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279 posts categorized "Nonprofit Management"

Interview Strategies for Hiring Managers

October 24, 2015

Interview-strategies-for-hiring-managersNot all interviews are equal. There are great interviews and great interviewers, and then there are not-so-great interviews and interviewers. The tips below will ensure that you are in the great camp.

1. Make time to prepare. Don't go into an interview without a plan of action. This includes taking the time to review the resume of the candidate carefully and preparing a list of thoughtful questions in advance. Going into an interview with a comprehensive list of questions will ensure that you don't forget to ask anything and that the interview will move along smoothly. Make sure, too, that you have some generic questions, as well as questions tailored to the open job position itself.

2. Include other colleagues in the process as appropriate. It's always a great idea to bring other colleagues into the interview process. For starters, they can be an invaluable source of feedback as you evaluate candidates, and they also can provide candidates with a more nuanced and layered understanding of the organization. Take the time to prep your colleagues and make sure they have all the relevant materials (including the job description!) and a clear idea about what you'd like them to ask. Don't feel as if you have to include a large number of people, as that can be overwhelming for a candidate and make it more difficult for you to absorb and assess feedback. But do aim for a cross-section of people likely to interact with a new hire on a regular basis.

3. Use the opportunity to shed light on your organization’s culture. If the candidate doesn't ask, be sure to share aspects of your organization's culture so that both of you are able to evaluate whether he or she is a good "fit." You can talk about values, how people communicate with each other, whether or not attendance at a retreat is part of the job (and what the retreats are like), how big decisions get made, what people do for fun — anything that will provide a sense of the overall culture at your organization.

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Philanthropy University? It Really May Be the Next Big Thing…

October 23, 2015

Especially here in Silicon Valley, there are many who believe technology is a silver bullet for social problems large and small. In the Valley, technology is looked to as THE source of innovation and the key to making solutions better, faster, cheaper. Sometimes that is in fact the case; most of the time it is not.

Take the example of PlayPumps, a technology that was designed with children in mind and was supposed to make pumping water in remote villages in the developing world easy and fun. Instead, today, in many villages, the pumps sit broken and idle. Or the soccer ball that was supposed to generate energy when kicked, serving double duty as a toy and a lamp for households without electricity. The balls, praised as ingenious when they first appeared, soon proved to be a bust. And the list goes on.

Sometimes, however, technology can provide exactly the right tool for the job. Philanthropy University would seem to be such a case. In partnership with the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, Philanthropy University offers free online courses taught by top instructors. In the process, it greatly expands access to the knowledge, wisdom, and best practices social sector leaders need in order to improve human and social service delivery around the globe. (Full disclosure, I serve on Phil U’s curriculum advisory committee.)

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 17-18, 2015)

October 18, 2015

Our weekly round Fall_Foliage_Photographyup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog.

Climate Change

Does Bill Gates understand that divestment movements do not need to financially impact their targets to be successful? Not really, argues Katie Herzog in Grist.

And look who just came out in support of the UN climate goals

International Affairs/Development

It has been a deadly year for aid workers in the field. Iain Overton reports for the Guardian.


Can separate be equal in education? In Boston, many black families have decided that diversity in the classroom is a luxury, not a necessity. Farah Stockman explains.

On Medium, Jeff Raikes, former CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has some thoughts on how philanthropy can promote innovation in Education.


On the Barr Foundation website, Senior Program Officer E. San San Wong discusses three trends the Boston-based foundation's arts team is exploring in the context of a strategic planning process.

Higher Education

Looking for innovation in higher education? Washington Monthly's Matt Connolly highlights ten leaders who are delivering it.

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Losing the Red Cross Would Be the Real Disaster

September 27, 2015

Headshot_beth_gazleyPhilanTopic is on vacation this week. While we're away, we'll be sharing some of our favorite posts from the last year or three. This post was originally published in November 2014. Enjoy.

As a disaster researcher and scholar of nonprofit management, I've followed the (well publicized) travails and (hardly publicized) successes of the American Red Cross over the years.

