Monday, January 26, 2009

Bill Gates First Annual Letter for the Gates Foundation - A Must Read

Today Bill Gates released his first annual letter from the Gates Foundation as its full time leader.

The letter is very straightforward and candid – taking pride in the Foundation achievements and candidly discussing where it has not achieved as much as they would have liked too. Bill also discusses that the Foundation has been criticized for not taking some specific action and acknowledges that the Foundation will focus on only certain aspects of a problem but that other aspects also need attention. Bill is the first to say that they cannot address all aspects of every problem but that he and Melinda want to understand the problems they do tackle, get at the core of the problems and address them from the strength that the Foundation has to offer. Frequently that involves technology, innovation, sound management and assessing root causes and results. Bill and Melinda are committed to being effective in their giving and so they detail some of their processes and things they’ve learned on their journey with the work of their foundation.

The letter has ten sections as follows:
Childhood Deaths
U.S. Education
Progress on Polio
Progress on AIDS
Progress on Malaria
The Role of Foundations
The Economic Crisis
In Closing

Some Highlights:

International Health
Bill discusses examples of what is required in fighting childhood disease and death in poor countries that involve the complication of refrigerating vaccines and figuring out that additional doses of polio vaccine than what is required in western civilizations is needed. I was very impressed with the work done to understand requirements needed to be effective and the plain communication in his letter to advance understanding and acknowledgement of the work of other organizations making advancement in this area.


Bill shares what they have learned from their investment in secondary education and is candid about the results which have been mixed. The Foundation wants to help teachers be more effective in the classroom. Bill cites research that there is only half as much variation in student achievement between schools as there is among classrooms in the same school. And he recommends that if you want your child to get the best education possible, it is actually more important to get him assigned to a great teacher than to a great school.

Role of Foundations and the Economic Crisis
Bill talks about the responsibility of Foundations and since there isn’t a customer naturally providing feedback that you have to work to ensure you get customer feedback. Bill says that they will increase their giving in 2009 to 7% of assets from 5% in 2008. That is $3.8 Billion versus $3.3 in 2008 even though the Foundation assets decreased by 20% in 2008. I think this really shows leadership for other foundations about the path they should take in this economic downturn.

Marion suggests...
I strongly suggest you go to the website and read the whole letter. It is 20 pages long if you want to download it into a pdf. While you are at the website, there are rich resources in the right hand column for each page with additional online resources for each topic covered. For foundations the resource is about their own grantees feedback - their strengths and weaknesses that grantees reported about them and the action steps they are taking about the weaknesses their grantees reported.

My guess is that there will be a lot written and said about this report. Oh yes, he does quote Warren Buffet a number of times. I enjoyed all of it and appreciated Bill sharing his perspective so thoughtfully on a wide range of topics

Bill Gates 2009 Annual Letter

Friday, January 16, 2009

Martin Luther King Day – Some Resources to Help Get in the Spirit and Get Involved

I’ve become a regular on Twitter and I am “following” and “being followed by” mostly the nonprofit community. This week the conversation about Martin Luther King Day reached a crescendo and I decided that I really should be blogging about it. I know I am pretty late to the party but I have been working diligently with two nonprofits on their strategic plans this week and although I love it, blogging went to the back of the line.

Monday, January 19th is a National Day of Service. This year especially is the time to make it a day of service and not just a day off as so many people are in need and we are about to inaugurate Barack Obama as President. When we look back at this historical moment in time it will be great to remember how we spent it in a day of service. Here are some resources with events and ongoing service opportunities..

The main resource is the official government website The website provides ideas for you to organize projects, an easy to use database of projects all over the country that you can participate in (just put in your zip code), podcasts to download and more. Make it your first stop.
Martin Luther King Day Official Website

Another great website is This website is designed to help promote MLK Day events and to make commitments, build communities, find opportunities to serve and share their results. The events provide opportunities for direct service and bringing people together to reflect on Dr. King's legacy.
USA Service

If you are a Facebook fan, visit Impact Change and pledge your time
Impact Challenge on Facebook

Last, but not least visit the official King Center website. You will greeted by Reverend King’s moving speech on service and when you hear him bellow “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant” you will have the spirit descend upon you.
The King Center

And to wrap up and reconnect to strategic planning....If your organization isn't listed at one of these websites, think now about your MLK Day plans for next year. And make sure you take advantage of these great resources to promote the opportunities for service you have on MLK Day 2010. The participating organizations are large and small and have simple activities like having a food and new socks drive, distributing fire prevention materials door to door to much more complicated projects. Every bit helps.

