What’s Hot in Nonprofit Staffing?

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on February 24th, 2017 in Thoughts & Commentary

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It’s my practice to always keep an eye on the sector, taking its pulse, monitoring the trends to see what is a blip, what’s moving from trend to part of the fabric, and everything in between.  Executive directors who don’t do this risk harming their organizations. , I read a lot—and I mean a lot, from the solid, academic journals to the lay publications, the revered to the trash.  The variety of sources helps me sort the wheat from the chaff, to pick out the Read more

When Nonprofit Boards Fail

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on February 17th, 2017 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Years ago, a colleague said to me, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t drown his sorry ass!”  She must have been thinking about nonprofit board members when she said that.  I’m reminded of that turn of phrase as I think about all of the wake-up calls nonprofit boards have received over the years and all the near misses they’ve been granted.  And, yet, so many still act as if they have no clue what it is they are supposed to be Read more

Nonprofits Should Remain Switzerland

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on February 8th, 2017 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Time and again, we see a problem of a few being addressed by a response that pulls in the masses.  Such is the idea of repealing the Johnson Amendment.  Religious organizations that are considered to be 501(c)(3) organizations already have a number of exemptions to the rules that govern the rest of the sector; why not do that here?  If it is so important to allow all religious leaders to be able to make political endorsements and preach politics, then Congress and the IRS should Read more

Do Foundations Make a Difference?

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

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The Center for Effective Philanthropy’s report, The Future of Foundation Philanthropy:  The CEO Perspective, has a number of interesting findings from among the 200 responding foundations.    But perhaps the most talked about one is this:  while 66.6% of these CEOs think foundations can make a significant difference, only 13% see foundations actually making that significant difference.

What hypocrisy this finding reveals.  How many of these CEOs would argue to their boards to continue to fund a nonprofit that only achieved 13% of its intended outcomes?  I Read more

Charity Case

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on December 9th, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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In March 2013, Dan Pallotta’s iconic TedTalk, “The way we think about charities is dead wrong,” was released; since that time, it has received over 4 million views.  If you aren’t among those four million, and nor are the staff and board of your organization, correct that oversight immediately.

In June of that same year, the three nonprofit watchdog groups (GuideStar, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, and Charity Navigator), released the first of their two letters trying to debunk the overhead myth—the very thing that they Read more

‘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


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