Capacity Building

Healthy watersheds depend on healthy and strong organizations. Around our state, watershed associations are implementing quality programs and advocating for the protection and preservation of the environment. The difficulty is balancing the needs of a growing organization’s operational challenges against an ever growing “to do” list.


Nonprofit organizations strive to achieve a mission and accomplish a set of goals. These goals may include restoring a section of streambank, monitoring water quality, working with a municipality, or hosting an educational workshop. To reach these goals, it is necessary to have more than the knowledge of how to restore a streambank or partner with a municipal official. Nonprofits must also manage their organization’s internal operations and their administrative resources.

Seeing to administrative needs, such as becoming incorporated, writing bylaws, and developing a budget are vital to starting an organization and will set in motion the ripple effect for building a solid foundation. Below is a list of just a few of the benefits from focusing on administrative activities:

Creating Your Mark in New Jersey

A group of local citizens discovers plans for a new manufacturing facility to be built on the banks of a nearby river, upstream from their residential development. Effluents from the manufacturing process will pollute the river, creating a repugnant odor, and making it unsafe for children to swim and play. The citizens gather together and decide to fight not only the development along the river, but numerous other sources of water pollution as well. This group realizes that the environmental issues in their community are worth the time and investment to continue into the future. To maximize its resources and ensure its survival, this group decides to form a nonprofit organization and become a legally recognized corporation.

A corporation is a distinct, legal entity that allows a group of people to combine their resources for profit or nonprofit activities. Incorporation is the process by which a group becomes a corporation, and includes choosing a name, preparing a Certificate of Incorporation, and filing a Certificate with the state.

Getting Started

Before beginning the incorporation process, you should meet with your group to discuss the pros and cons of incorporation. Incorporation is often recommended because it brings many benefits that a group cannot otherwise attain. Listed below are a few of the advantages of incorporating a nonprofit organization:

  • It allows you to apply for tax-exempt status with the IRS.
  • It increases the likelihood of contributions from public and private foundations.
  • It provides limited liability to your employees and board members so they cannot be held personally liable for corporate debts or other setbacks.
  • It creates separate, legal entity that exists in perpetuity, even if trustees change.

Some of the disadvantages include the cost, the paperwork, and the time and energy associated with incorporating. Consider all advantages and disadvantages and meet with an attorney before deciding whether or not incorporating is right for your group.

Use this checklist to assist your organization with the incorporation process. Keep in mind that this list is a general summary.

  • Find a Lawyer (preferably one who will work pro-bono)
  • Obtain Incorporation paperwork
  • Choose a Corporate Name
  • Check Name Availability
  • Reserve a Corporate Name
  • Perform a Name Search
  • Protect Your Name (if necessary)
  • Prepare Certificate of Incorporation
  • File Certificate of Incorporation
  • Apply for EIN number
  • Prepare Bylaws
  • Prepare Membership Provisions
  • Prepare and File Your Federal Tax-Exemption Application
  • Obtain State Corporate and Sales Tax-Exemption

helpful_hint Helpful Hints The state of New Jersey provides a “Checklist for Starting a Business in New Jersey for groups that wish to incorporate.The law is constantly changing; visit the IRS website for more information. Also consult an attorney or certified public accountant to ensure the correct preparation of forms

As of 2006, organizations must file their annual report online. Each year your organization needs to renew your incorporation status. To file electronically, a nonprofit will need to go to the State’s website. Failure to file forms and pay the annual fee for two consecutive years results in dissolution of the corporation.

The work does not stop once you obtain your Certificate of Incorporation. Refer to the other sections of this website, but keep the following tips in mind as you work to build your organization:

  1. Consult a lawyer for assistance with incorporating and obtaining tax-exempt status.
  2. Develop a mission statement that appeals to a wide audience. Avoid jargon or technical language only understood by those in the field.
  3. Create Bylaws as a living document. Use them to identify and establish key policies and procedures upfront, but also review and revise them periodically with board and staff involvement.
  4. Write job descriptions for board members, clearly stating their role and responsibilities.
  5. Seek individuals to sit on your board who are willing to commit time and energy to your organization and make the interests of the organization a priority.
  6. Recruit board members using criteria similar to that used to hire new staff. Look for responsible, dedicated individuals that can contribute expertise in a specific area, such as finance or law. Board members can make a huge contribution to your organization; therefore, take time and care to choose the right people for the job.

For more information, read NJ Center for Nonprofits publication, Thinking of forming a nonprofit? What to consider before you begin.

Further Resources

  • Center for Non-Profits  Provides guidance to charitable organizations on a wide range of issues such as incorporating, obtaining 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, insurance, and board development.
  • USA.Gov for Nonprofits Highlights resources in numerous areas of running a nonprofit including tax-exempt status, incorporating, and more.
  • State of New Jersey, Division of Taxation Questions and answers about starting a nonprofit organization including information on getting organized, incorporating, and obtaining Federal and State tax-exempt status. Phone: (609) 292-6400

The Shield of Protection

Watershed groups are innovators, passionate about their mission, and take the inherent risks needed to protect and enhance local waterbodies. Many activities undertaken by watershed groups have a high potential for risk. For example, youth groups assisting in a streambank restoration project are using equipment (hammers, shovels, stakes) that may result in injury. The injured participant may claim negligence by the sponsoring organization(s) or staff (employee or volunteers) even if the organization and responsible staff ensured all safety measures were followed and volunteer waiver forms signed. Insurance coverage is critical to protect organizations from unforeseen events, but this protection does come at a substantial cost.

Organizations should not assume that being incorporated or obtaining nonprofit status shields them from being sued. Is your organization required to purchase insurance? The answer is no; New Jersey statutes (New Jersey’s Charitable Immunity Law, N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7 et. seq.) do provide some limited immunity to nonprofit corporations. Can you still be sued? The answer is yes, and your organization will still have to cover the legal expenses even if the case does not reach court. The incurred expenses can devastate a group’s capability to continue its programs and mission. Insurance coverage is critical to protect an organization from unforeseen disastrous and catastrophic events. But this protection does come at a substantial cost. Regardless of your budget, it is important to assess your operations and plan for insurance coverage.

Getting Started

The types of insurance policies and associated nuances can be overwhelming when determining the coverage your organization needs. The number of coverage options seems almost proportional to the number of insurance companies. To complicate matters, insurance policies change from year to year.

There are strategies to reduce your risks (risk management), but these activities, such as developing policies and purchasing safety materials, can also be seen as additional costs to the organization. These additional costs, however, should be seen as valuable assets and investments in your organization. Risk management is a means to reduce the liability in your organization. When your organization invests in the safety of its operations, there is a rippling effect felt both internally and externally. These new policies and materials improve the quality of your programs by informing your members and volunteers that their safety is as equally important as their new experiences with nature and your organization. They also provide staff and volunteers with the peace of mind that they are trained and have the means to handle most circumstances. Once you have taken steps to reduce your organization’s risk, it is time to look into the insurance options to insure the rest.

The most basic insurance coverage for an organization is a commercial general liability or CGL policy. This type of policy provides coverage for claims alleging bodily injury, personal injury (slander/libel) and property damage. General liability insurance covers many, but not all liability exposures facing an organization. The second most common insurance coverage is Directors and Officers (D&O) insurance.

D&O insurance protects an organization against claims alleging “wrongful acts” by those covered in the policy. D&O insurance covers the legal expenses and settlements associated with claims. Consider the following scenarios: a granter determines that your organization inappropriately used restricted funds to pay rent. Or the Board of Trustees fires the director because of old age. In these cases, the funding organization and the director may have grounds for lawsuits, but these circumstances are not covered by general liability insurance.

helpful_hint Helpful Hints Below are a few examples on how to modify your activities to reduce risk.

  • Provide appropriate trainings for staff and volunteers such as safety training or financial management.
  • Develop standard operating procedures for administrative and program activities, particularly internal controls to protect against fraud and theft.
  • Develop a waiver for the organization’s activities that explains the potential risks involved in an organization’s activities.

Discuss coverage options with other groups to learn ways to obtain improved or more suitable coverage.

Keep in mind that once you finally obtain a policy your work is not entirely over. The addition or removal of activities may also affect your policy. In general, it is wise to keep a line of communication open to your insurance company to ensure all your activities are covered. Continually investigate your options to improve the organization’s coverage. Obtain legal assistance and have thorough discussions with insurance professionals to determine the most appropriate choice of protection for your organization.

 Further Resourcesresources

  • Center for Non-Profits  The Center is a charitable umbrella organization serving New Jersey’s nonprofit community. They offer group-buying programs on various insurance coverages.
  • Nonprofit Risk Management Center The Center provides numerous resources and publications on insurance issues and provides free technical assistance on risk management and insurance via telephone and email.
  • River Network River Network offers D&O Coverage for its Partners through U.S. Liabilities.

Coverage, Claims & Consequences: An Insurance Handbook for Nonprofits, from Nonprofit Risk Management Center.

