Wednesday, December 15, 2010

More VOTE FOR ME campaings

I really like when companies decide to make donations to nonprofit organizations in their communities. That happens a lot, especially in the holiday season. Thank you all.

But (you knew this was coming), I'm getting really tired of the "vote for your favorite charity/project and we'll give the winner some money" schemes (yes, this is my second rant on this topic)
  1. This only rewards the organizations that can get a lot of people to vote for them by going to a web-site or sending a twitter message. Not the best way to decide which project or organization is best (or even good).
  2. This rewards nonprofits for straying from their mission--the most fun, sexiest, most "creative" project gets the money. Not the one that best fulfills the organization's mission.
  3. This distracts organizations from asking individuals for money (This is why I kind of liked the Give to the max day project of rewarded organizations for actually getting individual monetary donations.)
(I promise my next post will be something positive--not another rant)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

What are they thinking? (Foundation category)

I just got an email about a grant being made available to a small group of organizations.
It requires:
  • Partnering with at least one other nonprofit organization (from a short list of types of orgs)
  • Leads to the engagement of underrepresented communities. (Initiatives that involve two or more underrepresented constituencies will be given greater priority.)
  • Organize participants around issues important to them
  • Contribute to achievement of goals for the betterment of the neighborhood
  • Have a "WOW factor."
Application deadline is in 16 days.

And the lucky recipients get to do this with a maximum grant of $2,500! (yes only two zeros)

I know good things are suppose to come in small packages but this seems a little extreme.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

This Land is Your Land

While camping on the North Shore of Lake Superior this week, we went for a hike down Beaver River. Walking down the river to the shore of Lake Superior, we came upon a sign that reminded me of a verse of Guthrie's song This Land is Your Land:
This land was made for you and me.

As I was walking, now they tried to stop me.
They put up a sign that said private property.
On the back side, it didn't say nothing.
So it must be that sign was made for you and me.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The power of a radical thought: How for-profit businesses can learn from nonprofits

A couple of weeks ago I got an advanced copy of a new management book to review. This is kind of surprising because I haven’t read any management books for years. Years ago I got really tired of the management theories du jour phenomenon --that over-all guiding principal that some "great" corporate CEO used to run some huge company. (In a lot of cases, a couple years after the "guru" left, the company was in shambles.) There seemed to be a new great idea that would solve all management problems at least every eleven months.

This book is a little different. Zilch does have a central theme--doing more with less. I wouldn't call it a management theory. It is more a state of mind.

What is more unique about Zilch is that, after years of hearing that non-for-profit organizations need to be run more like a business, its author--Nancy Lublin--has the gall to propose that for-profit businesses can learn a lot from not-for-profit businesses. She then proves it in about 240 fun pages (if you don’t like slightly snarky humor about management you probably won’t find it fun).

Lublin provides practical advice on how to get the most out of your employees, your customers, your board, your brand and your stories. All at extremely low cost. These are proven techniques from the not-for-profit world--where doing things at low cost is the norm every day—not just in a recession.

Some of the advice is pretty common sense (but I’ve seen a lot of managers with NO common sense). For example:
  • Money isn’t the only way to motivate your employees. Lublin uses managing volunteers as an example (from my experience, not an easy task).
  • Be shockingly transparent about why someone is promoted. You loose the impact of the promotion on other employees if they have to guess the reason for the promotion.
  • Hire passion, not experience. You can’t create passion but the passionate will “make it their business” to learn what they need to know.
  • All your board members should be passionate about your products. Here’s an interesting question: Do the board members of most major corporations even use the products of the corporation?
  • Treat your customers as allies, not as the enemy. This line needs to be followed by that famous quote “Duh.”
  • Be honest with your customers, employees, shareholders (stakeholders)--They can immediately recognize PR hype.
Regarding financial reporting, Lublin's advice is a little vicious: “Live as if you lived in a glass house.” She notes that many corporations complain about all the reporting now required by the Sarbanes-Oxley regulation. Her response to the complaints:
Well, boohoo….Transparency has always been a way of life for not-for profits. We’re required, through iRS Form 990 to provide the public with a comprehensive view of our financial information. …. All our expenses are public—all of them! You can find out what we spend on postage and shipping, on travel to conferences….the works.
Lublin gets radical with her suggestions for boards of directors—based on how the best not-for-profit boards operate (She does note that there are many not-for-profit boards that don’t live up to her expectations.). She first notes that from a legal perspective, the duties of the board of a for-profit business are not all that different than the duties of the board of a not-for-profit business. They both have a “duty of care” and a “duty of loyalty.” (see page 118 of Zilch for more details). So, examples of what for-profit boards can learn from not-for-profit boards:
  • Don’t compensate board members. On not-for-profit boards, board members are usually not compensated, but they are expected to give cash to the organization.
  • Create explicate guidelines for board members. Clear conflict of interest guidelines are an obvious need. Many nonprofits also have a formal position description that defines the tasks of board members—just like you would have a position description for any employee.
  • Don’t put the CEO on the board. You can really blow the checks and balances a board provides if the CEO is on the board.
  • Meet in the Field. Get your board members out of the board room to see your operations and meet your employees.
  • Encourage the board to communicate directly with staff. This is even radical for many not-for-profit organizations but, done right, it can help the board get great insights.
  • Require board members to love your purpose. Every organization has a purpose—and this isn't just the bottom line. Think about Google—one of their major purposes is “to index the world.” Board members need to buy-in to that purpose.
So, buy the book.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Followers are Important

Nancy Lublin has another great column in Fast Company: "Let's Hear If for the Little Guys"

She notes that we are obsessed with leaders. But for every successful leader there are a bunch of followers who actually make the leader's vision a reality. We need to value the do-ers. We need to reward the do-ers.

