Archive for February, 2013

What Can We Learn NOT TO DO From Cirque du Soleil?

Julia LuI would venture a wager that most of you reading this have heard of Canada’s cultural icon, Cirque du Soleil, the company that introduced a new concept of a circus over a quarter century ago.  Probably many of you have attended one of their performances.  I had been a loyal patron for many years and eagerly awaited Cirque setting up its big top each year.  My feelings towards the company started to shift a few years ago when they moved indoors to venues such as Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall.  At first I was excited by the prospect of more performances, but I found myself disappointed after attending them.

I was saddened to see a spate of recent international news coverage chronicling the travails of this once programmatically and financially successful organization.  The profit-making company revealed that it is no longer profitable, despite grossing over $1 billion last year and selling 14 million tickets.  The company is undertaking a drastic cost savings plan that includes laying off 9% of the staff; the Quebec government is no longer providing financial support; and some of Cirque’s long-time partners have withdrawn their support.  With the move to new venues and markets, Cirque lost sight of its mission, organizational vision and artistic motivations.

Cirque’s current conditions are partially rooted in their selection of a new CEO in 2001 who made as his primary focus increasing revenue by 25% annually.  They tripled performances, entered untested markets, and ventured away from their core concept into magic, variety and musical shows–areas beyond their expertise.

What parallels do you see between your current challenges and Cirque’s high-flying acts, and how do you think Cirque’s missteps could have been avoided?  I for one see weak organizational leadership, lack of focused institutional planning, mission drift, loss of long-time programmatic partners, loss of financial supporters, withdrawal of government funding, the absence of a useful dashboard to monitor performance on an ongoing basis, the hazards of a leadership transition, and a fraying business model that needs to be retooled.

Cirque could have mitigated some of these conditions if they had undertaken solid strategy planning that incorporated equal parts mission and revenue.  While those of us in the nonprofit sector are more oftentimes motivated by mission, we should never lose sight of maintaining a balance between these two variables.  The CEO was probably the ideal person when hired, but organizational leadership was either insufficiently engaged or lacked the courage and/or data needed to make tough decisions along the way as their world changed around them.  Had they done so–and these things are never easy–Cirque may have averted their current critical state.

All of us at the Support Center/Partnership in Philanthropy are well acquainted with the circumstances like these, as they relate to nonprofits of all sizes. We have experienced consultants who can help your organization confront your challenges and overcome them.

Give me a call at 917-522-8308 to find out how we can help your organization, or just let me know which is your favorite Cirque show!

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Julia Lu

Director of Consulting

Categories: Uncategorized

Welcome to our new Associate Director — Heather Robinson!

Heather Robinson Photo

We are proud to welcome Heather Robinson as Associate Director. Based in our new Newark, NJ office, Heather will focus primarily on grantmaker relationships and strengthening the Support Center’s development capacity.

Heather is a recognized leader in both the philanthropic and nonprofit arenas in the Northeast region of the United States.  She served as Partnership In Philanthropy’s Executive Director/CEO for two years and played a key role in fostering the merger of Partnership In Philanthropy with the Support Center.  Prior to her CEO role, she served as Partnership In Philanthropy’s Marketing & Development Director for three years.  Earlier in her career, Heather served as the Executive Vice President of the Drucker Foundation in New York, an organization whose mission is to strengthen the leadership of the social sector by providing nonprofit executives with essential leadership wisdom, inspiration and resources.  Before moving to New York City, Heather was the Director of the Massachusetts Bar Foundation, Boston, which funds legal services to the poor.

Heather received her B.A. in Art History from George Washington University and her M.A. in Museum Administration from Seton Hall University. She is a board member of the Chatham Education Foundation and is also a volunteer with the Junior League of Summit, Chatham Recreation and the Girls Scouts.

Contact Heather (917)-868 1957 or if you are a grantmaker or supporter, or want to know more about supporting our activities.
Categories: Uncategorized

Brooklyn AIDS Task Force Seeks CEO

BATF LOGOBrooklyn AIDS Task Force (soon to be known as Bridging Access to Care) is seeking a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to lead BATF in its transition to a full-service organization providing health and related services to high-risk urban populations. The CEO will oversee operations at four sites, a budget of $8 million, and over 75 professionals providing a broad spectrum of services including licensed mental health and substance abuse clinics, Health Home Care coordination, health education, chronic disease management, case management, and housing. The CEO will directly supervise BATF’s growth in emerging service models while holding true to its historic mission to serve the hardest-to-reach groups in New York.

Click here for the full position description and additional information.

BATF retained the Support Center to provide Executive Search and Transition Management services.


Impact 100 Garden State 2013 Grant

impact 100 garden state

Impact 100 Garden State, a new philanthropic organization in the state, is seeking grant proposals from non-profit groups that have programs or projects in Morris, Passaic, Somerset and/or Sussex counties. Grants are welcome in any of five

focus areas: arts and culture, education, environment, family, health and wellness.

Impact 100 operates on a simple concept that has been very successful in many other areas of the country.  Gather 100 women to join together to make one transformational grant.  The number of members will determine the size of the grant.

 Membership in Impact 100 Garden State is open until March 31. At that time they will announce the exact amount of the 2013 grant. Letters of Intent are due between April 15 and May 15, and full applications are due by June 15. Final selection will be announced in October. Read more at

Taproot Foundation Service Grants

 Taproot Foundation makes teams of pro bono consultants available to qualified organizations that improve society and the New York City community-at-large. Unlike traditional foundations, Taproot Service Grants provide the expertise of business professionals in the areas of Marketing, Information Technology, Human Resource, and Strategy Management. Our projects provide high potential nonprofits with the tools and services you need to strengthen your organization and serve your communities.

Deadline to apply is March 1, 2013. For more information please go to 

Categories: RFP

Highlights of the Support Center’s Nonprofit Management Workshops in 2012:

  • 97 workshops in 5 categories – Board & Governance, Fundraising, Marketing & Communications, Organization Development and Professional Development
  • 2,922 people from 2,062 organizations attended
  • 41 facilitators contributed their expertise
  • 185.5 Gallons of coffee consumed!
Categories: Uncategorized