Why It’s Important: Libraries Scrap Late Fees

Why It’s Important: Libraries Scrap Late Fees

I love Erin Rubin’s article in Nonprofit Quarterly: Libraries, in a Move for Equity, Scrap Late Fees.

First, because I have an affinity for libraries and I love watching them evolve with the times.

Second, because it has an important message for every nonprofit:

Are you living your mission?

“At their midwinter meeting in 2019, the American Library Association issued a resolution stating “the imposition of monetary library fines creates a barrier to the provision of library and information services,” and recommended that libraries “move towards actively eliminating them.”

Late fees are antithetical to the mission of a public library. Late fees are a barrier to providing free and open access for all patrons, especially to low income individuals.

It’s an interesting innovation for libraries with a profound message for all nonprofits.

When was the last time you looked at your processes and procedures to see if they fit with your mission? What are you doing as ‘business as usual,’ that is actually at odds with the impact you want to have?

You can use this example from libraries across the United States to introduce the idea to your board and staff. What are WE doing out of habit or ‘received wisdom’ that we should eliminate or change?

If this article has provoked some thought, please let me know. If you bring it up to your staff or board, I’d love to hear how it’s received.

And if another article has caught your eye and made you think, pass it on.

More eyes, more wisdom.

Susan Detwiler

Why It’s Important: Can Artists-in-Residence Build Creativity in the Public Sector?

Why It’s Important: Can Artists-in-Residence Build Creativity in the Public Sector?

I don’t know how to use the information in this Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) article. But it’s intriguing enough that I wanted to bring it to YOUR attention.

Local Government Artist-in-Residence Programs Must Include Opportunities for Public Sector Innovation.

The premise is that having artists at the table enhances the work of civil servants, policy makers and public sector employees. Policies and programs can be more innovative by having creatives participate in developing them.

The authors suggest that governments move the “artist-in-residence” concept away from the narrow field of a particular medium. Instead, have them use their creativity to develop new ways of looking at ideas and projects.

The rapid change of society requires creative responses.

As I read the article, I started thinking about how this could be applied to nonprofits of all kinds. Can bringing artists onto the board bring another level of creativity to planning? And even though many arts and cultural institutions are founded by creative people, they may stray too far from the origins and remove all artists from the board. And the rapid change of society needs creative responses.

This is an article worth reading and musing about. I hope you agree.

Susan Detwiler

Why It’s Important: The Fear of Ceding Control

Why It’s Important: The Fear of Ceding Control

Strengthening boards is an ongoing task. Acknowledging what needs to be done is only the first step.

As Martin Levine asks in NP Quarterly, Diversifying Boards Means Ceding Control – Are White Nonprofit Leaders Ready? It’s an important question, because all the best intentions can be stymied by unconscious fear and discomfort.

Boards react to the realization — or accusations — of a lack of diversity by adding new and ‘different’ board members. Then they wonder why these individuals leave.

Creating a board that reflects the community can’t be the first step. Planning is crucial.

Anticipate that board dynamics may need to change. If you generally govern by consensus, how will you foster the diversity of opinions and ideas that a more diverse board will bring? How will you give the new voices as much weight as the voices of returning board members? How will you include the newer board members in substantive committees, and educate the chairs on dealing with those they might perceive as ‘disrupters’?

Create the conditions for success.

Acknowledge that board dynamics – and control – may need to change, and consider these questions before bringing on new and ‘different’ board members.

Want to talk about having these conversations? Get in touch and we can see what it means for YOUR organization.

And if you see an article that you think it’s important, send it on so we can all benefit from your thoughts. More eyes, more sharing, more knowledge all around!

Susan Detwiler

Why It’s Important: Pruning your Board?

Why It’s Important: Pruning your Board?

Is your budget $10,000 or $10,000,000? Is your board big or small? It doesn’t matter. Somewhere along the way you’re going to think, “What do I do with those board members who don’t even bother coming to meetings?

In this Chronicles of Philanthropy article, my colleague Joan Garry, has some advice: How to Trim Your Board of Dead Weight.

What I think is most important about Joan’s article is the header she put over the way to move a grade B board to a grade A board:

There’s No Such Thing as a Perfect Board.

Think about it. Like Joan, I’ve worked with many different organizations and many different boards. Invariably, I hear things like, “my board won’t fund raise” or “half my board doesn’t even show up for meetings,” or “I’ve got a great board. They show up to meetings and always let me do whatever I think we should.”

STOP!! You’re painting an entire group of people with the same brush. Some of your board members are great. Some are not so great. Some are just dead weight. Unless you look at each member as an individual, you can’t capitalize on the talents of your stars or figure out what it will take to move the not-so-great ones along the spectrum.

As Joan says, really look at each board member, consider where they are on the continuum from okay to great, and treat them as the individuals that they are.

What do you think? Is your board full of stars? Can you see yourself having these conversations?

Let me know. I’d love to hear your experiences.

And if you’d like to talk about your board, let’s have a conversation

Susan Detwiler

Why It’s Important: The Funding Gap

Why It’s Important: The Funding Gap

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: Five CEOs of Wealthy Foundations Pledge to Do More to Help Charities Pay Overhead

This article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy is a long read, but hugely important to every nonprofit organization that relies on grant funding for at least part of its revenue.

It’s notable when five of the wealthiest foundations revisit their granting processes and decide that they’ve been underfunding the support (they call it ‘overhead’) that makes it possible for nonprofits to deliver their missions. It prompted them to examine different ways they might change their granting structures to allow more flexibility in the operations and investments in infrastructure of their grantees.

No Reserves!

The foundations are: Open Society Foundations, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation,  Ford Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and David & Lucile Packard Foundation. After engaging Bridgespan to research the effects of their giving on a subset of their grantees, they learned that 42% of the nonprofits had less than 3-months of operating revenue on hand. While the foundations have agreed that their funding processes need to change, each will make their own adjustments based on their own priorities, and as they experiment with their own grantees.

As my colleague Justin Pollock, has pointed out, restricted funding is not inherently a problem if it actually covers the true costs of a program. But when a nonprofit ACCEPTS restricted funding that only covers PART of a program’s costs, by default they are saying ‘we will restrict our own dollars’ to go towards completing the program’s budget.

These efforts by major foundations to look at their own practices are a welcome sign that change may come.

It may mean more unrestricted funding or it may mean restricted funding that truly covers costs. But it will take time for any change to spread. Wherever you are located, don’t expect immediate change. I doubt that any local foundation landscape will change rapidly. While smaller organizations can often be more nimble than larger ones, larger foundations have the staff and funds to research new methods and their implications. On the other hand, you may find that a handful of your local foundations may read about this research and be energized to make their own changes.

Definitely something to watch.  And you may want to forward this article to your friendly funders, as well.

This series of “Why it’s Important” is meant to keep you abreast of news, research and articles that provoke thought about how we govern and manage nonprofits.

 If this article has started some conversations, or even caused some deep thinking about funding, please let me know.

And watch for more curated articles. If you see an article you think everyone should read, please send it on. Or if you want to talk about facilitation or planning for your organization, I’d love to have that conversation.

More eyes – more articles – more wisdom!

– Susan Detwiler