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

Monday, December 17, 2012

Irwin B. Goldstein, 1929-2012

Dear friends, today's blog is not about nonprofit management, but, in a way, it is about leadership. My first and most important mentor in leadership, my father, passed away, surrounded by family, on Sunday, December 9, 2012.

Irwin B. Goldstein was born in January, 1929, in Boston, Massachusetts. After graduating from high school, he joined the Army, then went on to Bentley College on the G.I. bill where he earned a certificate in accounting. In 1950 he got his first job in the record business, never expecting it would be his life's work. Forty-three years later, in 1993, he retired as a Senior Vice President of Warner-Elektra-Atlantic Distributing Corp.

The music business also introduced Irwin to the love of his life. He first saw Judi, then working for a classical music radio station, at a Boston Hi-Fi show in late 1954. They were engaged two weeks after their first date and married six months later. They have three sons (I am the youngest).

Irwin and Judi, were also dedicated volunteers, working to raise money for cancer research and treatment through the Music Industry Chapter for the City of Hope. For many years of that, he served as the treasurer of their chapter.

He is survived, missed, and loved by his wife of 57 years, Judith, sons Stephen, D. Miles, and Kenneth, daughters in law-in-law Jennifer, Michelle, and Leslie, six grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, his younger brother and sister, nieces, nephews, cousins, and countless more who all wished that he was their Dad.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Every Donor a Major Donor

One question that's always likely to come up when I teach a workshop on fund development is, "How do you define a major donor?" People ask this to determine some sort of line in how to thank and care for their donors; where to set the bar in setting aside one group of donors for "special treatment."

If that's their goal, then the answer really depends on the size of the organization, and how well-developed and successful their individual giving program is. For some organizations "major" may be those who give gifts over $25,000 or even $50,000, while for others it may be any donor who gives more than $500 or $1,000.

But one thing I try to explain to those I teach, coach, or advise, is that it is important to personally thank every donor, and that every gift - no matter how large or small - has the potential to be major to that donor. The person who is struggling themselves, but makes a personal sacrifice to send you $25 deserves at least as much thanks as the rich person who writes a much larger check to lower their tax liability.

I was reminded of this recently when my wife and I were invited to a special donor reception at our alma mater. When we opened the invitation, we looked at each other to ask, "How much did you send them!?" My wife is a public school teacher and I am a consultant to small, local nonprofits. We are not rich by any stretch, and our donations are not at all what a large university would ordinarily consider "major." We thought a mistake may have been made, but we RSVP'd anyway and went to the reception.

It was no mistake that we were on the list. There was no dollar cut-off for this thank you event. What had happened was that we had designated our gift this year to a new endowed chair in honor of one my wife's favorite professors. All early supporters at the fund's launch were invited, regardless of the size of the gift.

We attended with no more than 50 other local alumni, professors, and university staff at the Chancellor's house for a lovely afternoon with delicious snacks, wine, and a few short speeches, thank yous, and a performance from a current student. At no point during the event was there any hint of an ask. There was no fundraising that day, only thanking those who had already given.

As one who is more used to (and comfortable) doing the thanking, it was a pleasant change to be on the other side, and inspirational to see how well a large organization like a major university could do in creating an intimate and personal thank you event for donors at all levels.

How personal are your organization's thank yous? Do you have a cut-off for those who get a personal response versus those who get a form letter? When was the last time you reviewed your major gift and thank you policies?

I can pretty much guarantee that following that reception all of our annual alumni gifts will be going to this particular fund. The gifts may be small, but as long as they are appreciated, they will continue.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Personal, Political, and Professional

The common sense advice that is frequently given about social media is to keep your personal and professional identities completely separate. Much like the age-old saw about not discussing religion or politics at social gatherings, this is meant to avoid controversy, and, more to the point, not give any work associates reason to disagree with you (or terminate your job, etc.).

