Monday, December 18, 2006

You better watch out....

Actually, the title is just my attempt at lame seasonal humor.

The reason to watch--not really watch out--- is that there is actually a bit of good media coverage of nonprofits during our season of asking...the holidays.

Newsweek (December 10, 2006) columnist Jane Bryant Quinn has a very solid column on ways for donors to check you out...and why they should. But, unlike so much media, she talks about the shortcomings of the online watchdogs. A good piece.

See it here: "Giving Freely--and Wisely"

And, if you want to feel richer (or more guilty) about your nonprofit salary, go to the Global Rich List. You type in your salary and find out how you stand up against the rest of the world. Ugh.

Reminded me of a factoid I saw three years ago that, at that time 1/2 the population of the world had yet to make its first phone call....There is SUCH a Rich/Poor split on the planet.

So give something somewhere....

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Can your users comment online?

One of the key ways that most people under 30, and more and more people of all ages, get their information online is not from an expert, but from something better: users and peers. I suspect that anyone reading this blog has looked at a review of something: a movie, a camera, a cosmetic, before deciding whether or not to purchase.

In our house,we always go to before making a choice about movies. There we can look at both critics' and users' reviews. We don't always agree with the site's assessments, but usually we get good information. Same with electronics, books, even over the counter medication.

In his book "The Wisdom of Crowds" which is on group decision making, James Surowiecki argues that randomly selected groups of people (who are not under duress) will nearly always make better decisions than a few experts. Great book, by the way.

This, to me is the beauty of reviews, particularly when the reviewing site then averages all of the reviews into a manageable number...a number of stars, a number of smiley faces, etc. And, the net makes it easy, to both post such reviews and to see them.

So, here's my question. Is there anywhere on your site where people can post their experiences with your other words review your nonprofit? Can volunteers discuss their volunteer experience? Can end users talk about how polite and welcoming your staff are? Can donors rave about the giving experience. If not, why not?

More and more people are coming to your website before they come to your door.

And people listen to peers. So let those peers speak.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Such a good reminder

My wife and I went to a Christmas concert at New Salem State Historic Site on Saturday evening. Eight solid voices and a small combo singing a wide variety of Christmas standards, some ballads, with some comedy mixed in. Very enjoyable, but the highlight for me was when a local talent: Ken Bradbury, took the stage. Ken has just retired from 35 years as a high school teacher, has authored a number of books, 100 plays, has great stage presence, is very, very funny and plays a killer piano.

Ken's gig is this: he plays riff or two of piano (in this case Christmas music) and then tells stories while he continues to play background. He had the audience from the get-go, and some people were nearly in tears laughing so hard. Then he put the hammer down:

"I read this morning that the average shopper will spend $450 on presents this year. Then CNN said it's really $950."
"I thought about that, and wondered more about the real Christmas message."
"Since we got up this morning 15,000 children throughout the world have died of hunger."
Long riff
"we could feed every one of them with 1/5 of our cell phone bills."
long riff
"this Christmas, send someone you know a letter telling them how much you love them."
"And don't sign it. "
"Let them think it might be from a LOT of people."
"That's a that person will value long after their Christmas Rolex has rusted."

It's a terrific performer that can have you in tears two different ways inside of 10 minutes.

Thanks, Ken.

For the reminder.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Board bits

I had a question the other day from a gentleman trying unsuccessfully to get off the board of directors he was on. He had sent two letters resigning, had not heard back and then saw his name on a current list of board members. He was concerned that he was still a fiduciary and wondered what legal action he needed to take. I gave him my answer (and have never heard back, interestingly/ironically enough: most people at least acknowledge the response) but then wondered a bit about the organization in question. If the story is true, they are either clueless or totally unorganized. Why would you keep someone on your board who doesn't want to be nor, I assume, ever attends meetings, contributes time, talent, or treasure?

Now, I have known execs who would be happy with as many empty chairs as possible at board meetings and others who, while having bodies in the seats, still have "empty chairs"--and want it that way. Of course, I know nothing about this organization, starting with which time zone its in, but you have to think that things are pretty bad.

Here's what apparently didn't happen after the letter of resignation was sent...(with a noted caution that there are always about 4 sides to any situation)

1. The exec didn't call the board member and ask "why do you want to go off?", or "would you stay?", or "thanks for your resignation and your service".

