Public recognition vs. Public service

In my consulting life, I’ve helped a bunch of startup nonprofits get started.  But that’s also one of the jobs I turn down…a lot.  I have a hard time working for folks I don’t believe in, and I see far, far too many individuals who want to start their very own nonprofit instead of taking an entry-level job and working their way up in established organizations.

A rather good article by Amy Schiller at The Baffler made me think a little bit more deeply about what’s happening in those situations.

She writes about the rise (and foibles) of “philanthro-capitalists” – paralleling my ambitious future founders in naiveté and hubris.  The thing I am intensely interested in is the strong desire to get individual recognition – for being a founder, for being a savior, for being a hero who is smarter that everyone who has come before and lo, has fixed our problems.

It strikes me as a cultural psychology problem. Read more

On the internet, carry salt

I subscribe to a ton of services that help me scour the internet, looking for good articles, tips, research and advice on fundraising and nonprofit management more generally.  Look – I’m living proof that anyone can say pretty much anything on the internet…but every now and then an article comes along that gets my blood boiling and I feel the need to remind everyone I know that you have to take everything with a grain of salt and read it through a lens of common sense and skepticism.

Here’s one that seems useful for nonprofits.  Research reveals four simple ways your not-for-profit can motivate donors. Headline follows the formula for standard click bait: [number] of [things] that are useful because [x].  Plus, it’s based on research!  Great.  Let’s look. Read more

Judgment of the Judge

I’ve spoken about and will write again on this blog my feelings on charity ratings: they essentially boil down to three things:

  • They’re a useful tool for serious donors, but they shouldn’t be a one stop shop if you’re making a sizable gift (you decide what that means).
  • They can’t really evaluate whether YOU will be proud of the way YOUR dollars are spent.  (That’s not their fault – it’s infinitely broad, the category of donor motivations and desires)
  • They’re sort of clunky.  (At best, this is because they’re processing enormous amounts of data and can’t deliver nuances effectively as a result.  At worst, well, “clunky” is generous, and that’s what we’re about to discuss.)

Sometimes the folks in charge of the rating organizations show some ugly, dark colors, and it makes you question how their bias gets built into their various methods.

Enter the story of Ken Berger and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

Sister Innocenta of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Paris House, France
Sister Innocenta of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Paris House, France

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Differences, yes. But advantages? The sexist problem with jumping to conclusions.

There’s a new study out that looks at gender differences in brain architecture and usage, using a neat new technique called diffusion tensor imaging.  The study was published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), but you’ll have to pay to read it.  Try this synopsis in the reputable UK newspaper The Independent.

Both have some significant problems – not in the work itself, which is interesting, but with the conclusions they draw.   Read more

Burnout is not a Badge of Honor

There is a curious thing that happens when a lot of highly ambitious professionals get together…ask someone how things are going at their job, and they will most likely say “good, but crazy” and then proceed to talk about how very very busy they are.  Then everyone in earshot will chime in with stories about how busy they are, as if working to the point of exhaustion is a point of pride, as if working more hours is directly related to virtue and professional value.

I was going to write this post about fundraisers, but the more I thought about it, the less it seemed restricted to development professionals.  The problem is, it’s insane. Read more

Open Response to the Yogi

Yogi Cameron Alborzian writes fairly prolifically for the Huffington Post.  His latest, 5 Steps to a Limitless Mind has so much potential, but I find myself grinding my teeth and snarling retorts at my computer…which is not, I’m guessing, what the Yogi hoped to inspire.

Either he’s a bad guy to be taking advice from when it comes to emotional wellness, or I’m not ready for his particular brand of serenity. Read more

Creativity debates: Stop! You’re both kinda sorta right…

Fun little article at the ol’ HuffPo last week.  Everything You Thought You Knew About Creativity Is Wrong.  There are some good tips and also some misguided half-truths in the name of simplification.  Y’all know that I’m a big fan of creativity – creativity in the workplace, creativity as a teaching and management tool, creativity as a fundamental edge to make you better at everything you do, creativity as a muscle that needs training and constant exercise.  So let’s dive into this one together.  Read more

Back to School Week – Raising Charitable Kids

Want to know how to raise children who are charitable?  Like any parenting tips, the following is easier said than done, but the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University has done three years of empirical research on what works best.  Their annual Women Give report is out, and while I’m looking forward into getting into the gender dynamics that it uncovers, I think their insights on the most effective ways to teach children about philanthropy are a perfect way to end our Back to School Week.

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Back to School Week – How Much is Your Fundraiser Costing You?

I touched on this yesterday, but one of my pet peeves in fundraising is watching people work so hard to raise funds that they’re losing money.  And the biggest reason people fall into this trap is forgetting to value volunteer labor.  I’ve seen people put in hundreds – no exaggeration – of collective man-hours on a gala event that raises so little net cash that they’d wind up losing money if you docked minimum wage for every volunteer hour spent running the thing.

Forget extremes like that.  Any fundraiser you run should aim to do better than passing a plate on day one.  That’s the benchmark you should be measuring against.  If you’ve got volunteers putting in hundreds of hours on a fundraiser, that’s a serious investment.  Here’s how to make that investment count. Read more