Category Archives: Unicorns

25 things awesome board members do

beyond-1157000_960_720Hi everyone. A colleague asked me to write about what board members can do to be helpful to staff. Nonprofit board members are critical to the success of organizations. We rely on y’all for so many important things and are deeply grateful for all the time, skills, connections, and resources you give, especially considering that the majority of board members are volunteers.

However, boards are also the direct cause of 39% of brain aneurysms in the sector, according to statistics that I made up. So I asked the NWB Facebook community to help develop a list of what awesome board members do. This is not a list of board roles and responsibilities, which you can google, or find at BoardSource, but actual, down-to-earth, sometimes seemingly minor stuff. One colleague writes this of one of her board members:

When your fundraiser is on the same night as an ice storm, he personally salts the sidewalks and parking lot. Then when all the salt runs out he goes to the gas station down the road and buys more salt to finish the job. He also demands car keys from me and coworker at the end of the night to defrost and scrape our car windows. And somehow in the midst of all that he also pays several hundreds of dollars on an auction item and poses for tons of pictures with the kids. #oneofthebest Continue reading

Dude, what’s with this notion that nonprofits don’t have clear outcomes?

hedgehog-468228_960_720 Hi everyone, this post will likely be my last coherent one for a while, because my second baby is due to arrive next Tuesday, March 15th (Eeeeeeek!) I plan to keep up with my weekly writing schedule, because I have my priorities. But that means the next 20 posts or so will reflect the hallucinogenic, meandering thoughts of a sleep-deprived father of a toddler and a newborn. Grammar and spelling may be questionable, and there will probably be a lot of baby-related analogies, such as “Restricting funding is like using duct tape as a diaper; sure, it makes you feel clever, but—OMG, please please just go to sleep, Daddy is so tired!”

For some wacky reason that I can’t comprehend, there seems to be this pervasive notion that nonprofits don’t have clear outcomes. In the past few months, I’ve heard this several times in various places. At a leadership seminar last June, for example, a colleague from the business sector said, “Nonprofits are just so squishy on outcomes.” I think squishy was her exact word. Or maybe slippery. Or fishy? Whatever, it was not complimentary. I got so annoyed I had to look at several pictures of baby animals on my phone to calm down.
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10 classic movies that could have been about nonprofit work


humphrey-bogart-619157_960_720Despite the awesomeness and complexity of our work, and the fact that we employ 10% of the work force, and the fact that independent studies that I have commissioned found that we have the most attractive professionals among all the sectors, nonprofit is still neglected by the media and society at large. 
I’ve written about the need for more TV shows about our sector. And now, we need to push for more movies. Imagine how much more awesome some of our classic movies would have been, if they had been about nonprofit. Here are some of my ideas, along with potential quotes. #nonprofitmovielines. Go make that trend on Twitter, like you did with #nonprofitpickuplines.

A Few Good Donors: An up-and-coming Development Director tries to convince her ED to change their org’s fundraising strategies, in the process encountering resistance and a complex conspiracy involving budgets, CRMs, the board, and strategic planning. “You want answers? You want the truth?! An effective donor cultivation strategy takes time and resources!”

The Shawshank Restriction: Andy, a new Program Director learns too late that the organization that just hired him had gotten trapped by a burdensome and restrictive multi-year federal grant. The terrifying realities of restricted funding are explored as Andy works to save the remainder of his program and his sanity, using his skills and intelligence to gain the trust of his jaded colleagues and extract the program and organization out of the dilemma. “Get busy living, or get busy dying. Or somewhere in between: just lots of paperwork.” Continue reading

15 lessons for the nonprofit sector we learned in 2015

fireworks-728412_960_720Hi everyone, I hope you are having a restful and much-deserved break and are reading this in bed while sipping on a nice single-serving box of red wine, like I like to do on the weekends. Next week, the new year starts, and I am excited. Personally, because my new baby boy arrives in March, and I’m looking forward to meeting him. He will be named Equity and get all his older brother’s used clothing. As soon as he can hold his head up, his training to be a nonprofit warrior will start, just like for his brother, who at 2 years old can put sticky dots on easel paper at community forums.

2016 will be a game-changing year for our sector, I just know it. From my conversations with readers and colleagues, there is a hunger for us all to do things differently, to examine complex issues, to talk honestly about challenges, to express our needs assertively and push back against the forces that prevent us from doing our work. There are long-held philosophies and beliefs, among ourselves as well as within society, that we must unravel, and there are several critical polarities we must shift. NWB will continue to bring up these conversations, this time with more urgency, more attitude, more moxie—whatever that is—, and possibly…more merchandising. (Be on the lookout for NWB T-shirts and mugs, and, if I can swing it, severed stuffed unicorn heads you can send as warnings to under-performing colleagues and board members, Godfather-style).

But first, we need to close 2015 by reflecting on the lessons we learned. Below are a few of the many I gathered, frequently the hard way, as well as some shared with me by the talented and very good-looking members of the NWB community. Some of these we’ve talked about before, and some I’ll elaborate more on in the coming year. Jot down your thoughts and lessons learned in the comment section: Continue reading

Hey, you want nonprofits to act more like businesses? Then treat us like businesses

bitmoji-20151213223903A couple of months ago I was at a conference, and during lunch the keynote speaker got up and paced the stage and mentioned several times about how we nonprofits need to be more like for-profits. Despite the two drinks I had had that morning—stop judging; it was a Saturday—I found myself getting more and more irritated. This happens over and over. Seriously, if I hear one more person blather on and on about how we primitive, inept do-gooders should learn from our sophisticated siblings from the business sector and get into earned-income and blah blah, I’m going to roll my eyes so hard that they will pop out of my head, and then I will have to find them to put them back in my eye sockets but I won’t be able to see so I will have to feel around on the floor to find them while freaked-out passers-by scream all around me.

Our nonprofit sector has an identity issue, and I think we should resolve this if we are going to reach our potential. Are we nonprofits businesses, or are we something else entirely? I’ve talked to lots of nonprofit leaders who are proud of their work and who say, “Nonprofit businesses are businesses! But instead of making money for our stockholders, we create dividends in benefits to the community!”

But lately, I’ve started wondering if perpetuating this philosophy is actually harming us. Ideally, yes, we are businesses, and we should be accorded the same level of respect. But the frustrating reality is that we are judged as businesses without given the rights and resources to fully operate as businesses. If funders and donors and society want us to be like businesses, then fine, but we also need the following:   Continue reading