Archive for the ‘Nonprofit Management’ Category

Nonprofit Conference Etiquette

February 26, 2010


Photo by Ann Douglas

Last week I attended the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits joint annual conference with the Minnesota Council of Foundations and had the opportunity to meet lots of new great nonprofit folk, in addition to presenting two sessions “Become Social Media Savvy” and “Evaluation 101: Focus Groups and Surveys“.

While at this conference a group of were hanging out chatting about donor meetings and who should be going (a whole other post), when a woman from nonprofit came up to us and started explaining what her nonprofit did. This was great because who doesn’t love to hear about what all the amazing nonprofits in their community do? Once she was done explaining, she continued on to ask us to give. When we politely declined, she went on to a group sitting next to us, gave the same speech, and asked them to give. After they declined, she left the area and I can only assume went to solicit more gifts.

Typically I never mind being asked for a donation because nonprofits need money to run. But, I think many conferences actually state in their rules not to mention it is against conference etiquette to solicit your colleagues at a nonprofit conference. I mean, didn’t she realize that pretty much everyone there worked for a nonprofit organization, and if they all decided to go around and solicit we would have had over 1,500 people asking for gifts? It would have been mayhem not to mention annoying, and would likely result in people not going. So, the next time you go to a nonprofit conference, remember that this is the “safe space” that all of us can come together to learn – not your opportunity to solicit your colleagues.

p.s. I will be posting more info from sessions from the conference, in addition to stuff from next week’s American Evaluation Conference. I will also be posting slides from my two sessions on my website on Monday.


A few great tips for worst-case scenarios

February 26, 2010

Photo by Florencia Guedes

In the recent issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy they had an interesting article and some great tips for worst-case scenarios. I thought I would summarize and share them here:

-Set priorities: Take a hard look at your programming. In these difficult times, make sure you are focusing on programs that specifically align with your organization’s mission. For programs that don’t or are not essential, scale back for now. You can always ramp up later when you have more funding.

-Forecast financial future: To aid in decision-making, make sure to create multiple scenarios for your budget (best, moderate and worst-case). Check out “Want to know how your nonprofit is doing financially?“for quick, easy ways to figure out how your nonprofit is doing financially.

-Identify “trip wires”: This will help you get the most bang for your buck and enable you several options to work through tight times. To do this, identify what certain reductions will get you. For example, if you have a 10% budget cut what happens? Will you have to cut a program or lay off a staff member? What about 20% or even 30%? Does that mean you have to lay off a leadership position? Knowing what these cuts will get you will help you plan for the worst-case scenario.

-Put specific people in charge of carrying out the plan: Please don’t do what many, many people do when they create a plan – read it once, and then promptly put it in a drawer where it gathers dust for a few years before you throw it away and do it all over again. Make sure that your plan for weathering the tough times is actually carried out. Assign specific people to carry out the plan.

-Don’t expect miracles: Small changes won’t save your organization overnight. It takes time, patience, and hard work to get through the tough times.

Social Media Behavior Guidelines for Nonprofit Staff?

February 26, 2010

Photo by Intersection Consulting

I was recently asked by @NCIBrooke whether I have a sample social media/online behavior guidelines or example policy. While I do not have a sample policy, here are a couple tips for nonprofits that want to create a policy for employee social media use:

  • Have separate staff and organizational accounts. Your staff should not be tweeting things like “getting coffee” or “watching Boondock Saints” under the “Girl Scouts” twitter name. The best way to do this is to tell your staff that the organizational account on facebook, twitter, etc is for organization-related information only.
  • Do not have a policy that says your staff can’t use social media. I have had some orgs ask me recently whether they should tell their staff they can’t have twitter accounts. Not only does this restrict their free speech, but they may just make one anyways and tweet about negative things about you.
  • Do have a discussion about what is and is not appropriate for your staff write about via social media. For example, do you really want your Development Director tweeting that she just met with Jane Doe big donor who might give $50,000? This doesn’t have to be a set policy – it is pretty much common sense. If someone wonders whether to write about, don’t. Remember, often perception is more important than reality.

