Thursday, July 31, 2008

Good data on volunteers

Many thanks to Nicole Pharm for turning me on to a great source for data on volunteering in the US from Volunteering In America. Check out the site and you can find data by state, city, some new research findings and how we volunteer.

But be careful---I went to the site and, even though I'm not a volunteer specialist, suddenly looked up and an hour had slipped by....the data is really interesting! If you are a volunteer coordinator, or planning on expanding your volunteer activities, check this out.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Character first for boards

I just returned from having a terrific two days with the Ronald McDonald House Charities board leadership session in Oak Brook. Great people, lots of fun discussion. I certainly learned a lot.

Yesterday, the group was focused on better board recruitment and retention. Most sessions on this start with what skillset the organization needs. We started with something different: what kind of person you should seek to have on your board. This set the group back a bit--they were ready to talk about skills. I pushed them to talk about character, and we got a great list going. Things like this:
Open minded
This is not a complete list, but you get the idea.

Then we talked through a good laundry list of skills needed, repeatedly noting that the skills needed by any nonprofit change and should change in sync with their strategic plan.

But when we got done with those two lists, we focused on which is more important to start with: character or skills?

My feeling on this is strong: focus on character first. This is very consistent with pretty much all good leadership development advice: Hire character first in employees. Why shouldn't that extend to board members?

As John Maxwell says in his leadership writing: "You can't coach tall." Character first.

As you evaluate your board recruitment, make a list like the people at RMHC did: what kind of person do you want on the board? It will help avoid a lot of pain further down the road.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Google, and other free stuff

I was stunned recently when I asked a room of 200 or so execs how many of them had taken advantage of Google's $10k per month offer for free ads......not only did no hands go up, but most didn't know what a Google ad about opportunity lost. If you are in their group, check it out at Google Grants. Think about it---you want more volunteers in their 20's? You want more donors in that demography? TRY THIS! It's FREE.

Other free stuff---you should sign up for the free Fieldstone Alliance Tools You Can Use newsletter. Yes, they are trying to sell books, and yes, they are my publisher, but the stuff that they put in the newsletter is useful right now, even if you don't ever buy the book.

For instance, the current edition is about conflict resolution in the context of increasing collaboration and has some great ideas. Check it out.

I'm on my way to Chicago to teach at the Leadership Institute for the Ronald McDonald Houses from all over North America. I've worked with them before and they are great people. I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Great attitudes during tough times....

I had a wonderful day with a group of nonprofits from Sarasota, sponsored by the Community Foundation of Sarasota (and a shout out to all the staff for making my day so easy). What a great group of nonprofit staff and board. Nonprofits in Florida are facing very very tough times, and so the topic of the day "Mission-Based Management in Difficult Financial Times" drew a crowd: the room was packed.

You might expect a lot of doom and gloom in a room like that, but people were upbeat, attentive and appreciative to the nth degree. Very inspiring, but then rooms of nonprofit staff always are to me.

I go back in December to talk about "Social Entrepreneurship" and in February to talk on "Generation Change in Nonprofits". I'm looking forward to both trips.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


This morning I was working on my August edition of The Mission-Based Management Newsletter, which will cover the topic of Mission, Vision, Values. In looking up some good resources I came across a fascinating (to a mission-nerd like me) website called, which has collected hundreds of mission statements, not only for nonprofits, but for schools, corporations, government, and individuals. Interesting reading, at least for me.

At the Alliance for Nonprofit Management meeting, I had the pleasure of hearing and then talking briefly to Darian Rodriguez Heyman, who is the ED of the Craigslist Foundation. In his talk, Darian told us about a new foundation online presence and asked for input from the group. Over and over, he repeated the mantra that was guiding the Foundation in its development: "Less time searching, more time doing good."

I loved hearing such focus on a key idea. While that statement is not their mission, it is a guiding principle for a major product, and allows the staff and volunteers to say focused on the desired outcome.

This is a great example of developing a project mission, but more importantly, using that project-mission to help guide the process all the time, not just at the outset.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The cost of higher educution and nonprofits

One of the concerns I have about nonprofits recruiting and retaining the best and brightest is the cost of higher education which, as a percentage of average family income, is an enormous barrier. Not only does it stress out current nonprofit staff who have kids and are trying to figure out how to pay for college, but for someone coming out of undergraduate or grad school with a $20k, $30k, even $90k debt, the ability to work in a low-paying nonprofit is severely limited.