I've met its national staff at research conferences and local staff at state and county emergency management meetings, where I've served on the board of my local Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD). I participated with hundreds of other invited experts in the governance audit that resulted in the "American National Red Cross Governance Modernization Act of 2007." I’ve monitored the commentary after a ProPublica/National Public Radio exposé of the Red Cross appeared last week. And based on my observations, I have developed a healthy respect and sympathy for the Red Cross.

Bet you didn't see that coming.

There's no disputing the fact that the public needs better results from the Red Cross. The organization has been essential to our welfare since the day it was chartered by Congress to be our national disaster response agency — primus inter pares among hundreds of agencies known collectively as voluntary organizations active in disaster. In fact, the Red Cross predates the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) by seventy-nine years.

Congress has entrusted a good part of disaster-related mass care and sheltering to the Red Cross. Somewhat less rationally, Congress imposed this public mandate on the Red Cross without much aid; the agency is expected to meet our nation's disaster relief needs largely through the philanthropic generosity of Americans.

Further complicating matters, the Red Cross has been plagued for years by leadership issues — issues that aren't easy to resolve because they are rooted in a number of larger, systemic problems:

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Four Key Indicators of Nonprofit Success

September 25, 2015

Headshot_richard_brewsterPhilanTopic is on vacation this week. While we're away, we'll be sharing some of our favorite posts from the last year or three. This post was originally published in September 2014. Enjoy.

Have you ever "ghost dialed" someone? You know, when the phone in your purse or pocket accidentally dials a number? Well, that recently happened to me with a board member of a human services nonprofit. We were surprised to be talking to each other but continued. The organization was well known in its community and had been successful, but our conversation ended up being pretty depressing: the nonprofit was in the process of shutting down.

I did some research and discovered that the organization's budget grew from $5 million to $10 million in just five years. Then a crisis came, they lost a major source of revenue, and there followed a painful five-year decline.

Why did this happen? A little more research and some reflection on others' experience suggests that four key conditions need to be met in order to survive a crisis like the loss of a major funder:

1. Sustainability isn't just about dollars. A nonprofit's programs need to be relevant today, not for situations or problems that are five or ten years in the past. The human services group above offered only housing, even as other agencies in the area began to provide services such as day care to low-income people, enabling them to keep their jobs (and pay the rent).

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (August 2015)

September 01, 2015

With the markets sliding and the heat and humidity rising, it seems like a good time to take a step back and revisit some of the great content published here on PhilanTopic in August. Learning to embrace change and failure, tips for your next group interview, and the return of venture philanthropy and old-fashioned liberal education -- it was a month to remember, if not one to take to the bank....

What have you read, watched, or listened to lately that made you think? Feel free to it share with others in the comments section below, or drop us a line at

Weekend Link Roundup (August 15-16, 2015)

August 16, 2015

Julian-bond-1940-2015Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....


In the first Q&A for their new Community Insights series, the folks at Markets for Good speak with Andrew Means, co-founder of the Impact Lab and founder of Data Analysts for Social Good.


Good post by Beth Kanter on six fundraising platforms that have disrupted charitable giving forever.

In a review of Will MacAskill's Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference, Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther says that if "Effective Altruism catches on more widely – and that's a big if – it will disrupt traditional philanthropy, change the way individuals donate to charity and force nonprofits to get much better at measuring impact...."

Global Health

Think the world is getting worse? Max Roser and the folks at have a dozen or so charts and tables that suggest otherwise.

The continent of Africa recently celebrated a year without a single recorded case of polio. On Slate, the Gates Foundation's Jay Wenger explains why that is cause for optimism but not complacency.


In an op-ed in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Sonya Campion, a trustee of the Seattle-based Campion Foundation, argues that advocacy is a basic responsibility of all nonprofit boards.


On the Social Velocity blog, the Packard Foundation's Kathy Reich, who usually doesn't agree with those who urge nonprofits to act more like for-profits, says there is one area where nonprofits lag their for-profit peers: talent assessment, development, and management.

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Change Management From the Inside Out

August 13, 2015

Change_button_195I have been thinking a lot about change lately.

