Friday, October 15, 2004

MCN Keynote by Pablo Eisenberg

Keyonte by Pablo Eisenberg (A variety of links here. His comments on the Senate staff regulation proposals here.) , response by Emmett Carson (President of the Minneapolis Foundation and Chair of the Council on Foundations).

A good dose of old fashion righteous indignation. (For once, Emmett Carson was cast as the moderate.)

Some high points of Pablo’s presentation (or low points for the nonprofit community):

In spite of growth in the nonprofit community, we are

  • Weaker, not stronger,
  • More fragmented,
  • Unable to address persistent problems
  • Poverty is increasing
  • Racism hasn’t abated
  • The U.S. political system is still broken

We may be a larger and more effective deliverer of social service but we are unable to collaborate to make change

  • There is growing commercialization and corporatization of the sector.
  • There is erosion of nonprofit values and nonprofits in danger of loosing public trust

There are three major challenges to the nonprofit community

  • Reclaiming the critical nonprofit role of advocacy in our society
    This has made our democracy vigorous and lasting
    It is the reason for many of the changes in our society
    This is more appreciated overseas than here
  • Investing in building future leadership
    Developing new leaders
    Developing the potential of young nonprofit leadership
  • Promote Civic Engagement

In some ways our society is getting what we deserve. The lack of civic engagement of the last decades has resulted in some of our current problems.

Finally Pablo noted that the sector needs to regain its sense of humor.

Emmett Carson's response:

  • “I agree with much of what Pablo had to say”
  • We have to admit that it costs money to help people—not every dollar will go to victims
  • We need standards and best practices.

    Expanding on that last point, Carson noted that we must insist state AGs and IRS enforce the rules we have. We need to insist that Congress fully fund the IRS (Comment by Pablo: The Council of Foundations, while paying lip service to increasing the resources for IRS and AGs—the have put NO resources toward that effort—they have concentrated on stopping any attempt to control the administrative costs in foundations.) We need to identify and isolate people and organizations who do it wrong.

Every nonprofit should find one issue consistant with their mission, to advocate for—advocacy can range from research to lobbying and a variety of things in between.
Pablo—added one thing—join together with other organizations

Plenary on Participation

Sean Kershaw, E.D. Citizen’s League:
“We live in a small cold state that was made great by people participating in our communities.” Our role of nonprofits is to create and sustain engaged communities

After the presentations, I asked: “How do you get meaningful participation from the single parent who is working two minimum wage jobs, has good ideas but no time. And, how do you address “participation to death”—some neighborhoods have been involved in public participation projects since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and still have significant problems and have not seen significant solutions.

The responses included using “In reach,” reaching people where they are, on their conditions meeting their needs. Another idea to change participation-- going to workplaces to get the participation. No one pointed out that we have to improve the economic conditions of these communities to get meaningful participation.

MCN Conference Early Morning Breakout

Ohmygod. They really mean early morning—starting at 7:45—not real good for someone who isn’t a morning person.

Emotional Intelligence: What it is and How It Can Change You and Your Organization?

I wasn’t going to go to this one—sounded way too “touchy-feely” for me. But it was good.

Great question from session leader—“How many of you think you are in sales?”—surprisingly few answered yes. I’d argue that most people in the room are in sales.

From session leader: Most people leave their jobs because of conflicts with their supervisor.

A lot of the session was about paying attention to people’s feelings and needs (starting with your own.) I missed the first part of the session so I didn’t hear the definition of Emotional Intelligence but it seems to be about getting things done by paying attention to people’s emotions. This fits with involving all staff in developing a database or a strategic technology plan (or any strategic plan for that matter).

Thursday, October 14, 2004

MCN Conference: Nonprofit Awards Reception

The evening reception was held about two blocks from the main conference location, this may be why there was such a big (at least 50% drop off in attendance). But it was a great location and great food and drink provided by St. Paul Travelers Foundation.

