Board Membership is a Team Sport

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on May 20th, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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One of the members of a board president’s peer learning circle I facilitate recently asked, “What tools are there to help keep a board president motivated?” I confess that in all of my years of facilitating learning circles of board presidents and of one-on-one conversations with board presidents, that question has never been asked.

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There are really two questions here, the first being how does a board president stay motivated about the mission?  If direct engagement with the mission—seeing it in Read more

Believe in your Brand

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on May 13th, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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My brain works in funny ways.  Listening to Shankar Vedantam on NPR talking about golfing with big name clubs versus no-name clubs, my mind goes to nonprofits.

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Vedantam was unpacking yet another interesting piece of social science research.  This one looked at whether using a putter from a well-known brand—in this case, Nike—made a difference in the success of the golfer, compared to those putting with a generic club.  And it did:  those who were told the putter they were using Read more

Fundraising is all in the prep

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on May 6th, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Earlier this year, the Nonprofit Quarterly and BoardSource did a pulse survey (a quick, “let’s just take the pulse of those who bothers to respond”) trying to understand boards’ greatest concerns for 2016.

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Of the 173 responses, 53% (n=78) selected “general economic uncertainty, increased volatility and shocks.” In other words, they are worried about funds. The fourth, at 29% (n=43) greatest concern, is the “increasingly competitive environment.”

Taken together these say boards are really worried about financial sustainability: an unpredictable financial climate Read more

Dumping Your Junk at your Local Nonprofit

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on April 29th, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Earlier this month, a nonprofit in Albuquerque got a donation it didn’t want:  a trailer full of junk, literally.  Sadly, this is not newsworthy to those of us who work in the sector.  We have too much experience receiving donations of goods we cannot use, from totally battered and broken items to those that are irrelevant to our work.   To any individual who has dropped off goods at a nonprofit thrift store and actually bothered to looked at the donated items that have been Read more

The 2% Solution

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on April 22nd, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Year after year, charitable giving makes up only 2% of America’s GDP.  I don’t care what the actual number of dollars is because it still always amount to the same small percentage.

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I was intrigued when I caught a headline suggesting there were three ways to increase this 2%.  Sadly, though the author of the article says these three things could move the needle on the GDP, they certainly didn’t move me: legacy giving (the new term for planned giving), donor Read more

Merger Myths

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on April 15th, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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While I frequently rail against the proliferation of nonprofits organizations, the automatic solution to this problem is not mergers.   Consideration of a merger should give everyone who cares about the clients of their nonprofit pause—literally.  Pause and think about who will truly benefit from a merger?

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You’re a struggling nonprofit?  Find an organization with which you can merge.  Retiring executive director and no internal candidate to promote to avoid a search?  Merge.   Add in that both of these situations are Read more

The Crime of Negligence

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on April 11th, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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In 2012, a routine audit of Visit Philadelphia discovered the CFO has been embezzling from the organization for the past seven years, charging personal expenses to the corporate credit card and using corporate checks to pay personal bills,  to the tune of $200,000.  On top of this, the CFO hired her best friend as an independent contractor and was kind enough to share some of the embezzled largess with her bff.  Despite the fact that the CEO of the organization had been unhappy with the Read more

Accepting Board Underperformance

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on April 1st, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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One of my favorite classes in the eight-week online sessions of the La Salle Master’s in Nonprofit Leadership is in nonprofit governance.   After each class, I relish reading and responding to each of the more than 200 student posts per discussion board.

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At the start of the session, I tell students, all of whom work for various nonprofits, that they are going to find this a very difficult class.  Yes, there is a lot of work, but that’s not why Read more

What’s your expiration date?

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on March 24th, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Recently, at dinner following a family funeral, my son asked the assembled masses:  “When are you no longer wise beyond your years?”  While there was no consensus as to the age at which this occurs, there did seem to be agreement that at some point in life, those people you would deem to be wise re just that, regardless of their years.

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One of the characteristics of a wise person is knowing when it is time to say “enough.”  This would Read more

Best Nonprofit Money Can Buy?

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on March 18th, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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We all know the saying “money doesn’t buy happiness.” It’s time that nonprofits understand that money also doesn’t buy doing things right.

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In the second half of last year, Marks Paneth, a New York City accounting firm, conducted a survey of 114 leaders—executive directors, board members and CFOs—from nonprofits with budgets between $10 million and $200 million.

In other words, not your average nonprofits.  They are, in fact the 1.5 percenters—those nonprofits with revenue of $10 million or more.*  Nevertheless, we should Read more


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