The Future of Nonprofits

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on July 21st, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Increasingly, I see the nonprofit sector in failing health.  If it and its parts (that is the individual 1.6 million nonprofits that comprise the sector) don’t take stock and implement some corrective actions, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

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First, let’s recognize the schizophrenia plagues too many nonprofits.  I’ve lost track of the number of clients who have told me:  “my nonprofit is not like others.”   Nonprofits see themselves as different from their peers, as unique, when, in truth, Read more

Do it with Joy

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

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Occasionally, when there’s no soap box on which I want to climb; no proselytizing that needs to spew forth,  it just feels right to share some interesting facts which caught my attention.

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New research results published in the Journal of Economic Psychology reveal the dollar value of working for a nonprofit.  Using the British Household Panel Survey, containing almost 12,800 employees of for-profit organizations and just under 1000 employees of nonprofits, the researchers found that nonprofit employees were, simply put, happier Read more

Nonprofit Confidence Crisis

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

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My recent Google Alerts for nonprofits have yielded a sorry snapshot of the sector.  Eight of the three dozen or so stories were announcements of newly formed nonprofits, three were about organizations or their employees in trouble with the law and two were about how to check up on the “goodness” of a nonprofit.

So, what does this say, beyond the obvious?  First, the sector must stop growing.  While their origin stories may differ, the screaming question in each case is, “Did you really have to Read more

Tips from the Science of Charity

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on June 23rd, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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For the second consecutive week I’m blogging on research findings about money.  Ever since the science of charity became popularized in the 1990s, the nonprofit sector has been interested in understanding the how, what and why of us, and that inevitably results in lots of research.  Too bad, we don’t always pay attention to that research.

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And that is a mistake—particularly when it comes to all of the research surrounding money:  where it comes from, why we get it and why Read more

Losing faith in the nonprofit sector

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

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For most nonprofits, it’s either the beginning, or the last quarter, of the fiscal year.  Either way, it’s the time when we’re thinking even more than usual about our money.  Surplus or deficit?  When will it come in and from where?  How can we use it wisely to deliver on our mission promises and still sustain the organization?

Here are some interesting research findings to inform your thinking and your work around finances.
But so we are clear:  I’m not reporting on results from the hot-off-the-press GivingUSA Read more

It’s We, not You

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

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Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know that I am a huge fan of language.  I pay a lot of attention to the words people use, their written and spoken grammar, the idiosyncrasies of regional speech patterns, and so forth.

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Thus, it should come as no surprise that I pay special attention to board members’ use of pronouns.  For example, when board members speak, do they makes comments like, “You should really redo the website so that Read more

Sleepwalking through the Workday

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on June 3rd, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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I just came back from a use-it-or-lose-it week off; days that had to be taken before the end of the fiscal year, or be lost forever.  While I totally enjoyed it, the only reason I chose that particular week was to avoid losing those days.  When we work hard at our jobs we must take the offered time off from those jobs to refresh, rejuvenate, regroup, rewhatever.  It is particularly important that leaders model this healthy behavior of working hard, separating from work and relaxing Read more

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


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