I've generally followed this advice, with separate blogs and distinct Twitter identities for the personal and professional. I try to keep my Facebook "friends" to only social contacts and my LinkedIn "connections" to only professionals (doesn't always work out that way). I've not gone out of my way to completely hide one identity from the other, but I've been reasonably careful about not deliberately mixing the two.

But, really, what have I got to hide? I'm not a recent college graduate with pictures of wild parties filling my personal social media streams. There are no illegal or immoral activities shared on my personal streams (although, there are some that are fattening). If alcohol is mentioned or pictured, it's most likely in reference to a visit to one of my state's many world-class wineries. The only possible area of controversy is the political.

Then, yesterday, following news of the death of George McGovern, I wondered why I am not more overtly political on this blog. The political is an essential element of the nonprofit sector. Political decisions drive the demand for social services, the results of elections can effect the flow of grant money into the nonprofit sector. And, this coming Presidential election could possibly have a major impact on the tax deductibility of the individual donations we depend on for support.

So, let me make one thing perfectly clear to any readers who may not have already figured this out: I am a liberal. Sometimes I use the euphemism "progressive," but I don't hide from the L word. Liberalism is not just a guide to how I vote, but a key to who I am. Liberal values and ethics permeate my being, and flow through my veins. It comes from my family upbringing, it comes from my religious background, it comes from my education (BA in Politics, Master of Public Policy & Administration), and it comes from my life experiences. It's not likely to be changed by a 30 second attack ad.

My liberalism is why I have made my career in the nonprofit sector. It is liberalism that keeps me dedicated to making the provision of social services efficient, effective, and possible. It is liberalism that makes me a better consultant, more interested in looking for ways nonprofits can better serve our communities than ways to extend my contract and increase my income. Without a conscious choice to live my liberalism, I would more likely have made a career in media or the entertainment industry, and made quite a bit more money. Oh well.

George McGovern's Quixotic campaign for President in 1972 was also part of the background and education that made me a liberal. Yesterday I wrote more about that on my personal blog, here: George McGovern: Acts of Faith

Let me make one more personal, political confession: I am not a Democrat. I was, from when I was able to register to vote in 1979 till about 1995. I was registered as a Green briefly after that, but have been happily DTS ("Decline to State") since. I describe myself as "left-of-center, independent." No one party or candidate owns my vote or can expect it without first earning it.

That said, my final point here is this: The Nonprofit Consultant Blog proudly supports and endorses Barack Obama for a second term as President of the United Sates.

I believe that this President, while far from perfect, has shown dedication to the issues we work on as a sector, and that he deeply cares about the people who we serve. Meanwhile Mitt Romney's private remarks to donors about "the 47%" have disqualified him from consideration by anybody who has dedicated their career to helping those on the lower side of the economic ladder.

We need to give President Obama another term to continue the progress that he has made. Further, we need to help him by removing the obstructionist Tea Party Republicans from Congress. I am an independent, who has regularly split my vote, but this year it is vital to elect a straight Democratic ticket. I hope you will join me.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Power of We the Nonprofits

Today is Blog Action Day 2012, "Founded in 2007, Blog Action Day brings together bloggers from different countries, interests and languages to blog about one important global topic on the same day."

The topic this year is "The Power of We." A little more abstract than previous topics, such as water, climate change, poverty, or food. And yet, this abstract theme encompasses all the others with a single answer.

How do We address the problems of poverty, food distribution, potable water, etc? As individuals, there's only so much any of us can really do to effect the systematic change required to solve any of these crises. It is only when we come together in groups that real change happens.

Fitting the Power of We into the mission of this blog, to provide useful information to professionals in the nonprofit sector, I suggest that my readers take this Blog Action Day as a celebration of all that they do.

Corporations can (and some do) have a positive impact on their communities, but their primary focus will always be the fiscal bottom line and making a profit. Government can (and often does) work to improve the lives of citizens, but their primary focus is frequently on security and, all too often around the globe, the perpetuation of power.

