Saturday, January 29, 2005

Readings on Ethics, Conscience and Leadership

My book clubs are reading two great books this month. The underscore again, the need for good leadership and how it is not just a matter of following a checklist, or mouthing some mantra. Good leadership starts from within, from having the right moral compass, from leading by example, from doing the right thing, day in and day out.

My dad used to say: "99% of the time the easy part is knowing what's right to do. The hard part is actually doing it."

Here are the books:
The Light of Conscience, by Bill Shore
The Servant Leader , by James Autry

And, as an aside, the February issue of the Mission-Based Management Newsletter will be on Leadership. Should be finished and online later today or tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Tent? Check. Backpack? Check. Overcount? Check, check, check.

Great. The Boy Scouts are back in the news. The Greater Birmingham Scout Council is being investigated by the FBI for allegedly inflating its recruitment numbers, creating fake units, etc. all apparently to chase more money from funders including the local United Way. Here's a news article.

While I am not happy about this, I suspect that when all is said and done one of the root causes will be arbitrary outcome measures from the funders. I would not be at all surprised if the United Way and other funders were paying for growth, and this pressure led to the temptation to pad numbers. Let's just add 100 or so this year. Next year they want a 10% growth, OK we can do that....and like anyone knows, compounding whether in interest on your mortgage, or lying about past facts and needing to exceed those facts can be a bitch.

No, I'm not blaming the United Way for asking for outcomes. But there may well be a lesson here for funders. Asking for outcomes without giving nonprofits the skills and tools to really count or achieve them is a recipe for cheating. And, as the late pres Reagan famously said: "Trust, but verify."

One more thing: The FBI is investigating the Boy Scouts? The F B I? Don't they have terrorists to catch, or a computer system to fix? I don't get that. I'm pretty sure that this would be the job for the local district attorney, or even the state Attorney General, but the FBI? Huh.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Good reading

I got the latest issue of Comtech Review which is a compendium of all kinds of stuff revolving around tech and nonprofits. Worth a look, and I have a couple of individual article recommendations.

Innovation in Nonprofit Technology: NPower in Arizona


The Champaign Urbana Community Wireless Network

both are worth the read....very interesting stuff for you to be thinking about.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Validation for thinking outside the box

The new issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy came with some interesting press clippings...validation, really for the outside the box thinking I've been promoting for years.

First is an article in "The Nation" about using social entrepreneurism to help charitable causes. Old stuff to most readers, I know, but nice to see it acknowledged in the for-profit mainstream press. The article is worth a quick read.

Second clipping is from "Fast Company" the entrepreneur's mag. The current issue has a profile of Ashoka, the wonderful international social entrepreneurship organization. Take a look at this as well.

Again, if we want to do good mission, we have to think of new ways. Check these out.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Too Many Charities?

Last issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy had a great article on the growth of 501(c)(3) charities in the U.S. and posed the question---are there too many? Is the field getting too crowded?

Here's what this translates as to me:
The view from the current nonprofit staff and boards, and funders:
Oh. My. God. Too many nonprofits means that we have more competition for donors, more competition for volunteers and staff, more competition for funders. And, these newbies, what do they know. They just don't do things the traditional way. Let's see if we can restrict them......

From the perspective of a donor, end-user.
Hmmm, lots of choices, sometimes confusing (like trying to figure out what sub-group of yogurt to buy at the grocery store), but it's nice to know if one doesn't work, I can go to another.

From my perspective:
Choice is good, new organizations innovate better than existing ones, markets will rule, competition breeds better services for the end-users, which to me, is what it's all about.

Ultimately, the more organizations, the better. Will some new orgs fail? Sure, and that's OK. Will some existing ones fail? You bet, and it's about time. Is that easy on the staff and board? Nope, and having been downsized myself, I am not unsympathetic here at all.

But the bottom line for all nonprofits should never be the continued employment of the staff or the endless feelgood of the board and volunteers. It should be about putting the best possible mission out the door to the most people. Competition helps that, so bring it on.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Don't bug me.....

