#140 Helping Nonprofits and Organizations Create Collaborative Budgets with Lisa DeBruyckere, Creative Resource Strategie

Aug 07, 2023

Lisa DeBruyckere is a seasoned consultant who has worked with nonprofits since the age of 18 and . knows how to support diverse organizations to come together and create joint budgets to solve major societal challenges.

Lisa shares her experience working with organizations like the Ocean Science Trust and the Oregon Marine Reserve Partnership, helping them articulate their needs and develop a strategic plan and budget that  brings together diverse interests, such as researchers, scientists, and other organizations, and to articulate a shared vision. 

Episode Highlights:

  • The best way  a donor can ask nonprofits with different expertise to stop competing with one another and instead create a joint budget and project together
  • How a strategic and focused plan can help serve as the basis of an effective collaborative budget.

Lisa DeBruyckere Bio:

Lisa DeBruyckere has bachelor’s degrees in journalism and Natural Resource Management and a Master's Degree in Natural Resource Management from the University of Maine at Orono. Lisa worked for 21 years in state natural resource agencies and universities in Missouri and Oregon - 7 years in executive levels - before starting her own natural resource consulting business, Creative Resource Strategies, in 2002. Lisa enjoys working with agencies, nonprofits, industry, academia and others to articulate and realize a shared vision for the health and well-being of natural resources and the many people that benefit from their stewardship.​


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 Full Transcript: 

Lisa yay. This is so much fun. I am so happy to have you on my podcast. The reason I wanted you to be an interviewee is I am focusing for the month of August on how donors can support the nonprofits they care about and other folks they care about in creating a budget for their work that's effective specifically - I mean talking about budgets in general - but I specifically wanted to talk to you about how you have helped nonprofits and organizations create budgets when the budget is actually a collaborative budget. 

There are a lot of different organizations that have needs to solve a specific problem. And this is one of the toughest kinds of budgets to develop for a nonprofit, when you're a donor, you'll get something like a budget that specifically explains what that one nonprofit needs. But I find that the toughest time is when we, as donors, ask for a collaboration of nonprofits or groups to come together and be just... We always say why don't you just give me a budget? Why don't you just tell me, as a collaboration, what extra things you need? What do you need to keep going? Fundamentally, I find that it's really challenging for nonprofits if we, as donors, just sort of throw it. Out there like that.

So, I was thinking back on all my years as a person working with donors. And thinking back, like, who is the person? That gave me one of the most effective kinds of collaboration budgets. I thought Lisa! She did that. You did that, Lisa, and it was amazing. Hats off to you! So, you're a rockstar. And so, I reached out to you, and I'm just so grateful you're on my podcast. So, we can talk about the elements. And that, you think in creating these collaboration budgets, where there are lots of different groups that have competing priorities but are all working towards a common goal, how do you bring them together? Have one ask.   

But before we go there, I know my listeners are eagerly awaiting to hear your advice, but let's talk about who you are. Tell me about you. You're this awesome consultant who's done all these different interesting things. So, talk to me. A little bit about that, and what brought you into the space you're working in today?

Well, I grew up in New England, so I grew up in a coastal environment. I moved to the West Coast in the late 90s and to another coastal environment, and I have worked and been associated with nonprofits really since about the age of 18 when I first joined my own nonprofit. I became a member of organizations in which I had a significant interest. So even at a fairly young adult age, I just, I guess, recognized early on the value of nonprofits and the role that they play in sort of making society whole.

And I think that just naturally led through my career as I opened up my own business in the early 2000s to really figuring out a way to bring everybody together to help solve and address a lot of the most complex natural resource issues that we deal with. One of the components of that is really talking about a subject that you've brought up today, and it's not a sexy topic. People don't like to do budgets. It's hard work, its spreadsheets, its numbers, and it's not the fluffy stuff that people often like to associate with nonprofits, but it is one of the most important pieces. And so, I do think it's critically important to bring nonprofits together with industry, academia, and agencies, to create that big picture that can ultimately be effective.

Lisa, let's talk about some of the things… I'm familiar with your work, you know, is in certain areas. But I also want to hear about anything you're most proud of in terms of examples of how you brought people together here. How about the Ocean Science Trust? You know, how have you worked with them to help them articulate what their needs are?

Also, you know the Oregon Marine Reserve Partnership; you helped them with their collaborative budget, and of course, you do way more than that. But I wanted to just talk to you a little bit about those experiences and some words of advice you might have for donors when they're asking folks to come together, to nonprofits, to come together, and others, from other expertise in academia and others, to come together in a joint budget.

Yeah, that's a great question. So, when I think, I guess one of the first approaches I do is take a step back.

I'm not the important piece in the equation. I'm just the facilitator. And so, I try to …

Hey, hey. Facilitators are important, Lisa.

They are, but I think the key message there is It's not about me and what I want or envision. It's about really helping people that have a vision come together and collectively work together to realize that vision, and that's what I love to do: just work in the background to help people make that happen.

