Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

Interview with Steve MacLaughlin about Data Driven Nonprofits

The nonprofit sector has grown dramatically in the last two decades and part of that trajectory has involved the growing use of technology. However, author Steve MacLaughlin argues that nonprofits aren’t using data nearly as much as they could be to move their missions forward.

His new book, Data Driven Nonprofits, focuses primarily on fundraising as the critical element needed to advance an organization. In each chapter, MacLaughlin uses interviews and case stories to explore the variety of ways in which nonprofits, big and small, use data to accelerate change.

We asked MacLaughlin about his favorite example of a nonprofit that uses data to move their mission forward. Learn more about his answer to this question and others below:

CausePlanet: What case story or interview about making the “data leap” is your favorite and why?

SM: There are a lot of really great stories of organizations that have been able to transform their performance through better use of data and analytics. One of my favorites is Denver Rescue Mission, which was founded in 1892, and up until the late 1980s had a staff of four people and total revenue of about $200,000. Today, they raise more than $32 million—so much of that growth has come through being data driven with a growth mindset.

CausePlanet: Where do most nonprofits typically falter when trying to take their initial steps toward using data effectively and why?

SM: One of the biggest mistakes is trying to take on too much, too soon, with expectations that are too high. Nonprofit organizations are much better served by picking a specific question they want to answer or outcome they want to achieve. That first project should be big enough for others to care about, but not so big that it becomes controversial or bogged down in bureaucracy. Time box the team to 30 days to work on that question or outcomes, then come back with recommendations. Over time, you’ll build the right habits and processes to take on the next important problem.

CausePlanet: In your book, readers learn a great deal about how data-driven nonprofits look and behave (e.g. Test, Share, Grow, etc.).

SM: Yes, a big finding from my research and interviews for Data Driven Nonprofits was how big a role organizational culture plays in the success of being more data driven. As you noted, some of those culture types are around testing, sharing, and growing. The bad news is that a nonprofit’s culture must align around and value data. The good news is that nonprofits can have different culture types and still achieve their goals.

CausePlanet: Many important changes or initiatives require buy-in at the top. What three reasons should our readers present to their boards as to why they need to be data-driven?

SM: It’s important, but it’s not the most important thing to being successful. The most important things people can show to senior leaders or their board are examples of how using data produces a better decision or result than just an opinion. Speak softly. Bring data.

CausePlanet: What single idea would you like readers to know about your book?

SM: Equifinality. That’s the single idea that readers should take away from the book. (Pausing for reaction) It turns out that you can have the best data, the best tools, the best people, and still not be successful with data. Organizational culture can undermine any of those efforts. But thanks to equifinality there is hope. Equifinality is the principle that a given end state can be reached by many potential means. Nonprofit organizations have different culture types and still become more data driven. They can start in different places and arrive at the same positive place.

Learn more about this book, related books and our summary:

Measuring the Networked Nonprofit


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[Podcast] Need to clarify roles between your nonprofit staff and board?

Board leadership is an area that demands much of our attention and effort due to its critical role in helping an organization “thrive or dive,” says Jean Block, author of The Invisible Yellow Line: Clarifying Nonprofit Board and Staff Roles.

Block decided the Invisible Yellow Line is a perfect metaphor for the working relationship between a board and staff in a nonprofit organization. If you’ve ever watched a football game on TV or your personal device, you have the benefit of a yellow line on the field that shows you how much yardage the team must gain in order to move down the field for a touchdown.

Even though the line is invisible to the players, it’s constantly moving and hotly debated at times. Board members and staff have cooperative roles and responsibilities that seem to be constantly moving depending on the “field position” or goal at hand.

In a recent author podcast with Block, we asked:

CausePlanet: What is the most common signal that tells you that your board and staff need a conversation about roles and responsibilities?

Listen to her answer hereJean Block on signals

CausePlanet: In chapter nine, you talk about the Invisible Yellow Line Test. Could you explain what some of those questions might be and how the test can help staff and board members move forward?

Listen to her answer hereJean Block on testing the clarity of your yellow line

If there was one universal nonprofit rule book that contained a set of guidelines defining the roles of the board and staff, we could avoid an incredible amount of miscommunication and angst over getting things done at the leadership level. The fact is it doesn’t exist because things change, asserts author Jean Block.

