“Nonprofits Are Run Worse Than Corporations…” (and Other Harmful Myths)

nonprofit businesses

There seems to be an endless list of myths about nonprofit businesses and the nonprofit sector – and a few of them really make my blood boil.

Yes yes, it’s true. I am a fiercely loyal advocate for nonprofit leaders but I am not close to naive about their challenges.

But here’s a myth that really drives me nuts:

Nonprofit businesses are not as well run as for profit companies.

Are you kidding me right now?

Corporate America is the holy grail? Holy smokes. It’s a pretty cold day in hell when we can say THAT with a straight face.

Just talk to organizational expert Jim Collins – you know, the “Good to Great” author — he will say that while some business concepts apply, many don’t actually apply to the nonprofit sector. It’s an entirely different ballgame when profit is not the motive and when meaning and purpose are.

I came from corporate America into the nonprofit sector and learned as many gems about leadership and management from the nonprofit model as I brought with me from my corporate executive gig.

It is time to STOP with the nonprofit vs for profit comparisons.

Time to stop belittling the nonprofit leaders as well-meaning folks (“God love em” is what my mother would say) and see the sector for what it is — a vital cornerstone of every town and state…of every civil society. In fact, it is these organizations that make our society civil.

Here are five additional myths. Let’s tease them out. What you will find interesting is the extent to which nonprofit leaders themselves perpetuate some of these.

Let’s make it our business not just to debunk them but to escort them to the door.

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Mission Creep Can Turn Your Org Into a Circus

mission creep - lion jumping through hoops

Picture this: You run an animal shelter and a donor offers your org a huge gift to fund a program to train all the animals in your shelter to be circus animals…

Is this an example of mission creep? (Select one)

  1. Totally
  2. Kinda

Note that I didn’t offer you a “no” option. Why not? Because the problem about this whole mission creep thing lives in that one word: kinda.

Here’s what I mean…

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Do You Understand Why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Is So Important?

diversity and inclusion important

A few years back I was engaged to do strategy work for a cultural organization that focused on the Tibetan community. Not a single board member had any connection to this community. There was no advisory board so that the organization could deeply understand the culture and the needs of the community.

I thought an analogy might help them see that this was deeply problematic. So I asked them to imagine an African American community center with no African American board members or any people at all who might represent them. I felt sure I would create a powerful aha moment about the importance of board diversity.

Instead, I had one.

Several of them said they could totally imagine that — and that board service is all about skills and wealth and wealth adjacency.

Honestly, if I had asked that question and heard that answer when originally discussing the engagement, I would not have taken the organization’s money. I didn’t ask enough questions about this board’s composition and values.

I should have.

The nonprofit sector model is deeply flawed. For the most part, power rests in the hands of largely male, largely affluent white people. For the most part, organizations are too far removed from the communities they serve.

Today I’d like to talk about things that are troubling me and a few reasons why nonprofit organizations MUST engage in work around diversity, equity, and inclusion.

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Nonprofits, Leadership, and the Great Resignation

Last December over 4 million Americans quit their jobs. The Great Resignation (also known as the Big Quit) is here and it’s the real deal. And, as the third biggest driver of our economy — just behind retail and food service and before American manufacturing — the nonprofit sector is not immune to its effects.

So, what’s behind this ongoing trend? Well, there are tons of theories floating around.

Some are leaving roles in search of higher wages to keep up with the rising cost of living. Others are leaving roles that put them at a greater risk on contracting COVID-19. There are also people who are leaving roles in search of work that brings them a greater sense of meaning and purpose.

Whatever a person’s individual reasons are for joining the Great Resignation, there seems to be a common theme among those who are searching for more than what their previous roles could offer — a lack of job satisfaction.

Whether someone is working for a nonprofit or a for-profit organization, according to psychologist, Daniel Pink, there are three key factors that influence overall job satisfaction.

Click play below to learn what they are. I also share some advice on how to reduce employee turnover, keep your people close during the Great Resignation, and transform your organization into a workplace of choice.

Watch & learn:

  • How is the Great Resignation impacting the nonprofit sector?
  • What are the three biggest drivers of job satisfaction?
  • How can nonprofit leaders reduce turnover among those working for nonprofits?

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What to Expect From Me in 2022

Welcome to 2022, nonprofit leaders! To be honest, I am usually not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions — but these are not usual times…

This year marks nearly two years since the start of the global pandemic that rocked our worlds and brought on the biggest cultural shift many of us have seen in our lifetimes. Full stop.

As we dive headfirst into another year of the nonprofit sector’s new normal, the services offered by organizations all across the globe are needed now more than ever before. And, we all have a big fat opportunity right now to help lead our fellow humans through these uncertain times and help shape the future of nonprofits around the world.

It is so important to approach this opportunity with intention and have a clear direction for your nonprofit goals.

That is why I decided to take some time to reflect on my role when it comes to supporting your nonprofit goals in 2022 — and I have uncovered what I believe is my most important mission for the upcoming year.

In this short video, I share how I plan to help our sector reduce one of the most common problems faced by nonprofit organizations. So, click play to find out what I want you to hold me accountable to in 2022.

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Joan’s Top 5 Nonprofit Leadership Blog Posts of 2021

nonprofit leadership

Each of you began this year bleary-eyed.

On January 1, 2021, you were just coming off the heels of one of the most disruptive years the nonprofit sector has ever seen. Every year puts nonprofit leaders to this test, and this was never more true than in the year 2020.

The onset of the (still ongoing) global pandemic shook up our worlds, and it probably took everything you had to stay afloat.

But 2021 was just supposed to be the next day on the calendar. The vaccine presented a glimmer of hope that somehow things would return to “normal” when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Day.

