Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Long time gone--again

Well, we are deep into the holiday season and i've been gone ever since thanksgiving--no excuse, but posting has gone down my priority list.

Time to play catchup.

1. Wall Street Journal last Monday had a long article about making good charitable choices for holiday donations. Nothing radical, but two full pages on WSJ space highlights the importance of, and the oversight on the issue. One of the criteria was, not surprisingly, transparency, and another was "Cost of fundraising" These articles are important for nonprofits to attend to, as they set the standard for many people who are trying to be more selective with their donations. So, if you are a nonprofit manager, pay attention. Here is one shortened (read: dumbed down) version of the article, but the full article is not available unless you are a WSJ subscriber....

2. I have long contended that Good To Great, by Jim Collins is the most important nonprofit management book out there--even though it is written solely about for-profits. Rumors have abounded that Collins was trying to take his deep research methods and apply them to find some magic in and for nonprofits. The rumors are true---but it was MUCH harder than he thought it would be.

The result of his efforts is a monograph available on Amazon called Good to Great and the Social Sector. I have it ordered, but have not received it...when I get it and read it through, I'll post a review.

3. Saw Boston University with Caitlin last week. She loved it, and is really excited about the Hospitality Management program there. Applications still going out....

More soon.

Online Donations

We all know that online donations are growing, and I have long recommended to all of my clients to have the ability to accept donations both by credit card and PayPal. Of course, there are numerous providers who process donations, and lots of software that tracks it. So where to start.

As always, start with TechSoup. Their current newsletter highlights a set of articles on selecting a good online donation tool. http://www.techsoup.org/howto/articles/funding/page4172.cfm will get you there.

Take a look, and make sure that you consider taking donations online, and if you do, in upgrading your donation interface. I saw one last night that only let me give $10, $25, or $50. Really. No more, no different.....silly.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thankful for.....

So we've just finished our turkey, and while we wait to go to our movie (a family tradition), I'm thinking about what I'm thankful for (beyond family, friends and health--always first on my list). Here are some thoughts... in sort of priority order....and then a hope....

1. I'm thankful for a generous and compassionate population, who reach out to others directly, and through nonprofits.

2. I'm thankful for freedom--freedom of speech (which often results in people realizing that others are being hurt - think slavery, women's rights, prisoner abuse), freedom of religion (which is the basis of so much good in the nonprofit sector) and freedom of choice -so we don't have to get all our education, health care, art, music, from one central source.....

3. I'm thankful that the US Senate came to its senses and didn't mandate 15 board members for every nonprofit, or that all nonprofits have to be re-authorized every three years. Actually, I'm just grateful the Senate came to its senses at all...they seem to have lacked that until the past few weeks.

4. I'm grateful for creative compassion. I'm always awed by the endless number ways that bright, caring people can come up with to help others.

5. I'm thankful to live in an age allows instant communication all over the world, so that people who have never known each other can still help each other quickly and efficiently.

And I hope that one day, we all, everywhere, can be as united in thought and common hope as we were on that wonderful July night when I was 17, and the first men were landing on the moon. I have never forgotten the sense of global unity, of common purpose, of togetherness that we talked about for weeks afterward. Even though it seems so remote in this fractured, angry world, it sure would be nice to feel that again.

Anyway, hope you had a good thanksgiving...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Again impressed

Janet Froetscher, the CEO of the United Way of Greater Chicago, came to speak at our Kellogg class Monday. I was again impressed, not only by Janet, but by what the United Way in Chicago is doing. It has made huge strides in re-empowering communities, in driving performance and outcomes, and in forcing the area's nonprofit community to think differently.

One crux of all this is common information, common indicators, larger databases, and people who are dedicated to sifting through the data to find signficant nuggets.

And, a great outcome of all this work was the community's response to all the victims of Katrina who began showing up two days after the hurricane struck. Janet told us that story and noted that the trust/visibility United Way had built up over the prior three years was put to great use as the UW coordinated the community response.

Yet again, Janet said the magic words---"United Way buys outcomes, we don't fund projects."

If only the rest of the funding world would listen.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Drucker remembered

What a mind. Half of my book clubs read Managing the Nonprofit Organization this month, and we talked (three days after his death) about the importance of Drucker's weighing in on nonprofit organizations needing to be better managed when he did (1990). As I vividly recall, his ideas (which a bunch of people, including yours truly had been advocating for a decade with no luck), created a firestorm of criticism. People in the field, particularly foundations and large national nonprofits, scoffed at the idea of a charity being businesslike, dissing the concept as unseemly, and bemoaning the "fact" that adopting business techniques would sully the pristine landscape of charities.

Some people still feel that way today, although far fewer, particularly in an era of outcome measures, benchmarking, and transparency. Drucker's name and reputation was so large, so imposing that he really was the father of good nonprofit management.

And we owe him a pause in our busy days to remember that.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Ann Arbor thoughts

In Ann Arbor for parents' weekend. Yet again impressed with the next generation of young people and their amazing talents. We've been to games, concerts, shows, had dinner, all with students who make me sooooo optimistic about the future.
And where is the missing one of my son's roommates? At a conference on organizing college students as volunteers with some huge number of his peers. And where are a large number of Michigan students going at spring break (including my son)? To the Gulf, and other locations, to help others.

We're growing a great new generation of volunteers and community activists. The trick will be to keep them active in our organizations after they get into the "real" world.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Let's stop spam

Our friends at Techsoup have some great ideas on stopping spam. PLEASE join in....

From today's Techsoup newsletter comes the following:

The third annual "Stop Spam Today!" campaign begins today. This
educational campaign is sponsored by TechSoup.org and Mailshell,
one of our long-time technology partners. The campaign
culminates on December 14 and 15, when nonprofits and libraries
can order free MailShell anti-spam software at TechSoup Stock.
Throughout the campaign, TechSoup.org will feature content
focused on protecting your organization from the dangers of
spam. Highlights include articles to help you fight spam in your
organization and links to helpful anti-spam resources.

Not bad---free advice, free software, and anything that can reduce the plague of spam gets my vote.....check it out at:


Die, spam, die......

Sunday, November 06, 2005

SOX stuff

No, not the White Sox (who?) or even the Red Sox. Most readers know what SOX is. The Sarbanes-Oxley bill, which Congress enacted to counter the excesses of Enron and WorldCom, has some implications (although no outright provisions) for nonprofits. And, pretty much everyone (including yours truly) feels that there are provisions of SOX that make sense for you to implement at your nonprofit.

Independent Sector and BoardSource have done some good work on this. Two papers are available, both in .pdf form:

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act and Implications for Nonprofit Organizations


Learning from Sarbanes-Oxley: A Checklist for Nonprofits and Foundations

These two documents are worth both reading and printing out to have on hand if you are asked what your organization is doing in this area.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Leadership fun

Had a ridiculously fun discussion at Kellogg last night with my MBA students about leadership in nonprofits. The students were engaged and animated, and it was a great time.

Most interesting to me was the number (about 25%) who responded to a pre-class assignment by providing the same top two leadership characteristics for for-profit leaders AND nonprofit leaders. Previous classes had made careful distinctions between the two. As I told the class, I think this is because, more than our previous classes, this group "gets" the concept that leadership is about people, and people are really pretty much the same everywhere.

We did agree, however, that the impact of poor leader behavior for nonprofit leaders is greater than in for-profits. Thus Martha Stewart comes out of jail, gets a reality show, and is back on track, her company little if any worse for her time in the slammer. Try imagining a nonprofit leader getting her old job back after jail time for a felony.

Anyway, good discussion. A room full of bright eyes. What a rush.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Electric Embers Rocks

Yet again, I have to sing the praises of the people (all 3 of them, I think) at Electric Embers. They are the world's best, easiest, friendliest and least expensive ISP. If you are a nonprofit and you want to both save money and work with great people who are dedicated to social sector progress, check them out. I cannot say enough good things about them.

And, on an equally important note--have a safe Halloween. I'll be in Evanston teaching, so no trick or treat for me this year.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Long time gone

Gad. It's been more than a week since I posted. Time flies when you're busy. And, with a book deadline coming up, I only have so many words in me....

Been thinking about economic models for nonprofits more. I blogged about this a bunch a couple of weeks ago, and the more I consider it, the more i think that a more heavily volunteer model--even for SOME skilled jobs, is going to be a partial solution.

Read "Managing the Nonprofit Corporation" this week, by Peter Drucker. Pretty good. Our book club will be discussing it in a couple of weeks. I like Drucker's writing style, and his early insights into the sector.

