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Nonprofits and the Public Trust: No Excuses

Periodically, social media is ablaze with comments from nonprofit leaders bemoaning the fact that their organizations are too small to keep up with a seemingly overwhelming amount of professional and regulatory standards. While one may hear less outright complaining from big nonprofits when they turn a blind eye to the importance of standards, ethics, and the public trust, chances are we'll be reading about their transgressions in the headlines.

Whether nonprofits flaunt the public trust due to ignorance or by design, the performance expectation for all nonprofits -- no matter their size, discipline, or resources -- is grounded in the fact they have been incorporated to perform a public service. They have entered into a relationship with the public that fulfills a need for which they receive benefits in return. Chief among these benefits is tax exemption for mission-related activities and the opportunity for donors to make tax-deductible contributions. When a nonprofit honors its…
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When 'Busy' Isn't Good Enough

On the eve of a new year, lots of you (myself included) are thinking about the shape of your lives and careers in the year ahead. Taking my own Strategize Me advice, I like to reserve New Year's to reflect on my past accomplishments and map out a plan for the coming year.

The year just ending was overflowing with work commitments: a full plate of employee and consultant responsibilities, a new book, co-developing a new museum studies course and trying to teach it, trying to be present with colleagues and friends, struggling to be creative and interesting and interested -- well, the list goes on and on.

It's easy enough to chalk it up as a busy year. What's struck me as I attempt to catalog my 2017 accomplishments is that I get no satisfaction from being so busy.  Busy-ness does not equal quality; it doesn't begin to describe depth (or even lack) of commitment. It fails the authenticity test.

I'm tired of being busy, of describing myself that way as my pat answer t…

Why You Need a Personal Board of Directors

Today I'm meeting up with my career planning posse. We call ourselves the Gang of Five and we've been meeting periodically for about six years to share our career challenges and aspirations, our plans; seek and offer advice, support, and the critique as appropriate. The Gang is my personal board of directors, who collectively and individually I can call on when needed. As a result, I've advanced my thinking about my career journey, if nothing more than to make it far more intentional.

Earlier this summer, I got to talk with my friend and colleague, Greg Stevens at the American Alliance of Museums, about career planning. The result is this interview, published at Alliance Labs. Greg is a terrific proponent of career planning and development -- not surprising since he's the Director of Professional Development at AAM and the co-author of A Life in Museums: Managing Your Museum Career. Whether you work in museums or some other type of cultural institution, check out the …

The Parallel Universes of Nonprofit Work

I've been following some of the running commentary in a couple of Facebook groups that cater to nonprofit leaders, both veteran and emerging. I'm glad to know there are active and supportive fora where folks can vent their frustrations and celebrate their accomplishments. We all need a safe space in which to do just that.

The venting focuses almost exclusively on workplace issues -- you can probably guess them -- lousy pay, crushing hours, troubles with subordinates, trouble with board members, ethical dilemmas, general frustration with the pervasive notion of scarcity to which many nonprofits cling. While the members of the Facebook groups represent a teeny fraction of the actual nonprofit workforce, I believe their challenges are widespread and probably growing as the number of nonprofits continues to expand.

These challenges aren't new, although increased external scrutiny and competition have made them more pressing, more in-your-face, and no longer avoidable.  Taken…

Nonprofit Board Resolutions for a New, Uncertain Year

I've written about resolutions for nonprofits before (see the infographic and read more here), but this year -- especially this year -- nonprofit boards will be put to the test in the face of civic dissonance, uncertain government support for education, arts, history, and science; and the continuation of dramatically shifting demographics.

So, here's my short list:

Know your organization's mission cold and I don't mean memorize the mission statement.  I mean deeply and fully understand the impact your nonprofit makes to those who benefit from the work you do. Understand how you meet the need, how you excel at doing so, and why that's important.  Be able to tell the stories about your organization's impact to anyone.

Get up to speed on what real governance is all about.  Set goals and success measures, exercise oversight, consider the future (a lot), strategize pathways to success, and keep at it.  Good governance is intentional and sustained.

Be the partner your …

Welcome Back

It's hard for me to believe I've let my blog writing lapse for so long and to my many readers I apologize for that. It's not that I haven't been writing, because I have, just in other fora. The last year-and-a-half was taken up with co-authoring a new book, Women and the Museum: Lessons from the Workplace, which will be published next spring by Routledge.

Gender equity for all women is on my mind. Hardly a day goes by without seeing or hearing a story on this topic, but there seems to be little movement toward positive change despite the attention it's getting. Lest you think gender equity is a symptom unique to under-resourced nonprofits and old-school for-profits, I'm here to tell you that it plagues every sector from Silicon Valley to higher ed to Hollywood and, oh, yes, it's alive and well at your friendly neighborhood cultural and social welfare organization.

A group of colleagues and I recently published A Call for Gender Equity in the Museum Workpl…

Three Most Important Nonprofit Executive Director Soft Skills

If you were asked to narrow down the list of executive director qualifications to the three most important, which ones would you identify? Would the list consist of soft skills, hard skills, or some combination? Would your list be based on the great ED you are or one you've worked for, or would it be your wish list for the ED you haven't been fortunate yet to work for? 

This was an assignment in my recent online class in leadership and administration for the American Association for State and Local History. I asked the class to review three-five advertisements for museum directors and analyze what these listings intimated about the organization’s past experience, current focus and goals, and future aspirations. Then, I asked the class to identify what they consider to be the three most important qualifications they would look for in a director. (Okay, so there's more than three if you dissect my three big groups.) 

Soft skills outnumbered hard skills, although demonstra…