Sorry for the long lapse. I looked at the blog last night and was blown away to see it's been 10 days.....and I've been online for most of them. My bad.

Interesting discussion on the Nten listserv the past week or so about the number 50%. That's the percentage of current online tsunami donors who don't want to get more information about the organization, or further updates, or newsletters, or the like. The discussion has been heavily weighted to people who are shocked, just shocked that the percentage is so high...What's wrong!?!?!

Frankly, I'm amazed it's that low. As one poster noted, we really don't know what a good follow-through amount SHOULD be. It's like the regularly decried 50% of marriages ending in divorce. Awful, awful, awful say the critics. Now, I agree that divorce when there are kids IS awful, but we really don't have any baseline data to say what the divorce rate SHOULD be. After all, all of us do stupid things, and some marriages SHOULD end. So is 50% amazingly good or shockingly low? Hmmm.

Back to the Nten issue, this highlights for me again that we need to give people what they want, not tell them what they need. Many posters were whining about "people NEED to know what we do!" etc. While the cause may be just, the market says people will read/give to/ learn/attend/ buy what they want.

My suggestion to the agencies who are receiving an unprecedented number of email addresses from the donation surge is to covet them, find out what they WANT, and why they checked yes, not to bemoan those who checked no.

Markets rule. Even in charity.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


Today I go undercover to investigate the American Health Care System!

Not really, I just get reconstructive surgery on my busted ankle. Probably offline for a couple of days with what I am told is a model of modern pharmaceutical magic in my system. Don't trust any posts here the rest of today and tomorrow!

Monday, January 10, 2005

Go, Go, Go......

I'm getting my of Friday, private citizens in the US have given $337 million just to American charities for tsunami relief, closing in on the GOVERNMENT's pledge of $350 million. This caused Colin Powell to reiterate his pledge that more will be coming (despite White House silence) Ha! Let's keep at it and , as I said in my post last week, do what the Brits did- embarrass their government through their own generosity to help more. Go, Go GO!

Here's a great list of good charities (not all American) from Google.

About the US charity notation above--if you gave to Doctor's Without Borders, or Ashoka, or some other foreign charity, good for you--but that didn't count in my $337 million number--so we have almost certainly given more than our government.....

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Flying Buffalos

I've just finished Flight of the Buffalo, Soaring to Excellence, Learning to Let Employees Lead, By Stayer & Belasco. It's a pretty fast read, broken up a bit by their writing style, but the basic book and ideas are excellent, in no small part because they agree with what I've been teaching for 25 years!

The basic idea is that organizations who value line employees, understand that they do the really important work, that they are closest to the customers, that they will give more if they are empowered, these organizations succeed. I call it Bottom-Up Management, the authors talk about a rake turned upside down...same thing. And still true.

As a manager, or a supervisor, your job is to get the resources that the people you supervise need in their hands and let them do their jobs. With accountability, and with support, of course, but let them do their job. And when the people you supervise come to you with an idea, don't blow it off because "I"m the boss", remember that wonderful line from John Chambers, the CEO at Cisco, who says, "No one of us is as smart as all of us."

Listen to your employees. Let them make decisions and hold them accountable. Use all of the resources of the people you have recruited as staff and volunteers, not just the part below their necks.

For more on this, here are some postings from my website on this idea.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Finding tech help

I get asked a lot about tech questions by clients, and people who write me on Where can I get tech help? how do I find it? who can I trust? are all pretty common questions. And, I have two starting places for pretty much everyone....

TechSoup's Tech Finder, which is terrific., and NPower's local consultant group finder

If you need tech help, start with your local United Way, Community Foundation, or Management Services Organization. Talk to your state association of nonprofits, your peer organizations, and see what's out there. Tech help is often a call or two away for a small organization, and you can find competent people who do good work for reasonable costs. And remember, with complex things like tech and HR, you get what you pay for. Don't ask for too much for free......

