Thursday, December 23, 2004

Fam is all home

Everyone is home, from Ann Arbor & Seattle. While they are here, I'm offline. See you in the New Year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

A free, online organizational self-assessment

Here's an early holiday gift....the Wilder Organizational Stewardship Self-Assessment, based on my new book Nonprofit Stewardship.

The self-assessment walks you through all the key areas necessary to make sure you are stewarding your organization's resources well, and gives you a score at the end. It's free, so give it a whirl!

Saturday, December 18, 2004

More From Max

Two other quotes to live by from Leading Without Power....

"I always remind myself that discipline among followers mirrors the discipline demonstrated by leaders."

"We need accountability - organizational and personal, to and for others - not blame. Nonprofit groups make themselves accountable to the people they serve, an obligation far beyond a corporations committment to its customers."

Read Max. He's smart....

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Some thoughts to remember...

One of my book clubs just reviewed Leading Without Power, by Max DePree. This is one of my all time favorite books on management, leadership, and relationships. In reviewing the book for the call, I was struck again by DePree's ability to encapsulate important management and nonprofit ideas. Here are a couple to chew on.

On a vital nonprofit:

"The best nonprofits begin with trust and end with a fidelity to their mission."
"Vital organizations have the innocent energy of children and the compassionate wisdom of older people."

There are so many great quotes in here, that one of the book club participants said she had designed a screensaver to scroll through the 25 or so she took from the book.

Check out the book. It's a quick read, and well worth your time.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Find a nonprofit tech group near you...

NTen again. This seems to be my week for them. NTen sponsors a number of what they call 501 tech clubs in a bunch of cities around the U.S. These clubs meet, mostly monthly, and have an email listserve about tech issues relating to nonprofits. Good stuff from peers nationwide.

Check it out. It is featured prominently on the NTen home page. There may well be a group near you. If not, keep checking back...or better yet, get in touch with NTen and see how to get one started!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


Arnova has posted the summary points of an article entitled "More Theses on Nonprofit Organizational Effectiveness"

I read it twice and said, so? This sounds like common sense from anyone who has worked in the field for more than a year. And we had to have research to tell us this?

Don't get me wrong. I think academic research is crucial to improving the sector, justifying our work, and keeping the public and key funders engaged. But what did we learn from this? That there are no clear answers? That management and boards are important? That stakeholders should be talked to regularly.

Really. Huh. Who would have guessed?

If I'm missing something, will you tell me?

Monday, December 13, 2004

Actions over words...

I tell people all the time that what leaders say matters. What they do matters more.

Here's a very relevant joke posted on my friend Danny Mayer's blog. Cute, but pertinent.

A man was being tailgated by a stressed out woman on a busy boulevard. Suddenly the light turned yellow, just in front of him. He did the right thing, stopping at the crosswalk, even though he could have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection. The tailgating woman hit the roof . . . . and the horn, screaming in frustration as she missed her chance to get through the intersection. As she was still ranting & raving, she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the face of a police officer. The officer ordered her to exit her car with both hands in the air. He took her to the police station where she was searched, fingerprinted, photographed, and placed in a cell.

After a couple of hours, a policeman approached the cell and opened the door. She was escorted back to the booking area where the arresting officer was waiting with her personal effects. He said, "I'm very sorry for this mistake ma'am. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping the guy off in front of you, and cussing like there was no tomorrow. I noticed the 'Choose Life' license plate holder, the 'What Would Jesus Do' bumper sticker, the 'Follow Me to Sunday School' bumper sticker, and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk. Naturally, I assumed you had stolen the car."

Good reminder....

Saturday, December 11, 2004

NPower is powerful

A couple of days ago, I posted about TechAtlas, a great tech planning tool for nonprofits from NPower. In doing so, it reminded me that I hadn't been to the NPower site in a while so I went back and looked through it carefully this morning.


The site really has gotten richer and deeper and wider and even more useful. If you want to make your tech more useful to your mission, you need to spend some time looking at the resources.

NPower really does help power the sector!

Friday, December 10, 2004

Have you used A9?

A9 is the relatively new search engine from Amazon. I used it about a month ago for the first time late one night in a hotel on the road, and was fascinated by how different the search results are from Google, the net standard in search.

I did a (this is embarrassing) ego search, looking for what the engine came up with for my name, one on Google one on A9. A9 found a copy of my first book, Mission-Based Management, in Chinese! Never showed on Google. A9 also has folders, files, a history that is easier to use than Google, at least for now.

Why am I posting this? Because if you are searching for funds, volunteers, methods, templates, and other stuff to use on the net, use ALL the good resources, and this looks like one of them.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Tech Planning From Gates.....

This is good. The Gates Foundation has announced a $213,ooo grant to improve NPower's online tech planning tool for nonprofits. The tool, called TechAtlas, is a great online way to plan your tech needs. I refer clients to it all the time.

Now it will be better, at least that's the plan! Thanks, Bill and Melinda!

Here's an article about the grant....

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

A great new way of thinking

I love this guy. Pierre Omidyar is already well known on th e net as the guy who thought up EBay and made it work. As he says....I love the idea of hundreds of millions of people being connected and trusting each other.

So he cashed out, went off and thought about philanthropy. The results---bottoms up philanthropy. On DonorsChoose, givers interested in helping students directly can give exactly what they want to exactly who they want--in this case teachers in a variety of US cities, where public education is chronically underfunded.
On, people with ideas, needs and resources can get matched up.

Check out the story on his ideas on giving and conversation with Omidyar in BusinessWeek , and the two sites. This is the kind of new, innovative thinking that can transform the planet. A shoutout!

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Wrong, plain wrong.

Understand, I'm a capitalist. I think capitalism is good for nonprofits. And good IN nonprofits. But on the plane home from NH, I see this in Business Week (December 6, 2004 issue, page 16)...

"1.5: The number of days a U.S. chief executive officer had to work in 2003 to earn the equivalent of a typical employee's yearly salary."

Leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Unexpected customer service...

So I woke up this morning at the Allen Center on the Northwestern University campus. I try to stay there when I's a wonderful facility--set up for Exec Education. Lots of workspace, great food, and best of all, high speed net connections in your room and NO televisions. A place to work, think, work out, and teach.

The staff are always extremely friendly and helpful, but this morning, I was blown away by what happened when I checked out.

Setting: The Allen Center has a large parking lot out front. After my class last night, I parked out in front, and was told by the person at the registration counter that I would have to move it by 8:00 am since the lot is not reserved for Allen Center guests. He said he could get me paking in a visitors' lot about 5 minutes away. I had a 9:00 meeting with some students and then an 11:00 meeting with a potential client, so that seemed like it would work.

I went to bed, got up, worked out, showered, changed, packed up and checked out at 7:58 am or so, and told a different registration desk person that I needed a place to park my car. There were two women behind the counter, and as soon as I said that I needed a parking pass, one walked out around the counter and headed for the door while the other smiled and said, "No problem, we'll put you in the visitors' lot." I asked if this was the lot past the student union, on the southern edge of campus. She said, yes, that was the one.

She gave me a mirror-hanger with the date onit and said: "Follow Fuschia", which I gathered was the name of the other woman who had gone out the door. When I got outside, Fuschia was in a van waiting for me. She asked me where my car was, and waited as I backed out. She led me through the maze of campus roads to the parking lot, waited while I got out, and drove me to a different building where my meeting was scheduled. She was pleasant, professional....and it was a "wow" event.

Obviously, since I knew more or less where I was going, they could have let me go on my own, and I would not have complained, or felt slighted. But they went beyond the norm, beyond customer service to customer satisfaction. It was great.......and now I've told you! Good news travels.

Do people leave your organization with stories of staff going above and beyond? Worth considering.

Monday, November 29, 2004

FINALLY, a funder who purchases outcomes

Tonight was my last class (sob!) for this fall at Kellogg We were talking about performance, metrics, and outcome measures. Our case/guest speakers were from the United Way of Metro Chicago, who are going through an amazing set of changes to all outcomes based funding, using logic models, community input, and all kinds of other great things. Janet Froetscher, the President and CEO told us how and why the changes are being made and then she said the magic words, word I have been waiting to hear from a funder for over 20 years:

"At United Way, we buy outcomes, we don't fund programs."

