Humor


A cartoon in which one of three people at a conference table under the banner "International Human Rights Conference"  says "I think it's time we added web conferences to our list of acts of torture."

So, yes…I’m Bayer Center staff, but I would attend this event even if I weren’t! Here’s why I think you should come:

#10: Good networking opportunity – lots of nonprofit (and some for-profit) peeps in one place.  A great way to say hello to those you know and to make new friends!

#9: Food and drink.  Wine, beer, and hors d’oeuvres – yum!  In my mind, very necessary items for an after-work event.

#8: It’s a celebration AND fundraiser (our first ever, actually), so your ticket cost is going to a really good cause and helps us continue to help the nonprofit community.

#7: The entire Bayer Center staff will be there.  All of us in one place at the same time is a rare event in itself – we are usually all over the place, consulting, teaching, etc.

#6: Bricolage has been commissioned to create a performance especially for this event.  I don’t even know what they are doing, but I checked out their past performances/creations on their website and they do some fun and crazy stuff!  This is not-to-be-missed!

#5: No talking heads.  When we started planning this event, we swore we’d not put people through two hours of speech-making and we are sticking to that promise.

#4: We’re giving something special away to everyone who comes.  I know what it is, but I’m not telling.  You’ll like it.

#3: You’ll get to see the new August Wilson Center if you haven’t been there before.  It’s lovely!

#2: There will be cake.  Who doesn’t like cake?

#1: YOU are the reason for our success.  We want you to celebrate with us!


If you would like to RSVP, visit
http://www.rmu.edu/bcnmregistration.
We hope to see you there!!

Cindy's CatsAnyone who knows me, knows that I adore two things above all:  nonprofit technology and my seven cats.  What you may not know about me is…

“Everything I Need to Know about Nonprofit Technology Management I Learned from My Cats”

  1. Sometimes unexpected things happen, nobody knows why, and nobody claims responsibility.
  2. Flexibility is one of the best traits to have.
  3. Clawing your vendors’ or staff’s eyes out will get you nowhere.
  4. When it’s working well, you won’t notice it’s there.
  5. Servers purr when they are happy.
  6. Regular check-ups can help you avoid larger bills later on.
  7. If the room is too hot, things may flop over on their side and refuse to budge.
  8. Getting it wet is disastrous and you will pay dearly for doing so.
  9. When it makes a loud or weird noise, you should pay attention.
  10. A little bit of care and feeding go a long way.

Upon joining the non-profit sector, a number of people opined to me that they are happy I’ve decided to dedicate my time and effort towards strengthening the sector’s work. In fact, one of the sound bites I kept hearing is that non-profits – despite their inability to sell equity (and thus raise money through either private investors or the larger public capital market) or the lack of an agreed upon “profit” metric for measuring organizational success – need to behave more like for-profit businesses. So, listen up my fellow non-profit professionals, I’m going to impart some words of wisdom I learned from my days working in the for-profit world (at institutions such as Freddie Mac, UBS Investment Bank, and others).

We need larger pay packages to attract and retain qualified professionals. In order to create the type of fast thinking, innovative companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns, Enron, Tyco and others, we need to increase our compensation packages. Currently, this kind of fast-thinking/innovative executive talent retails for approximately $10.5 million, or roughly 344 times the average worker’s salary ($30,700). Since the average executive director of Southwestern Pennsylvania only makes a mere $96,110, or 3.6 times the average worker’s salary – that’s a lot of innovation we’re leaving on the table! Lesson #1: if we are to attract for-profit executive talent then we must start paying our non-profit executive directors better.

Ignore sustainability and adopt a “do whatever it takes” attitude to exceed your short-term goals. We in the nonprofit sector spend far too much time talking about creating sustainable programs and achieving long-term outcomes. Instead, we need to adopt a more market-centric view of the world, just as for-profit businesses have to when their performance is measured by the market. Take General Motors, for instance. In the late 1990s and well into the first decade of the 21st Century, GM ignored suggestions that the company should rethink its focus on the sale of light trucks and SUVs and instead become a pioneer in the production of fuel-efficient (sustainable) automobiles. However, GM’s short-term focus on becoming the premier seller of light trucks and SUV (its most profitable product line) seemed to be paying off:

In 2002, GM sold more than 8.5 million cars and trucks and was the first auto manufacturer to sell 1.2 million SUVs and 2.7 million trucks in a calendar year. The company set industry sales records in the United States and owned nearly 15 percent of the global vehicle market. And investors took notice – the company’s stock rose approximately 45% over the next year.