On a more fun note, I read Kurt Vonnegut's "Man Without a Country" one afternoon (it's a short set of essays) and was reminded why he was my favorite author in high school and college. Warning: If you are political conservative, don't bother. It will just make you mad.

Back to work--oh, on a very personal note, my daughter Caitlin, who regular readers knows is applying to college, was accepted into the first school she applied to: Purdue. One down, six to go.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Great group at Tahoe

For the second straight year, The Center for Civic Partnerships, based in Sacramento, has provided an Executive development session for 20 small, public health related organizations. And, for the second year, I had the privilege of doing part of the training.

A wonderful eclectic group, with lots of energy and passion for their missions. As I often do, I came away impressed with the resourcefulness and commitment that people bring to our sector. Makes me have renewed hope on some days.

What's so interesting about these kinds of groups is always the commonality of their issues. Whether they are large or small, new or old, from metropolitan areas or rural, the same stuff vexes them: Boards, competition for donations, staff turnover, reduced federal/state funding, funder oversight, etc. And, all the execs talk about the constantly increasing stress of their jobs.

What bums me out is that these same issues vexed me as an exec in 1979. With all the progress we've made in management, media, technology and research, the same stuff still gets in our way.

I wonder whether execs in 40 years will still be grappling with them. Probably.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Strategy: chase the money

Our class this week at Kellogg was about strategy in nonprofits. It was a well-discussed issue, with the NFTE (the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship) as the case.

I loved the discussion, but the next day on a plane to Sacramento, I was thinking how far too many nonprofits have the following strategy: Chase the money, and rationalize that this enhances the mission. Really. When you look at many nonprofit organizational charts, you see three, four, five, even ten different industries that they are in, all wrapped around an issue (hunger, homelessness, disabilities), and many of these services are provided adequately, but not well.

I fully understand that issues like homelessness can't be solved just by providing shelter, and that in the quest to go after root problems, some expansion of mission is pretty common. But there is so little careful consideration of whether or not a new service can be done well, right from the start. The lure of the grant/contract, and of growth overshadows quality nearly every time. When was the last time your organization turned down money on the basis of poor quality? Do you do everything, really, really well?

Don't the people we serve deserve to be served better than just adequately?

Monday, October 17, 2005

Book review....

I received a copy of Sue Bennett's great new book from the Fieldstone Alliance, The Accidental Techie; Supporting, Managing and Maximizing Your Nonprofit's Technology.

It is great. It has a broader audience than you might think, but is focused on those of us who inherit the tech roles in our nonprofits, and yet don't hold a master's in computer science from MIT. That's most of us. It is full of practical advice, checklists, worksheets and resources on the issues that vex most part time techies. For example, there is an entire chapter on tech protection...an area where many of us lose sleep. There is a chapter on funding for technology, and one on supporting tech users. Not only would this be a good book for techies, but also for executive directors who are supervising techies--there is a fair amount of explanation of the key issues that would be helpful even to nontechies.

This book is a must for anyone who dabbles in tech, or who becomes a techie because, in the words of the first quote in the book: "Since I knew what a motherboard was, and I had a screwdriver, I became the computer "expert" in our office."

This is a resource that I will both refer to myself and recommend to clients for a long time.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Here's a thought...

One thing that concerns me mightily is the losing battle most human service nonprofits are fighting in the battle between higher demand for services, more mandates from funders and static or even falling funding.

This is not news to anyone in this part of the nonprofit sector, but many agencies are reaching a breaking point, and something has to give. So I had this thought while hiking the other day here in Idaho. Why not rethink our model of service provision and incorporate more highly trained volunteers?

Most human services are primarily trained by paid staff. And, most funders and accrediting bodies mandate certain levels of education, regular training, and experience.

But so what? There are lots of critical services already provided in the U.S. by highly trained and dedicated volunteers. Most firefighters in the US are volunteers--it's just that they live in smaller communities who can't afford full-time paid protection. And they do a great job. Same with EMS services, and search and rescue. Most of these life and death services are provided by a willing network of highly trained unpaid community servants.

So why not in human services? I thought of my sister's group home. Staffing small group homes is always a challenge. So what activities could safely be outsourced to a group of volunteers?

Food comes to mind. It must be planned, someone must shop for it, it must be prepared, served, and cleaned up. 3 times a day, seven days a week. Say two hours of total staff time per meal, that's 42 hours a week--a full FTE. What if the agency that runs the home asked a church group to do these chores say, two days a week, or even 3? If you think of the amount of time that would save the staff, who could focus on actually being with the residents of the home, rather than off shopping and cooking?

Such transitions would not be easy, and as anyone who works with volunteers will tell you, they are not "free", but the model bears examining.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Nutty week

I've been traveling--all good stuff. But as always it gives me time to think and reflect. And, on this trip, I had a bunch of one-on-one time with two of my three kids. All of which leads me to a couple of nonprofit relevant observations.

First, Caitlin and I went to Purdue to look at their Hospitality and Tourism Management department. A good visit, but unconvincing as a slam-dunk for her as a top choice. We returned home and she started in on her applications. Of the 6-7 schools she's applying to, just one uses the so called "common application" which is designed to reduce student workload. So not much of a benefit for her. But it reminded me again of how great it would be if nonprofit funders could agree on basic common information (perhaps coordinated with the 990?) How much money would that save nationally?

Next, I came out to Seattle, where I am writing this. I spent a full two days with my son Ben, who is 23 and works for Microsoft. We talked at length about Ben's and his friends' habits and preferences in volunteering, donating, and being involved in general with nonprofits. I learned a lot and it confirmed some things I have already observed. But here are two nuggets for you to chew on if you are interested in attracting 20-something volunteers.

1. The people in this age group PARTICULARLY if they attended high-end universities, are trained to (and a bit obsessed by) "making our time productive", in Ben's words. This confirms a lot of what I've read. These kids have been so scheduled, have taken on so much to compete to get into college and then to succeed in tough universities, that they squeeze every minute of every day. Lesson for us: Don't waste their time. If you have a volunteer event scheduled from 10-4, make sure it starts promptly at ten, and that you have enough to do to keep people gainfully employed until 4. If they get done early, let them go. Ben talked about two volunteer events, one where he and a bunch of other Microsoft employees moved mattresses for a few hours (very rewarding--he knew that the regular staff couldn't do this well), but then sat around for the last hour doing nothing (drove everyone in the group a bit crazy). So, keep your word.

2. This generation is SOCIAL. They live, work, email, chat, and network in groups like no generation before them. They WANT to be with others of their age, and will volunteer in groups IF YOU FACILITATE IT. Lesson for us: Thing socially in volunteer development: design events for groups (at least for this age group), and ask people in this age group to invite their friends and/or peers.

There were a number of other things that impressed me, but I'll blog about those tomorrow or the next day. I want to mull them over first.

Good stuff, if you are interested in this age group.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Funding Technology

Got two things in the email today about funding technology,

First is from TechSoup, their newsletter features an article on Ten Tips for Funding Technology;

Second, a newsletter from Fieldstone Alliance (the former Wilder Foundation Press) highlights their newest book "The Accidental Techie: Supporting, Managing, and Maximizing Your Nonprofit's Technology", by Sue Bennett.

Both are worth checking out...that is, if you want to get more tech, or more FROM your tech

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Juggling many fun balls

A ton of new stuff going on. I am developing a new, more interactive business development course for NISH, one that will be much more tech oriented, and probably include podcasts, a website, and a course CD. Fun.

I have been asked by a pair of Kellogg graduates to be their faculty advisor for the development of a case study about a Chicago area school. Again, something new and fun.

I'm finally getting into the depths of my new book, which is due to my publisher in January. I wrote like a demon for most of June and early July, then basically stopped while I did some research, and now am back at it, but behind the word production curve, so to speak. I should catch up in the next few weeks as my travel time is nutty. People have asked me for years how I am a Dad, a husband, do my work AND write books. The answer, plane rides and hotels...

Speaking of nutty travel, I'm going to the U.K. again next spring to do a session on governance for NCVO. This year I'll share a day of master class training with my good friend and board guru Carol Weisman. But the way the schedule works I'll arrive in London on a Monday morning on an overnight flight from Chicago, and leave Tuesday afternoon. Thus, I'll be on the ground in the UK for 32 hours, and gone from home 51. Certainly won't have to worry about adjusting to different time zones.....

