Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Trusting the nonprofit.

I just started reading today's transcript from The Chronicle that discusses finance. The first question mentioned Dan Pallotta. Who is this guy? He published a book called "Uncharitable"? Now my ADD must click over to his blog. And he is commenting on something we all read recently; that a Boston Foundation is going to make operating grants. Operating grants! He was in as much disbelief as I was. A foundation was trusting that the people who work at nonprofits know what they need and where they should spend their money. No restrictions. Larger awards. Extended timelines. Wow.

Why does this matter to me? Well, in a past life, I worked at the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts. It's a wonderful little non-collecting museum that relies on donations, grants and begging (like every arts nonprofit). I remember the development and education directors applying for a grant from a company that had ties to the medical community. The museum could get the grant if it was spent on a project approved by the company (it had to be medically-related). So like any nonprofit that needs money, they wrote the grant and added this program to the rest of their programs.

Now they had to staff and manage something that wasn't in the original gameplan. All in the hopes that the project would gain a little more funding or help the bottom line.

How does a medical company know more about contemporary art than the educators, directors and curators that work there? They don't. But they call the shots. How frustrating! And it happens all the time. "This grant may not be used for administrative purposes." "This grant may not be used to purchase capital items."

Let us hope that other foundations and grantmakers will take note and do what is right for the organizations- let the nonprofits do what is necessary to be sustainable. Respect them for their expertise and stop treating them like people "who couldn't make it in the 'real' world."

And now...back to the transcript.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Seth Godin strikes again!

Whether you agree or disagree with this man, he gets you thinking. Having worked for several nonprofits, I can attest to the fact that they have a difficult time moving forward. They settle for the status quo, frustrated that their lack of resources holds them back. Yet, I am surrounded by artists. These people believe in what they do and sacrifice to be true to themselves and their art. There is no status quo here.

So why can't nonprofits behave like this? Always searching for the next donor, buyer, investor? Because it takes a lot of effort. The people that are entrepreneurs are the ones who understand how to go and go and go. Always self-promoting; always talking about their accomplishments. They are like theatre majors (I was one, years ago). These people are always "on." You never know when you will be discovered or asked to be in so-and-so's next production. The little theatres are fun, but the same people star in the plays. Hmm. Seems like directors settle for the status quo with really talented people.

And this is something that Seth brings up. Executives of nonprofits who can suck the life out of dedicated and ultra-creative people--wasting talent. It's no wonder there is such high turnover. Execs are beholden to boards, who are impressed that you can get so much done on so little money. Which sets us up to live in poverty and not make decisions which are best for the organization, but what is best for the board. Argh.

I'm trying a few new initiatives this year. We can't go back. Things will never be the same and WHY WOULD WE WANT THEM TO BE? We have this incredible opportunity to reinvent ourselves, our organizations, the status quo. I'll let you know if they work. But let's try this one first: tell your board members to introduce themselves as a board member first. Before they say "I'm in investments" or "I own a bank." For the next two weeks, whenever someone asks "What do you do?" answer by saying "I serve on ___'s Board of Driectors. It's the most amazing organization!" Etc. Etc.

Let's see what happens. I'm curious to see if a) the dollar bill I wrote on and spent in San Antonio will ever come back to me and b) to meet someone and hear them say "I serve on this amazing board!"