May 2009


soy milkWhen I realized that my daughter was lactose intolerant, I looked into buying a soy milk maker.  But thebeer-mugy’re almost $200…  But, our neighbor has one. We brew our own beer, which is a something she doesn’t make, nor does she want to invest in the equipment.  So we built an exchange. 

 So every monday evening, we exchange a bottle of beer for a quart of soy milk.  Everyone says that she’s getting the better end of this deal, but I need the soy milk!  I’ve always liked the sweet soy milk that you buy at the store, but I wasn’t fond of the unsweetened variety.  But now, my husband and I often look forward to the warm, fresh soy milk to make hot chocolate. (OK, it’s still sweet, but fresh soy milk is good!)

Nonprofits have been good at coming up with creative solutions to difficult problems for a long time. Several nonprofits went in together to share an HR staff member–something none of them could afford by themselves.  POWER, Bethlehem Haven and the Center for Victims of Violent Crime created this joint position to handle the increasingly difficult HR issues that arise.

After I pick up my soy milk, (this time on a Monday morning) I’m headed for my volunteer shift at the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library–a cooperative started over 34 years ago for families to have a safe place to play with developmentally appropriate toys for children ages 6 and under.  It is open six days a week and has no paid staff.  Because of its proximity to Oakland, there is an incredibly internationally diverse group of families who frequent the “Library”.  Long term friendships are developed between parents.  Babysitting leads are shared, playdates are arranged, parenting advice is easily discussed.  It is one of the unsung gems in Pittsburgh.  It is a major parental stress reliever.  But it is an incredibly creative solution to a lack of funding for staff–and a way to make all families invest because it is THEIR center.

Let’s keep thinking creatively.  Now my neighbor and I are considering bees & chickens… honey and eggs.  Yummmm.

There are many ideas coming out of the nonprofit sector in Pittsburgh–I’d love to hear some more stories!

Advertisements

In light of the current economy, it’s time to revisit that old saying, “The best things in life are free.” In my mind, this saying usually brings images of sunshine, fresh air and dandelions which of course are awfully NICE, but not quite what I was hoping for to help save me a buck. But wait! Try FREE MOVIES! FREE CONCERTS! FREE….OPERA? Don’t forget, you live in scenic and lovely PITTSBURGH, where free summer events are abundant.

Three Rivers Arts Festival
festivalThree Rivers Arts Festival quickly grew from a “little outdoor art show” to what is today the region’s largest multidisciplinary showcase of visual art and performing arts. Despite a rapid growth, the Festival’s mission to connect the community to arts and culture has remained consistent throughout the event’s 50-year history. This 50th anniversary marks the long awaited return of Three Rivers Arts Festival to the newly revitalized Point State Park, where the Dollar Bank Main Stage, an expanded Artists Market footprint and the Children’s Area are located. Through the continued use of Gateway Center and the addition of the gallery-and-theater network found in the Cultural District, thousands will discover–as they journey from exhibition spaces to restaurants, theaters, live stages and gathering places–why Pittsburgh is credited as one of the strongest cultural destinations in the country.

Allegheny County Summer Concert Series 2009hartwood
Each summer, Allegheny County hosts a series of free summer concerts at various parks and other locations around the Pittsburgh area. All performances in the Allegheny County Summer Concert Series are free and open to the public. Highlights for 2009 include alt-country stalwarts Steve Earle, Son Volt and the Old 97s. Old favorites such as the Pittsburgh Symphony and River City Brass Band will be joined by former Rolling Stone guitarist Mick Taylor, Irish folk-rocker Luk Bloom and classic rock band, Foghat. Full schedules for Hartwood Acres, South Park and North Park can be found by clicking here.

Cinema in the Park
cinemaGrab a blanket and head out for an unforgettable evening of cinema under the stars. The 2009 “Dollar Bank Cinema in the Park” schedule will include Slumdog Millionaire, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, The Dark Knight, Mamma Mia!, WALL-E, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa and many other current movie favorites for all members of the family. Check out the movie schedule by clicking on the name of the park closest to you: Flagstaff Hill, Riverview Park, Grandview Park in Mt. Washington, Arsenal Park in Lawrenceville, Brookline Memorial Park, East Liberty or West End/Elliott Overlook. For more information, call 412-937-3039.

Thanks for the free summer fun, Pittsburgh!

Have a question or something to add to this post?  Leave a comment, and you’ll be entered to win a 1 GB USB drive.  One winner per week through the end of May.

Congrats to Gavin from Western PA Conservancy, the latest winner of our blog comments contest and of a 1 GB USB drive.  This is the last week of our contest, so get your comments in before June 1!