It’s no secret that external change is often the enemy of an organization’s long-term impact. Think changes in public policy. Trends in fundraising. Challenges to mission. Shifts in consumer sentiment. And, frankly, philanthropic fads.

But internal change can be just as much or perhaps even more of a management challenge, and the implications of how we deal with that change — particularly at the leadership level — are critical.

Consider such internal challenges as:

  • Change in organizational leadership – the CEO, president, or executive director;
  • Change in board leadership due to term limits;
  • Change in volunteer leadership at the ground level as volunteers move from one volunteer opportunity to another;
  • Change in how volunteers themselves see their roles in the organization; and
  • The need to make changes in "the way we do things" to avoid institutional inertia and dry rot.

No one has written about "change" and "transition" more eloquently than the author, speaker, and organizational consultant William Bridges, who asserts that "it isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions."

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[Review] 'The Social Profit Handbook: The Essential Guide to Setting Goals, Assessing Outcomes, and Achieving Success for Mission-Driven Organizations'

June 18, 2015

In his poem "i thank You God for most this amazing," e.e. cummings wrote that "now the ears of my ears awake and / now the eyes of my eyes are opened." It is precisely this sense of clarity that comes to mind when reading The Social Profit Handbook: The Essential Guide to Setting Goals, Assessing Outcomes, and Achieving Success for Mission-Driven Organizations (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015) by David Grant, former president and CEO of the New Jersey-based Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

Cover_the_social_nonprofit_handbookAs Grant notes, the world of the twenty-first century increasingly is defined by metrics and data. The social sector is no exception, and calls for better and more timely measurement of its activities have become a feature of the landscape. Gone are the days when funders were content to let intuition and anecdotal evidence guide their funding choices. Donors today — both institutional and individual — are keen to move the needle on large, seemingly intractable societal and environmental challenges, and in attempting to do so they have become ever-more interested in data that can demonstrate the impact of the programs and organizations in which they have invested. As a long-time admirer and teacher of poetry and literature, Grant relishes the complexity of this brave new world and applies his nuanced perspective toward a keen assessment of what it means for the field. "Social profit," he writes, "is about desired social benefits, and so it has to be defined locally depending on what a community of people values and what they need. It will never have a fixed or standard measure, and efforts to create one will get bogged down in endless quibbles and conflict about measurement itself."

According to Grant, efforts to measure social impact are fraught with challenges with which the for-profit world does not have to contend. Trying to balance multiple bottom lines, for example, is necessarily more complex than having to worry about a single one, he notes, especially given the fact there is no single agreed-upon unit of "social profit." Rather than focus on quantitative measures, therefore, Grant emphasizes qualitative "formative assessment." While not ignoring quantitative performance measures, he favors "soft measurements" and argues that a true assessment of social profit demands "a combination of pertinent metrics and a qualitative description...that can only be created by the people who are providing and receiving it."

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[Review] 'The Chocolate Trust: Deception, Indenture and Secrets at the $12 Billion Milton Hershey School'

June 02, 2015

Cover_the_chocolate_trustWould you be concerned if you knew there was a charity that served only a couple of thousand children each year even though its asset base was  the same size as the Ford Foundation's? Would you wonder what that charity, three times the size of the largest U.S. community foundation, did with the money it accumulates and doesn't spend each year? Would you wonder who benefits from it? 

Bob Fernandez, a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, wondered all that and more about the $12 billion Hershey School and decided to do some digging. The result is The Chocolate Trust (Camino Books, 256 pages; $24.95/paper, $9.99/ebook).

The book is important not simply for what it reveals about the trust, about those who have profited from its sometimes questionable practices over decades, and about the kids who have been neglected as a result of those practices. The Chocolate Trust also is a cautionary tale for anyone who thinks nonprofits can self-regulate or rely on local and state government authorities who too often are ethically compromised and politically constrained to keep them on the straight and narrow. 

First, a little history. In 1909, Milton Hershey, who had started a chocolate company and set out to build a town for its workers, established the nonprofit Hershey Industrial School, a residential facility to serve young, fatherless, white boys. In 1918, a few years after Hershey's wife, Kitty, died – they never had children and had no heirs – Hershey transferred his land and other assets to his "orphanage," making it a very wealthy entity indeed.

