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

Dumping Your Junk at your Local Nonprofit

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on April 29th, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Earlier this month, a nonprofit in Albuquerque got a donation it didn’t want:  a trailer full of junk, literally.  Sadly, this is not newsworthy to those of us who work in the sector.  We have too much experience receiving donations of goods we cannot use, from totally battered and broken items to those that are irrelevant to our work.   To any individual who has dropped off goods at a nonprofit thrift store and actually bothered to looked at the donated items that have been Read more

The 2% Solution

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on April 22nd, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Year after year, charitable giving makes up only 2% of America’s GDP.  I don’t care what the actual number of dollars is because it still always amount to the same small percentage.

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I was intrigued when I caught a headline suggesting there were three ways to increase this 2%.  Sadly, though the author of the article says these three things could move the needle on the GDP, they certainly didn’t move me: legacy giving (the new term for planned giving), donor Read more

Merger Myths

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

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While I frequently rail against the proliferation of nonprofits organizations, the automatic solution to this problem is not mergers.   Consideration of a merger should give everyone who cares about the clients of their nonprofit pause—literally.  Pause and think about who will truly benefit from a merger?

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You’re a struggling nonprofit?  Find an organization with which you can merge.  Retiring executive director and no internal candidate to promote to avoid a search?  Merge.   Add in that both of these situations are Read more

The Crime of Negligence

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on April 11th, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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In 2012, a routine audit of Visit Philadelphia discovered the CFO has been embezzling from the organization for the past seven years, charging personal expenses to the corporate credit card and using corporate checks to pay personal bills,  to the tune of $200,000.  On top of this, the CFO hired her best friend as an independent contractor and was kind enough to share some of the embezzled largess with her bff.  Despite the fact that the CEO of the organization had been unhappy with the Read more

Accepting Board Underperformance

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

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One of my favorite classes in the eight-week online sessions of the La Salle Master’s in Nonprofit Leadership is in nonprofit governance.   After each class, I relish reading and responding to each of the more than 200 student posts per discussion board.

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At the start of the session, I tell students, all of whom work for various nonprofits, that they are going to find this a very difficult class.  Yes, there is a lot of work, but that’s not why Read more

What’s your expiration date?

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on March 24th, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Recently, at dinner following a family funeral, my son asked the assembled masses:  “When are you no longer wise beyond your years?”  While there was no consensus as to the age at which this occurs, there did seem to be agreement that at some point in life, those people you would deem to be wise re just that, regardless of their years.

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One of the characteristics of a wise person is knowing when it is time to say “enough.”  This would Read more

Best Nonprofit Money Can Buy?

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

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We all know the saying “money doesn’t buy happiness.” It’s time that nonprofits understand that money also doesn’t buy doing things right.

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In the second half of last year, Marks Paneth, a New York City accounting firm, conducted a survey of 114 leaders—executive directors, board members and CFOs—from nonprofits with budgets between $10 million and $200 million.

In other words, not your average nonprofits.  They are, in fact the 1.5 percenters—those nonprofits with revenue of $10 million or more.*  Nevertheless, we should Read more

For Good Board Presidents Only

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on March 11th, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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This is an open letter to good board presidents only.  Define good board presidents as those who really understand their role as a board president, as well as the role of the board.  They are the ones who are in it for the right reasons (ensuring the best delivery on mission promises as possible) —and not the wrong reasons (ego, power-trip, etc.).

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When was the last time you sat with your executive director and asked him/her how things were going?  Asked Read more

Nonprofit Institutional Memory

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

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It is amazing how few organizations—and individuals—understand institutional memory—what it is, its value-add and how to use it.  So, instead of using it well and wisely, they allow it to be misused to the detriment of the organization.

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Perhaps it is easiest to start with what institutional memory is not.

It is not a person—ever, not even the longest-serving person on your board or staff; it isn’t even a founder
It is not “We’ve tried that before
It is not “But that is not Read more


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