2. When no response was received to the first (or second) letter, the (former?) board member didn't call the agency staff or board president and ask to be taken off the board list.

Methinks that there are some serious communications issues showing their ugly head here, and probably a lot more just barely out of sight.

Too bad.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Returned to my pile of reading today to see some interesting stuff. To wit:

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has an excellent story about cities that lose a great deal of property taxes to charities who own their own buildings. Some cities have been charging fees for years, and I don't think that this is a bad thing in some form. After all, the organizations use police, fire, and other services just as much as for-profit or private citizens. The three cities where the issue is most severe are Boston, Baltimore and Seattle, based on the key indicator of "unpaid" nonprofit property taxes as a percentage of the city budget. Boston's is 11.6% (and Boston does charge fees), Baltimore 5%, and Seattle 4.9%. No right answer here.

Another Chronicle story worth reading is about "The Vanishing Donor", donors who aren't giving over and over because the nonprofit they give to is not meeting their needs. Interesting research is cited about how donors feel that nonprofits don't tell them what they do with donations, never contact them without asking for money, waste money on trinkets (90% of which are pitched), and don't say thank you, either enough, or at all.

Sounds pretty straightforward to me. Be transparent, say please and thank you, and worry about customer service in fund raising as much as you do in other charitable services. Sp why don't more organizations do just that?

Business Week this week talked about companies who are banning emails once a week--making people actually talk to each other....another good idea, but sad that it has to be mandated.

Another story was on a cell phone for tech-averse people that is just a...wait...wait...wait...a just makes phone calls. Nothing else. And the phone is incredibly popular.....To me this is a great and long overdue product, but more importantly a warning to all of us that think that the more tech we add in to any recipe of services, the better.

Tech IS terrific, and no one who knows me would ever call me a Luddite, tech works for nonprofits ONLY when it is used to enhance mission capability. But when it just pisses people off....not so much.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Goin' to Kansas City

Headed out today to work with three Goodwill's who are sharing information and best practices. Good people. Should be fun and informative. Free bonus: it's my last trip out of town for the year--according to United, I've been on 94 flights this year.

Short updates:
-My bookclubs are back. My major contractor restarted the clubs in January. We'll be reading books I've already read, but I look forward to the conference calls and conversations, and this will also give me time to read new things on my own.

-It's exam grading time for my Kellogg class. All the final projects are due today and I'll be grading in the hotel room in KC. This is a new exam format for us and I'm eager to see how it works out.

-This month I'm working on two new publications: business development, and life long learning for nonprofits, both of which I hope to post on my downloads area by Christmas.

-I have mixed feelings about the idea of a separate nonprofit agency in the US Department of Commerce. Seems good to focus on our needs but sure to wind up with more regulation. The Brits have their own agency, and ALL government funding goes through it...which presents some problems. On the other hand, if such an agency could come up with uniform reporting requirements for all nonprofits, it would be worth its weight in....paperwork reduction?

-Finally, a fun closing of a circle. Last Tuesday, I visited a friend (Allen Gouse) who runs the Easter Seals of Greater Hartford. He took my to the Easter Seals work center, where people with disabilities do light manufacturing, fulfillment, etc. Turns out its in the same building where my Dad used to work. The building was long abandoned, and renovated into what is essentially a nonprofit center. I remember sitting in the back seat of our car watching people come out of the factory waiting to pick up my dad at that building, and to have the structure used for this purpose is just too cool for words. My parents, who were two of the eight original founding board members of the Hartford Association of Retarded Citizens, would be thrilled. Me too.

Off to KC.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Conflict of Interest

Two days of rain, wind, ice, snow, very cold, all a week after a 70 degree day. Welcome to winter.

More importantly, my December newsletter is available online. This month's topic is "Conflict of Interest."

Interestingly, I had scheduled the topic for the December issue some months ago, and then coincidentally got hit with a number of inquiries at training gigs in the past three weeks, including a board president who told me that he didn't really understand why there was all the fuss about conflict statements, and one ED who said her board was resisting signing the statement she had developed.

Ugh. This is a must-have for all nonprofits in today's environment, and I urge you not only to have a conflict of interest statement for your board and staff, but also to post it right on the front of your website. Be transparent here, too.