The nonprofit sector - from the local grassroots organization to international NGOs - is the primary organizing mechanism by which individuals, regardless of their position in society or their level of political and economic power, come together as We to solve the problems our communities face. The nonprofit sector is how individuals put the Power of We into action.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

LinkedIn Launches Board Connect Service

LinkedIn, the social network for professionals of all sectors, has just announced the launch of their new Board Connect service for nonprofit organizations. If you're not already familiar with LinkedIn, it began, basically, as a place to post your online business profile/resume and connect with others in your field to grow your network using a "six degrees of separation" model. Other features and refinements over the years have turned LinkedIn into an essential social network for all professions, including active discussions, groups, job boards, and more.

The new Board Connect uses LinkedIn's "Talent Finder" to help you search for professionals with the skills your organization needs. Likewise, professionals interested in board service can search out organizations that meet their interests. Best of all, the service is free to nonprofits (business use of the Talent Finder can cost $1,000).

So, what could be wrong with all this? Well, in one of those active discussion groups on LinkedIn for Nonprofit Professionals, Michael Wyland (of Sumption & Wyland Consulting) says of the service that "the pitch is off-key and reflects antiquated views of board service." Michael recognizes that the LinkedIn service can be beneficial to the organizations that choose to use it, but, he notes:
"Searching algorithyms can get a nonprofit only so far. ... The 'pitch' in LinkedIn's blog makes no mention of governance, board member obligation, legal exposure, and the duties of board service in an increasingly regulated and scrutinized environment. The days of viewing nonprofit board service as an expression of noblesse oblige and an opportunity to network are fading fast, if not already gone."
Terrie Temkin (of CoreStrategies Consulting) replies, in part, that nonprofits "must still do the hard work to vet potential [board members]." She states that this is true, not just of LinkedIn's new service, but of all board matching programs.

I will agree with Mr. Wyland, and add that the "antiquated view" of board service as noblesse oblige and a social activity not only exists within some board matching programs and the well-intentioned attempts at encouraging board service in corporate circles, but within far too many nonprofits themselves.

When I work with boards, I find there can be a very fine line between those boards where the members are comfortable with each other, share outside interests and relationships, but still manage to accomplish the serious business of governance of the nonprofit corporation, and those boards where their shared social situations and relationships stands in the way of good governance.

Often, the one thing that makes the difference as to which side of that line an organization is on is simply good board training. Nobody has ever gone to these boards and explained what their role is or should be on a legal, fiduciary, and ethical basis. They're not shirking their responsibilities; they've just never been made aware of their full responsibilities.

I will also agree with Ms. Temkin, and add that the process of vetting potential board members is a continuous one. It does not start when a member leaves and a seat opens up, but proceeds according to a plan that includes methods of identifying new recruits, the vetting process, suggestions for other volunteer activities until a board seat is open (non-board members may sit on committees, help with events, etc.), and a process for how the full board votes on and welcomes in new members.

Consultants (such as Mr. Wyland, Ms Temkin, or myself) can help your board with both proper training on roles and responsibilities, and with creating a board development and recruitment plan.

If your organization is interested in LinkedIn's Board Connect, you can learn more about it on the LinkedIn blog here, or go direct to the LinkedIn Nonprofits page here. While you're at LinkedIn, you can join my network through visiting my profile here.

Friday, July 06, 2012

So You Want to Start a Nonprofit?

Yesterday, I tweeted out a link to the Donor Dreams Blog, asking "" In that blog, the author, consultant Erik Anderson, asks:
... Why is it that every time someone has a new idea, they want to start a new non-profit organization to do it?

I find this knee jerk reaction so interesting and confounding. Instead of starting a new organization, it could be “Ah-ha, I have an idea and think I’ll take it to a non-profit organization in my community that does similar things and work with them on starting a new program.”

