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More Advice for Nonprofits in Tough Times

January 05, 2009

Blueavlogo72dpi_2As a nonprofit leader trying to navigate stormy economic times, you're probably open to any advice you can get. But too often, says Jan Masaoka, director and editor in chief of Blue Avocado, a bi-monthly online publication for community-based nonprofits, the "advice from the philanthropic-consultant industrial complex is enough to make a person depressed or even angry." Writes Jan: "I heard a well-known nonprofit guru tell an audience, 'And when we were really stuck about what to do, I picked up the phone and called my friend Al Gore.' I felt like throwing a shoe at him! How is this a replicable, usable strategy?"

Masaoka knows something about replicable, usable strategies -- she was executive director of CompassPoint Nonprofit Services for fourteen years and wrote the widely read Board Cafe newsletter -- and in the current issue of Blue Avocado she offers five concrete, and somewhat contrarian, ideas to help nonprofits get through these tough times:

1. Declare an emergency.

2. Schedule worrying for later.

3. Do less with less.

4. Ask for help, even if you don't know what would help.

5. Call a community summit on your behalf.

You'll have jump over to the Blue Avocado site to get the rest of Jan's excellent advice. But before you do, I have to share her parting thoughts from the current issue:

A colleague once told me his "Four Commandments": a) Show up. b) Pay attention. c) Do your best. d) Let go. What more can any of us do, really?

What more, indeed.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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Posted by anonymous  |   January 06, 2009 at 02:03 PM

great tips! thank you!

Posted by beelaa  |   January 10, 2009 at 10:14 AM

Why is this bad advice? "When all other ideas have failed, pick up the phone and call the most influential and smartest person you know and ask for help and guidance." Isn't that what the "Al Gore" comment from the "nonprofit guru" is really about?

Posted by Mitch Nauffts  |   January 10, 2009 at 04:27 PM

Hi beelaa --

Happy New Year and thanks for the comment. You raise a good point: What's wrong with turning to a well-connected outsider for help and advice? I think Jan's point is that many nonprofits -- especially the grassroots community-based kind -- often don't have access to that kind of network or advice, and that their time would be much better spent identifying and leveraging existing resources within the community. My own view is that it's not an either/or proposition; nonprofits need to do both. And those of us in a position to offer good advice should give freely of our time.

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