The Alliance for Nonprofit Management's Standards Committee met this week, and we're getting there on revising our Ethics Standards for Capacity Builders. Great group of people with great discussions. We've been at it for over a year. Silly me, I thought that a set of ethical guidelines would be easy and quick. Hah. It's a LOT more complex than it looks at first glance. But the draft set of guidelines was good, and we got a lot of good input from the membership.

And, most important, today is my daughter's high school homecoming game. She's a senior, and an officer of everything, so this is a big event. It's always fun to go and hang out with all of our neighbors and friends at tailgate and the game. A good reminder of why community is so important.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

John's question

John asked a great question yesterday---here it is:

"What suggestions do you have for differentiating between governance and micro-management - and who determines where and how the lines are drawn? The administrator suggests monthly financial statements for a Board that meets monthly and oversees a charter high school and junior high school are an attempt by the Board to micro-manage. My take is a board has an obligation to micro-manage if necessary to insure compliance with state and Federal regulations and protect the public interest."

Of course the answer is not cut and dried. But I tell my clients that there are three times that boards must do management or even micro management---First, at startup when there are no staff; second, when the organization is in severe financial crisis--as in it may not make it through the next 60 days--which of course means that the board has probably been deficient in its oversight; and third, when there is immoral or illegal behavior in the ED/CEO position.

But other than that, no. If the board does not feel that the staff is doing the job, particularly in the area of compliance with state and federal regs, don't do the work for the staff--get new staff who can do the work. Now, this does NOT mean that boards should not get assurance that these things have been done, they should--and there's a simple way--have an audit with a management letter.

But micro management is NOT the board's job, and it will drive away competent staff.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Great group of students

What a terrific group of students we have this year---so much more depth of experience working and volunteering for both domestic and international nonprofits. Wow.

We had a good start-the students proposed key areas vexing nonprofits and Don Haider and I gave them opposing points of view in a debate format of the issue. A lot of fun. I'm particularly eager to see how the students deal with our final project related to nonprofit response to the asian tsunami of last Christmas.

A good start.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Back at Kellogg

First class of the new semester here at Kellogg, teaching Nonprofit Management to MBA students. Tonight my co-professor and I will start with a debate on key issues in the sector, and then move into raising tough questions with our students.

I love this part of my life. It's the most fun thing I do professionally, and very rewarding. I'm looking forward to the interaction with the students, and to their final paper, which is to evaluate the efficiency of two international NGO's who responded to the tsunami.

More tomorrow on what challenges the students threw out to us. They are so smart they scare me, sometimes.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Podcast and other tech news

Just some Sunday morning ramblings about tech..

First, I really like A9. I've posted about it before, but what a great search engine. Allows so much specificity, even searches research, blogs, etc. Nice tool.

Second, I have been invited to be on a podcast for a management podcast show....check it out

We're working on a "taping" date, and I'll post about the release when I know.

I've been spending much of the weekend tuning up our home computers and my old laptop, now a ductaped email/browsing/IM machine. Amazes me how much crap gets saved (one computer had 3500 tmp files or files with no content) by lazy programmers who don't bother to have their installation remove the temp files they create.

But also a good reminder to all of us to maintain our machines regularly. Not just backing up, but cleaning out the registry, cleaning out junk, clearing non-functioning bookmarks, and, of course, the big dog--defragging the hard drive.

You'll get more out of your machines, cut boot time, and the hard drive will last longer.....

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Conflict over conflicts

In the past month (in fact, during much of my lull in posting) I have been wrestling with three groups, two who are paying clients and one pro bono, who either have, or are about to have, serious board conflicts of interest.

In the worst case, a board member has been contracting for services for years, with no bidding, no review. In fact, the board member has proposed more services, the exec has resisted, and the board decided to sign the contract without the exec involved! Talk about asking for a visit from the IRS.

In another case, two or three board members can control the entire board, by reason of poorly written (or intentionally weak) bylaws. And they do. And there is little accurate or meaningful oversight from the other board members, who are really a throwback--titular board members who never come to meetings but lend their names....I thought that all ended in about 1990.

Makes me sad, makes me angry, makes me frustrated......

If you share my views, read these good pieces from Independent Sector:

Sample Code of Ethics


Obedience to the Unenforceable

Now I have to decide what to do as a consultant.......

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Amazing read---if you care about people

OK, so that's a guilt-enducing title for a post, but man, what a book.

Begging for Change, by Robert Eggar is, simply, amazing. An in your face rant about what's wrong and what's right with our sector, from a guy who runs the DC Central Kitchen. It's a fast read, more an autobiography with side rants than anything else.

But I can see why it won the McAdam award for best new nonprofit book this year. Good, mind-bending rethinking of our sector. It's going on my book club list for next cycle.

Check it out

Monday, September 19, 2005

Back in the saddle

Long, long time gone. But that's where I've been. Gone. For a number of reasons.

First, posts here, post-Katrina just seemed petty and irresponsible. As a former New Orleans resident, the entire situation from the actual storm, to the total breakdown of every kind of help was so appalling it kept me up nights, and depressed during the day.

The one bright light has been the response of the nonprofit community. While the feds, state, and locals, to varying degrees, dropped the ball big time, the nonprofit community obviously learned both from 9/11 and the tsunami how to get people and material in place quickly. Good for them/us, and I hope the feds pay attention.

My second reason for absence has been being on the road. Since September 8 I've been on 14 planes, rented 5 cars, stayed in 6 hotels (and slept on a plane one night) been through TSA security 8 times and been home twice for turnarounds of less than 18 hours. Most of that time I was doing what I was doing (some of which was work and some of which was fun), and not blogging.

But now I'm back, and ready to resume. I've got class at Kellogg starting in a week, and thus more bright eyes to teach. I've got a book to finish writing, and a bunch of other good things coming up. So, I'll be here regularly.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Helping the Victims of Katrina

Helping the Victims of Katrina
There's no question that we need to be finding ways to help people in the Gulf Coast who are suffering from Katrina. I lived in Louisiana for three years, and went to graduate school at Tulane, so I'm very familiar with the area and know the difficulties everyone faces in dealing with the aftermath. It will be years before the area gets back on its feet.

There are already wondeful stories of people trying to help--I heard a bit on NPR last night about a neighborhood in Idaho Falls that wants to rent a bus, drive to Baton Rouge and take 5 families back to Idaho with them for as long as it takes....we'll hear more about that level of compassion in the coming weeks, just as we will also see and hear seemingly endless stories of tragedy and sadness.

So, what can we do? First, mobilize our networks. Talk to you staff, your board, your community leaders about what your town, your agency, your network can do.

Second, post ways for people to give cash. It's really what the Red Cross, Salvation Army and the other organizations struggling to help need most.

Here are some organizations, websites and phone numbers you can post on your site.

American Red Cross www.redcross.org 1-800-HELP NOW (435-7669) English, 1-800-257-7575 Spanish
America's Second Harvest www.secondharvest.org 1-800-344-8070 Adventist Community Services www.adventist.communityservices.org 1-800-381-7171
Catholic Charities, USA www.catholiccharitiesusa.org 703 549-1390 Christian Disaster Response www.cdresponse.org 941-956-5183 or 941-551-9554
Church World Service www.churchworldservice.org 1-800-297-1516
Convoy of Hope www.convoyofhope.org 417-823-8998
Christian Reformed World Relief Committee www.crwrc.org 1-800-848-5818
United Methodist Committee on Relief www.gbgm-umc.org/umcor/ 1-800-554-8583
Lutheran Disaster Response www.ldr.org 800-638-3522
Mennonite Disaster Service www.mds.mennonite.net 717-859-2210
Salvation Army www.salvationarmyusa.org 1-800-SAL-ARMY (725-2769) Southern Baptist Convention www.sbc.net 1-800-462-8657, ext. 6440 Nazarene Disaster Response www.nazarenedisasterresponse.org 888-256-5886
Operation Blessing www.ob.org 1-800-436-6348
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance www.pcusa.org/pda 800-872-3283

Remember to note that if people give online, to target the gift for hurricane relief. Also check with your local United Way, as well as your mayor's office to see if any community relief efforts are being planned.

I fully believe that we've just seen the tip of this tragedy, and that it will turn out to be the largest natural disaster--by far--- in our nation's history. We need to help now, and then continue to remember to help as the months and years pass and our attention gets shifted to other events.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Headin' for a weddin'

I have been on the road a bunch. Last weekend, college visits and time with family. Also got to see our house in Virginia (2 years and counting) and meet some of our neighbors. Then, this week was spent writing articles, getting ready for interviews about my work in progress book, and finishing up a bunch of smaller projects. Thus no posting for a bit.

