Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Leadership and nonprofits

Last night's class at Kellogg was on Leadership in Nonprofits. It's always a lecture I look forward to....seems to hit a response chord with the students. Last night less so, since most of the students were exhausted from their Net Impact conference work.

But the discussion did move well, and I was intrigued that most students felt that the key leadership skills for nonprofit leaders and for-profit leaders are the same. This is a gradual trend over the past 4 years....more and more students see the intersection between the two kinds of organizations and wider and wider, and I think that's the way it should be.

I'm in the air most of the week, Sacramento, Tahoe, Chicago (5 times at O'Hare) Hilton Head, Ann Arbor. First talk is on Trends and Decision-Making in Nonprofits. Second one is on Ethics in Nonprofits. Interesting groups, too. We'll see what kind of push-back I get....

Off we go, into the wild blue yonder....

Monday, October 30, 2006

When Mondays are as good as Fridays

Yesterday, I was at the NetImpact Conference in Evanston. I was moderating a panel on the Tech and Philanthropy. (I mentioned this a few weeks back). The panelists were amazing, as are their organizations.

Linda Erlinger, Executive Director of DonorsChoose.org
Jessica Flannery, co-founder of Kiva.org
Dennis Whittle, founder of GlobalGiving.com

All these organizations are on the cutting edge of philanthropy, taking the p2p model and using it to connect donors and individual needs and recipients. The middle-person is out of the loop--and I think that is a good thing.

What struck me most, though was the passion that all three of these wonderful people bring to their work. They simply LOVE what they do.

I reminded me of a saying my grandfather used to have...he told his grandchildren to find something to do where "Mondays are as good as Fridays"...I've told my kids that, and I wish more people could say TGIM rather than TGIF.....

And nonprofits, with our mission, our passion, our good works offer such places. IF we remind our employees (who are also mostly overworked and underpaid) of the point: the mission, and the results of the mission being done.

Check out the websites---they are fascinating places.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Better website content?

Techsoup has a great set of articles, tools and suggestions on ways to make sure your website content is up to best practices, and meets the wants of your audience. A really good step by step guide.

This is a must for small, emerging organizations, but also a great review for any nonprofit with a website, new or old. Check it out, and while you are on the site, sign up for the free weekly newsletter.

I see such a range of quality in nonprofit websites. Some are great, some look like they were put up five years ago and left alone. I saw one yesterday for a national organization that was....hopeless. Hard to navigate, boring content, didn't answer questions, ugh.

Make sure that your site doesn't face the same fate....

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The IRS is comin'

Excellent article in the October 12 issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy on the IRS's increasing efforts to audit and watch nonprofit activity. They are particularly concerned with excessive exec pay and inappropriate loans to ED's and board members. The Director of the tax-exempt office, Lois Lerner has added nearly 12% more staff in the past year, mostly to the audit division. And, it appears that size does not matter: the IRS is going to audit large and small organizations.

The point? Make sure you are clean, clean, clean...and ready to cooperate.

An organization on whose board I served until September got an audit inquiry letter from the IRS last winter. I was audit committee chair at the time, so was closely in the loop. After one conversation, and shipping a few documents, the IRS said no problem, have a nice day. Why? Because we were completely clean, transparent, and totally cooperative. The "anomaly" they saw was easily explained, but at the same time there was nothing else to make them concerned.

Don't think that, because you are a small organization, or because your organization is new, or because you do good works (who doesn't?) that you can ignore the IRS rules and regs. You can't, and you put your mission in peril if you do. Remember, we have a special tax status because we are special organizations. We have to act like it and merit the community's trust in us.

I recently listened to an exec rant about how the IRS should spend its time on auditing big business, not charities, and how she was going to "stick it to them" if they darkened her door. She talked about calling her Congresswoman, and writing letters to the editor. I suggested that she might just put all that energy into making sure her audit committee had its records in order.
She bristled, and I told her she sounded like the driver on the highway who, when pulled over by the trooper for speeding, didn't argue that they were going too fast, but that others were going even faster. The law is the law, and the IRS's job is to enforce it.

And our job is to meet both the letter and the intent of the law. If we start feeling our good works give us a hall pass...let me change my metaphor....a get out of jail free card, we're both wrong and wrong-headed.

The charitable sector, and every one of us in it, needs to be above reproach, not looking for an angle. And if we screw up and the IRS notices, it's our fault, not theirs.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Fundraising, Firefox and other tech thoughts

There's a great Fundraising Toolkit available on Techsoup....these people are very good at what they do. This is a deep and wide set of resources for getting started, networking, going after grants and individual donations. Definitely take a look.

For newbies, Techsoup is an amazing resource for all things tech--as well as lower cost software---as well as pretty good soup recipes. Seriously. Check them out.

