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 Guidestar.org 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

OK, I'm back

.....after something like 200 days. My bad.

I just got back from the Alliance for Nonprofit Management Conference in D.C. and went to a great session on Blogs run by TechSoup. I realized that in between my newsletter each month, I can post ideas and resources for people, and then refer them here from the newsletter, or my website.

So here goes. First of many cool things for nonprofit managers, nonprofit board members, and funders.

I've long advocated for more earned income in the nonprofit sector. Here's a study of three organizations that got involved in E-Commerce, from the Benton Foundation. Worth reading