Now, I'm in Chicago on the way to the first wedding of my eldest son's group of "Four Amigos"; best friends starting in middle school, all through high school and college. I'll get to see all four guys, all of whom I think of as sons, and all five of the Brinckerhoffs will be together as well, which is always a treat. Next week, I take middle son back to Ann Arbor. Public school starts for my wife and daughter on Monday. Summer is done and done.

But, of course, on the road I was thinking....for the 30,000th time, why do we need a garage sale/golf tournament/house tour, or fund raiser of any kind, to support a free medical clinic, or a homeless shelter, or a soup kitchen in the richest country in the history of the world? For that matter--why do ANY children in the US go to bed hungry every night? What are we thinking? Or are we just looking away, going on with our lives?

What started all of this brain depression was one of three essays my youngest child Caitlin wrote this week in preparation for Senior AP English. The essay assignment was to pick an important event from the summer (personal, local, state, national, or international) and describe how it affected the student emotionally and intellectually. Caitlin chose a bad car accident that injured 4 of her friends about a month ago. In that accident (which was the fault of a truck driver who slammed into a van, which hit Caitlin's friends' cars), a family of five was killed. Caitlin's friends were all injured to some degree, one was hospitalized and unconscious for 3 days. In recounting her horror and concern, Caitlin noted that accidents happen (and are reported) all the time, but she never pays attention, and wondered why? In admitting to not caring about some bad things as much as she should, Caitlin wrote that she felt most people acted the same way, and then asked "What is wrong with us? Why are we so selfish?"

I read the essay, and thought--well kiddo, sorry to tell you that it doesn't get better when you grow up. We still turn away, cluck a bit, and go on with our lives.

And that's why kids go to sleep hungry in a country with surplus food and supersized meals.


Friday, August 19, 2005

And the winner is......

So I lied. I didn't post last night--we got in too late to Charlottesville.

Well, there are winners and there are winners in the customer service derby between William & Mary and UVA, but they really don't matter, since Caitlin really liked UVA and like W&M as much. And, I've made it clear that she's worked hard enough (as her brothers did) to get the right to choose the school she goes to...and thus my grading of a school on a customer service basis from one to seven really makes no difference.

But the little things....oooh. At UVA, we were told to go to a building and a room. When you came into the building there was no sign as to where the room was, no one to greet you, no info to page through (as there always have been at other schools--NOTE: I counted. These were my 12th and 13th college visits, so I have some perspective, although 10 of my other 11 were three or six years ago). So the lack of a greeter bugged me--would Caitlin be totally on her own the first few days. We didn't see an actual student room at either school, something that had never happened to me before. Were the rooms that awful?

And its the little things that people remember, and that they blog about. In truth, for Caitlin none of these things matter as much as her "vibe" about the place. Both are great universities with lots to offer and tons of talented students and faculty.

Something else to think about--what "vibe" do people get when they come to your organization?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Anticipating Customer Service Heaven

One thing I've learned with two kids in college is that things are JUST a bit different from when I was in school--when it was "Come in, sit down, shut up, pay your tuition, get an education and leave quietly."

Customer service, amazing customer service has been my experience at every school we've toured and at both of the schools my sons chose, WashU in St. Louis and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I hear the same refrain from parents of other students, and it is something that other nonprofits could work on.

Today, I'm in VA, heading to William and Mary and then tomorrow to Charlottesville to visit the University of Virginia with my daughter, Caitlin. But as we head out this morning, my anticipation of superb customer service is indicative of a big change. While the first few schools I looked at with Ben 6 years ago blew me away, now my expectation is that these places will be amazing. If they aren't, well, heck, what's wrong with them?

Customer's wants and expectations change. We need to pay attention.

And, I'll post after each visit. We'll see if they live up to my (probably unrealistically) high expectations.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Close the digital divide

Seniors (a title that my kids remind me I am fast approaching) get dissed for being the low-tech part of the population bell curve. I would say that the jury is out. While my Dad never even used an ATM, my mother really wanted to tech up, even early in the tech landslide. I see this with my older friends and relatives. Many, really most want to use their tech better, some are really proficient, a few would prefer to never again be in the same time zone with a cell phone or a computer.

That aside, there's a great site for seniors looking to improve their tech skills, or to set up classes for others. I would urge you to look at it if you have older staff, board members, volunteers, or service recipients who need to brush up on some part of their tech use.

And I love their motto: "Bringing Wisdom to the Information Age"


Check it out.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Two new books worth your time

Just finished looking through A Funder's Guide to Evaluation, by Peter York. Good tool for funders, but also for nonprofit managers, as it looks like a pretty reasonable set of expectations. Perhaps even something to GIVE to your funders!

Second book I haven't seen but have heard about, Forming Alliances, Working Together to Achieve Mutual Goals, by Emil Angelica and Linda Hoskins. I've heard both the authors and their prior works, particularly Emil's Coping with Cutbacks, are really good.

Check them out.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Good question....long term solution

Spent the last two days with some great groups in Houston. One pair, both social service providers is wrestling with what is, to my reading, an unsustainable situation in how they price and charge for counseling services.

We looked at their costs, their charges, their volume, their capacity. In both agency's case, their average charge is lower than their average cost, and that cost is already heavily subsidized by a small number of large grants and donations that are tenuous at best. This is, after all the town where Enron, with all of its largesse, vanished in a heartbeat.

Which brings up the issue of sustainable business models. Look at your largest area of work. Is the model sustainable if certain key funders cut or eliminate their funding to you? What can you do now to develop more sustainable models.

One good resource that I've noted before: the Center for Civic Partnerships has a workbook on just this issue. Go to www.civicpartnerships.org

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Ethical dilemma

I've posted a bunch recently on ethics and on my hope that the current surge in requests for talks on ethical issues and ethics policies is not just a passing fad.

But this last week, I had a chance to delve deeper into an ethical issue that all nonprofits face: what to offer in benefits for paid employees. It's the topic of my newsletter this month, and a concern for any thoughtful exec or board member.

Here is the dilemma:

Benefits are expensive and getting moreso every year. By spending more on benefits, we have less for salaries, and less for other mission activities. But with pay so low in general, benefits become even more important for some families, while others would simply like the cash to pay rent, utilities and buy food for the family.

Then there is the entire associated issue of living wages, which really gets to the heart of the matter: what we're doing (in minimum wages, in shared benefit costs, in huge deductibles) simply is not enough, not right, not ethical for many of our employees.

I wish I had an answer. I know that not-for-profit managers worry about this alot-they tell me. And, if we don't treat our employees right, how will they treat the people we are in the business to serve?

I've long said that nonprofit employees aren't in it for the money, but money IS important, and stuff does happen. Regular readers know about my January fall when I broke my ankle. Not bungee jumping, just walking the dog--current "cost"? Over $18,000 in bills from doctors, hospitals, radiology, etc. That's what someone who was uninsured would have to pay.

Let's see: If I make, say $7 an hour, and work 40 hours a week.....my GROSS salary for the next 64 weeks is taken up paying that bill. That's gross, not net after taxes and, of course, during that time I don't get to spend anything on anything else....this is why health insurance is so important, for full and part time staff.

Now I'm depressed. Anyway, check out the resources that I came up with in the newsletter. Perhaps you can rethink your own benefit array at your organization.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

What would you take?

Had an interesting question the other day, "What should a departing board member take with him/her when they leave a nonprofit?"

Hadn't really thought about it, but it's a great question. A departing board member certainly wants a record of what he/she has done with the organization. Even though no longer with the organization, there may be instances where legal action is brought against the organization for decisions made during the former board member's tenure.

My answer was to take at least:

---A copy of the audited statements and management letter from each year served. (which also gives you the auditor's name and contact information)

---A list of all board members (with contact information) from the time served.

---A copy of the Directors and Officers Insurance Policy.

---A copy of the bylaws.

---Minutes from any board (or committee) meeting where key and/or controversial decisions were reached.

Now, the odds are that none of this stuff would ever be needed. But they sure would be nice to have if things turned sour.

What would you add to this list?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Keep up to speed

The Nonprofit Sector Research Research Fund is a place you need to bookmark and visit periodically. The fund posts the results of some great research into the sector.

The current projects page lists research on nonprofit entrepreneurism, the motivations of volunteers, a case study on NGO-for profit alliances, and other interesting projects.

