What Tools Do You Use?

Posted by Joan Ulmer on January 22nd, 2015 in Thoughts & Commentary

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The Bridgespan Group has just released the results of a new study, “Nonprofit Management Tools and Trends 2014,” which it plans to update every two years.  Patterned after research that Bain & Company has been doing on the for-profit sector since 1993, this work looks at how nonprofit leaders are using, and anticipate using, 25 different management “tools” to enable their organizations to do a better job at fulfilling their mission promises and how the tools mesh with 21 management trends.

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The 25 Read more

I Mean What I Say

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on January 16th, 2015 in Thoughts & Commentary

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When William Safire passed away in 2009 it meant the end of the New York Times Magazine column, On Language.  Gone was my weekly joy of having someone dish it to those who didn’t know the basics of grammar– whether it was between or among, or jealous or envious,  or what etymology is, let alone the derivations of a particular word.

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More often than not he was dishing it to be people in the public eye:  politicians and other public officials, news makers and Read more

The Science of Fundraising

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on January 9th, 2015 in Thoughts & Commentary

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No better way to start a year off than talking about money!  In fact, the group of executive directors with whom I was just chatting were all very positive about how their work year ended, noting that they saw a nice uptick in individual giving.  Nice way to end and a great promise for the future.

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Here’s a tip to that could help you have success with fundraising.  According to a study released last month by The Science of Philanthropy Initiative at Chicago Read more

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


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