In other news, Firefox 2.0 is out, (and available in about 3 days) and I'm looking forward to taking it for a spin. I've used Firefox for 3 years now. No crashes, no bugs, no viruses. And a much, much better product that IE. In fact, the new IE-7 has tabbed browsing, something that has been in firefox for three years. In general, I love open source software. I use Firefox, Nvu (HTML editor), Thunderbird (email) and have just started running Open Office, which is really impressive. My experience with open source is that it has been cleaner, faster, safer and more innovative, and...it's free.

I really believe that nonprofits can benefit from using open source. Philosophically it's right up our alley, the cost is right and the quality is high. I urge all my clients to try one app, then another. I understand the IT people's concern, but I can tell you I've never had a client complain.

A great repository of open source apps (some VERY technical, others for regular users) is available on SourceForge. Take a stroll through it.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Cleaning out....and remembering

This week is a long time coming...I'm cleaning out my office in early prep for moving to Virginia. I'm going through client records, financial reports, old software, and many, many books and journals.

Because I had so much storage space, I tended to keep rather than pitch, resulting in a journey down memory lane when I looked at client organization lists from 1985, booted up disks (with some difficulty) from 1990 with strategic planning reports, and leafed through journals that hyped the new and unknown entity called the "Internet".

Fun to remember all the great people and great organizations I've been privileged to work with. Great to see how far the sector has come. A bit depressing to know that my time on the field of play is limited--and that some of the changes I hoped to be part of will probably not come in my lifetime.

But overall--a good feeling. Cleaning out takes longer than it should; so many ways to get distracted. But it really is beneficial to pause and reflect now and then.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Backup your backup

My last post was on a fateful day. About two hours after I posted, my hard drive on my laptop failed. Ugh.

But not as bad as it could be, since I had backed up the previous Monday. I had to leave town for Seattle and Idaho almost immediately, but had a hard drive on order. I thought through which (few) files I had worked on between the backup and the crash, and figured it would be no big deal. I knew that reformatting the hard drive and installing all the software would be a pain, but that's tech.

Being on the road for 6 days with no laptop felt like walking through the airport in only my boxers, but I was grateful for friend's laptops, and my thumb drive (which had all my training presentations on it.

Got home on the 12th, worked on the reinstall for a bit and then dropped it again to go to Boston
. Got home monday and spent some time before heading to Kellogg for a great class. Tuesday I really hit it, and then the realization smacked me in the face:

I had only backed up SOME things, not EVERYTHING. My email was gone, my newsletter mailing list (some 1400 people) was two months out of date, my podcast recordings had vanished, etc.

My fault. I was in a hurry, and didn't double check what I had backed up.

Double ugh.

So, now, two weeks later, I'm back up with some digital wounds to heal. Regular readers know I rant about backing up and disaster plans.

From now on, I'll rant about having a backup (person) check your backup.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Finding Community in the Sixth Circle of Hell

I'm heading home from New Paltz NY....beautiful area...and, it's fall, so the colors are amazing.

Yesterday though, was a different story. O'Hare went down early in the day, and was backed up all day long. Hundreds of flights were cancelled, most delayed. My commuter flight from Springfield to Chicago was cancelled, as were the next two, so I drove the 200 miles, and then dropped myself into the inferno. Lines were 15 minutes for the bathroom, an hour for customer service....you get the idea.

I was standby for a flight at 4:00 that actually left at 6:30. After two gate changes, the plane actually arrived, off loaded the passengers and loaded the lucky ones with boarding passes. When all of them were on board, there were about 40 of us waiting for an unknown, but small, number of seats. Since we had trekked together from gate to gate, and had depended on each other for information, we had developed a loose bond.

The gate agent explained that he had 6 seats.

He started calling names.

The first person stood up-----and the group broke out in spontaneous, sustained applause. Good for you...a pat on the back, a high five. Smiles all around. The other 5 people got the same reaction as they were called to board. The 34 of us who were left didn't quite want to leave, to spoil the moment....it sure turned a long day into a memorable one for me.

What power community has.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Mission mania

Last night my Kellogg class were told to find really bad missions online to bring to class and discuss. I had them critique them before class, and then we talked about them after I gave my spiel on what I think needs to be in a good mission statement.

Sadly, the students had NO trouble finding awful mission statements. Some were hundreds of words long. Some were nearly unintelligible, the grammar was so bad. Some talked about the founders but not what the organization's mission is. Ugh.

If you haven't checked your mission for a while, take a look. It may be a candidate for improvement.

Off tomorrow on the start of what is essentially a two week speaking and kid visit tour. Tomorrow I head to New Paltz, NY for a meeting of nonprofit financial managers. Friday to Quincy University in Quincy Illinois to talk about management. Should be fun.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The next generation....

Sorry, not Star Trek, but I will use the term "engage", although it doesn't sound as good as when Patrick Stewart says it....

We need to engage our young people in charity, on all levels. While schools encourage/require high schoolers to volunteer, and college campuses overflow with opportunities to help, each family should look at ways to help their children fall into the good habit of charity.

Carol Weisman has the prescription and the how to in her terrific book:

Raising Charitable Children

This is a really good resource for your community, your workplace, your book club, your civic group, your united way or your family.

Check it out!