Dear Blue Avocado: We have 18 board members, but we are wondering if we should try to keep such a large board.
At our upcoming board and senior staff retreat we will be discussing what size our board should be to be most effective. Help!!
By the way, we share credit with you for our great success in recruiting six new dynamic board members using your "Blue Ribbon Committee" method outlined at a session you led at a California Wellness conference a couple of years ago. Thank you! Signed, Nina Dooley, LINC Housing, Long Beach, California
Dear Nina and LINC Housing: You've hit upon the single most common question asked of experts on nonprofit boards: What's the right number of people to have on the board?
We're tempted to answer: "17. That's the average board size in the United States so it must be right."
There are more people with cell phones than people who use Twitter . . . so then, why is there so much more nonprofit talk about Twitter than about reaching constituents and donors through their cell phones?
We talked with a non-neutral Doug Plank of MobileCause to learn more about the benefits of using cell phones to reach people. MobileCause provides services that make it easier for nonprofits to use mobile phones.
Q: Why should nonprofits read this article about cell phones, anyway?
A: People are connecting with you through their mobile phone whether you know it or not: 40% of people will experience your website for the first time through their phone, and 30% of all American adults read their email on their phones.
But we don't have anyone's mobile phone numbers! And they'll be mad if we call them!
First, you are not going to phone them. You are going to communicate with them by text. You are going to poll them, give them information that they've asked for, and thank them by text. And sometimes you will ask them to volunteer and give by text.
Probably the most important thing you can be doing now is building . . .
Each year, hundreds of thousands of court-ordered community service workers are placed in nonprofits to fulfill their sentences. Although the image is typically one of a teenager sentenced to picking up litter, court-ordered volunteers perform a wide variety of roles in nonprofits. The very smart Susan Ellis discusses why and why not to accept such volunteers, and how to do it right.
Scene 1: You've just been caught embezzling from the auto body shop where you work as a bookkeeper. You're dreading having to do jail time, but it's your first offense, so maybe they'll go easy on you. Your attorney surprises you by suggesting that you ask the judge to sentence you to 500 hours of community service instead of 10 days in the county jail. Should you do it?
Scene 2: A finance director at a nonprofit that helps low-income women get jobs, gets a call from the volunteer center. The pitch: you'll get a volunteer, former-embezzler bookkeeper for 500 hours, no pay required, but you'll have to complete paperwork every week for her probation officer. Should you say yes?
(See the end of the article for the true-life answer.)
For the last 30 years, courts have experimented with "alternative sentencing." An offender is given the option of completing a set number of hours of unpaid work in a nonprofit organization in lieu of a fine or spending time in prison, or as an adjunct to probation or parole.
Courts like alternative sentencing because it can reduce the costs of . . .
Q: Help, we have a wonderful staff member who is involved in a domestic violence situation and her boyfriend has threatened to come to our office to harm her . . . what should our nonprofit do to protect her and the other staff?
With one in four women in the United States experiencing domestic violence during their lifetimes (reference), this situation may arise at some point for many nonprofits. It's good that you are paying attention before an incident occurs. As just one example of what can happen, just last month three employees were killed in a workplace shooting in Albuquerque that was sparked by a domestic dispute.
Before we get to steps you should take immediately, let's start by defining domestic violence in the workplace: "violent behavior perpetrated against an employee while the person is working or . . .
Wouldn't it be great if there were an objective rating system so that donors could choose the best nonprofits to donate to just as investors use rating agencies to pick the best companies to invest in? Don't answer; it's a rhetorical question. Here's what you need to know about some of the best-known charity rating organizations:
In this Part I of a two-part article, we take a fast look at six charity raters -- Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, Better Business Bureau, GuideStar, Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) and Great Nonprofits -- and who they rate and the criteria they use to rate them. In Part II in our next issue, we'll cover what you should do to manage your nonprofit's ratings, and what we should do collectively as the nonprofit community.
1. Charity Navigatoris the heavyweight: the best known and the most often quoted. As a result, they are influential beyond just how they rate individual nonprofits.
Who they rate: About 6,000 of the largest U.S. 501(c)(3) nonprofits with revenue of more than $1 million including public support of more than $500,000
Has "Create an Accounting Procedures Manual" been on your To Do list for several months now? For several years? You aren't alone. We often stumble on this task for two, curiously contradictory reasons:
Creating an Accounting Procedures Manual seems like too huge a task to get started on.
An Accounting Procedures Manual is one of those things that takes a year and an hour to do.
So here's a template. Download the Word document, and everything you need to fill is in in red. So you can probably do a draft of the whole thing in 30 minutes.
Click here to download the Accounting Procedures Manual Template in Word.
Deborah Connors is the Chief Financial Officer of the California Association of Nonprofits and its for-profit subsidiary, CalNonprofits Insurance Services, and has worked in the nonprofit sector for the past 26 years. Her personal dream on the topic of accounting manuals is to create a "manual to account for" her teenage nephews' thought processes.