For further information, tips, advice and sample policies from around the web, click here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Eliminating a program: what not to do

February 26, 2010

Photo by neys

An organization that I am familiar with has been dealing with pretty difficult times financially for the past five years or so. Years of operating at a deficit without cutting back on anything have finally caught up with this organization, and they recently cut a popular, but underfunded program. In difficult times, many organizations have had to make similar decisions, but in this organization’s case they did several things wrong. I decided to use them as an example of what not to do when your organization decides to cut a program:

1. Plan ahead and plan wisely
A decision to end a program should be well-planned. It should have taken a lot of thought, and careful preparation- particularly when there are donors in the community that are strong supporters of the program. It also should include discussions with prominent supporters of the program. There should be a transition plan that includes an end of program summary that discusses and highlights what the program has accomplished while it was in existence.
and don’t eliminate a program a week before a site visit – while that grant may not be enough to run the program for a year, it may be enough to keep it going for a few months which buys more time to find additional funding.

2. Involve program staff
Make sure to involve program staff in this decision. Many times they can work with you to prevent the elimination of a program by reducing their hours, fundraising, etc. In this organization’s case, the staff offered to work reduced hours to keep the program going, and that offer was accepted with a promise that the reduced salary would keep the program going at least a few more months. They had even discussed a transition plan if no new funding was found that would include an end of program summary, but before the two months were up the staff were laid off with zero notice. The staff still offered to write up an end of program summary, but that offer was declined! When ending a program, I think it is extremely important to work with that program’s staff to do everything possible to keep it going, but if no funding can be found then the staff are extremely important allies in ensuring that the decision is communicated accurately and the program comes to a smooth end.

3. Communicate the decision effectively
The communication should be one of the most important aspects of the process to eliminate a program. Not only does communication need to go out to your volunteers and staff, but your funders need to be told as well – particularly ones that have given your organization general operating grants or program specific grants for that program. If those grants included the eliminated program, those funders need to know, and should be (if possible) involved in the decision. Also, don’t leave the program up on your website so it appears at first glance like your organization still has the program.

4. Don’t make it personal
This is about the program – not the staff. Don’t make this decision be about the staff and don’t burn important bridges. A few other strange things that happened with this organization, were that the laid off staff were removed from all e-mail newsletters and general public communication (even though the laid off staff are current donors) and they were not included on the email that announced the elimination of the program (and recipients of the email were told not to forward it to the laid off staff) – strange huh? While laid off staff are no longer employees, they probably have given a lot of time and money over the years, plus they probably brought your organization many new supporters. Respect them and their commitment.

Hopefully your organization never finds itself in such a position, but if you do, I hope this example helps show you what not to do.

Organizational Conflict: New Executive Director = Unhappy Employees

February 26, 2010

Photo by deovolenti

Back a couple years ago I was working with an organization that had lost its long-time Executive Director. So, they conducted a search, found a new ED and everyone lived happily ever after.

Not quite so fast…when the new ED started, she seemed great. Everyone got along with her, and she seemed to truly care about the organization. That is until she told a homosexual employee that she thought homosexuality was wrong. And she started not showing up at meetings. Oh, and she started talking about employees with other employees. She also starting talking about changing the focus of some programs, and eliminating others because her personal morals/viewpoints didn’t jive with those program’s focuses. There were so many other issues, I honestly cannot list them all here.

Did I mention this was a tiny organization (staff of 8) and were all friends? Well, needless to say a couple short months after she started the staff were unhappy. Don’t get me wrong, this was obviously not a case new boss-itis. The fundamental problem was that the organization and the Board did not have a clear process for how to deal with this. When one employee went to the Executive Director with her complaints, and later the Board, the Executive Director tried to fire her. When the Executive Director heard another employee went to the Board, she did fire her. The situation got completely out of hand.

