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

In the Money

Posted by Joan Ulmer on October 24th, 2014 in Thoughts & Commentary

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A phrase from an article in Forbes recently caught my eye: “It has become trendy to liken effective philanthropy to Moneyball, ….”  Really?  We moved from strategic philanthropy right into Moneyball philanthropy?  (They are, without a doubt, closely intertwined.)

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For those of you who are unaware, Moneyball is the player selection strategy introduced by the Oakland Athletics (As) and made famous in the 2011 movie of the same name.  The As jettisoned the long-standing baseball practice of selecting players based on assessments by the experienced Read more

Disrespecting Nonprofit Leadership

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on October 3rd, 2014 in Thoughts & Commentary

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We truly are our own worst enemies, a key purveyor of the negative images of nonprofits that the larger public whole-heartedly believes and takes as gospel.  If we want to dispel those myths—and we absolutely should—we must start on the inside.

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What sparked this?  Don’t ask me why, but The Brady Bunch theme song is tromping on my brain:  here’s the story of a nonprofit struggling to improve itself; here’s the story of a for-profit consultant with an Ivy League degree offering virtually free Read more

Diversify Now

Posted by Joan Ulmer on September 26th, 2014 in Thoughts & Commentary

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I just don’t get why, after the past seven years,  any nonprofit would need a lesson in the essential importance of having diversified funding streams. If you are one of those who has not yet learned that lesson, have a board member who is a slow learner or have an executive director who didn’t get the memo, let me share some true stories –  all just from the past week alone!

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Example One:  newly-elected mayor of Patterson, New Jersey, who assumed his position this Read more

On a Mission

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on September 19th, 2014 in Thoughts & Commentary

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In the past week, I have read 69 mission statements.  Perhaps it is a Guiness Book of Records triumph, but that wasn’t the purpose. Perhaps it is one of the top 10 worst things I have ever done, but masochism was not the point either. It was done in response to an assignment I gave my graduate students: critique three mission statements. That assignment will most definitely be revised before next semester.  I simply cannot put myself through it again.

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While reading 69 of Read more

Who do you Trust?

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on September 11th, 2014 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Election season is looming and I’m thinking about ethics (why would that be?)

Trust:  a simple word, but a complex phenomenon and not easy to win and maintain.   Yet I am reminded on an almost daily basis how much nonprofits take it—yes, the very lifeblood of their organizations–for granted.  I am amazed at how easily they trifle with it, ignore it, presume its steadfastness while doing things that blatantly dare others to challenge it and then open the doors wide so that it is so easy Read more

Not so Benign Neglect

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on September 5th, 2014 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Depending upon your age, you will no doubt remember the frenzy caused by the title of a policy written by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who at the time was working in the Nixon White House, on loan from Harvard University.  Writing as an advisor on urban affairs, Moynihan proposed a policy of benign neglect to address the racial tensions of 1960.  His thinking was that if we stopped attention and focus on the problem, things would, at best improve in the natural course of progress, or, Read more


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