Curmudgeonly view of vote-for-me contests

Beth Kanter has a whole series of posts on Beth's Blog about vote-for-me funding contests ( I'm not going to try to conduct a detailed analysis of the good and evil of these contests here. Beth has done a great job of providing both sides. I'm just going to be a curmudgeon and raise some of my concerns.
  • Large organizations have a much better chance of winning--for all the obvious reasons. But are the large organizations the most innovative, or doing the most important work, or the most efficient?
  • The rich get richer. Target Store's program that allows people to designate a school to get the rewards from their Target credit card results in most of the money going to schools in wealthy communities because people in wealth communities will spend more than people in poor communities. For vote-for-me funding, organizations that have lots of supporters, clients or audiences who have home computers and who have time to spend on surfing the web will get more votes.
  • Vote-for-me contests divert the attention of nonprofit organizations from their mission and long-term, sustainable fund raising to special promotions that do little for their long-term health. Contests that only count contributions (preferably number of contributions, not size of contributions) at least have a chance of building long-term donors.
  • Vote-for-me promote a culture of scarcity--everyone going after the same pot of money. There is usually no attempt to expand the pool of money.
  • Vote-for-me contests promote competition, not collaboration. For years government, for profit corporations and foundations have been telling nonprofits to collaborate more. Vote-for-me provides a strong incentive to not collaborate.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

When should it be a for-profit; When should it be a nonprofit

This is a little dangerous. I'm going to recommend a specific podcast I just heard--not dangerous. Dangerous is recommending the whole series.

First, the individual podcast:
A presentation (and question and answer session) by Priya Haji , the CEO of World of Good at a Stanford University social entrepreneurship class. You can find the podcast here.

What is so interesting is that World of Good is a for profit company and a separate non-profit corporation. Haji really thought about and explains why each was created. Near the end is a great explanation of when it makes sense to have a for-profit company and when it makes sense to have a nonprofit organization.

Now the dangerous part:
Based on that one podcast (and the first 5 minutes of another podcast I'm listen to and the list of other episodes), I'm going to recommend the whole Social Innovations Conversations series. You can find the series here.

The series is also available at the ITunes Store.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Humor and the TSA

Maybe it has something to do with Milwaukee--A cold midwestern city in the shadow of Chicago. Maybe it has something to do with Milwaukee's favorite beverage. For whatever reason, the TSA staff at MKE seems to have a sense of humor. I only have two cases of something humorous to cite--but that is two more than I have ever experienced with TSA at any airport.

First case:
As you leave the security area, you are confronted with two large, official airport signs over the area where you tie your shoes, re-pack your laptop and put your belt back on:
"Recombobulation Area."
EVERYONE stops to take a picture of the signs. (Also, TSA staff suggests that they are going to start charging for pictures of the sign.)

Second case:
Siting waiting for our plane, we hear:
This is an official TSA announcment. Will the person whose pants are falling down please return to the Security area in Concourse C to retrieve his or her belt.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Nonprofits and Foundations

This blog post is just to point out two very good columns on the relationships between nonprofit organizations and foundations--from the nonprofit perspective. [Gee, I really hope some foundation folks read this.]

We Really Need to Talk
First, in the February issue of Fast Company (yes that entrepreneurship and "new economy" magazine has some good nonprofit stuff in it.) Nancy Lublin has a great column that is "an open letter to her powerful 'friends' at foundations." (You can see the whole column here.) She lists a few things her "friends" need to stop doing "which would vastly improve our relationship."
  1. Stop thinking you know everything
  2. Stop mistaking marketing for overhead--and stop hating overhead"
  3. Stop funding redundancy
  4. Stop thinking that newer is better.
In return, Nancy promises "to stop calling 'for advice' or 'just to check in' when that's never the point of the conversation. We both know what I really want: your check."

I urge you to read the whole column. Some great things to think about for foundation staff and for nonprofit staff.

Unreachable Stars
If you subscribe to the Nonprofit Quarterly, check out the last page of the current issue (Winter 2009). There is a great column on a current trend in the foundation world to adopt broad reaching goals like "Ending poverty in ten years and changing the face of philanthropy" (that's just a paraphrase but if you've worked with many foundations, you've run into that kind of goal). The column by Phil Antrhop starts with the lyrics of The Impossible Dream from Man of LaMancha.

The column points out that many of these broad foundation goals plan on achieving them in 10 years. It further notes that all the board members at the foundation and most of the management at the foundation will have left long before the 10 years are up. Where's the accountability in that set-up?

I really wanted to include a link to the article but it is behind a pay-wall. So the Nonprofit Quarterly wants to impact the nonprofit world but puts their material behind a pay-wall. Isn't that a little counter productive?