... The truth of the matter is that the last thing the non-profit sector needs is more struggling non-profit organizations competing for similar resources. ...
The responses I got back all seemed to agree with Mr. Anderson: "There are too many nonprofits!" I addressed this trite bit of "accepted wisdom" just over six years ago in another posting here, and nothing much has happened since then to change my mind. While many people repeat this line, there is still no empirical evidence that this is actually true.

In all other sectors of the US economy we prize competition and entrepreneurship. But not, apparently, in the nonprofit sector. Elsewhere in this nation, we say, "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." In the nonprofit sector, however, we're supposed to build a better mousetrap and then turn our plans over to the current leading mousetrap provider.

When people approach Mr. Anderson with an idea for a new nonprofit, he says in his blog, "It has become my standard operating procedure to sit down with these nice, well-intentioned individuals who call me asking for help and beg them to please not start another non-profit organization." He wants people with new ideas to get together with existing nonprofit organizations and "play nice in the sandbox."

How would that advice play in other sectors of our national economic landscape? "Gee, Mr. Jobs, why don't you just take your ideas to IBM and help them to develop it?" "Well, Mr. Bezos, people may well want to buy books online, but why don't you just partner with an existing store or distributor?"

How many of our mayors would be re-elected begging entrepreneurs to not start yet another small business in their city? "Another coffee shop? Please, just go be a manager at a Starbucks." "If there were a better way to make a hamburger, McDonald's would have thought of it by now. If you must be an 'owner,' why don't you just buy a franchise?"

This is the USA. We believe that competition is good. It weeds out complacency. It weeds out inefficiency. It encourages constant innovation. And it requires paying attention to constituents. Which of these goals is bad for the nonprofit sector?

Yes, a great number of start-up nonprofits will fail. Just as in the small business sector. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

I too get many emails and calls from folks who want to start a new nonprofit. Many of them are unprepared. They have not researched the competition. They do not have a realistic plan for roll-out or revenue. They are not familiar with the laws in their state regarding incorporation, required by-laws, etc., etc. But I wish them well.

If you want to start a new nonprofit, go right ahead. But know what you are doing, and why, and where you fit in the marketplace. Then go and innovate.

Too many nonprofits? How can there be too many people working to improve our communities? Or too many groups feeding the hungry, or sheltering the abused? Or too many arts programs enriching our lives? Or too many entrepreneurs stirring things up in any sector of our economy?

The sad truth is most of us in the nonprofit sector only worry that "there's too many organizations going after my grants and donations." I guess we're just going to have to learn to compete.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Five Stages of Nonprofit Board Fundraising

In the 1960s, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, working with terminally ill patients, hypothesized her five stages of grief, popularized in her 1969 publication of On Death and Dying. Since that time, the Kübler-Ross model has been applied to just about any form of personal loss, including job loss, divorce, death of a loved one, surviving natural disasters, and even incarceration.

Imagine my surprise when I realized that nobody had yet applied the Kübler-Ross model to fundraising by nonprofit boards of directors! So, here, without further ado, are the Five Stages of Nonprofit Board Fundraising:
  1. Denial - "I don't think board members should be required to fundraise." - "I don't know anybody with money anyway." - "I was asked to join the board for my other skills." - "Don't we have staff for that?" - "We're a nonprofit, we're supposed to live on the financial edge!"
  2. Anger - "My friends will hate me if I add them to the mailing list!" - "If I give myself, why do I also have to 'get'?"- "I give so much of my time, you want my money too?" - "If the staff were doing their jobs, this wouldn't be necessary." - "It's the politicians' fault that we can't raise enough money!" - "I never should have joined this board."
  3. Bargaining - "If I serve on the audit committee, can I get out of working on the event?" - "I brought in my old PC for the intern to use, that's worth something, right?" - "How about if I just mention I'm on the board in my family Christmas letter, that'll save you on printing and postage!" - "Tell you what, I know the name of a foundation that makes grants..."
  4. Depression - "The economy is going to clobber us anyway, so why bother?" - "We can't compete with all those nationally known nonprofits." - "Nobody really gets our mission anyway." - "There's no point in even asking before the next election cycle, or two..." - "I read in NPQ that even the big guys can't raise any money these days."
  5. Acceptance - "Do we have any brochures I can bring to my Rotary meeting?" - "Let me find out about my company's corporate philanthropy policy" - "Hey, if we each commit to just a small amount we can close that budget gap!" - "How can we expect others to spread the word and raise money for our cause if we're not willing to do it ourselves?"
As Dr. Kübler-Ross wrote, not everybody passes through all five stages, and they don't always progress in this order. Frequently people get stuck in one stage or another. Do you know any board members who are stuck on denial or anger? Of course you do: every board has these people. The important thing is to recognize the stages, and help your board move along to Acceptance and Success.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Social Media 101 for Nonprofit Consultants