She adds that organizations and people evolve. Block has written The Invisible Yellow Line to provide a way for board and staff leaders to communicate about their roles and “reduce the trap of assumptions and defensiveness.”

Learn more about Jean Block and her services at

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[Podcast] Get more done in your meetings (and your pitches!)

Meetings can be an expensive waste of time if they aren’t led properly. Authors Dick and Emily Axelrod have dedicated their careers to understanding and promoting what makes an impactful meeting in Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done.

The Axelrods explain step by step how to participate in highly effective meetings no matter your role: a leader, contributor or facilitator. The Meeting Canoe is an approach that helps readers understand the importance of order, shape and flow to your gatherings.

Join us for a recent podcast we recorded with the Axelrods about what’s useful, what’s challenging and why people accept bad meeting habits: 

CausePlanet: Thank you for adding the Meeting Canoe framework to the body of literature about effective meetings. It’s a terrific addition. Which part of the Meeting Canoe do most users find most transformational when implementing the approach?

Listen here for their answer or read below: What part of the “meeting canoe” is most helpful?

DA & EA: Welcome, Connect, and Attend to the End. Most meeting agendas call for a perfunctory welcome and do not spend time connecting people to each other and the task. The result is they fail to build a solid foundation to do the meeting’s work. Similarly, most meeting agendas ignore attending to the end. This results in people being unclear about what was decided during the meeting as well as next steps following the meeting.

Failure to spend time discussing how to make future meetings better leaves the group without a self-correcting mechanism. We learned from an architect colleague that how people enter a space and how they leave a space is as important as what happens in the space. We believe this is true for meetings as well. By paying attention to the Welcome, Connect, and Attend to the End parts of the Meeting Canoe™, meeting designers create a complete, productive meeting experience.

CausePlanet: Which part of the Meeting Canoe™ do most readers find challenging to implement?

Listen here for their answer or read below: What is the most challenging?

DA & EA: Attend to the End because they often don’t allocate enough time for it, or if they do allocate time, when pressed for time they skip it. A good ending has three parts:

1.     Review decisions and assignments.
2.     Identify next steps.
3.     Appraise what meeting improvements are needed.

CausePlanet: In your research or client experiences, did you discover why most people accept and perpetuate bad meeting habits?

Listen here for their answer or read below: The Axelrods on why people perpetuate bad meeting habits

DA & EA: The first is that when we asked meeting participants whom they thought was responsible for a meeting’s success, the most frequent response was “the leader.” This habit is an abdication of responsibility for what happens during the meeting, which allows meeting participants to sit idly by while a meeting goes downhill.

We believe another cause is that people have come to think about meetings as painful experiences that must be endured. They do not think of them as a place where productive work occurs. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you begin to think about meetings as a place where people do work, then you can design your meetings using the five proven work design principles:

– Autonomy: the power to influence the meeting’s direction
– Meaning: the meeting has importance or significance to participants
– Challenge: a call to engage in something that tests your knowledge, skill, or courage
– Learning: acquiring new skills or knowledge through experience, study or being taught
– Feedback: information that lets meeting participants know whether a meeting is making progress toward its objectives.

When you apply these design criteria to your meeting, you create the conditions for productive work to occur. 

Bonus answer: At the end of our podcast, Dick and Emily Axelrod shared this interesting anecdote with us about how the Meeting Canoe works in pitches as well: The Meeting Canoe works in pitches, too!

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Set your team up for success in 9 minutes

9 minutes graphicWant to change up your Monday and empower your team? It takes nine minutes.

Empower your employees without adding hours to your plate. The nine principles found in this book summary will ignite the engagement, motivation, morale and trust among you team members and will result in greater efficiency and higher levels of productivity.

When it comes to motivating your staff members and bringing out their best, there is no magic bullet, because great leadership is more about the small things done consistently than some huge one-time initiative.

Nine Minutes is a manageable way for leaders to incrementally adopt each of author James Robbins’ recommended minutes and incorporate them slowly into their weekly schedules. Not many books promise the kind of change Robbins does with such a relatively small amount of time.

Learn more about this book and our summary.