There is also a publications list, and an application form if you are a researcher.

Check it out.

Keep up to speed

The Nonprofit Sector Research Research Fund is a place you need to bookmark and visit periodically. The fund posts the results of some great research into the sector.

The current projects page lists research on nonprofit entrepreneurism, the motivations of volunteers, a case study on NGO-for profit alliances, and other interesting projects.

There is also a publications list, and an application form if you are a researcher.

Check it out.

Monday, August 01, 2005

A different sort of trip

I'm in Ohio, doing a speech to the Ohio Association of Cemetery Officials, a nonprofit comprised of nonprofit cemeteries...should be interesting--according to their president, they have too little funding, too little board participation, too little community understanding and too much regulation---sound familiar?

After that, my daughter and I head up the road to our first college visit at Miami of Ohio. Can't believe my little girl is a year from college. Gads.

I worked on my August newsletter this weekend, and it's going to be available as soon as I get out from under this FTP firewall at the Marriott. It's about ethical employee benefits, a really interesting issue that was suggested by a reader.

I'll post again once it's up.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Cool Embers

Free at last! Free at last!

I have FINALLY broken free of Earthlink. My website and email are now being provided through a very cool ISP dedicated to nonprofits, Electric Embers. I also use them for the listserves for the book clubs I facilitate. I LOVE these people.

If you have any thoughts about changing ISP's or are looking for great (and immediate) service, a bigger array of technical options than big ISP's like earthlink, and lower cost, check them out. In addition to web and DNS hosting, they also can do webmail, listerves (through NPOGroups) and provide a wide array of free tech support.

I recommend them enthusiastically!

Friday, July 22, 2005

Food for thought

When I was just out of graduate school, I decided in one of my fantasies that I would someday open a restaurant called "Food for Thought". Good food, good wine, and everywhere (on the walls, on the tables, on the menu, there would be little quotes, questions, conundrums for diners to consider or discuss. These would be timeless quotes, and issues of the day. People would come for the food and the conversation. There would even be tables or rooms set up for issue discussions.

Nice idea, never happened.

Last Saturday night, I had the next best thing..a dine-around discussion about reading and book clubs with 10 colleagues from the Alliance for Nonprofit Manaagement conference in Chicago. We talked about reading, about book discussions, about what we liked best in nonprofit books, in fiction, and in periodicals.

Lots of fun, lots to read, but a great discussion, nonetheless.

If you want to start thinking about nonprofit reading, go to the Alliance's website and look at the list of winners of the Terry McAdam Award for best new nonprofit books. It's a great place to start.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Authentic and Winning books

Had a good set of book club discussions this week. Liked both the books we read,

Authentic Leadership, by Bill George and Winning, by Jack and Suzy Welch. I thought both books have a lot to offer nonprofits. Our discussions of Welch's book were more controversial, simply because Welch is. A number of participants told us that they read the book with its cover jacket (which features a big picture of Welch) off.

I can't tell you which is better. Both are well organized, and if you like checklists, Winning is the better choice. Both run down a bit at the end.

But two books to put on your list, for sure.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Out of the woods, energized by the Alliance

I'm back from vacation, two weeks of family, friends, hiking, sailing, kayaking, and hanging out.

Reading Tom Friedman's newest: The World Is Flat, and loving it. What a great mind, a fabulous way to see the big strategic picture. I recommend it highly, though it is BIG. But so important.

As I write this I'm in Chicago, getting ready to head out for the Saturday edition of the Alliance for Nonprofit Management's annual conference here. What a fabulous group of people. Even only being with them yesterday afternoon left me more energized, more ready to get back to work than I could ever have done on my own.

Whenever I am with these peers, I am reminded yet again of the power of a group of people who are face to face and working toward a common goal.

Much fun, gotta go have some more.

Friday, July 01, 2005

On the Lake

At Squam Lake in NH with the fam. May post, may not. Will sail, swim, hike and enjoy my people.

Back July 17, if not before.

Friday, June 24, 2005

A great set of standards

I'm late in getting this to you. Last month, I was in Ann Arbor with the people from NEW, and was handed a copy of the new Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence in Michigan. These were put together by the Michigan Nonprofit Association. I put them on my pile to read, and only got to them earlier this week. My bad.

The policies are really very good, and worth a look. The documents include a Basic Infrastructure checklist, as well as detailed information in the areas of Planning, Governance, HR, Financial Management, Transparency and Accountability, Fundraising, Public Policy and Advocacy, Information Technology, Strategic Alliances, and Evaluation.

For organizations trying to be the state of the art, this is an excellent place to start.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Two books worth your time

This month, my book clubs read two books, both of which were highly acclaimed by the managers who read them.

The first is The Four Obsessions of the Extraordinary Executive, by Patrick Lencioni. It's a fable about management, with a self-assessment and some how-to's at the end. The fable takes about an hour and a half to read, and is very instructive. Good for all levels in your organization.

The second book was Career Warfare, by David D'Allesandro The book is ostensibly about succeeding in your career, but is really about becoming a good leader, and improving your organization. It's funny, and full of good ideas and great stories.

Both books generated great discussions, and are worth a look for you.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Book writing again....

Ohhh, I really like writing, and I really like writing books. In the long period between the end of writing one and the beginning of writing the next, I almost forget how cool it is.

I got cut loose by my publisher, Fieldstone Alliance (the former Wilder Publishing) a few weeks ago to get to some serious work on my new book, and it's......intense fun.

Not all of it is great, particularly the proof reading, and proof reading, and proof reading. Someone asked me a few years ago what I thought when I read a book I had written after it came out. I told her that, first, I didn't. By the time I'm done proofing them 3 times, I am so sick of what I've written I never want to sit down and actually read it through again. Second, when I actually DO scan or look at parts, I regularly say to myself, "I wrote that? Huh." Which is part poor memory, and part so much writing, but weird nonetheless.

Oh, this book is about all the impact generation change is having and will have on nonprofits. If it sounds boring and not too important to you, just wait. I've been thinking about this issue for about three years and it is HUGE. Trust me-you'll see.

I'll be posting bits from the book now and then as I put it together. Should have it to Fieldstone in January, and thus you can expect to see it out about a year later.

You can see info about my most recent book; Nonprofit Stewardship here.

And here is a link to all my other books: Mission-Based Management, Mission-Based Marketing, Financial Empowerment, Social Entrepreneurship, Faith-Based Management, and my two workbooks.

And to all you other dads...happy father's day!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

I'll call ya back.....

Man, oh man, if my experience is typical.....and apparently it is....

OK, here's the background. My daughter, Caitlin, is 17 and just finished her junior year in high school. She's in the top 10% of her class, National Honor Society, class officer, student council officer, works with Best Buddies, directs student plays, and on and on. A typical over-achieving high schooler.

Last summer she hung around not "finding" jobs. Fool me once, as the saying goes. So, around Christmas time, I told her in no uncertain terms:

"Find a paying job of at least 20 hours a week by June 1 (3 days before the end of school) or I will find you a 30 hour a week volunteering job. No ifs ands or buts. You will be a contributing citizen this summer-for pay or for free."

Caitlin looked for work at Spring break and then pretty much steadily from May 15 on. Got a couple of interviews, and got one offer for a short term job for a period she was going to be out of town. Bottom line: she looked (perhaps not everywhere her parents wanted) and came up empty.

I saw this coming. So in April, I called a bunch of local nonprofits I know who use volunteers, from the hospitals to human service groups, to nursing homes, to arts groups. Told them my daughter was probably going to be available (cynical me, I know) for volunteering this summer. During that round of calls, I caught most people on a first call. People were nice, said there were opportunities, and to call back in June. I felt prepared. Note: Important point here--I didn't have to leave any messages to have people return my calls.

Then, June 1 comes and I start calling. And calling, and calling, and calling. With two exceptions, NO one called me back. Out of 12 organizations, all of whom professed a desire for teen volunteers in April, only two returned my call. One of the two orgs that responded I have a long term relationship with (having been on their board years ago). The other place is, of course, where Caitlin starts volunteering tomorrow, a faith-based retirement community.

I was amazed, saddened frustrated; so I moaned about this to my friends, most of whom are in the business world. They looked at me like I was on drugs.

"You were surprised? Nonprofits never call back. It's their culture - crisis management" said one woman. "I can't get them to call back when I want to donate things, offer to help, offer them money. It's ridiculous. I've stopped trying. The money I used to give all over the community, I just give to my church, or online to international relief agencies. Of course, all I get is an automated email response. But at least I get something!"