Securing Organizational Benefits

Environmental nonprofits perform a wide range of valuable services to the community. They promote the protection of local waterways and forests, restore polluted or eroded sites and habitats, combat suburban sprawl, offer environmental education programs, and/or develop eco-tourism.

Despite this inspiring potential, most nonprofits have small budgets to carry out their work. Therefore, many organizations would like to solicit donations so they can participate in watershed management activities, address environmental concerns, and engage in education initiatives. One of the best ways for a group to attract donations and accomplish these goals is to obtain tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Filing for tax-exempt status offers several benefits to an organization, including:

  • Public and Private Contributions
  • Exemption from Income Taxes
  • Discounted Rates (postal rates, advertising and registration fees)
Getting Started

Before a group can file for tax-exempt status and take advantage of the associated benefits, there are certain steps it must take. For example, the IRS requires a conformed copy of a group’s Certificate of Incorporation as part of the application process. Therefore, a group must incorporate with their state before it can begin preparing its tax-exempt application. Other requirements include a conformed copy of your Bylaws and a request for an Employer Identification Number (EIN).
There are various tax-exempt status options; the most common is the 501(c)(3) determination. The main advantage to filing as a 501(c)(3) involves tax deductible contributions. A disadvantage involves your group’s political involvement. The IRS limits a 501(c)(3)’s lobbying abilities and other political activities.

Other common alternatives are briefly outlined below. For more information on these options, contact your attorney or tax advisor, or visit the IRS website at

  • File as a 501(c)(4). A 501(c)(4) is a type of nonprofit association that is also not required to pay federal income taxes. A 501(c)(4) group must be organized to promote social welfare. Donations to this kind of group are not tax-deductible, however, these groups may engage in lobbying as a primary activity without threatening their tax-exempt status.
  • Form a Sister Organization. If your group is already recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3), form a sister group that is a 501(c)(4) organization.
  • Work Under an Umbrella Organization. You can also choose to work under a local umbrella organization that has already filed as tax-exempt.
  • Elect 501(h) status. If you file as a 501(c)(3), your group can elect to follow a different standard called the 501(h) standard, also known as the lobbying expenditures test. The test allows a group to spend a certain amount of its budget on lobbying.

It is important to note that not all activities are appropriate for tax-exempt organizations. To be eligible for federal 501(c)(3) tax-exemption, your group must be organized for charitable, educational, religious, literary, or scientific purposes; or participate in fostering national or international sports competition, preventing cruelty to animals, or testing for public safety. Therefore, when determining which option is best for your group, consider your group’s mission, the types of activities in which your group will participate, and whether or not these activities will be limited by a certain tax-exempt status.

IRS Tax Exempt Government Entity Helpline: (877) 829-5500

Once an organization incorporates, it is important to begin preparing its tax-exempt application. According to the IRS, an application is filed in a timely manner within 27 months of incorporation. This includes a deadline of 15 months after incorporation with a 12-month extension. If your application is filed within this time period, your tax-exempt status is considered retroactive to the date of incorporation. Otherwise, it is effective from the postmark date.

Consult an attorney versed in tax-exemption or the IRS for assistance in determining if your group’s purposes comply with those allowed for tax-exempt organizations.

As of 2006, organizations must file their annual report online. Each year your organization needs to renew your incorporation status. To file electronically, a nonprofit will need to go to the State’s website, Failure to file forms and pay the annual fee for two consecutive years results in dissolution of the corporation. 

Further Resources

  • Center for Non-Profits  Provides guidance to charitable organizations on a wide range of issues such as incorporating, obtaining 501(c)resources(3) tax-exempt status, insurance, and board development.
  • for Nonprofits Highlights resources in numerous areas of running a nonprofit including tax-exempt status, incorporating, and more.
  • Internal Revenue Service Offers a hotline for questions on nonprofit, tax-exempt matters and allows a group to check the status of its application. Phone: (877) 829-5500
  • IRS Stay Exempt Tax Basics for 501(c)(3)s This website provides online training to help you keep your organization’s exempt status intact. It consists of five interactive courses, which you can take individually and in any order.

Strength In Numbers

Do you feel like an abundance of ideas and projects, combined with limited time and staff, are causing rough currents threatening to capsize you and your efforts to keep your organization afloat? If so, consider recruiting and utilizing volunteers to help accomplish your goals. Volunteers offer a wide range of ideas, abilities, and backgrounds. They provide the extra support to help you fulfill your mission, thus propelling your organization forward. Volunteers can assist with projects including mailings, streambank restorations, water quality monitoring, filing, trail maintenance, and grant writing.

Getting Started

There are five main components to a successful volunteer management program – project identification, recruitment, retention, recognition, and internal systems. To begin with project identification, compile a list of current projects and determine their suitability for volunteers. Use this list to decide where and how volunteers can help. Then, develop volunteer job descriptions. This allows staff to thoroughly consider and plan how they can use volunteers in a meaningful way. The job description also presents the volunteers with clear expectations of their work.

The key to successful recruitment is to communicate your need for volunteers while generating interest in your organization and its work. Contact schools, community groups, senior centers, and advertise in your newsletter, website, and local papers. Once you have a group of committed volunteers, remember that they give up one of their most valuable assets – time – to work at your organization. Saying thank you and recognizing their hard work is extremely important! Verbally thank them, write thank you letters, and/or hold volunteer recognition events throughout the year. Also remember that a well run volunteer management program considers the organization’s needs as well as the needs of the volunteer. Improve retention by matching a volunteer’s interests and abilities with the right job. Finally, develop a database to organize volunteer contact information and interests. Use this database to recruit volunteers for new projects.

 Helpful Hintshelpful_hint

Volunteers are an invaluable resource to any organization. Therefore, providing training and recognition for their work is vital to ensuring their continued support. Ask current volunteers for feedback on job descriptions, procedures, communication with staff, and recognition. Use their responses to improve your program and volunteer retention. To assist with recruitment, create a volunteer profile form to obtain a volunteer’s contact information and interests. Then, interview prospective volunteers to get a better feel for how they can fit into your organization.

Further Resources


Need to Know Basics for Managing Volunteers, from the Maine Commission for Community Service. Provides guidelines for developing a successful volunteer program.
23 Ways to Say Thank You, from USEPA’s The Volunteer Monitor. Provides 23 ways to thank and recognize your volunteers.


Environmental education is the key to children developing a positive relationship with the environment, as well as inspiring environmental stewardship in adults. Forming an environmental education program is a beneficial project for the community and future. It helps your group to reach out to the public, spread knowledge, and recruit volunteers, in addition to providing funds and donations. The process of creating education programs takes plenty of planning and funds to get programs off the ground.

Education programs keep your group in the public’s spotlight, so make sure programs represent the group’s goals and values.


Getting Started with an Educational Program

It is important to decide what types of programs your group will offer. When picking topics, think about:

  • Where will staff conduct the programs?
  • Who will teach the programs?
  • What types of supplies will be needed?
  • Where will the organization obtain funding?
  • Who will the programs be geared towards?
  • What is the goal of programs?

Once an environmental program has been decided, a curriculum/lesson plan must be developed. Check the Online Curriculum Materials page for more curriculum ideas. Lesson plans should contain the following:

  • Objectives that the lesson strives to meet
  • Supplies needed to conduct lesson
  • Description of activities
  • Ages the lesson is geared toward
  • Program length
  • References
  • Evaluation tool to assess what the students learned
  • The Core Curriculum Content Standards that it meets.

As the planning process occurs, keep a project budget to calculate how much money will be needed to cover all the costs of staff, supplies, transportation, and time. Once a budget is created, research the best funding opportunities:

  • Local schools: schools may be willing to pay for education programs or materials
  • Public programs: charging for the public to attend an event
  • Grants: state, federal, & private grants offered to environment education programs.

A strong and successful education program should have the following:

  • Program curriculum
  • Staff to lead programs
  • Contacts with schools
  • Media contacts to advertise public programs via press releases
  • Evaluation form for teachers for feedback.

Learning from other groups can help you avoid problems and start off your environmental education program on the right foot. The following groups were inspired to have local citizens, especially youth, learn and feel passion for the environment. Here are some examples of how groups started and are running their education programs:

Musconetcong Watershed Association
In 2001, the Association dedicated to formally create an education program curriculum and integrate it into the budget. Each year, they present four-day programs on water to fifth grade students. They discuss:

  • Water cycle, watersheds
  • Non-point source pollution, how land use affects water
  • Chemical, biological, and visual monitoring

The Association charges the school $130 per class, for all four days; the rest of the operating money comes from the general operating budget.

Pequannock River Coalition
The Coalition created a curriculum that brings aquatic life into fourth and fifth grade classrooms by creating an aquarium with local macroinvertabrates and discussing:

  • The local watershed and the aquatic life found in it
  • Identifying and sorting sample macroinvertabrates
  • Non-point source pollution

Schools are not charged for the program; it is funded solely by grants and donations.

New Jersey Audubon Society
The Society offers a wide variety of education programs which cater to audiences from preschoolers to adults and teachers. They present programs at schools, as well as on Audubon property. Programs are funded through membership support and program fees.

Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association
Stony Brook has been conducting education programs for more than 30 years, with programs geared toward all age groups. The Association offers the following advice:

  • Establish goals for education programs and always keep them in mind. A program whose goal is to generate money is not a good goal, but a goal to increase public awareness about your organization or local issues, to connect with children or assist teachers are more sustainable goals.
  • Maintain an on-going, internal program assessment. Discuss if your original goals still make sense, be willing to adapt programs as your goals change.
  • Obtain feedback from teachers and the public on their satisfaction with the programs, and adapt your program based on the feedback.
  • Having programs on your property can be an advantage (less transportation cost, awareness about the organization and local natural resources), and there are insurance issues related to working in parks. Contact local municipal officials to obtain permission.
  • When developing or expanding programs, approach schools and ask teachers about their needs. Let the teachers know your organization is looking to help teachers and their curriculum.
  • Grants are an important source of funding, but never lose sight of goals when seeking grant opportunities.

The following links will take you to websites with available materials for developing an environmental curriculum. 

ABCs of Ecology: An Educator’s Guide to Learning Outside
A 230-page book geared primarily toward upper elementary school students, includes hands on activities organized into lessons, experimental activities, and reproducible worksheets.

Beneath the Shell
Teacher’s curriculum guide that covers non-point source pollution and its impact on New Jersey shellfish. Lessons are applicable for students in grades 1st through 8th.

Bridges to the Natural World
Curriculum guide for elementary teachers and their students to gain a better understanding of their local New Jersey environment.

Healthy Water, Healthy People
Curriculum aims to encourage investigator on the connections between water quality and environmental and human health. Includes 25 hands-on lessons. A testing kit, and manual are also available.
Phone: (609) 984-0583 or (609) 292-2113

Kids in the Creek
Curriculum that provides students with a method of assessing stream health and aquatic insects.

Curriculum guide for middle and high school students to gain a better understanding of their local NJ environment. Includes lessons on watersheds, water quality, and developing a sense of connection between people and the environment.

Project Learning Tree
An award-winning environmental education program designed to help students learn how to think rather than what to think. Resources offered by the organization include educational materials, professional development training and networking opportunities.

Project WET
A national, interdisciplinary science and education program for formal and non-formal educators of K-12 students focusing on water use.

Project WILD
A national curriculum focused on wildlife, geared to K-12 educators, that introduces concepts such as food chains, habitat, and carrying capacity in fun and interactive ways.

Trout in the Classroom
An educational activity that allows teachers to raise brook trout eggs in the classroom. Geared toward middle and high school students.

WILD School Sites
Sites are places where teachers can use the outdoors “as is” for learning throughout the curriculum, or to develop on-site habitats that benefit local wildlife. Workshops extend student learning from “awareness to action” on a school’s property.

WOW! Wonders of Wetlands
Curriculum for K-12 educators that focuses on wetland definitions, soils, hydrology, plants, animals, and supply issues. Includes 40 lessons and 70 pages of background material.
Phone: (609) 984-0583 or (609) 292-2113

Can’t find what you’re looking for? 
You might be interested in Request a Resource from They can help you find the educational materials you’re looking for on the web for FREE!

The following links will provide you with information on where to assemble supplies and materials for environmental programs. 

Acorn Naturalists
Offers trailside and classroom resources and materials for teachers, naturalists, interpreters, parents, and their children. Topics covered include botany, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fresh water and marine ecosystems, art, literature, and gardening.
Phone: (800) 422-8886
E-mail: [email protected]

Ben Meadows
Supplier of aquatic nets, microscopes, water quality testing kits, binoculars, and more.
Phone: (800) 241-6401

Carolina Biological
A reasonably priced supplier of field and classroom microscopes, insect nets, waders, and more.
Phone: (800) 344-3100

Other Resources:

State Environmental Education Directory Website
Provides information for educators, included programs, curriculum, training opportunities, volunteer programs, grants, and scholarships.

New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards
Educational standards adopted by NJ State Board of Education, they were created to improve student achievement by clearly defining what all students should know and be able to do at the end of 13 years of public education.

Alliance for New Jersey Environmental Education (ANJEE)
A privately supported, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and improving environmental education for people of all ages in New Jersey. Website has resources and grant opportunities.
Email: [email protected]

North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE)
A network of professionals, students, and volunteers working in the field of environmental education through North American and the world. Promotes environmental education and supports work of environmental educators. Website has publications, resources, events, and conferences.
Phone: (202) 419-0415

Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Educators (PAEE)
An organization dedicated to uniting, supporting, and inspiring individuals to be stewards of the environment. Website has conference information, job opportunities, an events calendar, and environmental links and resources.

Fundraising & Grants

Money is an overarching major internal concern for groups. Money is needed to obtain dedicated staff, pay the bills, and implement programs that will protect the rivers we dedicate our lives to stewarding. Fundraising is vital to securing the financial needs for the organization, but there are benefits beyond the monetary aspects. Fundraising is a communication, outreach and relationship tool for organizations.

When members are solicited or special events are held the group is communicating the organization’s mission. Fundraising efforts find, recruit, and link people who want to support the organization’s work. Fundraising establishes, maintains, and sustains relationships between the organization and donors. Fundraising also educates others who may not already understand the issues. Once awareness is heightened, fundraising can then inspire and motivate people to support the organization’s mission and efforts.

Dedicated fundraising efforts take time and energy to be effective. There are a variety of ways to begin a fundraising program and to maintain communication and relationships. Once a fundraising plan is put in motion, organizations begin to expand their network of people committed to common causes. For a comprehensive look at fundraising, watch this fundraising webinar provided by the Pro Bono Partnership as part of their Legal Issues for New Nonprofits series. For more information on specific topics related to fundraising, click on the links in the Fundraising Resources box below.

An annual appeal is a special fundraising effort done each year. Its purpose is to raise funds above and beyond any membership and grant funds you may receive.

In addition to raising funds for your organization, an appeal can help in cultivating and enhancing the loyalty of your membership and increasing the number of individuals interested in your cause. For example, an annual appeal provides the opportunity to:

  • Communicate your group’s accomplishments over the previous year.
  • Inform members of new initiatives in the coming year.
  • Upgrade current members’ giving levels.
  • Provide important facts about the watershed where your members live

Getting Started

While annual appeals may seem easier than your general membership campaign, it is important to plan the effort so that it is repeatable and you are able to track trends. Here are some thoughts for developing your first annual appeal campaign.

Plan It Out

Before launching into an annual appeal, take the time to think through both the big picture and the details. Set goals for how much money you want to bring in. Then, use those goals to decide who you will send the mailing to – will it go to members only, or will you send it to other donors and friends of the organization? Also consider the format of the appeal. Appeals are typically done as hard copy mailings. However, more groups are beginning to incorporate email appeals as well. You can pick just one method, or you can combine them, potentially by sending the initial appeal as a hard copy and following up with email reminders. The format will depend on your audience and the contact information you have available. You also want to consider how you will accept donations. Can donors send a check, pay by credit card, and even donate online?

Once you’ve set your goals and determined who your audience is, you can start planning the timing of your appeal. Timing The end of the year is a great time for fundraising because it coincides with the conclusion of the tax year. Many people look for ways to reduce their taxes, including making tax-deductible donations to organizations that deliver public and community services they care about. Another benefit of doing a year end appeal is that many people are feeling generous around the winter holidays. When deciding when to send a year end appeal, consider the volume of holiday mail and packages going out in December. Appeal times that have worked for other New Jersey watershed groups include just before Thanksgiving, the first week of December, and mid-December. There are many other times when you could do a successful annual appeal. For example, spring may be a good time for watershed groups since people are feeling more connected to nature. Or consider sending the appeal to coincide with one of your popular and successful annual events. By selecting a different time to send your appeal, you will be less likely to compete with all of the year end appeals. Test different timings, keep records and see what works for your group.

Developing Your Message

Reflect on and communicate your successes to your supporters, and inform them of what is to come. Here are some questions to help frame your accomplishments:

  • What were the most important programmatic accomplishments during the year?
  • How and where has your work reduced water pollution or improved the health of the watershed?
  • What were the most important organizational accomplishments during the year?
  • What activities has your group been involved in over the past year (e.g. planning, monitoring, public education, and general advocacy)?
  • What were the results of your activities? Was there an increase in public understanding and action, improvement in regulatory compliance, or better environmental conditions?

In addition to talking about your successes and work, be sure to:

  • Thank donors for their past support.
  • Make it personal and compelling. Try using a real life story to draw readers into the letter.
  • Explain why you are writing to them and what their donation will be used for.
  • Include personal handwritten notes from someone in your organization who knows the recipient.
  • Use white space and photos effectively to communicate your message. Use underlining or bolding to highlight important points.
  • Use the P.S. to reiterate your request or offer an incentive.

The Mailing

There is no sure fire way to achieve the most successful appeal. However, below are some suggestions to increase the chances that your appeal will be opened and read.

1. Mailing List
Mail to your general members and list of supporters. This may not be the best time to mail to people who do not already have a connection to your organization. You may also want to exclude those who have recently made contributions.

