Friday, May 14, 2010

365,000 at risk

No, not dollars, nonprofits.

That's the number of nonprofits who have not filed their 990-N yet, and who need to by later today to not put their 501(c)(3) at risk.

I posted about this before, but today went to the NCCS website about this issue, and looked for nonprofits near where I live who are at risk-there were dozens; 4-H groups, rescue squads, sports leagues.

Some of these groups, no doubt, have gone dormant. In fact, estimates a year or so ago were that about 150,000 (c)(3) organizations nationwide no longer really were in business.

But many are...and are in peril of losing their tax exempt status. If you care about nonprofits in your community, go to the NCCS database, and just search for your state and town.

Then start calling organizations you know that are at risk.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Off to a nonprofit graduation

That's probably a misleading title, but it's true. My youngest child, Caitlin, graduates from Boston University on Sunday, and Chris and I leave today for the weekend festivities. And, like other private colleges and universities, BU is a nonprofit, complete with mission, staff, volunteers, fund-raising and a board of directors.

Universities, colleges and private schools are interesting entities in that they must, unlike nearly all non-educational nonprofits, appeal to the people who have gone through their programs: alumni. These alumni are regularly prodded to give money to their alma mater (I know I am) and offered reminders of how wonderful an institution the college, university or private school is.

And, unlike many nonprofits, these organizations only get one shot at serving their prime clientele: the student. Each student goes through the educational process, hopefully graduates, and then cannot return for more service (unless it's a higher degree or adult education).

Certainly a different mission mix than faith-based or arts organizations who want to serve a person over and over and over and where you never are "done." Many human services organizations wish they could "graduate" a person, but often can't, since the condition that brought the client to the nonprofit in the first place persists.


Sunday, May 09, 2010

New Marketing Strategies

Happy Mother's Day to moms everywhere.

If you're into marketing for your nonprofit, you might want to take a look at the May, 2010 issue of the Mission-Based Management Newsletter which is online. Topic? New Marketing Strategies.

Check it out, and if you like what you see, subscribing is easy and free. You can also scroll down to see all the past single-topic issues.


Thursday, May 06, 2010

New Practices in Board Terms

For many years, (probably 30, since I was an ED the first time) I've been preaching the benefits of having board terms. In that time, the concept of limiting board service has become best practice, and even required by some funders.

The standard is pretty much the same everywhere, with a tweak here or there: two 3-year terms for each member. Many organizations, due to a shortage of great board candidates, allow a member to come back on after a brief hiatus, perhaps one or two years.

Over the past two years, I've been getting emails from people challenging my stance on this issue, and I've begun to rethink the whole thing. The basic concern is that by forcing everyone to leave the board, a nonprofit can a: lose historic perspective in their policymakers and, b: lose the few true governing volunteer stalwarts who support the organization with real passion. Certainly both of these concerns are valid and worth considering.

So, what's the solution? Board turnover is still a good thing: it brings in new ideas and perspectives, and allows an organization to root out any policymaker deadwood. It gives board members a graceful exit from their job if they want it, and, like it or not, it is one of the standards by which governance is measured today.

Some nonprofits have come up with what I think is an interesting and innovative solution, one that bears watching. These organizations reserve some percentage of their board seats for exceptional board members who have both demonstrated their passion for the organization, and agree to stay. These members are offered a longer term after their first two terms, say five years, with an opportunity to extend that one more time.

I've seen this eight or nine times now, and the percentage of "reserved" seats ranges from 20% to 40%. The latter seems a bit high to me-and offers the opportunity to slide back into perpetual boards. 20-25% seems about right. On a 15 member board, 20% would be 3 seats. This "experience bloc" would certainly not always vote together, but would serve as a guide to other board members on tradition and prior activities that could be valuable. 3 members would also not be so many as to be "the old boys/girls club" and this inhibit new members from fully engaging.

As I said, I think this bears watching. I'm curious about what guidelines organizations use to pick this class of board members, and how the internal politics play out.

What do you think? Does your board have this policy in place or is it thinking about it? What percentage of seats would be reserved? Do you have guidelines? If so, please share them with us.