Thursday, January 06, 2005

When you wish upon a list.....

A few weeks back, I blogged about DonorsChoose, the wishlist for teachers set up by the group. Great stuff, but at the present, only for teachers in certain metropolitan areas.

What about everyone else? Well, the great and wonderful and always intriguing Craigslist is there to help. Way back in 2001, Craigslist started a Wishlist for Schools and Nonprofits. This is for organizations throughout the US, and matches up orgs in need with people who want to help.

A wonderful, helpful service, and one that I knew about...but one that had slipped my aging brain.

While you are at the site, check out the Craigslist Foundation as well. Help for new organizations! Thanks, Craig!

Wednesday, January 05, 2005


So I'm out for my normal evening walk with my dog, and I did a dumb thing: I slipped and fell. And fell badly. And dislocated, as well as broke, my ankle. Ouch.

Off to the ER, where I had a customer service experience that ranged from hideous (the x-ray tech who continued to jerk around my literally flopping foot, even though I was "expressing my pain" audibly) to exquisite (Jan the nurse, and the ortho resident), and then went home. Home to wait 6-9 days (immobile) for the swelling to go down BEFORE I can have surgery to put plates, pins and any other hardware that's left around in the OR into my ankle.

Today, I'm slowly realizing what it's like to be disabled. Understand that I've worked with people with disabilities all my life; my sister is profoundly retarded and in a wheelchair, I strongly advocated for the ADA, so I KNOW all of this, but now, I get to experience it. Steps that were easy yesterday are nearly insurmountable today. The idea of traveling on a train (just how DO I up those steps?) or an airplane (must jam casted foot under seat in front of me...) give me pause, to say the least.

Hence I've slowed down my entire outlook on the next 8 weeks considerably. And, I realize yet again, how much I really need other people. I HATE depending on other people for physical/personal things. I always have. Now, I have to....Good lesson, I suppose.

Humble pie by the plateload, and it's good for me!

Check back here in a few days and see if my posts drool with boredom or generally seem stir crazy..if they do, send me a comment telling me to shape up!

Monday, January 03, 2005

Hope for Relief Efforts

Like everyone, I am appalled and saddened by the disaster in South Asia. I hope every reader either has made, or is seriously considering making, some kind of contribution to the aid/rebuilding. My personal goal is for the US to be like the Brits--there, the CITIZENS have already given more than the government, thus embarrassing the government into doing more!

My other concern is for how the NGO's respond. Everyone remembers how much the Red Cross botched the post 9-11 aid effort. How will so many NGOs do with this massive effort in 10 countries, many of whom already have good NGO infrastructures. Will there be turf wars? Probably. Will money get siphoned off into the wrong things? With that much money, almost certainly.

But my hope is that the media and the watchdogs will really watch, report and demand transparency. Because the people affected by the disaster need our help now, and they'll need it for a long, long time to come.

Oh, here's a great list of ways to help from the Google website:

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Nonprofit Resolutions for 2005

Happy 2005 to everyone! In the hope that this will be the most successful year ever for your not-for-profit/NGO, I have put together eight new year's resolutions for you to consider adopting. If you have other suggestions to add to this list, please post a comment!

1. I will keep my organization focused on enhancing our ability to provide high quality mission.

2. I will keep my organization focused on doing things we're REALLY good at (our core competencies).

3. I will seek funding sources that pay us a fair price for what we do, and don't burden us with unreasonable oversight. Put another way: I will not allow our organization to "chase the money."

4. I will increase the amount of reading/training/practice/review that our staff and board do this year. We will move toward becoming a life-long learning organization.

5. We will take at least one significant organizational risk on behalf of the people we serve this year.

6. We will listen more, and more seriously, to all of our customers, including our payers.

7. We will improve our organizational transparency, and be even more accountable for our organizational decisions.

8. We will try to improve the value we provide to our end users and our customers a little bit every single day.

9. I will personally lead by example, expressing the values of my organization through my actions and words.