A male friend talked about calling Habitat for Humanity in three different communities (he's in the military) over 10 years when his sons were teens, because he wanted to work with his sons on a Habitat house. "In every case, I called, left messages, told them about our carpentry skills (this guy built a retirement home with his own hands) and offered to help. In every case I called 3-4 times. In every case, I never heard back."

Another friend said that his daughter, another National Honor Society (NHS) student, has had calls from only 1 of 20 places she called to volunteer (NHS kids are required to volunteer a certain number of hours per month). Were these cold calls? NO! These were to agencies on the approved NHS list--and the only way you get on the list is by asking to be put on!

After 25 years of supposedly improving management skills, we can't get this simple, common courtesy right? Do organizations realize how hideous a reputation they build when they can't get the little things done?

Advice for you: Check your own organization. Find out how quickly your organization gets calls back. And just don't ask your staff. Test this. Have some friends, neighbors, relatives (people your staff doesn't know) call the organization at off hours, and leave messages. See how long it takes to get return calls. And, don't accept the excuse from staff that "I've been busy", or "I was at a meeting out of town" or, "I was on vacation." People should be setting up systems to acknowledge the call and respond.

The caller (donor, volunteer, citizen in need) doesn't care where you are, or how busy you are. He or she expects the common courtesy of a reaction, a call, a contact of some sort.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Volunteer resource

Need volunteers? Want to volunteer? Have people who call wanting to volunteer but don't have a place to suggest that they look?

All three of these problems are helped by this link: Volunteermatch.org

With over 33,000 nonprofits listed, and 34,000 volunteer opportunities in their database, this is a great place to match up with potential volunteers.

Take a look!

Monday, June 06, 2005

Confessions of a tech addict....

OK, the tech addiction reared its ugly head again.

Last night, getting ready to head to Albany this morning, my cell phone failed. Got the nasty "Sim card inoperative" message on my screen, and I could actually feel the stress going up the back of my neck. God, what a junkie.

Understand that, on most trips, I use my phone to check messages at my office (of which there are very few in this era of constant emails) and to touch in with, and be available to, my family and my sister's group home staff. That's it. I am most certainly not one of the guys (in increasingly, women) that you see in airports with three phones, two pagers, and a PDA all going at once.

And yet, the thought of having to leave town for two days with no instant, immediate, in my pocket connectivity really got to me. I mean, I might have to use a pay phone (remember those?) or an actual hotel phone. Gads, what has my world come to.

How sad.

After about 15 minutes of walking around the house like a chicken, and checking my now dead phone about 5 times to see if the message had changed---silly me---my wife just said..."Calm DOWN, just take my phone with you......you are welcome to it if it will chill you out."

Of course, she was right. This was most certainly NOT something to angst out over, and yet I did, even though I don't angst out over about 95% of what most other people do.

Is there a TA (techies anonymous) out there I can get help from?

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Congrats for a great book's awards

Over the past few weeks, the wonderful book Benchmarking for Nonprofits: How to Measure, Manage, and Improve Performance by Jason Saul has won two well-deserved awards.

The book first was awarded first place in the Business/Professional category from the Midwest Independent Publisher's Association book achievement awards about three weeks ago. Then on June 1, Benchmarking, also was awarded the Ben Franklin Award in the business category from the Independent Publisher's association national committee.

The awards were no surprise, at least to me. The book is terrific, and deals with so much more than traditional texts on outcome measurement. Definitely worth a read.

Jason is also the founder of B2P Nonprofit Business Solutions, who provide great software tools for performance measurement. Check them out!

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Tech and Charity

A really good opinion piece in the current issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy by Marcia Sharp entitled "A Technological Revolution for the Greater Good". In the article, Sharp discusses how tech is directly bringing together people and issues in need with people and organizations who want to help. Sharp cites.

GlobalGiving and

As examples of this, but there are lots of others as well. Check out DonorsChoose, for example. The key thing here is that the Net has taken out the middleman, putting donors, whether they are individuals or corporations, directly in touch with groups in need, reducing the need for the intermediary. This evolution is being played out across the web, in areas like music (think ITunes) , or travel (I haven't used a travel agent in 6, maybe 7 years), and now it is moving into philanthropy.

I think it's great. The more we can personalize our giving, the more we can see the effects, the more we can connect with the needs of the world, the more we'll care, the more we'll give, the more we'll be involved.

Sharp warns the giving establishment (Foundations and United Way) to get on board--change or become unimportant. I agree, and would only add that this also extends to individual organizations and causes. Use tech to your advantage. Be constantly aware of what's out there that can help make you more mission capable.

This is not about having the coolest cell phone or PDA. It is about using your brain to connect your mission and the people you serve with whatever resources are out there, including all the great ways to do it technologically.

Coincidentally, my June newsletter is about this very issue!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Tech Plan Template

The oh-so-amazing people at TechSoup have a great tool for you...a sample tech plan that's available to download and use as you consider more and better ways to apply tech to mission. Take a look....

And thanks to everyone in Ann Arbor at NEW who made my stay there so terrific. Great work, great group.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Quick and worthwhile

I just finished Rambam's Ladder, A Meditation on Generosity and Why It is Important to Give, by Julie Salamon. My good friend Carol Weisman recommended it to me. Liked the book a lot and it really made me think about the ways that my family and I give, our motivations and what's really best. One quote that got me: "Give a homeless person a blanket and you are killing them."

Hmmm. Really? The quote is not from the author, but from a person she interviews. There are a couple of dozen stories of people through the book, some of which turned out differently than I expected....all of them are intended to make the reader think.

The ladder of the title is a creation of Rambam, a medieval Jewish scholar and physician whose given name was Maimonides. The eight rung ladder starts at its lowest rung with the giver who gives grudgingly and unhappily, moves up through a variety of levels to the top rung, the giver who helps someone become independent and no longer in need of help.

It's a quick and interesting read. And, for those of us in the helping professions, particularly if you are in a job where you have to ask people for donations of their time, talent, and/or treasure, it's a read worth making.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Panel Report--final post

Today, I want to talk about the revisions to the 990 form in the Panel Report.

There is no question that the 990 needs to be revised and improved. It is the major transparency tool for most nonprofits, one whose improvement could really benefit the sector.

That having been said, there is a risk that the IRS and Congress will add SO much to the form that it becomes an administrative burden as well as unreadable by anyone other than a graduate student.

The Panel has made numerous suggestions for additions to the form, nearly all of which I agree with in principle. However, when all of these are combined, I fear for the time and effort the form will take. Again, no single suggestion is bad, but the sum of the parts will weigh agencies down.

Also, the Panel neglected to address one of the key concerns most nonprofits have about the 990, the rules regarding reporting of overhead, or administrative costs. The wide disparity in techniques used to include costs in overhead has resulted in a great deal of variance in how agencies are rated on online watchdogs such as Guidestar.

Finally, I hope that, just like my version of Quickbooks does my tax reporting forms for me at my consulting company, that software makers will improve the ability to have information from a nonprofit's books entered directly into a 990 draft for nonprofit managers. This will insure consistency and ease their workload.

I'm done with the areas of the report that I can comment on reasonably knowledgeably. I do urge you to read the various sections and comment on them to the Panel.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Panel Report, Part 3

Today, I want to look at the Panel's report recommendations on two areas:

Periodic Review of 501(c)(3) status, and

Disclosure of Performance Data by Public Charities.

First, the Periodic Review. The Senate has proposed that all 501(c) organizations be required to file for renewal of tax exempt status every 5 years. This, in my view (and the Panel's) is silly, and would be a huge burden on both nonprofits and on the IRS. The Panel has come up with a combination of changes in the 990 and 990PF as well as some recommended best practices that I think adequately address this issue. I've been telling my clients for a number of years to post their 990 in .pdf form on their website, and to be more forthcoming when changing mission statements or other governing tools.

Next-Performance Data disclosure...all of us know that outcome measurement is crucial, and often poorly done. I tell my clients that they WANT to have performance data out there, on their website, in their marketing materials, because otherwise they'll just be judged by their 990 on Guidestar, and other rating organizations.