Of course, you know the rest of the story by now – fuel prices rose and consumers grew tired of paying for non-fuel efficient vehicles. GM was stuck with a bunch of cars and trucks (mostly trucks) that they tried to “give away” with 0% financing and large rebates – again, focusing on exceeding the company’s short-term sales numbers even at the expense of hurting long-term profit margins – but nobody wanted them. Lesson #2: for-profits rarely practice sustainable planning so why should your organization.

The market rewarded GM's banner 2002 year with stellar market returns in '03. Nevertheless, GM's lack of a sustainable business model finally forced the company into bankruptcy in '09.

Transform your board. Nonprofit executive directors, not only are you egregiously underpaid relative to your for-profit brethren, but also you need to hold more board power. This year’s Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics winner, Oliver Williamson, in a recent article, “Corporate Boards of Directors: In Principle and in Practice,” submits that today’s corporate boards are largely ruled by the CEO and are passive financial stewards. He writes:

The CEO is in de facto control of the operation and composition of the board…most boards most of the time are responding with nodding approval, and boards are beset by inertia, hence are slow to become active when the corporation experiences adversity” (260).

In hindsight, we’ve spent far too much time espousing the idea that nonprofit boards need to be active and chart the agency’s strategy, raise money, etc. After all, when is the last time you heard of a corporate board functioning this way? No, on a corporate board the CEO/Chairperson sets the agenda and the remaining board members are asked to “nod in approval.” Lesson #3: we need to retrain our board members to be passive financial stewards and centralize all power with the executive director (and newly appointed chairperson).

As you read these “lessons,” I hope it is apparent by now that there is an awful lot each sector – the for-profit and non-profit – can stand to learn from one another. I think the three lessons above illustrate areas the for-profit sector should take a cue from the nonprofit sector and consider adopting these practices. Conversely, there are a number of for-profit practices – strategic planning, capital budgeting, using data to inform evaluative programmatic judgments and more – that I believe are beneficial for nonprofits to adopt. However, to think that either sector has a monopoly on best practices is just over simplistic and flawed logic. As Jim Collins’ writes in his monograph Good to Great and the Social Sectors, “We need to reject the naïve imposition of the ‘language of business’ on the social sectors, and instead jointly embrace a language of greatness” (2). Touché, Jim.

I am going to boast for my colleagues.  They are modest.  I am not.  A little less than two weeks ago, they pulled off an incredible feat: they invoked a feeling of warmth between me and technology.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I like technology quite a bit.   Unfortunately, technology doesn’t like me.  See, I believe my technological challenges are a direct result of an electro-magnetic field that surrounds me.  Anything electronic that enters this field is promptly rendered inoperable.  Any Dell, Apple, or Verizon Wireless technician will verify this. (Ask them about it. They know me by name). 

 Therefore, anyone who can simplify technology = instant super hero.  Jeff and Cindy, you are my super heroes!  As usual TechNow was a smash! Thanks for providing a forum for accidental techies.  Thanks for making technology fun, interesting and (perhaps most important) uncomplicated.  Thanks for amassing top-notch presenters, participants, and exhibitors. And, lastly, thank you for unabashed musical renditions from the Sound of Music. 

Jeff, Cindy, and all TechNovians, here’s to you!

 

 

Last Thursday was the Bayer Center’s annual TechNow conference.  This year, it featured terrific breakout sessions on everything from thin client computing and greening your IT to how to make oneself over from accidental techie to intentional techie.  Also, there was plenty of networking.  Some participants won fabulous prizes including a 32″ plasma TV.  Also, Ami Dar from idealist.org gave a keynote speech that managed a rare feat: it was both practical and inspiring.

As if all that weren’t enough, this year’s conference featured a musical number that turned into a sing along.  See the “studio version” on the conference web site or the live performance below.  And save the date:  next year’s TechNow is tentatively scheduled for October 28, 2010.

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