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

Lessons from the Past

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

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The first textbook read by my students in my Masters class in governance is on the history of governance in this country.  Several students were surprised to learn that the roots of modern day nonprofit governance go all the way back to colonial days, with the establishment of the board for the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the first American Board. 

Institutions of higher learning came next, most notably Harvard (founded in 1636), William and Mary (1693) and Yale (1701).  But all of the students seemed equally Read more

Failure to Plan

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

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We’ve all got an Achilles’ heel – that area of weakness and vulnerability in an otherwise strong and healthy entity.  But for some, that Achilles’ heel may just be the single greatest point of greatest vulnerability.

Too many nonprofits suffer from multiple points of vulnerability:  an underperforming board; a revenue stream lacking in diversification; an absence of an employee recruitment and retention plan; no strategic plan, or a failure to adhere to it; trying to be all things to all people, and so on.  Having any, Read more

Do You Dare to Lead?

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on March 8th, 2019 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Brené Brown, author of Dare to Lead, has spent seven years driven by the desire to answer the following question: “What, if anything, about the way people are leading today needs to change in order for leaders to be successful in a complex, rapidly changing environment where we’re faced with seemingly intractable challenges and an insatiable demand for innovation?” The answer she landed upon, after talking with 150 C-suite folks from around the world, is interesting:  we need daring leaders, “braver leaders and more courageous Read more

The Evils of the Organizational Chart

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on February 22nd, 2019 in Thoughts & Commentary

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There is an all-too-common, yet harmful, dynamic in nonprofits that I refer to as a hierarchy of importance.  Left unchecked, an organization that embraces this hierarchy —by commission or omission—hurts the organization.

I’m not talking about the organizational chart, which, in a visual way, does demonstrate a hierarchy.  Left to my own devices, I would do away with organization charts, and come up with another way to demonstrate the one value they do have:  showing ascending degrees of responsibility, though not power, and the interconnections, both Read more

A Nonprofit Mash Note

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on February 15th, 2019 in Thoughts & Commentary

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l am not a romantic.  I think Valentine’s Day sends the wrong message:  only really appreciate the ones you love once a year, as opposed to every day.  So, call me hypocritical for suggesting that we should all write a valentine to the nonprofit sector.  Here’s mine. 

I am propelled to do this in light of a recent conversation my Masters students have been having in response to an assignment.  It is an assignment I give every time I teach this class, and students have Read more

Redefining Diversity

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on February 8th, 2019 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Growing up in Washington, DC, one of my favorite places to go was to the Foucault Pendulum in the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History. I could stand there for hours, mesmerized by the consistent movement of the pendulum, swinging back and forth, moving around the circle as the floor, not the pendulum, rotated with the earth as it spun on its axis, but always—always—coming back through the center. (The purpose of a Foucault Pendulum, in case you Read more

To Market to Market

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on February 1st, 2019 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Nonprofits are used to hearing my strong warning that without at least one full-time, dedicated development professional on staff, they were jeopardizing their financial viability.  As our nonprofit landscape became more and more competitive, the challenges of fundraising grew.  The pool of dollars for which we all were vying was not keeping pace with the growth of the sector, the need to have different strategies for different generations of individual donors, and the seemingly rapid change of donor priorities, added complexity.  Thus, it was no Read more

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