Monday, November 23, 2009

Nonprofit Books That Make Great Holiday Gifts

We have a tradition in our family for the day after Thanksgiving. Everyone is prepared with their list of books, CDs and DVDs they want for Christmas and we go to as a group and I get to do a good deal of my Christmas shopping all at once. I keep a notebook with notes on books I would like or I think will be a good gift and it has clippings I’ve saved during the year with books I’d like to have. Sometimes we just have an author or artist and we check to see if there is something new. Some things don’t make it to the order because I think they are too expensive or an individual’s budget has been met. All in all it is fun and a great way to get your shopping done.

This year I decided to blog about books you might want to give your nonprofit friends or put on your wishlist for the holidays. I’ve included books that I have read and blogged about and I asked my Nonprofit network on LinkedIn and Twitter what they recommend. The LinkedIn groups I asked are Web 2.0 for Nonprofit Organizations and The Chronicle of Philanthropy. So each book on this list comes with a recommendation from a member of the nonprofit community:

Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath was recommended on LinkedIn by Bronwen Dearlove, and on Twitter by @MemberClicks. The book’s website says this book seeks to answer the questions: Why do some ideas thrive while others die? And how do we improve the chances of worthy ideas?

Tom Luege recommended Yes We Did! An inside look at how social media built the Obama brand by Rahaf Harfoush. Tom says this book “gives an excellent overview over how the Obama campaign used social media to mobilize people to donate time and money."
Read Tom’s review of Yes We Did

Sticking with technology, John Dukovich recommends Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission: A Strategic Guide for Nonprofit Leaders edited by Holly Ross, Katrin Verclas, and Alison Levine. He says “These days, it's all about choosing the technologies that complement and advance your organization, and effectively managing them once they are in place.”

EllenSmith-Israelson said the new Charles Bronfman book, The Art of Giving: Where the Soul Meets a Business Plan provides good insight into the strategies and motives of a major philanthropist. I also discussed this book in my post:
A Conversation about Foundation Giving, Individual Giving, Motivation and What Should Be Done

Another book in the Philanthropy category” that I have read and blogged about is Grassroots Philanthropy: Field Notes of a Maverick Grantmaker
by Bill Somerville. This slim, thought provoking volume is a quick read.
My review of Grassroots Philanthropy

There are lots of books about fundraising but these two should top any list:
No list of books would be complete without Ask Without Fear!: A Simple Guide to Connecting Donors With What Matters to Them Most
by Marc A. Pitman. The reviews on Amazon say it all.

Esther Alix and Brad Stith recommended Fundraising When Money Is Tight by Mal Warwick. Their comments: “It's a good reminder of fundamentals.” “A must read for these times.”

And for Board Members:
June Bradham said that many organizations are giving copies of her book to their boards and staff for holiday presents. You can read more about What Nonprofit Boards Want. Nine Little Things that Matter Most. at June's website. This book also has great reviews at

Nonprofit Strategy Revolution: Real-Time Strategic Planning in a Rapid-Response World by David LaPiana is great for a board beginning to think about what they’ll do for strategic planning. They may decide on a whole new and streamlined approach after they read this book.
My take on The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution

There has been a lot of buzz on Twitter about The Pollyanna Principles: Reinventing "Nonprofit Organizations" to Create the Future of Our World by Hildy Gottlieb. You can learn about this book and read a sizable excerpt at the website. (My five month old grandson has been sitting on my lap for a while and he really liked the cover of this book shown on the website.)

People Issues
With all the discussion about the impending retirement of Baby Boomers a new book from Fieldstone Alliance, Managing Executive Transitions: A Guide for NonprofitsBy Tim Wolfred may be the perfect gift for some people.

And on the flip side of managing executive transitions for someone interested in working in the community benefit sector, also from Fieldstone Alliance is The Nonprofit Career Guide: How to Land a Job That Makes a Difference by Shelly Cryer

I know this list in incomplete. Please add your own recommendations to the comments and let us know if you buy one of this books what you think. I’ve added an Amazon widget in the sidebar so that you can just click and go to Amazon to find out more about any of these titles or buy the book. If there are a bunch more recommendations maybe I'll make another post.