Sometimes I stay up later than I should at night, Googling things that worry me and thinking about the various wrongs in the world.  I have been an activist in various capacities since my high school days, but as I age I find myself becoming more acutely aware of issues, concerns, and problems plaguing our planet, its people and animals.  At times, I feel overwhelmed with the amount of work that needs to be done for things to improve.  I wonder if we are all simply beating our head against the walls.

I was in one of these contemplative (pessimistic) moods on the evening before I started to draft this blog post.  At one point, a lyric from an older U2 song entered my brain:  “I can’t change the world, but I can change the world in me.”  That sent my thought train down a different track.  I think this mentality – small, personal change – is probably the key to improving life on our planet and would be more effective than anything all the collective nonprofits in the world could possibly accomplish.  Suspend reality for a moment and imagine if every single person on this planet took personal responsibility for action, justice, and change in all arenas.  Imagine a world where everyone made an effort to make the world a better place in small ways, rather than leave it to the nonprofit sector to fix things.

Then I started making a mental list of small things we could all try to do to make the world a better place.  Here’s my top 9.  (I tried to get to 10 and ran out of steam.  As previously mentioned, this was drafted late at night.)

  1. Vote. Voting is one of our privileges and responsibilities as US citizens.  Always remember that there are many people in the world who are not given this simple right and that we should be grateful that we are able to choose.  Educate yourself as a voter, learn about the candidates and their platforms – don’t just vote for the people with the most prominent roadside campaign signs.  The League of Women Voters is a great advocacy organization to get you started in the right direction – http://www.lwv.org/.
  2. Volunteer. Nonprofits need volunteers now, more than ever.  If you have an interest, a talent, or a skill to share, chances are there is a nonprofit out there that can use you.  There are many ways to volunteer.  Check out http://www.volunteermatch.org for volunteer opportunities in your neighborhood.
  3. Recycle. Even if you only recycle on a limited basis, perhaps only office paper or only cans, it’s better to recycle those items than not at all.  Every little bit that doesn’t go into a landfill counts.  Keep in mind that re-using and re-purposing items you own counts towards the greater good as well as recycling.  Give things to a friend, a church, or a thrift store.  Have a yard or garage sale.  Find a creative new use for an old item.  For information on recycling centers near you and information on how to recycle, visit http://earth911.com/.
  4. Go vegetarian and buy cruelty-free products. I’m a recent vegetarian thanks to PETA’s Vegetarian Starter Kit, available at http://www.goveg.com/ORDER.ASP.  The cruelty of factory farming is a reality for thousands of animals in our country and we may not be able to save them all, but we can cease contributing to the problem by going meatless or buying from family farms.  If you absolutely do not want to give up meat, at least find a local, non-factory farm source at which you can get it cruelty-free.  A great site for this is www.buylocalpa.org, which lists fresh, local, and organic food sources and restaurants.
  5. Support small and local business. Yes, Wal-Mart and other big-box stores are convenient because they are often one-stop shopping.  I sometimes shop at those types of stores too, but I’m finding more and more that I can frequently get the same products from local grocers and other vendors for nearly the same price.  In addition, frequenting a small, local business is like the bar on the 80s TV series Cheers –where everybody knows your name.  Supporting local business is good for our regional economy because it keeps the money here instead of sending it to the home office of a corporation in another state.  A bunch more reasons can be found here:  http://www.newrules.org/retail/why-support-locally-owned-businesses.
  6. Reduce your carbon footprint. Your carbon footprint is a measurement of your activities and how they relate to the emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  You can calculate a carbon footprint to gauge how environmentally-friendly you, your household, or your business is.  (You want to see lower numbers here.)  A side benefit of lowering your carbon output is that it also saves money!  Calculate your carbon footprint and learn more here:  http://www.carbonfootprint.com/.
  7. Smile more. This may sound simple-minded, but think about it.  It costs you nothing to do this and help brighten the day for those around you.  There are a myriad of other benefits as well:  http://thinksimplenow.com/happiness/the-art-of-smiling/.
  8. Take care of your piece of the planet. Keep your home in good repair, pick up trash blown or thrown into your yard, and keep your office or workspace neat and attractive (as possible).  Basically, just try to leave things in better shape than you find them.  There are tons of resources online available to you:  http://www.doityourself.com/, http://www.diynetwork.com/, http://www.onlineorganizing.com/, etc.
  9. Buy less “stuff.” We are a consumption-oriented society.  It’s no wonder; with all the choices we have available to us in the stores and online.  Owning “stuff,” however, takes up your time, space, and psychic energy.  All the things we own require a degree of maintenance and the more things we own, the higher the collective maintenance will be.  Don’t buy into the gotta-have-the-latest-thing mentality. There’s a reason that companies spend billions annually on advertising – don’t fall for it.  Buy “stuff” when you actually need “stuff.”  Learn more: http://www.sustainablestyle.org/blog/2006/10/sustainable-lifestyles-a-z-buy-less.

