I realize that I work for a university, but, believe me, there’s no conflict of interest in my opposition to the proposed Pittsburgh tuition tax on students.  And then, when the tax was challenged as being unconstitutional and City Council responded by passing special, unique zoning procedures only for universities, I just had to write the following Letter to the Editor (it’s the fifth one on the page):

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09331/1016483-110.stm

I hope you agree with me that this is an embarrassing, anti-intellectual seeming step backward for Pittsburgh — a city that  has been transforming itself into an exciting and progressive new image.

We nonprofits are in a touchy position right now.  Some of the universities and hospital systems have tremendous wealth, and there is certainly a reasonable argument to be made that they should be paying into the coffers for the services they receive.  On the other hand, they are providing tremendous services in exchange for their tax-exempt statuses.  And, the vast majority of nonprofits struggle day to day to survive as they provide essential safety nets, high quality arts and culture, and countless other benefits for the common weal.

So, on the one hand, it’s a dangerous can of worms to open for any nonprofit to pay some version of taxes.  On the other, we’re all — government included — financially stressed right now.  But whatever the solution, it seems to me that taking a leadership role in adding even more to the already exorbitant cost of education can’t be a good idea.

What do you think?

 

Happy ThanksgivingWhat does Thanksgiving mean to you?

For many, it means food, family, fun (hopefully) and some time to get away from work and relax.  Not everyone is so fortunate, however, and it is good for us to take a moment or two and reflect upon our blessings, no matter how small or insignificant they might seem.

Here are the things I am thankful for this year:

  1. I am gainfully employed. I work in the building that houses the local job center and I see so many people in the lobby and elevator visiting that office.  I’ve chatted with several of them in passing and some are so sincerely wanting work and are at their wit’s end – it makes me sad.  On days at work when I want to pull my hair out, I remind myself that I am lucky to have a job and to just “get over it.”
  2. My parents. For some reason, practically every electronic device, appliance, and automobile I own has decided to go on the fritz in the past year in a big way.  I despise myself when I have to borrow from my mom and dad, but they are more than happy to lend it and I feel fortunate that they’ve got my back.  I know it’s not always going to be that way.
  3. Smartphones. I recently broke down and bought a Google Droid.  I am continually amazed by how much convenience is afforded in one small device that fits in the palm of your hand.  Ten years ago, I complained to a friend that I wanted a single device to replace my music player, my camera, and my PDA.  Apparently I wasn’t the only person who felt that way and I’m glad the tech giants were listening.
  4. Holiday music. I listen to holiday tunes starting in July, but they become very prevalent around this time of year (which means more variety and listening options).  My favorites are the oldies – Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Andy Williams, etc.  When I was very young, I had a record player and adored my Perry Como and Andy Williams Christmas albums.  Hearing those songs is like a time machine to the days when life was simple, and my brother and I woke our parents up at 5 am because we couldn’t wait to get started opening our presents.  Holiday music = nostalgia = good feelings.
  5. Online shopping. I used to do the Black Friday insanity – camping out at my store of choice at 3 a.m. to get the “good stuff” before it was gone.  Those days are over for me.  I do all my shopping online, where the deals are just as good if not better than in the stores.  Once again, hooray for technology.
  6. The nonprofit sector. I know that there are many days when we feel like we are beating our heads against a wall.  When I think about how many lives our sector touches and the work that we collectively accomplish, however, I can’t help but feel grateful that nonprofits do exist.  I cannot imagine leading a life driven solely by making money and I am grateful that I can work in a place that has meaning and a mission.
  7. President Obama. People are starting to complain that he isn’t effecting change fast enough.  Give the man a break already.  He’s taken the leadership mantle under the worst possible conditions – do we really want him making snap decisions?  I like that he looks before he leaps and that he recognizes that problems that have been years in the making cannot be fixed overnight.
  8. Our soldiers. I frequently disagree with the decisions made by our government in sending troops overseas, but I appreciate the men and women who go forth willingly and do service for our country.  We owe them our respect and gratitude.
  9. Windows 7. It’s about time you got it right, Microsoft.  Thank you for finally making a decent OS that is stable, attractive and intuitive.
  10. Social networking. I love that I can talk to people with whom I went to high school so many years ago again.  I love that I can play a game with someone in Thailand or Norway.  We may not have figured out all the ways in which social networking can be leveraged, but I’m enjoying it as we do.