I nearly fainted. I need to have Janet come speak to about 10,000 other funders who don't get this.

Talk about hope on the near horizon. If United Way suceeds, and I expect that they will, it could change the landscape for funders in the U.S. for the next 50 years.

If you are in the metro Chicago area, get involved with these people. They are the wave of the future, right now!

A shoutout to Janet and her board and staff!

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Business Development for Nonprofits

I continue to be amused and concerned by the debate over whether not-for-profits should be businesslike.

Well of course they should. IF, and only IF the mission remains the main thing....and that is not a contradictory statement. Operating efficiently, reviewing your financial and social bottom line, measuring outcomes, all those things are good well as being good business. Or is it good business and good mission? See what I mean?

Being more business oriented does not need to reduce the passion you have for your mission. It just means adding more tools, more resources, to the things you bring to bear as you try to get the most, best mission out the door. For example, using marketing techniques can both attract more people to serve, as well as more donors and volunteers to contribute of their time, talent and treasure. Using good HR techniques can reduce the likelihood that you will wind up in court from an unhappy employee.

But what about the oldest quest in the business arena - a new business to bolster your income and your mission? I have worked with hundreds of organizations on such expansions, and have developed a great, free Business Development Tool to help you evaluate new service/business opportunities.

It's free, and it's the most visited part of my website. Check it out. And stay focused on your mission.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Tech to the rescue, but at what a cost....

OK, so here we are after the day we should be thankful (which I am, for many, many, MANY things), and the news is always full of stories of people in need, and people helping and all that feel good/bad stuff.

As regular readers know, I worry about the nonprofit sector and the people it serves a lot. How to meet the needs, how to pay for the needs, how to be fair to those REALLY in need versus the slackers who try to spoil it for everyone.....all that stuff rattles around in my bitty brain.

So this morning's news brought a combination of "Cool!" and "Ugh!" from the same story headline.


I dunno. At first, I thought, well good for them. I have a lot of nonprofit clients who sell donated goods on Ebay and do pretty well, but a city? A city known for its wonderful culture and arts? Can't fund it so it's auctioning off the good will of its people? Huh.

Then I remembered that Chicago, icon of the arts, has provided neither art nor music education in its public schools for years. How lame.

Well, if you like the arts, and want to support them in the Windy City, Ebay is your next stop.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Philanthropic Revival...and pdf

Two great resources showed up this morning. The more esoteric is this excellent and very interesting article by William Schambra that is going to appear in the Nonprofit Quarterly soon. It's about the need for grass roots activism and the changes in the nonprofit sector. Good reading, worth your 20 minutes.

That's for the higher end of your mind.

On the more mundane, but very practical end, all of us see .pdf formatted files all the time, and we read them with Adobe Reader, which is free. But what about saving Word, or WordPerfect, or Excel files in .pdf format? That takes Adobe software which is expensive.

Until now. Virtual PDF Printer is free software that converts the files, and allows others to read them with a .pdf reader.

A great resource if you don't need the other features and benefits of Adobe software.

So, download the Printer, and then read the article.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Debt and Deficits

Here's a fun thought. Our national debt has now topped 7.7 trillion dollars. This is money that we owe our banks, our financial institutions, some of our citizens (if you own savings bonds or treasury bills), etc. but a lot of it is owed to foreigners who see the U.S. as a safe investment haven.

So what, you say? Well, let me pose an issue for you to consider. I do this because, when I do training sessions, people regularly ask when we'll have federal budget surpluses again and things will be better for those nonprofits funded by government. My answer is: it doesn't matter.

Let's say (ha!) that the deficits (the annual national government folly of spending more than we take in) are instantly vaporized and we "break even" from now on. Or perhaps we even have some surpluses, as we did in the 90's for a few years. What about that?

Well, there is the deficit, and there is the debt. Deficits come and go, but you gotta pay back the debt. Much smarter people than I argue all the time that the debt is no big deal, and others just as smart argue that it is the antichrist....whatever.

My point for nonprofits is this: the national debt is so huge and the cost of maintaining it (just paying the interest) is so high that more help from the government for normal nonprofit issues is highly unlikely during the rest of our lifetime.

Here's the math: Debt $7.7 trillion. Average interest cost 4.1%. Multiply $7.7 trillion by .041, and then divide the result by 365, and again by 24. (Hint: this is easier to do if you lop off 6 zeros when you start and add them back at the end--otherwise your calculator can't handle it.)

What do you get. The stunning realization that the United States Government spends a bit over $36 million per HOUR on interest. Not on debt reduction, just on interest.

Compare that to your organization's annual budget. How many minutes of interest costs does it represent?

So those of you who, like me, were first working in the 1970's when government coffers were available to us, stop waiting for a return of the cavalry to save us. The horses have been sold, and the saddles have been hocked.

We have what we have, and we ain't gettin' no more.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Customer service in Ann Arbor

Back on another university campus (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor) for my son's parent's weekend, and I've been given another amazing dose of quality customer service. Everyone (and I do mean everyone) connected with this university is "on" all the time. Cheerful, pleasant, willing to go the extra mile to help a moderately lost parent (me) yesterday. Students, faculty, staff, alumni, everyone.

So I was thinking about which comes first, the chicken or the egg. Does UMich train and train and train its employees - - - and then the "be nice" but rubs off on the students, or do they recruit amazing kids and those kids are the example for the staff....or is it some of both?

Certainly, one reinforces the other.

Now, most nonprofits don't carefully select their customers (as the university can with its students), but if the atmosphere those customers enter is always friendly, helpful, and caring, what a great place that is to come for service, and to come to work....

Anyway, just an observation. Heading home today I'll probably think more about this.....And tomorrow I get to privilege of teaching again at Kellogg! I'm excited.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Back - and with stories to tell.

Been gone a week or so. And I return with a story of customer service gone bad, and then good. It's week of story, but I'll give you the condensed version - and trust me, there is a moral here for nonprofits.

The beginning: After months of working on my laptop, replacing the motherboard, ramping up our home wireless network, updating a couple of pieces of creaky software, I was really happy with how it was running. I decided (silly me) to get the last 10% out of it, and upgrade from XP home to XP Pro. More stable, better access, etc.

Had a bad install. Crap. Called Microsoft tech help. Got a very polite, not very smart person in India (We'll call him Tech 1).

NOTE: I have NO problem with outsourcing tech help, and I know that US tech help is often inept, but please, God, give me someone with good English proficiency, no matter where he or she is from.

He told me some things to try, I did, and after an hour or two was no better off.

I called back, got India again, smarter person (Tech 2) this time. We worked for about two hours, and he told me we could do some things that would give me a perfectly working computer for a while, but I would need to offload data and start again with a reformatting and reinstallation of all my software. Double crap. But, if I could limp along for a couple of weeks, OK.

I did what he said, the computer finally completely booted (which it hadn't been) and I happily hung up.

A mistake.

None of my programs would work. Now, Tech 2 had said I would have a "fully functioning computer". Not true.

I called Microsoft to complain, and was given a "VIP" number to call for "really good tech help" I called the number, found myself on the same tech line as before, in India with the "least smart" person yet with absolutely unintelligible English (Tech 3), who told me that, basically, I was screwed. "You need to save your data, reformat, and reinstall your sofware." When I complained that I didn't HAVE some of the software that came installed on the computer, his answer was "Call Dell (the manufacturer)" and then he said this:

"Perhaps you are using an install disk that was used by someone else?"

Understand my attitude at this point was frustration and near panic about losing my data, and then this guy accuses me of pirating software. I told him in no uncertain terms that I did not, and never do, that, and that I wanted to talk to his supervisor.

He hung up.

ARGHHHHHHHHH! All this was last Friday.

I backed away slowly, again talked to a contact I have at Microsoft, and put the computer away while I thought the problem through. Tuesday, I went out an bought an external hard drive, and thought some more. Thursday, I moved all my data, and then the best possible thing happened.

A techie (tech4) from Microsoft called me, and wanted to help. He was AMAZING. We worked for 4 hours, tried lots of options, and wound up reformatting the drive and reinstalling the OS. BUT, Cliff (the techie) stayed with me, called me back, and today he offered to help me get my laptop back on our home network. I had complete confidence that I wasn't going to trash my system. Cliff was terrific, the perfect tech support. He and I are scheduled to talk again today to finish things up.....ahhhhhhh.