The panel again has some good recommendations on best practices and a reasonable set of changes to the 990. I wish that they had called for a national reporting form that all funders would use, at least all governmental funders. That would be a huge efficiency boost for the sector.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Panel Report, Part 2

Today I want to react to two parts of the Panel on the Nonprofit Sector's report and Recommendations:

Structure, Size, Composition and Independence of Boards of Directors


Travel Expenses

First, boards. Boards need to be independent, have a large and changing skillset, and be free of "the appearance of impropriety". With that background, I agree with the Panel's recommendations, including increased disclosure, a good definition of independent, and the need to exclude convicted criminals (if the crime was in relation to their work with nonprofits)

I also agree with the panel NOT agreeing with the Senate's proposal that all nonprofits have 15 board members. That's nutty. With so much variety in our nation's charitable organization, proscribing a set number is, well, dumb. And I thought a Republican Congress wanted less government, not more! These are good recommendations.

Travel. There is a ton of bad media coverage around travel, usually from excess travel expenses at plush resorts for board and senior staff of large organizations. While I don't recommend that board members be forced to sleep in their cars when traveling for the organization, on the other end of the scale, always staying at the Ritz is inappropriate as well.

First, you need to have and consistently enforce travel policies. SO many organizations have policies and ignore them, or make exceptions for board members, or, or, or. Don't.

The panel makes 5 very common sense recommendations in terms of policies and disclosures. I like all of them, and they are easy to live with---particularly if you are not abusing travel now.

Tomorrow, I'll weigh in on Review of 501(c) status, and performance data disclosure.

Monday, May 16, 2005

We interrupt this program....

I was going to post my second set of reactions to the Panel on the Nonprofit Sector, but instead, this came across my screen...

A terrific article from the upcoming issue of Nonprofit Quarterly, by Clara Miller from the Nonprofit Finance Fund....

The article is really worth your time, and you'll want to pass it on-to your funders, your board, your community. Clara has a great way with words on a critical issue.

The Looking Glass World of Nonprofit Money: Managing in the For-Profit's Shadow Universe.

Back to my Panel reactions tomorrow.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Panel on the Nonprofit Sector #1

OK, time to put up or shut up. The Panel on the Nonprofit Sector has made its second set of recommendations to the Senate public. I've blogged about them before and urged readers to read and comment. Then it occurred to me....I should put my comments on each area here.

So I will, over the next few postings. What you will see is what I'll be sending to the panel when I'm done with all the postings.

Some of the areas that the Panel looked at are outside of my area of expertise. I'll limit my comments to:

Board Compensation, Executive Compensation, Structure Size composition and Independence of Boards of Directors, Travel Expenses, Periodic Review of 501(c)(3) Status, Disclosure of Performance by Public Charities, and Revisions to Forms 990 and 990-PF.

Today, I'll look at the first two areas of interest:

Board Compensation and Executive Compensation.
Click on the topic to see the Panel recommendations in that area. I'll limit my thoughts to.....my thoughts.

Board Compensation
This one is simple: board's shouldn't be paid-except for travel reimbursement. Period. End of story. Currently a large number of foundation board members are compensated both for their time and travel. I feel strongly that this is flat out wrong. Foundations are nonprofits, just like direct service providers. Foundation board members are stewards, and their job is to make sure that the most money possible goes to direct service providers, not to their own pockets.

I understand that this has gone on for a long time, and I understand that the rationale for this is that foundation board members are responsible for a lot of money and spend a lot of time at their job. Welcome to the world of most nonprofit board members.....members who get no compensation at all.

So, I don't care if it's tradition, and I disagree with the rationale for its existence. It's wrong, and it should stop. Now.

Executive Compensation.
I have no clients who don't have their executive compensation set by the board, but apparently it occurs, which to me seems a grievous breakdown in the checks and balances designed into nonprofits. I agree with the Panel recommendation here, as well as the recommendation that full exec compensation should be shown on the 990. This is just good transparency.

Setting compensation is a bitch, as everyone who works with salary surveys well knows. I like the Panel's recommendations here, particularly the "rebuttal presumption" since it makes sense, and is less prone to hassle from the Feds for well intentioned organizations (which, as we all need to remember, is 99% of nonprofits).

I most fully agree with the provision that penalties for excess compensation should accrue personally to board members who agree to such compensation. This will, more than anything, put a stop to it.

Tomorrow, we'll look the Structure, Size, Composition, and Independence of the Board of Directors, and Travel Expenses.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Good book, better letter....

I read "Ethical Ambition; Living A Life of Meaning and Worth" by Derrick Bell last week for my book clubs. Liked the book a lot, particularly the chapters on relationships and spirituality. It's a fast read, and I don't think anyone can go through the text and not have their enthusiasm for advocacy renewed. But then....

A couple of times in the book Bell mentions meeting and working with Martin Luther King, Jr., and twice refers to King's "Letter From Birmingham Jail". I hadn't read the letter since college, and went back and looked at it again. Wow. If only our current political leaders could write like that; could express their positions, their desires, their dreams for our nation. I know I got more out of the reading this time, not only because I'm older, but also because I so much more appreciate well reasoned, well written pieces than I did in my twenties. And King's morals and ethics smack you in the face. Not a perfect man by any means, but I long for more leaders of his courage.

Reading the Letter also made me go back and think through my commitment to the things I believe in and advocate for, which is certainly a good exercise for everyone periodically.

If you have 30 minutes, it's well worth your time.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Panel Report on Nonprofit Sector---

In previous posts, I've talked about the importance of the work that Congress is doing on regulating nonprofits. Independent Sector put together a panel working on responding to and engaging Congress on this issue, and they've done a great job. Their second draft of work is available for review and comment I urge you to take the time to read and comment on this work.

It is your future, so pay attention now.

Capital posting

In D.C. to do a set of presentations and see some friends. Had a terrific afternoon yesterday in Chicago at the Axelson Center for Nonprofits at North Park University. I did a pre-conference workshop on marketing for a wonderful crowd that had really good questions.

One question stuck with me on the plane: "Quick question", the woman asked, "How do I motivate a board that doesn't want to do its job?"

Of course the answer isn't quick...but what was intriguing was that the other execs jumped in and said things like "Hold them accountable to do their job,", "Get them off the board!", and "Raise the bar on their job description and the ones you want to leave will self-select out."

Good advice. There is no place in a nonprofit today for a board that doesn't work. Boards need to be engaged, knowledgeable, and accountable for their time and stewardship. If they can't do that, they need to leave, both for the good of the organization and their own personal protection: they are fiduciaries, personally responsible for the actions of the nonprofit.

Oh, and thanks to Kris Maldre for all your help and for reading the blog!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

A code of ethics?

This entire issue saddens me. In a recent post I noted the recent rush in requests for speaking on ethics. Yesterday I got a breathless call from an exec in Arizona, telling me that her lawyer had told her that her nonprofit needed ethics policies or there would be hell to pay with the IRS. I tried to calm her down, sent her to a couple of places online with sample policies, and told her that there will little likelihood that the IRS would be banging on her door, at least in this fiscal year.....

The whole issue of having to discuss and codify our ethics as organizations depresses me. Not because we shouldn't behave ethically, but because it should be second nature. I know, I know, ethical issues are not black and white--there is a LOT of gray, but that's just the point--you can't codify gray. The famous quote from Justice Stewart on obscenity which more or less was: "I know it when I see it" applies here: we nearly always know what the right thing to do is, the tough part is actually doing it.

In a related but total aside, I laughed out loud at the news of a Texas legislator who is trying to ban sexually suggestive moves from high school cheerleading. Good luck. While I don't think I qualify as a prude, I too am unhappy about some of the stuff I see from 15-year-old teenagers at football games, but could I define it? In writing? No chance. And would my definition be the same as someone 20 years older than me or 20 years younger? Nope.

So it is with ethics. You know it when you see it, and you get uncomfortable when you see unethical behavior. But to put it in a policy? What are you going to say? Let's not lie, cheat, or steal? Well, duh, I would hope not. Let's act ethically toward everyone? Again, I would have already hoped so......

My real fear here is that organizations will develop a policy, adopt it, and breath a sigh of relief, saying "Whew, that's done!", and then forget about actually behaving ethically. Then, when something bad gets brought to light, they'll say, "But we had a policy!" as an excuse from having to do good oversight.

I dunno, it just bothers me.

On another note, Firefox now has a security hole. Blah.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Tick, Tick, Tick.....

I turned 53 Wednesday. Birthdays have NEVER bothered me, or even been particularly important to me. In fact, my wife had to remind me that mine was coming up.