Yesterday I had the opportunity to present an introductory workshop on social media to a few of my colleagues in the Fund Builders Alliance. We covered some of the basics of what social media is and is not, got into the how-tos and whys of facebook, twitter, linkedin, and blogging, and briefly went over the variety of other services available (pinterest, storify, g+, ...). It's always a great day when you can get together with a group of professionals that you respect and teach them something new. (And thank you to Karen and Leadership Monterey Peninsula for use of the conference room!)

Here's the thing though. Although I was pleased to present this workshop, and although I do offer social media planning and coaching services, I'm always hesitant to use the title "social media expert." As I told the group yesterday, "At the end of this session you will all be social media experts, for about three hours." Social media is such a constantly changing and evolving ecosystem that I believe it is a continual learning effort. Fortunately, I am fascinated by it and enjoy that effort. But I still realize that there is always more to learn.

I've been playing around with online communities in my personal life for nearly twenty years now. On a professional level, I got involved with nonprofit online discussions as a member of HandsNet around 1996. A few years later, I wound up working for HandsNet as the Director of Online Community Development. Since then I've continued to be an early adopter of many new platforms, including blogger, facebook, youtube, and twitter. But "expert"? ...

I hope to continue to learn and fascinated by social media, and I hope to continue to bring that experience and enthusiasm to my colleagues and clients in the nonprofit sector. But if you ever catch me using the title "Social Media Expert" please splash a cold glass of water in my face. Just try not to splash my iPhone, thank you.

Oh, and if you'd like a copy of my powerpoint slides from yesterday's presentation, just send me an email (contact info in the "about the consultant" section of this blog).

Friday, May 25, 2012

Why You Have To Do It Better

The "It" referred to in the title of this post is Social Media. And the problem is nonprofits who are under the impression that Twitter, Facebook, etc., are just about marketing. They think that it's just fine if their postings consist of nothing more than a sales pitch (or, in the nonprofit case, a donation pitch).

Nonprofits can be forgiven, somewhat, for thinking that way. After all, using the news feeds from many local small businesses as examples, that's what we frequently see. But there's a huge difference between, say, a local burger joint and a local food pantry.

Think like a consumer of social media: what benefit do you get from following either of these streams?

The local burger joint can get away with not being social on social media. If I subscribe/follow/like them, the benefit is clear: cheap food. Finding out what's on special, getting that coupon code, learning today's location of the food truck. If I'm getting any of that, I really don't care if they engage in conversation, or provide any information other than saving me a buck on good food.

But what added value do I get from subscribing/following/liking the local nonprofit food pantry? Being asked for yet another donation on an hourly basis? Where's that "unlike" button?

No, nonprofits don't have the luxury of using social media just as another advertising outlet. We have to use it correctly. We have to be social on social media. We have to constantly put our audience's needs ahead of our own.

Subscribe/follow/like others, and engage them in conversation about your area of expertise. Answer questions about your organization, its mission, and the issues that your programs address. Tell about your successes as well as your challenges. Thank your supporters and show how much they're appreciated. Find out what your audience wants to hear from you, and then provide it regularly and clearly.