See more related titles:

Mission-Based Management: Leading Your Not-for-Profit in the 21st Century, 3rd Ed.

The Invisible Yellow Line: Clarifying Nonprofit Board and Staff Roles

The Nonprofit Leadership Team: Building the Board Executive Director Partnership

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Distractions at work: Is your screen in control?

Too often, many of us are saying to ourselves, “I’m working really hard but I’m not getting to where I want to be.” Driven to Distraction at Work author Edward Hallowell, MD, has dedicated his career to studying attention and productivity.

Hallowell has coined the term “attention deficit trait” or ADT to explain the increasingly common problem of distractibility in the modern workplace. An ADT is a response to endless demands and distractions that make someone unable to focus, slow down, be patient, feel fulfilled, commit reasonably, and feel stable instead of overwhelmed. An ADT is caused by the context in which it occurs and can come and go, unlike an attention deficit disorder.

In Driven, Hallowell addresses common challenges like the lack of ability to focus, the feeling of always being in a rush or bouncing from task to task, the attempt to multitask effectively, and the impression that every day ends in frustration and a lack of fulfillment.

Six most common ways we surrender our attention

The first half of Hallowell’s book explains the six most common ways we surrender our attention at work while the second half provides you with a plan for overcoming these distractions. If you can understand the underlying reasons for succumbing to distractions, you can focus and be more productive.

In today’s post, I wanted to highlight one of the six ways we succumb our attention at work.

Screen Sucking (“how to control your electronics so they don’t control you”)

People who feel distressed without their cell phones, waste hours online without even knowing it, and retreat to the Internet when stressed could qualify as screen suckers. The author classifies screen sucking as one of many Attention Deficit Traits (ADT) that can occur at different levels of severity, ranging from conflictive (“usage is annoying to at least one other person”) to addictive (screen activity becomes the most important activity in a person’s life, has a calming influence and can cause withdrawal symptoms).

Because technology today is more interactive than TV or radio in the past, a person can do almost everything online and can crave the “freewheeling state of mind where anything goes and nothing is shut down.” People can then become addicted to the feeling of being online. The problematic aspects of screen use, though, range from constant interruptions to rudeness to too much data without thinking to wasting time continually.

Hallowell applies a basic plan to treat ADTs that involves five elements:


The author gives suggestions to restore productive states in each of these areas in order to allow someone to work more efficiently and disable the distractions. For example, screen sucking drains your energy, makes you numb, replaces your social engagement, provides a structure that works against you, and takes over your control. Hallowell offers the following tips, among others, to combat these problems: log how many hours you spend on electronic devices and gauge where you can cut back. Create pockets in your day reserved for screen time and turn it off at all other times. Turn off your devices during social engagements. Do more productive activities when you are bored. Avoid habit-forming websites and games. Measure and monitor your progress.

Everyone struggles with the common problem of distractions in work and life. With the advent of technological devices, distractions present a seemingly constant challenge. One quote from Hallowell’s book, in particular, sheds light on the level of distraction screen sucking induces. “They talk about craving it [technological devices] when they can’t have it and about feeling irritable and jittery on flights that don’t offer Wi-Fi. They admit to losing relationships and jobs due to their inability to control their craving. They describe the feeling of being online as a kind of anesthesia that eases the pain of everyday life.”

Watch for more highlights from Driven to Distraction at Work when we explore more of the six common ways we struggle with distraction and how to overcome them. Visit our summary library for more information about Driven and Page to Practice™ summary.

See also:

Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity and Productivity

Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done

Smarter, Faster, Better. Strategies for Effective, Enduring, and Fulfilled Leadership

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work

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Ten characteristics of great nonprofits and the four critical skills that empower them

Author, writer and consultant Peter Brinckerhoff claims it’s an exciting time to be in the nonprofit world. He asserts, “There are more challenges, more opportunities and more ways to respond to the increasing needs in a community.”

Three guiding principles are at the core of high-impact nonprofits

The third edition of Mission-Based Management bestows on the reader a comprehensive look at what today’s nonprofit managers should prioritize in order to model the best high-impact nonprofits. The premise of the book, is based on three philosophies that have informed Brinckerhoff’s entire career of 30 plus years: “Nonprofits are businesses.” “No one gives you a dime.” “Nonprofit does not mean no profit.”