Most of the awards program was a pretty typical awards program (although there were some great programs highlighted).

The best presentation was by Jack Reuler, Artistic Director of Mixed Blood Theatre. He reminded everyone that we are about fulfilling our mission--that ideally, we can eventually complete our mission and go out of business.


MCN Conference: Developing Database Driven Communities of Change

This was a 3 hour session by Chris Hanson of This post includes some highlights and my take on the session.

Some highlights and my take on the session:

  1. People want to be part of a community. They want to share their interestes, experiences and needs. They want to have a sense of belonging and of being needed. They look to communities as part of their identity.
  2. A very basic online community is similar to a sales model. A nonprofit advertises a conference, class, workshop event or service on-line and the clients buy it.
  3. The more involvement people have the more the more they feel like a member of the community. Involvement may be letting people tell your organization their opinions. Involvement may be asking people to do things for you.
  4. Getting people involved in your organization makes it much more likely that those people will donate money to your organization.

Online communities are important for long-term sustainability of your organization:

  • Direct mail results are going down while cost going up—same with telemarketing.
  • People who are active in your community are more likely to give.
  • Use the community to know more about your donors.
  • Direct mail response is from the older part of the audience—they are getting older. Younger audiences use online much more.
  • Easier to give on-line and easier to take action online.
  • Internet is getting to be the primary form of communication. (e.g. email has surpassed phone in business.)

Before you start using online tools to build a community, you need to think about:
The purpose of the community.

  • How are you going to provide the staff support for the community (building a community requires a community organizer)
  • What is the overall cost of the technology and staff time
  • Is it worth it

Don’t believe the basic myth of the Internet—“If you build it they will come.” Without an effort to get people to your community, they will NOT come.

Tools for online communities:

  • Chat rooms
  • Bulletin boards
  • Central sharing resource
  • Email discussion list
  • Web based discussion groups
  • Newsgroups
  • Blogs
  • Online conferences
  • Instant Messaging

In building or choosing the technology, the technology should

  • Allow building relationships based on interests of participants
  • Allow collaboration with similar organizations
  • Allow as much control as possible by the participant
  • Keep the amount of personal information required low

Some examples:

Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Annual Conference

I'm spending the next day and a half at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits' 18th Annual statewide conference. It looks like it is going to be great. Expect some more posts from the conference. Some things about the conference:
  • Theme: “Participation! Creating and sustaining engaged communities
  • Keynote address: Pablo Eisenberg
  • About 975 people registered!
  • 50 exhibitors
  • Almost 40 sessions

The first session I'll be attending is titled "Developing Database Driven Communities of Change." Since there is no wireless access from the convention, expect a blog on that session tonight.

Sheldon Mains
Technology solutions for nonprofit organizations.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Resource for all volunteer nonprofit organizations

Are you on the board of an all volunteer nonprofit organization? Compasspoint-- a great nonprofit management support organization in San Francisco--is making their

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Help with nonprofit technology

NTEN--the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network has a series of regional conferences around the country this year. The offer great resources for nonprofit staff and for people who help nonprofit organizations with technology.

Regional conferences left in 2004 include Washington DC, Chicago, Boston and Phoenix. I'll be at the Chicago conference on October 19th.

More information is at


Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Yes nonprofit organizations can help get out the vote.

Please join the Minnesota Participation Project's launch of the November 2 Nonprofits Get Out The Vote drive. Have cake, enjoy music, and get free t-shirts, buttons, training, and materials that your nonprofit can use to Get Out The Vote on Election Day!

Outside of Minnesota? check

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Blogging for nonprofit organizations

Here are a couple resources for people in nonprofit organizations who are thinking about starting a blog. First, a couple points:
  • A blog should be part of a communications and marketing plan. How will it fit in with your other communications?
  • How will the blog help you address your mission? (Remember your mission? It's why your nonprofit organization exists.)
  • It is going to take time to do. Not a lot of time. But with the typical overworked staff of nonprofit organizations, you have to think about it.


