‘Tis the Season to be Sustainable

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on December 2nd, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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As we approach the end of the calendar year, many nonprofits are wringing their hands over just how much money will come in these last two months of the year.  Most nonprofits report that between 30 and 45% of annual contributions come in this period.  The success or failure of year-end giving has a large impact on an organization, often resulting in decisions about layoffs or programmatic cutbacks, or, if expectations are exceeded, the chance to breathe easier for another year.

There is a fundamental error Read more

An Uncertain Future for Nonprofits

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

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Among the many uncertainties of the past two weeks is what a Trump presidency will mean for nonprofits.  One of the things you learn very quickly as a student of politics is that what gets promised in any political campaign is likely to change when those promises meet the realities of our political system.

I could rattle off a multiple scenarios for nonprofits in the world of Trump, but they would have as much grounding in reality as trolls and talking fish.  In some of these Read more

Nonprofit Mentoring

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on November 10th, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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It was revealed this week that since 2012, the Harvard men’s soccer team has been keeping a shared “database” ranking Harvard’s female athletes on looks, sexual appeal and suspected sexual preferences.  The University’s response to this revelation—that the team will forfeit the rest of the season and participation in the Ivy League and NCAA competitions—prompted the male cross country team to out themselves:  they, too, have kept a similar database and thought it better to come clean rather than wait for the university to find Read more

Lucky Nonprofits

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on November 4th, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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While many are chattering about Fidelity Charitable (which collected—don’t call it raised—philanthropic dollars totaling $4.6 billion last year) firmly bumping United Way (which only collected $3.7 billion) from the top of The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s newly released “Philanthropy 400” list, I’m having very different thoughts—though they are pretty much the same thoughts I have every year when I look at this list.

First, is there any real value in this list? Does it actually do some harm?  To the extent that the American public learns about Read more

Too Big to Succeed

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on October 28th, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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People tend to look for the easy answers.  For example, I’m asked all of the time, “How long should an executive director stay in her/his position?”  Simple question to ask; complex question to answer, as it isn’t a functions of years (the answer folks are looking for), but rather a function of the person’s actual performance of the job, the continued interest in doing the job and the  interest in, and willingness to, push the envelope in order to be the best possible and not Read more

CPR by Collaboration

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

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As I was mulling over what to say for a recent talk on the state of the sector, I found myself getting more and more depressed.  Where, I kept asking myself, was the good news?  I refuse to paint a false picture, but I also hate being so negative, particularly first thing in the morning.

The current state of the sector is replete with challenges.  Here are the biggies, in no particular order, that impact some, or all, of the individual organizations that make up our Read more

Honor Your Employees

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on October 14th, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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They may not realize it, but the pending FLSA overtime changes that are due to take effect on December 1 represent a huge opportunity for many nonprofits.    So just what is this up side to what everyone else sees as a negative or even a threat?

Time after time, I see nonprofits looking at something that is, first and foremost, a question of ethics, but responding as if it were only a question of finances.  And that is exactly what is happening here.  When folks read Read more

Embracing the 95%

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on October 7th, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary


Seriously, it’s time to stop telling board members they need to fundraise.  It’s not working.  We need to take a different approach.

Over the years, I’ve talked to thousands of people considering joining nonprofit boards, as well as current board members.  We talk about their roles and responsibilities.  Naturally, audience members vary in their level of engagement, from the enthralled to the weary.  Most are engaged:  taking notes, responding with nods and glances, asking questions, comfortable.  That is until I mention the word “fundraising.”  More often Read more

The For-Profit Model of Paid Boards

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on September 16th, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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A recent headline caught my eye:  “Should Board Members of Large Nonprofits be Paid?”  “NO!” my brain screamed.


Why not?  Many love to tell me that the reason nonprofit board members don’t do their jobs, or do them well, is because they aren’t paid.  Such a statement is based on the belief—sadly, one widely held in this country, at least—that the only thing that motivates people is financial compensation.  Forget the intangibles of feeling good about helping to make a difference, giving back, being a force Read more

Serving the Public Good

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

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According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are just under 1.6 million nonprofits in the U.S.   The overwhelming majority of them work very hard to fulfill their tax-exempt purpose:  working on behalf of some portion of the public good.  Not all may succeed, not all are doing the best job, but they are all sincerely trying to do the right thing to the best of their sometimes limited capabilities.  That’s the good news.

Now some bad news.  Since 2014, the IRS has made it Read more


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