Hershey stipulated that those assets were to be managed by the Hershey Trust, part of a for-profit bank, and he retained a significant measure of control over the school's operations by reserving to the bank the right to appoint its board members. In simple terms, the bank controlled the school's assets and operations, and Hershey owned the bank – the reverse of standard operating procedure in the charity world, where donated assets typically are controlled by the charity to which they have been donated. 

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Invest in Leadership Development to Retain High Performers of All Races

March 28, 2015

Leadership_diversityWhile people of color in the United States account for nearly half – 48 percent – of the total student population, leadership in nonprofit education organizations doesn't mirror this demographic fact. In a recent survey, From Intention to Action: Building Diverse Leadership Teams in Education to Deepen Impact, Koya Leadership Partners and Education Pioneers found that at the director level within education nonprofits, only 39 percent of leaders are people of color. At the vice president level, the number dips to 18 percent. At the CEO level, 25 percent of leaders are people of color.

Through our collective research, we concluded that while most nonprofits have the right intentions when it comes to diversity and inclusion, many don't have practices in place to build and retain diverse leadership teams.

The absence of tools for ensuring "fit," a lack of retention initiatives that support employee and career growth, and not enough time spent building strategic partnerships that help attract candidates of color are leading to a less diverse workforce and to poor hiring decisions across the board.

Among other things, our survey found that nonprofits often put too much focus on recruiting, rather than investing in, diversity at the leadership level. While recruiting is necessary to bring talent into an organization, a healthy organizational culture depends on leadership development from within. Without it, nonprofits – including education nonprofits – can expect to continue to experience high turnover.

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[Infographic] 10 Traits That Make Nonprofits Great

March 21, 2015

This week's infographic, courtesy of the Horatio Alger Association, a nonprofit educational organization "established in 1947 to dispel the mounting belief among the nation's youth that the American dream was no longer attainable," doesn't break any ground when it comes to the traits that make nonprofits great. These are things all nonprofits need to (rather than should) do if they hope to succeed over the long term. But while some (#4, #6 and #9) are more important than others, all contain at least a kernel of good advice....

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[Infographic] The Millennial Wheel of Disengagement

February 14, 2015

It's been a slog, but the economy seems to be healing, with job creation returning to levels not seen since the final years of the Clinton administration. That's a good thing, for lots of reasons — not least of them the fact that every day between now and 2030, 10,000 boomers will retire and start receiving Social Security and Medicare benefits. Is that a problem for the economy? The Social Security Administration thinks so — and not just because 33 percent of its workforce and 48 percent of its supervisors will be eligible to retire this year.

But wait. Despite what you may have heard, millennials, 77 million strong and comprising a quarter of the U.S. population, are eager, ready, and -- we all should hope -- willing to save us.  As the infographic below from Virtuali, a leadership training firm suggests, they just need a little attention and opportunities to show their stuff. 

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Beyond the Kitchen Table: The Board’s Evolving Role

January 22, 2015

Many organizations begin as "kitchen table" groups: a bunch of neighbors sitting around somebody's kitchen, trying to solve a common problem or meet a community need. These folks share a passion for the cause and a willingness to roll up their sleeves and do the work.

They're seldom skilled in nonprofit governance, and, frankly, they don't even think about that stuff. They just want to fix what needs to be fixed.

Sometimes these informal groups continue for years or decades without growing or changing significantly, and their familiar leadership structure continues to serve them well. For example, I belong to an all-volunteer organization that has had no staff for most of the past seventy-five years – and yet the work gets done.

Taking "The Leap"

In other cases, these groups want to expand their impact, so they decide to hire employees and open an office. My colleagues at the Institute for Conservation Leadership call this stage "the leap," and it's filled with peril. Organizations hiring staff for the first time must address issues such as:

  • Now that we have an employee(s), how does our role as a board change?
  • How do we provide supervision without micro-managing?
  • How will we ensure that our staff has adequate resources to do the job well?
  • How do we evaluate our programs, our staff, and each other?