Enjoy your MLK Day,


Friday, January 09, 2009

Energizing Ideas from Experts...Annual List of Resolutions for Nonprofits in 2009

For my annual post on suggested resolutions for nonprofits I have again called on my professional network at LinkedIn for contributions. I want to thank Maria Semple, Kate Barr, Amy Condit, Hildy Gottlieb, Sue Caruso Green and John Kenyon for their thoughtful, insightful recommendations for resolutions. This diverse set of resolutions provides quite a package of serious ideas for you to consider as you start your planning in this difficult year. Being thoughtful about the path we take is more important than ever, and these experts provide quite a bit to think about and ACT ON. Enjoy the post and leave your comments

Stay Visible, Embark on Creative Marketing and Find Gems Maria Semple
Nonprofits need to stay visible during this economic downturn and step up efforts to network in their community, implement creative marketing techniques online and offline, update their websites and ensure they have a "donate now" button. They should strategically mine their donor database to find those hidden gems that may be able to upgrade their giving and become a stronger partner.
Maria Semple's Website - The Prospect Finder

Maria’s Article on Prospect Research at NPO Central

Live the Values of Honesty and Integrity in Tough Economy Kate Barr
Kate recommends that nonprofits resolve to use good, honest, and reliable information, be honest about the reality of the financial and community situations that they face, and be honest about the decisions that they must make. They should not pretend that there won't be reductions and changes that might not be popular. Kate notes that many nonprofits’ values include integrity and honesty and this will be a year to live those values.

Kate Barr is Executive Director of the Nonprofits Assistance Fund in Minnesota
Kate Barr's Blog at the Nonprofit Assistance Fund

Board Education – Understanding the Role Amy Condit
Amy recommends that nonprofits resolve to provide better education to their board members – both new and existing - with emphasis on understanding their role in helping to achieve the agency's mission, as ambassadors and fundraisers. Amy also recommends having a retreat to refocus members on the agency's priorities for the short and long term.
Amy is a Director of Development at a Community Family Guidance Center in California

Follow The Pollyanna Principles Hildy Gottlieb
My resolution is “Follow The Pollyanna Principles.” The Pollyanna Principles are a set of guidelines that guide an organization to create significant, visionary change in their community. How to apply the principles? Your organization's leaders need to hold themselves accountable for creating the future of your community. Be conscious to hold yourselves accountable for making that future extraordinary! Next use means that align behind those visionary ends. Focus on interconnectedness rather than competition. Build upon your strengths, rather than focusing on your weaknesses. Be the change you want to see by walking the talk of your values. And finally, create systems that will codify the way you intend to do your work, to ensure things stay that way and don't "backslide." In tough economic times, when our communities need us more than ever, it is critical that we not make excuses for why we can't do what they need. As Community Benefit Organizations, holding "community benefit" as our highest purpose is why we exist!

The Pollyanna Principles simultaneously build strong communities AND strong organizations in good times, but they apply even more in bad times, when we are encouraged to compete even harder and cut back on services. Follow the principles, and organizations will find resources and strengths they didn't know they had, hiding in plain sight - all because they are holding "community benefit" as their first and most important purpose.
Find out more about Hildy’s new book - which is being released any moment - at her website

Soon Hildy will be publishing excerpts from The Pollyanna Principles here at her blog

Thank and Court Funders. Use Consultants Wisely Sue Caruso Green
Thank your funders for supporting your organization in 2008. A little thanks goes a long way. Take your top donors/funders to lunch early in 2009. Ask your board to organize a few lunches or breakfasts and invite your funders. Give them an update on your programs. Use consultants to take on short term assignments that will bring new donors in. "Pick the brains" of lots of consultants and hire some of them. This is a cost effective way to tap into top talent...there are a lot of excellent consultants in the NY metropolitan area at NPO Central. (Marion’s note: See me there too!)
Visit Sue Caruson Green's NPO Central to Find Nonprofit Consultants in NY/NJ Area

Use Technology More Efficiently and Cost-effectively John Kenyon
One for me would be "Use Technology more efficiently and cost-effectively". Of course, one way to do that would be to take my NTEN Technology Leadership webinars. more info: You can find out more about this NTEN Technology Leadership Series at:
NTEN Technology Leadership Series with Courses by John Kenyon, Beth Kanter and Robert Weiner - Wow!