I still have lots of reinstallation to do, but I have Cliff's phone and email, and can use it if I need to.

OK, what are the lessons for nonprofits? First, everyone is on the marketing team every minute. Techs 1-2 were polite, helpful, willing, but unintelligible for the most part. I spent a lot of time saying "Sorry, I don't understand you). An already frustrated and worried customer doesn't need that.

Tech 3 insulted me and accused me of fraud. A poor idea.

Tech 4 - Cliff, was and is amazing. I am happyhappyhappy even though Microsoft's initial product messed with my laptop, I've spent a week dealing with this, and at least 8 hours on the phone. Why am I happy after all that? Because I finally got good, understandable, competent help.

Second, doing things cheap can cost more in the end. Again, I don't care about who does the work, as long as they a: do it well, and b: offer help in my language...the lesson here is that you need to pay attention to your markets, whether they are English speaking or Spanish speaking, or Korean, or Thai, or Lithuanian.

Here endeth the story.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

What now?

OK, election over. What do we need to do now as nonprofit managers? What does the election mean for nonprofits?

I see three things to prepare for, all of which can be bundled into four words: "MORE OF THE SAME."

First, the federal deficit will continue to grow, at least for the next four years. Thus no more help for most nonprofits from that end, and a decay in social security which will lead to more trouble down the road.

Second, PROBABLY a renewed focus on faith - based groups, at least from the federal level.

Third, the Senate MAY really come at us hard when it convenes in January. So pay attention.

If you supported Bush/Cheney, congratulations. If you didn't, I urge you to do what I am trying to do: move on. Let's do our part to end the bitter partisanship.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Another great Kellogg class

I had such a great time at Kellogg last night. Our class was on "Leadership" and we compared the tenets of good leadership in for-profits and nonprofits. It's wonderful to see the students really getting the differences and similarities. We talked about "Good to Great", "Leading Without Power", and "Execution: The Art of Getting Things Done" as well as the students' own ideas on good leadership.

At the end of the evening a consensus appeared: nonprofit leaders need to have a passion for mission, a superior ability to allocate resources, and, most importantly, personal integrity.

Sounds like a good set to me.

Then we talked about the U.S. Election. A vast majority of the class feel Bush will win, and that we won't know the results for at least a week.

Well, it will be interesting.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Vote, Vote, Vote

No, not three times. Even though I live in Illinois, land of the voting-dead, I'm only going to vote once.

But I AM going to vote........PLEASE make sure that your employees, volunteers, and their families both remember to vote and have the time and access to do so. TODAY would be a great day to send out an all-organization email reminding them. Do it again next Monday, and certainly post signs at your entrances, and lunchroom/break areas reminding people to vote. If your state/county has early voting, get them to go sooner rather than later.

Remember, you can't have signs or literature supporting ANY candidates visible, or on people (such as buttons, t-shirts) but you CAN and SHOULD encourage them to get out and vote. And not just for President. Make sure they cast ballots in other elections as well.

This election is CRUCIAL for nonprofits. Don't miss th boat.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Nifty NFTE

Last night at my class at Kellogg, we used a case study about an amazing organization called the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, or NFTE. David Nelson, the COO taught the students about NFTE's experience with strategic planning, organizational focus, and reworking mission statements, all to the benefit of the young people NFTE serves. It was wonderful and sobering.

NFTE, the brainchild of entrepreneur Steve Mariotti, has been well covered in the general press, as well as the focus of two Harvard Business School case studies. The concept is that, through teaching business skills to low income high school students, you can focus the students on something that interests them while at the same time making them use reading, writing and math skills.

And it works. In addition to using various models to spread the program, NFTE has engaged top flight academic institutions to measure its impact. And it works. The early results show that NFTE graduates have more interest in reading, more interest in math than their non-NFTE peers. That's huge.

The concept was great. The implementation, at least in the early years, was sporadic. But NFTE, through the application of good business skills, has turned on the afterburners, and is reaching more youth than ever.

I love it.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

A breather....

The Senate Finance Commitee has asked Independent Sector to develop a group to advise the Senate on it's proposed legislation to deal with nonprofit abuses. This is at least a breather, and potentially a great piece of news, depending on who IS gets on its committee, of course.

The second look will result in no action this year, and thus the next congress can take it up with a little more time for reasonable (I hope) consideration.

You should also look at IS's original response to the Senate.

I hope you will keep track of IS's progress and pay attention to the Finance Committe's actions. They will certainly affect all of our future. You can make comments as well....directly to the group.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Abundant loneliness

I was in our local Sam's Club with my wife Friday night. It's a trip I don't take often, out of consideration for my sanity. The place is too big, with too many choices, too much stuff. Too much abundance; makes me feel guilty, somehow.

I am the primary cook in our house, which also makes me the primary grocery shopper. Here, too, I am assaulted with far too many options. How many different kinds of yogurt, choices of cereal, or selections of barbecue sauce does one nation really need?

It occurred to me a few years ago that ten people could walk into my grocery store, al with exactly the same grocery list: Apples, bagels, diet cola, cheese, coffee, hamburger, toilet bowl cleaner, and ice cream. It is more than possible that none of the ten would walk out with any single product in common. What about hamburger, you say? Well, you can get it in 6 different varieties (ground sirloin, chuck, etc.) and in patty form or tube form, or frozen or fresh......and that's simple, compared to the yogurt section, or the salsa choices.

Where I'm going with this is that it is a symptom of our culture where everyone can have everything just as they want it right now. Remember the old Burger King ad, "Have it your way, at Burger King?" I see it everywhere. At my gym, no one talks any more. They are plugged into their IPod's, listening to exactly the mix of songs they want---the heck with the entire CD. OR they are plugged in to the TV attached to their cardio machine watching whatever show they want...heaven forbid we should all have to watch the news, or Oprah, or a football game together.

With 1 gazillion channels, we can watch or listen to just who we want to, and worse, just who we agree with or who makes us comfortable.

And here's the secret.....if we all do our own thing, we do less and less together, we have fewer and fewer common experiences......and lose a bit of understanding of how other people act, think, believe, and feel.

Too many choices can isolate. Isolation can turn into iconoclasty, less willingness to listen, much less compromise.

I dunno. It just worries me.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

E-commerce for nonprofits

You know I have been talking a lot about nonprofits having a better net presence, particularly in being able to accept donations online, and having more information on every website. And, I'm a huge believer in business development for nonprofits -- even wrote a book about it, Social Entrepreneurship, a few years back.

Now the crossover of tech and business for nonprofits shows up in a really interesting set of case studies from the Benton Foundation called "E-Commerce and Nonprofits: Three Case Studies" .

Worth a look, for sure.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Google's free nonprofit site search offer....

Our friends at Google (full disclosure: I use Google Adwords) have developed a free search tool to add to your website. It can either search your site, or your site and the web, depending on how you set it up. It's free, too! This is a good add-on to your site, particularly if you have a large and regularly changing site.

The program is called "Public Service Search" and the FAQ page is great. Check it out!

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Home again...

Writing from home for the first time in....far too long. In the past 30 days, I've been in New Hampshire, Houston, central Missouri, Evanston IL , Sacramento, Lake Tahoe, St. Louis, Atlantic City, Seattle, Couer d'Alene, Denver, and San Antonio. Now I have 10 days here...nice to sleep in my own bed.

I met and worked with some terrific people, and renewed friendships with many others. As always, I am struck by the diversity of the work that nonprofits do, the energy and enthusiasm that staff and volunteers bring to their work, and the incredible benefits that accrue to our society as a result.

Small notes from the road.....

Did you know that all of the Army's new uniforms are being made by nonprofits that employ people with disabilities?

Or that document shredding is now a $1.5 billion industry? (this work is also done by people with disabilities both for the government and private sector firms.

Or that 400 lb. people shouldn't be allowed to sit in the middle seat of a three seat airliner row, particularly if they haven't bathed for at least a week?

Or that a Boeing 737 can fly with an access panel the size of a dessert plate missing from the top of its port (left) engine? (last night's flight from San Antonio to Chicago)

Or that all the taxi drivers I had on my trips are voting for Bush? (I ask everyone - this includes on driver born in Iran, two in Iraq, and all three from Africa) If the "cabbie" vote is crucial, the Bushies can relax.