This year, though, I am in the throes of reseaching a book on the issue of aging in the nonprofit sector, and all of its implications. As I've noted in previous posts, the Brits are concerned about older board members, and not getting enough new volunteers. Here, we have a retiring baby boom that will stress out a huge amount of our human services network, being new meaning to the term transition on our staff, and require a huge effort to accommodate.

We can accommodate it, of course. Then again we have no choice.

As I flew over yesterday (I'm in Emporia Kansas as I write this) I was just thinking more about it. Expect more posts as the work takes shape.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Who's Who in Online Nonprofit Evaluation

I assume that every reader knows about the many online rating services that look at nonprofits' 990 forms and come up with a rating scale. Donors and reporters use these sites to take a first (and sometimes only) look at a nonprofit.

The National Council of Nonprofit associations and National Human Services Council has a paper out on Rating the Raters that I highly recommend you read.

You can find it here.

In the summary introduction to the paper, the authors note:

Our concern, as responsible nonprofit organizations, is not with the concept of ratings or rankings of Charitable Nonprofit Organizations (CNOs), since we agree that donors should be well-informed about the CNOs they are considering as recipients of their donations. Our primary concern is that donors fully understand the information they are receiving from such ratings and rankings so they can make well-informed judgments and not be misled and/or misinformed. There is great potential for these ratings to be misinterpreted and misused, which would cause more harm than good to both donors and CNOs. In the worst case scenario, donors could withhold vital contributions from a worthy organization based on inaccurate, incomplete or misunderstood information they received from an evaluator.

They go on to list a number of excellent findings (some of which are scary) and make eight very solid recommendations on how to fix the system.

Worth your time.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Interesting week, good books.

Just realized how long it's been since I posted. Well, interesting week.

Had a terrific time in Fargo, talking to an annual statewide conference of providers of services to people with disabilities. What nice people, not only at the conference, but in the town in general. Great airport, too.

And, I got to pick up my son from UMich in Ann Arbor as part of that trip. Nice to have him home for about a month.

I'm really taken by my book club books this month. I'm just about done with the Contrarian's Guide to Leadership by Steven Sample. So much good stuff, clearly written, some mind-bending ideas. This is really a great read for anyone interested in leadership and new ways to think about it. For example, Sample provides a long well argued position that Machiavelli was not a bad guy--and not wrong, ethically huh?

Speaking of ethics, I'm just a quarter of the way into the second book, Ethical Ambition, by Derrick Bell. It has some really good "re-thinking of what you're doing" ideas.

But, it's Sunday, and the sun is out, so I may not get as much reading done as yardwork....

Last thing--keep track of what the Senate and House are doing. I use the Independent Sector to monitor events. This stuff is important to all of us!

Saturday, April 23, 2005

A deal for your board

A bad pun, but whatever. You should take a look at the new board tool from Carol Weisman at Board Builders. It's a deck of 52 cards each of which has a great idea for board development and/or support. You can give them to your board, and they can use them to self-improve, or rely on staff to get the ideas implemented.

I really like this idea, and it's not expensive.

Check them out!

Friday, April 22, 2005

A meeting worth making....

I just got back from Chicago, where I attended a meeting on the upcoming annual conference of the Alliance for Nonprofits and the National Conference of Nonprofit Associations, which will be held in Chicago July 14-17.

I've seen the full agenda, and it is chocked full of great materials, workshops, discussion groups. If you are interested in nonprofits and their development, this would be a great way to spend three days of your summer. You'll come away with your brain full of new ideas, and having done some great networking as well.

Information on the conference, and the full agenda are at www.allianceonline.org/annual_conference/2005_conference.page

Take a look.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Measurement and ethics

I'm getting lots of requests to speak on ethics, or help with ethics policies, or consult on ethics. Seems to be a bit of a fad, sadly. It certainly is regrettable that Sarbanes, and the Senate Finance Committee are what it takes to motivate people to double check their ethical behavior. Let's think optimistically: Maybe it will be a long term trend, and not just a fad with a short half-life.

My class at Kellogg was, as predicted, very enjoyable. It was about the reasons for and ways to measure performance in nonprofits. It actually ran through this morning; I just did the kickoff session. But at that session, the issue of ethics surfaced.

A participant (we'll call her Lynn) asked a question about proving that what she did (in this case, develop young leaders) was actually having an effect, noting that to prove such a thing might take ten years. We agreed that it might, and that if Lynn could develop such a research project (and fund it), she could tell her other funders and community that she was really working on showing the long term effects of the program.

Then I asked the group; "But what should Lynn do if 5 years into the 10 year project, the preliminary data show that her program doesn't work, that it doesn't have any positive effect on leadership?"

There was a long, uncomfortable silence. You see, everyone believes that their program is wonderful, and worth their life's work. Otherwise, why would they do it for low pay and long hours? Mission motivates. But if the method we use to accomplish mission is shown invalid, what's our responsibility?

All this reminds me of Project DARE, the anti-drug effort that you may well have in your town. The idea was that by having intervention/education in elementary school, drug use would be reduced. DARE has been around for a long time (my 23 year old went through the program) and funds a huge number of police officers (Project DARE Officers) who come into the school twice a week. Kids get lots of drug education, and have a big graduation, take a DARE pledge, etc.

Sounds good? Doesn't work. Absolutely, positively doesn't work. Kids who go through DARE are no more or less likely to use drugs as kids who don't, at any age or stage in their growth. This is not news. We've known this for YEARS, and DARE keeps getting studied and keeps getting shown to have no effect, and we keep spending money on it.

Don't believe me? "It's SUCH a good program!", you say. So did I. Why do parents love this program? I think it's because we can rationalize that we don't have to talk to our kids about drugs (which is hard) since the school is doing it.....but it doesn't work: Here's a quote from a review of research published by the National Association of School Psychologists.

"When we examined use of tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and other illegal drugs at age 20, we found no differences between those participants who received the DARE program and those who did not. Similarly, our analyses revealed no effect of the DARE program on individuals' positive or negative attitudes towards these drugs. Also, there was no difference in individuals' ability to resist peer pressure as a function of having received Project DARE. The only significant effect for the DARE program that we observed was on self-esteem; counter-intuitively, at age 20, participants who received the DARE program in the sixth grade had lower self-esteem scores than participants who did not receive DARE."

Here's a link to the entire article: http://www.nasponline.org/publications/cq314projectdare.html

And we keep throwing money at this loser.

What if this kind of results had been for your program? What do you do? It's a tough, tough issue. How soon do you amend the program, pull the plug, go public? Very dicey stuff.

When you measure outcomes and performance, you almost certainly will get different results than you expect. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. But in every case, you have an ethical responsibility to let people know what you've found, and deal with the data in ways that make your program(s) better for the people you serve.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Two things for you....

Long week, not many posts. Had a good trip to Houston to talk to groups about Stewardship and Marketing. Good questions, good discussion. I head to Chicago tomorrow to teach the opening session for an Exec Ed program on outcome measurement(called Performance Counts!) for Kellogg. Should be fun.

So, what two things are for you? First, Tech Soup is running a weeklong forum on using online learning as one of many options for continuing education. Their promo information includes the following issues and questions:

What are the issues and challenges involved in using online learning? What does it mean to collaborate and learn online? How can you and your organization use online learning and collaboration to achieve your organizational mission?

The forum is interactive and invites discussion---and it's FREE. So go to the page about the forum, check it out and register. A good deal for all, thanks again to TechSoup.

Second thing: I've talked before about how much I like Firefox as a browser. It's quick, about a zillion times safer than IE, and has all sorts of cool features. I've been using it since early December and like it more every day.

Here's the feature you need to check out if you are a regular blog reader. If you look at my blog (or any blog) in Firefox, a small orange icon shows up on the lower right hand side of the screen. Scroll your mouse over it and you'll see it says "Add Live Bookmark for this Page's feed" If click on it, you'll add a bookmark for the blog. If you open the bookmark, you'll see the last ten or eleven posts listed separately, and the bookmark updates itself automatically every few hours. Thus, when I post something new, it will show up on your browser bookmark automatically. How cool is that?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Two out of three...

Heard late last week that my newest book, Nonprofit Stewardship, is a finalist for the Benjamin Franklin Award from the Publisher's Marketing Association. There are three finalists, and one of the other two is a great book by my colleague Jason Saul entitled Benchmarking for Nonprofits.... . Jason's book is also published by Wilder Foundation Publications.

Kind of fun that two of three finalists are from the same publisher and know each other. In fact, Jason and I are on the same agenda this coming Sunday in Chicago!

Headed to Houston today. Probably won't line dance with my healing ankle.....