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

Of Tax Law Changes, Impact Investing and Mission-Aligned for Profits

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

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Not even a full month into the new calendar year, and we’re seeing reports about the impact the 2017 tax bill changes are having on nonprofits.  We’ve got a survey on our website right now.  I’m not willing to call it research because some is questionable, some preliminary and, some really is just guesswork, especially since many nonprofits concede they are still trying to tally what came in by the end of 2018.  Given those caveats, please read on.

Inside Philanthropy, culling the thoughts of many, Read more

Leading from the Heart

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on January 18th, 2019 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Recent events have led me to contemplate the duality of leading with the heart vs. the head.

Last week, a long-time member of an executive director peer learning circle I facilitate died.  Early in the fall she told the group that her cancer had returned and she began chemo again.  In our early December session, she announced that she could no longer give her job the attention it deserved and she would be stepping down at the end of the year.  A courageous woman, she had Read more

Leading with Purpose

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on January 10th, 2019 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Are all nonprofits, by definition, social justice organizations?  This is a question that I pose to students in the Masters in Nonprofit Leadership program.  It is followed by questions like:  given that our purpose is to work on behalf [of some portion] of the public good, does that mean we should all also be working for social, environmental, civil, etc., justice?  Or, is the job of working for justice in whatever area fall only to those organizations with that explicitly in their missions?

Now, think about Read more