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

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:

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.....

Monday, April 11, 2005

Great financial resource for you

Just got a copy of the a new book you should see if you have any interest in the finances of your organization.
Financial Leadership for Nonprofit Executives by Jeanne Bell Peters and Elizabeth Schaffer is terrific. It combines a great view of nonprofit leadership and financial acumen with very hands-on materials for you. I HIGHLY recommend it.

The book at Amazon.

The book at the publisher, Wilder Foundation Publications.

definitely check this out.

Sunday, April 10, 2005


I got an email from a nonprofit exec who had been in one of my training sessions last year. He was just checking on something I had said about starting a new venture or expanding a service: that a: there is no state or federal statute that says a 501(c)(3) can't make money, b: that making money is good for mission, and c: that his organization probably (hopefully!) does something already that makes money--it's called fundraising. The exec (we'll call him Jack) said that BOTH his accountant and his attorney told him that if he started a new venture, in his case a thrift shop, and was budgeting to make money, he had to set up a for-profit corporation, or he might lose his tax exempt status. His question was this: when you (Peter) spoke to us, you said that the vast (99%) majority of nonprofits don't need a for-profit subsidiary, so do I or don't I.

He didn't, and you probably don't either. I find it nearly impossible to believe that this mis-conception is still out there and worse, that people are charging nonprofits to mis-inform them. Facts, please:

First, anything you do that takes in more income than it spends is a for-profit activity, in the financial sense. You're probably doing it for the mission, but if it makes money it's for-profit. And, of course, you can do that inside your nonprofit shell.

Second, if you do something not related to your mission, you have to file a 990T every year to show your Unrelated Business Income.

Third, if you make money on your unrelated income, you are subject to federal taxes, called unrelated business income taxes. BUT, you only pay taxes if you make money and, of course, there is still profit left over! In other words, paying taxes is a good, not a bad, problem.

Finally, none of the above actions is any threat to your tax-exempt status. So, Jack didn't need a for-profit corporation, which saves him big bucks, an annual audit and often, suspicious oversight in his community.

Don't believe me? Go to: and nose around the IRS website. Search there for UBIT (Unrelated Business Income Tax).

And please, try to end this misinformation chain letter. It's getting old, and not making anyone a dime.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Worth reading--how we're doing

This is definitely worth your time....a short set of findings from Lester Salamon, the Listening Post Project and the Center for Civil Society Studies. The paper is the preliminary results on a wide survey on current practices in nonprofit financial disclosure. It shows that most of the disclosure requirements included in the Senate Finance Committee bill are already being met by most nonprofits.

See the paper here.

Take a look and see if your organization is complying where it should. This is one set of mandates you want to get ahead of.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Time is money.....but time is also time

One trend I keep seeing everywhere is a downturn in attendance at live training. Whether I am speaking for a foundation, an MSO, a United Way, or a state or national association, everyone uniformly notes that attendance is steadily dropping. In some cities, attendance for a particular group may be up as they roll out new training, but in general, numbers per session are falling.

Why? The understanding of the need for consistent renewal and life-long learning is certainly higher than 10 years ago. So why would attendance drop? I think its a combination of three things.

First, competition. Over the last few years there has been an explosion of training opportunities for nonprofit staff and management. Thus there are more choices for live training than ever before, and since nonprofits only have so much time and so much money, attendance is spread over more days of training and thus numbers are down. The other part of this is that nonprofits have more options. There are hundreds of great books written specifically for nonprofits, and an ever increasing set of good online training to use.

Second, money. While training continues to be a priority for many nonprofits, the choice between cutting training for all the staff and cutting a social worker or a teacher is pretty much a slam-dunk for most organizations. With funds tight, particularly for those organizations who are dependent on state revenue, training goes, unless it is supported by a specific grant.

Third, time. I think that this is the 800 pound gorilla in everyone's organization. It's my observation (only anecdotal, not statistical) that about 10 years ago, most nonprofit managers had, say 1.5 to 1.7 FTE living inside their bodies, whereas now it's up to 2.4 to 2.7 FTE. Put simply, there are less people to do more work. This is a result of not only budget cuts, but more commonly an effort to wring those "evil" administrative costs out of the system. Our organizations are flatter, but that means that people have more work to do---and thus less time to take off for training.

Example: I do a lot of standup training for NISH, a national nonprofit that helps local nonprofits that work with people with disabilities get contracts with the federal government and thus employ people with disabilities in competitive jobs. NISH has a fabulous training program, with hundreds of live training sessions every year on a wide range of topics. Numbers for live training have been steadily down over the past 4 years, even with the best evaluation ratings ever. So what's the cause? Well, the training is free to attend, and if you are affiliated with NISH, your travel costs are often reimbursed. Thus, the reduction in attendance is not about it's not the money. Second, since this training is targeted to this very focused set of nonprofits, there is not a whole lot of competition. So it's not that.

Has to be the time available.

This is worrisome on a lot of levels. First, it means that less training is getting into organizations, it's bad for mission and the people we serve. Second, one of the things that good staff want is to grow in their jobs. No training, less job satisfaction, more turnover. Third, this is a very good indicator of what I hear all the time: we're burning out our staff. In a survey in 2003, it was found that 40% of our E.D.'s would never take an ED job again, ever.

The pursuit of lower overhead is good, but I think that, overall, we've gone to far looking at this as the key indicator of good management. As I tell funders, potential donors, and reporters all the time, there is no direct cost that doesn't have an indirect cost with it. Take Finance 101 and you'll learn that.

Stop trying to punish nonprofits for having admin're really punishing the people we serve.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Recruitment of volunteers - young and old

I've come across two really interesting papers on engaging different populations in nonprofit work. If you are interested in keeping your volunteer pool full, take a look.

The first is from the Harvard School of Public Health and is called "Reinventing Aging, Baby Boomers and Civic Engagement" It deals with how to get people of my age group more involved in civic matters as we retire. It's a .pdf file and is long, but densely packed with great data and observations.

On the other end of the age change, and from the other side of the Atlantic comes The Russell Commission report entitled "A National Framework for Youth Action and Engagement" which was published just about two weeks ago. This report deals with the serious lack of volunteering by young people in the U.K. and has several interesting and controversial recommendations including paying youth volunteers a small salary for "volunteering". My reaction to that one was "Huh. Thought they were volunteers," but my friends in the U.K. seemed nonplussed by it.

At any rate, two pieces of important reading.