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: 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: 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

Why It’s Important: Planning or Improv?

Why It’s Important: Planning or Improv?

The Sensemaking Mindset: Improvisation over Strategy

Why is this article important?

The title of this Nonprofit Quarterly article, The Sensemaking Mindset: Improvisation over Strategy, implies an either/or relationship between improvisation and strategy. But buried in this Nonprofit Quarterly article is the caveat that structure is necessary for improvisation to work. There needs to be a framework. Using Karl Weick’s jazz as a metaphor, you can interpret, embellish, do a variation, or improvise from a basic melody. But you still need that basic melody.

Looked at this way, you might consider crafting a strategic framework, rather than a formal, step-by-step plan. This gives your organization – and the talented people in it – the latitude to respond to opportunities that come your way.

It takes courage to give people this kind of latitude. They need to know the ultimate vision you are all working toward. They need buy-in. And they need to trust that YOU trust THEM.

Can you build flexibility into your strategic planning? Do you allow improv?

If this article has started some conversations, or even caused some deep thinking about planning, 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

Why It’s Important: Black Women Are Coming for Equity

Why It’s Important: Black Women Are Coming for Equity

The title Black Women are Coming for Equity in Non-Profit Quarterly drew me in. As I read it, I kept hearing in my head, “This is important. This is important for traditional nonprofit boards to read.” Articulating why it’s important is a little harder than recognizing the importance.

I suspect that many older board members – like me – will have experienced in one way or another the civil rights movement, or the times when gay rights was front page fodder, or perhaps the introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Are these memories of the past coloring how we understand and react to the current movements that honor the lived experience of those who differ from us?

Cyndi Suarez’ example of Senator Bernie Sanders’ speech and his interaction with the participants at the She the People presidential forum can be a learning tool. How are our experiences of the past coloring our understanding of the present? Are we leaning too heavily on our memories and assuming we know the present? Do we understand the difference between equal rights and equity?

If this article has started some conversations, or even caused some deep thinking about how we govern our nonprofits and prepare for the future, 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, governance or planning for your organization, I’d love to have that conversation.

More eyes – more articles – more wisdom!

Susan Detwiler

Why It’s Important: Lessons Learned as Board Chair

Why It’s Important: Lessons Learned as Board Chair

I’m not writing any more blog posts! At least not for a while. But that doesn’t mean you won’t hear from me.

Building and nurturing relationships is at the heart of how I work with nonprofit boards and executives. A blog post cannot recreate the one-on-one conversations that develop into trusted working relationships.

But in my work I read many great articles that convey important food for thought for nonprofit organizations. Some are written directly for board chairs. Others focus on the for-profit world and carry lessons for nonprofit executives.

So instead of writing my own posts, I will curate the articles I read and give you my take on why they are intriguing, or important, or how to use them.

I hope you enjoy this new format. Here’s the first one.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: Lessons Learned as Board Chair

Rick Moyers recently stepped down as chair of the board of BoardSource, As you can imagine, he had a lot riding on his time there. In this article, he offers three important lessons he learned during his time as chair. While only one explicitly talks about building one-on-one relationships, the other two have at their heart the need to recognize that you are always dealing with people. Always. And understanding that everything you do affects people is a great life lesson – whether as a formal leader or someone in the middle of the pack making routine decisions.

I hope you appreciate Moyers’ words as much as I do: Lessons Learned as Board Chair

Watch for more curated articles from me. If you find one 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