What are you thankful for this year?  🙂

I know I can sound like a broken record when it comes to our TechNow conference (“come to TechNow, come to TechNow!”) but it is heartfelt and not just promotional marketing.

I was a TechNow attendee before I started working at the Bayer Center.  It was my first technology conference and it opened my eyes to the fact that I wasn’t alone in my “nptech” endeavors.  I used to be the mostly one-person IT shop at my old nonprofit, and TechNow helped me to expand my support network, meet some new vendors, and to think about the possibilities.  It can be difficult to be innovative when you deal with the same grind day-in and day-out, without taking time out to sharpen the saw and to think and dream about “what could be” rather than what is.

I’m also excited about this year because our keynote speaker is Ami Dar from Idealist.org.  Ami is amazing, in my opinion, because he has been all over the world, is self-made (see below for details), and is truly innovative in his thinking.  I’ve read and watched interviews and speeches by Ami, and I know he’s going to bring us all something great to stretch our minds and challenge our paradigms.

I recently asked Ami to complete a list that I used in a promotional email.  His answers were pretty neat, so I’m going to repeat it here for anyone who hasn’t seen it:

10 Facts We Bet You Didn’t Know About TechNow 2009 Keynote Speaker, Ami Dar

  1. AmiDar_webHe was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Peru and in Mexico, and lives in New York.
  2. He dropped out of high school and didn’t go to college.
  3. He can’t drive.
  4. Thirty years ago he was a paratrooper in the Israeli army.
  5. There is a classic video game that shares his name: “Amidar,” released in the 80’s by Atari.
  6. He started Idealist in his apartment with $3,500.
  7. He loves playing backgammon.
  8. He eats everything except eggplant and spinach.
  9. He gets annoyed by conference organizers who call themselves “curators.”
  10. Many people who meet him online think he is a woman.

Fascinating guy, eh?  I personally can’t wait to hear what he has to say!  And now it’s time for one last shameless plug…

There’s still time to register and hear Ami speak at the TechNow 2009 nonprofit technology conference, which will happen at Robert Morris University’s Sewall Center on Thursday, October 29!

Visit http://technow2009.wordpress.com for more details and registration information.

Note:  The early bird registration deadline for the TechNow 2009 conference is this Thursday, October 8!  Register at http://www.rmu.edu/bayercenterregistration to take advantage of the discounted fee.


Presenting Sponsor: TowerCare Technologies

Presenting Sponsor: TowerCare Technologies

Summer draws to an end, the kids go back to school, and leaves start changing colors.  That means it’s nearly time for TechNow!

TechNow is the Bayer Center’s annual conference devoted to the new and important technology trends and resources for nonprofits.  Since TechNow affects virtually every area of a nonprofit’s mission, it is beneficial for non-techies as well as techies to attend.  We promise you’ll learn a lot, network with like-minded people, and…have fun!

For more info on the conference, including breakout session, keynote info, and scholarship/payment options, visit the conference website at http://technow2009.wordpress.com.

Here is this year’s list of the top ten reasons you should attend TechNow:

10.  Cream pies are back!!

9.  Your friends will be there.  If you don’t know anyone into nonprofit tech, you will have new friends by the time you leave…we guarantee it.

8.  The exhibitor who gave away the widescreen TV last year has hinted about bringing another fantastic give-away.  They won’t say what it is, so we’re all left to guess at it.  (The Bayer Center has a few fantastic give-aways of its own stashed and ready.)

7.  If you’re getting stimulus money (or federal funding of any kind), your website must be compliant with Section 508 web accessibility guidelines.  There will be a breakout session where you can find out what that means.