Going to my daughter's high school's homecoming football game today. How All-American is that?

Friday, October 15, 2004

Compassionate Conservatism?


Tax breaks for big (and already profitable) corporations funded by reduced benefit from donating to charity.

Sound compassionate to you? Me neither.

Tucked away in the American Jobs Creation Act (a corporate tax giveaway that was passed by Congress last week) is a provision to radically change/reduce the tax deduction benefit of giving your car to charity. This will generate $2.4 billion for the federal government over the next 10 years.

That's a good thing, right? After all, someone has to pay for the tax breaks to already profitable corporations, right? Why not Goodwill ($12 million a year from donated vehicles) and Volunteers of America ($10 million) and the other 4,300 charities that accept donations? I mean, these charities already have lots of money-- doesn't the federal government already fully fund their communities' needs? Or will corporate benefits result in less food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless?

Well, who cares? After all, there's a war on! Oh, I forgot, the SAME corporations benefit from that, too.

Makes me ill.

News coverage.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Accessibility news from Idaho

Well, the news isn't from Idaho, but that's where I am. I'm attending a conference of execs of nonprofits that increase employment of people with disabilities. I was sitting in a briefing from the national CEO this morning and amazed/depressed yet again with how many issues these execs have to wrestle with, including a bunch that have been dealt with in earlier posts here.

There's the war (it effects the jobs these people find--both increasing and decreasing), a WHOLE bunch of legislative issues and hoops, Sarbanes-Oxley, the Senate Finance Committee report, etc. Dealing with all this stuff is important, but it all distracts from mission-provision at some level. Blah.

Anyway, while I was being bummed about all of that, I remembered that I had been meaning to track down some good resources for accessibility tools for websites. And what happens? This week's TechSoup "By the Cup" shows up with just that.

Here's the material cut and pasted directly from "By the Cup", which I strongly urge you to subscribe to--it's free!

DO-IT Accessible Web Design
The University of Washington's DO-IT program has put together
this list of links that includes information on accessible Web
design, and publications and videos that can help you build
accessible sites. This site is a good reference for usability
testing too. This collection of useful links is helpful for
being a Web site that is accessible to everyone, including those
who have disabilities.

What's more, this week's soup recipe looks yummy.......

Monday, October 11, 2004


Thoughts from my drive from Seattle to Couer d'Alene today:

1. Driving long, easy drives (little traffic, no real deadlines) through new territory is good for the head and the heart. It gives me time to think, and to remember how much of the world I haven't seen---and thus how small my perspective really is. All day I wanted to stop in the small towns I passed and ask people what they thought of charities, or the war, or the economy. Reminds me to keep asking and keep listening.

2. The Cascades are too pretty to describe.

3. Eastern Washington State is as different in terms of biome from Seattle as Antartica is from Florida (this I had been told, but had never seen).

4. I'm glad that when this gig in Idaho is over, and I get done in San Antonio Thursday and Friday, I get to go home for a couple of weeks.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Fish for thought.....

Yesterday, I was in the Pike Place Market in Seattle, at the fish stall that inspired "FISH" , the top selling management book. Watching the fish guys wrap an entire crowd around their fingers WAS fun, WAS a good experience, WAS a choice that the fish guys made.

And, of course, that enthusiasm spreads to other stalls up and down the market. The Vegetable guy snapped every paper bag open dramatically as he helped each customer, and engaged in gentle joking with his fellow vendors. The flower stalls were full of fun, with the sellers telling people how good they would look with a beautiful bouquet.

(By the way, if you haven't been there and you like flowers --- have to go if you are ever in the area...the most incredible flowers ever for the lowest price imaginable)

But, back to the point, good attitude and fun is spreads. The fish sellers have a smelly, cold, blah job. They sell fish. They've turned it into a fun, community event. A tourist attraction for heaven's sake. And their attitude has made this entire market a more engaging place for everyone.

See what a little smile can start?

Friday, October 08, 2004

A cheaper way to take credit cards

Michelle Johnston, from the Center for Civic Partnerships in Sacramento gave me a headsup on this one from the current issue of TechSoup's "By the Cup", which I get but hadn't read.

If you want to accept credit cards for donations (as I have been urging here and elsewhere) Techsoup has some real deals for you on the credit card machines, the receipt printer, etc. This was made possible by a donation from Verifone.

Here's the skinny:
For detailed information on this offering, visit:

Learn more on the benefits of credit card processing to
nonprofits from NPC and Verifone:

Read "Online Donations: Sorting Out the Chaos":

And a big shout-out to Michelle for the info!

Off to the left coast to see Ben in Seattle, then to Idaho and Houston to do training. Home in a week...for nearly two weeks straight. Sounds wonderful.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Back from the city of the dead

Just spent two days in Atlantic City, doing training. Talk about a walk in the past. No access to the net at the hotel (the Sands; NEVER go there), incredibly tacky, old, decor---put it this way---in most hotels, I walk around barefoot in my room, even down the hall to get ice.....not there.

I did get one reminder about a great resource for you. First, the group that I taught on business development was great--always fun to work with good people. Two or three have already used TechSoup, and two others raved about an "old"resource that I was reminded about " For nonprofits, Xerox will send you a high end printer for free--as long as you buy your printer ink cartridges from them.

These organizations have cut their printing costs and expanded their marketing materials dramatically because of this program.

Worth checking out -- and checking out faster than I checked out of the Sands. guh...

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

A fund-raising resource

I've been fussing at people the past few weeks about not being able to take online donations. I contend that it is not just the wave of the future, but more accurately the wave of the now....and that if you don't have the ability to take donations by credit card and PayPal, you are turning away money--especially from donors age 30 and under.....

So, in the current issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, what shows up? An article about which is building a new tool called "Enterprise" which is designed not only to help nonprofits take donations online, but to combine an individual's donation, volunteer, and activism information in one tool. Good online info.

Then more: Network for Good is expanding its online system to help nonprofits take donation online. Great stuff!

Check them both out.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Is it really mission we chase?

Tonight I'm doing my second class of the fall term at Kellogg (Northwestern University's Management School). The topic: Mission----

These students don't miss a thing, and I'm anticipating some good questions on mission, which led to some musings:

Is it really mission we pursue, or is it funds that we rationalize are doing mission? Sometimes I wonder, and I certainly remember my times as an ED when we were looking for survival money. The mission rationalization was pretty weak....

Do we keep mission front and center, or just on the wall? How often do we talk about mission in our regular staff and board meetings? Do we ever use it as a rationale to do or even more important, not to do, something?

Are strong missions an enabler of success? Do they, in CollinsSpeak, get us from being Good to Great?

Hmmmmm. Should be an interesting evening.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Personal Note

The war got very, very personal today. No, no one I know was killed, or injured. At least not yet.

But my cousin, my 43 year old cousin, is 3 weeks into his tour just north of Baghdad, and I got my first email from him today. While I've known he's been there, and I know other people with children in Iraq, the email made it much more real than the more abstract discussions I've been constantly in for the last 16 months since we invaded.

Part of the message talked about their convoy getting broken down in "RPG alley", a high risk ambush area, and he and his men (he's a reserve sergeant) "doing security" while the Humvee issue was resolved.....

I couldn't help but think of my little cousin, the guy I used to play cops and robbers with, playing, no not playing, war for real. Of this wonderful, bright, optimistic, good guy lying by a roadside pointing his weapon at an unseen enemy. At 43.

For what? Why? Can someone tell me?

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Shameless Self-Promotion

OK, time for a bit of "look at me".

I'm really pleased that my newest book is out. It's the first time that I've worked with the amazing people at the Wilder Publishing Center They've been terrific, so a big shout-out to Vince, Kirsten, and Becky.

Oh, yeah, the book:

It's titled Nonprofit Stewardship: A Better Way to Lead Your Mission-Based Organization. You can check it out on the Wilder site, see the table of contents, reviews, etc. I'm really pleased how it turned out, and I hope that you will enjoy it and find it useful. It lays out a concept of management that many nonprofit execs already use with great success, although perhaps without being able to articulate what they are doing so well.

Check it out!

End of shamelees self-promotion!

