The need for ownership in the context of non-profit management


The need for ownership in the context of non-profit management.

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Embrace change!


Throughout my life, I’ve embraced change, whether in a major circumstance such as a career decision, or for simple things like restaurants I frequent. I think I’m among the minority here, as most people I encounter seem to be afraid of change. I’m not sure why that is, because my experience with change is mostly good.

The first time I remember feeling this way was the first career change forced upon me. I’d always considered myself a team player and when layoffs hit my department because of a huge decline in our market, I figured I was safe. Not the case, as I learned, because my superiors were more interested in keeping around people loyal to them only. When the shock of being laid off wore off (literally within an hour), I actually felt relief. What was being forced upon me was change – for the better. I hadn’t realized how much I needed the change until I was no longer working in that job.

Cut forward to 2009. As I contemplated my next career, I made a decision to focus on the non-profit world, as I felt it was time to apply my for-profit and non-profit experience to help others. Through running two smaller non-profit organizations as if they were for-profits, I gained what I thought was a good understanding of how non-profits could operate professionally and efficiently. The question was whether to start a consulting practice or do something on a larger scale that could benefit thousands of organizations. Naturally, with my ambition, I chose the latter.

I started the Non-Profit Purchasing Group because I felt I could help non-profit organizations nationally to save money. I felt there was a void in this marketplace that I could fill by creating an affordable solution that was easy to use. With a thorough understanding of the expense profile of a typical non-profit, I set out to recruit best-in-class vendors with whom to partner. I convinced 21 to join me at launch in January 2010 and I took the best practices from other group purchasing organizations and buying programs and built NPPG from scratch. We now have 58 vendor partners and continue to grow. This year we added a Canadian operation that serves non-profits in Canada.

Group purchasing organizations like NPPG, or state non-profit associations that provide member benefits, are easy sources for non-profits to save money. All the non-profits need to do is change how they purchase goods and services. In my experience, this is not very difficult at all, especially with respect to common items like office supplies and printing. Simply shop online instead of driving to the local office supply store. With NPPG and state associations, which require nominal fees to join, the return on investment (i.e., savings divided by cost to join) is usually at least ten times when used to the fullest extent. That is a lot of money available for essential programs. In the case of the Miracle League of San Diego, a non-profit organization I still run, $50 saved equals one scholarship for a player unable to afford the registration fee.

The fictional Wall Street character Gordon Gekko famously said “Greed is good.” I prefer to say “Change is good.” Good for the soul, good for the bottom line, good for the constituents that we serve. After all, non-profit executives are stewards of the money donated to the organization. I’m hopeful that more non-profit executives and managers embrace change this year and pursue money saving opportunities with the same effort that they use to raise money.

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Government should follow the lead of our nation’s youth


As I read the very important messages that our federal government is sending about job creation, it occurred to me that government is missing the opportunity to send another message. How about a similar commitment to the non-profit world? I watch every week at the Miracle League of San Diego as hundreds of children (ages 9 to 18) spend time giving valuable community service to help those less fortunate.

What impresses me the most about these kids is their commitment week in and week out, season after season, developing important friendships and relationships with the children and families with whom they work. I believe that at first many are motivated by the need to meet community service credit requirements of their schools or religious institutions. However, they stay and keep coming because of what they get out of providing service. They grow as individuals, gain confidence, and feel really good about themselves. This is a simple truism about giving – when you give of yourself, you get a lot more than what you give.

How can we translate this to government and job creation? For one, a common feeling of those who are out of work and have been out of work for a long time is the loss of self-respect and confidence. If we can motivate such people to spend time giving at local non-profit organizations, it can boost their morale and help them feel better about themselves. This puts them in a better mind-set to search for paid work and provides a valuable boost when positioning themselves with prospective employers. Moreover, many might find paying jobs in this sector, though likely at lower pay than to which they are accustomed. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

This focus on community service has another important benefit to society – it puts people to work where their help is desperately needed. As government support and private support for the non-profit sector has declined, the corresponding need for services and support has increased. Demand for services is far outstripping supply and there is no end in site.

