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Posts tagged ‘Minnesota Council of Nonprofits’

Resolved: Use (and Thank) These Sources of Nonprofit Knowledge

Handwritten message: "Resolved: Give more, Learn more"

Why not support the organizations that make the Minnesota nonprofit sector stronger . . . and smarter.

Whether you’re making your year-end donations or writing your New Year’s resolutions today, here’s a suggestion: Show your gratitude to Minnesota’s nonprofit infrastructure organizations.

Sure, I’m still recommending gifts to direct service groups that provide food, housing, job trainingcrisis services and other basic needs, but today it’s time to take another look at the nonprofits that serve the nonprofits:

  • I just watched the Nonprofits Assistance Fund’s new videos on depreciation, cost allocation, reserves and more.  They make learning finance basics fun!
  • MAP for Nonprofits consultants put nonprofit start-ups on the right track. Plus, their board member placement and training services promote good governance and volunteerism.
  • Admit it.  Don’t you always look for the Charities Review Council accountability seal before making a donation?  (If you don’t, you should!)
  • Looking for facts to build your case for support?  Seeking insights to guide new program development? Where would we be without Minnesota Compass?
  • How could our nonprofits function without volunteers . . . and the organization that recruits and trains them?  Hands on Twin Cities has an opportunity waiting for you.
  • And, of course, there’s the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. This statewide association leads the nation in professional development, public policy and civic engagement, nonprofit research and resources.  MCN has it all.

Click now to give . . . and to learn.  You can wrap up the year by helping organizations that provide vital services to our nonprofit community. Plus, you’ll get a head start on fulfilling your 2016 resolutions.

The Buck Stops with the Volunteer Board

Principles and practices resources from the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits

Volunteer nonprofit board members must do their homework to govern effectively.

Arriving home last week from an overseas vacation, I was startled by more bad press for Minnesota nonprofits.

In the country I just visited, graft and corruption are commonplace.  So a story about nonprofit leaders spending tax dollars on lavish trips and spa treatments would not lead the news — or perhaps be reported at all.

But nonprofit leaders — including volunteer board members — must meet a higher standard in the U.S.  To maintain the public trust, they must act responsibly and ethically, as noted by  Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Executive Director Jon Pratt  in his open letter to members.

The Board is Ultimately Responsible
In the current Community Action of Minneapolis case, the state audit language is damning:

Our review found several deficiencies in the internal control environment, ranging from
inadequate board oversight of operations to inadequate allocation of costs and unacceptable
levels of documented outcomes.

The report’s findings emphasized especially the failure of the board members to “provide independent and objective oversight of senior management or program operations.”

Of course, insufficient board oversight makes headlines in the for-profit sector, too.  But our expectations for individuals who are dedicated to alleviating poverty are understandably high.

Don’t Be Fooled by the “Volunteer” Label
In my years working and volunteering in nonprofits, I’ve seen many bright, hard-working board members who bring their whole selves to their volunteer posts — carefully preparing for board meetings, asking insightful questions about programs and financials, and offering professional guidance that ensures good governance.

But I’ve also come across a few board members who don’t take their oversight duties seriously or who are ill-equipped to carry out their fiduciary responsibilities.  I understand (but cannot accept) how this happens.  The volunteer board member, who can dedicate only a few hours a week or month to her nonprofit work, may defer to the full-time executive director who is an expert in the field.  Or the volunteer board member has little experience reading financials or interpreting program outcomes.

But at the end of the day, the law is the law and the board members — volunteer or not — are ultimately responsible for the organization’s operations.

Easy Access to Resources
If you currently serve on (or plan to join) a nonprofit board and have any doubts about your responsibilities or skills, check out some of the many excellent local educational resources, such as:

Or, take a look at materials offered by BoardSource, the  national go-to organization for information on nonprofit governance.

You Can’t Pass the Buck
Finger pointing and political haymaking are already going full tilt in the Community Action of Minneapolis situation.

But if you’re a volunteer board member, don’t think you can pass the buck.  And anyway, why would you want to shirk your responsibilities?  By being a well-informed, active board director, you can build a stronger, more effective organization.  And that can create positive headlines for you, your cause and the public.