Friday, October 01, 2004

Inspiring words from and inspiring lady

Just got off a redeye from Sacramento to O'hare, and am far too foggy to post anything of particular merit out of my brain, so I'll give you something excellent out of some one else's..

At the Alliance for Nonprofits Annual Conference in August, I had the pleasure of hearing Kim Klien (of the Grassroots Fundraising Journal) give one of the two keynotes. Here it is, and it is worth reading, although hearing Kim give it in person was much more fun!

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Work at high altitude

At 6,300 feet above sea level, (I'm at Lake Tahoe) I think better, sleep better, and in general, feel like I'm working on all cylinders. Why I live at 560 feet MSL I don't know.

At dinner last night with 6 executives of mid size California nonprofits, one of the key things I heard was living the job, no time to think, learn, take time off, etc. Everyone agreed that taking time was good, but how to do it?

Today I'll be talking about troubling trends....and one of the most troubling to me is the workload of senior staff in nonprofits. Like everywhere else, nonprofits are being forced to do more with less. As I tell people this reduction in staff has been going on for a decade, and has resulted in many admin staff going from 1.0 to 2.5 FTE's living in their bodies. Even with help from tech, this means more work, more time demands, more pressue.

Is it surprising that the Nonprofit Quarterly found that over 40% of Execs would "Never take an ED job again"?

And, if we lose 40% of our experience capital out of our sector, what happens then?

Three thoughts; easy to say, tough to do:

First, delegation is a key for ED retention. The execs at dinner said "Yeah, I should give up stuff, but it's so HARD!" and things like that. This is a management skill, one that needs to be developed to allow other staff to take some of the load, and to grow themselves.

Second, more education for nonprofit employees (and board members) in ways that accomodate their crazy schedules. Funders need to ramp up the perceived value of continuing education for everyone in the sector, fund/reward it wherever and whenever possible.

Third, a greater understanding by board members of the huge job their senior staff take on, and a gentle/steady prodding from the board to make sure that staff do take time off, both on a daily and annual basis. Otherwise we burn out/kill our employees.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Left Coast Thoughts....

Arrived in Sacramento 10 minutes late for the earthquake. Timing is everything....

When I'm on the left coast, I always try to get up at the same real time I would at home--thus I'm up here between 3:30 and 4:00 local time. Which gives me some quiet time to write, think and read. And, of course, to watch stupid news programs...which I waste far, far too much time on.


Why Can't We All just start Paying Attention?: In my book club work, I'm reading tons of management wisdom. The same wisdom (packaged differently) that I read 5 and 10 and 15 and 20 years ago. Different books, different authors, same stuff. This makes me somewhat nutty; we read and read and read and read, but don't appear to take what we're reading to heart. Too bad, but then the business book business would take such a hit if we "got it" the first time. (Apologies to Rodney King for mis-quoting him)

Everything is local: I'm in a hotel in a commercial area, mixed in with residential. A bit scruffy here and there, so I asked the person at the desk if walking down to a set of restaurants about 400 yards away on a major street was a safe walk in the evening. She looked at me like I was a rube, and said "Uh, sure, they're not that far away. It should be fine." This from a person who works in a hotel behind a 8 foot high metal fence. (Actually the fences around every single property is what prompted my question in the first place. So I walked. 400 yards, commuting hours, daylight. No mugging, no driveby shootings, no mayhem at all. No big deal.

I walk back after my meal. Greeted at the hotel gate by a 300 lb security guard who wants to see my room key and tells me I really shouldn't walk around.....perception is really reality. Is it safe or not? Are we in financial trouble or not? It depends.

Off to Lake Tahoe, one of America's iconic places that I've never seen.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Bright minds, bright eyes

Last night, I taught the first of my fall course in Nonprofit Management at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. What a delight. A room full of bright eyes, interested in nonprofits, and in doing good works, both here in the US as well as elsewhere in the world.

Last year, our students asked for one thing from the course: "Make it harder". How refreshing THAT was. This year, the room seems full of equally curious, passionate young people. I look forward to their questions, their papers, and to getting to know them better. They give me hope.

Monday, September 27, 2004

At the reception....such good news

So my wife and I are at a wedding reception this weekend, and we sit next to a couple we don't know. The two women start chatting and after a bit, the wife of the other couple asks me who I work for.
"Myself", I reply.
"What do you do?"
"I work with charities on their management."
"Oh. Boy do they need help."

Of course, with music, other people stopping by, and other distractions, I didn't get to ask the logical question: "Why do you say that? Why do you think nonprofits "need help?"

Yet this stereotype is widespread, and, at least in my experience, partly true. Some nonprofits are miserably run, poorly managed and, in general, a disaster. But most are well run, and more than a few are incredibly managed, getting more done with less resources than any for-profit I know.

How do we fight the stereotype? By letting people know we CAN run organizations well, and then doing it. By being transparent, by opening our doors and our books, and by saying "NO, we're not poorly run when we are accused of poor operations.

Time to take back the night.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Bad news from Brookings Institution

During election season, all we seem to get is surveys about who is ahead (in addition to shady data about who did what 30 years ago). I get to the point where I don't pay attention to the surveys, since it's the one on election day that matters....uh oh, I sound like a candidate...

Anyway, a survey you should pay attention to is the annual Brookings Institution survey of American public opinion about charitable organizations. The survey shows that opinions about charities have not rebounded significantly, and that many citizens are very skeptical about charities' ability to spend money wisely, and about their management competence. The paper is called "The Continued Crisis in Charitable Confidence"

I've been harping here, and in my books and training about the need for organizational transparency, and more outcome measurement. The latter is good, but without the former, no one knows how good a job we're doing!

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Back on the Road

A lot of my time, particularly in the September-December and March-June timeframes, is spent on the road speaking to groups of nonprofits about their operations, management, or marketing. I always find these sessions a mix of invigorating, as I get to talk to people who are "in the trenches" and doing an amazing job with far too few resources, and depressing, since the organizations have to make do with those paltry resources.

But tomorrow, I talk about Mission-Based Marketing, a topic that I really love, and one that can affect the entire organization. I'll be speaking to the United Way of the Texas Gulf Coast in Houston, and then going to central Missouri to do a private presentation on Leadership for the Deaconness Foundation.

One of my original hopes with this blog was to give you immediate feedback about great organizations that I see on the road. Now, finally, after a month of blogging, I get to do that!

Next week's trip: Chicago to start my fall teaching at Kellogg School of Management, and a presentation in Lake Tahoe!

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Go Fish

I run a set of book clubs for managers of community rehabilitation organizations around the country. Each month we read a book, and then discuss it on a conference call, and through a listserve. I have two books to read each month, one for an "Advanced Leader" section and one for mid-managers that we call "Emerging Leaders". And, I read a lot of other management books to see what we can add to our list.

One that I just finished (it takes about three whole hours to read) is the book many of you may have read called "Fish!" the motivational book about the Pike Street Fish Market in Seattle. The book is short, a fast read, and well done. Duh on me. That's why it's a best seller!

Anyway, it reminded me yet again that we all make choices every day. I make the choice about what attitude to bring to work (a major theme of the book). I make the choice about what attitude to have with my family. I make the choice about whether or not to stick to my diet. (As a friend who has struggled with her weight once told me: "No one ever put anything in my mouth but me.")

Are there outside influences on our choices? Sure. The traffic is backed up, our boss in a jerk, I got wet in the rainstorm. But if we choose to take those influences out on our family, friends, and co-workers, guess what? They didn't cause the traffic or the rain, so why should they bear the brunt of our attitude. We punish the people who are most important to us for something they not only didn't do, but may not even know about.

Enough. I will struggle harder to make better choices. Hope you will too.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Good idea from a teen near you....

I am amazed by teenagers. They work hard, achieve lots, and more and more, buy their clothes at Goodwill. That's right, at a thift shop. Now, my fashion un-conscious sons have shopped at thrift stores for years, both for the savings and for the retro look. My daughter, while much more fashion aware, also gets cheap clothes off the rack from our local Goodwill store now and then.

Now, according to today's show on PRI'S "Marketplace" the Goodwill store is holding its own against Abercrombie, Structure, et. al. for "coolest place to shop".

Boy, does this make me happy. And you can shop there too, and be just stylin. Here are two links:

Goodwill stores near you.
Goodwill Auctions online.