I’ll be placing my order on Friday. It will be my grandson’s first day after Thanksgiving Amazon ordering party. He really doesn’t need anything but that is completely irrelevant.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Conversation about Foundation Giving, Individual Giving, Motivation and What Should Be Done

Wall Street has changed. Big business has changed. American consumer habits have changed. What about philanthropy – Has it changed? Has it changed anywhere near how it needs to change? This subject is beginning to get some needed attention. Two thought provoking articles published yesterday by Philanthropy thought leaders inspired this post. Here’s a summary and my thoughts on the subject.

The Wall Street Journal had a special Philanthropy section yesterday with the lead article entitled “What’s Wrong With Charitable Giving & How to Fix It” by Pablo Eisenberg, a senior fellow at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute. Pablo gets right to the point with this assessment: “Much of current philanthropic giving, by foundations and individuals, neither meets the needs of our charitable organizations nor addresses some of our most urgent public needs. Foundation practices today are too bureaucratic, inflexible and cautious, and too focused on short-term objectives.” Pablo goes on to say that the primary responsibility for maintaining the strength of the nonprofit community should rest with philanthropic institutions and individual donors not the government. He recommends nine changes that foundations should embrace.

1. Increase the Distribution Percentage –A change in payout ratio from 5% to 6% could increase nonprofit coffers by $10 Billion a year. (Wow!)
2. Increase General Operating Support (All Nonprofits will applaud this one)
3. Increase Multiyear funding – Pablo suggests 5, 10 and 20 years to allow for long term goals to be reached. Few give grants beyond two years.
4. Adopt Rolling grant Making – Simply done by delegating decision making to board committees between board meetings
5. Allocate More Funds to the Truly Needy – (I was astounded by the estimate that not more than 5% of foundation money is given to the truly needy)
6. Reach Out to Local Groups And Underserved Regions - large parts of the country are underserved by philanthropy.
7. Simplify Application and Reporting Procedures – Eliminate excessively detailed and time-consuming grant-application and reporting procedures and unnecessary data required by foundations (I hear Nonprofits applauding again)
8. Improve Public Accountability – Pablo notes that newspapers have been the real public’s watchdog and their demise and extensive streamlining has reduced this capability. He suggests that foundations fund conversions of today’s newspapers to nonprofit versions
9. Fund the Watchdogs - organizations that monitor and assess government policies, public agencies, nonprofits, business and other major institutions such as the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy

Pablo concludes with: “If foundations do not change, the public will have every right to question whether American taxpayers are getting their money's worth.”
Read the whole article - What's Wrong With Charitable Giving—and How to Fix It

While Mr. Eisenberg discussed foundation giving, Sean Stannard-Stockton has been featuring articles this past week about why people give to charity on his popular blog, Tactical Philanthropy. There has been an explosion of comments left on this topic and yesterday’s article really dovetailed with this one. Sean drew on an blog post from 2008 when he built on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and said that he believed that giving is motivated by humans’ deeply held need to find meaning in life. In last week’s guest post on this blog, Charles Bronfman suggested that we all should understand our own motivation for giving as a starting point.

Sean Stannard-Stockton's post "Why Do People Give to Charity"

The Art of Giving: Where the Soul Meets a Business Plan, by Charles Bronfman and Jeffrey Solomon is available at

These articles gave me a lot to think about. I have been proud that my husband and I have a giving strategy which takes into account our means and distributes our giving according to our priority interests. When I work with nonprofits on strategic planning I am always amazed when updating mission statements how much the mission of organizations can change over time. The updated mission provides the basis for a strategic plan. Likewise it may be time for my husband and I to take a philosophical look at our current giving and start by asking what motivates us. What does motivate us and should we be doing anything different? How about you? Is it time for a soul searching look at the whole issue?

