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 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.