Of Benefits, Entrepreneurs and Data and Wasted Opportunities

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on September 28th, 2018 in Thoughts & Commentary

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A recent Philadelphia Business Journal poll asked folks to name their favorite work benefit. The options included: flexibility, money, dress code, wellness, fun, and a “my work does not offer any of these.” (Sad, truly, for the 16% who had to had to select that option).

Coming in first with 30% of respondents was flexibility, with the annotation of “work times, teleworking options, extended or uncapped paid time off;” seven points behind in second place was “bonuses or financial incentives.” Rounding out the full picture: 11% Read more

Who Do You Trust?

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

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As we approach the last quarter of the year, the three months when, historically, more dollars come to nonprofits than any other three month period, I’m often asked by reporters and regular folk how to determine if a nonprofit is “donation-worthy.”
Unfortunately, our job at proving our worthiness got harder last year, as trust in nonprofits continued to drop.  According to Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer (which was released the beginning of this year), people from around the world are losing trust in government, for-profits, nonprofits, and the Read more

Crazy Broke Nonprofit Workers

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on September 14th, 2018 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Recently, I heard a tiger expert in India interviewed about the controversy surrounding the suggestion that the tiger that has killed 13 people in two years should be killed.  The expert was asked whether India could learn things from other countries and how they handle their tiger population. Without a moment’s hesitation, the expert responded that India was not humble enough to learn from others.   And there it was:  my missing link in understanding why seemingly smart people repeatedly do stupid things:  they aren’t humble Read more

One Happy Family

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

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Ever since I started teaching graduate students (something I totally spurned for my decades-long career teaching undergraduates) the traditional sadness at the end of summer has been somewhat mitigated.   Grad students, with their different perspectives, their confidence, deserved and otherwise, their willingness – no desire – to explore new ideas, and, yes, often their naiveté about the sector, is inspiring and energizing and oh so welcome.

We’ve started out exploring leadership—characteristics of a successful leader, differences between management and leadership, leadership as position and leadership as Read more

End of Summer Musings

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on August 23rd, 2018 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, it is the end of summer.  (Working on a college campus, it is hard to ignore this.)  So, before our minds really ramp up and are back in gear for long, sustained thinking, here are several short thoughts I wanted to share.

Words:  I love words.  Finding the right word(s) to express your thoughts can make all the difference in the world—to you, to your audience.  Sadly, though, the audience doesn’t always appreciate your choices, doesn’t recognize them Read more

The Future of Equality in Nonprofits?

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

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Writing this post on the morning after the primary that has a transgender person running for governor of Vermont and a Muslim almost guaranteed to become a member of the Michigan team, gives me hope as I report on a less than stellar picture of our own sector’s equality.

“Race to Lead:  Confronting the Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap,” authored by Sean Thomas-Breitfield and Frances Kunreuther, while providing some “duh” findings also reveals some important lessons that every leader (yes, that absolutely includes board members) at every Read more

Whither Goest Our Moral Imperative?

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on August 9th, 2018 in Thoughts & Commentary

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In an address to the National Democratic Committee Future Forum in January 2017, Rev. William Barber, II made the following statement:  “…there are times when a deep, moral crisis demands that the way we have framed things up until now is insufficient.”

He was speaking of the need for an American political Pentecost and a movement away from a world view of “right” versus “left” and towards a world view of “right” versus “wrong,” a moral fusion that crosses the usual suspects of boundaries people like Read more

The Odds of Success

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on August 2nd, 2018 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Long ago, at the start of my volunteer career in the nonprofit sector, a development expert told me that one of the most important ratios in her field was that of successful asks to number of asks made:  how many asks did you have to make before receiving a positive response.  This, she told me, was helpful not just for planning, but for morale.

I was reminded of this through a number of questions asked of me and observations made by a group of board members Read more

Partners in a Spirit of Service

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on July 26th, 2018 in Thoughts & Commentary

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The Whitman Institute, a funder that will sunset by 2022, devised what they call trust-based philanthropy.  If ever a name were to say a lot, this is it.  It recognizes that the traditional approach of a funder to a potential grantee is one of suspicion—one that asks the nonprofit to prove it is worthy of the funder’s support.  It attempts to diminish, to the extent possible, the power dynamic inherent in the funder-funded pairing.  (And while some funders have tried the use of semantics to Read more

What Matters to Donors?

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on July 19th, 2018 in Thoughts & Commentary

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For too many decades, nonprofits leaders have been plagued by the fear of overhead:  too high and risk losing donors; too low and risk insufficient capacity to do all that needed doing.  Then, Dan Pallotta did his famous TedTalk, the Overhead Myth letters came out from the three watchdog groups and Bridgespan and the Ford Foundation jointly suggested that it was time for donors to revamp their funding paradigm.

But, did things change?  Sadly, no.  Yes, there was a greater willingness to discuss the absurdity of Read more