  • Techsoup--probably the best resource for technology information for nonprofit organizations--has great info on blogs. Just go to and type "blog" (without the quotation marks) in the search window.
  • For a more business focus, specifically how blogs can help customer relations, check this site. Aimed at small businesses, it has great info for nonprofits.


Gutting HIV-prevention education in US

The CDC has issued guidelines that would gut HIV-prevention education.

According to Doug Ireland in the LA Weekly:
"These new regs require the censoring of any content including pamphlets, brochures, fliers, curricula, audiovisual materials and pictorials (for example, posters and similar educational materials using photographs, slides, drawings or paintings), as well as advertising and Web-based info. "
For more info.

So, if you think elections are not important for nonprofit organizations, think again. For information on how nonprofits can be involved, visit the National Voice website at

(I also have another blog that, while it is on just about anything I feel like posting, it will be concentrating on political things in the next few weeks. It is at

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Money is evil, get a lot of it. Sex is dirty, save it for someone you love.

Kim Klein's keynote:
The Power of Fundraising in Determining the Future of the Nonprofit Sector. (Part IV of Alliance for Nonprofit Management 2004 Annual Conference stuff)(Kim is publisher of the Grassroots Fundraising Journal)

(So why do we always need these boring, long titles in nonprofit conferences?)

Kim had some great thoughts, great lines, and great observations. Here are a few in random order (for the most part, these are not direct quotes but do get the idea across).

  • In our society, we DON'T talk about things that are important. Money is one of those things. That's why people don't like to fundraise.
  • Money is evil, get a lot of it. Sex is dirty, save it for someone you love.
  • Nonprofits are being asked to do more and more with less and less. Pretty soon, we will be asked to do everything with nothing.
  • The estate tax (what the current crop of Republicans call the "death tax") is the oldest tax in our nation. It was put in place by the founders of our nation to keep us from becoming an aristocracy.
  • Fundraising is like being stoned to death with popcorn (I really don't know what that means but it sounds great).
  • Why is it that foundations are fighting the efforts to restrict their overhead spending but always want nonprofits to limit their overhead (administrative) spending?
  • The War on Terror has become a war on civil liberties and dissent.
  • Back to not talking about money: The only reason to restrict people from talking about salaries is to keep people from seeing the discrimination involved in pay.
  • Che Guevara: "Be realist, do the impossible."


Friday, August 27, 2004

Alliance Conference Part III Marketing

From Various Marketing Sessions at the Alliance for Nonprofit Management 2004 Annual Conference:

You need research! (from Debbie Mason, "The Marketing Plan.")
Marketing for nonprofits needs to be based on a knowledge of the market. This should include statisticly valid market research. If you can not afford statiscally valid research, understand that you are working with limited knowledge. While focus groups are a favorite tool for nonprofits, remember that you are only getting the opinions of the few people in the focus group and that the group is likely a biased sample (they were the ones that took the time to attend).

This may sound like basic marketing 101 but it is amazing how may nonprofits base their marketing and communications strategies on just the opinion of the executive director or the marketing committee of the board. This can be a waste of money but is partially explained by the drive to keep administrative costs down (see previous post) .

Great summary: (from Sally Patterson, Radiant Communications, " Constructing a Message Platform")
"It’s not about what we do, it’s about what we can do for you."

Listen: (from Compumentor's session on Blogs)
One great idea from the blogs session that doesn't rely on blogs is to make it easy for people to tell you what they think of you. Oceana even makes these comments (possitive and negative) public on their blogs.


Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Would you fly with this airline?

At the Alliance for Nonprofit Management board meeting before their annual conference, one board member (sorry, I've forgotten who) had a great response to funders who what nonprofits to limit their administration budgets to unreasonably low numbers:

Picture yourself on a commercial airplane, taxiing away from the terminal. The pilot ends his pre-flight announcements with: " We are pleased to announce that in recent ratings, our airline spends less on maintenance that any other airline in the United States."