He convincingly demonstrates the truth in each of these points throughout the book and in each of the management competencies he explores—from leadership, governance, and finances to marketing, mission, ethics, and more.

Dangerous assumptions, four critical skills and 10 characteristics of great charities

Brinckerhoff also broaches the dangerous assumptions that have surfaced in our sector over the years, such as foundations controlling nonprofits after giving them money and nonprofits needing to take a “vow of poverty.” He gives four essential skills for mission-based managers and introduces the 10 characteristics of successful nonprofits.

The four skills include the ability to:

1)     balance the needs of the community with the organization’s available resources;

2)     innovate as a social entrepreneur, taking reasonable risks on behalf of the organization’s beneficiaries;

3)     lead the organization by example and motivate the staff, board and community; and

4)     communicate effectively the mission to the staff, board, public and stakeholders.

Brinckerhoff then covers the 10 characteristics of a successful nonprofit in the rest of Mission-Based Management, each chapter tackling one characteristic.

The section below lists each characteristic he discusses in depth:

1)     A viable mission: The mission is why your organization exists so utilizing it to the fullest extent is your first priority. The author recommends reviewing your mission statement at least every three years when you write your strategic plan in order to make sure it is accurate.

2)     Ethics, accountability and transparency: “There is nothing more important to your mission success than [ethics, accountability and transparency]. Nothing.” Mission comes first and values follow.

3)     A businesslike board of directors: Brinckerhoff provides a list of desirable characteristics in a board, a list of items that prevent effectiveness and a list of responsibilities surrounding the three general functions of a board—preserving the trust, setting policy and supporting the charity.

4)     Leading your people: People usually work for a nonprofit for the mission and respect, not for the money. Brinckerhoff uses the inverted pyramid of management to illustrate how best to value and keep your people.

5)     Embracing technology for mission: Technology serves some important purposes for nonprofits, namely for education, volunteers, new employees, transparency and development.

6)     Creating a social entrepreneur: Brinckerhoff emphasizes the need for nonprofits to return to their start-up, entrepreneurial phases in terms of increased flexibility, willingness to embrace and shape change, and inclination to take risks.

7)     Developing a bias for marketing: “Of all the business skills you can put to work for your mission, marketing is the most applicable in the most areas.” The author emphasizes this slogan, “Everything that everyone here does every day is marketing.”

8)     Financial empowerment: Using financial skills and concepts from the business world can help you achieve your mission without always having to comply with the restrictions traditional funders place on you.

9)     A vision for the future: Strategic planning is essential to have purpose, coordinate all other planning (budgets, staffing, fundraising), delegate more effectively, be flexible, and exhibit good business and stewardship.

10)  The controls that set you free: For a leader to delegate (an important skill for a leader in order to free up time to be a visionary), controls must be in place in areas such as bylaws, conflict of interest, financial, human resource, media, volunteers, disaster, program and quality assurance policies.

Brinckerhoff establishes in the introduction of his book that much has changed since he wrote the first edition of Mission-Based Management in 1994. His effort to keep pace with change in our sector is a bellwether for nonprofit leaders to match his ongoing pursuit of what defines a successful mission-based nonprofit. Brinckerhoff challenges you to embrace the good business practices that can be adapted for mission-based management. He tempts you to strive for a profit because that margin will empower you to be financially viable and sustainable. He invites you to recognize that donors are paying for service—you earn everything you get.

See also:

12: The Elements of Great Managing

Building Nonprofit Capacity: A Guide to Managing Change Through Organizational Lifecycles

Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World

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Does your nonprofit board give fundraising a warm reception or cold shoulder?

“Your fundraising program reflects the effectiveness of your overall organization. It’s a litmus test of your viability,” explains author Laurence Pagnoni.

He laments that too often fundraising programs exist in a silo, meaning the fundraiser works in isolation and the fundraising programs are not embedded into the fabric of other organizational operations and initiatives.

Over-reliance on rudimentary fundraising and lack of teamwork among board, staff and CEO

Most nonprofits that are envious of high-performing organizations with robust fundraising programs are usually reliant on one dominant funding source for too many years, renew rudimentary or sleepy grant programs, operate planned giving on a “self-serve” basis, and have a board that doesn’t work efficiently as a team with the CEO and staff.