So let’s take a page from our schools and churches and synagogues and encourage adults to the same thing that we encourage our youth to do, commit their time to community service. It just feels good.

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My Favority New Year’s Resolution for Non-Profit Organizations


This year started out on a bad note for me as I walked into my office on January 3rd to find my computers had been stolen over the weekend. As I’ve worked with my on-line backup provider to restore my data on an old laptop, I realized that this created an incredible opportunity for me to become more efficient. I know that it’s crazy to view such a loss as an opportunity (I’m still reeling from not being able to recover 100% of my data), but I have always been an optimist.

What does it mean to become more efficient and why should this be a new year’s resolution for all non-profits (and for profits, as well, for that matter)? To me, it means many things. First and foremost, I need to revisit how I store and retrieve documents securely, locally and on-line. I know that I need to take better advantage of the “cloud” so that I don’t have to worry again if my computer is stolen. Moreover, for a non-profit organization with active boards, more documents should be available in the cloud. To be green, we need to print and mail less, and utilize the resources available to securely manage our organizations. Do you have a concrete back-up plan? Do the appropriate individuals know how to access the back-up in case of an emergency? I implore all of you to make this a priority task for the new year.

Along the same lines, how many boards take advantage of the various board management tools available on-line? I know of at least four quality providers that provide tools to enable sharing among board members and staffof documents, agenda s, strategic plans, board manuals and more. These tools are key to making organizations both more efficient and greener. Why should we print board manuals for all of our new board members each year? If these tools are available on-line, each board member can read and print only what she needs. Moreover, these tools enable organizations to manage compliance and resolutions as well. As transparency becomes more of a reality, efficiency and use of such tools becomes more important.

On a grander scale, this is a good time to review your organization’s goals and fit within your designated community (local, regional, national, global). Much has been said about the duplicative functions of organizations and the need to streamline and even merge non-profit organizations. I believe that every organization owes a duty to its funders (not founders, although they may be the same) to ensure that their mission is relevant and unique within its community. Collaboration amongst non-profits serving the same community can help ensure that hard fought dollars are spent on programming, not on multiple staffs performing the same tasks.

These are just a few ideas that fit within the concept of efficiency. Please share others and lets continue to collaborate to keep our programs relevant. Let’s take ego out of the equation and do what’s right for our respective constituents.

On a side note, I mentioned above that I am an optimist. For those who don’t get it, I am reprinting The Optimist Creed, courtesy of Optimist International. If you can’t find something good in this, you’re not trying hard enough.

Promise Yourself
To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.

To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.

To make all your friends feel that there is something in them.

To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.

To think only of the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best.

To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.

To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.

To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.

To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.

To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

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What Does Volunteer Recognition Really Mean?


We’ve just completed another full season of the Miracle League of San Diego and this is the time I ponder what volunteer recognition means, and more importantly, what is required.

In our case, we have about 250 regular weekly volunteers between our coaches, buddies, announcers and select umpires. These are people young and old who are dedicated to coming out for eight Saturdays a season to enjoy our special brand of unscripted baseball played by children with special needs. I am convinced that every single one of us who is out there as a regular volunteer does it without any need for recognition – we do it because we love the cause and we have become part of a great, community family. We get much more out of it than we give. Nonetheless, our league faithfully prepares buddy and coach certificates, with the buddy certificates incorporating community service hour records that many of our children need (although I think they’d be out here even if they weren’t getting the credit required for school or church or synagogue). Like typical little leagues, the parents generally pool together and get a gift for the coaches and in our case the announcers.

We also have individual game day volunteers who work the snack bar and BBQ and also serve as umpires. Our organization has become so popular for such volunteering that this season over half of the game days featured an individual group acting as volunteers, through a local church group, through a local university, through a youth group called Teen Volunteers in Action, and through a local Optimist Club (who do it every season). What recognition do these volunteers deserve? I know that our announcer makes a point of recognizing these volunteers and their efforts at least once during every game. Do we need to do more than send a letter thanking the organization and its members for their time?