What would you feel? What would you do?


Sunday, August 22, 2004

Cool things from the Alliance for Nonprofit management Conference Part 1

Back a couple weeks ago I attended the Alliance for Nonprofit Management Annual Conference in DC (Official disclaimer--I'm Vice President of the board of the Alliance so my evaluation of the conference may not be "totally" unbiased). It was a great conference with some great ideas that I jotted down. Over the next couple weeks, I'll be adding them to this blog:

Thursday night Keynote--Wendy Puriefoy, Public Education Network
(Some thoughts sparked by Wendy's comments--some ideas directly from her talk:)

First: The nonprofit sector is important to our society--
  • The nonprofit economy in the US, if it were a country, would be the seventh largest economy in the world. (And this doesn't count the nongovernmental organization/charity/civil society sector* in the rest of the world.
  • Astronomers are now theorizing that invisible "dark matter" holds the universe together. The nonprofit sector is the dark matter that holds our society together--and we are largely invisible.

Second: We need to have a place at the table--

  • While we are larger than the the seventh largest county in terms of the size of the economy, we don't have a place at the table.
  • In gaining that place at the table, we have to be careful. We have to keep asking if we are there to have a positive impact on our communities or are we there because we like having the influence and exposure?

Third: We have to guard our unique nonprofit culture--

  • We have to guard our humanity; Nonprofits are about people.
  • We have to guard our soul; Nonprofits can not lose site of their mission.
  • We can not lose our sense of outrage.

There has been a lot of talk recently about nonprofits having to improve their efficiency; about nonprofits having a customer focus; about nonprofits running more like a for-profit business. I agree with all of this. In fact, I find it hard to understand how nonprofits can operate with such poor systems for tracking clients, outcomes and projects.

BUT, we can not forget that nonprofits are about serving people. Being more like a business is good but we can not forget why many of our employees are working in nonprofits--it is not because of the high pay--it is about making a difference in their communities. I've seen nonprofits drive the business and customer language so far that they forget about what motivates their employees. They also seem to forget that even if their employees were motivated by money, big pay checks, stock options and big bonuses are not an option in nonprofit organizations.


*There's an issue of what do we call ourselves. We are called different things in different parts of the world ("Charity" in Canada, Civil Society in some of Western Europe, NGO in the UN and a number of international organizations). But nonprofit and nongovernmental organization both define us by what we are not. We need a better term.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Starting a blog

I've been thinking about starting this blog for about a year now. A session on bolgging at the recent Alliance for Nonprofit management annual conference (second week of August, '04) has finally gotten me to get started. In fact, I've decided to start two blogs:
  • One on a variety of nonprofit management stuff (this one)
  • One personal one--with various rants, comments and random stuff.

So, why am I starting these blogs. The reasons for the two blogs are totally different:

Nonprofit Stuff:

  • I'm starting my on nonprofit consulting practice. While I currently have a lot of visibility from my previous job creating and running MAP for Nonprofits' technology services, I need a way to keep my name and services in peoples minds. A paper newsletter was too expensive. I've thought of doing an email newsletter but getting the time to put together a whole issue has been difficult. With a blog, I can write posts whenever I have time and then remind people to visit the blog with a periodic email.
  • Most people think I mainly work with technology. What I really do is implementing new programs and help nonprofit organizations improve their operation. Technology is one of the tools I use. A blog will help me expand my image in the community beyond just technology.
  • Being an independent consultant, I can't walk down the hall and bug a co-worker with the "cool new thing" I just found about nonprofit managment. With a blog, I can do that to a wider audience.

Random stuff blog:

  • Being an independent consultant can be lonely.
  • I like to talk about my experiences with others. Being an independent consultant limits that (see"lonely" above).
  • I need a place to rant about the current Republican administration in Minnesota and in Washington DC.

I'll be adding things to these blogs randomly so check back.