******  I know there will people reading this post that will say “but that’s unrealistic – we can’t expect people to act this way.”  I never claimed to be a realist here.  (They call us “idealists” for a reason.)  If we don’t dream big and expect change, it’s definitely not going to happen. ******

For each item on this list, there are dozens, probably hundreds, of nonprofits out there already attempting to address the issue.  As much as the nonprofit sector is my bread and butter too, we cannot continue to rely solely upon charitable organizations for change.  We have to take steps as individuals.

Everyone knows and loves the Margaret Mead quote “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  I like this one as well:  “I must admit that I personally measure success in terms of the contributions an individual makes to her or his fellow human beings.”

What could you be doing to make the world a better place?  Don’t just think about it…start doing it, even if it’s a small thing.  Paraphrasing author Terry Goodkind:  be the pebble thrown into the pond – the small object (you) that eventually causes great ripples (changes) in the pond (our world).


Have a question or something to add to this post?  Leave a comment, and you’ll be entered to win a 1 GB USB drive.  One winner per week through the end of May.

A how-to guide on getting more out of your board

A how-to guide on getting more out of your board

One of the really nice things about my job at the Bayer Center is the abundant amount of learning opportunities around me. Accordingly, yesterday I sat in on Sally Mizerak’s “Using a Dashboard” class.

For those of us not in the automotive sector, an organizational “dashboard” is likely a “user-friendly, often color coded summary chart(s) of the key indicators of an organization’s performance.” I liken it to CliffNotes for staff, management, board members, donors, etc.

The “art” of designing your organization’s dashboard really depends on what story/message you’re trying to summarize. For instance, Scott Leff and I have been busy recently helping organizations reduce the stacks of internal financial reports they disseminate to board members and instead replace these trees with a single, colorful, summary financial report. From this report, board members can quickly glean how the organization is performing (actual vs. realized budget), how much cash is available, and how the organization is financially performing relative to its local and national peers (benchmarking) and its own past results (trending).

[Editor’s note: My colleague Jeff Forster points out that he posted about Dashboards last month with two big points: 1) dashboards aren’t just about financial measures, although they’re obviously quantifiable and 2) CRM databases have thrust dashboards to the fore as though they’re something new under the sun (but they’re not). Also, Jeff and me rode together in CDCP’s Pedal Pittsburgh (50+ mile) ride last week and spent much of the time discussing this blog entry and nonprofit dashboards, kind of.]

One way to get the internal dashboard dialogue started is to ask yourself if your board’s financial reports are telling the story that you are hoping to convey. If the answer is “yes,” then next ask yourself if you can do a better job of summarizing this information into one report?

If you think you can be doing better, then you probably are not using your board’s time wisely. (You’re supposed to be talking about mission-related information and not spending all your time on financial minutia.) A suggestion – consider putting aside a few hours to spend with your staff/colleagues/Finance Committee and conference on what financial picture/story you’d like to convey to your board. The benefits you’ll get in return from a more mission-focused board will far exceed your time investment.

Have a question or something to add to this post? Leave a comment, and you’ll be entered to win a 1 GB USB drive. One winner per week through the end of May.

The sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are chirping… it must (finally, finally… finally) be springtime in the ‘burgh.  And where better to embrace this splendid glory, than in our county’s beautiful parks?

1019649_park_bench_under_magnolia_tree

As an (injured) marathoner – I consider myself to be a well-traveled park patron.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Frick Park is the biggie-sized option of local parks.  At 561 acres, it is the region’s largest.  With all of its extensive trails and hidden spots for refuge, Frick Park is the perfect eco-haven for city dwellers and suburbanites alike.

Schenley Park is my one of my most beloved parks.  Sure, the golf course, Sportsplex, and Conservatory are lovely, but I am partial to the annual Vintage Grand Prix.  (This is largely because I relish father/daughter bonding over the only vintage race on city streets.)

Highland Park is also a joy.  If Koda, the park’s 300-pound (polar bear) neighbor, isn’t sufficient bait – check out the beautiful gardens, a babbling brook, and sand volleyball courts.

Riverview Park houses one of the major astronomical research institutions of the world – the Allegheny Observatory.  And they offer tours every Thursday evening – for FREE!

Hartwood Acres is another gem.  The park is host to many weddings, mansion tours, concerts, and cultural events.  Perhaps the most fascinating attraction is the annual polo match benefiting Family House.  I mean, what could be better than polo ponies?

While we have a lot of enticing retreats throughout the city and county, I have to admit North Park is the home of my heart. This is the spot where I’ve spent many (many) hours forming friendships while pounding the pavement.  This is the spot where my future-husband stashed an engagement ring in a picnic basket.  This is the spot where I’ve had family reunions, graduation parties, and wedding anniversaries.  Yes, the walking trails, off-leash dog run, skating rink, and swimming pools are charming, but I am most captured by the beauty and nostalgia of this sub-urban sanctuary.