Eventually, after the remaining employees had issued numerous complaints to the board (and another employee was fired because she also said something about the ED), the board finally let the ED go. This could have all been resolved if the Board had been more welcoming and discreet about employees coming to them with complaints (they actually told employees they had to tell the ED first about their complaints per the “policy”). This is why it is important to have policies surrounding non-retaliation, whistleblowers, and complaint processes.

Moral of the story: Have a clear policy for complaints against supervisors, and Executive Directors. Here, here, and here are a few to get you started.

Organizational Conflict: Blurring the lines between Board Chair & Executive Director

February 26, 2010

Photo by Shyald

I once worked with a nonprofit organization that had some conflict between the Board Chair and Executive Director (ED). The main issue dealt with who should be doing what (defining roles), and founders syndrome. Never heard of founder’s syndrome? Click here and here.

The problem was that the organization had been an all-volunteer organization with a very active board for decades. The organization had grown, and had hired an Executive Director. Unfortunately, the organization didn’t really plan well for defining roles and transitioning from all-volunteer to having paid staff. The result was tension and conflict between the Board Chair and Executive Director about who has the authority to be doing what. Some of the specific questions that came up were:

  • Who should be the media spokesperson?

In most cases, it should always be the Executive Director. Now, that doesn’t mean the Board Chair can’t be trained on how to respond to things, but if there is one person invited to interview about the organization, that person should be the Executive Director. I view the Executive Director’s role as being the face of the organization.

  • Who should be in charge of the finances/who should have the final decision making power?

When you have just one paid staff member, deciding who should be in charge of finances isn’t as cut and dry as with large organizations. Still, the Executive Director should have the final say. For example, with the nonprofit I was working with, there was an independent contractor that was well-liked by the board. The contractor was let go by the ED, and the contractor held the organization’s property hostage demanding a severance check – crazy huh? Well, the ED said not only would they not give the contractor a severance check, but they wouldn’t give them their final check until the property was returned (makes sense right?). Well, the Board Chair overrode the ED’s decision and gave the contractor their check – before they had returned the property – without telling the ED. This is a great example of what Board Chairs should not do. The Board does have the ultimate fiscal responsibility – but the staff is responsible for the day to day finances and related decisions.

  • Who puts together the agenda for board meetings?

Technically, it is the Board Chair’s job to put together an agenda. Although, most organizations rely on their staff to do the agenda. This was totally depends on the organization, and the board.

  • If the Executive Director is salaried, should they have to keep track of their time and tasks in a timesheet (actually write 4-5pm: called donors) for every hour of every week?

No! Please, please don’t make your staff do this. This organization did, and it created a lot of resentment between the Board Chair and the Executive Director. Please trust your staff to get their work done. In my opinion, I think all organizations should move closer towards a R.O.W.E. sort of work place.

These are just a few of the many issues that came up with this organization’s transition. If you have your own questions, please post them in comments and I will do my best to answer them. Or if you organization does these things differently, please share!

Guest Post: Sweat the Fundamentals

February 26, 2010

Photo by Catie Kaoe

Thank you to Rich Cowles, Executive Director at the Charities Review Council for providing this week’s guest post!
Sweat the Fundamentals

When you read or hear about an organization in an embarrassing situation, it generally stems from inattention to seemingly small stuff. A couple of examples:

-A respected human service organization sent a year-end fundraising appeal with an emotional message that included this line: “While you will be receiving many appeals for funds this time of year, this one is the most important.” While the message was heartfelt, it likely turned off some of the organization’s supporters who may not have shared the same pecking order of importance. The nonprofit forgot a basic tenet of ethical fundraising–tell your story but don’t cross the line toward manipulation. Honor the voluntary nature of giving, and leave the decision to the donor.

-A successful, large nonprofit that had taken pains to demonstrate accountability–including putting its conflict of interest policy on its Website–found itself in newspapers uncomfortably explaining why it had bought property from a relative of a board member who participated in the discussion and vote. No one had remembered to invoke their conflict of interest policy.

