Lightening and the Lightening Bug

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on September 25th, 2020 in Thoughts & Commentary

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I have always appreciated the power of language and words and therefore, the importance of always choosing the right word. That said, I am grateful that, as an American, I did not have to learn the 400 plus words for snow that every Scot has to learn, as that may be a precision beyond even my interest. But as we struggle to build a society that is inclusive and welcoming, we must pay attention to the language we use.

For some time, there has been a Read more

Where Have All the Good Board Members Gone?

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on September 18th, 2020 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Picture this:  I’m about halfway through a virtual board training on the basic roles and responsibilities of a nonprofit board for one that desperately needs to learn what it is really supposed to be doing, instead of what the dissatisfied executive director allows it to do. 

I may have mentioned “passion” a few times and how important it is for board members to be passionate about the organization’s mission in order to be that really good board member. I had just asked a question of the Read more

Masquerading Nonprofits

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on September 4th, 2020 in Thoughts & Commentary

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I’ve never been a fan of Halloween, but I might have insider information on the hot costume for 2020. Since top costumes tend to mirror what is happening in society, your first thought might be a coronavirus costume. That might turn out to be true, but my idea of a hot costume is the nonprofit sector masquerading as itself.  

As you well know, there are two parts to our sector:  the public charities and the philanthropists. But neither of these parts is always as it seems, Read more

The Nonprofit Hippocratic Oath

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on August 28th, 2020 in Thoughts & Commentary

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A headline in a recent Kellogg Insight grabbed me, in part because of the many conversations I’ve had of late, and partly because it is a question that, in various forms, I am constantly trying to get nonprofit staff and boards to ask of themselves.  

The headline reads: “Why Well-Meaning NGOs Often Do More Harm Than Good.” The variations on this theme that I ask of staff and boards go something like this:  Should a nonprofit that does more harm than good continue to be Read more

How to Banish the Hate

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on August 21st, 2020 in Thoughts & Commentary

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I wasn’t long into my teaching career before I recognized certain things I should not take for granted. For example, I had thought that first year college students were old enough to  have learned about extrapolation and analogies and could use them in their thinking, problem-solving and in general, facing the rigors of daily life. Wrong. So I had to adjust my behavior.

Learning from that initial experience, I did not start my consulting career operating on the same assumption. I had however, hoped that by the time people Read more

Remote Supervision and Rethinking Return-to-Work Plans

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on August 14th, 2020 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Each of us is going through the angst of addressing at least some of these questions:   

How should we bring employees back to the workplace? Should I return to the workplace or request to continue to work remotely?  Should my child return to school (if that is an option)?  

Fortunately, most of us aren’t having to make these decision in the public eye. As an outsider looking at the lens the public eye provides, it seems almost arbitrary how these decisions to return to a face-to-face Read more

Ask the Good Questions

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

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In Governance as Leadership:  Reframing the Work of Boards, Chait and his colleagues identify the three modes of governance that lead to high performing boards.  We are remiss, however, in thinking that the three modes of  performance—fiduciary, strategic and generative—that  Chait et. al. identify as essential for high performance should be reserved for improving board performance. Each is equally important for improving organizational and programmatic performance. Thus, we must not limit these three modes to our boards, but be just as intentional in using them Read more

2 Entries For Your Post-Crisis Sustainability Playbook

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on July 31st, 2020 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Seize the Opportunities

In 1905, philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” As it seems the past has been forgotten, here’s a quick trip down memory lane:  

September 11, 2001The 2008 financial crisis and recessionThe 2020 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement

While each of these events had a profound impact on our entire country, they also revealed an important fact for nonprofits:  economic troubles, troubles that threaten our very existence, have come around before and they will Read more

Dirty Work

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on July 24th, 2020 in Thoughts & Commentary

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How do we make the job of executive director more desirable?  Instead of serious efforts, we offer the standard line about the position of executive  director being the work of three for the salary of (less than) one. The position of executive director shouldn’t be a punchline, but it will stay that way until we do something to change it.

We are in that period in the sector’s lifespan that we knew was coming for more than a dozen years:  the exodus of baby boomer executive directors. Read more

Tapping the Rock

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on July 17th, 2020 in Thoughts & Commentary

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When my son was a college junior, his football team won the national championship. Like many sports teams, they had a superstition:  tap the rock.  As the coach and each player left the locker room to run through the tunnel onto the field, they tapped a rock that had been part of the foundation of the original church on the college’s campus. That is not what allowed them to win the championship, but it did give them a common experience and shared belief and focused Read more