And so, I do provide administrative support to the Oregon Ocean Science Trust, and one of the first things we did was develop a strategic plan. And I'm not talking about a 50-page document that sits on a shelf. I'm talking about working with a group of people to articulate 8 to 10 objectives to really define what they want to do over an explicit period of time.

And then I guess One of the most important pieces is how they will evaluate success after that time period. And I think that's one of the biggest pieces that often gets left out. Out are the performance metrics of You know how we should be able to say, as a nonprofit, after a certain period of time, we set out to do this? We did this. Did we achieve our goals, and were we successful?

Hey, Lisa. So, you're saying first, even before you do a collaborative budget, you have to make sure you have a joint strategic plan. Tell my listeners a little more about the Oregon Ocean Science Trust in terms of who's participating in that conversation.

So, the Oregon Motion Science Trust is composed of a board of individuals that represent other nonprofits. The Oregon State University Sea Grant Program, people associated with the Gorge Commission, scientists—all of these different individuals.

Yeah. Yeah. So that's the whole point that I was trying to make that you're working with all of these diverse interests. It's not like one NGO with one budget. You're saying, OK, everybody with all your interests in the Oregon Ocean Science Trust, let's create our own strategic plan, but also a budget that's connected with that. 

And it's tough to do because a researcher or a scientist on a board is looking at the science. And someone else from a university is looking at it from a whole different perspective, incorporating concepts like diversity, equity, inclusion, and a lot of other things that their organizations generally focus on. And so, it's being able to pull all of that together and say, OK, we have all these different interests, but this is our shared vision together.

How do you find that that's articulated by then putting the money question in, because that's always so sensitive? How did you get The Oregon Ocean Science... I know it's not you … but how did the Oregon Ocean Science Trust create that strategic plan? Then have that translated into, OK, what are the top research projects for which we need actual funding? Because all the different organizations probably had different priorities, I'm guessing about their top research projects. But how do you get them to support them?

And you're not about supporting them and maybe reducing their own individual organizational priorities for the common good to then have a combined ask to funders and donors where that's sensitive because those donors could also potentially be funding them individually. And not individually. That's through the nonprofit, agency, or whatever they're looking at.

So, there's this inherent tension there. How did you help them break through? In addition to doing the strategic plan, I'm getting to that money question?

So, for the Oregon Ocean Science Trust, it's relatively easy in terms of being streamlined because that particular nonprofit is focused on coastal and ocean research and science. And so, the best way to get that shared vision for where that money should be spent is to bring together West Coast researchers and scientists. Have a summit and give them an opportunity over a 2-day period to define Oregon's Ocean and coastal research priorities.

Ah, so what you're saying is that there's a very specific, narrow definition of what success means for this particular collaboration. I think that's really important because where I've seen things fall down is because if the vision for the collaboration is too broad, then people start getting competitive. But if you're really right and you also had legislation, there was legislation that said it was a law, not legislation. But it's a law that lays it out what has to happen as well so people can't really start trying to feel like they can jockey for position in their own organization? They have to like it if they're going to support it has to be that narrow common vision. I love that. Thank you. 

You bet. And one of the best things the facilitator can do is just keep pulling them back to their strategic plan. So, if they start to go off on different paths. That's why having that strategic vision on paper is so important because you can bring them back to that.

But also, I know you're not wanting to eat at home, but having a neutral facilitator, someone that everyone trusts in the background, seems important. Let's move over to another example of how I Saw you work. For a while, I know you don't represent them anymore, but the Oregon Marine Reserve Partnership, for a certain time, was sort of thinking through what their next step was going to be. And that's what made me think of you. Some of my client’s fund ocean work, and at the time you put it together, I knew it wasn't just about you again. I'm going to keep saying that.

But the team put together an amazing coalition budget that on the top you put what are the joint needs? And then each individual organization underneath said, okay, well, here's what each individual needs we have, and here's where we're already funded and here are our gaps.

And it was just so impressive to me because I was able to then talk to other funder colleagues about it. How they could maybe help and support me, tell me more about how that process went, and let me know any words of wisdom that you might have about how we could do this successfully in the future.

So, for the Oregon Marine Reserves Partnership, one of the key things that I really needed to keep in mind was that it already comprised a suite of nonprofit organizations. So, one of the best ways to keep a nonprofit engaged in a consortium of organizations like that is to ensure their needs are being met. And that we understand what their vision is and what their strategic plan is.

So, for a consortium like that with a number of nonprofit organizations, it was important to build that overall budget to meet the needs of the larger vision of all the organizations at the same time. Ensuring that wherever the individual nonprofits made their investments, they aligned with our budget correctly.

So, in other words, if a group like Audubon wants to play a role in a marine reserve budget or an ocean budget. One of the best places to create that Nexus is through anything associated with birds in that larger consortium budget, so always look at the needs of the organization contributing. As well as the needs of the larger collaborative, it's critical, or you'll lose these nonprofits.

