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

Thursday, June 21, 2007

To partner or to merge...

If you've been working in nonprofit management for any amount of time, you should already be fairly adept at recognizing good partnership opportunities. Whether it's working with a local office supplies retailer to put together back-to-school packages for the low-income children you serve, or joining with other social service agencies that provide complimentary, but different, services in a public outreach campaign, there are a million reasons to work in partnership with other nonprofit agencies and businesses.

But when does the partnership get to the point where you should consider a merger?

A quick checklist might include:
  • The existence of ongoing partnerships (or potential for ongoing arrangements) that cover multiple program areas,
  • Essentially aligned missions (ie: desire to serve the same population or cause),
  • Similar organizations in adjacent regions,
  • There's the potential to strengthen organizational capacity (ie: instead of two Executive Directors trying to do it all, one ED and one Development Director),
  • When you have few funders in common, or your common funder(s) would view you as stronger for having joined forces,
  • When the new agency will lead to economies of scale, not a bloated bureaucracy,
  • When your clients will view the merger in a positive light,
  • When the merger will result in expanded services to your clients,
  • When one of the organizations is facing a change in leadership (ie: a longtime Executive Director retiring),
  • When a merger is the best way to achieve the goals in your Strategic Plan,
  • When the merger can be accomplished without leaving any constituencies behind, and
  • When the new organization will be stronger and more sustainable than either of the predecessor organizations.
I am not one who regularly pushes merging for the sake of merging. Nor am I one who talks about there being "too many nonprofits." And I certainly am not a proponent of having huge, bureaucratic behemoths attempting community work.

But, the reality is that it is increasingly difficult for small organizations (budgets under $750,000) to operate successfully, and create sustainable funding. As much as I love small, grassroots organizations, sometimes they can better serve their communities as part of a mid-sized agency.

The list above is just a place to start your discussions and soul searching within your nonprofit. You may not meet all of the conditions, and you may have other conditions of your own that lead you to decide to pursue a merger. A merger is the ultimate partnership. It's not to be entered into lightly or without great thought and purpose. But it's not to be feared either.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Nonprofit Professionals - Amateur Managers?

Jonathan Peizer, of JP's Philanthropy Blog, had a great post yesterday called Being Smart and Being a Good Manager is Not the Same, and I've got to agree with him. JP says, in part:
Not that they are exclusive mind you. However, in my travels I have found many smart/intellectual/degreed people who assume that because they hold the title of manager and they are smart, they are de facto good managers. This is ironic because if you asked these same people if they were expert in an academic field that was not their own, they would defer to others who were.
Think about this in relation to how nonprofit managers come up through the ranks. People who are highly trained and qualified at helping people with their individual problems, or delivering a particular service, are put into situations where they are supervising other professionals and creating budgets, all without any prior preparation. If you ask them, they'll say they are social services experts or program experts, and that is their qualification to manage the agency, but they will never say, "I'm an HR expert and I just love spreadsheets."

After reading JP's posting yesterday, I began thinking about my own preparation for my career in nonprofit management, and now consulting.

Certainly my undergraduate degree in Politics gave me absolutely no background in supervising the work of others or running a program, let alone an entire organization. I learned critical thinking skills, I learned written communications skills, and I learned quite a bit about how to avoid some of the mistakes of the Cold War, should I ever happen to be transported back in time into Truman or Eisenhower's cabinets at certain moments in history. But I didn't learn about management.

My graduate program (Master of Public Policy and Administration, MPPA) provided a bit of management theory (Frederick Taylor and Max Weber) and organizational behavior, but the main focus of the program was on policy analysis and econometrics.

One management course I remember best from that time was one I took through the MBA program on employment law, where one of our texts was The Short Works of Herman Melville. We had a great time discussing the legal ramifications of the management decisions in "Billy Budd, Sailor" and "Bartleby the Scrivener", but I'm not sure that that's ever helped me in supervising a social worker who was dealing with her own family problems on the job.

Some of my best, and most relevant, management training came from professional development workshops at CompassPoint Nonprofit Services. I first sat in on these workshops as a staff person (I was the Director of their Silicon Valley office for several years) and eventually wound up teaching a couple of them. I continue to do occasional Supervisory Skills workshops for my clients as an independent consultant.

When I find myself wrestling with a management question, it is these workshop materials that I find myself looking back to for reference, not "Billy Budd" or "Bartleby." (Don't get me wrong; I love these stories, just not as management reference works).

(I should also mention that I had great mentoring at both CompassPoint, and at HandsNet before that, and it is that experience which most prepared me for my current role).

Which brings me back to my point and a question. How is your organization preparing your next generation of managers and leaders? Are you investing in their professional development? Are you making sure that they get the skills they need beyond program implementation, whether through workshops or mentoring?

How about yourself? Are you prepared?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

New web site - $20 Fundraising

A little over a year ago I blogged about a Reverend in England who gave 90 parishioners £10 each with the request that they do something with it to increase the donation within six months.

I've thought about that story often in the year or so since then, and find I am still inspired by it. This morning I have launched a website dedicated to spreading the word that fundraising doesn't always have to to be difficult or expensive.

I am simply calling it - Twenty Dollar Fundraising Ideas ($20 is approximately £10). I have posted the first ten low-cost fundraising ideas, the Reverend's story, and a form for readers to submit their own $20 ideas.

Please check it out and let me know what you think. Thank you!

