Knowing When To Say Good-bye

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on December 13th, 2020 in Thoughts & Commentary

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As we move to leave 2020 behind (and none too soon), and walk with hopeful caution into 2021, the big question on so many minds is, when?  When will we be able to safely resume our face-to-face way of life?  I know I’ve got plenty of time to worry—and hope.  

Hope that we, as a sector and as individual nonprofits, will not forget the lessons we are learning during the pandemic once it is declared over. It has me so concerned that I keep talking Read more

The Clairvoyant Executive Director

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on December 7th, 2020 in Thoughts & Commentary

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The Clairvoyant Executive Director

It’s never been easy being a nonprofit executive director and these days a normally challenging job has been made even harder by unprecedented circumstances.

Based on recent conversations with dozens of executive directors, EDs are being asked to do something that only a few other professions, such as those working on infectious diseases, are being asked to do:  look into their crystal balls and know the future. The absurdity of this notion, when taken out of context, is obvious. But that same absurdity seems lost on Read more

A Winning Year-End

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on November 30th, 2020 in Thoughts & Commentary

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A Winning Year-End

It’s the last month of the last quarter of the strangest year any of us has ever experienced. Despite unprecedented challenges, we as nonprofits still need to maximize our return in this last month. We cannot let these experiences interfere with what it takes to be successful. And while many are reporting their finances are okay, there is also great angst about 2021, putting even more pressure on the need to end 2020 with a bang.

Maybe some really well done research out of Northwestern’s Kellogg Read more

The Elusive Nonprofit Brand

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on November 23rd, 2020 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Fast Company has been running a series called “USA: Can This Brand Be Saved?” With the goal of exploring what our brand is, how that brand has changed over the past four years and what needs to happen to see if the brand can be saved, the series has come at this goal from a variety of perspectives. Some of the articles have given me hope; some have left me quite despondent.

The most recent one, about pride in being an American, made me think about Read more

Uncertainty Is Our Constant

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on November 16th, 2020 in Thoughts & Commentary

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At the start of this year, I was invited to speak at a philanthropy conference slated for late spring. I entitled my presentation, “Understanding the Philanthropic Zeitgeist.”

Of course, the original event was cancelled, replaced with a virtual conference last week. As I prepared my presentation, I gathered my thoughts on the elements of our current zeitgeist and those that particularly related to philanthropy, I was not short on relevant subject matter, including community, Zoom (and other virtual platforms), DEI, erosion of trust, and uncertainty. While Read more

Self-Serving vs. Public Serving

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on November 6th, 2020 in Thoughts & Commentary

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When something is so obvious to you, it can be hard to understand why others don’t “get it.” Add to this the challenges of overcoming well-entrenched myths and dominant models of “how things should be” and you get insight into how difficult it can be to understand some of the ways and idiosyncrasies of the nonprofit sector, including some key relationships. Even those who have been in the sector for a while don’t always get it and, thus, blow opportunities to the detriment of all.

Here Read more

Controlling Our Own Narrative

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on October 30th, 2020 in Thoughts & Commentary

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We are entering the second month of the last quarter of the year, which means so much to the financial well-being of too many nonprofits. Thus, it is the time when powerful storytelling becomes our great ally. So why am I thinking about how we’re not telling our own stories. 

Where is our voice? Have we lost it, or perhaps, never even had it? Why have we allowed others to tell our story and control our narrative?

As I wrapped up another Masters class in Nonprofit Management, Read more

Best Practices are Calling

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on October 23rd, 2020 in Thoughts & Commentary

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In a recent discussion on DEAI and fundraising, one participant made the point that using wealth as the primary determinant of fitness for a board is dangerous and simply wrong.  

As she was speaking, I kept thinking:  “This isn’t new; this isn’t an ‘ah ha’ moment of recognition arrived at by DEIA coming to the forefront of everyone’s mind. This has always been a best practice.” 

And while I  know the speaker understood this as well as I do, that wasn’t the point she wanted and Read more

Lights Out on the Charity Watchdog Beacon

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on October 16th, 2020 in Thoughts & Commentary

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I am not a fan of the rating systems on which many charity watchdog groups have built their reputations, which means I’m not a fan of those kinds of watchdog groups.  In 2014, the big three (Charity Navigator, BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Guidestar) published their joint letter to the “donors of America” decrying the “overhead myth” of using overhead costs as a measure of nonprofit effectiveness. However, they failed to acknowledge their role as a driving force behind popularizing overhead ratios as a measure Read more

Making Things Better

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on October 8th, 2020 in Thoughts & Commentary

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A recent headline in Forbes caught my attention:  “Looking for Disruptive Nonprofit Opportunities?“  It went on to promise 15 disruptive options. I was all in:  15 different ways to shake things up.   

My excitement was short lived, unfortunately, as I read suggestions such as:

-internalize the mission-embrace your core values-let go of underperforming projects--identify a current need you can fill.Seriously?  The only suggestion that sounded remotely like it could truly be a disruptive opportunity was to get out of your comfort zone. Either some editor did Read more

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