Right. And again, it's also important that there's a facilitator like you, I think, helping that conversation, because if Audubon itself is, for example, they don't do this, but like they're saying, OK, we're going to be the lead in creating the entire coalition budget, but then everyone else in the coalition is feeling like -- Wait a minute; But Audubon's priority is birds, and our priority might be something different -- Are they really going to be doing that, you know, of course sometimes, that can happen. It works well if there's a lot of trust between the groups. The thing is, it's not really about trust. It's also just about the brass tacks of what the needs of each group are.

So, if you have a facilitator, in helping that collaboration happen, can you really pull out what are they? Specific needs of each thing in each organization. And then that organization can put that together and see that it's additive too. 

Do you ever see an example or have an experience in general? Where you get some pushback. Of course, you don't. It can be anonymous, but like any pushback where people say, oh my gosh, this might take away from my organization, I don't want to be part of this collaboration because I'm nervous about it. And how do you work through that kind of challenge?

You know, I think developing a relationship with the funding organization and doing your homework up front. I mean, when I go into a collaborative, I've been a part of a number of different collaboratives on the West Coast. It's really my job to understand what their interests are and what their mission is. Why are they a part of this? Understanding all of that upfront is going to prevent that kind of thing from happening.

So, if I see any red flags early on or warnings that a group is feeling uncomfortable, it's really just a matter of having a conversation and saying, OK, what are you uncomfortable about? How can we make this right? What's the best place that you think you can fit into this? And I think letting them drive the train as part of the effort is really the key piece to not making too many assumptions about the organization in advance.

And I think that's another important piece, Lisa, letting them drive the train. So, I think that's one of the reasons I wanted to have this interview with you. Sadly, if a facilitator that's working on these collaborative-type budgets is doing a good job, the donor may not even know. About that facilitator and it probably will be that the organizations are going to the donor, saying, Here's the gap we need filled, and here's our wonderful collaboration budget. And so that's just a word of warning to donors, though. That sometimes makes you think that someone is a donor.

Oh, all I have to do is ask like five or six of my favorite nonprofits to come together in a room, and they'll create a collaborative budget that will then magically proof. Tell me what you need to solve a specific problem that may be in addition to what we are. I very rarely see that just happening, and I so often hear from colleagues, donors, and others saying, hey, Sybil, there's this problem I want to solve. Why don't I just ask, like, five or six of the nonprofits to come? together, and yeah, so that's. You're laughing... I Love it I mean, it's

It's really an iterative process, too. I mean, there are a lot of templates out there for budgets. And those are good things to initially feed people. But I'll tell you this: I've never used a template for any budget for any collaboration that I've worked with. I've taken those templates that I've received from organizations, and if it's OK, that's fine. I'll see if I can use pieces of it.

Yeah, I have a basic template too, but that's also why I wanted to interview. So, because, like, it's more than just the template, right?

Yeah, it is. I mean, it's really about understanding the organizations and how you can realize their vision through a budget that makes sense to them and would make sense to other organizations that may want to contribute to it as well.

So, Lisa, can you summarize for us some of the thoughts you had about whether this conversation spurred any additional, you know, key takeaways before you go?

You know, I think just Knowing who you are as an organization and as a donor and being able to articulate that to any larger group of people that have some sense of a shared vision. Being very communicative throughout a process and, at some point, trusting the process if there is good communication. I think it is also a great thing to think about. And I would just encourage everybody to do it. I know nonprofits like to have their own place and be recognized as their own entities. There's a ton of value in that but being part of something bigger and leveraging dollars can make such an overwhelming difference in the things that we're trying to achieve as a society. And so, I would encourage organizations to give up a little piece of yourself to make yourself bigger in the larger scheme.

Of things I love, that is because that is so important, because sometimes I see a feeling of scarcity as making people feel like, oh, we're competing against each other if we go into collaboration. But what I actually see is what happens if a donor does this right and lets the groups know that the collaboration can create even more resources to come to that place.

So, if the donor does it, and that reminds the coalition too that this happened, it does take some time for the donor to say that too though, like, you're not reducing, you're increasing. By doing this, I'll be able to talk to more donors, and you'll be able to talk to more donors. We'll have a platform to solve a problem. It'll be inspirational. You'll work better together; you know that kind of stuff. 

I love that. Lisa, thank you so much. Now, if someone wants to reach you, we're going to have your information on my show. But why don't you say? Also, how do we get in touch with you? Your website and that kind of thing.

Yeah, you can get in touch with me at www.createstrat.com You can always shoot me an email from the website. I'm happy to talk with anybody, and if anybody has any questions, wants any help, I'm Happy to do so. 

Awesome, terrific. And again, I'll have all that in the show notes too. If someone's running around. Thanks again, Lisa. It's been so much fun. And I hope you have a wonderful day.

Thanks to you too.