My bigger question is what is required of the organization? Of course, like most non-profits, we rely heavily on volunteers (we have only one part-time paid position) and would be remiss in not formally thanking them for their efforts. Yet, from my personal experience of thanking people who show up and helping every Saturday, the almost universal response is that they love being there and no thanks is necessary.

Much is made of putting on special volunteer recognition parties, providing modest gifts, etc. I don’t think the volunteers put their time in expecting such recognition, nor do they want us spending hard-earned donation dollars recognizing them, either at an event with free food or with gifts.

So what is the best way to recognize them? I’m very interested in hearing your thoughts on what works, especially when we need to keep our volunteers coming back while keeping our cash outlays low. I know that your thoughts will be helpful for every non-profit organization.

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Why I Admire Professional Athletes


I’m sure you are all sick and tired of hearing and reading negative reports about athletes in trouble with the law, accused of abuse, whining about their salaries, etc. I am too. But I believe that those athletes represent the minority and if we treated them like we tell our children to treat bullies, that is to ignore them, the problems would lessen.

I had the great experience Saturday of witnessing first hand the incredible community spirit of some very special athletes whom I believe represent the majority. We held a Celebrity Pitcher Day at the Miracle League of San Diego, a safe place where children with mental and physical challenges play organized baseball on a special surface designed to accommodate wheelchairs, walkers and the sight impaired.

On hand representing the San Diego Padres were pitcher Heath Bell, Manager Bud Black, outfielders Will Venable and Tony Gwynn, Jr., and former players Brad Ausmus, Mark Loretta and Mark Sweeney. Also on-hand was pre-game and post-game on-air host John Weisbarth. Each of these players arrived early, stayed late, signed autographs and took photos with every person who asked with a giant smile on their face.

Most importantly, they pitched with enthusiasm and patience to players who don’t have the chance to play mainstream little league and are often left out. These professional athletes were interacting with our players, talking to them on the field between innings, giving tips, and making every single person feel as if she were the only one there. I’m not sure who had more fun out there, the pros or the Miracle Leaguers. Those of you who know Tony Gwynn, Jr. know he has a great smile. I actually couldn’t tell who had a bigger smile, Tony or our athletes and their families.

I think the media and the public need to recognize more of these selfless acts, where the players come on their own volition, during the off-season, on a Saturday, and bring their families to support wonderful causes like our Miracle League of San Diego. I know that our Padres in the Community represent the majority, not the minority, and I’m proud to be affiliated with such fine people and such a fine organization.

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National Philanthropy Day – Why it’s important


I attended the AFP National Philanthropy Day Awards Luncheon today as a guest of the San Diego Padres. The Padres are a great example of a professional sports organization that recognizes how important it is to be a part of the local community. They contribute dollars and resources to many of San Diego’s important charities and provide other immeasurable support. Other sports organizations should act the same way,

What struck me the most about the event, which was well attended with over 1,000 people, was the unanimity amongst the honorees in their philosophies about philanthropy. In different ways, each stated what I feel is paramount – that philanthropy (or charity or whatever word you choose) is an obligation we owe to our society. This obligation becomes even more important in difficult financial times as now, because the resources available to support those in need are severely diminished.

I have a personal bias towards this philosophy as I grew up in a traditional Jewish household where we were taught at an early age about the importance of charity, and where we were expected to give on a daily basis. As I have grown older, and began giving time in addition to money, I’ve learned an even more important lesson. Giving feels good. It can improve your health (I’m a living testament to that) and mental outlook. And it certainly keeps you focused on the important things in life. God got it right when he established charity as an obligation.

Significantly, there are many ways to be philanthropic. One of San Diego’s all-time great philanthropists, Malin Burnham, said it well today in his message to the audience. There are three important players – those who write the checks, those who volunteer, and those who ask for the check. Neither is more important than the other. Without all three, the non-profit organizations that do such great work could not succeed.

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone who was able would do at least two of these tasks? I like to think that good karma comes from philanthropy, and if more people lived with charity as an obligation, we’d be in a lot better place, emotionally and economically.

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