Reading is Fundamental

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on August 4th, 2016 in Thoughts & Commentary

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For many of us, taking time to read feels like something of a luxury.   While we might carve out some stolen moments for the time-honored summer read, professional publications and articles often make their way to the bottom of the work pile.  Let me be your occasional collegial clipping service, offering a brief synopsis of some timely printed materials I’ve managed to read that might be of interest to those involved in the nonprofit sector.

One more note of background to explain my motivation.  I am repeatedly struck by how little understanding of the nonprofit sector some nonprofit leaders actually have.  Many do a superb job of understanding their own organization; a smaller subset of these do a fine job with their particular slice of the nonprofit sector pie.

But too few have any understanding of the whole sector of which they are but a small part.  They have no idea of the tugs and pulls on the sector, the larger picture issues, like where we fit into the economy.

In other words, they are so focused on their segment that they are oblivious to the market.  One of the ways we get that broader perspective is by having conversations with others outside our organization and outside our field; part of the way, though, is through reading, watching and listening.  Reading research study results, commentaries by thought leaders and up-and-comers help perform that function.
Despite the fact that having this broader perspective and understanding is essential to leading a successful organization, too few leaders take the time to absorb this knowledge, thereby sadly modeling the very behavior they should be leading their organizations away from rather than to:  not understanding ROI.

With that introduction, I direct you to these materials, with my commentary:

Keep Your donors: It’s the Right Thing to Do—And It Makes You More Money!, by Simone Joyaux.  The largest area of research that pertains directly to the nonprofit sector is in fundraising, and the results are, more often than not, surprisingly consistent.  Why aren’t we requiring every person—from staff to board members—involved in development to be abreast of this research and using the findings?  I require that all of our masters students in the Nonprofit Leadership program not merely read research but learn how to assess its “goodness” so they can be discerning practitioners, recognizing what to follow and what to discard.

What You Need to Know about Impact Investing, by GIIN (Global Impact Investing Network).  Read all nine.  Before the sector gets too enthralled with impact investing, it would be great if everyone stopped to really understand it and think how it might—or might not—be of benefit to the sector.  While the for-profit sector is all agog over impact investing, let’s see if it really can be of assistance to the nonprofit sector before we waste time and energy going all gaga.

2016 $10 Communications Experiment  – This is an infographic from a simple, little experiment that gives you data but no conclusions or context for drawing your own.  It lets you see the norms for this group of 50 nonprofits that received $10 online donations.  As we approach the peak donation period, any data that you gather to inform how you respond to all those donations when they come in will be helpful.

A Fundraising Titan’s Words of Wisdom –  A sidebar in the August issue of The Chronicle of Philanthropy.  This is a sidebar on the profile of John Hennessy, the most successful fundraising president that Stanford University has ever had.  Sixteen years on the job, $12 billion in donations.  It doesn’t matter that he was raising money for Stanford, or that he brought in gifts that were counted in millions of dollars.  His advice is true regardless of the sums you seek.

Enjoy your summer reading!


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