But most of the world did not yet have access. So it was more of the same.

On top of that, with our global economy still reeling from the pandemic’s lasting effects, this year brought an unbelievable need for your services.

So you did what nonprofit leaders do — you summoned energy you didn’t even think you had and made the decision to focus on the fundamentals.

You kept close tabs on your budget. You sought new ways to engage your board. You searched for resources where you could find them and found creative ways to bring more dollars in.

And you did all this in the service of a mission that means everything to you.

I know from all the emails and comments that I have gotten over the past year, that so many of you turned to the resources here on my blog for help. And for that, I am so grateful.

It has been a privilege to offer you advice and suggestions to help fuel your ability to work towards your mission and do your very best as a nonprofit leader and manager.

There are 5 resources in particular that nonprofit leaders like you found most valuable. As you prepare to head into the year 2022 (can you believe we’re almost 2 years out from 2020?) I thought it might be helpful to do a recap.

Check out this list and give them a quick read. They just might inspire some new ideas or insights that you can take into the new year.

Drumroll please…
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An Inspiring Hanukkah Message For Every Nonprofit Leader

We did it, nonprofit leaders. We made it to the last month of the year.

You’ve gone above and beyond all day long, all year long. That was true all day long, all year long last year, and in the years before as well.

But right now, you might be feeling like you are running low on fuel.

With the holiday season in full swing, I can not stress enough how important it is for you to take advantage of any time you have right now to rest, recharge, and replenish your energy.

I recently had time to do this as we began our yearly celebration of Hanukkah in my household. And as I took some time to reflect on the story behind this special time, I realized that there is a very important lesson for every nonprofit leader in the miracle of Hanukkah.

So if you have been feeling the nonprofit burnout creeping in lately, I invite you to watch this video to learn what it is. No matter what holidays or festivities you participate in during this time of year, this lesson just might be the inspiration you need to keep your passion for the work fully ignited.


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3 Things I Wish I Knew Before Working For A Nonprofit

I get asked quite a lot if there were things I wish I knew when I moved from corporate America to working for a nonprofit. And indeed there are.

In fact, three of them come immediately to mind.

You see, before I became the executive director of GLAAD, I was in the entertainment business. As you can imagine, there are many major differences between these two working environments. From management styles, to the level of emotion and passion involved, to what really drives your bottom line.

Click play to hear the three things I really wish I knew before working for a nonprofit. My answers might surprise you:

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An Easy Nonprofit Budget Template (+ How to Use It)

nonprofit budget template

 

It was my first day on the job at GLAAD. I sat down to meet with our then Director of Finance, and he nearly wept as I pulled my HP 12c calculator out of my backpack.

Why so much emotion?

At that moment, I didn’t know if it was because he could see that I knew numbers and that maybe, just maybe, I could help save the place…OR if he was thinking, “Holy smokes – she knows numbers. She’s going to get one look at these and get on the next plane back to NY.”

Turns out it was the former.

Now I want to be clear: I did not have a background in Financebut I didn’t have math anxiety either.

That’s because thanks to a most excellent boss over at MTV Networks, a really nice and awfully smart man named Mayo Stuntz, I learned something very essential — numbers tell a story.

Back then, numbers told us a story that led us to create the MTV Video Music Awards and then its Merchandising Program (pretty darned good stories they were too!).

These days, I meet at least quarterly with my business manager. As she ticks and ties the numbers, I ask tons of questions that usually go something like, “So what’s the story this year-to-date P&L tells me? What’s going well? Where are the red flags?”

When you ask the right questions and learn how to get to the bottom of the story, budgeting actually becomes really simple. Like a finance person I once worked with told me a while back, “It’s only a budget.” I laughed then (odd words coming from the lead bean counter), but now I get what she meant by this:

A budget is just a benchmark. A good, solid set of numbers that reflect what you know and what might be terrific estimates (as well as a few shots in the dark).

And as a nonprofit executive director, it is your job to make your best effort to create this set of benchmark numbers and then (here’s the really important part) tell the story behind the numbers in a way that all board members, regardless of financial literacy, will really understand.

To help you to do that, I have developed an easy-to-use nonprofit operating budget template. You’ll find a bunch of them on the internet but they are just that — templates. What I’m going to offer you is a basic template and also some advice on how to best use it to tell the story behind the numbers. Because as I said above, the numbers tell a story — but you need to learn how to tell it.

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Why Every Nonprofit Leader Hates Icebreakers (And Why You Shouldn’t)

 

icebrakers

You’ve all heard it: “Sure, we can do a retreat, but PLEASE no icebreakers!”

These words were probably uttered by a board chair or executive director whose sharing skills are about as good as mine were 15-20 years ago. That was around the time when I led my first nonprofit retreat as an executive director — I wasn’t big on sharing.

So you can imagine how terrified I was when I heard the request, “Tell us something the rest of the group doesn’t know about you.”

My heart thumped. My mind raced. Would anyone care about my vintage baseball collection?

Then, a staffer volunteered to share first, “I’ve decided to transition to become a man.”

I figured out two things at that moment. First, I learned that icebreakers can be very powerful. Second, I learned that I had to do better than my stinkin’ baseball card collection.

When it comes down to it, there are two big reasons why nonprofit leaders (and people in general) hate icebreakers:

  1. Most icebreakers are terribly, horribly awful. (read: they suck.)
  2. People don’t understand why they matter (and how powerful they can be).

The good news is that we can fix both of these in just one post! Seriously.

You see, these two problems are related. Once you figure out why they matter, you can design icebreakers that don’t suck and that meet their intended goal.

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