We in nonprofits are good at taking on myths and sacred cows. But perhaps the least examined of these myths is the one about "going to scale." This OpEd takes a closer but brief look at the conventional wisdom in this area:
Myth #1: Nonprofits don't go to scale (get a lot bigger) because they lack the vision or the ambition
The reality here is that the dominant capital markets for nonprofits -- government and foundations -- actively work against nonprofit growth.
Regarding foundations, the common funding policy of "one smallish grant per organization per year" means increased volume doesn't lead to larger foundation grants. In fact, when nonprofits grow, many foundations become less interested in them. A commonly stated reason is "we want to feel where our size grant can really make a difference" . . . which often translates to: "we feel better funding organizations where we are one of their most important funders."
Government -- overall the biggest funder of nonprofits -- is not only the biggest engine for growth but also the biggest barrier to growth. Most community nonprofits . . .
Martin Gorfinkel retired from the technology company he started and ran for 30 years. He is the legendary "retired and willing volunteer" but has run into roadblock after roadblock. We seldom hear from the would-be volunteer who never ended up volunteering; this is the voice of one such person, from whom there is much to learn (and a happy ending).
Trying to volunteer has been a disaster! Over the last five years I have made serious efforts to help at several organizations.
Exhibit A: A local hospital put out the word it was looking for men to help in...
Dear Rita: Our receptionist reeked of alcohol when she arrived at work today. This is not the first time this has happened, especially on a Monday morning. We have spoken to her several times and, as in the past, her supervisor took her aside and asked if she had been drinking. The receptionist denied she had any alcohol to drink that day, but said she had attended a party the night before where she had been drinking. Because she is the face of our organization, we cannot have clients checking in with an employee who so often appears to be "under the influence." What can we do about this situation, as she is not actually drinking on the job nor does it seem to affect her performance? -- Stumped and Frustrated
Dear Stumped and Frustrated: The first place to go is . . .
An old joke: How do you get to become a judge on the Supreme Court?
Answer: Be the college roommate of a future U.S. Senator.
In this article we don't address the pros and cons of foundation jobs, but simply how to go about getting one.
Many nonprofit folks like the idea of working at a foundation...and why not? Foundations jobs typically are easier, pay better, and have better benefits. And, as one person put it, "I'd like to try being the person being sucked up to instead of being the person doing the sucking up."
(We know foundation staff often work hard. We also know it's one thing to work until 10 pm prepping for the foundation trustee meeting and another to work until 10 pm trying desperately to keep a Sudanese mother from being deported away from her children, or writing a grant proposal, that if it's not funded, will mean you have to lay off two staff.)
Like many employers, how foundations say they hire is often different from how they actually go about the hiring process. When we interviewed foundation staff for this article, we asked two questions: a) what advice should we give to people seeking foundation jobs, and b) how did you get your job?
Most gave similar suggestions about how to get a foundation job, but almost none of them got their own jobs that way. For example, one program officer gave the usual advice about experience in the field, but she herself got her job by coming in as the foundation's human resources manager and was then transferred to grantmaking in a field where she had no prior experience.
Mostly, it seems, foundation program staff and executives get their jobs because of who they know, not necessarily what they know. But that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to get a program job if you want to make the leap from a community nonprofit and you’re not particularly well connected.
So, how do you get a job at a foundation?
1. Be related to the founding donor. You may have already made the strategic mistake of not having been born into the right family, or . . .
As Program Officer for Arts and Culture at the San Francisco Foundation, I and philanthropic colleagues often bemoaned how fragile many culturally specific organizations were. One person would wonder why there were so few financially stable African American arts organizations. Then a multi-voiced litany of woes would commence about how many Asian and Latino arts nonprofits were floundering in just as weak a state.
How was this possible in a community that has no "majority culture," that has had a Hotel Tax Fund giving decades of operating grants to culturally specific arts organizations, and a Cultural Equity Program since 1993 created to redress inequities in funding?
And sadly, at the national level, arts organizations from disenfranchised communities are no more stable. Few African American, Latino, or Asian theater companies founded in the 1970s are still in existence, or if they are alive, they do not appear to be as artistically vibrant . . .
In Part 1 of this two-article series, we discussed some of the ways in which strategic planning processes have served nonprofits poorly. One key reason is that strategic planning is the primary organizational change process that nonprofits know about, that boards are comfortable with, and that funders will fund. In this article we give some alternatives, in part because it's helpful just to have choices when facing organizational decisions.
Strategic planning -- when done appropriately for your organization -- can be exactly the right tool for the job. But too often strategic planning is undertaken for reasons that would be better served by other methods: "engaging" the board, "getting everyone on the same page," getting buy-in from stakeholders, and so forth. And sometimes when boards are unhappy with their executive director, the one thing they and their executive can agree to is to undertake strategic planning.
Different processes are better for different types of decisions and challenges. Here are some tips to strengthen any process well as some specific alternative planning processes.
Focus on the questions that need answers
Begin a planning process by asking this: What are the four or five questions to which we must have unambiguous answers by . . .
