Attributes of Successful Nonprofit Leaders

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on December 19th, 2014 in Thoughts & Commentary

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The very first thing that grabbed me in this recently published McKinsey & Company article, entitled  “What social-sector leaders need to succeed,” was its opening sentence:  “It’s no secret that high-performing leadership is synonymous with private-sector success.”  Now, perhaps I’m overly sensitive on this, but my first read finished that sentence for the authors with “and not nonprofits:  they don’t have high-performing leaders.”  Can you blame me?  Look at the title of the article:  it suggests rather clearly that nonprofit leaders aren’t currently high-performing and Read more

The Most Deserving List

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on December 15th, 2014 in Thoughts & Commentary

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This is the time of year for lists – top 10 movies of the year, top 10 retweets, top 10 pictures of dogs dressed as reindeer. That’s one way of collecting data.

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Every semester, I start off one of my graduate classes by asking the students to explore the various sources of data on nonprofits. I give them starting sources, such as the National Center for Charitable Statistics, Giving USA and the Foundation Center, making it clear that they are by no means Read more

What’s your Legacy?

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on December 5th, 2014 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Perhaps it is only natural that in the nonprofit sector, we forget that some words have multiple meanings.  We might, therefore, be forgiven for the unidimensional understanding of legacy that so many in the nonprofit sector seem to hold.   In so doing, we lose what may be the more important and valuable meaning of the word.

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The first, and, so we are taught is, therefore, the more common, definition of legacy is the one that so many in our sector embrace:  a bequest—a gift Read more

Is Fundraising a Dirty Word?

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on November 21st, 2014 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Board fundraising is an opportunity, not an imposition that we dump on others .  That’s the lesson I’ve been trying forever to get board members to accept.  I’ve explained countless times that fundraising isn’t about asking people for money, but about cultivating and stewarding relationships.   My limited success with this has led me to ask:  should we be talking about fundraising at all?

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When I ask a group of board members and wanna-be board members why a nonprofit needs a board, answers range from Read more

In the eye of the Storm

Posted by Joan Ulmer on November 14th, 2014 in Thoughts & Commentary

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A recent conversation had me struggling with a question:  why do we in the nonprofit sector always wait until we are caught with our pants down to figure out what to do about what is often a predictable circumstance?  Why don’t we plan for the crises that we know there is a good probability we will face?  Did everyone run out after Superstorm Sandy (or the preceding hurricanes) and create disaster plans and/or data protection plans?

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After Reel Grrls  and Hispanics United of Buffalo Read more

Nonprofits by the Numbers

Posted by Joan Ulmer on November 7th, 2014 in Thoughts & Commentary

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I must be desperate for a laugh if I chuckled at this:  last month, the Urban Institute, owner of the National Center on Charitable Statistics, came out with its annual report entitled, “The Nonprofit Sector in Brief 2014:  Public Charities, Giving and Volunteering.”  (This report on the sector is based on data from 2012.)  But it really isn’t about the nonprofit sector, as most of it focuses on public charities[1]—which, according to its own data, are two-thirds of all nonprofits.  So, the real title should Read more

A Not-So-Fine Mess

Posted by Joan Ulmer on October 31st, 2014 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Recently, a dear friend brand new to his executive director role and, thus, working in a nonprofit, but well-versed working with and for nonprofits, made the observation from his recently acquired leadership position, “Nonprofits are messy!”   I can’t disagree, but wonder to what extent we contribute to our own messes?

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A few days after hearing his remark, a one-day facilitation session with the board and senior staff of an organization brought home that answer, writ large:  a lot!  How could one organization do so Read more

In the Money

Posted by Joan Ulmer on October 24th, 2014 in Thoughts & Commentary

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A phrase from an article in Forbes recently caught my eye: “It has become trendy to liken effective philanthropy to Moneyball, ….”  Really?  We moved from strategic philanthropy right into Moneyball philanthropy?  (They are, without a doubt, closely intertwined.)

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For those of you who are unaware, Moneyball is the player selection strategy introduced by the Oakland Athletics (As) and made famous in the 2011 movie of the same name.  The As jettisoned the long-standing baseball practice of selecting players based on assessments by the experienced Read more

Disrespecting Nonprofit Leadership

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on October 3rd, 2014 in Thoughts & Commentary

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We truly are our own worst enemies, a key purveyor of the negative images of nonprofits that the larger public whole-heartedly believes and takes as gospel.  If we want to dispel those myths—and we absolutely should—we must start on the inside.

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What sparked this?  Don’t ask me why, but The Brady Bunch theme song is tromping on my brain:  here’s the story of a nonprofit struggling to improve itself; here’s the story of a for-profit consultant with an Ivy League degree offering virtually free Read more

Diversify Now

Posted by Joan Ulmer on September 26th, 2014 in Thoughts & Commentary

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I just don’t get why, after the past seven years,  any nonprofit would need a lesson in the essential importance of having diversified funding streams. If you are one of those who has not yet learned that lesson, have a board member who is a slow learner or have an executive director who didn’t get the memo, let me share some true stories –  all just from the past week alone!

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Example One:  newly-elected mayor of Patterson, New Jersey, who assumed his position this Read more


"Meet the Funders" on 1/23.  Panelists lined up so far: Barra Foundation, announcing its new guidelines and the Lenfest Foundation's new ED and Fels Fund.