Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Webinar listing for February 2011

As regular readers know, having a culture of life-long learning is a key component of success for any nonprofit.

Leading that culture by example is the job of senior management.

"But I just can't get away right now" is the early foreshadowing of failure in this crucial area.

So, stay at your desk and choose one (or more) of over 30 webinars for nonprofits listed on the Wild Apricot Blog yesterday. A shout out to them for gathering all this information.

Go. Learn. Be brilliant......and show your staff that they should do the same.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Keys to Smart Stewardship

I'm working on a new book tentatively titled: Smart Stewardship: Making the Best Decisions for Your Nonprofit. The book will contain some new ideas on innovation, growth, going to scale and a decision tree for both board and staff to use.

This month's Mission-Based Management Newsletter contains the first of two part series on the key elements of Smart Stewardship. In the next issue, I'll lay out my decision tree.

Take a look and feedback is welcome!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Junk food or no food?

Tough times always equal tough choices. For families, for businesses, for governments and for nonprofits. And therein lies today's discussion:

Trust me, I know every reader out there works or volunteers for a nonprofit that has a great and valuable mission. That said, I challenge any of you to say your mission is MORE mission rich (not equal, but MORE) than those organizations among us that feed the hungry.

Thus, there is extra poignancy in the piece posted January 13 on the NPR website entitled "Overburdened Foodbanks Can't Say No to Junk".

I'm sure you can guess the tradeoffs reported in the story. Junk food or no food. Or less food.
And, you can see in the interviews that the staff of the foodbanks are really working the problem, not simply accepting a downgrade in the nutrition level of the food they are handing out.

Good for them, and there is NO criticism implied here.

That said, this kind of dilemma faces nonprofit staff and boards everywhere in a recession. How much less quality can/should we do? When should we stop a service rather than do it less optimally than we would prefer? These are hard strategic and mission questions, and ones I wouldn't be surprised if most readers have faced. I can't tell you what the right level of service/quality is for your organization; only you and your board can make that decision.

But I do have a couple of suggestions on process.

First, well before you have to make very hard decisions, develop a decision tree/format/sequence that everyone has input into and then agrees on. Rely heavily on your mission and values in developing this decision tree. Next, practice using the decision tree with a couple of real world cases to see how it works. Finally, apply it to staff meetings, board sessions and larger strategy meetings.

If everyone is both aware of as well as on the same page regarding HOW decisions are made, they'll be more comfortable with all the outcomes. This is not to say they'll love the decisions: Sometimes the best decision is simply the least worst.

I'd put junk food in that category.

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 Amazon.com 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!

Monday, January 03, 2011

Your tax cuts to charity?

Interesting idea in an article today in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. A new site called Give It Back For Jobs is designed to help anyone who wants to to give their tax cut back. There's a method of calculating your tax benefits, and links to four charities as well as the option to name your own and do the donation right on the site.

As I say, interesting idea, and I hope it works!