Sure, you can mention where to donate, or plug your upcoming events or volunteer opportunities. But not every time you sit down to tap out an update. To get (and keep) followers - and turn them into donors later on - you need to figure out your value added proposition. Otherwise, it's just a lot of spam.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Vote With Your Mission!

A new initiative from the California Association of Nonprofits (aka CalNonprofits) is the Vote With Your Mission virtual campaign. CalNonprofit's goal is to have 100% of eligible California nonprofit staff and volunteers (including board members) vote in the June and November elections. According to Jan Masaoka, Executive Director of CalNonprofits, "All of us have come to work and volunteer in nonprofits because we have ideals about changing the world. Whatever those ideals are, use your vote to further them."

I couldn't agree more with the motivation and purpose behind this campaign, and find it sad to realize that folks in the nonprofit sector are not already participating 100% in all elections - in California and beyond. Every day, our staffs see first hand the direct results of political decisions, from increased homelessness to decreased funding for the arts. We see the results of over-crowded classrooms and a poverty-level minimum wage. To not speak out when we must, and vote when we can, is to contribute to the very problems our missions seek to redress.

"But is it legal?" some of you may be thinking. Yes, it is, and CalNonprofits has conveniently included a legal FAQ on the Vote With Your Mission website. All nonprofits may engage in nonpartisan, get-out-the-vote activities. Check the FAQ (or talk to the lawyer on your board) for more detailed guidelines when it comes to ballot measures and issues.

So, what does an organization have to do to participate in the campaign? First of all, sign up at the CalNonprofits website so they know you're on board. Then select from the recommended activities, such as asking all staff, board members, volunteers, and constituents to vote, providing on-site nonpartisan voter registration materials, adding "voting in every election" to your board member responsibilities agreement, or (my favorite) granting two hours of paid staff time to vote on Election Day.

If you're involved with a California nonprofit, I hope you'll sign on at the Vote With Your Mission home page. If you're outside California, I hope you'll still encourage all of your staff, board, volunteers, and constituents to vote with your mission.

Friday, April 13, 2012

"Have the consultant do it"?

The title of this post is written with tongue in cheek, but it does get to what's often a fine line between consulting and contracting. Even when talking with other nonprofit consultants, we don't always agree on where we should draw the line between performing tasks for our client organizations and empowering them to perform these tasks themselves.

As a prime example, when I started as an independent consultant, back in December 2003, one of the main things I did was grant proposal writing. Now, I will rarely accept those types of assignments. Basically, over time, I came to realize that the client was better served by my helping them gain the capacity to write grants in-house. One of my favorite things to do is when I teach workshops on proposal writing (next workshop is August 24 in Santa Cruz!).

Of course, there are times when it's quite legitimate to hire a contract proposal writer to supplement an organization's own capacity, and I'm happy to assist in those situations. But I believe that fund development is so central to any nonprofit organization's survival, that outsourcing it should never be more than a step along the way to building their own abilities.

There are other tasks, however, that are should almost always be outsourced. Among these, in my opinion, is facilitating a strategic planning session. Your organization may have leaders with excellent facilitation skills, but at a planning retreat they are needed as participants. A good facilitator should be neutral, and not a part of any political dynamic that exists in the group, or have a stake in any decisions that the group makes. A good facilitator empowers everybody in the room to speak and be heard, something that's not always comfortable or possible when there's a boss-worker dynamic present.

So, the next time you're in a meeting, and you hear the words, "We'll have a consultant do it," think carefully about what you are asking a consultant to do, and whether it is truly empowering and adding to your capacity to meet your mission.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Interim Executives Are Part Of Succession Planning

Yesterday, on Alan Harrison's Voice of Reason blog, he posted a great article about the pitfalls of bad succession planning and the occasional need for Interim Executive Directors. As a consultant who has five times served as an Interim ED, I agree with much of what Mr. Harrison has to say.

