Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's List of Resolutions for Nonprofits

As 2014 is upon us. I thought I would review what I wrote in 2013 to form the basis of a  resolutions list for nonprofit leaders. It might even encourage you to return to my blogs in case you missed some, all of which can be accessed in the blog archive on this page.

I resolve to: look on fundraising  as an organization-wide  team effort not just solely the responsibility of the director of development. In my post of January 24, 2013 "Oh-Oh...disturbing stats about nonprofits fundraisers" I cited a nationwide study that showed  difficulty in filling senior development positions and widespread dissatisfaction among chief fundraisers about their jobs and even careers. I suggested that one reason for the unhappiness is that too often an organization will assume the responsibility of raising money rests just with the development department. I urged a team approach - staff and board - in an effort to create an institutional culture conducive to philanthropy, about which the philanthropist Eli Broad said: "it is not charity, Charity is writing checks. Philanthropy is an investment where you can see return."

I resolve to; examine closely the purpose and design of any new program, building or otherwise,  to be sure it fits into the architecture and mission of the organization, including the program's sustainability, before embarkation.  The post of February 28. 2013 was entitled "Nonprofits - Get With The Program!' and cited personal experience about what became a successful building project in Richmond VA. There are far too many examples of projects/programs undertaken because of a promised gift or a "now that's a great idea" consensus and later to have either foundered or ultimately done damage to the institution. The old adage of looking before you leap still makes sense.

I resolve to: question the purpose of any meeting before calling or attending it. My post of April 2, 2013 "Join the Meeting Revolution"  addressed the growing widespread unhappiness in every kind of business  regarding what is called meeting glut. I enjoyed a cartoon in a recent New Yorker magazine  (12/23) that showed a number of people seated in a semicircle in a room, where one pipes up and  says: "Refresh my memory -why do we meet once a week?"  Everybody's time is a scarce commodity and should not be squandered needlessly. I suggested some techniques to make meetings, should they be necessary, more efficient and productive.

I resolve to: respect the value of board members' knowledge and experience, not just their bank accounts. The blog of June 13  "Mr. X's Dilemma - Stay or Go on a Nonprofit Board?" described a case where a prominent retired executive, new to a board, at his first meeting asked a probing question about governance and was in a later phone chided by the board chair and told to back off in future meetings.  He wasn't sure he should continue to serve on a board where right out of the gate its leadership sought  to stifle him. The piece received a good deal of comment including one I published  in full on July 9 "Riveting Response to my Mr. X Post..."  My correspondent wrote in detail his experience serving on several  boards where he found his knowledge and insight was valued by leadership almost in direct proportion to the degree of his financial support. He called this "the Sugar Daddy theory of nonprofit governance."  His provocative comments are well worth your review.

I resolve to: husband my organizations' financial resources. This would seem to be obvious but in my post of October 4, 2013 entitled "Shutdowns" I wrote about the sad case of New York City' Opera's bankruptcy. One reason for its demise according to James Stewart in The New York Times was both the mismanagement  of its financial  investments and at the same time  major invasions of its endowment. The figures are astonishing. In 2001 the endowment was $51.6 million; in June 2013 the market value was just $5.2 million. In the May 10 post "the Corcoran Conundrum - Woes of a Great Art Museum" I described how management (board and staff) blunders over the years had sapped the museum's resources to the point that the board in 2012 had actually considered selling its iconic downtown D.C Beaux Arts building home. Apparently the situation at the museum has become, if not completely resolved, at least calmer. The New York City Opera however is kaput, the shards of its busted piggy bank laying at its feet.

The above list is selfishly incomplete. I am sure you have your own New Year's resolutions. With them I urge consistent application (me too!). If you belong to a gym or health club you have seen  the phenomenon where in January the place is packed - then the  numbers diminish as the weeks go by. Managing and governing a nonprofit is one of the most difficult of all business enterprises. Stay the course. May you have organizational success and personal fulfillment in 2014.