Happy Shopping!

Saturday, September 18, 2004

A mission-based for-profit

Just back from three days in the New Hampshire Woods. Ahhhhhh. No laptop (fried motherboard), no cell phones (well, almost) no newspapers. Just some very important work on the board of a place I truly love: a family camp called Rockywold-Deephaven (RDC for short) ; a for-profit that is mission-based.

RDC is a closely held stockholding corporation where mission and money mix very closely. As a board member, it is almost surreal to hear people talking about how important mission is at this for-profit, but that we have to make money too. Our mission is (somewhat paraphrased): to protect our environment, serve our guests, provide value to our shareholders, provide a respectful and growing environment for our employees, and to help our community.

Sound familiar? If you change one word: "Shareholder", to "stakeholder", this could be the mission statement of lots of nonprofits. Perhaps you would change "guest" to "client", or "patient", or " student", but it still is pretty close.

Today we had the shareholder meeting. Most of our shareholders are also long-term guests, some who have been coming for more than 40 summers. They marvel at how we mix mission and money, and I want to scream from the back of the room---so should your charities at home!

Anyway, after 4 days offline, I'm back on, and better for the being gone!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Fundraising Online

I hope that every reader's nonprofit accepts donations online, either through credit card or PayPal, or both. If you aren't, you are almost certainly turning away funds, especially from anyone who regularly uses the net to pay bills or make purchases. And, of course, just about anyone under 30.

That's the first level. Here are some resources for you.
An Article from the Nonprofit FAQ
Another article on online fundraising in general

Then you move to the second level-active fundraising online. While there are lots of people to help you, I like the materials from They offer classes, and other support in this growing area. Check them out and think through your tech improvement plan to include using the net as a fundraising tool.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Is there an Elvis in your house?

Last weekend, our family visited our eldest son Ben in his new home of Seattle. Ben started working for Microsoft in July as a programmer. As we walked around his office area, I noticed a lot of Elvis pictures, cutouts, etc. "What's with the Elvis?", I asked.

Ben told me that Microsoft decided a while ago that a customer focus was key, but too impersonal. So, each product group (Ben works in the Visual Studio C# product group) has a target customer or "persona". This customer is described in detail (in relation to his uses of the product, affinity to and experience with computers, education level, etc) to the employees, and named. In Ben's group's case, the customer is "Elvis". Elvis is referred to by name in meetings as in "What would Elvis say about this feature?", or "I don't think Elvis would like this....."

I LOVE this idea. It personalizes the customer from being a nameless, well, customer, to being a more real, more personable, ummmm, person.

Question: Do we take the time in our organizations to really think about the many markets we serve and describe them? Nonprofits have funder markets, service markets, employee and volunteer markets. All of them need to be viewed as a collection of people, not just as a soul-less title. Elvis has wants that need to be met. So do your markets.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

The Red Cross needs us....

Truth in advertising, Part 1 : I provided CPR training for our Red Cross Chapter here in Springfield for years.

Truth in advertising, Part 2: I was a loud and long critic of the Red Cross after the terrorist attacks in 2001. They screwed up, and screwed up badly.

But, like all good organizations, they were self-critical, learned from their mistakes and fixed what was broken. And now, the Red Cross, and the people in Florida, Grenada, Jamaica need some help. If you have not already donated time, money or goods through your place of worship, local disaster relief organization, or other charity, consider donating to the Red Cross. You can target your donation for disaster relief.

It's been a long month of hurricanes, and the next week bodes ill for everyone in need. Help where you can.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Addicted to (Dependent on) Technology

Sooooo, I found out last night that my 4-year-old road warrior Dell laptop most likely has a fried mother board. I am in mourning for my old friend and travel partner, trying to do the math about getting it fixed versus getting a replacement, which is a question of speed of fix as much as of cost, and considering my near panic at not having a laptop on the road the next few weeks if I go for the fix. Imagine. I might have to be without email every 3-6 hours for two or three days at a time....gads.

Every summer, our family goes to a family camp in rural New Hampshire where we are offline for at least a week and sometimes two. No TV's, no papers. And its all good. This year, however, some idiot put in a wireless network, and we could check our email in our cabin. I grieved.

So why am I so worked up about being partially offline now? Will the world stop if I am offline? Are my clients so dependent on me, and are their problems life or death crises? Will my business fold if I don't answer an email in an hour? No, No, No, No, and no.


Thursday, September 09, 2004

A good training resource....

This morning's email brought the most recent issue of The Sophist, the regular newsletter from the Isoph Institute. The newsletter is good and the site is terrific. Lots of good online learning opportunities. Check it out- remember that life-long learning means just that....every day something new should cross your neural net.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Conflict of Interest?

I got a question the other day from a board member of an organization that supports people with disabilities. They have a board made up of business people, community members, and family members of people who are served by the organization. The board member was concerned that a potential new board member was employed by the organization's bank. "Isn't that a conflict of interest?", she aske me.

Well, yes and no. Certainly the banker COULD have a conflict. But, so could the family members. So could a community member if, for example, the organization were building a new center down the street that would affect their home's property value.

The issue with board recruits is to ask them: Are you here to represent your organization/employer/family member, or are you here for the best interests of our not-for-profit?

And, of course, you do need to have, and to discuss conflict of interest policies. Here's a great article from Thompson & Thompson about Avoiding Conflict of Interest. Here's some good info and a sample from the Nonprofit FAQ, and some good stuff on the issue from BoardSource.

Conflict of interest is an important issue to get your board and staff focused on. It is one of those things that is almost totally manageable in advance, but if you don't do some work to prevent problems, the problems that result are HUGE.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

There is hope.....

I spent a delightful lunch Friday with my son Adam and three of his college peers in Ann Arbor. During my conversations with them, I was reminded how much these young people volunteer in their communities. It was the same for my son Ben and his friends at WashU in St. Louis, and also for my daughter Caitlin and her high school friends. We ARE growing a new generation of volunteers and nonprofit activists.

But we have to keep them interested once they graduate from high school and/or college. And put simply, this means being online. I've ranted about this before, but if your organization does not have everything a potential volunteer would want to know available on your website--you are losing volunteers.

These young people are a tremendous resource for us, if we can tap into ways to use them. Think about it, and think about it hard. An upcoming issue of my newsletter will deal with this generational topic.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Finally, some good news on nonprofits

At last. We get good press. Over the past couple of days, I've seen stories in a number of papers with headlines such as "Nonprofits Put Lessons Learned to Good Use", and "Charities get it Right". What a breath of fresh air. The stories are all about the incredibly agile and prompt response that various relief agencies had in helping the people affected by Hurricane Charley in Florida three weeks ago. It's nice to see the press notice when people do stuff right. Here's an example.

Now another storm is bearing down on Florida. News stories? Yep, and pretty good. Here's one.

The moral of the story? Remember to help the media with stories about what you do right. Don't just shut them out. Reach out and show them human interest stories about how your organization is doing good works in your community.

Here's some great stuff on Media and Public Relations from Putnam Barber's Free Management Library

Have a good weekend. I will. Family reunion in Seattle!

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Using ALL your resources for mission...

It happened again. Today. In 2004, not 1977 or 1983. A nonprofit board member said to me: "Oh, we don't feel that business planning for new grants is appropriate. We're a charity." I bit my tongue and asked him, "So you don't feel that things that are created or intended for business should be used by a charities?"
"Absolutely not. It's not appropriate." he answered. I has SO hoped we were beyond this....

I thought about being nice, and decided, for the benefit of the underprivileged children his organization serves, I would be rude. "Soooo..." I started off, "Then you don't use phones, or computers, or staplers, or copiers, or faxes? Those were all designed for for-profit businesses....."

"Well", he huffed, "those are different. You just don't get it."

Perhaps not. But I do know this. NOT using an available and helpful resource in pursuit of mission is bad stewardship. The business planning resource is one of those that many charitable groups ignore, sometimes because they don't know how to use it, sometimes because it slows down their enthusiastic pursuit of mission.

You can use a business plan for a new service, a big expansion of service or an expansion of a service to a new group of people or new location. Check out my free business planning template. While you are at the FreeStuff part of my website, you can also see other free tools.

