The Departed

So what should a nonprofit board do when high-ranking staff members leave the organization?

This may sound radical, but shouldn’t the board try to figure out why these staff members left?

A few years ago a friend of mine found himself in an awful work situation. He was the development director of a nonprofit with an iconic and charismatic founding CEO. The organization had the reputation of being a highly effective operation. But my friend described an utterly chaotic and dispiriting workplace. The CEO insisted on signing off on each and every decision and piece of correspondence. Then, contradictorily enough, he would disappear for days at a time, even a week or two, without warning.
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Donor-Advised Funds: By the Numbers

Last week I participated in a terrific debate about donor-advised funds with my good friend Stuart Comstock-Gay, the president of the Vermont Community Foundation. (Thank you, Planned Giving Council of New Hampshire and Vermont, for inviting us!)

Stu and I found a lot of common ground, as well as several areas where we cordially agreed to disagree. Stu made the case for donor-advised funds, saying that their flexibility and low entry point encourage charitable giving and democratize philanthropy — private foundations for the average person. He also emphasized their efficiency. I brought out my concerns (familiar to readers of this column) that donor-advised funds were attracting money that otherwise would be going to actual charities. I also pointed out that money goes into donor-advised funds more readily than it comes out, and I described the unethical financial incentives that are driving the growth at commercial gift funds such as Fidelity.

In preparing for the debate I came up with some numbers that I think illustrate the challenges posed by donor-advised funds. (Because we were meeting right across the river from Dartmouth College, by far the largest fundraising operation in Northern New England, I make references to Dartmouth in a few places.)

The numbers:

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Cheap Easels

If you want to understand the nonprofit world’s approach to spending money, take a look at their easels.

Every small nonprofit owns metal easels. They use these easels a dozen times a year to hold big newsprint pads for strategic planning retreats, staff meetings, and board presentations, and to hold up posters at public events. Virtually every organization has a metal easel or two stuck in closets and car trunks and basements. Even in an era of PowerPoint presentations and digital projectors (not to mention white boards), nonprofits continue to own and use easels. For some reason, easels are a tough habit to break.

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