Monday, May 28, 2007

A better year? Maybe, just maybe.

A new "communique" is out from Lester Salamon at The Listening Post at Johns Hopkins. I always look forward to Lester's information and conclusions, and this issue did not disappoint.

Titled "Nonprofit Fiscal Trends and Challenges", the paper discusses the financial highs and lows of nonprofits during 2006. What Lester and his co-author Stephanie Geller found was encouraging, although certainly not the case in all parts of our sector.

Salamon found fewer organizations in severe financial stress, with more moving toward fees and away from dependence on just fundraising. He also notes the increased concern among nonprofit CEO's about board and staff recruitment and retention, as well as executive transition.

Interestingly, accountability and transparency are not the high-profile (and thus high-concern) issues that they were a few years ago. I hope that this does not portend bad things a few years out.

Anyway, a good read. See if you see your nonprofit in Lester's data.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Let 'em in, and prosper....

The news today that Facebook has thrown its "doors" open to developers reminded me that I've been wanting to post on the subject of social networking, getting outside input into your operations, adding value online etc.

First, social networking. Last week, I did two speeches on generation change in Chicago and Fort Wayne. A number of younger folks came up to me and talked about the barriers to being on boards of directors. I asked them--what would you think about a social network space just for your board? In the group, everyone under 35 said "Yes!", everyone over said "huh?"

Social network sites have great potential for users of your services, for educating people (think parents groups for kids with autism) or a group of staff that work specifically in one area of your organization. While MySpace and Facebook are the big dogs in this area, options like YahooGroups and Ning (my personal favorite) are also out there. They are free, easy (particularly Ning) and are a great option to reach out into your community.

Adding value: Regular readers know my oldest son, Ben, left Microsoft last year to do his own software startup with his longtime best friend. One of the things that they needed, after deciding on a name, business format, etc. was a logo. Both are good artists, but did they do it themselves? No, they wanted lots of ideas. So they parceled the work out to DesignOutpost, one of a number of sites on the web where you can contact graphic designers and collaborate with them on the art you need. Ben got dozens of designs, commented on them, and then the designers came back with changes. Only the "winner" gets paid, but there were no lack of participants in the work. All the conversations are open for everyone to see, all very fast, and resulted in a great product. Think about this kind of collaborative work that the web enables. And, of course, check out DesignOutpost if you need some good graphic design done well, fast and cheap.

Open up to more minds, more ideas, and more collaboration. It's good for everyone.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Hiring, Hiring, Hiring

A lot of the news this week has been about current and looming worker shortages in industry after industry. I've seen articles stating that, for college grads, it's the best job market in 20 years. I've seen pieces about the shortage of nurses, aerospace engineers, teachers, hospitality managers, nuclear engineers, physical therapists, and on and on.

Of course, this means that we in the nonprofit sector are up against steep and deep pocketed competition for the best young people, because we have our worker shortage, too.

This was a headline that awaited me on Google News this morning(care of St. Louis Today):
"Want To Hire The Best and Brightest Members of GenY?"
and it's all about making sure that for-profits emphasize their volunteer opportunities, their social good works, etc.

Hmmm. Seems to me that we can take this set of research findings, and run with them in the non-profit world as well, as we try to entice good people to make their career with us. We already have social value. We already are doing good works. But how many of our organizations encourage our employees to volunteer at OTHER nonprofits? If that's a big lure, we should look at it. Something to think about.

In other "news", I had a great week in Chicago and Fort Wayne speaking first on Wednesday at North Park University's Axelson Center for Nonprofits Annual Symposium, this year on Generation change . Thursday I was in Fort Wayne talking on Nonprofit Stewardship for the Nonprofit Resource Center. Finally, on Friday, I gave the annual Williams Lecture for the Foellinger Foundation on Generation Change. Very nice and responsive audiences in all three locations. Even got some press. Many thanks to everyone at all three organizations who did so much work to make my time in their cities so enjoyable.

And, speaking of employee recruitment needs, my wife Chris's retirement dinner was last night. 33 years in special ed in public schools draws to a close in three weeks.

First, a shout-out to her for a job very, very well done.

Second, some anecdotal data. Chris is part of over 31 teachers retiring this year from our small school district. That's an entire school's worth of experienced educators out the door.

And last year there was about the same number retiring here, and next year it's more...and this is happening in every school district (and every industry) all across the country.

All of which makes me feel we've got to get more kids volunteering and doing summer internships in our organizations in high school and college, to steer them our way early.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

First Reactions....

With any new book, there's a natural delay between its publication and people wanting me to speak about the topic. For a couple of books, this was as long as 9-12 months-by the time people get the book, read it and are planning their next conference.

This time, I tried to be smarter. Knowing that Generations was coming out in March, in November I emailed about 40 organizations around the country who have sponsored me in the past letting them know about the book, and showing them an outline of the training.

It worked. If you go to my current bookings on my training schedule, you'll see that the topic dominates.

And yesterday I had the fun of presenting the issue before the first big audience in Cincinnati. Barnes Dennig sponsors a Nonprofit Day each May, and I've been privileged to speak at the session three times. Yesterday we had just over 200 people, and the reaction to the topic was really good. Lots of "Thanks, I have a ton of work to do!", or "Wow, I didn't know this issue was this big!"

