Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Friday, July 25, 2008

Nonprofit Website Mistakes: Lack of Transparency

When people talk about mistakes nonprofits make with their websites, the first thing that comes to mind is usually either no direct donate button from the front page, or an unclear mission statement. But I'd like to focus on a different type of mistake; lack of transparency.

First off, what do I mean by "transparency?" I'm talking about communicating with your community (clients, members, potential donors, neighbors, elected officials, etc.) as openly, honestly, and fully about your operations as is practical and legal to do so.

And I'm not just talking about your programs and the great deeds that your organization performs. I assume that's already on your website (and if it's not, you need a far more remedial article than this one). I'm talking about your finances, your governance, and your management of the public trust.

Because that's what a nonprofit is: A public trust. You have been granted your 501(c)3 (and your special tax status) to produce something of benefit to the public, and the public is, in many very real ways, the ultimate shareholders of your corporation - even more so than your board members, clients, or staff.

These days the public finds it hard to trust in many institutions (and who can blame them). Lack of trust in nonprofits leads to lack of donations, and restrictions on what we can ultimately accomplish. By being as transparent as possible you inspire trust in your organization, and (hopefully) in the nonprofit sector as a whole. And trust, in turn, inspires donations.

So, how do you make your website "transparent?" Here are a few suggestions to get you started...

Post Your 990s - Your IRS form 990 tax returns are already public information to those who know where to find them (on, for example). But why make people look for them elsewhere? Have your accountant create a pdf file of your 990s and post them annually as soon as you have filed.

Post Your Audits - Show your donors that your finances are in order and have passed a critical inspection. You spend your money responsibly; let your community know.

Post Board Activity - Maybe full board meeting minutes would be a bit too detailed, but why not a monthly summary of board activity and decisions made? A good way to do this is with the next suggestion...

Start Blogging - Show that your efforts at transparency aren't just an annual activity coinciding with your audit and 990s. Make a regular effort to inform your constituents of what is happening behind the scenes in your organization. This could include staff changes, new funding received, even problems with the plumbing (who knows, maybe one of your readers can volunteer a solution!).

Contact Information! - I can't believe the number of nonprofit websites I visit that have a board listing (names only, no affiliations) and a senior staff listing, but then only one general information email address. How about full staff listings with all emails and more some information on your board members. If board members don't all want their emails listed, how about at least the board chair, or maybe a "catch-all" email ( that you can forward to each of them?

These are just a few ideas to get you going, I'm sure you can come up with many more once you start thinking about your organization, and how you communicate with your community.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A winning dozen

The Getting Attention blog of nonprofit marketing guru Nancy Schwartz has today released its list of twelve "Exceptional Tagline Honorees."

Earlier this year, Nancy asked for "great tagline" nominations and received over 1,000 submissions. After 62 finalists were carefully selected, the 12 award winners were chosen by 3,062 nonprofit professionals who voted in an online poll.

The entire list of submitted taglines, details on finalists and award winners, and additional survey findings will be featured in The Nonprofit Tagline Report, to be published in September.

The awards, which Nancy expects to be conferred annually, represent the best taglines in all nonprofit sectors. Check out this year's winners circle at the Getting Attention blog and see how your tagline compares. What's that? You don't have a tagline?!? Then you better see Nancy...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Board's Role in Supervising the Executive

I get lots of interesting questions by email, and I try to answer as many as I am qualified to give an opinion on. In this case, the sender is looking for your opinions, as well as my own:
Hi, Ken. I have a question for you and your readers. I am wondering about the duty line between Boards and an Executive Director of a non-profit. What is the role of the Board in supervising that E.D.? If there are problems on a regular basis with how the E.D. executes his/her goals and objectives (i.e. things that fall under the auspices of the E.D. and not the board) does the board deal with this as a normal supervisor would (asking for explanations, suggesting or requiring specific solutions?) or does the Board have to stay quiet? - Jenny - Albuquerque, NM
Jenny brings up a common problem; boards that don't properly carry out their duty as the Executive's supervisor.

While it is true that nonprofit boards should have no role in supervising other employees (all staff should report to the Executive Director or subordinate), the ED reports to the board, and it is the board's responsibility to ensure that the ED performs to their contract. That includes the things Jenny mentions (asking for explanations, suggesting or requiring specific solutions) all the way up to the removal of the ED, if necessary.

