March 2009

At our TechNow 2008 conference last October, we had Holly Ross from the Nonprofit Technology Network (aka NTEN, as our keynote speaker. 

NTEN is the membership organization of nonprofit professionals who put technology to use for their causes.  It is essentially a community of peers who share technology solutions across the sector and support each other’s work.

I’m excited about one of NTEN’s latest projects: a book entitled “Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission: A Strategic Guide for Nonprofit Leaders.”  The book features a variety of topics on nonprofit IT strategy by a range of recognized experts in their fields:

  • Achieving IT Alignment with Your Mission – Steve Heye, YMCA of the USA
  • Managing Technology Change -Dahna Goldstein, PhilanTech
  • Measuring the Return on Investment of Technology – Beth Kanter, trainer, blogger and consultant
  • IT Planning and Prioritizing – Peter Campbell, Earthjustice
  • Finding and Keeping the Right People – James L. Weinberg and Cassie Scarano, Commongood Careers
  • Budgeting For and Funding Technology – Scott McCallum and Keith R. Thode, Aidmatrix Foundation
  • Introduction to IT and Systems – Kevin Lo and Willow Cook, TechSoup Global
  • Where Are Your Stakeholders, and What Are They Doing Online? – Michael Cervino, Beaconfire Consulting
  • Effective Online Communications – John Kenyon, nonprofit technology strategist
  • Effective Online Fundraising – Madeline Stanionis, Watershed
  • The Future if IT in Nonprofits – Edward Granger-Happ, Save the Children

As I type this post, I’m attending an online book release party where we are listening to each author talk about his or her chapter.  Sounds like good stuff to me – I can’t wait for my copy to arrive!  It’s available for order at:,descCd-description.html

If you aren’t ready to commit to purchasing the book, you might be interested in checking out the wiki for the book on which bonus materials, questions, and discussions are being added:


The Harvard Business Review featured an article called “Go Ahead, Have Regrets” by Michael Craig Miller, MD. I found this article to be interesting, because I realized I am not the only one who has regrets when looking back on things that have been done and where they have landed me.

The Article discusses a study that was recently conducted by Colleen Saffrey at the University of Victoria in Canada and colleagues at the University of Illinois which found that people hold regret in high regard. Of all the negative emotions, regret was identified as the most valued because it helped people make sense of life events and remedy what went wrong.

Some suggestions to help manage this emotion and turn it into a tool for growth are…

• Beware of hindsight bias. What you should have done always seems clearer in retrospect than it was at the time.
• Use regret to improve decision-making and clarify values. Instead of ruminating over what might have been, let what happened point the way.
• Balance regret and risk. Instead of choosing a less risky option that you are least likely to regret, choose the one that will maximize your chance of reaching realistic goals.
• Don’t worry alone, especially if you are drowning in regret. If misery loves company, it’s because perspective helps.

The article goes into more detail about how to turn the regrets into positives, and we all need that right now with all the economic problems that we are facing today.

For more information on the connection between personal health and high performance, visit

Robert Nelkin is a role model of mine and he should be yours too. Robert Nelkin, or Bob, has spent the last 39 years of his life making a difference in my community – your community.

At the tender age of 19, Bob started a program called Project Hope in January of 1970. The program was a once-a-week session that ran approximately for 2 ½ hours in which 25 teenagers (which Bob helped to recruit) became involved with mentally retarded children. Many of the handicapped youngsters were lonely and shunned by so-called normal children, and spent the bulk of their time at home with a parent. What Bob’s program did was create a space where these kids could finally be kids – play games, sing, work puzzles, fly kites, tumble, throw and catch balls, jump on the trampoline, and race. Most important, Bob recognized his program could enable these kids to finally make connections with other kids and the teens, plus provide the child’s parent with a couple of hours of free time.

Young Nelkin’s program was a highflying success: it was replicated throughout the State; many of the former teen volunteers still credit Bob’s program for helping them to go on and become successes in other areas of their life; and the parents and kids got some much needed help. However, Bob didn’t stop there…

Over the next four decades, Bob’s unique “crusade-approach” towards helping his community has resulted in significant positive changes. First, his Healthy Start initiative reduced African-American infant mortality rates by 50% in neighborhoods where implemented. Second, while an advocate for the local chapter of the Association for Retarded Citizens, Bob visited state-licensed private facilities and observed inhumane treatment of mentally disabled people. Bob spoke out and facilities were closed.

So, last week I was not too surprised when Bob took time out of his busy schedule (even when other local nonprofit executives did not) as the president and chief professional officer of the United Way of Allegheny County to speak to nine Robert Morris University undergraduate students in the American Humanics program (the American Humanics program is designed to develop the next generation of nonprofit leaders). After all, that’s just who he is.

Accordingly, Bob did not miss a beat in telling these students that they have every resource available to them that he had back in 1970, when he started Project Hope at the age of 19. For that next hour – mind you, we were only scheduled for 30 minutes of his time – Bob enthralled and inspired the group with his story. He stated that we, as a society, need role models; that every day we have the opportunity to make an impact on people who are in need; that we should challenge ourselves, and those around us, to not settle for mediocrity; that we need to push the boundaries of conventional thinking using research, ingenuity, and good old-fashioned hard work.

Then he started directing his questions to the students, “Well, what about you? How are you going to make an impact?” And then he sat and listened. When one of the students shared a particularly heartbreaking story about the recent death of a close friend, Bob was the first one out of his seat consoling her and offering his handkerchief. After all, that’s just who he is.

Like I said, Bob Nelkin is a role model of mine. How about you?