In Mr. Harrison's colorful example, Jack is the departing long-term Director, who helps to personally choose Jill as his successor. Jill then flounders along for about a year before being eventually replaced. The details of the scenario presented ring all too true, and a story we've all seen played out before.

An Interim ED can be a great solution following the departure of a long-term leader. It gives Board and Staff room to breath, consider mission, separate the reputation and legacy of the departing leader from that of the organization, and contemplate changes in their vision before making the mistake outlined in the blog of trying to fit Jill's round peg into Jack's square hole.

So, who should be your Interim ED?

A well-meaning board member stepping in may sound great, but unless they've sat in the ED's chair before, and have the time and attention to devote, this can be a disaster (not to mention the conflicting roles of ED and board member).

A senior staff member could be a good choice (particularly if they're "auditioning" for the permanent job), but be careful how you back-fill their regular position - or are you expecting them to do two jobs at once? Be careful of setting unrealistic expectations for anybody you put in this tight spot.

An out-of-work ED, who is looking for a permanent position has other motivations in accepting your Interim offer. They're number one goal is completing their own transition, not assisting your agency in yours. If this is somebody who you are seriously considering for the permanent position, do not make the mistake of "trying them out" on an interim basis.

Those of us who regularly take on Interim ED assignments as part of our consulting business do so because we're not necessarily looking for the gig permanently. In fact, when I've accepted an Interim job that includes searching for a permanent ED, I would consider it a conflict of interest to then apply for the permanent position.

My mission as an Interim is to work on the Board's agenda, not my own, and to facilitate as smooth a transition for the staff, clients, funders, and community as is possible.

Returning to Mr. Harrison's post for a moment, he ends on what he considers to be such an important point that he prints it in bold and underlined:

It is never a good idea to have the outgoing director have a say on his or her permanent successor.  No matter who the outgoing director is or how amicable the separation is.  Never.  Never.  Never.
I found this point surprising, and while I'm not certain I agree, thinking of some real life examples I'm not certain I can argue with him either. It certainly goes along with my point of using an Interim to provide "breathing room" for the Board and Staff to do some reflection on where they've been and where they want to go, rather than just trying to duplicate the leader who's just left - an often impossible and unforgiving task.

Yes, it may sound self-serving (and it probably is), but if your organization is facing the departure of a long-term, strong leader, bring in an Interim ED first, before starting your search for a permanent replacement. Oh, and I just might be available ;^)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Honoring Donor Intent

This seems like such a basic, "Fundraising Ethics 101" topic that I'd never have to write a post explicitly about it, but it seems that even high profile nonprofit organizations need to be reminded: Donor Intent is King!

This month started with the news that country star Garth Brooks had won his million dollar lawsuit against a regional hospital. The issue was over a donation Brooks had made with the understanding that a building would be named for the singer's late mother.

A week later came headlines that the Ray Charles Foundation was demanding the return of several million dollars the late singer had donated to Albany State University in Georgia for a performing arts center that was never built.

Now, today we learn that Johns Hopkins University is being sued over the alleged misuse of millions of dollars from the estate of Elizabeth Beall Banks. This dispute revolves around farmland given on the condition that it be used for agricultural research and development, but now will be home to nearly five-million-square-feet of construction.

These are obviously high profile cases involving millions of dollars and well known organizations and donors, but the principles involved are the same for $25 donations to local nonprofit groups. You must follow through on your promises to donors. If funds are designated for a particular purpose, it is your legal and ethical obligation to use it for that purpose and that purpose only.

Raising funds with a pitch for one program or project, and then using them for another is a bait-and-switch con that will come back to haunt you. You may think you did well in the short run, but in the long-term you will lose donors, you will lose honest staff and board members, and you will risk your organization's reputation and future.

When dealing with large donations, do your best to set clear expectations with your donor, write out exactly what the purpose of the donation is, and have it signed. This donor agreement is not just for designated funds, as in the cases above, but especially important if you think the donation is unrestricted. The donor's signature on an agreement that you can use the funds in whatever way is needed to support the mission will protect you if they - or their heirs - ever come back and say the funds were designated.