Not all nonprofit organizations need or have paid staff. But in those that do, a frequently thorny issue is that of direct contact between staff and board members:
Should board members have contact with staff independent of the executive director? For many executive directors, this issue raises blood pressure faster than almost any other (the other one is the board in executive session without them).
Opinion is sharply divided about whether and how other staff should interact with board members. Executive directors often feel that independent board-staff contact undermines their authority and creates the potential for staff to give misleading and undermining information to the board.
Board members want to respect the authority of their executive director, but they also know that . . .
We understand the reasoning that allows funding only for proven, evidence-based practices. But too often this requirement has become a club battering community nonprofits. Evaluator Clare Nolan explains how to do your best work in the evidence-based minefield:
Safer sex can be a life and death issue. And many nonprofits make safer sex education the centerpiece of their work. But how do they know whether what they're teaching is working - that lives are being saved?
A San Francisco Tenderloin neighborhood had a safer sex education program modeled after a "proven" intervention being promoted by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC). But their own expertise with their population led them to want to change the model. That's why they asked me to design a program evaluation -- to see if the model could be changed.
Their education approach was modeled after a "proven" intervention being promoted by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC). As part of my background research, I was surprised to learn that the intervention was first shown to be effective among a primarily gay white population in a small Southern city. Would this intervention really be successful at reducing HIV risk behaviors among residents of a diverse urban neighborhood struggling with poverty, homelessness and crime?
This situation reflects a broader trend in the nonprofit sector in which funders encourage and sometimes require nonprofits to use "evidence-based" practices and models. Evidence-based practices (EBPs) are strategies that have been shown through rigorous research to be effective. The premise sounds great. If there's strong evidence that something works, nonprofits should use it, right?
Not so fast. Models and practices with positive track records are a potentially
So many people hate telemarketing calls that there are whole websites devoted to ways to torment and infuriate the people making those calls. Are telemarketers evil fiends who should be despised and tortured whenever possible? We asked Blue Avocado readers for their experiences as the wretched creatures:
"I was a music teacher," said Gayle Holtman of Indianapolis, "and I needed something to do for the summer. I got this job in the basement [this is when the audience starts shouting: 'Don't go into the basement!'] and was given a stack of cards and told, 'Just call these people.' Says another former telemarketer: "One call changed my life: I called this guy and he talked to me a little bit and then got off the phone. I called a week later and he ordered two subscriptions and said, 'Anyone who can sell me over the phone I want to meet.' That's a pretty corny line, but I did go meet him, and he hired me to work at the Chamber of Commerce."
Worst situation for one reader: "I was telemarketing for . . .
Executive director Vu Le writes with verve and humor about that peculiar, nerve-wracking nonprofit ritual known as the foundation site visit:
This week, Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA) had a site visit: We're always telling people how cool our programs are, but to have funders actually come down and visit is affirming. And terrifying. It's a weird contradiction, like it’s your birthday -- yay! -- but you're also getting a colonoscopy.
Before a visit, we try to prep as much as we can. Making a good impression is important. This includes tidying up the place and putting away our fold-out cot, which staff use for naps during particularly long days -- and some weekends. I also gather up all the papers on my desk and shove them into the overhead bin.
The staff's personal appearance is also taken into consideration. The more funding is at stake, the better we dress:
< $10,000: we dress a little better than our usual shabby
$10,000 to $19,000: we wear button-down shirts and tuck them into our jeans
$20,000 to $49,000: we wear slacks and a nice shirt, maybe a tie
$50,000 or over: I might require some of the staff to get Botox
Tracking volunteer time: sounds like another chore? Actually it can help you meet match requirements, improve your financial statement presentations, and reduce liability. In this article, CPA Dennis Walsh of North Carolina explains why and how to include volunteer time in your budgets and financials:
An all-volunteer suicide hotline was having a hard time raising funds. Its total budget was $45,000, which paid for a small office, telephone lines, and advertising. It asked for operating support, overhead and other funds in its fundraising proposals. Unfortunately, many foundations and donors are allergic to those terms. But when the hotline added up the time its volunteers spent answering phones, attending trainings and . . .
Occasionally, a board member needs to be removed from the board. In some cases, a conflict of interest or unethical behavior may be grounds to remove an individual from the board. In other cases, the behavior of a board member may become so obstructive that the board is prevented from functioning effectively.
The best boards often have strongly felt disagreements and heated arguments. Challenging groupthink and arguing for an unpopular viewpoint are not grounds for getting rid of a board member. But if a board member consistently disrupts meetings or is otherwise destructive and demoralizing, it may be appropriate to consider removing the individual from the board:
1. Personal intervention
One-to-one intervention by the board president or other board leadership is a less formal solution to managing problem board members. If a board member has failed to attend several meetings in a row, or has become an impediment to the board's work, the board president can meet informally with the board member in question. In person or on the telephone, the board president can request a resignation. Examples:
"I respect your strong opinion that we have made the wrong decision about . . .