Building the Right Board — Or Not

Do you want to build a great board of directors for your nonprofit? Sure! But it’s harder than it looks.

Even if you recruit terrific people, which of course is not easy, that’s no guarantee that you’ll have a high-functioning board. A lot of boards turn out to be less than the sum of the parts.

There are many possible reasons for board underperformance, but one may be that your organization has recruited the wrong combination of individuals. Here are three traps well-intentioned nonprofits fall into in their board recruitment. Continue reading

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The Greatest Philanthropist You’ve Never Heard Of

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Julius Rosenwald isn’t much remembered today, but eighty years ago he was considered one of the “big three” of American philanthropy, along with John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. It’s a shame that Rosenwald is largely forgotten. He was a remarkable guy, and his approach to philanthropy is worth commemorating and emulating.

Julius Rosenwald was the president and chair of Sears, Roebuck and Co. in the early part of the twentieth century. Today we think of Sears as an aging big box retailer, but a hundred years ago Sears was the Amazon.com of its time, perfecting the new concept of mail order commerce. Customers – most living in rural areas – could find just about anything they could imagine in the 1,000-page Sears, Roebuck catalog, from wheelbarrows to night gowns to pre-fabricated homes, all at prices that undercut local retailers. Rosenwald was, by most accounts, a remarkably down-to-earth and unpretentious man. And he was also an extremely wealthy man. Continue reading

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Think Before You Endow

I was recently asked at a public forum why I don’t like endowments. I answered: “It’s not so much that I don’t like endowments. It’s that nonprofits and their donors like endowments too much.”

Endowments have become the default destination for major gifts and bequests. If someone dies and leaves an organization a lot of money, the odds are good that the bequest will come with instructions to create an endowment in the name of the deceased. If a nonprofit launches a major campaign, there is inevitably a significant endowment component. As I’ve said before, endowments feel good. Endowments connote a certain sense of immortality. And endowments seem like a prudent investment. But do endowments, paying out 4% or so of their assets a year, have all that much impact? Or are there better ways to direct the donors’ generosity? Continue reading

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