Such clear, written agreements also protect the donor. And, with such well-publicized scandals putting us all under the microscope, offering your donors such transparency and guarantees will help ease their doubts about your integrity.

Tim Newell, Elizabeth Banks' nephew and one of the principals in the case against Johns Hopkins, explains, "You hate to lose faith in the entire system. ... All donors have the right to be assured that gifts be used for the reason they were given."

Friday, February 17, 2012

Doing Good... And Letting People Know About It!

You know your organization does great work that benefits your community, but unless you get that message out clearly, consistently, and publicly, you will be losing out on donations to those organizations that have mastered communications and marketing. Today I have two bits of marketing & communications news to share.

First, for those nonprofits who are using YouTube, or creating videos to showcase your cause, you can get even more exposure for your good work by entering the 6th Annual DoGooder Nonprofit Video Awards. Presented by See3 Communications with support from Cisco, the Case Foundation and the Nonprofit Technology Network, the awards are "designed to recognize the creative and effective use of video to promote the work of the nonprofit sector in catalyzing social good."

Best of all, the awards are completely free to enter and open to any eligible nonprofit organization in the U.S., U.K, Canada, and Australia that created a video in 2011. The submission phase goes until February 29th, after which the public will have a chance to vote for the winning videos. Winning organizations will get their video on YouTube’s homepage on April 5th. To enter, visit the DoGooder Awards page on YouTube (click here).

Second, Nancy Schwartz, of the Getting Attention blog, has a new ebook for you: The 2012 Nonprofit Marketing Wisdom Guide. The guide is an easy to ready and reference compendium of advice from your peers on everything from branding, to email asks, to social media strategy, to media relations, and everything in between.

Last December, Nancy surveyed her newsletter subscribers and organized the responses by category into these 219 nuggets that are sure to help even the most seasoned professional. You can download your copy by visiting the Getting Attention website (click here).

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Boardroom Musical Chairs

At lunch with a group of consultants a couple of months back, we were lamenting the tendency of certain local organizations to fill their empty board seats by simply bringing on the termed-out board members of closely-linked organizations. In this scenario, as positions open up, a director will typically say, "What about so-and-so? I know her from board X." And so on, as our boards shuffle around in very small circles.

So, what's wrong with this? We recycle everything else, why not our boards of directors?

Yes, we get new members with experience serving on boards this way, but we never seem to question the depth or value of that experience. When we only recruit within our existing circles, we don't open up our boards to new ideas, new connections, and a broader range of experience.

Adding like-minded, friendly board members, who we already know, will never challenge us to consider different points-of-view, other ways of looking at the problems we face, or force us to take an honest look at our organization's practices.

Many people are drawn to serve on a nonprofit board of directors because of the social experience. We enjoy working with our friends on an issue that is close to our hearts and is important to our community. We feel it strengthens our friendships, and brings meaning to these pre-existing social relationships. And, indeed, boards of friends may be less likely to miss meetings, and might challenge members to work harder lest they lose face in front of their peers.

But there's also the very great danger of group-think. Amongst one's friends, one is less likely to speak out against a seeming popular decision. Peer pressure, and not wanting to seem out-of-step, makes yes-men and women of too many of us. The fear of harming the personal relationship makes us timid in our professional responsibilities.

Many organizations use web-based services like VolunteerMatch or BoardNetUSA to find new directors. Others advertise for board members the same as they'd do for any open staff position. Local board training and recruitment programs can often be found within chambers of commerce, community leadership programs, or nonprofit resource centers. Recently, I received an email from a national organization I belong to, asking for board nominations from among their entire membership.

So, what about your organization? Are you recycling board members within your circle of the usual suspects? Or are you actively developing new sources of recruitment? I'd love to have your comments below on where you are finding new blood for your board.