Monday, June 18, 2007

A Culture of Measurement

Today's posting on Inside Philanthropy is about how critical it is to track nonprofit performance. Of course, we all already know that, right? But it's not always as easy as it sounds.

Depending on your organization, our goals are often very long-term, and our resources to follow-up are limited. So, many nonprofits fall into the trap of counting outputs instead of outcomes. The posting quotes Jason Saul of Mission Measurement:
Rather than simply counting the output of their programs or the number of clients they serve, Saul says, nonprofits should be measuring the outcomes or impact of those programs.
Saul recommends that organizations' create a "success equation." This involves asking, "what measurable items would indicate progress towards your mission." But, again, focusing on results, not process.

One pitfall that I've found organizations falling into is that there is one staff person tasked with evaluation, and the majority of the staff viewing that person as an annoyance distracting them from doing the "real work" of direct service. Saul address this as well, and talks about how all staff have to hold a piece of the evaluation puzzle:
“Measurement is a culture, not a project,” Saul says, and nonprofits should work on measurement within their existing business processes, keep it simple at first, and make it positive, not punitive.
I like that idea, of a culture of measurement. An organization that I'm currently working with definitely fits that ideal. It would be great if they all did.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Painless Strategic Planning

The Nonprofiteer today has a great posting on why funders often ask for your nonprofit's Strategic Plan, and offers a fairly painless outline of a quick and useful planning process.

First, to the question of "Why plan?" the Nonprofiteer offers this:
"Serve as many people as possible" is not a strategic plan; it's a mission--and a relatively uninspiring one, at that. You might try explaining the difference to your ED this way: the mission says what you're going to do, while the strategic plan says how.
And why do funders care about the how? Well, the how gets right to the heart of how you are going to be spending their money. A look at your Strategic Plan will also give them a little insight into your organization's broader goals, potential issues, and future vision -- and get a sense of whether or not your proposal to them is an integral part of that vision.

And the planning process? The Nonprofiteer says it need not be an over-long, over-tedious affair "resulting in a notebook which will collect dust on your shelf," and I couldn't agree more. To be useful, a plan has to be usable. It's got to directly address the issues your organization is facing, any obstacles you've identified to achieving your mission, and offer workable, realistic solutions along with a timeline and identification of the person or persons responsible.

I'll also be a little self-serving here, and include this last quote from the posting:
...It's useful to have a paid person to act as facilitator and scrivener, especially because an outsider can ask the questions all the insiders are too polite or too shy to ask: "Why don't you have a Board give-or-get? What do you mean, you don't have a computer system?"

If you absolutely positively can't bring in a paid consultant, you can do it yourself, with the Board chair acting as facilitator, the team reporters writing their own reports, and the staff formulating it all into a plan; but it'll take longer and you'll fare worse.
As somebody who's done a fair amount of facilitation (and attended a seemingly unfair amount of meetings), I can tell you that's it's nearly impossible to do justice to the role of facilitator and be a full participant at the same time. And the point about having an outside "expert" to point out best practices cannot be over-stressed.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

An inspirational quote...

I came across this quote today that I think should be hung in every nonprofit workplace across the country. It's a great reminded of why we do what we do.

"You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand."
Woodrow Wilson

Monday, June 11, 2007

Whose Nonprofit? Yours or the Board's?

Many people starting new nonprofits have a strong vision of what they expect the organization to be, and how they want to run it, only to wind up disillusioned or fighting with their board when they realize that nonprofits are cooperative enterprises.

So, whose nonprofit is it anyway? That's the question being asked today on the new "Nonprofit Connectors" blog. While the founder certainly has a strong and major influence, if things are run properly, it is the full board that is the legal holder of the governance power and can sometimes have a different vision than the founder.

But the answer to the question of "whose nonprofit" isn't the founder or the board; it's the public. The board may have the final say, but it is as the official guardian of the public interest that they hold that power. As Nonprofit Connectors writes, "Nonprofits are meant to be publicly funded; therefore, they need to be publicly governed as well."

This is only the second posting from Nonprofit Connectors, but it's a good and important one. They bill themselves as "A place to connect newly founded nonprofits with established ones." Sounds like a good idea to me; I'll be watching.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Carnival of the Nonprofit Consultants

It's my honor once again to host the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants. This is always a pleasure because I get to take some out to really read what some of my colleagues have been writing and select a handful of the best posts for the Carnival.

With as busy as we all tend to get (I know I've been busy, and my lack of posting here is a result of that), it's important to remember that feeding our brain is an important part of being a professional. So, here you go with a variety of excellent brain food for the nonprofit professional...

Rosetta Thurman presents Founder's Syndrome: A Leak in the Nonprofit Leadership Pipeline posted at Perspectives From the Pipeline.

Katya Andresen presents Why I think gloom and doom backfire posted at Katya's Non-Profit Marketing Blog.

Kivi Leroux Miller presents How to Edit Yourself When You Write to Much posted at Nonprofit Communications >> Blog.

Edith Yeung presents The 7 Rules of Networking Made Easy posted at Edith Yeung.Com: Dream. Think. Act..

Nancy Schwartz presents How Big is the Gap between You and Your Audiences? posted at Getting Attention.

David Brazeal presents The real top 10 reasons PR doesn't work posted at JournalMarketing.

I thank you for stopping by, and hope you enjoy reading these posts as much as I have. This is a traveling carnival, with different hosts each week. You can keep track of the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants, no matter which blog is hosting, by subscribing to the Carnival feed.