Shed Some Light on Your Nonprofit

Window washer, blinds and drapes

What’s obscuring donors’ views of your good works?

A coworker once told me my favorite word was “transparency.”

She might have said that because I was constantly extolling the virtues of transparency for nonprofits, foundations and corporate grantmakers.  After all, freely sharing information about your organization builds trust and lasting support from your constituents.

Or she might have remembered that I sometimes refer to an editor as a window washer.  A good editor cleans away the grime (murky phrases, muddled grammar and the like) that obscures the reader’s view.

Either way, it’s essential that every nonprofit displays itself in the best light — because a crystal clear image will attract and retain donors and build vital support for its mission.

Three Steps to Spotlight Your Nonprofit
I’m always surprised when I go to a nonprofit’s website and I can’t find the basics — such as an annual report, a link to the organization’s IRS 990 or basic contact information.  Without such information, the nonprofit not only has dirty windows . . . it’s drawn heavy drapes that are completely hiding its good works from the world.

If you are a nonprofit leader, have you:

Posted your latest annual report on your website?  Is it easy to find (just a click or two from your home page) and easy to read?  Annual reports don’t need to be onerous and expensive to produce.  Sometimes simpler is better.  (For a quick list of what to include in your annual report. see the “Public Information” section of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofit’s “Transparency and Accountability” principle.)

Completed the Program Service Accomplishments section of your IRS990?  Your tax form is not just about the numbers (although they’re essential for transparency, too!).  Marry your positive financials with a restatement of your organization’s mission and accomplishments and your IRS990 can become another useful communications tool.  (Review “Give Your 990 a Workout” by Kate Barr at Nonprofits Assistance Fund for some more tips.)

Updated your Nonprofit Report on Guidestar?  Chances are your donors and other constituents are using Guidestar to learn more about you (particularly if you haven’t posted your IRS990 on your website).  Using your existing communications (such as copy from your annual report), it’s relatively easy to reinforce your key messages in your Guidestar profile — and at the same time build legitimacy and support for your cause.

These are just a few ideas to help you start polishing your image so donors and other can see perfectly your positive impact in the community.  Do you know of other ways to easily and effectively increase the transparency of your nonprofit?  Please share your suggestions . . . the more of us washing the windows, the better the view of the nonprofit world.

photo cc Jonathon Hutchings

Nurturing a Seedling of Hope

SeedlingI start this blog with a sense of hope.  Just like the optimism that compelled me to plant seeds in my garden last Saturday . . . even though miserably chilly, rainy weather was forecast for the week ahead.

Nonprofit leaders and philanthropists are eternal optimists, too.  Filled with hope, ambition and courage, they believe they can plant and nurture seeds that will ultimately change society’s landscape.

I envision my blog to become a sort of raised garden bed for worthy causes.  In a raised bed, plants enjoy a little extra warmth from the sun’s rays.  With my posts, I’ll try to shine a bit more nourishing light on all varieties of charitable activities.   Sometimes I’ll write about the newest nonprofit hybrids that promise big yields.  Sometimes I’ll feature heirloom organizations that have resisted blight and delivered bushels of common good in our communities for decades.

A raised garden bed and a bit of mulch also help ensure seeds and plants have a steady supply of moisture for healthy growth.  In my posts I plan to sprinkle in resources from across the independent sector — including from Minnesota institutions (such as the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, MAP for Nonprofits, Charities Review Council, and Nonprofits Assistance Fund) and from national and international thought leaders.

So, I’m simply the gardener.  If you’d like to supply some seeds of ideas that promise positive change in our communities, contact me.  I may add them to my garden bed to see if a little extra light will foster growth.  But no promises . . . because this blog is organic.  With favorable conditions seedlings may sometimes leaf out, blossom and bear fruit.  And sometimes the harsh environment may stunt their growth.  But that’s okay.  We’ll still have hope for next year’s abundant harvest.

(P.S. For the gardening record, in a previous season of my life, I also worked to lift up promising ideas to the light.  Search on “Wehr” to see some of my posts on the Minnesota Council on Foundation’s Philanthropy Potluck Blog.)