Thursday, January 13, 2011

Updates and reflections

I've had a week, no, ten days now sitting most of the day with my laptop in my, well, lap. I had surgery on January 4 (new hip) and am doing really well, thank you very much.

The reason I'm telling you that is that I've had LOTS of time to do two long delayed jobs: updating my website links and content, and starting a new book on nonprofit decision-making. The updating has allowed me to reflect and be yet again awed by how many thousands of resources are available online for nonprofits. To any of you under forty, this statement probably results in a "Yeah, so?" But to anyone over 50 who can still remember the 80's or early 90's, you are probably saying "Yeah!" because of how much improvement there has been.

And this spills over into the new book. When my first book, Mission-Based Management, was being researched in 1992-3, I did a quick (well, nothing was quick then) search on Compuserve (remember Compuserve?) for "nonprofit management" and found three (3), THREE titles, one of which was an early edition of Bruce Hopkins' terrific books on nonprofit law. There was nothing for nonprofit marketers (some stuff on fund-raising, but not on marketing) nothing on technology, nothing (NOTHING!) on nonprofit boards.

And to access the few books or papers that were there, anyone interested had to find a Foundation Center outpost at a regional or University library. If you didn't live in a town with one of these collections, you were screwed. Oh, these Foundation Center collections were also where you went if you wanted any information on the funding interests of a particular Foundation. Think how hard it had to be just to startup a nonprofit. Go google the search string "How do I start a nonprofit" and see what happens? I could darn near start a nonprofit from my house while recovering from surgery.

But back to books: If you go to right now and just look at the first page of results from a search for books in the area of "nonprofit management" you'll see twelve (of the 4,265 total hits) books that are ALL awesome. How wonderful for the sector.

My point is not how hard we old folks had it in the past. Rather, it's to celebrate how far we've come. If there are people who feel that nonprofits should be better managed (and trust me, that's a huge improvement in itself from 1985) and publishers who think that material will sell, it's because there's a demand for that message from board, staff and funders.

That said, with all this excellent information out there in print and online, we're confronted with the sad fact that there are still only 24 hours in the day. We can't just sit at our computers and read, or in our offices and read, or go to webinars, or look at HowCast videos. We have organizations to run.

We have all this amazing information at our fingertips that can improve our nonprofit's mission-capability and not enough time to use it all.

So what to do? My suggestion for nonprofit leaders is to set an example as a life-long learning and tell your staff that you expect them to do the same thing. Delegate the search for good ideas online and in print to all your staff (yes, all) and have regular discussions about what's been learned. You can have a book club, sure; they're great. But you can also have "website" clubs, or online magazine clubs, or .pdf article clubs, or webinar clubs where you all experience (read, listen, watch) the same thing and then discuss how to utilize what you've learned to the benefit of the people your organization serves.

Happy learning!

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