What to do when your board is hot or cold with fundraising

While a chief concern is a cohesive board, CEO and staff, another primary focus Pagnoni emphasizes is, of course, fundraising. In his book, The Nonprofit Fundraising Solution, Pagnoni discusses what to do when your board’s core strength is fundraising and what to do when the core strength is not fundraising.

First, do a little detective work

To take an organization to the next level, a board and CEO must align themselves around the strategic plan, where both parties have a deep understanding of the vision. Then, Pagnoni emphasizes finding your board’s core strength (e.g., fundraising, compliance, etc.) through conversations, a perusal of board minutes, attendance at meetings, and possibly a self-assessment.

The cold shoulder

If a board’s core strength is not fundraising, Pagnoni suggests these steps “in their ideal order of execution”:

1)      Recruit a fundraising professional for the board.

2)      Implement a development or fundraising plan.

3)      Establish gift acceptance policies and use them (i.e., which kind of gifts you’ll accept).

4)      Develop the necessary committee structure (at least a development committee and possibly an events committee or planned giving committee).

5)      Prepare an annual ROI report.

6)      Direct volunteers to fundraising activities they feel lie within their strengths (e.g., good writers write appeal letters; good talkers solicit donations verbally).

A warm reception

If your board’s core strength is fundraising, follow these methods:

1)      Campaign more.

2)      Explore comprehensive giving with top donors (e.g., annual, stretch and planned gifts).

3)      Review your development plan and address a longer period of growth over 10 to 25 years.

4)      Execute more detailed business planning.

5)      Go deeper into one dominant and minor source of revenue, instead of diversifying, since going deeper may prove more lucrative with a good fundraising board.

6)      Develop subcommittees to report to the development committee.

7)      Ensure that strong connections are created between all your various fundraising tactics (e.g., events program connects with the individualized giving program).

8)      Make routine use of external consultants to infuse talent.

Let your relaxed confidence emerge, be nimble and keep an eye on ethics

When it comes to fundraising in harmony with your board whether they embrace or sidestep fundraising, Pagnoni emphasizes identifying solutions that fit your own challenges. He says, “Each person must find his own fundraising path and use his own experience, infused with best practices. What I’ve offered [in my book] are my own experiences based on best practices. Many people ‘want to do it right,’ and I’d rather see a more relaxed confidence emerge where you try a few things, evaluate, change course as may be required. So the challenge here is to be nimble with applying the strategies that I outline and always head toward the most ethical ways to raise the most revenue.”

See also:

The Ask: How to Ask for Support for Your Nonprofit Cause, Creative Project or Business Venture

The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand: Motivating Donors to Give, Give Happily, and Keep on Giving

Fundraising the SMART Way™: Predictable, Consistent Income Growth for Your Charity + Website

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Before you can get buy-in, people need to feel the problem

Picture this: you’re in the middle of presenting your proposal and a person at the far end of the table raises her hand. “I’m not even sure the ‘problem’ you’re describing exists, or is a big deal at all!” How do you deal with that?

From reading your responses to my previous posts, I find that many people aren’t able to even reach the point where they can debate the merits of their proposal. Many get bogged down in the quagmire of trying to effectively communicate the nature and extent of the problem. If you can’t do that, it doesn’t much matter what your proposal is. People aren’t going to consider anything until they are convinced there is a problem that truly needs to be addressed.

Have you made the problem feel real?

In scenarios like this, I’ve found that it’s effective to highlight the problem and the people affected by it in a way that makes the problem feel real. What’s less effective — and far more common — is to make a dry business case that, even if correct, is usually less persuasive and less memorable than it needs to be.

424 gloves drive the message home

On this topic, one story I’ve always liked (from my book The Heart of Change) I affectionately call “Gloves on the Boardroom Table.” A large organization had an inefficient purchasing process, and one mid-level executive believed that money was constantly being wasted with each of the organization’s factories handling their own purchases. He thought there could be tremendous savings from consolidating the procurement effort. He put together a “business case” for change but it went nowhere. His boss said that senior executives didn’t feel it was truly a big problem, especially with so many other daily challenges taking up their time.

