Learning from Others’ Mistakes

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on March 11th, 2020 in Thoughts & Commentary

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It is often said that we don’t learn from the mistakes of others; we must make their own mistakes.  Yet, it is also often said that the importance of studying history is so that we don’t repeat the mistakes (that others made) of history.  So, which is it?

Increasingly, I
think it is the former, that people don’t learn from the mistakes of others. Is
it that they don’t pay attention? That they think they are smarter; that it
won’t happen to them?  They can’t/don’t
see themselves in those “others?”

Whatever Read more

Cultivate, Solicit and Appreciate. Repeat

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on March 6th, 2020 in Thoughts & Commentary

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The news has dominated by the coronavirus and what to do about it.  Allow me to offer up a spin on this global crisis, unique to nonprofits. My message isn’t one of hopelessness, but rather pertains to best practices that should be followed at all times, especially in times of uncertainly like we are currently experiencing. 

It is a message of preparedness, something too few
nonprofits do as they tend to be reactive rather than proactive.  To the extent any organization can be
proactive, it will be Read more

Pondering Boards

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

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I
often wonder why people who clearly aren’t interested in hearing advice
continue to invite me into their organizations and solicit my opinion – which they
subsequently dismiss. 

Seriously, why pay for expertise that you’re going to ignore?  Our business model isn’t to offer advice and recommendations about needed changes only to be called back to fix the damage resulting from ignoring these cautions.  I have no shortage of examples of this pattern.

For
at least five years, as an organization planned the departure of its
long-serving, and much beloved, executive Read more

The Gift of Shared Purpose

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

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Over the course of decades of studying and observing leadership, one of the questions that has nagged at me is why the military produces a disproportionate number of great leaders who leave the military and go on to successful careers in other walks of life, while the nonprofit sector does not.  It is one of the questions I always pose in both my nonprofit professional development leadership and graduate classes.

Early on, I was puzzled by the fact that while both sets of leaders Read more

Funders Get Real

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

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Having worked for decades in the industry that so many derisively refer to as the “ivory tower,” I’d like to share that pejorative with funders.  While I don’t really want to heap more criticism on donors than they already get, it is really time that donors get smarter, step out of their sanctuaries, and be real.

A recent set of google alert headlines from around the country told the story perfectly:  25% of the headlines were about nonprofits that failed, all the while being supported Read more

Stop Asking the Impossible

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

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I
recently addressed a crowd of people affiliated with all-volunteer or
small-staffed organizations.  I asked a
few opening questions to get a handle on the good sized crowd.  First, I requested a show of hands of those
in the room representing all-volunteer organizations.  About 75% of the folks raised their
hands.  Next, I checked out how many in
the room were at organizations with one or two staff – there was a sizeable handful.  In what I thought was my last question, I
then asked how many had three or more staff. 
Confusingly, Read more

Measuring Greatness

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

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You don’t have to be a basketball fan to be rocked by the news of Kobe Bryant’s sudden and untimely death.  I remember exactly where my son, his friend and I were standing when we saw Kobe, seated on the back of the convertible, in the parade celebrating his high school team winning the state championship.  Yes, he had then his wonderful smile, and it was emblazoned on his face.  And, yes, he shook things up in the community when he brought Brandy to his Read more

Failure to Thrive

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

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While many parts of our sector are about responding to crises—food insecurity, homelessness, the opioid epidemic, global warming, etc. – our sector as a whole is potentially on the verge of its own crisis that threatens its survival. 

On the first night of the first class of the Nonprofit Leadership masters program, a student asked a question that I don’t usually get from students, especially this early on.  In fact, it is a question that I usually ask them at about the halfway point in Read more

Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing

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

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Perhaps the most frequently asked question that I get is, ““X isn’t my job, is it?  It is the board’s, right?”  Or, the flip, “that’s the ED’s job, right? Not ours?”  Sometimes, the question is broader:  “What is the ED’s job and what is our job?” 

Those asking the question want a box with dark, thick lines clearly outlining the borders of the box over which no one should stray.  Anything inside those borders is “mine;” outside those borders is “yours.”  My box contains my Read more

In Search of the Unicorn

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on January 10th, 2020 in Thoughts & Commentary

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I sent Vu Le’s “welcome back” blog to all of the executive directors and board presidents in the various peer learning groups that I facilitate.  After I wrote last week about the importance of celebrations, his blog was a great follow up, while pointing out the mistake of failing to celebrate oneself. Yet I have to observe that for some, celebrating self may come too readily.

This fear was well fed this weekend, while my faith in the ability for our sector to continue to have Read more

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