6.  USB drives are back.  Conference materials will be pre-loaded, so note-taking is optional.

5.  Our exhibitors are great local tech companies who “get” nonprofit organizations.

4.  If you don’t know about GIS, thin clients, user interface design, or green IT…you’ll learn all kinds of new stuff!

AmiDar_web

Our Keynote Speaker: Ami Dar, Founder & Executive Director of Idealist.org

3.  The conference has its own Twitter feed!  Follow it at http://twitter.com/TechNowConf. We will broadcast the feed on the main screen during the conference so you can give immediate feedback for sessions, locate friends and colleagues, tweet interesting session points, etc.

2.  We have scholarships available and a “Budget Impasse Payment Plan” – visit the conference website for details:  http://technow2009.wordpress.com.

1.  Ami Dar, Ami Dar, Ami Dar!  ‘Nuff said!

Register today by calling 412-397-6000 or online at:  http://www.rmu.edu/BCNMregistration. We hope to see you there!

My paternal grandma passed away this past Sunday.  I went looking for her obituary online this morning and could only find a one-liner in The Daily News.  No listing in the Trib or the Post-Gazette at all.

Now this may be the fault of the funeral home, but I think my grandmother rates more than a one-line note in the local paper.  Patrick Swayze, god rest his soul, got an entire article and he’s not even from this area.

We’ve talked a lot on this blog about She-Roes, women who are admirable, courageous, and strong.  I’d like to tell you a bit about my grandma, who is one of my She-Roes.

My grandma, born in 1919, was the daughter of Irish immigrants who spoke English as a second language.  She became pregnant at an early age and was, to hear family members tell it, basically party to a shotgun wedding.  This would have been in the midst of the 1930’s, while America was coping with the Great Depression.  Not an ideal time to start a family.

She proceeded to have 14 kids over the next 25 years, each pregnancy around 2 years apart.  One was a set of twins that were miscarried (or stillborn – not sure on my memory for that one), so she raised 12 kids total.  Obviously birth control wasn’t a common thing back then, and in Irish farming families, the more kids you had, the more free labor you had available to you.  My grandparents weren’t farmers – I’m simply pointing out that it was not unheard of to have that many kids.  If she were attempting this today, she would have probably been given a reality TV show.

As if having 12 children weren’t enough to bear, she had married a man with some anger management issues.  Back then, spousal abuse wasn’t discussed, unskilled women and mothers didn’t leave their husbands, and people didn’t have the wonderful nonprofit resources available like we do today.  From what I understand, she dealt with regular physical and mental abuse from my grandfather until he got heart disease and died in the early 1970s.

Who knows what my grandma might have done in this life if she hadn’t been in these circumstances?  Her entire life, to me, seems to be a series of unfortunate events with no real choices to be had.  What I admire about her is, I’ve never heard her complain or whine about her life.  Until she got dementia around 10 years ago and more recently, cancer, she seemed to be happy enough.  I remember that she used to love to go shopping and to church – loved trinkets, knickknacks, and small things like that.  She was not difficult to please in the least – she was grateful for the smallest item or kindness.

She was also tough, in her own way…a survivor and a fighter.  When she got cancer a year or so ago, she must have gone into the hospital three or four times for internal bleeding and other issues.  Each time, the family was called in and told that she was ready to go.  Each time, until this last, she bounced back and was released.  I recall one time, about a year ago, she was in the hospital and looked white as a sheet when I visited her – I thought for sure that was it.  Two days later, my dad called me to say he had to stop her from pulling the IV out of her arms, and that she was ready to go home.

She died this past Sunday at age 90.  I can only hope that, in my own life, I will have half the courage and strength that she had.  When I think about the way her life went, it makes me incredibly grateful for my own adversities (which seem minor compared to hers) and thankful that we have such a variety of nonprofits that educate people about birth control, provide abuse shelters, send single moms to college, and otherwise help people today who have it like my grandma did.

Rest in peace, grandma…you’ve earned it.

My name is Laura Rentler and I am interning at the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management this summer.  Currently, I am a junior at Robert Morris University where I am majoring in Marketing and Hospitality and Tourism.  I will also be receiving a certificate in nonprofit management through American Humanics.  To receive this certificate, students must complete a 300-hour internship with a nonprofit, attend a conference, and take two courses on basic nonprofit information.  A few of the BCNM staff members were in charge of teaching the class at Robert Morris University, which is how I got this great opportunity of working here for the summer. 