And remember, just because business invented it, doesn't mean it's bad.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The Importance of Community

My son Adam and I went to a Braves-Phillies baseball game last night. We arrived early, watched batting practice, and as the daylight waned, we watched the stadium fill up. I am always struck by the feeling of community that develops at these games (we go to one or two a year here and there around the country). Here are 30,000 people, mostly strangers, coming together peacefully for an evening's common experience. We almost always wind up chatting with people around us, or having some kind of very, very positive community experience. It's renewing for me, every time.

Earlier in the day, we spent some time on the campus of my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. I have only been back twice since I graduated, but have spent a lot of time on college campuses the past 5 or 6 years, for college visits for my sons when they were looking for schools, and for college visits to my sons at their chosen universities. As we wandered around Penn was struck by that intangible sense of community that is so important, so prevalent on many campuses, and so absent from so much of our hurry, hurry, isolated life.

On the way home, I compared my reactions to the campuses and the ball game to that other world of strangers I so often occupy - airports. A completely different feel. Strangers, closely packed, together for a bit, but none of the camaraderie that I experienced on campus or at the ball game.

Made me can we do better to develop a sense of community around our not-for-profits; for our employees, our volunteers, the people we serve. We so often talk about being a community, but would outsiders agree?

I wonder.

Mundane item. My September newsletter is out--the topic is Political Activity and Advocacy.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Feds are For Sale

No, I don't mean that they are selling themselves out to lobbyists. Well, at least not in this case.

The Federal Government Auction Site aggregates all the property, equipment, land, and buildings that the federal government has for sale or for auction. As anyone who has ever gone to a garage sale knows, some of this is junk, but there may be a treasure here somewhere.

Hey, if Arnold can do it in California......

Monday, August 30, 2004

Political Activity Caution

With all the mess about 527's ( a kind of nonprofit) in the press, I am worried that many nonprofits will step outside the lines in this political season. I've been thinking about this a bit more than usual, because the next issue of my newsletter (September 1) deals with these rules and the difference between advocacy (mostly OK) and political activities (mostly forbidden). So, as you and your staff get into the political swing of the campaign, pay attention to the rules. Here are some great resources for you.

From the Nonprofit FAQ
From the accounting firm BDO Seidman
From the Minnesota Council on Nonprofits
From the Alliance for Justice

And, remember to get your staff, board, and volunteers (and their families) registered to vote!

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Tech help...from an unlikely source

All of us, including me, are constantly looking for good sources of tech help. In my monthly newsletter, I always try to add some tech resources regarding the monthly topic. In searching for those resources, one site comes up over and over and over.

It's the Senior Corps Tech Center, and you need to check it out. While focused on senior centers, the site is really a great resource for all nonprofits. There are learning paths, a guided tour, a reference center and a set of best practices. You can also subscribe to a newsletter. Definately worth your time.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Poverty Grows....Where do we look?

I awoke to the headline in our paper (and on CNN, and on Google News) that poverty has grown in the U.S. over the past year by 1.3 million, and another 1.4 million lost their health insurance. Here's a link if you missed it. I'm totally bummed about this, because there is no excuse. No excuse for seniors who can't afford their prescriptions (but heaven forbid should import the same stuff from Canada), no excuse for poverty or people going without health care in the richest country in the history of the world.

So how does it happen? We look away. We donate our clothes to Goodwill or the Salvation Army , perhaps work a shift or two at our local soup kitchen, and then we all (and I'm talking about me, too) go back to our book, or our TV show, or our children: our lives. And we look past the poor, because we can't save everyone, and it's not us, or our families or our close friends. But if it isn't today, it may well be tomorrow.

A couple of years ago, my children's high school put on a play about the Holocaust called "Then They Came for Me", based on the famous quotation by Rev. Martin Niemoller, you know,

"First they came for the Communists, and I didn't' speak up, because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up, because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me. "

Poverty will come for us, and our families, and our friends....particularly if we are not out there demanding a more fair and equitable solution to the economic divide being encouraged, legislated and regulated by the Bush Administration.

Don't get me wrong...I think capitalism is a very, very good thing. But the way I see capitalism and the way these people see it is very, very different.

And they call themselves compassionate conservatives. Shame on them.

Oh, in looking into Neimoller, I found this. Also too true, and another reason to resist the status quo. Isn't it pitiful that our most ardent and tough advocates of free speech in the U.S. are our librarians.? Good for them! Shame on us.

Friday, August 27, 2004

The Two Kinds of Board Member You Need

Every board of directors has a different need in its skillset. Some need lawyers, bankers, community activists, and fund raisers. Some need religious leaders, elected officials, social workers, or parents. The skillset your organization needs is based on what your organization does, where and how it does it, and where your organizational plan is taking you.

Many years ago, I joined the board of our local Association for Retarded Citizens here in Springfield, IL. At the time the board was comprised nearly totally of relatives of people with disabilities that the organization served. This was not unusual, nor a bad thing for an organization that was more an advocacy group than anything else.

Over the next 8 years, we went through huge changes, growing from a $450,000 annual budget to over $4,000,000. We added over 15 residences for people with disabilities, a sheltered workshop and new office space. Our board needs changed as well. We needed bankers, lawyers, builders, architects. So the makeup of our board evolved.

As I left the board, we began to take part in the community integration movement, and needed more community leaders, activists and the like. The board changed again to meet this new challenge.

The story serves to illustrate the changing needs of most organizations and how your board skillset should change with them. But there is another part to the story. Even though we added new skills, we never reduced our component of advocates (usually family members) lower than 40-50% of board membership. Why? We wanted to keep mission always foremost.

And that leads me to the reason for this post. Your board needs two kinds of board members: ADVOCATES for what you do, and BUSINESSPEOPLE. The two need to be in a reasonable balance. The ADVOCATES keep you honest to the first rule of nonprofits: "Mission, mission, mission!" The BUSINESSPEOPLE keep you honest to the second rule of nonprofits: "No Money, No Mission!"

I see far too many boards that are all advocate, or all business. Mission and money have to reach a balance in a nonprofit, and the place to start with that is at the board. After you achieve that kind of balance, you can begin to talk about board roles and responsibilities.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Outcome Measurement Tools

All of us are trying (or should be trying) to be better and measuring outcomes. We all know that outcomes in some parts of the nonprofit sector are really, really tough to measure. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try, and we should always be looking for new tools with which to measure.

I think I found one recently and wanted to share it with you. It's called VistaShare, and is a set of software and a website that allow you to track a wide variety of measurements in both your organization as well as in a group of organizations (ideal for a trade association, for example). I like the look of the options, and particularly am pleased that VistaShare is a nonprofit microenterprise.

For a couple of good readings on outcome measurement in our sector, check out these:

Outcome Measurement: Showing Results in the Nonprofit Sector (United Way of America)

A wonderful set of readings from Carter McNamara at the Free Management Library

An old management sage once said "You can't manage if you don't measure." I agree.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Get out the vote.....

My son Adam, daughter Caitlin, and I were watching John Kerry on "The Daily Show" last night, and got into a discussion about the already ugly campaign, and how important it is. Adam is 19, so this will be his first Presidential election and he's excited. Adam's probably voting for Kerry, and one of his roommates is active in the Young Republicans in Ann Arbor. Should make for some good debates! Caitlin is 16 and will have to wait a bit.

All of which reminds me to urge you to urge your staff, your board, your volunteers, and all their families to not only register to vote, but also to cast their votes on November 2nd. Remember, it's not just about Kerry/Bush....There are thousands of state and local elections going on as well.

There are, of course, a ton of places you can go online to register. Take a look at these sites, and consider sending out an email to your various constituencies urging everyone to register and vote. Remember that, as a not-for-profit, there are strict limits on your support of particular candidates, even in passing. But encouraging people to register and vote is completely appropriate.

Federal Registration Site

Your Vote Matters (from Working Assets)

You should also consider putting some voter registration links on your website. The links above are national and you can use them, or you can use your state Secretary of State's site.

Elections matter. I have always strongly felt that being informed and voting is one of the obligations of citizenship. Get registered, and get out and vote.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Thinking About Nonprofit Generation Change

I've been thinking a lot about generation change recently, probably because my eldest son graduated from college in May, and has moved to Seattle. And, my wife and I have firmed up retirement plans, so this kind of stuff is on my mind.