Whichever park is your favorite, please be sure to patronize, protect, and enjoy one of our region’s most vibrant assets.

Have a question or something to add to this post? Leave a comment, and you’ll be entered to win a 1 GB USB drive. One winner per week through the end of May.

Like most people, I associate Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly’s anthemSongsfromtheSouth about the Gurindji people sparking that nation’s indigenous land rights movement with data entry.  The song is called From Little Things, Big Things Grow, and it’s quite amazing for its original purpose as a protest song.  That sentence, though – From little things, big things grow – has been running through my mind as I think about nonprofits getting the database tools they need and turning little daily bits of info into big, powerful assets.

Sometimes, early in a new database project, there’s a giddiness about how the new database solution is going to be the solution to all manner of problems the database can’t solve:  user buy-in, a data-driven culture, a sense of the database as a collective good, not the property of individual programs or departments.   In some of these cases, as the project goes along, we get to a moment in which someone says “Wait a minute.  Who’s going to enter all of this data?”  This is a moment of truth.  The right answer usually calls for a shift from hoping data entry is someone else’s job to acknowledging that everyone has little bits that they can add  to the (lower case) information system in the organization.  

Maybe this belief derives from the accounting and fundraising systems that are often the most capable and well-used systems in nonprofits.  Specialists record all of the little transactions that add up to the income statements, the budget projections, the fundraising actual vs. goal reports.  Then, these gems are released into the rest of the organization.  With data about mission, though, there is no specific specialist.  More often, multiple people work on the core mission and therefore have and use the information about clients/patrons/volunteers.   Therefore, we have to ask multiple people to plant their seeds of data on a day to day basis.  There has to be someone – call her CIO, database administrator, IT coordinator – who oversees the work.  That position, though, ensures good structural, agency-wide decision making (garden planning) and focuses on quality control (weeding); good information is too big to hope one person can make it happen.   The only way to grow big things is to have many, many hands contribute their little things.

Have a question or something to add to this post? Leave a comment, and you’ll be entered to win a 1 GB USB drive. One winner per week through the end of May.

As nonprofits go, most of us know that it’s rough out there right now and likely to get worse in the immediate future before it starts to get better. (PNC Chief Economist Stuart Hoffman forecast that the U.S. economy will continue to suffer into the second half of the year. In fact, it will be 2010 before the economy gets real traction from the various federal policy stimulus initiatives, Hoffman believes.)

So what’s a nonprofit to do? Well, below are some tips (in no particular order) your organization can use to manage its cash flow deficit, if by some chance you find yourself in this current predicament:

1. Cut expenses – look for items in your current budget that can be deferred or cut outright. Also, keep your eye on costs that continue to outpace your revenue growth.

2. Liquidate investments – perhaps your organization has stocks, bonds or certificate of deposits (CDs) that you can liquidate. If you know you’re going to have a pressing cash need in coming months, consider working with your local bank to structure the maturity of your CDs for imminent cash needs.

3. Increase fundraising efforts – consider rearranging your fundraising schedule to accommodate your cash flow needs. For instance, you could consider moving a direct mail appeal to another time in the year when your organization is in need of unrestricted funds to cover overhead costs.

4. Speed up collection of receivables – if there are government agencies that owe you money, you could cask for an up-front payment in advance of the schedule. Similarly, a foundation may consider rearranging its disbursement schedule if you anticipate a cash flow deficit.

5. Obtain a loan or line of credit – a line of credit typically is used to fund short-term working capital needs such as payroll, rent, or overhead expenses. Also, it’s useful to cover incoming receivables. The only costs incurred when obtaining a line of credit involve closing costs and interest expense (once you begin using your line).

6. Reduce program expenses – the for-profit sector does it, so why shouldn’t the nonprofit sector at least explore this option? And while this may seem unthinkable to you at first glance, consider the alternative: burning out your staff (see Cindy Leonard’s “Preventing Burnout” blog entry from May 12).

Appropriately, the Bayer Center will offer a class on debt management best practices appropriately titled, “‘Debt’ Is Not a Four-letter Word,” on June 26, from 9 – 11 A.M. The class will feature instructors Scott Leff and me of The Bayer Center; Lisa Kuzma, Richard King Mellon Foundation; Gloria Ware, Fifth Third Bank; and Misty Parshall, CPA, Schneider Downs & Co., Inc. We’ll instruct you on the ins and outs of the right reasons to borrow money in these tough economic times.

Finally, I invite you to email me with any questions you might have regarding this topic and you’ll be entered to win a 1 GB USB drive. One winner per week through the end of May. Happy cash flow management!

Next Page »