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

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


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