So the manager had an idea: he collected the 424 different kinds of work gloves the factories collectively purchased and tagged each one with its different price and supplier. He carted the gloves in and dumped them on the boardroom table before a senior
executive team meeting. He first showed the pile to his boss, who was taken aback by this powerful visual display of the waste inherent in having dozens of different factories negotiate different deals for the items they needed!

The boss showed the CEO, who scrapped the meeting agenda to talk about procurement because what he was looking at was so memorable, so compelling, and so real. It galvanized the executives to action. Ultimately, they overhauled their procurement process and saved a great deal of money.

See, feel, change

I’ve called the process used here See, Feel, and Change, as opposed to Analyze, Think, and Change. The latter is all head, no heart, and often fails to motivate people to recognize the importance of a given problem. It’s too easily forgotten or ignored if it doesn’t feel real.

Highlight the personal, real consequences of the problem you want people to see

So what is my everyday advice if you can’t always collect, catalogue, and cart around 424 pairs of gloves? One way is to highlight the real, personal consequences of the problem you want people to see, and to highlight the real people who suffer because of it.

My newer book, Buy-In: Saving Your Good Ideas From Getting Shot Down, features a story of someone presenting a plan to provide new computers for a local library. When dissenters don’t listen because they don’t think there is a problem with the current computers, the presenter has two options. He could use PowerPoint slides to compare the library’s computers to current computer models sold in stores, showing the difference in processing power, memory capacity, and modem speed. Or he could relate the true story of a local fourth-grader from a poor family who relies on the library’s computers for homework — computers that are too slow and outdated to allow her to finish her assignments, leaving her underprepared for school.

Which case would you find more compelling? Which case makes the problem feel real?

See also:

Buy-In: Saving Your Good Ideas From Getting Shot Down

Influential Fundraiser: Using the Psychology of Persuasion to Achieve Outstanding Results

To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others

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An unvarnished look at our nonprofit sector’s challenges and opportunities

More than $1.5 trillion flow through more than one million charities, employing 13 million people in the United States. The charitable sector is one of the pillars of American quality of life, yet remarkably, we don’t think much about causes.

Even more surprising is in our results-driven world, the general public rarely presses nonprofits for accountability to results and measures.

Former National Public Radio CEO Ken Stern has written a book to tell the story of charitable failures, misguided incentives and ineffective market structures. With Charity for All is a call to action for the social sector to look at its framework and identify ways in which it can make corrective measures one person, one nonprofit at a time.

Some of the problems Stern challenges us to face include:

Tolerance of low- or no-impact outcomes like water charities that build wells but fail to maintain them or programs like D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) that actually stimulated drug use.

Acceptance of the government’s 99.5 percent approval of all charitable applications: The IRS’ low requirement threshold for nonprofit status further crowds the social sector with charities that don’t always meet two important criteria: 1) charitable tax exemption to “relieve the government of having to provide and pay for certain services” and 2) public benefit: “the charity cannot operate for private benefit; its value must be felt broadly within the community.”

Lack of sector scrutiny: “Ineffective supervision, unclear legal standards, and enormous consumer confusion all create a situation where it is astonishingly easy to set up, operate, and maintain charities that principally benefit their fund-raisers and managers.” Stern gives examples such as donations not going to programs but instead, to fundraising and administrative expenses. For example, the Association for Firefighters and Paramedics (AFP) designate only three percent of the funds to the programs that assist burn victims.

Solutions: a path to a better charitable marketplace

In the final chapter, Stern discusses what we, as a society, need to do to combat the real dangers of the charitable sector as it stands today. Many charities believe the sector does not “lend itself to empirical measurement” because it is difficult to measure social good. Also, people that work for social good should not be evaluated. This belief results in being more fair to the charities than the beneficiaries of their work. Donors’ lack of research and their donations to good stories rather than legitimate impact are exacerbating the problem.