Equally important, and even more frequently forgotten, is the board's role in supervising a successful Executive Director. When EDs perform well, boards often feel they have met their obligations to the ED. The result is that years go by without a formal annual performance evaluation, and often without a raise, even to keep up with the cost of living.

So, yes, Jenny, the Board (or the executive committee of the board) does need to execute proper supervision and evaluation of the Executive Director - in both bad situations and good ones.

Do any other readers have anything else to add? Please post your comments below!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Return to blogging (part two)

Yesterday I apologized for not having posted for a long while, and put the blame on two factors: being very busy, and doing a bit of soul searching. Yesterday's post covered the busy part. Today I'll tell you a bit about what I've been thinking about.

I've now been an Interim Executive Director three times, and it's always interesting, but this last assignment went on for so long (nearly a year-and-a-half) that it became in many senses more like a "real job." So the assignment ending hit me in surprising ways. There is a very real sense of loss and emptiness, much like if a "real job" had unexpectedly come to end.

I'd already been examining my consulting practice and coming to the conclusion that writing grant proposals for a variety of organizations is not how I want to spend most of my time, and have been eliminating those assignments from my client list. For a variety of reasons, I feel that outside consultants can best serve an organization by giving them the knowledge to write their own proposals, and help on a limited basis. I have come to hold the belief that a nonprofit agency that completely outsources it's grant writing is making a strategic error, and probably not getting the best value on their investment, versus building that skill in-house.

So, with no more grant writing clients, and my long-term assignment coming to an end, I've had time to think about "what I want to do when I grow up." The basic options being: continue as is, just with fewer grant writing assignments; look for a "real job" as an Executive Director or other nonprofit leadership position; or "go corporate" and get a "real job" on the other side.

After a little exploration, and talking to several people about different options for me in the for-profit world, I've come to the obvious realization that it's just not for me. I am a nonprofit guy through and through. This was an exploration I had to go through (for the elusive dream of more money and a better retirement plan, etc.), but it was a silly idea.

But I did enjoy that last Interim ED position, and I do miss it more than I expected to. And so, while I'll continue to take some limited term consulting assignments right now, I think my long-term plan is to find a permanent Executive Director (or other senior leadership) position in the nonprofit sector.

Meanwhile, I'll get back to blogging, and shift back from "contemplative mode" to "active mode." I've been sent a great new book, Grassroots Philanthropy: Field NOtes of a Maverick Grantmaker by Bill Somerville and Fred Setterberg, that I'll be reviewing shortly too.

Thanks again for your patience and support.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Return to blogging

First I must thank all of you who continued check this blog site during my extended break in regular posting. I appreciate it very much, and is one of the reasons I've determined to start posting again.

My absence has been partly due to plain old being busy, and partly due to a bit of soul searching.

First the busy part. I was completing nearly one-and-a-half years as the Interim Executive Director of Grail Family Services in San Jose. It was a wonderful and satisfying experience, through which I learned much and gained terrific insights and experience. Yes, even as a consultant, and somebody with nearly twenty years of public service, half of it in leadership positions, I continue to learn every day.

The assignment began as a simple "caretaker" role, keeping daily operations running smoothly while we negotiated a merger. As the merger talks dragged on, more leadership was required as the normal course of things brought about staff changes and all the other crises that come at nonprofit organizations on a regular basis. After nearly ten months of negotiations, and a draft of the final agreement, it became clear that the merger was not in our best interest, and talks ended.

We then began a process of determining the best path for GFS. Should we pursue another merger? With whom? Should we hire a permanent ED? Could GFS be sustainable if it remained independent? Much time had been lost with developing new funding sources when we thought we were merging. Still, the more than a year of uncertainty had taken its toll on staff, and all agreed that finding a way to make the organization stable and successful on its own was the best avenue to pursue.

After a search of several months, and interviewing some wonderful candidates, we wound up re-hiring the previous Executive Director, who was once again available. The organization is on track for another great year. I completed my tenure as Interim ED about a month ago, but I am continuing as a consultant to assist with their upcoming Strategic Planning process.

And so, that completes the "too busy to blog" story. Tomorrow I'll tell you about the soul searching, and where I am now. Thanks again for your patience during this absence.