2. Outside Envelope
Get recipients to open the envelope! Some groups have used a red envelope to draw attention to it, while others have placed intriguing messages on the envelope. Make the outside look as personal as possible, handwrite addresses, and use a bulk mail or first class stamp.

3. Return Envelope
Providing a return envelope makes it even easier for donors to send in their contributions. Some return envelopes are very sophisticated, while others are as simple as printing your address on a small envelope.

4. Response Form
The response form can be a coupon at the bottom of your letter, a small card or half letterhead sheet. Be sure to list all of the giving options you offer and include a place for donors’ contact information. You can even preprint their contact information, and ask respondents to correct it as needed. Be specific about how they can contribute (check, credit card, online), and about the information you need for payment. For checks, indicate who to make the check payable to, and for credit cards, provide fields for type of card, card number, name on card, signature, and expiration date.

5. Inserts
Decide which inserts, if any, will support the message of your appeal. Photos, press clippings, and/or a list of accomplishments are inserts to consider if they are relevant and add interest. Email For email appeals, be sure to put some thought into the subject line. Make it short, yet interesting. You can even test out a couple of different subjects to see which gets the best response. Your appeal may need to be shorter than in a hard copy letter, in order to keep readers’ attention. Include your message in the body of the email, not as an attachment. Be sure to include a link to your online donation page. Processing the Response Send a thank you note to each donor. This is essential to building a loyal group of donors. Consider sending personalized, handwritten, thank you notes when you can, especially for large donations.

Important Note: For any single gift of $250 or greater, your organization must provide a formal letter to the contributor. The IRS requests that the following information be provided to the contributor: organization’s name, amount of money given, and statement indicating that the donor did not receive any goods or services for the gift. There is no standard form, so it may be beneficial to incorporate this information in your thank you note.


Keep records and compare your results from year to year in order to improve your fundraising efforts. This can also provide information for your annual budget. Items to track include the appeal costs (envelopes, postage, paper, staff time, etc.), the money received, the response rate (number mailed divided by number of respondents), the average gift, mailing date, and materials mailed. For email appeals, most e-newsletter programs can track the number of emails sent, the number of emailed opened, and the number of clicks on any links provided. Analyze what worked well and what you can improve on for next year’s efforts.

Helpful Hints

If yhelpful_hintou feel uncomfortable about sending out a letter, try a holiday card. Just be sure to include a way for recipients to donate. When ordering materials, make sure the letter and inserts fit in the envelope and that colors coordinate. The packaging and mailing of an appeal should not be overwhelming even for the smallest of groups. Host a mailing party and have fun by providing food, drinks and even music. When sending an appeal to members, be sure to clarify that any appeal donation is above and beyond their regular membership.

Further Resourcesresources

Grassroots Fundraising Journal, is a bimonthly magazine to help nonprofits raise funds. Their website also provides a Q&A column and articles on basic fundraising approaches. River Advocates Fundraising Guide, from River Network, is an online guide for river and watershed groups. River Network also provides an online library with information on writing appeal letters. Charitable Contributions: Substantiation and Disclosure Requirements, a publication from the IRS, details any requirements for acknowledging large donations and in-kind services.

Watershed groups perform a wide range of valuable services to the community. They work to promote the protection of local waterways and forests, restore polluted or eroded sites and habitats, testify against suburban sprawl, offer environmental education programs, and/or develop eco-tourism in their areas. Despite these inspiring aspirations, most nonprofits have extremely small budgets to implement these activities.

Nonprofits often rely on grant funding to carry out their missions and provide a financial base of support. A strong grant management program, which identifies potential projects and funding sources, clearly states needs and offers solutions, and properly manages their grants, can reap the monetary rewards of grants.

Getting Started

Funders want to fund projects that demonstrate creativity, clearly state a need, and outline a strategic approach to achieve goals. There are six steps to help develop a grant management program within your organization:

  • Develop a grant reference file,
  • Prioritize your funding needs,
  • Compile a list of funding prospects,
  • Cultivate funders,
  • Develop and submit timely proposals, and
  • Manage the received funds properly.

The grant reference file consolidates the organization’s information in a central file that is used for developing proposals (i.e. mission statement, resumes, budgets, program descriptions, testimonials, etc.). Use this information and your strategic plan to identify funding needs for your organization. Compare your identified projects with funders who match your interests and fund similar activities.

Funders often receive more applications than the grant program can support. Applicants need to be favorably distinguished against numerous other submitters. One idea to gain personal recognition is to contact the grant program manager directly and describe your project. Demonstrate that you have researched the funder’s interests and know they fund similar organizations. Celebrate your achievements/capabilities and convey how the proposed funding matches both your mission and the funder’s objectives. Listen and incorporate the funder’s feedback, and develop a clearly thought-out proposal. Grant reviewers can quickly identify well-designed proposals.

Upon receipt of grant funds the organization needs to properly manage funds and implement activities stated in the proposal. Continue to update funders with your activities. The key to a continued positive relationship between funder and recipient organization is the organization’s demonstration for managing the funds and project well. If this is your first grant proposal start small. Successful projects increase the likelihood for a funder to continue supporting your efforts and can open doors to new funding sources

Helpful Hints

Follow instructions. Complete all requirements and adhere to guidelines. Build momentum from the success of small attainable projects. Describe the need for your project. State your case by clearly stating the need and who benefits. Bullets arrange information into a quick, concise format to assist readers through a complex concept. Proofread! Ask people to review the document with fresh eyes.

  Further Resources
The Foundation Centerresources
River Network
The Watershed Institute’s Searchable Funding Database
River Advocate’s Fundraising Guide by River Network


There is continual struggle to balance energies for completing programs and governing the organization. Therefore, well-structured governance is important to charting a course for the organization. Governance allows a group to identify individuals to serve on the Board of Trustees to oversee and develop the plans and policies for the organization. When new organizations start as completely voluntary, the Board often carries the entire weight of the organization.

There is an enormous amount of work required to establish a smooth running operation, but organizations do not need to reinvent the wheel. Bylaws need to be written to determine the group’s structure, rights of participants, and procedures for exercising their rights. A comprehensive strategic plan clarifies and focuses the group’s efforts in terms of funding, staff, and resources. Budgets are created to monitor the financial aspects. This governance section identifies and provides the resources to help administer and manage the direction for the organization.

For a comprehensive overview of nonprofit governance, watch this free governance webinar provided by the Pro Bono Partnership, which is a part of their Legal Issues for New Nonprofits series. For more information on particular aspects of nonprofit governance, visit the links in the governance resources box.

Capturing Your Responsibilities & Organization’s History

Feeling overwhelmed with your organization’s paperwork? Financials are in one pile. The strategic plan is in the blue folder. There are five years worth of meeting minutes. This information needs to be maintained to facilitate the oversight of the organization you care passionately about. Being a board member feels like full time work in addition to your professional and personal life. Board binders are one way to collect the information generated from your nonprofit. In addition to organizing information for yourself, a well designed board binder can serve as a consolidated resource for new board members.

Getting Started

What do you need to create your all in one resource? A set of 5-inch binders and section dividers is a start. The next step is to determine what materials need to be included. Think about the reference materials that help the board govern (Bylaws, board agreements, committee descriptions, strategic plan) and what items are needed to properly oversee the nonprofit. The binder should become a constant source of reference for board members.

Below is a sample table of contents, and a list of resources within each section, for a board binder:

Tab 1: Board Member Background

– Board member contact information – Board member term limits
– Bios of board members – Board job descriptions

Tab 2: Meetings

– Agendas – Meeting minutes

Tab 3: Board Member Responsibilities & Bylaws

– Board responsibilities – Current strategic plan
– Current Bylaws

Tab 4: Financials

– Approved current year’s budget – Financial reports
– Most recent capital budget and needs list

Tab 5: Board Committees

– Summary description of each committee – Calendar of committee meetings
– Committee meeting structure and member listing – Committee calendar (date, time, and place for meetings)

Tab 6: Nonprofit Organization’s Program Materials

– Organization mission and vision statements – Organizational brochure
– Organizational historic timeline – List of accomplishments
– Map of watershed – Calendar of events

Tab 7: Staff

– Staff photos – Staff organizational chart
– Staff phone numbers and extensions – Summaries of each program

Tab 8: Archives

– Past long range strategic plans – Past years’ budgets
– Annual reports

Helpful Hints

Add educational articles on board governance to the binder. The materials can be handed out during a board meeting and your board can use the articles as reference materials. It is always a helpful reminder to hear from nonprofit management experts regarding best management practices for nonprofit boards.

resources Further Resources

  • Board Orientation/Training, The Management Assistance Program for Nonprofits. Offers a free management library with information on nonprofit boards.
  • Board Source. Develops publications on nonprofit governance and have numerous resources on board development.

After gaining board approval of your budget, you have a green light to spend and allocate funds throughout your organization. As you spend, keep records of how much money is used for each program or activity. This is essential for preparing financial reports at the end of the year in accordance with the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB).

