All posts by Alan Cantor

No Sale

Contributing to charity is a unique transaction in our society: people give money and receive nothing tangible in return.

I think of this when individuals who have spent their careers in the for-profit world draw comparisons between the business and nonprofit realms. They tend to urge nonprofits to run themselves like a business. In applying lessons from their world to the nonprofit sector, these well-intentioned businesspeople often miss a few critical points. Continue reading

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Collateral Damage

People keep asking me: How is the current political upheaval going to affect nonprofits?

My first answer: I don’t really know. We’re in unprecedented political times. Who really can predict what will happen?

My second answer: That said, indications are that the next few years are going to be bad for charity. Continue reading

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Sidewalks, Snow, and Democracy

You can learn a lot about people and communities by how they clear their sidewalks. And I think there may be a lesson in there for those of us trying to understand the political strife that’s tearing apart the nation.

I should pause to explain for readers who live in more temperate climes that for those of us who deal with northern winters, the subject of clearing snow from streets and sidewalks is a major preoccupation. It gives us something to chat about during the six or seven hours of daylight we enjoy in the depths of winter.

When it comes to streets, roads, and highways, snow clearing is, strictly speaking, a spectator sport. We’re dependent on crews from state and local government to take care of us. That doesn’t mean we don’t have opinions – we certainly do! The road crews inevitably use too much salt, too little salt, or not enough sand; they get their trucks out too late, pay too much overtime, stubbornly avoid paying overtime, save certain neighborhoods for last, or are careless (even malicious) in blocking in parked cars. Yes, our plow crews and road agents get criticized for everything short of the snow storm itself. But at least we know enough to leave the street clearing to the professionals.

It’s different for clearing sidewalks. There, it’s up to us. And different people approach the responsibility in very different ways, sometimes because of attitude, and sometimes because of capacity. Continue reading

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Navigating the Evaluators

I recently gave a keynote address for a conference of nonprofit leaders in Oregon. At one point, I asked people to raise their hands if they thought that the evaluation methodology of Charity Navigator, the country’s most popular nonprofit rating system, had validity. Nobody moved a muscle.

Then I asked: “So for those of you whose organization has received a top 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, raise your hand if you placed that rating on the home page of your website.” Dozens of hands reluctantly rose, accompanied by embarrassed laughter.

That moment crystalized both the charitable sector’s lack of respect for nonprofit evaluators, and its recognition of the evaluators’ influence. Continue reading

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