Absent Retention Strategies

Posted by Joan Ulmer on June 13th, 2019 in Thoughts & Commentary

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I keep hearing from people that the nonprofit sector is at a pivotal point.  There is more competition, and not just from within.  Threatening the sustainability of the nonprofit sector as we know it:  the growth of public-private ventures; the push from millennials to make money while working on behalf of others, spurring the development of pure for-profit companies working to solve society’s problems; the declining number of households supporting charitable enterprises.

I don’t believe that the sector is broken, but rather that we are Read more

Consuming Data

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on June 7th, 2019 in Thoughts & Commentary

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If you read this blog regularly, you’ve probably figured out
that I love data. That includes turning students on to the value of data—of
collecting the right data so they actually use it; understanding how to read,
evaluate, consume and use, the data that others collect and report out; making
decisions based on data rather than feelings. 
Students remind me constantly that too few are taught how to be good
consumers of data.  Thus, I periodically
take it upon myself to share tidbits of interesting data that should inform our
work.

As the daughter Read more

16th Largest Economy

Posted by Joan Ulmer on May 22nd, 2019 in Thoughts & Commentary

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The Three Estates

When did the for-profit sector join the second estate? When did we decide to view the for-profit sector through highly glossed rose-colored glasses, or even blinders?  Yes, America is a capitalist society, where money is king (another nobility reference).  But the nobility have been questioned, even deposed, over the centuries. 

If you want to understand the US economy—what drives it, makes it tick—you’ll find much to read and learn about the three sectors of our economy.  The “primary sector,” is often referred Read more

Justify Your Job

Posted by Joan Ulmer on May 17th, 2019 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Every year, as my “Governance and Leadership” class in the Masters in Nonprofit Leadership program progresses, students’ frustration with boards’ failure to understand and execute their job builds over the duration of the course increases.  As the students’ understanding of what a board is really supposed to do increases, they start comparisons with their own boards (past and present), see the gap and start to ponder how and why it so routinely exists.  

As is the pattern, students’ thoughts started to coalesce at
the mid-point of Read more

Finding the Right Business Model

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on May 9th, 2019 in Thoughts & Commentary

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The
longer I have spent in the nonprofit sector while simultaneously working
increasingly with for-profits, I have come to understand the great disservice
that has been done to the nonprofit sector. 
I see it akin to the media setting up women, back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, with
the challenge of “can women have it all?” 

So it is
with nonprofits:  we have been told time and
again, and society generally believes, that the for-profit sector does things
better than we do and therefore we should emulate them.  If we don’t, we are the Read more

Urgency and Compassion in Giving

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on May 2nd, 2019 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Even though it is only May, Atlantic hurricane season is approaching. The start of hurricane season also coincides with the mid-June release of Giving USA 2019:  The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2018.  If the patterns of the last several years continue, we are likely to see an increase in the total dollars given, a decline in the number of households giving and an increase in mega giving (when a person gives at least a million of dollars to one organization.  These mega Read more

Four Suggestions for New Executive Directors

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on April 25th, 2019 in Articles, Thoughts & Commentary

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A recent article in KelloggInsight, a newsletter from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, shared the discernments of Alex Schneider, an adjunct faculty member teaching innovation and entrepreneurship.

Apparently, he likes buying (and selling) existing small
businesses, and he has definite thoughts on what those who do this need to know
once they become the new boss.  We so
often recognize the greater similarities between small for-profits and their
nonprofit peers than what these small organizations share with their larger
“same-sex” siblings, that it is no wonder that his four suggestions Read more

RIP Major Donors

Posted by Joan Ulmer on April 15th, 2019 in Thoughts & Commentary

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In a recent conversation with a representative of a funding organization that is changing its direction (not uncommon these days), we discussed our mystification at nonprofits’ failure to embrace succession planning.  To be honest, it continues to baffle me. 

Why would an executive director, leaving on positive terms,
want to put the organization at risk simply because s/he is moving on?  And, why would a board want to be rudderless
at a most vulnerable time for the organization, when it could easily have been
totally prepared and in Read more

Eyes Wide Open On-Boarding

Posted by Joan Ulmer on April 5th, 2019 in Thoughts & Commentary

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I often have to work with boards or organizations that are in perilous positions.  In one case, the long-serving executive director left unexpectedly and the organization was on shaky ground financially.  Add to this that with the departure of the ED, board members were only now admitting to the fact that she hadn’t really been “leaning in” for a number of years, having opted to focus on what she wanted to do, rather than all that needed to be done. 

I had been invited to Read more

Failed Promises

Posted by Joan Ulmer on March 28th, 2019 in Thoughts & Commentary

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One of my big laments about our sector is that we are not altruistic.  We think about our own nonprofit, but not about the sector as a whole.  There is a place and a need for both.  Ironically, a lesson that too few organization leaders have come to understand is that it is impossible to be a leader of a successful organization if the leader isn’t always thinking about the organization in the context of that larger sector, as well as the larger society. 

In Read more