My favorite was a woman who walked up to me at the break after the session with her eyes wide, and just said "Oh. My. GOD!" and walked away.

In associated news, my newsletter this month is on Generation Change and the People You Serve

So, one down, two more next week!

And, thanks to everyone in Cincinnati. You were terrific.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Is total transparency good?

I'm finally catching up on some backed up reading, including a month-old Wired magazine with the titillating cover story "Get Naked!".
No, it's not what you think. The main story and some ancillary ones are about corporations who become totally transparent (naked) in relation to their staff, their board, their customers and their stockholders. Well worth the read. It's issue 15.04.

The stories range from coming out a bit, to total transparency and the resulting benefits. All of this led to some long discussions with people I respect, and some careful thoughts about this concept.

I've long advocated sharing much, much more information internally, including all of your financials with all of your staff (unless you have a union). I've told dozens of clients to share their draft strategic plan with their community. I tell everyone to post a link to their current 990 and most recent audit on the first page of their website.

But share everything? Nah. As a former ED, I can tell you that sharing MOST of my thoughts got me in trouble at times. Imagine this: income is down, you are thinking about a long term restructuring, and you muse about this in your blog. The action is 10-15% likely and perhaps a year away. EVERYONE, and I mean EVERY ONE on the staff will immediately assume that they will lose their job in the next 37 minutes. Same for the people you serve.

Some stuff you just have to keep to yourself.

In one article, a CEO blogged and dissed his peers and some subordinates. Ohhh, bad idea. Have your dissing face to face, and keep the arguments inside the family. And, think of the HR implications!

Bottom line for me: sharing--good. Lots of sharing--better. Financial transparency--essential.

Get naked? Could get ugly. Fast.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

So help me.....

Actually, the proper syntax is probably "So, help me..."

The issue at hand is my podcasts. They aren't selling. I'd like your opinion as to why.

For those who haven't been to the part of me website that deals with podcasts, take a quick look at and you'll see the deal, the range of topics, etc. If you like, you can download the free sample podcast and listen to it.

I developed the podcasts last fall and winter, in response to literally hundreds of requests over the years for tapes and CD's of my lectures. I tested the format and sample podcast with about a dozen nonprofit execs and board members, and asked for feedback (all was very, very good) and suggested pricing...the average was $10 each. I thought that a bit high. As my tech son says, "The diference between free and $1 is huge online, but the difference between $1 and $5 is not much". We started at $7.50 each. And did badly.

I added free powerpoints so that people could look and listen at the same time. I sent out emails to my newsletter list, and included postings on new topics here and in my newsletter.

After the first two months, I cut the price to $4 each and sales rose, for a minute or two. Given the fact that each podcast takes about 6 hours to script, record, mix, create the powerpoint and post on Yahoo, $4 seemed a steal.

Apparently only to me.

Sales were up a bit, but very intermittent.

So, let's look at the numbers for the six months ended April 30:

Free podcasts downloaded: 366
Paid podcasts purchased: 35

Not exactly a revenue stream...more a seepage.

And, during the past two months (March and April) the buypodcasts.htm page has recorded 2700 hits, so the traffic is there...

So here's where you can help. Why are sales so slow? Here are some thoughts that have occurred to me, and I'm sure you'll have better ones:

1. In a $.99 ITunes world, the price should be lower.

2. I'm ahead of the tech curve--most people who are nonprofit managers are over 40--and they don't know from podcasts. (In truth, I did have a couple of people say that (despite the clear disclaimer on the website) that they didn't own an Ipod and thus couldn't listen to them.)

3. My topics aren't the right ones.

4. The podcasts are terrible.

5. Other???????

As I said, please go to and download the free podcast. Take a listen, and tell me what you think, and what you advise. As someone who has spent his life helping nonprofits, this seems like a good match. As a marketing guy, obviously what people seem to need (and ask for) isn't what they want.

Any ideas, suggestions, etc. are really, really welcome.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

Fun, fairness and the future

Whoa--too much fun in Ann Arbor--graduations are great, so much celebration and excitement in the air. The weather cooperated, for the most part, and the speakers were pretty good, too. Superb speech at the University graduation by a selected senior, and all the speeches focused on citizenship, involvement, volunteering and NOT just seeking fame and fortune.

One historical note that I found fascinating was that it was in Ann Arbor, on the steps of the Michigan Union, that presidential candidate John F. Kennedy first tried out the concept of the Peace Corps, and called students to volunteer. Hundreds signed up that very day, and Kennedy knew he had a winning concept.

Volunteering, whether for social justice, to combat global warming, or to alleviate a host of other social ills, is still a high priority on most campuses. I'm always pleased to see the number of students who take alternative spring breaks, or set up new nonprofits to combat issues.

This week has been busy, a quick day trip to Dallas, catching up on a variety of projects, and yesterday, going to a political rally---for better, fairer, more equitable funding of public education here in Illinois. It was a fun, charged up crowd. Our three all went through public schools, and the resources were less than stellar. Hearing some students talk about what they had in their schools (what high school needs TWO Olympic sized pools?) and others talk about what they didn't have was enlightening and frustrating at the same time.

Ahh, fairness. What a concept.