Stern’s paths to a better charitable marketplace include:

Ken Stern

  1. Resist the old ways” by focusing on social impact to beneficiaries based on objective evidence. People must look past charismatic leaders and fundraisers and enticing marketing strategies to real impact.
  2. Look for indicia of quality”: clarity of targets, transparency with goals and research, real growth. Be wary of claims of low overhead because they may be “managing their books for public display or shortchanging their potential, or both.”
  3. Do the work” by researching the charities thoroughly, not just the charities’ websites, but also public reports and other websites. Share the information you find.
  4. Follow the leaders,” or signalers, that have done the research (GiveWell, New Profit and Robin Hood Foundations). These organizations are still small and limited in scope, but it’s a start.
  5. “Reconsider what constitutes a charity: Businesses that look, act, and feel like for-profit operations, like [some] hospitals, … should be treated as for-profit businesses, both out of notions of competitive fairness and out of the belief that such operations neither need nor deserve public support.” What organizations really should receive tax-exempt status?

We must open our eyes if we’re to make a change

Given the extent to which our society and government increasingly depend on the social sector to deliver critical support to the underserved as well as augment our quality of life, it’s understandable that former nonprofit CEOs like Ken Stern who’ve witnessed the challenges we face feel compelled to give readers an unvarnished look in front of and behind the curtain. With so much riding on our sector’s ability to deliver impact, Stern challenges us to open our eyes and take a closer look at what seemingly has gone unnoticed for too long.

See also:

Charity Case: How the Nonprofit Community Can Stand Up for Itself and Really Change the World

The One-Hour Activist: The 15 Most Powerful Actions You Can Take to Fight for the Issues and Candidates You Care About

Governance Series–Volume One: Fundraising for Boards, Ethics, Governance as Leadership and Conversations that Matter

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Fail Better: Learn how to make nonprofit failures maximally useful

Let’s face it: Failure is universal. It is universally associated with avoidance, denial, frustration and shame. Yet smart individuals, teams, and even some organizations have discovered failure, if anticipated, evaluated, and corrected, can be the answer to succeeding sooner.

Fail Better authors Anjali Sastry and Kara Penn personally have experienced and observed these interactions with failing better and have assembled a systematic approach for improving how you fail. If we know failure is inevitable, why not get better at it?

Our latest recommended book is about just that—how to fail better. Sastry and Penn have designed a purposeful way to experiment and innovate that will transform your failures into opportunities to learn, modify and improve.

If you’ve ever asked any of the following questions, then Fail Better is for you:

“How do I deliver on my work—get my ‘real job’ done—and at the same time innovate and improve?”

“How do I improve my own personal practices and habits to enable even better impact?”

“How can I learn from previous experience, within our organization or more broadly?”

Sastry and Penn explain that “smart leaders, entrepreneurs and change agents design their innovation projects with a key idea in mind: ensure that every failure is maximally useful.” In Fail Better, the authors show you how to create the conditions, culture and habits to determine what the most
effective solutions are by:

1) launching every project with the necessary groundwork,

2) building and refining ideas, products and services through iterative action, and

3) identifying the learning moments and embedding the knowledge.

Launch, iterate, embed

In other words, the book discusses how to address failures and make them beneficial before (launch), during (iteration) and after (embedding) the project’s work. You will learn an invaluable skill you may never have developed before: how to distinguish “preventable, wasteful and uninstructive failures” from helpful ones you can incorporate into your process.

Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights and failing better

The Civil Rights Movement is an example of iterating and embedding your learning. Initially, when the movement did not accomplish enough change working through the legal system, it began to look at lessons from India’s independence and worked with the NAACP to share assets and capabilities. The leaders had to consider the time horizon by acknowledging that their movements in the short run could possibly only pay off in the long run.

They practiced civil disobedience in many settings and shared their field-tested advice with other groups. They were constantly telling their stories through speeches. They continuously embedded their learning when they met to discuss and debate perspectives and tactics. The ultimate embedding occurred with the civil rights legislation. They, especially Martin Luther King, Jr., documented (embedded) their thoughts as well.

If nonprofits are willing to accept that failure is inevitable and part of progress, then they can enjoy the benefits turning mistakes into productive experiences. Both large and small organizations can implement the launch-iterate-embed practices Sastry and Penn recommend in the book. Watch for future installments about the Fail Better method and how you can embrace failure for what it can teach you.

See also:

Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

Repeatability: Build Enduring Businesses for a World of Constant Change

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