The Financial Accounting Standards Board establishes standards of financial accounting and reporting. These standards govern the preparation of financial reports. Two standards, FASB 116 and FASB 117, are specific to nonprofit reporting. FASB 116 mandates that nonprofits must prepare an annual financial statement, known as a Statement of Financial Position. The Statement of Financial Position shows your organization’s financial health at a given point in time. It is prepared on the last day of the fiscal year and lists your group’s assets, liabilities, and any change in them from the beginning to the end of the year. In addition, organization’s must prepare the following statements to comply with FASB 116:

  • Statement of Financial Activity: The Statement of Financial Activity is essentially a profit/loss statement, which shows the amount of revenue that came into your organization versus the expenditures.
  • Statement of Cash Flow: The Statement of Cash Flow shows where money came from and how it was used. It combines your Statement of Financial Position and your Statement of Financial Activity.

FASB 117 explains how to report volunteer contributions. For example, if a lawyer contributes 20 pro-bono hours of work, those 20 hours count as a donation of time towards your organization. However, the hours an office volunteer works to fold and stamp envelopes do not count. Only hours from a specialized skill are included as a donation to your organization.

Getting Started

As the year moves forward and you navigate your budget, evaluate your progress. Are you spending too little or too much? Are actual costs exceeding proposed costs? Perform a variance analysis by measuring the variation between actual and proposed costs. If you are over budget, try to determine why. Were expenditures too high, or was revenue too low? For example,

  • Did your membership level decrease?
  • Did program supplies cost more than anticipated?
  • Did rent or utilities increase?
  • Did general donations decrease?

Keep detailed and thorough records of all sources of revenue and expenditures. These records will provide a starting point for the following year’s budget, and provide data to be used to analyze trends over the years. Knowing actual costs will help in determining how much money to allocate in future budgets.

Further Resourcesresources

  • Not-For-Profit Budgeting and Financial Management; Not-For-Profit Accounting, Tax, and Reporting Requirements; and Model Policies and Procedures for Not-for-Profit Organizations by Edward J. McMillan. Available from Wiley
  • The Budget Building Book for Nonprofits: A Step-by-Step Guide for Managers and Boards, by Murray Dropkin and Bill LaTouche. A guide on resources needed to develop a budget, including To-do lists, sample forms, worksheets, schedules, sample budgets, policies, and procedures. Jossey-Bass Inc., 1998.
  • Not-for-Profit Accounting Made Easy, by Warren Ruppel. Provides a practical, easy to understand explanation of the financial accounting and reporting standards of not-for-profit organizations. The book focuses on not-for-profit basics for those who lack a background in accounting principles and financial reporting. Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated, March 2002.

Whether large or small, it is in the best interest of all nonprofits to develop a budget. A budget is a financial plan. A budget is an approved plan for raising funds and spending that provides the financial support to achieve the organization’s annual goals. It is important to itemize how much money is needed to accomplish goal oriented tasks and from where this money will come.

In addition to itemizing the amount of money needed to achieve your goals and defining the sources for this money, budgets serve many other purposes. For example, budgets allow a nonprofit to:

  • Spend money cost-effectively,
  • Provide a well-thought out plan to a funder on how their money will be spent,
  • Measure and guide the organization’s long-term financial health,
  • Anticipate expenses and allocate money to pay for them, and
  • Control spending.

However, budgeting is a dynamic process and is not set in stone. As your organization’s needs change, your budget can be adjusted, with the proper foresight, planning, and justification.

Getting Started

Creating a budget may seem daunting to someone who does not have a financial background. However, it does not take an accountant to establish a budget. The budget development process is an all-inclusive process involving key staff such as the executive director, program managers, and account, to work along with board members such as the finance committee and board chair.

Allow enough time to prepare the budget to ensure a thorough discussion and time for researching costs of new initiatives. Determine when the budget needs to be passed and count backwards to allow enough time to draft, review, and approve the budget. This step-by-step guide below outlines the thought process for creating a budget.

Step 1: Strategic and Resource Planning
During strategic planning, evaluate your group’s mission. Determine your organization’s goals and objectives, and allocate resources to accomplish them. Write action plans to determine how you will achieve the goals outlined in your strategic plan.

Step 2: Estimate Revenues
Revenue is money your organization generates from programs, services, or grants. Estimate revenue by examining records from previous years. If it is the first year your organization is working with a budget, find organizations that do similar work and offer similar programs and services. Use them as a benchmark to estimate revenue for your group. Decide if a source of revenue will be short-term, or something your group can count on as an ongoing source. Be as realistic as possible with estimates, taking into account factors that may affect your revenue, such as competition and staff availability.

Step 3: Estimate Expenses
Try to predict the amount of money your organization will need to operate in the coming year. Consider staff salaries, utilities, rent, office supplies, printing, travel, marketing, and programs when totaling costs. Again, future cost estimates can be based on past needs. Throughout the process, identify areas where it is possible to reduce costs.

Step 4: Calculate and Evaluate the Fund Balance
Calculate a fund balance by subtracting expenses from revenue. A positive result is ideal to ensure your organization will have enough money to weather uncertainty, or to experiment with new programs.

Step 5: Establish a Budget Calendar
Budgeting is a team effort. Maintaining a calendar serves as a guide for how everyone can work together. Use the calendar to establish specific due dates, timelines, and responsibilities. For example, responsibilities of board members include reviewing your group’s mission statement, establishing budget policies, and reviewing and approving the budget. Program managers need to supply relevant budget and planning information for their projects and provide cost assessments for program development.

Step 6: Board Approval
Once your proposed budget is finalized, present it to the board for approval.

Links to several sample budgets can be found on the Foundation Center’s website.helpful_hint

Use a six month surplus rule. Aim to have enough extra money to sustain your organization for six months during hard times. A six month time period is a general rule. If your organization has too little surplus, it will be harder to navigate through rough times. However, if it maintains too much of a surplus, granters may be skeptical as to why you need grant funds. 

Further Resources

Tresourceshe Alliance for Nonprofit Management. Lists articles and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on financial management.
The Management Assistance Program for Nonprofits. Offers a free management library with information on nonprofit finances.
Nonprofit Genie. Offers answers to frequently asked questions regarding nonprofit finances and accounting.

  • The Budget Building Book for Nonprofits: A Step-by-Step Guide for Managers and Boards, by Murray Dropkin and Bill LaTouche. A guide on resources needed to develop a budget, including To-do lists, sample forms, worksheets, schedules, sample budgets, policies, and procedures. Jossey-Bass Inc., 1998.
  • Not-for-Profit Accounting Made Easy, by Warren Ruppel. Provides a practical, easy to understand explanation of the financial accounting and reporting standards of not-for-profit organizations. The book focuses on not-for-profit basics for those who lack a background in accounting principles and financial reporting. Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated, March 2002.
  • River Network‘s River Voices publication on budgets. Volume 14, Number 4, 2005.

Your Organization’s Backbone

Think of your nonprofit’s work as a journey down a river. A person traveling down a river uses a boat, such as a kayak. For the kayak to operate properly, it needs a strong framework. Your organization needs a strong framework to complete its journey as well. Just as nails hold your kayak’s wood together, Bylaws are the glue that hold your organization together. They provide the framework for the everyday operations of your group, establishing your organization’s internal operating rules and procedures. Just as a boat needs a captain and crew, your organization needs trustees, officers, and staff to accomplish its mission. Bylaws define items such as the term length for your organization’s trustees and the powers and responsibilities of your group’s officers. Bylaws are a basic document necessary to start your nonprofit on its journey.

In addition to establishing terms and responsibilities for trustees and officers, Bylaws define a host of other procedures for your organization, such as whether or not you will have a formal membership. They also restate items from your Certificate of Incorporation, such as your organization’s location and purpose.

Getting Started

Bylaws determine how the organization is structured, rights of the participants, and procedures for how they exercise their rights. For example, Bylaws establish rules and procedures for items such as the number of trustees on the board and how they are nominated. Bylaw content is generally standard. It includes Articles that discuss your organization’s location, purpose, trustees, officers, committees, records, and membership.

Although Bylaw content is fairly standard, there are many decisions to make while writing them. Therefore, your group should:

  1. Set aside plenty of time to decide on content and draft your Bylaws.
  2. Find a lawyer (preferably one who will work pro-bono) to review your Bylaws.
  3. Obtain a copy of sample Bylaws to use as a formatting and content guide.

In light of recent nonprofit ethical issues, spend time establishing a provision to handle potential conflicts of interest. If a trustee foresees having a conflict of interest, potential or real, in a matter that comes before the Board, he or she must advise the Board of this conflict and refrain from participating in any discussions or decisions that pertain to the matter.

Having these items in mind will facilitate the preparation of your Bylaws, enabling your organization to experience a smooth sail down the river. Contact organizations with similar missions and request examples of their bylaws, rather than reinventing the wheel. And remember to always keep your bylaws current to reflect the ongoing changes in your organization.

Helpful Hints

Use your Bylaws, rather than your Certificate of Incorporation, to establish a formal membership. If for some reason your organization decides to change the requirements of its membership, it is easier to amend your Bylaws than your Certificate of Incorporation.