And this has what to do with nonprofits? A lot. There is a huge set of generational changes going on in our employees and in our volunteers, ones you and your organization should pay attention to, and see if you can benefit from. Here are the most important ones, as I see them.

1. Boomers coming in the door: There are literally thousands of Boomers who have done their 20-25 years in the for-profit/military/government world and who, having taken retirement i their first career, are thinking: "what ever happened to my idealism of the 60's? I want to do something important." These people are looking for work in the nonprofit sector, and have amazing skills. But they haven't figured out how to fit in yet. I meet these people all the time when I do training. They come up to me and say: "I loved what you said. I started with my organization a year ago, and with my 20 years in business, I'm still trying to figure out their mindset....". The question for you: How can you find these experienced people and use their talents?

2. Boomers going out the door: At the same time, people in my generation who have spent their careers in the nonprofit world are deciding on their own retirement plans. Since there have been so many of us (boomers) we've clogged up the management/supervision pipeline. Who is going to replace these people? Sheer demographics say we don't have enough skilled managers to fill the slots coming open in the next 10 years. The question for you: Look at your management team. How many are over 55? Do you have a management succession plan? Are you training enough new managers internally?

3. Whatever happened to GenX and GenY? I get requests all the time from Executive Directors and Board Presidents about ways to recruit younger board members, and younger volunteers. (By younger here, I mean under 30) I always answer with this question: " Is everything I would need to know about volunteering, or about serving as a committee member or board member available online? Everything: meeting times, time obligations, conflict of interest, term of service length, everything?" The answer, of course, is almost always "Uh, no." "Then", I say, "Then, they won't come." The reality is that people under 30 are online as comfortably as they breath. That's where they go for information on everything from movie times to volunteering opportunities at your organization. Questions for you: Do you have the ability to donate online with credit cards and PayPal? Do you have complete information about available volunteering opportunities, board service etc on your website, including ways to send you follow-up questions by email? You need to. Words to recruit by: If you build it--they won't come. If you build it online--they just might.

4. Unintended Consequences. This issue came up at the Alliance for Nonprofit Management conference I attended last week. With all the wonderful educational resources now available, many managers of not-for-profits are now coming in the door with undergraduate or graduate degrees in nonprofit management and going directly into the management ranks. This is a huge change from the traditional sequence of starting as a direct provider, and moving up the food chain (often without adequate management training). My concern? Will the new managers (who may never have worked directly with patients/clients/students/etc) have the passion for mission that the prior generation did? Thus, our fabulous expansion of educational opportunities (one of the best things that have happened to our field in the past 20 years) may negatively impact the most important thing we possess; our passion for mission. Question for you: How do we retain passion for mission when we hire professional managers?

Monday, August 23, 2004

Accountability Resources

Just a short post to point you to two great resources on accountability, a related issue to yesterday's post.

These are two papers from NY Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's office. They are in .PDF form, so you may need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader. Both have great information for all nonprofit boards and staff, not just those in New York State.

Responsibilities of Directors and Officers of Not-for-Profit Corporations

Internal Controls and Financial Accountability for Not-for-Profit Boards

Remember, accountability and transparency are increasingly important in today's cynical environment. Get things in order before people start to ask questions, and you will be able to keep your focus on your mission, rather than cleaning up messes.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Organizational Transparency - Part One

Why Part One? This is such an important issue, and the standard is being raised all the time. Here's a checklist for you to consider:

1. Go to and check your organization's report. Guidestar posts both your IRS-990 form and other information, so you want to make sure it is correct. There is also an option for you to update your report, which is particularly important if, in your reporting year, you had an unusually bad (or good) set of outcomes and you want to make sure people see a more realistic view. Guidestar is used by more and more potential donors, and nearly every foundation starts their review of your organization by going there.

2. Post your 990 report at your website. In the current climate of distrust, you want to lead with the fact that you are a trustworthy, well run organization. By putting your 990 (and, I would suggest additional information about outcomes, people served, etc.) on your website, you can get a head of the cynicism curve. Make sure you put trend data on as well (how many people you served in different areas over three or four years, for example). Remember, you want to post the original 990, so scan it into .PDF form (and add a link to the free Adobe Reader or take it to a place like your local Kinko's, who can do it for you.

3. Make sure your Executive Director signs the 990 form. This action is a result of Sarbanes-Oxley, which is requiring a different level of corporate officer accountability.

4. Make absolutely sure you have a conflict of interest policy for your board and staff. Discuss the policy annually, and make sure everyone understands what it means. Here is a sample policy, with discussion. Here's a link to another sample policy in .doc (Word) format.

You want to make sure you have the simple stuff done, and done before people ask. As I said earlier, this area is a moving target, so I'll post more as events warrant: that's kind of why I started this blog. Oh, and here is one of the management ideas on transparency from my website.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Two BIG worries for nonprofits

There are two significant concerns for the not-for-profit sector on my mind today. The first has been building for some time, the second has popped up over just the past two months. I think these are things that we in the sector need to pay attention to, and right quick. They both have the capacity to significantly change the way our sector works, and not for the better.

Fundraising Boards
The issue here is the increasing prevalence of fund raising, not just as an important job for a board of directors, but the primary job for the board. If you have ever come to any of my training, or read any of my books, you know I am a big supporter of boards being involved in fund raising. They should be part of any giving campaign, go with staff for corporate or foundation grant interviews, and should give funds themselves (not necessarily equal amounts, but something) each year. So boards being involved in fund-raising is not my issue.

What is a concern is that more and more boards spend more and more of their time doing nothing but fund-raising, and as a result, many organizations are recruiting fund raising board members, rather than board members who have the broad skulked needed to provide good management oversight. When the primary skill of all (or even most) of the board members is fund raising (or worse, just a fat wallet), who is watching the rest of the organization? A board is supposed to provide a check and balance on the employees. To do that well, the board must have a lot of skills, such as financial acumen, community organizing, planning, managing, etc.

Should your organization have board members who like to ask people for money? Sure. But they need more skills than just that. If you need donated funds that badly, develop a fund-raising or development commit who is made up solely of people who are skilled at getting donations, running special events, etc. But don't make that the primary function of the board.

A publication from Boardsource
Training focused on boards as fundraiser
A good (old) article on research in this area

My overarching concern here is for good management of not-for-profit resources. This takes skilled and dedicated staff and skilled and dedicated volunteers to accomplish. If the checks and balances that are built into the system are ignored, oversight is lost, and bad things will happen.

And, bad things HAVE happened, which leads me to my second concern.

Legislative and Regulatory Changes for Not-for-profits
Bad things have happened in our sector. United Way of the National Capital Area, for example, was a highly visible, very ugly organizational screwup. Dozens of family foundations have pushed the limits and, in a number of cases, simply abused the intent of the not-for-profit law and regulation. As a result, lawmakers, both at the federal level and in many states, are coming up with solutions, some interesting, a few pretty good, and some outright ridiculous. Finally, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, intended to prevent for-profit corporate abuse (think Enron) is being interpreted widely as having implications for not-for-profits throughout the U.S.

A White Paper on the implications of Sarbanes Oxley from BoardSource and Independant Sector.
The U. S. Senate Finance Committee's Staff recommendations on reform of charitable regulation.
A Response to the Senate Finance Committee Staff Recommendations from BoardSource.

You need to pay attention to this. While many of the Senate's ideas are good ones that pursue tax shelter abusers, many will affect all charitable organizations in very bad ways.

Some of the federal staff suggestions include:

-a five year-recertification of all not-for-profits,
-a limit on the number of board members any charity can have,
-a federal list of board duties
-federally based accreditation of all charities

Political observation: Did I miss something or is this not a Republican (less regulation/less government) administration.?

Irony observation: Most of the large family "foundation"/tax shelters that the government is going after are from large wealty families, but in order to fix that very specific problem, the Senate is going after everyone.

Again: this matters. It matters for your organization and your ability to do good mission. Check these out, and ask your state and national trade associations about what is going on in your state and in your particular area of work.

Friday, August 20, 2004


I want to make sure I get this in here sooner rather than later. Techsoup is THE place for your nonprofit to look for all things tech. They offer newsletters, a FAQ and, most importantly to most readers, discounted costs on a huge range of necessary software. There are discussion boards, and lots more. Make sure you get on their newsletter lists. Great resource