3. The only environmental organization in Allegheny County that equips people with knowledge, support and tools needed to reduce indoor environmental hazards (abbr)
5. The East End’s community space to connect and create
7. Their 38 services help to restore hope and support dreams throughout the region
8. This local affiliate creates solutions to improve the lives of children and adults with disabilities
9. This North Side agency develops leaders and upholds vulnerable homeowners
11. They work to ensure the young girls’ strengths are recognized, honored, and nurtured


1. This nonprofit ensures the well being of our furry friends
2. Connecting more than rivers, this organization harnesses technology to improve decision-making
4. This city staple first opened in the West end in 1899
6. This organizations work to make the outdoors part of Pittsburgh’s culture
10. The organization is one of the city’s most vibrant attractions



Last week, on a whim, I decided to donate my super-long hair to Locks of Love. I’m not sure where this voice of inspiration came from, but decided I’d better listen quickly before I lost my nerve. Two days later, as I put my newly-detached braid into a padded envelope addressed to Florida, I was struck by the creativity of the Locks of Love mission. They are dependent on people donating their hair. How amazingly peculiar! It got me thinking about more ways we can creatively support nonprofits while trying to pinch our pennies. Here are just a few Pittsburgh nonprofits looking for interesting items to accomplish their unique missions.

free-ride-bikeDonate your bikes to Free Ride

Free Ride is not a traditional repair shop, where you drop off a bike and someone fixes it, but a bicycle educational facility. There is that old saying, “If you give a person a fish, they will eat for a day. If you teach them how to fish, they will eat for a lifetime.” That is the philosophy at Free Ride. During Adult Open Shop, you can fix your own bike, volunteer, donate, buy or Earn-A-Bike.


Donate your bridesmaid or prom dresses to Project Prom.

Project Prom provides evening attire to high schools students receiving services or eligible to receive services from the Department of Human Services (DHS) through donations from retail establishments and the general public. The Project began in 2003 and has assisted hundreds of students.

Donate craft items to the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary Fabric Fair.
Each April the SA Women’s Auxiliary collects and sorts donated fabric, yarn, patterns, kits, craft items, and how to books, to sell at their annual Fabric Fair in the South Park Home Economics Building on Brownsville Road.
Fabric Fair generates more than $20,000 annually and provides critical social support services in Allegheny County.

blood-croppedDonate your blood through the Central Blood Bank.

Central Blood Bank invites you to create an emotional and rewarding bond with area patients who are in need of transfusions. You can brighten these lives by donating blood quarterly and sharing your lifesaving experience with friends and family. These patients whose lives you can touch would agree, “to the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.”

Please feel free to add to this list of nonprofits looking for unique donations! Spring cleaning, anyone?

Okay, fellow nonprofits, it’s time for us to stop whining and start doing what everyone’s been telling us to do – Act like a business!

We’ve been hearing this for years, now. “Nonprofits need to be run like businesses.” Our donors tell us that, government agencies tell us that, foundations tell us that, academics and businesspeople tell us that, the watchdog groups tell us that, even experts on nonprofit management and service delivery like Bill O’Reilly tell us that. So, if everybody thinks so, we need to stop fighting it. These are toughnowhining economic times; our missions and our survival demand that we step up and do the right thing.

To begin with, let’s look at regulation. We keep resisting it. “We’re good people,” we plead. “We’re mission-driven. We can monitor ourselves.” And so, we manage to duck out from under Sarbanes-Oxley and slip away with the leniency of the new 990. Enough! We need to be regulated just like businesses. Our corruption cannot continue unchecked. So, let’s be proactive. Let’s go to Congress and demand our own regulatory agency that imposes the same rigor on us that the SEC requires of the hedge fund industry and the Federal Reserve has used to prevent excesses among financial service businesses.

Then there’s the question of outcomes. It’s time to stop complaining that our results are too hard to measure and own up to the fact that, if we are to be viewed as professionals on a par with any other business leaders, we need to be held accountable for our results just like they are. If we fail, we fail, and we should pay the price. Why should our consequences for poor performance be any different from those for Citigroup or General Motors?

Executive compensation is another area where we need to start acting like business grown-ups. The new 990 requires detailed disclosure of how executive compensation is determined and what comparisons have been made to compensation in other organizations. This is as it should be. Businesses compare compensation to arrive at their packages all the time. When big corporate executives negotiate their salaries, they always review what their peers are getting in order to demand more. Otherwise, they just go somewhere else. Why should we be different?

And, finally, there’s the question of our role in the crumbling economy. It’s time to go to our funders and legislators and explain to them that they need us. Do they want the 15 or so million people that we employ to be out on the streets? And if we are, who’s going to take care of us since we nonprofits won’t be around anymore to do it for ourselves?

Paint a picture of life without us. The homeless sleeping on their fairways, after-school programs abandoned and vacant-eyed third graders marauding the streets like zombies, empty concert halls and no entertainment left but reruns of “My Mother the Car.” Is this the world they want to live in? Quite simply, the nonprofit sector is too big to fail!

So, let’s be like business. We need bail-out money. We need a lot, and we need it fast. Then, when you get it, pay yourself a big bonus and quit. This will have many beneficial results:

  • Some of the money will go to buy stuff. Good for the economy.
  • Some of the money will go into banks. We’ll jump-start the stalled credit system!
  • Some of the money will be invested. We can save the stock market!
  • And, when we retire, new people will have to replace us. Unemployment solved!

So step up, nonprofits. Embrace your business side. It’s our civic duty.

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