Consider designating an odd number of trustees for your board. This prevents ties in voting.

 Further Resources

resourcesThe Foundation Center.Provides links to sample nonprofit Bylaws and a list of resources.
Board Source. Develops publications on nonprofit governance and has numerous resources on bylaws. Council of Nonprofits. Offers an example of Bylaws in a document entitled “How to Start a Nonproft – Sample Form.”

  • How to Form a Nonprofit Corporation: 5th Edition by Anthony Mancuso. Use this book for information on incorporation, writing Bylaws, and filing for tax-exempt status. NOLO, 2002.
  • The Nonprofit Board’s Guide to Bylaws: Creating a Framework for Effective Governance by D. Benson Tesdahl. Board Source, 2003

Charting Your Organization’s Course

As you set out on a river paddling trip, how do you know which path to take? Where do you launch your boat, stop for rests, or turn down a tributary? Water trail maps help you to make these decisions. A strategic plan is the water trail map for your organization. Developing a strategic plan encourages your organization to evaluate where it is and create a vision for where it’s headed, while also considering external factors that may influence your work. The plan itself tells you how to get from the present to the vision, from your boat launch point to your take-out point. It is a tool to energize and unify your board and staff, open up the channels of communication, encourage creativity in thinking and strategizing, improve your competitive position by demonstrating to funders that you are evaluating your organization, and enhance accountability and demonstrate results.

Getting Started

Before embarking on your strategic planning journey, you must first decide if your organization is ready to for the planning process. In order to move forward with a plan, you need to have a clear and realistic understanding of where your organization is right now. You also need support from your board, and executive director if you have one, for a planning initiative. Some key times to undergo strategic planning efforts are when your organization first forms, when there is a change in leadership, and in preparation for new ventures.

Strategic plans are best developed by board and staff members, but clients, partner organizations, funders, and possibly even former board or staff members, can provide valuable insight and may be asked to participate. You may not need your entire board and staff involved, but be sure to identify who the key players are, involve them in the planning process from the start, and ensure that each person’s role is clear.

The main elements included in most strategic plans are:

  • Mission – why your organization exists, purpose for which it was established.
  • Vision – where your organization hopes to be after plan implementation.
  • Values – the core beliefs that guide organizational strategies and decision making.
  • Strategic issues and direction– the priority topics or issues.
  • Goals – what your organization wants to accomplish, both programmatically and organizationally, in order to address the strategic issues identified.
  • Strategies – specific actions to be taken that will lead to goal fulfillment.
  • Performance measurements – indicators that you are achieving your overall strategic objectives. These can be numerical targets, milestones or other relevant benchmarks.
  • Implementation and evaluation plan – how the strategies will be carried out, who will take on each strategy, deadlines for the strategies, and a schedule and mechanism for evaluating progress.

Once the plan has been developed and approved by your board, your group is ready to set sail on a journey to implement the plan. There are many ways to implement your plan. Consider where in your organization’s work this can happen. You can break down the broader steps of the strategic plan into annual work plans/action plans for your programs and organizational functions. The broader actions are your water trail map: launch your boat here, turn left at this tributary. The work plan shows your specific paddling strokes along the way. Here are some of the most common steps towards implementation:

  • Distribute the plan to your board and staff, including new board members and staff as they join your organization, and review it with everyone who will be implementing it.
  • Revisit and review the plan on a regular basis at board and staff meetings.
  • Designate a specific person or committee to monitor the implementation of the plan.
  • Use the plan as a basis for job descriptions and performance reviews.
  • Link budgets and grant proposals to the plan.
  • Post the implementation plan in a visible place for all to see, and update it regularly.
  • Evaluate progress made by both individual programs and the organization as a whole.

Resources You Will Needresources

There are a variety of resources you will need in order to develop, implement, and evaluate your strategic plan. While each organization’s needs vary, here are some suggested resources to consider before setting out on your journey:

  • People! The individual people will vary, but consider a strategic planning committee, board and staff members, a consultant, and other stakeholders.
  • Time. The amount of time invested will vary depending on the nature of the plan, ability to reach consensus, etc.
  • Support. You will need support and investment from your board, executive director, and all those responsible for implementing the plan.
  • Knowledge. An understanding of both internal and external factors impacting your organization is important.
  • Paper and pen (or computer). The plan should be written down, not just in your head, and should be available to those responsible for implementing, evaluating, and revising it.
  • Funds. If you are an all volunteer group whose members have the experience needed to do strategic planning, there will be less of an investment of funds; the main cost would come from printing the plan. Staffed groups will also need to account for their staff time. However, if you feel you need to hire a consultant or facilitator, the amount of funds required will increase.

There are many funding opportunities for strategic planning work, and additional resources that can help you identify funding sources.

  • The Watershed Institute has a searchable funder database on its website. Additionally, The Watershed Institute Grant Program provides capacity building funds to watershed groups.
  • The Foundation Center allows you obtain contact information and 990’s for specific funders. They also have an online foundation directory available to members.
  • GrantStation has a searchable funder database available to members.

Helpful Hints

helpful_hint Plans should allow for flexibility. If you’re paddling down the river and there’s a fallen tree in your path, you would need to look for a way around it in order to reach your take-out point. External conditions, those over which you have no control, such as economics and politics, influence the strategies you can take. If you come up against a fallen tree in your path, revisit your plan. Are the goals still realistic? If not, revise them. If so, maybe the strategies need revision.

Ensure that all of the work you do brings you back to your mission and strategic plan by referring to the plan as you write grant proposals. This will guarantee that you do not completely deviate from your plan simply because a funding opportunity comes along.

Be sure to celebrate! Each time you evaluate plan implementation, acknowledge your achievements and reward and communicate progress. This will help keep your board and staff engaged in, and enthusiastic about, plan implementation.

Further Resources
Online Resources

  • CompassPoint Nonprofit Services. A consulting, research, and training organization providing nonprofits with management tools, strategies, and resources to lead change in their communities.
  • Institute for Conservation Leadership.Includes a resource center with links and articles on nonprofit assistance. Also provides a variety of programs, workshops, and training opportunities.
  • River Network. Offers a resource library containing a wealth of information on various topics, including strategic planning.
  • The Watershed Institute. Provides tailored advice to NJ watershed groups, free of charge. Also administers a small grant program for which strategic planning efforts are eligible. Various resources, including a searchable funding directory, are available on the website as well.


  • Field Guide to Nonprofit Strategic Planning and Facilitation by Carter McNamara from Authenticity Consulting, LLC. 2007
  • Presenting Strategic Planning: Choosing the Right Method for Your Nonprofit Organization by Michela M. Perrone and Janis Johnson from BoardSource. 2005
  • Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Organizations: A Practical Guide and Workbook by Michael Allison and Jude Kay from Support Center for Nonprofit Management. 1997
  • Strategic Planning Workbook for Nonprofit Organizations by Bryan W. Barry. 1997

Program Development

Watershed groups are innovators and regularly form new ideas to best attain and achieve your organization’s mission. Newly formed groups are eager to change the world and have an approach that often involves multiple strategies that they would like to undertake simultaneously. Each day groups strive to find the answers that turn ideas into goals. There is a struggle to nurture environmental stewardship transforming these ideas into sustainable programs. How can we leverage the personnel and financial resources to place the organization and its programs on the map?

Watershed groups are fortunate that overlapping of groups boundaries are few and far between. Successful programs can be transferred across boundaries. Partnerships can be established to leverage resources to start new programs. But just as organizations need plans to accompany new programs to ensure their effectivenss and longevity, existing programs need to be evaluated to enhance or expand their services to match community and organization needs. This Program Development section provides the resources to help plan, implement and evaluate programs.

Planning for evaluation from the very beginning is imperative. Refer to the Program Evaluation Resource Guide for tips and resources on program evaluation.

Tapping Into Others’ Expertise

Watershed associations work on a variety of projects to protect the health of their watershed. These projects may involve water quality monitoring, streambank restoration, assessing the health of the watershed as a whole, or working with municipalities on local environmental ordinances. As your organization takes on new projects, someone involved in the project should consider assembling and communicating with a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC).

A TAC is a group of outside advisors with relevant expertise that can help you throughout the entire process of a project. The role of the TAC is to provide outside, expert guidance and feedback on the scientific basis, methodology, and results of your project. Their participation will not only help you in the actual execution of your work, but will also lend credibility to your results.

As you organize your TAC, seek out people with areas of expertise related to your work. Depending on the project, ask individuals who work in fields such as groundwater, surface water, ecology, biology, chemistry, planning, and policy. Consider individuals with whom your organization has an existing and positive working relationship. The advantages to working with these individuals are that they are already familiar with your organization’s work and mission; their participation on the TAC will build upon their current relationship with the organization; and you are familiar with their professionalism, knowledge, and work product.

Getting Started

Forming a TAC requires convening a group of individuals with expertise related to your project. However, before you begin contacting people to join your TAC, identify the project goals. Identifying your goals will help in determining who should sit on your TAC. For example, if a project goal is to assess the health of a watershed and then implement strategies to improve its heath, include a scientist knowledgeable in monitoring (an assessment tool) and a municipal official on your TAC.

