Sunday, August 31, 2008

Keeping One's Eye on the Prize

As I wrote earlier, this space has a new competitor for my attention. He's nine weeks old today, furry, feisty, and a mix of incredible joy and frustration (my black lab puppy, Dewey).

Yesterday, as I was on potty run #6582934, pulling him out of Daddy's flowers one more time, it occurred to me that my mission as Dewey's guardian is very much like a nonprofit's journey toward fulfilling its mission.

The process is a long one, and there are challenges of all sizes. Some are easy to address, some inspire us to try harder, others we simply hope to survive. Just when we think we have no more energy left to stick with it, we'll experience a breakthrough. It may not be a large one, but it's enough to confirm that our efforts are worthwhile.

In the end, I know that persistence and a focus on the end result -- in Dewey's case, a healthy, confident dog who will be a companion for the rest of his life -- is worth the trouble.

It may be on a different scale, but I've experienced that same assurance in nonprofit settings. The mission may feel impossible to attain, but it's important to always keep one's eye on our reason for being there: to work toward its fulfillment. Steps may feel tiny when compared to the larger prize we can see on the horizon. But they move us forward.

Little stumbles will happen. Occasionally, we'll take big steps backward. But in the long run, as long as we keep our purpose in front of us and work toward forward motion, we're in good shape.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Fundraising as War -- or Dance?

"Fundraising is War." The title of a recent PhilanthroMedia post caught my eye as my own board-related development experiences flashed before me.

As one of those board members who has always cringed at the "F" word, and a one-time development officer charged with supporting a fund-raising board, I'll admit that one early response was, "oh, yeah..."

But the reader counterpoint posed in the first comment was what caught my attention: "What if we said that fundraising is music or dance or something more uplifting than the ugliness of war?"

How different is the giving experience for everyone if we frame it in a more uplifting and inspiring way? How many of our boards see fund-raising as a grin-and-bear-it task that we 'had' to slog through to get to the good stuff? How would their approach, and their attitude, be different if they saw it as a privilege?

My old friend, Chuck Jerden, offered one of the best definitions of nonprofits that I've ever heard, one that has guided my teaching and work over the years. He said that nonprofits serve one of two purposes: their either change lives or save lives (If they're lucky, they accomplish both).

How does that simple and beautiful definition fit within the 'war' metaphor? How could it lead to a more inspiring and fruitful vision of our fund-raising responsibilities? How could it impact the outcomes of our development efforts?

As I think back to this year's Snowy Range Nonprofit Institute, and particularly the inspiring talks by representatives of two remarkable and visionary foundations, I can't help thinking of the opportunities to create beautiful partnerships with donors, finding that perfect match between donor and nonprofit missions. 'War' doesn't seem so fitting, as I think about the way they described the privilege of working to fulfill their donor's wishes. A far more appropriate and inspiring vision of that relationship, in my mind, is a lovely dance, one where partners move in harmony to create something new and fresh.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Costs of Nonprofit Board Management

Just how much of an investment do you make managing your nonprofit's board? A recent national survey by the Alliance for Nonprofit Management attempted to answer that question.

Survey results suggest that "the average nonprofit incurs more than $7,500 in staff time and expenses annually to manage the work of its board of directors." To say that that number surprised me is an understatement.

For a brief round-up of the survey highlights, click here. I'd be interested in your reaction to the evidence presented in this overview.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A Few New Board-Worthy Links

Between wrapping up SRNI 2008, completing the Susan G. Komen Wyoming Race for the Cure, conducting dissertation interviews, and preparing for the arrival of our new puppy, I've felt a bit challenged to keep up my responsibilities here lately.

While I haven't been writing about boards in the last two weeks, I've certainly been thinking about them. A large part of that focus comes from a full week of board member interviews for my dissertation research (on board learning). Sharing details is not possible, though I hope to be able to offer some lessons learned for other boards by the end of this long journey.

Besides moving that major project forward in a big way this week, I've discovered several new online resources that local nonprofit board members may find useful. If you haven't visited my bookmarks page (click here to access) recently, you'll find links to many of those new tools. Today, I'd like to point out a couple that may be most interesting:

The online library for the Center for Community-Based and Nonprofit Organizations at Austin Community College. They have cataloged a diverse array of resources on a range of nonprofit management and leadership issues, including governance topics. I occasionally reach the point where I feel like I've seen and read it all on the topic, but I was pleasantly surprised to find several links to resources that were new to me.

Governance Matters is another great portal that offers a rich array of treasures. Click on the "resources" tab and follow the links to a host of resources you may find interesting. One that caught my eye -- and stimulated some thought -- was a piece titled "Deadwood or Just Dormant? A Guide to Stimulating Board Engagement." Since engagement is a perpetual concern, I appreciated their perspective on this critical topic.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

SRNI keynote speaker shares resources

Dan Condon, keynote speaker for SRNI 2008, launched the core learning experience with a terrific exploration on multigenerational nonprofit leadership and workforce challenges. He's shared three of his key resources on his blog, found here.

What a great start to the core learning experience of this year's institute! We were fortunate to have Dan present the practicum, on collaboration, last year -- and even luckier that he was available and willing to present this year's keynote.

A direct link to his blog is here. I've subscribed to it and trust that it will become a valued resource in the weeks and months to come. For more information on the remarkable school where he works -- and changes young lives -- click here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

New Snowy Range Nonprofit Institute blog

We've just wrapped up a successful 2008 Snowy Range Nonprofit Institute, held at the Hilton Garden Inn in Laramie. I hope to be able to share a few highlights here in the next few days.

In the meantime, I'm pleased to offer a link to the new, more user-friendly SRNI blog. To access that new resource, click here.