#OMG: Why the #NPO sector is #tech averse


I'd be lion if I said I wasn't surprised.

I’d be lion if I said I wasn’t surprised.

So I was talking to a friend of mine at a very large nonprofit organization – as in over $100 million in annual revenues.  They serve thousands of clients every year with job development, alcohol and other drug abuse treatment, affordable housing, psychological counseling and a variety of other supports.  As a result of the many contracts and grants they have to do this work, they operate in excess of 15 databases to track operations, case management, finance, etc.  They have a full time IT staff, desktops, laptops, and handheld devices out the yingyang.  So naturally I said, what are you doing with all that data? “Actually,” my friend said, “we don’t do anything with the data.”  #OMG.
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Are You TED Talk Ready?  The Importance of Conceptual Capital


Marie And Donny Osmond

It used to just take two. Those days are over.

In the callow youth of the nonprofit sector, you needed two kinds of capital: (1) financial capital, because money does, after all, grease the wheels of change, and (2) social capital, because proving you could fill the courthouse steps or get the Governor to answer your call was a way to make up for not having enough money.  But the NPO sector is burgeoning, the capacity for evaluation is still limited, and the power of social media has grown.  Now there’s a new kind of resource you need: conceptual capital.  It’s the stuff that drives your visibility in a crowded marketplace.  So what is it, why do you need it, and where do you get it?

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Let’s Turn this Old Barn into a Theater! (Part III of III)


Big Car in Indianapolis, IN is a former auto service center.

Dear Reader, About a year ago the Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts (NOCD) working group asked your Man About Town to write a nice, juicy case study about what happens when cultural organizations buy non-cultural facilities and fix them up.  This three part series details my findings, although it’s well worth checking out the original report to see case studies from nearly a dozen cultural organizations across the country.  You can also read Part I and Part II of this series to learn more about the unique opportunities and challenges of adaptive reuse. Continue reading

Let’s Turn this Old Barn into a Theater! (Part I of III)


Scrappy, but lovable: the irrepressible arts.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago the Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts (NOCD) working group asked your Man About Town to write a nice, juicy case study about what happens when cultural organizations buy non-cultural facilities and fix them up.  This three part series details my findings, although it’s well worth checking out the original report to see case studies from nearly a dozen cultural organizations across the country. Continue reading

The (In)Efficiencies of Scale


When scale goes wrong. Catsonholiday / Instagram

ArtsBlog (the blog of Americans for the Arts) recently hosted a forum called:  “So, Does Size Matter?”  The short answer is hell yes it does, but I disagree with most of the writers about why.  I found the best piece in the series was penned by the whip-smart Ian David Moss (Economies and Diseconomies of Scale in the Arts – Take Two), and it was his post that inspired both me to both write an initial comment, and then to take on the subject more fully below.

You see, Dear Reader, like many of my fellow funders and financiers I’ve often touted the benefits of moving toward greater scale:  improved operational efficiencies, greater programmatic reach, increased access to resources, heavier political punch.  But I’ve also struggled with the oft recognized but seldom addressed reality that scale is not an answer in and of itself, and that sometimes scaled solutions leave even larger problems in their wake.  Thanks to Ian, I think I got the mental kick in the epiphany I needed.

And here’s why I think scale sometimes, well, stinks up the joint.  Continue reading

Disaster and Recovery – Part II


The Great Wave off Kanagawa: Katsushika Hokusai

The Great Wave off Kanagawa: Katsushika Hokusai

Shortly after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the Gulf Coast, I was dispatched to New Orleans by the corporate foundation that I worked for to figure out how to deploy our philanthropic disaster recovery commitment.  It was a heartbreaking experience, compounded and complicated by the entrenched challenges New Orleans had struggled with for many years.

As with all natural disasters, the poorest suffered most in the immediate aftermath.  What I, in my ignorance, learned for the first time was how the vulnerable continue to suffer long after the initial damage: tucked away for too long FEMA trailers, or separated from family, friends and vital supports, unable to access medical care, or shuttled from one temporary shelter situation to the next.  Over the weeks, months and years following the storm there were dramatic and terrible increases in elder mortality, child poverty, murder, and mental illness.

Compared to the process of recovery in the Gulf Coast, and in spite of the many frustrations we feel with its pace in our region, New York City, New Jersey and Long Island have done remarkably well.  For most of us, life is essentially back to normal:  the kids are in school, we’re back at work, our homes have power, heat and hot water, and holiday shopping is underway.

But there remains a grave and nearly inevitable danger, as in all natural disasters, that we will “move on” without fully resolving the impacts on those most vulnerable, and inflict the mistakes of the past on our neighbors and fellow citizens tomorrow.  Continue reading

The Complexification of the Nonprofit Sector


This post also available on Rooflines.  

“Substrate” by Jared Tarbell

Intuitively, just from being around the nonprofit sector for a stretch, it’s easy to tell that things have gotten more, well, complicated.  Organizations are bigger, operations more tentacled, financial tools more wonky, budgets bigger and bigger.  And don’t just take my word for it.  Thanks to the lovely folks at the Standford Social Innovation Review you can enjoy this whole, provocative article: “Why More Nonprofits Are Getting Bigger.”  

The problem is, I don’t think we’ve really done a good job of keeping up with our own complexification.   Continue reading

How to Hire a Consultant


Reposted from my guest blog on Rooflines.

Did you ever feel like you need a consultant to help you figure out what you need your consultant to do?  Believe me, you are not alone.  As a recovering executive director (and boy is that going to make a juicy blog post one of these days), I’ve employed many consultants to help with everything from designing the company logo to dreaming up structured finance solutions for distressed homeowners.  Dear Man About Town, you ask, how ever did you do it?

Well, now a consultant tells all:  here’s how to hire someone like me.

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