The Nonprofit Rule of Threes?

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on June 20th, 2018 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Let’s see if the “rule of threes,” that general belief that concepts or ideas presented in threes are inherently more interesting, more enjoyable, and more memorable, applies to my current concerns about nonprofits.

Start with strategic planning.   One thing that hasn’t changed in the nearly 40 years I’ve been working with nonprofits is that people don’t understand its purpose or value. Few organizations do it well; too many think it is a tool convenience rather than a solid road map, electing to follow it when convenient Read more

Status Quo Me to Death

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on June 16th, 2018 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Recent data continues to put the nonprofit sector as the third largest employer in America, behind retail and manufacturing. That ranking hasn’t changed over the past several decades, despite the continued growth of the nonprofit sector and the regular closings, reorganizations and other disruptions in retail and manufacturing. In fact, it would appear that a lot, though by no means all of retail, does a wonderful job of reinventing itself.

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Amazon started in 1994, Ebay in 1995. Moving along, we got Bonobos in 2007, Stitch Fix Read more

The Power of Disruptive Thinking

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on June 8th, 2018 in Thoughts & Commentary

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While I believe completely in the value of, and need for, nonprofits to have a strategic plan, the process and the plans themselves are, frankly, usually boring.  Over the years of leading The Nonprofit Center, we’ve experimented with different approaches to strategic planning, always in search of alternative means for helping our clients with their own strategic planning.  Of all of the different approaches we tried, the one I enjoyed the most (and probably the one others enjoyed the least) was planning with BHAGs—those big, Read more

Begin by Defining the Goal

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on May 18th, 2018 in Thoughts & Commentary

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While I bristle whenever I hear people say you have to talk in soundbites if you want people to listen, or we have to repeat things seven times before it sinks in to people’s brains, sometimes it is just nice to read a short story rather than a tome.  I was reminded of this as I plowed through the original, academic research about one of the tidbits I share below.  As both an academic and the daughter of two journalists, who taught me to write Read more

What Employees Want

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on May 11th, 2018 in Thoughts & Commentary

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When I first saw the headline—93% of those employed at nonprofits are engaged in their work (and this was touted as being three times the national average)—I wasn’t surprised.  Nevertheless, I went to the original source to read the entire Work for Good report.

In actuality, only 55% of nonprofit employees feel highly engaged, while 38% feel only “somewhat engaged.”  And while, yes, the statement that 93% of nonprofit employees are engaged at work is not untrue, it is misleading and glosses over an important distinction:  41% Read more

Time to Go

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on May 7th, 2018 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Executive directors routinely ask me how to know when it is time to leave.  I wish board members asked me that same question:  how do they know when it is time for the executive director to leave?

It isn’t that I don’t think the first question is an important one for every executive director to ask him/herself regularly.  Though the essence of my answer has not changed over time, the order in which I deliver my responses has.

The first part is this:  it is time to Read more

Letting Employees Soar

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on April 27th, 2018 in Thoughts & Commentary

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One of the hallmarks of a profession is that it has its own unique body of knowledge.  Sometimes the unique body of knowledge of one profession butts up against the unique body of knowledge of another, and then what do you do?

For example, the unique body of legal knowledge tells board members one thing about doing work with a board member’s company (that is:  so long as the board member disclosed the conflict of interest and her/his fellow board members knew of the disclosure, her/his Read more

Degrading Core Values

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on April 20th, 2018 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Three disparate things happened to me within the course of one workday that all sing a similar and very important message.

First, was the interview I heard with James Comey on NPR’s Morning Edition.  One of the many compelling comments he made came back to resonate at the end of the day, connecting with two other seemingly disparate events.  Regardless of the impetus for Comey’s comment, his message is one we should all heed.

“We fight like crazy in this country about guns and about Read more

Good Enough.  Is it Really?”

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on April 13th, 2018 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Growing up a cultural Jew, I inherently knew, early on, the importance of “culture.” Reading Oscar Lewis’s La Vida: A Puerto Rican Family in the Culture of Poverty in my freshman year in college gave me the academic affirmation of the extreme importance of culture.  Now reading J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy affirms for me, yet again, that we ignore culture at our own peril. 

Given that I am not a therapist and this isn’t therapeutic blog, I’m actually not talking about the culture of family and Read more

What’s Trending in the Nonprofit World?

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on April 6th, 2018 in Thoughts & Commentary

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I am always hesitant to talk about what’s happening on the corporate side of the aisle for fear that people will assume incorrectly that I’m holding it up as the model of all that is good and right.  But, I do believe that there is value in looking at what is trending in the for-profit sector to find lessons we should learn.  (I also believe that the for-profit sector should equally be looking at us to see it can learn from nonprofits).  After all, as Read more

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