The recent federal bill to "fix" this problem is a start, but a poor one. Basically, a 22-year-old has to go to work for a nonprofit, work ten years, and then she sees some minimal help. Ten years? Ten YEARS? Ten years for a 22 year old is half their life so far, at least the part they can recall. Not much of an incentive, particularly for the average 22 or 23 year old who is still figuring out their place in the world, where they want to live and work, and what their real passion is.

We've always used financial incentives to push people toward desired outcomes. Whether its the ability to deduct interest costs on your mortgage to encourage home ownership, had rapid depreciation allowances to encourage businesses to build, or drill for oil. Let's put together a real program that helps both students and parents.

More and more families are taking out loans, rates for loans are rising: student loans now cost 6.8% and parent loans 8.2%. Rates went up last year to help cut the deficit. And, private lenders have stepped back from lending given the mortgage crisis....

Here's my suggestion:

A student with a federal debt (in his/her own name or that of his or her family) goes to work for a nonprofit. During the year, the debtor pays only interest on the loan. After one year, if he or she does the job, 5% is cut off the principle. This continues moving forward for as long as the individual works for a (any) nonprofit. The second year, the forgiveness is 10%, where it stays for each of years 3-5 and then it moves up again to 15% per year until the loan is retired with one last 10% forgiveness in year 9.

Thus, the student receives immediate help (interest only) and a reduction in one year, not 10.
Will congress change the law? Unlikely.

So, what can communities do? Set up the same program locally with some variation. I'd love to see community foundations put money aside for debt reduction for employees at nonprofits, corporations and service organizations like Rotary and Lions set up scholarships for graduated students who work for nonprofits. Local governments could offer property tax relief to nonprofit workers buy homes in the community they work for, and state governments could target the areas where the most workers are needed and offer incentives as well.

We want well educated employees. We know we can't pay our employees salaries that are competitive with the for-profit sector, and we know that our mission-satisfaction makes up for that to a point. But mission-satisfaction can't help here: we have to come up with a better way if we want the best people.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Green Nonprofits-resources

Everyone wants to do their part to green up, lower our carbon footprint, and be better environmental citizens. The Mission-Based Management Newsletter in April dealt with this topic in depth, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy had a set of resources recently that I wanted to share.

First, GreenNonprofits has just opened, and will be doing some work to allow nonprofits to be certified at green. Check them out at

TechSoup has a bunch of resources including a listing of recycling centers for your old tech. Take a look:

If you own (or are going to own) a building for your nonprofit, take a look at the US Green Building Council which has some great information on greening up your building both in design and use.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Alliance, and a new resource

Fun to be at the Alliance for Nonprofit Management meeting in Dearborn...great to see so many friends and catch up.

A new resource announced today from Microsfot looks interesting...MS is calling it NGO Connection, and it advertises free/low cost software, TA, etc. I'll check it out but you should too.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Free stuff--a reminder to those who like this price...

I got a bunch of questions last week (yes, on vacation) from people associated with nonprofits who have heard about offers from Google and Yes, there is great free stuff (from both companies) or heavily discounted (in the case of Salesforce) available for nonprofits.

In Google's case, it's up to $10,000 a month in free Google Ads, which is, believe me, HUGE. If you set up the ads correctly, you can have them send people to your services page, your fundraising page, your volunteer page, or all three! Here's the information on this offer:

In Salesforce's case, you can get their client management software free, or at an 80% discount. Again, a terrific offer, since this software rocks.

Remember that both companies have an application process, and it's not a slam dunk. But, check them out.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Books, anniversaries, and Alliance

Back from a great 10 days on vacation, in NH with kids and significant others, seeing long-time friends, and relaxing on Squam. Much fun.

I read quite a bit, including taking a run at True North, the second book by Bill George, the author of Authentic Leadership. I'm about a third through and like it a lot. Authentic Leadership was very popular with my book clubs. I'll post more about this book when I finish.

In other book news, the 3rd Edition of Mission-Based Management is underway. I'm pumped about the update, and will post intermittently as I make progress and add new sections.

However, the biggest book news for me is that Generations has been awarded the 2008 Terry McAdam Award for "Best New Nonprofit Book" by the Alliance for Nonprofit Management. I'm really pleased and honored, particularly since the runner up this year is Forces for Good, which is an awesome book.

I'm headed out to the Alliance for Nonprofit Management annual conference in Dearborn tomorrow, do a half-day on Generation Change, see lots of great friends and, as a bonus, collect the award. The Alliance meetings are always a highlight of my year, and I'm looking forward to it.

Finally, today is Chris's and my 30th wedding anniversary. I have been SO lucky to have such a great wife and fantastic certainly has been the launching pad for all my work....

I'll post from Dearborn....