By establishing a working relationship with an official during the assessment phase of the project, you will have a contact and positive relationship to draw on during the implementation stage. This can prove to be extremely beneficial, since a municipal official can support the passage of ordinances to improve the watershed’s health. In addition, the involvement and support of this official shows the rest of the municipality that your organization provides solid, fact based information, thus giving credibility to your organization’s work.

Some helpful hints when assembling TAC members include:

  • Clearly identify the scope, purpose, and timeframe of the project up front.
  • As TAC members sign on, be clear about requests for review and associated deadlines. They will appreciate the clarity, and it will help keep you on schedule.
  • Decide how your TAC will communicate. Will you hold meetings, or circulate documents and comments via e-mail?
  • Communicate the time commitment that will be required from members.
  • Establish the role of the TAC: Will it serve primarily as an advisory body, providing feedback and suggestions? Or will it have more of a coordinating role, providing oversight and direction?

With its cumulative expertise and varied perspectives, a TAC is an invaluable source of advice and feedback. Not only should you view the TAC as an advisory body, but recognize that it can be an unexpected and serendipitous resource on matters such as additional data and scientific methodologies.

Helpful Hints

helpful_hint An individual’s expertise is extremely important to consider when recruiting members for a TAC. However, when asking an individual to participate, also consider if s/he will be willing and able to devote the time required to review documents and attend meetings.

Recruit some TAC members from local, neighboring communities. These individuals may be able to offer local knowledge and insights to a project, and may also be more likely to attend meetings if they do not have to travel great distances.

 Further Resourcesresources

Below is the contact information for several groups who may be willing to serve on a TAC for your organization. In addition to those listed below, consider other local organizations with whom you have a relationship, trust the quality of their work, or can provide specific expertise in the project area.

Managing Your Workload

Just as spring sets into motion various activities in nature, it also jump starts the number of activities for watershed groups. From community day events to monitoring stormwater runoff, you hit the ground running to try and accomplish everything that needs to be completed. The high pace of your work, however, continues throughout the year. Grant deadlines, maintenance of membership, and education programs are just a few of the projects that can easily escape your attention until the deadlines rapidly approach. Work plans take a proactive approach, “keeping an eye on the goal,” to manage resources, identify needs, and delegate tasks to ensure activities are successfully completed. Such a document is a valuable tool for efficient and effective program implementation and should be used regularly and consistently as a monitoring tool for projects.

A work plan is a document developed by the project manager and staff, which lists all planned activities, the date on which they will occur or by which they will be accomplished, the resources they will require, and the person who is responsible for carrying them out.

Work plans are beneficial because they:

  • Foster an atmosphere of teamwork and cooperation
  • Communicate to staff the range of activities carried out by others
  • Motivate staff to work toward challenging but realistic targets
  • Provide staff with a sense of accomplishment upon achieving their objectives and targets
Getting Started

We seem to automatically jump into projects such as a stream cleanups, and not take the time to proactively plan to answer the what, who, when, where, and how questions. It is easy to think that creating a plan is a waste of time and resources, but thorough plans can save time and resources. Work plans can motivate others to become involved to complete the tasks at hand, and cultivate leadership in your organization by activating your membership. The work plan can also translate into a standard operating procedure document for repeatable projects.

The first question to answer is what is the goal(s) for the project? Do you want to educate your members about nonpoint source pollution, increase unrestricted funding sources, increase your organization’s visibility, or all of the above? The goal translates into the vision of how this project will fit your mission. An example for membership efforts can be to increase your general membership through new membership strategies.

The next step is to determine what objectives need to be completed in order to attain your goal. There are many ways to accomplish your goal, so choose objectives that will have the largest impact. Objectives should be S.M.A.R.T. – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.

An example of a S.M.A.R.T. objective is to increase general membership by 25% in 12 months.
Specific – focuses on general membership
Measurable – targets a quantifiable increase in membership
Attainable – uses historical data to determine what is attainable, in this case we challenge ourselves to increase membership recruitment by 5% from last year
Realistic – financial and human resources are available to complete the project
Timely – sets a deadline to complete the plan in 12 months

After you determine the objectives needed to attain your goal, outline the strategies necessary to make it happen. Examples of objectives include:

  1. Set up an online membership form
  2. Target Princeton community for membership from Millstone Bypass success
  3. Hold watershed cleanups in 5 towns

Finally, determine the specific tactics that need to be undertaken to complete your objective. When framing the tactics ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What resources will be needed?
  2. Who will carry out these activities?
  3. When will the activities be conducted?

Now, the most important item to accomplish is to set these ideas down on paper in the form of a work plan. One time projects can easily be written into a table or calendar format. For repeatable and complicated projects it may be advantageous to accompany the calendar with a narrative describing the purpose and goals for the project, e.g. membership plans.This process is where you determine what resources are needed; you may find out that this objective may not be attainable. It can alleviate burnout by identifying areas where you can bring in volunteers to help meet specific tasks and deadlines.


  • Goal: Membership Recruitment to increase general membership by 25% in 12 months.
  • Target: Obtain 188 new members (25% of 754 members)
  • Results: 180 new members (8 members short of goal)

Click to Review Sample Table & Calendar Formats

Once the plan is complete, communicate your approach throughout the organization and monitor the progress. Reflect on both the process and the results. If you plan to repeat the project, incorporate changes from the lessons learned on the experience. Then, for next year, another member of the organization can take the document and run the program.


Watershed groups cannot achieve their mission without the support of the community. In order to obtain that support, people in the community need to know the organization and understand its mission and programs. When the organization writes an editorial for the local newspaper or distributes educational pamphlets a particular topic/subject the group is increasing its visibility in the region. How the organization packages the information directly affects how the public views the group.

People support groups whose mission resonates with their values and who they believe can successfully accomplish projects on the ground. There are many stakeholders within a watershed, each with their own values. There are also a multitude of ways to reach these stakeholders. Strategic communication helps mobilize the public and provides name recognition to increase the organization’s reach and visibility in the community.

Increasing Your Organization’s Visibility

Your nonprofit formed to accomplish a set of goals, fulfill its mission, and make a difference on local issues. One of the keys to accomplishing your goals is community support. To keep your organization on a successful course, you need to maintain strong visibility and advertise your organization’s success. Effectively promoting your organization’s achievements will help the public view your group as a leader in the community working on their behalf. Without strong publicity to promote your work, your organization will have more difficulty achieving its goals and reaching its full potential.

Getting Started

The media (both online and in print) is a great tool to promote your group. Some common promotional tools to advertise your organization’s work include newsletters, your website, social media, community events, press releases, media advisories, press conferences, letters to the editor, opinion editorials, and interviews. All of these mediums help to promote your organization, keeping it afloat and carrying it forward to achieve its goals.

Use your organization’s website, social media pages, print newsletter, or online newsletter to post a calendar of events, list of programs, and current issues. In today’s world, online postings can be particularly effective, and there are many free options for getting your organization’s name out on the web. In many cases, the internet is the first place people turn when they want to find out information about a cause or organization, so it’s crucial to cultivate an online presence. Facebook and Twitter are popular free social media sites where you can advertise your organization and your work to potential constituents. There are also sites that will allow you to build free websites (, etc.), which are a wonderful way to show your target audience that you have a presence in your watershed and to showcase the work that you are doing. If you are not familiar or comfortable with managing online media, consider hiring an intern or volunteer to assist you. Many high school and college students have strong web/social media skills and would love  to be able to have your organization on their resume.

Start by focusing on your membership to increase their awareness about your organization and its work. Target your membership through your website and newsletter. Also consider developing a membership e-mail list to keep your members abreast of current happenings and programs within your organization. Highlight community issues your group is tackling as well.

Press releases are another means to get the message out and can fulfill two purposes. The first is volunteer recruitment, since press releases both generate interest in a project or event and include details on how to participate. The second purpose is to publicize events after they occur (journalists often use releases as foundations for articles). Be sure to include contact information, as reporters may wish to speak with you further if they have questions or need more information.

Media advisories are also brief documents, but they are designed to notify the press of upcoming community events to encourage full media coverage (print and photo). Like press releases, media advisories provide the who, what, where, when, and why of a program or project, but generally do not include schedules of future projects.

To assist in getting started, compile the following resources:

  • List of local media contacts. Developing and maintaining a current list of media contacts is helpful when submitting press releases and media advisories and holding press conferences. Update this list every few months to keep it current.
  • Printed materials, such as newsletters, brochures, and fact sheets, that detail your organization’s mission and programs, to be used at community events.
  • Display board with photos representing all of your programs, for community events.

As you begin to work with the media, build and maintain working relationships with reporters and print journalists. Maintaining a positive relationship can benefit your organization when submitting press releases and media advisories.

helpful_hint Helpful Hints

Always remember to thank the board for their time and attention.

Being a good listener is just as important as being a good speaker. Come to a public hearing with an open mind, and be an active listener. It is important to hear all sides of the debate and really understand other opinions and messages so you can form your own response.

