Tag Archives: nonprofit management

Do More

[This article was co-published on October 4, 2017, by the Maine Association of Nonprofits]

When I was a 27-year-old, freshly promoted, and utterly under-qualified executive director (back in 1985 we didn’t think to call ourselves “CEO” or “President”), I met with a man named Richard who had raised tens of millions of dollars in his nonprofit career. My goal in setting up the meeting was to pick Richard’s brain about nonprofit management in general, and fundraising in particular.

Richard must have been 45 at the time, which seemed venerable to me then. After a few minutes of getting to know one another, Richard, who was as friendly and welcoming as he was knowledgeable, asked me how often the board of my organization met. “Monthly!” I responded, thinking it was a pretty obvious and logical answer.

Richard scowled – well, no, he didn’t scowl, he was too polite for that, but he grimaced just enough to make his disagreement known. “I think that’s a problem,” he said. “Meet less. Do more!”

I think of Richard – and how right he was – nearly every week. Continue reading

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Never Can Say Good-bye

There’s an old proverb that it takes one person to throw a stone in a well, but ten to get it out.

I think the nonprofit equivalent is that it’s vastly easier to start a program than to end it.

Here’s what I mean. Let’s imagine a small community-based social services organization. It was founded twenty years ago to provide services for families with teen mothers. The agency focused in the early days on home visits and other support services by social workers and volunteers, designed to help ensure the babies’ safe and healthy development.

The organization gained a reputation for effectiveness, and soon there was encouragement from families, local government, and donors to create a childcare center for these and similar kids. So the organization built the childcare center and later expanded it. It became a well-respected and important community institution.

So far, so good. Then things got tricky. Continue reading

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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.
Continue reading

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The Guy on the Fifty Dollar Bill

Ulysses S. Grant had greatness in spades.

He was the victorious general in the Civil War – and perhaps the greatest military leader in American history. He was a popular two-term president during tumultuous times, and a generally effective and successful political leader. He was an outspoken and admirable defender of the civil rights of African Americans and American Indians – almost startlingly so, given the times. (He created the Department of Justice specifically to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments guaranteeing the civil and voting rights of the freed slaves.)

Grant was the author of what is generally considered the best-written memoir by any president in history, composed heroically as he was dying of cancer. And when he died, the country and particularly New York City ground to a halt to honor the fallen hero as his body was buried at the site of the soon-to-be-built Grant’s Tomb. The widespread reverence with which he was held can be shown by the fact that two of his pall bearers were former Confederate generals.

But Grant was not great at everything. Continue reading

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