The Charities Review Council has a number of model policies that can be tailored to your use, including a conflict of interest policy that can help keep it alive. It requires annual disclosure of potential conflicts by all board and key staff. Sweating the small stuff can keep you out of an uncomfortable spotlight that threatens to undo all the good work you’ve done to be transparent and accountable.

Nonprofit Irony

February 26, 2010

Photo by Carbon NYC

Nonprofit organizations should do their best to avoid embarrassing and hypocritical situations. I recently heard about a nonprofit organization that focuses on women’s issues and women’s rights, yet it has no paid parental leave for its staff. Many have also read or heard about ACORN, which works to get better wages for the poor, yet doesn’t want to pay its own employees minimum wage. ACORN has justified this by saying “A person paid limited sums of money will be in a better position to empathize with and relate to the low and moderate membership and constituency of ACORN.” These are just two examples of the irony we see in some nonprofit organizations.

These sorts of issues are very important because to the public, it conveys a mixed message. For example, if your organization is an environmental nonprofit, yet you don’t use recycled paper, how can you expect others to do so? Same thing goes for a GLBT nonprofit that doesn’t provide domestic partner benefits. This can also relate to board members and fundraising- how can you ask others to give to your organization, when you yourself are not a donor? Nonprofit organizations should make sure that they are living their mission in their everyday work.

Having interns, paid or unpaid, is complicated.

February 26, 2010

Photo by International Rivers

The NonProfit Times recently featured an article titled “The Cost Of Unpaid Interns-How to navigate the wage and hour law maze“, which looked at the issue of unpaid interns and whether it is legal for nonprofit organizations to have interns that are not compensated for their work.

It mainly comes down to whether the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) are applicable to your organization. Determining this can be complicated, and it in part deals with whether the intern could be considered a “trainee” which means the FLSA doesn’t apply to them and they do not need to be paid. The article lists a six-part test to determine whether your unpaid intern could be considered a “trainee”, to read the article and learn more about the test click here.

So, maybe after reading this you have decided your intern needs to be paid. Or maybe your interns are already paid. Regardless, having paid interns brings up another dilemma- how is their income taxed? Well, every organization does this differently. Some treat interns like regular employees and tax their income as such, others treat interns like independent contractors and mail them 1099s. There are also some nonprofits that do neither- they just hand them a check and shirk any responsibility with the IRS and that intern’s taxes (which is a mistake). It’s hard to say what the best way to do this is, and the IRS doesn’t seem to care much about how your intern is classified as long as taxes are paid on their stipend or wages. So I would just recommend that you pick a way and document why you chose to pay interns the way you do.

I also would like to add that having interns is not only extremely useful for your organization, but it is also very helpful for the intern. It is a win-win situation, the intern gains valuable experience and you gain an unpaid (or very underpaid) worker. So, don’t let this complexity discourage you from hiring interns.

What nonprofit expenses can or should be passed on to staff?

February 26, 2010

Photo by Mike Schmid

I used to work at a nonprofit organization where all staff were expected to volunteer at a big, annual event. This event needed hundreds of volunteers, which is why staff were required to volunteer. Now, the problem wasn’t that the staff were expected to “volunteer” their time, the issue was that in order for staff to volunteer at this event, they had to pay for parking at the event and for a ticket to get into the event (they had to have a ticket to get in to volunteer), neither of which were reimbursed by the nonprofit. So, what nonprofit expenses can or should be passed on to staff?

Well, pretty much none.

Nonprofit workers are typically paid much less that their for-profit counterparts (who get everything reimbursed), so they often cannot afford to shoulder additional expenses on behalf of their workplace. Now, that’s not to say a staff member can’t volunteer to pay for their own parking or ticket. In fact, many do. But, passing expenses off onto workers is detrimental to both the staff and the organization.

Staff may end up feeling slighted that they have to use their already small salaries to pay for expenses like parking and tickets so they can volunteer their personal time at an event. Also, the nonprofit may end up depending on staff to shoulder these and other expenses so often they forget that these expenses exist. And then a time will come when they hire new staff that won’t pay for these expenses. If staff are required to do something as part of their job, then they should not have to use their personal time or money to do it.