At this stage, other problems may surface. Board members who originally got involved with the organization because they care about the issue or cause are suddenly responsible for personnel policies, staff supervision, a more detailed level of planning, and greater responsibility for fundraising.

"Four Stages of Organizational Development" adapted, with permission, from the Institute for Conservation Leadership.

The visionary leader(s) who founded the organization may be unwilling to share power with the staff, which can lead to conflict, confusion about roles, and employee turnover. Or maybe the board breathes a collective sigh of relief, backs away, and abandons its responsibilities, assuming the employee(s) will do everything.

As you can see, the skills needed to start a group are not the same ones needed to take it to the next level of effectiveness.

The Sweet Spot: Moving to Shared Governance

As a nonprofit continues to grow, expand its programs, and hires more staff, the board's role continues to change. Because organizations become more complex, board governance also becomes more complicated.

In the next phase, sometimes called "shared governance," board and staff share power and responsibility, are clear about their respective roles, and have systems in place to create orderly transitions as people leave and new ones come in.

At this stage, the board has explicit written agreements that define what is expected of each trustee and what he or she can expect in return. These groups have a culture of accountability and mutual respect; they also have fun together and celebrate their shared accomplishments.

Clearly, board requirements and behavior must evolve as organizations develop and change. The board you need when starting something is not necessarily the same board you'll need to grow it to maturity.

So if somebody tries to convince you there is only one correct model of board governance, beware! No single "right way" will be relevant to all nonprofits, or even to a specific organization at different stages in its life.

Headshot_andy_robinsonTo learn more about how to develop and maintain an effective board at every stage of your organization’s life cycle, join me on Thursday, January 29, from 1:00-2:00 p.m. for the Foundation Center webinar Building a Board That Works. I'll share tips for recruiting the right mix of board members for your nonprofit, ensuring that they fundraise successfully, and keeping them motivated and accountable.

Andy Robinson, a consultant and trainer based in Vermont, is the author of six books, including Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise Money. This post originally appeared on the Philanthropy Front and Center-New York blog and is adapted from Great Boards for Small Groups (Medfield, MA: Emerson & Church).

Seven Measures of Financial Health

November 24, 2014

Headshot_john_hooverThe Internal Revenue Service is requiring more public disclosure from charities. The industry has data aggregators – GuideStar, Charity Navigator, and the Urban Institute, to name a few – that aid in this process. But a comprehensive analysis of an organization’s finances is the only way to really understand its overall health and viability. And while a verdict of weak or declining health is never welcome, it can be seen as an opportunity to move forward with new strategies, partnerships, collaborations, or even a merger.

Before you can determine your organization's financial health, however, you need to ensure that you are looking at the right measures:

Step 1: Determine what you want to measure. Identify your top measures. Focusing on a handful of top measures makes it easier to take a deeper dive into the data, while too much analysis can compromise stakeholders' ability to focus on the bigger picture.

Step 2: Establish benchmarks and targets. Each area of the social sector is different. To determine a reasonable target range for each of your measures, you need to have a good understanding of your peers and competitors. For example, universities often have significant operating surpluses that they then redirect to their endowment, scholarship, and/or capital funds. Once you've determined the appropriate ranges, establish targets in the top quartile for each measure, and use the bottom quartile as an early warning "time-to-right-the-ship" system.

Step 3: Determine your units of measure. Choosing the right unit – whether it's percentage, a ratio, or time – for each measure will help you tell a story that brings additional donors and stakeholders to the table.

Step 4: Use a consistent period of time. A rolling five-year period is a good length of time for establishing organizational trends. For instance, if four of the last five years resulted in operating deficits and there is no action plan to achieve a surplus, it's likely the deficits will persist. On the other hand, revenues can change significantly from one year to the next. A charity may record revenue in year one but not spend it until year two or three. Looking at year one – or year two or three – in isolation could skew the picture and lead to unwarranted optimism or concerns. Looking at all three years or, even better, a rolling five-year period, will give you a more accurate picture.

Below are some commonly used measures of financial health:

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    — Mark Twain (1835-1910)

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