share their outcomes dashboards and reflect on lessons learned from the data
  • Transparency in mapping expenses to outcomes to focus on “cost per impact” vs. “cost per person served”
  • Developed core competencies for all staff, defining “what you really need to be successful” at the organization
  • CEO Lynsey Wood Jeffries said that she sees her main responsibility as “upholding the culture” of Higher Achievement. Their “culture document” helps her in this regard, outlining not only their values and principles but how those translate to every day actions.


  • Strong focus on succession planning and ensuring that the organization can survive an executive transition
    • The board governance committee maintains a “dossier” or portfolio all about the CEO position, focusing on day-to-day duties as well as required skill sets (they had the CEO keep a diary!)
  • Commitment to staff development and retention:
    • Creating a strong “second tier” of managers to support the CEO, with structured career paths
    • Cross-training among managers to show each other their “day-in-a-life” for each department
    • Rigorous, formal two-week onboarding process for new staff, in which they’re exposed to every aspect of the organization and its operations
  • Communications messaging toolkit for all board and staff so that everyone is using the same language (every staff member has a copy at his/her desk)

National Children’s Alliance:

  • Amazing use of stakeholder input in their strategic planning process, using the Lumenogic platform to seed ideas and put them to a vote across their membership
  • Commitment to strengthening organizational culture when 50% of staff (of 23 total) work remotely:
    • Invest in technology so that remote staff are linked via video for all staff meetings
    • Remote staff spend a week at headquarters when first hired
    • Three annual opportunities for all staff to meet in person
  • Very strategic about collaboration opportunities and careful about entering into new partnerships—assess their “reputational risk” and treat collaboration as a “negotiation”

I barely scratched the surface of all the amazing work these organizations are doing, so I encourage you to learn more about them and the AIM Award. And who knows, you may be up on that stage next year!

Caroline Herbert

CAROLINE HERBERT has been teaching courses in fundraising, grants research, proposal writing, and related topics since joining Foundation Center in 1998. As Instructional Design Manager, she is responsible for designing, implementing, and delivering the Center’s training programs online. Her focus is on creating optimal learning experiences for nonprofit professionals in the virtual environment.