Science of the Nonprofit Starvation Cycle

While many nonprofits are used to working with scarcity—in fact, I often think too many nonprofits are so rooted in their framework of scarcity—not enough dollars, people, time, energy, etc.—that they can’t even dream in a framework of prosperity.

A professor of  psychology and public affairs at Princeton and an economist from Harvard—have affirmed what they call the scarcity mindset.  They have shown that a brain focused on what a person is lacking becomes obsessed with that missing thing to the exclusion of all else and, as Read more

Mastering Nonprofit History

As someone who believes in the learning power of history, I am increasingly dismayed by how little others value history.  While modern-day board members seem to have struggled for decades to grasp just what they are supposed to do and how they should do it, those who populated the earliest boards in America—the boards of educational institutions—figured it out long ago.  All we have to do is follow.

I require students in my masters level governance class to read about the history of governing boards in Read more

Enjoy Those Million-Dollar Paydays

I love good research and I love The Wall Street Journal.  But the reporting on the results of the recent research it did on salaries of nonprofit CEOs is emblematic of the problems of both much of the research about the sector, and the reporting out of that research.

The Journal’s headline read, “Charity Officials Are Increasingly Receiving Million-Dollar Paydays,”* with the subhead of “About 2,700 people had seven-figure pay packages at nonprofits in 2014, a number that was up a third in three years, newly Read more

So, be honest

Read the news on nonprofits from around the country and you’d know our sector is struggling.  But I fear that a good portion is our own doing, which makes the part which we don’t control even more threatening and scary.

Headlines of employees embezzling signals lax financial oversight by the executive director and the board.  Stories of nonprofits struggling to make payroll and keep their doors open forewarns a variety of behaviors, from poor management to failure to balance mission fulfillment and the bottom line, to Read more

What’s Hot in Nonprofit Staffing?

It’s my practice to always keep an eye on the sector, taking its pulse, monitoring the trends to see what is a blip, what’s moving from trend to part of the fabric, and everything in between.  Executive directors who don’t do this risk harming their organizations. , I read a lot—and I mean a lot, from the solid, academic journals to the lay publications, the revered to the trash.  The variety of sources helps me sort the wheat from the chaff, to pick out the Read more

When Nonprofit Boards Fail

Years ago, a colleague said to me, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t drown his sorry ass!”  She must have been thinking about nonprofit board members when she said that.  I’m reminded of that turn of phrase as I think about all of the wake-up calls nonprofit boards have received over the years and all the near misses they’ve been granted.  And, yet, so many still act as if they have no clue what it is they are supposed to be Read more

Nonprofits Should Remain Switzerland

Time and again, we see a problem of a few being addressed by a response that pulls in the masses.  Such is the idea of repealing the Johnson Amendment.  Religious organizations that are considered to be 501(c)(3) organizations already have a number of exemptions to the rules that govern the rest of the sector; why not do that here?  If it is so important to allow all religious leaders to be able to make political endorsements and preach politics, then Congress and the IRS should Read more

Do Foundations Make a Difference?

The Center for Effective Philanthropy’s report, The Future of Foundation Philanthropy:  The CEO Perspective, has a number of interesting findings from among the 200 responding foundations.    But perhaps the most talked about one is this:  while 66.6% of these CEOs think foundations can make a significant difference, only 13% see foundations actually making that significant difference.

What hypocrisy this finding reveals.  How many of these CEOs would argue to their boards to continue to fund a nonprofit that only achieved 13% of its intended outcomes?  I Read more

Charity Case

In March 2013, Dan Pallotta’s iconic TedTalk, “The way we think about charities is dead wrong,” was released; since that time, it has received over 4 million views.  If you aren’t among those four million, and nor are the staff and board of your organization, correct that oversight immediately.

In June of that same year, the three nonprofit watchdog groups (GuideStar, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, and Charity Navigator), released the first of their two letters trying to debunk the overhead myth—the very thing that they Read more

‘Tis the Season to be Sustainable

As we approach the end of the calendar year, many nonprofits are wringing their hands over just how much money will come in these last two months of the year.  Most nonprofits report that between 30 and 45% of annual contributions come in this period.  The success or failure of year-end giving has a large impact on an organization, often resulting in decisions about layoffs or programmatic cutbacks, or, if expectations are exceeded, the chance to breathe easier for another year.

There is a fundamental error Read more

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