 Further Resourcesresources

  • Community Toolbox. This series, from the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program, provides tips on press releases, press conferences, and more.
  • Green Media Toolshed. Use this site for information on the media, including how to write an effective media advisory and press release.

Power of Public Participation on Land Use Decisions

A new development proposal was recently submitted to your town’s planning board. The development is along the river and plans to create 60 acres of impervious land cover. The proposal triggers almost every local and state regulation: stream encroachment, wetlands, soil suitability, steep slopes, and endangered species.

Land use changes do not happen randomly. They are planned and outlined according to specific rules in your community and may involve state regulation approvals. If you have concerns about development issues in your community get involved! Depending on the issue, your concerns may be addressed through a few phone calls. However, for more complex projects, your participation may be more lengthy and valuable!

Getting Started

If you want to prevent development or insist the project properly manages the environmental constraints, it is important to become involved early. It is also important to be aware of your role and understand the process in order for your concerns to be heard and heard clearly. Here are six steps to effectively advocate your organization’s position.

1. Learn the Status of the Project
Contact the municipal clerk’s office or planning department to understand the review process and important deadlines for hearings and comments. Learn about the status of the Preliminary Site Plan Review. Ask about the role of the township, county and state in the necessary review and decisions on pertinent site plans and permits. Do not miss these opportunities to get involved.

2. Ask Questions
Informally discuss the project plans with the Chair of the municipal Environmental Commission or members of the Town Council, or Planning Board to understand their position on the project; to understand the review process; and to express your initial concerns. Here are some initial questions to consider.

  • How is the property it zoned? What is the minimal lot size 1-3 acres or more?
  • Will the proposed development be serviced with public sewer and/or water? Or will on site septic systems and wells be used?
  • Is the site in an area designated by the town within a conservation area or growth area?

3. Identify Partners: 
The support from neighbors, your town’s environmental commission, or other local groups will be beneficial to affect decisions. These allies can quickly help you become more familiar with the planning process and how best to proceed to articulate your concerns and recommendations.

  • Call your neighbors and friends – learn who may share your concerns and may be planning to get involved or attend upcoming meetings?
  • Organize an evening of cake and coffee at your home to discuss everyone’s concerns.
  • Maintain positive rapport with your township officials – that includes the township clerk, town council, mayor, planning board, and environmental commission members.
  • Obtain their contact information from the town clerk. Let them know that you have concerns about this project and request a meeting to discuss the issues.

4. Summarize the Information
Develop a synopsis of the project and your concerns early in the process. Explore the positive or negative effects of the project on your neighborhood, town or region – the environment and community. Prioritize the most important or serious aspects and clarify your concerns so that others will understand these important issues.

  • Did the Environmental Commission of Planning Board have any comments? Review these comment letters and write letter of support if appropriate.
  • Does a town ordinances require an environmental assessment for major developments?
  • Review this assessment if it has been submitted?
  • Did your community outline goals or ordinances that are protective of natural resources? Review the site plan for consistency and compliance with these measures.

5. Publicize Your Concerns
There are many ways to publicize your concerns including, written comment letters, testimony, petitions, flyers, websites or news editorials. By publicizing your concerns you may gain more supporters, not only from your neighbors but also from the town officials. Many voices speaking together can have more influence on decisions than an individual!

6. Attend and Participate at Public Hearings
Speaking up or testifying at meetings and public hearings may seem overwhelming, especially when discussions are heated. Though you might feel intimidated, you can and must speak up for your concerns. You are an important representative of the community and have the right to communicate your position! But be ready for some long nights!

Be familiar with the public hearing process
The public may need to register to speak at a hearing. Be sure that your name gets on this list. You can decline to speak later if others have adequately addressed your concerns.

Be an effective speaker
Introduce yourself to the board, and provide your address, and state why the issues concern you. Impacts to public health and safety and to the environment are important and valid concerns.

Stay calm when discussing your concerns. Focus on the issues, not politics or personalities. It is important to be clear and concise in presenting your findings, and it demonstrates that you value their time.

helpful_hint Helpful Hints

Local, weekly papers are a great resource for submitting press releases and media advisories. However, they are not the only resource to consult. Also contact daily papers and television stations, including news stations, local cable networks, and local community bulletin board channels. Contacting a diverse group of papers and stations increases your chances of publication or broadcast.

Plan for the possibility of being interviewed. Prepare key points ahead of time and stick to them. Throughout the interview, relate your comments back to your key points as often as possible. Be concise and engaging. Reporters look for captivating phrases, but will often edit your comments to one sentence. 

Further Resourcesresources

The following resources can assist you in engaging in the public participation process.

Giving Voice to Your Organization

Communicating who you are and what you do is one of the most important skills a nonprofit organization can learn. New Jersey’s environmental nonprofit world is populated with small and large groups like yours doing the important work of protecting, preserving, maintaining and monitoring our natural resources. Often, the viability of these groups depends on communicating their success stories to members, funders, and partners.

An organizational newsletter can be a great communication tool, but be sure to plan yours well.
A bad newsletter may be worse than no newsletter!

Getting Started

Once you have established that an effective newsletter is indeed a benefit to your organization, the next step is to determine what form you want it to take. Should it be in print or electronic form? Should you post it on your website? How often should you publish? Who is your audience? Are you preaching to the choir (your members) or are you trying to bring new people in to your organization and programs with the publication? How much is your budget? How much staff or volunteer time can you dedicate to producing the newsletter?

Many smaller organizations feel the constraints of limited staff time to dedicate to their newsletters and the corresponding squeeze on their budgets. Although publishing a newsletter will cost money, there are ways to minimize costs without compromising on a content-driven, visually appealing and readable newsletter. See the Helpful Hints for some cost saving ideas.

Be sure to also review the format and content of your current newsletter if you have one. Is the writing style consistent? Does your newsletter have a good story mix, including a wide variety of article types and topics? Does the newsletter directly address readers, inspire action, and/or solve reader problems? How about branding and image? The stylized name of your newsletter (nameplate) should be prominently displayed on the first page. A nameplate does not change issue to issue, so seek a design that is eye-catching and memorable. Did you include a masthead as well (a citation of the newsletter’s publisher/editor/organization staff with contact information)?

Consistency is key to a visually attractive and effective newsletter. Page to page, issue to issue, it is important that your newsletter maintain a uniform look. Readers anticipate the same columns and features in each issue, and look for them in the same location. Across the board, experts agree that a simple design is often best. A poorly designed newsletter is hard to read. In Every Nonprofit’s Guide to Publishing, Woodard and Hwang sum up the key elements to an effective newsletter design: “a large, eye-catching title logo or masthead; a clean and organized layout; one good piece of art; and headlines that promise the reader valuable information are often enough.”

resources Resources You Will Need

The following resources will assist in the production of an effective newsletter, whether in print or electronic form. The time taken to develop these resources will be time well spent.

  • An evaluation of what needs to change in your current newsletter. This includes considering the possible benefits of an electronic newsletter for your publication.
  • An editorial mission to guide the focus of article content. An editorial mission describes the purpose of the newsletter. For example, if your editorial mission is to keep members informed of efforts to protect and restore water and the natural environment of the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed, then every issue and article should have an obvious connection to protecting and restoring the Watershed. If you cannot make the connection briefly and clearly, the article does not belong in the newsletter!
  • An editorial calendar to help anticipate and meet publication deadlines. Create a calendar to plan themes, article content, and contributors several issues in advance. The editorial calendar should include in-house editorial deadlines as well as printer deadlines and turn-around times. This will help all involved work together in a timely manner.
  • A style sheet and grid/template to ensure a visually consistent product. One of the first steps to facilitate this consistency is to establish a style sheet, which sets the formatting that will remain constant with each issue.

helpful_hintHelpful Hints

Electronic delivery is an important option to consider. Environmental nonprofits need to know that “the medium is the message.” Consider websites, emails, and electronic newsletters when planning or revamping your communications. Consider polling your readers to find out what format (print vs. electronic) they prefer to read, and what electronic formats they are comfortable using.

When considering the tone and posture of your newsletter, be aware that articles advocating particular legislation or endorsing political campaigns may run counter to your nonprofit status with the IRS. For more information visit the IRS web site:

Look to local universities for talented design students to provide you with the design you require at a more affordable rate while they gain the experience they need.

Obtain multiple printing quotes. Send several printers the same information in order to find the best deal. Make sure to include the following information: number of pages, type of paper stock (recycled content, paper weight, color, bulk [thickness] and surface quality [glossy or not]), color printing needs, if any, and what type of binding you need (most commonly newsletters are bound with staples along the center fold).

Further Resources

  • Business know-how Helpful article and links addressing issues that arise with spam.
  • Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email The FAQ section is especially helpful for addressing spam issues.
  • Idealware This website contains a wealth of resource articles on many information technology needs, including online publishing and broadcast email tools.
  • Water Words That Work Blog by Eric Eckl, an environmental communication consultant, focused on helping the conservation world find more effective ways of translating “environmental shoptalk” into everyday language.

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