I remember in my junior year of high school I told my Mom that I wanted to be an accountant.  She was shocked and knew that I had a different calling in life.  Well, she was right.  My senior year of high school, I was asked to be the keynote speaker at a luncheon for the Highmark Caring Place.  My family and I attended the Caring Place in 1998 after my father passed away.  The Caring Place helped me grow as a person, so I was honored that they would ask me to speak in honor of them.  After I delivered my speech, one young high school student came up to me and said, “I know how you feel.  I lost my father and I haven’t gotten help for it.” You could tell this particular audience member was really touched by my story and could relate in some way.   After that moment, I instantly knew that I wanted to be working in an environment where I could make a difference in people’s lives.   I can’t tell you what came over me that day that possessed me to choose the nonprofit field, but I knew that this was my calling. 

When I got home from the luncheon, I told my Mom that I wanted to work for nonprofits the rest of my life, and she was thrilled.  I told other family members and friends and kept getting the same comments and questions:  “Why would you want to work for a nonprofit; you are not going to make any money.” To this, I would always say that I want to make money to pay the bills and provide for myself, but I also want a job that I love doing. I want to be one of those people that comes home from work and says, “I love my job!”  Let’s just say that I didn’t get the reaction out of them as I did from my mom, but then I do come from a family of financially oriented people.

Overall, I feel happy with the direction I’m taking, but I still have questions:

  • Will I find a job after I graduate?
    • I know Pittsburgh has a large amount of nonprofit organizations, but many agencies it seems have small staffs that tend to be loyal.
  • Is there opportunity for career growth in the sector?
    • It seems like it is more difficult to progress into a higher position since many organizations are small and folks seldom leave. Of course, I realize that most sector professionals had to start somewhere, but I don’t want to put in years of energy to realize there was a glass ceiling all along.
  • Will I have a salary even if the organization is struggling?
  • What happens to an agency if it raises less and less money every year?

I don’t think my concerns and questions are any different than other college students as they near graduation.

When I was thinking about some of our nonprofit clients recently, it led me to muse yet again about Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle225px-Bundesarchiv_Bild183-R57262,_Werner_HeisenbergI mean, doesn’t everyone ponder subatomic particles when they think about nonprofits?  Or is it just me?

Anyway, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is one of the core tenets of quantum physics.  Most simply, what it tells us is that you can’t know both the precise location and the precise velocity of a particle at the same time.  You can know one; you can know the other.  But you can’t know both.  So I ask you, are you letting the principles of quantum physics get in the way of your organization?

Do you know your precise location and your precise velocity?  Too many nonprofits subscribe to the uncertainty principle and just know one or the other – they know where they are, but they’re not sure where they’re going, or else, they have a definite destination in mind, but they don’t really know where they’re starting from.

In the first case, they might monitor their activities in great detail day to day.  They may thoroughly understand who they serve, how they serve them, and what it costs them to do that.  But if they haven’t taken the time to look externally and really figure out how the world is changing and where they need/want to be in three years, they’re merely adrift on the wings of uncertainty.  They know where they are, but not where they’re going.

On the other hand, some organizations have a strong vision in mind.  Their goal is clear, they know what they want to accomplish, and they think they see a path to getting there.  But they haven’t bothered to look at where they are right now.  What is each program costing?  How does the Board assess its own performance?  Why is turnover 150%?  They’re hurtling into the future on a spaceship whose engine is fueled by uncertainty.

The good newsparticles is that quantum physics only applies (so far as we know) to the microscopic world of muons, leptons, and tauon neutrinos.  So, since you’re a bit bigger than they are, you actually can know where you are and where you’re going.  And if you want to be a strategic nonprofit, you must. Knowing both your location and velocity (i.e., assessment and vision) is the key to making sure that your nonprofit survives and thrives to fulfill its mission.

Now, as for the famous quantum physics puzzle of Schrodinger’s Cat cat2and the notion that it’s both alive and dead until you look at it, I haven’t figured out yet how to relate that paradox to nonprofits….

Maybe next week.