Join the conversation - Leave your comments and share your opinions on this important issue.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Facing Changing Paradigms – A Nonprofit Accountant in the Catbird Seat

In the last year I have blogged twice about presentations given by Todd Polyniak of Sax Macy Fromm, an accounting firm in Clifton, NJ. Last night I attended their most recent program for nonprofits and this post provides the outlook for the future with Todd, a nonprofit accountant, in the catbird seat.
Sax Macy Fromm

In Todd’s last two talks he discussed dealing with tough economic times but last night he was discussing a new reality that nonprofits need to come to terms with – this isn’t some temporary economic crisis, there is a paradigm shift that has to be recognized and leaders need to be agents of change to be successful.

Todd likes to start out with historical highlights to put the landscape in perspective. He highlighted some of the changes we’ve had in the last 10 years bringing paradigm shifts including 9/11’s impact on the way we deal with security issues; Enron, Worldcomm etc. scandals bringing in Sarbannes Oxley legislation, (this is major paradigm shifting stuff to accountants), and the Columbia shuttle crash bringing new safety policies to NASA. Todd concludes that the economic crisis that we are still going through brings us to a paradigm shift for the nonprofit sector and that leaders need to take note and take action: Some changes he discusses:

Todd quoted the statistics from a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy article citing an expected 9% downturn in giving in 2009 in addition to the 5.7% reduced giving in 2008 from 2007 reported by Giving USA in June. The outlook for corporate and foundation giving does not look good through 2010.
Chronicle of Philanthropy
Foundation Center's Recent Report on Foundation Giving

So what is a nonprofit to do? Todd’s list of realistic, focused, right-on suggestions include:

-Focus on “warm prospects” rather than new donors. These include existing donors and those who have stopped giving
-Encourage monthly giving rather than once a year gifts
-Move away from events
-Hone your message to explain more clearly why you need the money
-Experiment with online giving (Hey, you can talk to me about this one)
-Put more effort into securing planned gifts
-Make personal thank yous by EDs and board members for even small gifts
-Refer to the tax provision -expiring this year allowing tax free gifts from IRAs up to $100,000 for those over 70½.

-Supporters from within: Nearly 30% of nonprofit leaders have taken pay cuts and reduced hours but as Ken Berger, CEO of Charity Navigator, says that people hope they won’t have to make draconian cuts.
-Supporters outside: Todd mentioned a study by the National Conference on Citizenship noting that 72% of Americans say they have cut back on volunteering and he also noted the loss of Board members sponsored by corporations.
Download the National Conference on Citizenship Report

No accountant can talk for 45 minutes to nonprofits and not mention the new 990 and Todd did not disappoint. However, he also noted that many states, including New Jersey have passed laws which allow more access to their endowments to help them tide over during this bad economy.

The 100,000 nonprofits will fail prediction by Paul Light has not materialized and less merging than expected has happened but small nonprofits are taking aggressive strategic steps to survive including unplugging some programs temporarily, sharing fundraising and marketing ideas, and combining back office operations.

Todd recommended President Obama’s seven step plan for dealing with a crisis:
1. Pull together the best people and make them work as a team
2. Insist on analytical rigor in evaluating the nature of the problem
3. Make sure dissenting voices are heard
4. Explore your range of options
5. Be willing to make a decision after you have reviewed the options
6. Insist on good execution and timely feedback
7. Remember the basics taking one step at a time
See the whole article in U.S News & World Report “In a Crisis, Obama Is Cool Under Pressure”

Todd concluded with some thoughts on leadership quoting Cory Booker, the dynamic mayor of Newark, as saying “My Mom used to say who you are speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you say” and encouraged that being true to ourselves is an essential ingredient in leadership. He offered that the times call for transformational leaders and suggested that nonprofit leaders ask themselves these four questions as agents of change:
1. Am I results centered rather than comfort zone centered?
2. Am I internally directed behaving according to my own values and principles?
3. Am I other focused – putting the collective good first?
4. Am I externally open recognizing need for change?

Whew! That’s a lot to absorb. Todd got it all in and still got us home in time for the Yankee game! Do some of you call it the World Series? In the New York area we call it the Yankee game. Thanks Todd and congratulations Yankees! I couldn’t resist using the catbird seat theme as I thought of my favorite baseball broadcaster of all time, Red Barber and his Friday morning conversations with Bob Edwards last night.